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Misfortune, Difficulties, And The Muslim Mindset


How to understand misfortune, trials, and tribulations in Islam — and how to get through them.

We are living in extremely difficult times. COVID-19 and its devastating impact still continue to affect millions of people, who have suffered from a loss of income, a loss of health, or worst still, even a loss of the life of loved ones. This in conjunction with the fact it is an extremely confusing time, unprecedented in the amount of strange things that are going on and the madness shows no sign of unrelenting any time soon.

This has had the effect of seeing many people down and out; practically begging for mercy. Some people are wondering how much more can they even take and why is this even happening to them.

So I wanted to look at difficulty in Islam and try and understand it better. I realized it’s actually quite a simple thing to comprehend.

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The Types of Difficulty

Essentially, there are two types of difficulty in Islam.

There is museeba which translates as misfortune. This is difficulty that comes from Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) directly, and therefore is out of your control.

There is another type which is called muskhila. This directly translates as difficulty and it comes out of the wrongdoing that you personally do.

Both are part of the tests and trials of being Muslim. But it’s important to know the distinction, even for the sake of your own sanity.

A Museeba is not your fault. It’s out of your control. It’s a trial from Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). Think of an act of God, a natural disaster. COVID can be put down to this.

A Mushkila is something you caused. You may have consumed too much food and now you have a stomachache. That pain you’re now undergoing is your own fault.

This actually reminds me of the quote I once heard in personal development circles saying there are two things you should never get upset about in life. The things you can’t control (as it’s pointless) and the things you CAN control (as you can do something about it).

So, in that spirit, what do we do?

For mushkila, it’s easy. Self-reflect. Ask yourself difficult questions — is there anything I’ve done here, that could have caused this issue I’m going through? Then stop the excess or the wrongdoing and do something about it. Look deep within yourself at what you could have done wrong, do istighfar and stop doing it, and take positive action. (Easier said than done, of course, but the important point is that it is within your own control to overcome it.)

For museeba, it’s a bit more difficult. This is a trial from God. What can you do? Well, the Islamic response is simply to be patient and persevere. To have sabr, etc.


Nothing groundbreaking or overly empowering there, right? So, are we supposed to just take the pain and ride with it?

Why can’t God make it easy for us and take the difficulty away?

Struggle Maketh the Man

But there is really quite a beautiful simplicity in such a response. It’s for an important reason.

The Islamic dua’ to be used is for all kinds of difficulty is actually “Innalahi wa inna ilayhi rajioon” — that’s supposed to be the correct response. It’s not just the dua’ for when someone dies as it’s come to be known. This is actually the dua’ for when a difficulty has afflicted you, and for us to remember that nothing in life is permanent. Nothing really belongs to us after all, it is all temporary and transient and we just need to get on with it.

Going to the Quran, Surah al-Asr encapsulates this perfectly.

“By Time! Man is indeed in loss. Except those who have believed and done righteous deeds, and advised each other to truth and to patience.” [Surah al-Asr: 1-3,103]

What is interesting is that truth is emphasized and done so BEFORE patience.

Why? Because when you’re on truth… you will need patience. You WILL be afflicted with tests, trials, and hardship. Look at the stories of the Prophets, and the greats who came before us. Their lives are full of difficulty and strife. The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) had challenge after challenge — pretty much from birth.

Our issues pretty much pale into insignificance in comparison.

“Do not pray for an easy life, pray for the strength to endure a difficult one’”— Bruce Lee

As a Muslim, if you are on truth — your life should NOT be easy. Properly practicing, life will undoubtedly be more difficult and so you need to be able to understand the nature of difficulty and embrace it as a core component of your own development.

Let’s look at an example. When you go to the gym, you know you’ve had a damn good workout when you’re in pain the next day. If you’ve had no pain, and it’s easy — essentially you’ve gone and ritually lifted weights but it’s not had any benefit for you. Life is like that. If your life is easy peasy and you’re not having any difficulties as a result, then perhaps things are not quite right? Same with your Islam. Perhaps you may not be practicing your Islam in the correct way?

Struggle maketh the man.

Without struggle, you become a snowflake.

On a side note, it’s no coincidence we call the current generation snowflakes — but we don’t ask why that may be the case. With an unprecedented level of convenience available in every aspect of our lives, throughout our childhood and beyond — there simply hasn’t been enough struggle. That’s why they moan at the most minor of things. They haven’t even been given the opportunities to toughen themselves up, because we’ve diluted all difficulty. We’ve protected them from persistence. We’ve saved them from struggle.

The chickens have come home to roost.

Growth happens out of your comfort zone, etc. You know all the sayings.

A caterpillar goes through its metamorphosis in the cocoon only because it struggles and flaps and tries to release itself. That period of struggle is what develops the wings and eventually transforms it into a butterfly. Without that struggle — the wings don’t form and the caterpillar doesn’t develop.

Not only does struggle and striving develop and build your resilience and polish you, but it also SHOULD lead to the main objective of being afflicted with trials — which is to return and to remember God — and to take the lesson from the hardship. It is supposed to strengthen you mentally and especially spiritually.

After all, as the hadith goes:

“If Allah desires good for someone, he afflicts him with trials.” [Bukhari]

He knows this will make you stronger and it should bring you closer to Him.

And of course,

“Allah does not burden a soul beyond that it can bear…” [Surah Al-Baqarah 2:286]

I know this is often the go-to ‘cliche’ that is rolled out when someone is struggling — but it is an absolute promise by God in the Quran. That means it is cast iron, guaranteed, bet your house on it. It may not feel like it right now, but trust me, God knows you better than you know yourself. You have an inner strength that you can discover.

The P{romised Gifts of Ease and Mercy

If we’re practicing as we should, there are things in life, in society that are extremely difficult to accept, that we have to stand for or stand against. We simply have to do what is right, and stay on the path of truth — even if life is made difficult for you. Maybe your stance will mean you lose your job. But the golden rule is there is no power except with Allah. He will bring relief and barakah when the time is right. Have trust and full faith in that and it will give you ease.

“For indeed, with hardship [will be] ease.” [Surah Ash-Sharh 94:6]

It has been promised. When difficulty happens, just know that ease is just around the corner. When you’re at ease, that gives you the time to recharge and go again, before the next difficulty which is imminent. Our lives are constantly switching between these two states, hardship, and ease. And we must respond with patience, or with gratitude.

After all, life is a marathon, not a sprint. In a marathon, sometimes you pace yourself and slow down. And sometimes you speed up when you have the energy. It’s the same between hardship and ease.

Do you have to enjoy the pain? No. Is it easy? Of course not. It may even be something that almost breaks you. But in terms of how much you need to go through it — Allah knows and you do not know.

“And it may be that you dislike a thing which is good for you and that you like a thing which is bad for you. Allah knows but you do not know.” [Surah Al-Baqarah, 2:216]

We also must remember that things are probably going to get worse in the time to come. Abdullah bin Mas’ud narrated that the Messenger of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) said:

“Indeed Islam began as something strange and it will return to being strange as it began. So Tuba [good tidings] is for the strangers.” Someone asked, “Who are the strangers?” He said, “The ones who break away from their people (literally, ‘tribes’) for the sake of Islam.” [At-Timirdhi]

Fitnah, trials and tribulations are part of life. The stronger your deen, it is likely the stronger the trial you’ll be afflicted with. Stay patient. Stay grateful that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) has good in mind for you. If it’s a museeba, there’s nothing you can do but pray. And if it’s a mushkila, look within at your own wrongdoing and remember life has its ups and downs — it is simply a reminder to turn back to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He).

So, what do you get for all of these difficulties and trials? Well, the greatest gift of all. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) has promised us the gift of mercy — which is that our biggest tests and trials are primarily in this temporary, transient life. These trials are time-bound and tiny — and in that context, compared with an eternal difficulty in the afterlife — our stomachache or job loss certainly appears to be more bearable, inshaAllah.

There are definitely other hidden benefits to misfortune and difficulty which we may not be aware of, that we should certainly not take lightly.

Ibn Ata’Allah says in his Hikam: “Sudden distress heralds feast days for one who aspires.”

He also said: “Distress is the key to spiritual gifts.”

And again:

“You will perhaps find a benefit in distress which you have not been able to find in fasting nor in prayer; therefore when it descends upon you, defend yourself no longer and do not be concerned with searching for some remedy, lest you drive away the good which comes toward you freely, and give up your will entirely to your Lord; then you will see marvels.”

Ibn Rajab also said that if the person truly realizes and understands the above: “He will know that the bounty that comes from Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He)to a believer due to his trials is greater than the bounty that comes from Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) during his times of ease.”

Seeking Examples From Our Predecessors

A good practice is to look towards the past and what our predecessors did when times were hard (and they were hard, often). Whenever the people of the past suffered, they would actually follow up with dhikr. That’s what we can do and should do.

Abdullah bin Abbas raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) narrates that Prophet Mohammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) stated that if a person constantly makes “istighfar”, then Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) removes every difficulty, frees him from every sorrow, and makes a means for him to receive sustenance from places that he never thought of. [Mishkat from Ahmad]

To end, I wanted to leave an excerpt of a speech that is extremely relevant, motivating, and inspiring.

“Sometimes we complain about our times…that we are living in the worst times — that the Ummah is weak, the Ummah is defeated and disunited, we wish we were living in the time of the Sahabah [ranhuma] or times of the heroic Islamic eras.

…our time that we are complaining about… is the most similar to the time of the Sahaba. Why?

Because when the Sahabah raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) came there was no Islamic authority and there is no Islamic authority today and this was not the case for fourteen hundred years.

When the Sahabah [ranhuma] came, they fought entire surroundings including the two superpowers — the Persian Empire and the Roman Empire — and all the ‘Arabs around them that were against them. And this is similar to our situation today and this wasn’t the case in our history before.

In our history, before you would find Islamic authority, you would find people to assist you in Al-Haqq, and there was a place to make Hijrah. Now we find that the whole world is waging a war against us and this is similar to the time of the Sahabah [ranhuma], which means the ajr of the people today could be very great.

We are not saying it is equal to the ajr of the Sahabah [ranhuma] but it is going to be very great. This is why Rasoolullah ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) has mentioned in a hadith that… there will be a generation of people at the end of time and the ajr of one of them will be equal to the ajr of fifty! So the Sahabah [ranhuma] asked, “Fifty of us or fifty of them?” Rasoolullah ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said, “Fifty of you.” So the Salah will be like the Salah of fifty Sahabah. You fast one day and it will be like the fasting of fifty Sahabah. The ajr is multiplied by fifty, why? Because of the difficulty of that time…

So why complain if you are living in the time of the new gold rush; not a gold rush for gold but a gold rush for hasanaat? There are some times when the economy is booming so fast and everybody becomes rich and then there are times when things are stagnating and slow so these people wish they were living in the time when the economy was booming so they could become a millionaire like those before. We are living in a time of a boom now; but we just need to realize it and realize the amount of ajr that is out there waiting for us if we just go and do something. The ajr is so great that it’s waiting for someone to come and do something about it. If it comes at a time when things are easy then the ajr is reduced. But if the time is one of difficulty, then the ajr is increased. Ajr is in accordance to the difficulty.

“So why complain about a time when really, it is the best time?” [Anwar al-Awlaki — Allah is Preparing us for Victory]

I pray Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) gives us the strength to endure the museebas and mushkillas we’re all going through and makes it a means of purity and barakah for us. Ameen!

[This article was first published here]



When Problems Have No Solutions: Making Peace With Endless Trials –

The Story of Yunus: Lessons of Trials, Dawah and Patience For Our Lives Today –

Keep supporting MuslimMatters for the sake of Allah

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The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

Faisal Amjad is a serial entrepreneur and prolific writer with a keen passion to revive the profound impact Muslims once had on the world by championing the pursuit of a purpose-driven life. He is the founder of KNOW, an education company aimed at helping the next generation of Muslim thinkers, innovators, scientists and creatives to find their purpose, fulfil their potential and have more impact on the world. He is also the co-founder of Muslim CEO, a training company helping Muslim families to have more income, more time freedom and more impact through setting up knowledge-based businesses.

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