Monday, 26 December 2011
|Understanding the Difference Between the Apparent and the Reality|
An individual once asked a Sheikh about why many people, despite being good and pious, or apparently innocent, suffer severe tribulations in this worldly life. What wrong could a minor child or an infant, for example, commit so that he or she should have to suffer a fatal disease or even be murdered? Why do we see many good people suffering severe afflictions and calamities that they apparently do not deserve?
the Sheikh asked him to consider a beautiful, well-kept garden and its gardener. The garden has many kinds of plants, each requiring various types of resources and care. It is well kept and healthy since the gardener meticulously takes care of it. He often clears the weeds and unnecessary plants that are harmful for the good plants. He trims branches and leaves to maintain their good health. He waters his garden when needed, or withholds water when that is harmful. It is because of such good care that his garden remains beautiful and healthy.
The weeds or plants that he removes or the leaves and branches that he trims suffer much and complains. Their instincts are reactive to their own physical needs and they have little or no understanding about their surroundings, let alone the rest of the garden. They complain about their immediate needs and sufferings and do not know what is ultimately good for even themselves, much less the entire garden. The Sheikh then asked him to compare the garden with the universe and the gardener with Allah (swt).
The point was well made. The analogy, however, is simplistic, for Allah’s knowledge and wisdom is infinite compared to the finite knowledge of a gardener, and His domain is infinitely wider and more complex than a garden. In this universe where an infinite number of laws, events, variables and factors are at work, each affecting others in complex ways, it is impossible for us to comprehend the full wisdom and purpose behind what we apparently observe.
Parables are sometimes used in the Qur’an to make a point understood. Often, when intellect fails to comprehend a matter, a simple parable can get it across.
The Qur’an mentions an interesting story about Moses in chapter al-Kahf. In this story, Moses met a person , a servant of Allah, The Great Teacher whom Allah had given “special knowledge”, at a place where “two rivers meet”. Moses asked him for permission to accompany him in his travel. The Great Teacher replied, “You will surely not be able to bear with me. For how can you patiently bear with something you cannot encompass in your knowledge?” After Moses insisted that he would be patient, The Great Teacher allowed him to come with him on condition that he must not question him about anything unless he himself explains it to him.
They came to a place and found a boat. The Great Teacher damaged the boat by making a hole in it. Moses immediately objected saying, “Have you made a hole in it so as to drown the people in the boat? You have certainly done an awful thing.” The Great Teacher replied, “Did I not tell you that you will not be able to patiently bear with me?” Moses pleaded with him, saying that he forgot the promise.
Moving on, they next came to a place where they met a boy, and The Great Teacher killed him. Utterly shocked, Moses exclaimed, “What! Have you slain an innocent person without his having slain anyone? Surely you have done a horrible thing.” The Great Teacher replied, “Did I not tell you that you will not be able to patiently bear with me?” Moses pleaded again, saying that if he ever questioned him again about anything, then he would be fully justified in discarding him.
Moving further on, they came to a town where they found a wall that was broken and falling apart. The Great Teacher repaired the wall to prevent it from disintegrating. Unable to hold his curiosity, Moses told The Great Teacher that if he wished, he could have gotten a payment for it. Perhaps he was hoping that Khidr would explain the matter to him without him asking a question.
That final comment made The Great Teacher discard Moses. “This brings me and you to parting of ways”, he said. “Now I shall explain to you the true meaning of things about which you could not remain patient.” About the boat, he explained, it belonged to some poor people who earned their livelihood from the river. Nearby, there was an oppressive king who was seizing all boats by force. He damaged the boat so that the king will ignore it. About the boy, his parents were righteous whereas this boy was growing up to be a violent man who would have oppressed them. It was hoped that Allah would now provide them with a righteous son.
Lastly, about the wall, there was some buried treasure in there for two orphan boys left behind by their righteous father. By fixing the wall and preventing it from falling apart and thus exposing the treasure, he gained time for the boys to grow up and recover their property.
Before leaving, The Great Teacher made his final comment that none of these was done by his own wish, meaning that he was simply executing Allah’s commands.
These two stories above – one a parable and the other a real story – brings out a fact that is central to understanding the Islamic perspectives on trials and tribulations, and that is: trials and tribulations is not an end on itself. It is a temporal event and a part of a process beyond which lies the reality of something good and desirable. Unlike Moses for whom the curtain was briefly lifted, a believer cannot see that reality immediately with his mortal eyes, but his faith and knowledge makes him fully confident of that reality.
With that understanding borne in mind, we will now discuss some of the aspects of trials and tribulations from an Islamic perspective.
Allah is in Full Control of the Universe and Fully Aware of All Events
Nothing happens in this world except through the leave of Allah (swt). Therefore, a person who has been suffering from distress should know that Allah (swt) is fully aware of all that has happened or been happening to him. It is not a chaotic world where pain and suffering happens at random, nor is it a lawless universe without a ruler and watcher where the strong – be that a person or a nation – can do whatever it wishes to the weak without a consequence. The believer should know that Allah (swt) is aware of every little details of everything that happens, so much so that not even a leaf falls from a tree without Allah (swt) being aware of it:
He knoweth whatever there is on the earth and in the sea. Not a leaf doth fall but with His knowledge: there is not a grain in the darkness (or depths) of the earth nor anything fresh or dry (green or withered) but is (inscribed) in a Record Clear (to those who can read). (6:59)Therefore, the believer should take relief and comfort from the fact that Allah (swt) is fully and intimately aware of his situations. Any harm or injustice that he has been subjected to by anyone, will not go without a consequence. Or if he is suffering from distress and difficulties, then his suffering is constantly being watched by One who is the Most Kind, the Most Merciful.
Goodness is From Allah, Evil is From Ourselves
A believer must have firm conviction that any good that happens to us comes from Allah (swt) and any calamity that befalls us is the result of our own making:
Whatever misfortune happens to you is because of the things your hands have wrought and for many (of them) He grants forgiveness. (42:30)This does not mean that one will suffer, in the form of calamities in this world, the consequences of every sin or mistake he commits. As the Prophet (p) said, Allah (swt) forgives much more sins than the ones from which one suffers or will suffer in the Hereafter. But the important point to understand is that Allah (swt) does not cause injustice to anyone by putting him or her to undue suffering.
Our own experience and observations often point to this fact. When an individuals sits down and reflects upon his difficulties and makes an objective analysis of the events and actions leading to his situations, he will almost always identify some things he did that he should not have done or he did not that he should have done, which led to that situation. For example, for parents who suffer from their rebellious and disobedient teenaged child, it will be found, almost without exception, that they did not arrange his proper Islamic education and a good environment, and did not give it an enough priority to engage themselves with his upbringing. Indifference or inaction can be as serious as committing a sin or making a bad decision, which can lead to grave consequences. If a man, for another example, lives in an oppressive land where he suffers and cannot practice Islam, then he should be proactive and migrate from that place. Staying passive and continuing to suffer there will be considered acts of injustice that he commits against his own self, which can even lead him to Hell. Allah (swt) says about such persons:
When angels take the souls of those who die in sin against their souls they say: “In what (plight) were ye?” They reply: “Weak and oppressed were we in the earth.” They say: “Was not the earth of Allah spacious enough for you to move yourselves away (from evil)?” Such men will find their abode in Hell - what an evil refuge! (4:97)Now, a god-fearing and righteous believer who has been afflicted with a terrible calamity or injustice may wonder: “What have I done for which I have to suffer as such?” This is a question that probably comes to the minds of many believers afflicted with suffering and distress.
First and foremost, let us be reminded about the fundamental lesson learned from the story of Moses above, which is: there is a reality behind the apparent which can be far different, if not the opposite, from what we observe on the surface. How many times, in our human condition, have we suffered an obstacle or calamity which turned out to be a blessing days, months, or years later? Perhaps we then find ourselves a bit ashamed in front of Allah (swt) for not being patient and thus loosing the opportunity of earning Allah’s good pleasure. Indeed, that is the test from Allah (swt), which some fail, some pass, and a few come out with superb success.
Secondly, even when a righteous believer finds no apparent reason for his calamity, self-scrutiny and objective analysis can point out some mistakes or some incorrect decisions made in the past leading to the situation. If, for example, a righteous and pious person with a very high moral character and conduct marries a person without looking for proper Islamic character and conduct in him or her, and subsequently suffers from a bad marriage and from the actions of that unrighteous spouse, than who else should be blamed other than that pious individual himself/herself? Life is a trust from Allah (swt) which must be utilized to the fullest possible use by every believer and cannot be wasted. Therefore, a righteous believer must be patient until he/she finds a righteous person to marry. Allah (swt) says in the Qur’an:
Corrupt women are for corrupt men, and corrupt men for corrupt women; good women are for good men, and good men for good women. (24:26)It is the Righteous Believers Who are Tested With Calamities
Though calamities may hit a believer as a surprise, the reality is that by virtue of being a believer one is supposed to suffer. If a believer understands the Islamic philosophy that this life is a testing ground, then he should realize that this philosophy will be implemented for him in practice while he lives in this testing ground, and not after he dies. Tests are not just limited to see whether one performs the rituals or not. His belief and commitments to Allah (swt), and his focus in the Hereafter will be fully and thoroughly tested with calamities and afflictions to gauge the depth of his faith in his heart. Achieving Paradise will not be easy. It will come only with unshakable faith and trust in Allah (swt). Allah, may He be glorified, says:
Ye shall certainly be tried and tested in your possessions and in your personal selves. (3:186)Ah! To how many believers these verses come out as relief and solace! How many hearts of believers, with wild storms and waves in there, have calm down when remembering these verses! Day in and day out, these verses have brought the believers to tranquility and provided them with strength. Their souls then speak out: “Yea, we are tested because we are righteous believers.”
To have that feeling of being a righteous believer is very comforting indeed. Do our eyes not always witness the fact that it is the righteous people who always suffer with pain, loss, and calamities one after another while the unrighteous always seem to prosper?
Trials are a Sign of Love By Allah
One individual once told another one who was going through tribulations that Allah (swt) was displeased with him, and hence his difficulties. This man lacked wisdom, for his comment was offensive to the person who was already distressed. More importantly, his understanding was incorrect from an Islamic perspective. The one who received the comment was a gentleman and also knowledgeable in Islam. Thus, it was not surprising that he decided to digest his remark and refrained from giving a response.
There are people who do maintain that incorrect understanding. Whenever they see a believer who is suffering from some calamity or disease, they think that this is a reflection of Allah (swt)’s wrath on him.
They should remember about the Companions of the Prophet (p) who were severely persecuted or even killed after becoming Muslim, an event that wipes out all past sins. Even the prophets of Allah, the best of all people who ever walked on the face of the earth, were persecuted by their community without exception. Was Joseph not thrown into a well, sold as a slave, and then thrown back into a prison? Did Job not face severest of trials one after another, and was eventually left out by all except his wife? In fact, the Qur’an tells us that many prophets were brutally killed by the unbelievers.
These examples should establish the fact that trials and tribulations are not a sign of Allah’s displeasure on someone. Quite the contrary, it is rather a sign of Allah’s love on someone. The Prophet (p) said:
When Allah who is Great and Glorious loves people He afflicts them [with trials]. (Tirmidhi)The punishment in the Hereafter is much severe – in fact unimaginable from our worldly perspective – than any affliction one can face in this world. Therefore, when Allah (swt) loves someone and intends for him or her to go to Paradise, He wipes out his sins and mistakes and rewards him highly by putting him to afflictions in this world.
Allah Never Gives a Trial That is Too Great to Bear
Human beings are created weak (4:28). When a sudden calamity or distress befalls us, we easily become overwhelmed and often cry out, “O Allah! This is too much for me to bear!”
It never is. The believers should know it for fact that Allah (swt) never puts any burden on a soul that is beyond its ability to bear. Perhaps because we often lose sight of this fact that Allah (swt) mentions this in several places in the Qur’an:
On no soul doth Allah place a burden greater than it can bear. (2:286)This fundamental truth is actually obvious to a believer who reflects. For, if the point is to test one’s level of faith and commitment to Allah (swt), then it would be an injustice to put a burden on a soul that it will surely fail, and Allah (swt) never commits injustice against anyone:
… nor is thy Lord ever unjust (in the least) to His servants. (41:46)Therefore, no matter how difficult one’s situation is or how sever his sufferings, he should have absolutely no doubt in his mind he has the ability to deal with the trial. Allah (swt) is Just, and every affliction that He tests his faithful servant with, there is always two viable outcome for him: passing the test with success and thus earning Allah’s good pleasure, or failing it.
The Stronger the Faith, the Harder the Test, and the Greater the Reward
A believer afflicted with a severe calamity should take comfort from the fact that those who have strong faith are given the harder trials. This is established by the Prophet (p). When asked about who suffers the greatest afflictions, he replied:
The prophets, then those who come next to them, then those who come next to them. A man is afflicted in keeping his religion. If he is firm in his religion his trial is severe, but if there is weakness in his religion it is made light for him, and it continues like that till he walks on the earth having no sin. (Tirmidhi)Why is it, one may ask, that people who are faithful and righteous should have to suffer?
To get an answer, we should ask ourselves: is there any achievement without an effort or any fruit without labor? The obvious pattern that we see in our human experience is that those who work hard and go through the process of struggle are rewarded with success in this materialistic world. The greatest reward of everything that one can imagine is Paradise. In fact, the bliss and happiness in Paradise is so great that one cannot even imagine it (32:17). How can then one expect that he will achieve this greatest success without him being thoroughly tested to see if he qualifies for it?
One should not think that following the rituals, such as making salat five times a day, is enough test for him. The external rituals that we do and the laws of the shari’a that we observe returns immediate benefit to us as they bring peace and happiness to our families and provide us with a healthy social and moral society in which to live and prosper. Thus, one should not expect that observing Allah’s commandments and reaping these benefits in turn is the only tests. The real test is the test of the heart where faith lives, and that is tested with affliction and hardship to check if the faith and trust in Allah is firm and well-rooted or is it weak and superficial:
Do men think that they will be left alone on saying “We believe” and that they will not be tested? We did test those before them and Allah will certainly know those who are true from those who are false. (29:2-3)Each believer, therefore, must expect to be tested. The stronger his faith, the harder will be the test, and the greater his reward will be if he remains patient having unshakable faith and trust in Allah (swt). The Prophet (p) said:
The magnitude of the reward goes along with the magnitude of the affliction. (Tirmidhi)And the believers will continue to go through trials and tribulations in their life until their sins are wiped and they die and meet Allah (swt) free from all sins:
The believing man or woman continues to have affliction in person, property and children so that they may finally meet Allah, free from sin. (Tirmidhi)That is so because Allah (swt), in His Mercy and Generosity, not only rewards one when he is patient through his trials, but also sheds his sins for the pains and sufferings that he or she goes through. No matter how small the trial or how insignificant the discomfort, Allah (swt) will reward him for that and eliminate some sins. Said the Prophet (p):
No calamity befalls a Muslim but that Allah expiates some of his sins because of it, even though it were the prick he receives from a thorn. (Bukhari)The question one should ask himself is: “What is my reflex when I do get a prick of a thorn, or stumble on the street and hurt my toe, or my computer suddenly crashes making me loose some work? Does some uncomely word slips through the mouth to release anger and frustration, or do I stay in control and remain calm, patient, and thankful to Allah?”[
Believers Must Always Be Prepared to Face Trials
The above discussions should make it clear that believers will be tried with calamities, afflictions, and distress, and these trials will continue to occur during their lifetime until they meet their Lord.
That being the reality, a believer should remain mentally prepared to face any calamity or affliction, although he or she should never seek one. If he is not mentally prepared to face any difficulties in life and then suddenly is afflicted with one, then he may not be able to deal with it properly as he should. It is, therefore, wise that a believer solidify himself with knowledge from the Qur’an and the Sunnah regarding how to deal with trials and tribulations and then be prepared to face difficulties of life, but without seeking or hoping for any trial. This will help him remain calm and patient and pass the test when it comes, insha Allah.
Below, we discuss some of the common forms of trials and tribulations:
All living creatures will die to pass the inheritance of this world to the next generations, and with the exception of a few cases, death will come through one sickness or another. This is a reality that all have to accept. No matter how virtuous one is, he is not exempted form sickens and disease. We know the examples of many Prophets who suffered from sickness, such as Prophet Job who suffered from severe skin disorder for years. Prophet Muhammad (p) himself suffered from sickness. 'Aisha, one of his wives, said: “I never saw anybody suffering so much from sickness as Allah's Apostle.”
For a believer, suffering from sickness is not just a reality but also a philosophy that comes with blessings. He knows that Allah (swt) in His mercy will expiate some of his sins if he remains patient through it.
When one suffers through a serious disease which brings prolonged physical pain and discomfort or even the prospect of death, only he (or she) can feel the full extent of the pain and distress. No one else can possibly come close to appreciating what he goes through physically and mentally. Yet, let him be reminded that it is perhaps through this sickness and suffering that Allah (swt) intends to bless him with Paradise. There cannot be any reward or success greater than that. So let his or her heart continue to beat with zikr (remembrance) of Allah through this suffering, and his face become radiant with His love. Let the visitors who come to see him be blazed with his unshakable faith and spirit. Let him teach others, even through his sickness, faith and trust in Allah!
Aminah Assilmi, a convert to Islam, mentioned about a person who died of cancer. He was only 20 years old, and yet she was dazzled by this young man’s faith and love of Allah in the midst of suffering. She wrote:
Shortly before he died, he told me that Allah was truly Merciful. This man was in unbelievable anguish and was radiating with Allah’s love. He said: “Allah intends that I should enter heaven with a clean book.” His death experience gave me something to think about. He taught me of Allah’s love and mercy.Death of Beloved Ones
If one suffers death of someone whom he dearly loved, then he should remember that our children, spouses, parents, friends, and other family members are but trusts from Allah (swt). A wife is a trust to her husband while her husband is a trust to her. A child is a trust to his/her parents while the parents are a trust to the child. As these trusts provide us with comfort and support, Allah (swt) tests us to see how we deal with them and how we take care of these trusts. He reserves the right to take back these trusts, and He does so when the term He sets for a trust expires. The Prophet (p) consoled his daughter when her baby was sick as saying:
Whatever Allah takes away or gives, belongs to Him, and everything has a fixed term (in this world). (Bukhari and Muslim)Therefore, one should not show despair or displeasure at Allah (swt) but remain calm and patient even at the death of his or her dearest one.
Loss of Wealth and Property
In many places in the Qur’an, Allah (swt) uses the phrase “out of what we have given” when He asks the believers to spend in the way of Allah, such as:
Those who rehearse the Book of Allah, establish regular Prayer and spend (in Charity) out of what We have provided for them secretly and openly hope for a Commerce that will never fail. (35:29)As Allah (swt) asks the believers to pay zakat and charity, He reminds them that all the wealth and property that they have actually belongs to Allah (swt) anyway. All righteous believers are cognizant of this simple and obvious truth. For even if we set aside the fact that everything in this universe are created by and therefore belongs to Allah, there is no wealth or property that one can claim that it is the result of his own exclusive effort. In this context, we wrote:
If one thinks that his wealth and fortune is a result of his own labor and talent, then that reflects a serious lack of understanding and insight on his or her part. While there is no denial that one should put efforts towards achieving his goal as Islam requires and as the Prophet (p) himself did, but to think that utilization of one’s talent and exerting his labor alone earned him his wealth is to deny both facts as well as to betray common sense observation. There are many around us who with grater talents and more efforts fail to “succeed” in life and reach “financial security”. And there are those who within moments loose their vast fortunes, or suddenly become rich, due to market fluctuation, calamity, unforeseen business deals, or otherwise. And finally, there are always these basic questions to ask: Who is the One Who provided him with his talents and abilities? Who has provided him with that particular set of resources that he successfully utilized and which others were not provided with? Who controls the events that occur in our day to day life and Who provided those particular chances and deals that contributed to his fortune? Wise people know the answers to these questions and, consequently, humble themselves and thank Allah (swt) for His favor.About such people who think that it is because of their talent or enterprise that they had become wealthy, Allah (swt) says:
… When We bestow a favor upon him as from Ourselves he says, “This has been given to me because of a certain knowledge (I have)!” Nay, this is but a trial. But most of them understand not. (39:49)Righteous believers, therefore, are always conscious about this true ownership of wealth and property that is at their disposal. Therefore, when a calamity befalls that results in the loss of that property or wealth, they do not break down but remind themselves with this: “This property and wealth belonged to Allah and He has taken it back”.
Suffering Wrong and Injustice
For a believer who has been a victim of wrong or injustice by others, the greatest comfort is that a day will come when he will receive full justice from Allah (swt). No matter how insignificant or how grievous the harm is, the offending parties will be called to account for their actions. No matter to whom an injustice was done, and no matter how long ago that aggression was committed, the matter will be kept on records until it is addressed. Even if everyone forgets the incident, Allah (swt) will not. For example, the infants who were buried alive during Jahiliyyah (Age of Darkness before Islam) will not be forgotten. Allah (swt) will ask them about what their crime was for which they were buried alive:
When the female (infant) buried alive is questioned: for what crime she was killed; when the Scrolls are laid open; when the World on High is unveiled: when the Blazing Fire is kindled to fierce heat; and when the Garden is brought near; (Then) shall each soul know what it has put forward. (81:8-14)In Islam, injustice is not necessarily limited to physical and material harm. Violating a person’s honor and dignity is also an act of injustice. Therefore, a Muslim should not speak ill of another person or make any negative comment about any individual in his absence regardless of whether that person has done something wrong or not. This is called gibah, which Islam forbids except only in a few cases. A person who has done any injustice against another, be that even a negative comment made about him in his absence, will have to pay back to the victim in the Hereafter out of his own good deeds (unless the victim forgives him before he dies). If he runs out of his good deeds and still owes him, then he must take over equivalent amount of bad deeds from the victim. The Prophet (p) said:
He who has done a wrong affecting his brother’s honor or anything else, must ask his forgiveness for it today before the time (i.e., the Day of Judgment) when he will have neither a dinar nor a dirham. If he has done some good deeds, a portion equal to his wrong doings will be subtracted from them; but if he has no good deeds, he will be burdened with the evil deeds of the one he had wronged in the same proportion. (Bukhari)This is so far as compensating the victim is concerned. He will still be liable to face punishment from Allah (swt) for committing the act of injustice and thus violating Allah’s commandments, unless both Allah (swt) and the victim forgive him. The believer, therefore, should be patient having full assurance that Allah (swt) watches everything and will deliver justice:
We have made some of you as a trial for others: will ye have patience? For Allah is One Who sees (all things). (25:20)That is the ultimate comfort that a believer can have who has been wronged or oppressed by others. For there is a Judge higher than all other judges and an Authority above all other authorities. Unlike the judges in this world, this Judge never makes a mistake. For He is intimately aware of all things that occur and renders justice based on actual facts, and not on the presentation and performance of lawyers.
This discussion points out a theme that is at the core of Islam, namely justice. In fact, Islam is considered to be synonymous with justice (adl). The purpose of the shari`a (Divine Law) is justice and welfare of the people. In this religion, injustice, no matter how small, is completely forbidden. Allah (swt) says in a hadith qudsi:
O My servants, I have forbidden injustice for Myself and have made it forbidden amongst you, so do not commit acts of injustice against one another.Learning from the Example of Prophet JobThose afflicted with calamities and distress should remember the story of Prophet Job (Qur’an calls him Aiyub). Ah! What a heart-melting story of pain and suffering, of patience and forbearance, of faith and gratitude, and ultimately of reward and success! Ibn Kathir, a ninth century scholar, mentioned this story in detail in his Qisas al-Anbia (“Stories of the Prophets”). We reproduce the story below with some abridgment since no discussion on trials and tribulations can be considered completed without drawing lessons from this servant of Allah, who was truly a paragon of patience and faith.
Prophet Job (p) was a very wealthy man having many animals, lands, slaves, and children. He was a very patient man and was never arrogant or selfish. He worshipped Allah and was always humble and grateful to him. From his riches, he would help the poor and the needy with food and clothes. He would buy slaves and set them free. When he helped people, he made them feel as if they are favoring him by accepting his gifts. Such a noble person was he that one day the angels were discussing about him and praising him as a model servant of Allah.
Satan overheard their comments and became annoyed. He tried to seduce him with evil thoughts and distract him from prayers and worshipping Allah. But Job was firm in his faith and did not let the whispers of Satan tempt him.
Failing in his attempts to seduce Job, Satan complained to Allah about Job saying that although he was continuously glorifying Allah, he was not doing so out of his sincerity but to satisfy Allah so that his wealth should not be taken away. It was all a show, all out of greed. “If You remove his wealth then You will find that his tongue will no longer mention Your name and his praying will stop.”
Allah told Satan that Job was one of His most sincere devotees, and to prove this to him, Allah allowed him to do whatever he and his helpers wished with Job's wealth. Happy with this authority, Satan gathered his helpers and set about destroying Job's cattle, servants, and farms until he was left with no possessions. He then appeared before Job in the guise of a wise old man and said to him:
“All your wealth is lost. Some people say that it is because you gave too much charity and that you are wasting your time with your continuous prayers to Allah. Others say that Allah has bought this upon you in order to please your enemies. If Allah had the capacity to prevent harm, then He would have protected your wealth.”True to his belief, Job replied:
“What Allah has taken away from me belongs to Him. I was only its trustee for a while. He gives to whom He wills and withholds from whom He wills.”With these words, Job went to prostration out of his humbleness and gratitude to Allah (swt).
Seeing this, Satan was frustrated. He again complained to Allah:
“I have stripped Job of all his possessions, but he still remains grateful to You. However, he is only hiding his disappointments, for he places great store by his many children. The real test of a parent is through his children. You will then see how Job will reject You.”Allah granted Satan authority, but warned him that it would not reduce Job's faith in his Lord nor his patience.
Satan gathered his helpers and shook the foundation of the house in which Job's children were living and sent the building crashing, killing all of them. Then he went to Job disguised as a man who had come to sympathize with him. In a comforting tone he said to Job:
“The circumstances under which your children died were sad. Surely, your Lord is not rewarding you properly for all your prayers.”Job, firm in his faith, replied:
“Allah sometimes gives and sometimes takes. He is sometimes pleased and sometimes displeased with our deeds. Whether a thing is beneficial or harmful to me, I will remain firm in my belief and remain thankful to my Creator.”He then prostrated again to his Lord.
At this Satan was extremely vexed. He again called on Allah:
“O my Lord, Job's wealth is gone, his children are dead, but he is still healthy in body, and as long as he enjoys good health he will continue to worship You in the hope of regaining his wealth and producing more children. Grant me authority over his body so that I may weaken it. He will surely neglect worshipping You and thus become disobedient.”Allah wanted to teach Satan a lesson that Job was a devoted servant of Him, and so He granted Satan his third request but placed a condition:
“I give you authority over his body but not over his soul, intellect, or heart, for in these places reside the knowledge of Me and My religion.”Armed with this new authority, Satan began to take revenge on Job's body and filled it with disease until it was reduced to mere skin and bone, making him suffer severe pain. But through all the suffering Job remained strong in his faith, patiently bearing all the hardships without complaining. He did not despair, nor did he turn to others for help but remained hopeful of Allah's Mercy. Even close relatives and friends deserted him.
Only his kind loving wife stayed with him who remained his sole companion and comforter through many years of his suffering.
In desperation, Satan went to Job's wife in the form of a man, and asked, “Where is your husband?”
She pointed to an almost lifeless form crumpled on the bed and said: “There he is, suspended between life and death.”
Satan reminded her of the days when Job had good health, wealth and children. Suddenly, the painful memory of yeas of hardship overcame her, and she burst into tears. She said to Job:
“How long are you going to bear this torture from our Lord? Are we to remain without wealth, children or friends forever? Why don't you call upon Allah to remove this suffering?”Job sighed, and in a soft voice replied, “Satan must have whispered to you and made you dissatisfied. Tell me, how long did I enjoy good health and riches?”
She replied, “For eighty years.”
Then Job asked, “How long am I suffering like this?”
She said, “For seven years.”
Then Job told her, “In that case I am ashamed to call on my Lord to remove the hardship, for I have not suffered longer than the years of good health and plenty. It seems that your faith has weakened and you are dissatisfied with the fate of Allah. If I ever regain health, I swear I will punish you with a hundred strokes!
From this day onward, I forbid myself to eat or drink anything from your hand. Leave me alone and let my Lord do with me as He pleases.”
Crying bitterly and with a heavy heart, she had no choice but to leave him and seek shelter elsewhere. In his helpless state, Job turned to Allah, not to complain but to seek His mercy:
What a man of patience, faith, and self-respect! Even in this miserable condition, he did not ask Allah to remove his affliction but merely stated that He is the Most Merciful of all who have mercy!
Can there be any trial more difficult and painful then what Job went through one after another? He lost all his wealth and property, all of his children were killed when the roof collapsed, his friends and people left him, and he suffered from a sever skin disorder for years. Yet, he did not complained to Allah nor was he dissatisfied with Him throughout these extremely difficult trials. The result of his patience and faith in Allah was this: he came out of all these trials with superb success. He asked for Allah’s Mercy, and rushing down it came:
So We answered his call, and We removed the distress that was on him, and We restored his family to him (that he had lost) and the like thereof along with them - as a mercy from Ourselves and a Reminder for all who worship Us. (21:84)Allah (swt) praised him in the Qur’an, saying:
Truly We found him full of patience and constancy, how excellent in Our service! Ever did he turn (to Us)! (38:44)And He rewarded him with more than what he had:
And We gave him (back) his people and doubled their number as a Grace from Ourselves and a thing for commemoration for all who have understanding. (38:43)The verse above significantly ends with “for all who have understanding.” Indeed, for people of understanding, there are lessons to be learned from the example of Job, a mortal human being who left behind immortal lessons for patience, forbearance, and faith in Allah (swt) that will continue to inspire believers generations after generations.
Some Practical Guidelines in Dealing With Trials
The above discussions will hopefully help one understand the Islamic philosophy behind trials and tribulations and prepare his or her heart for tests. Below, we describe some practical guidelines, drawn from the Qur’an and the Sunnah, about dealing with trials.
Seek Refuge From Trials
One should not solicit trials from Allah (swt). No matter how pious one might be, he or she should not be proud of having unshakable faith but always remain humble and ask Allah (swt) to guide him and to keep him on the right path. Indeed, if it was not for the mercy and guidance of Allah (swt), he could not have remained a believer and a practicing Muslim. Therefore, he should often ask for forgiveness from Allah for sins and mistakes committed so that He does not take him to task for those mistakes. In the Qur’an, Allah (swt) teaches the believers to make the following supplication:
Our Lord! Take us not to task if we forget or commit mistakes. Our Lord! Lay not on us a burden such as You laid on those gone before us. Our Lord! Lay not on us burdens which we do not have the power to bear. And overlook our faults, and forgive us, and have mercy upon us. (2:286)The Prophet (p), the most pious and faithful of all believers, frequently used to make the following supplication:
O Allah, I seek refuge in Thee from the punishment of the grave; I seek refuge in Thee from the trial of the Antichrist; I seek refuge in Thee from the trial of life and the trial of death; O Allah, I seek refuge in Thee from sin and debt. (Muslim)Giving sadaqa (charity) often can prevent calamity for a believer. The Prophet (p) said:
Give the sadaqa without delay, for it stands in the way of calamity. (Tirmidhi)Be Ready For Trials
While a believer should seek refuge in Allah from trials, he should, at the same time, be always ready for trials. His supplications for forgiveness might save him from some trials, but there will still be trials that he will face for sure. Therefore, a believer should always be mentally prepared for afflictions and calamities so that he can pass the tests with success. See above for detailed discussions on this topic.Always Have Focus on the Hereafter
If one is afflicted with a calamity, he should remember that our life is short and our ultimate destination is the Hereafter. Therefore, he should remain patient, ask Allah (swt) for help, and remember that he will be meeting Him soon:
Who say when afflicted with calamity: “To Allah we belong and to Him is our return.” They are those on whom (descend) blessings from Allah and Mercy and they are the ones that receive guidance. (2:156-157)The Prophet (p) said:
If any Muslim who suffers some calamity says that which Allah has commanded him: “ ‘We belong to Allah and to Him shall we return’: O Allah, reward me for my affliction and give me something better in exchange for it”, Allah will give him something better than it in exchange. (Muslim)The Prophet (p) once grabbed Abdullah ibn ‘Umar by his shoulders and said:
Be in the world as if you were a stranger or a wayfarer. (Bukhari)When a believer always keeps the Hereafter in focus, he remains calm and in control at whatever calamity he faces. For him, dunya (this world) is not the end of everything, and thus he does not breakdown but stays calm and deals with all crisis with faith and trust in Allah (swt).Be Patient at the First Stroke
The mettle of a person is proven when he remains calm and in control even at a sudden and unforeseen calamity or difficulty. The Prophet (p) said:
Patience is only at the first (stroke) of grief. (Bukhari and Muslim)When Calamity Befalls, Remember That It Is a Test.
Any affliction that a believer suffers is a test from Allah (swt). If he does not recognize the test, then he may feel despair and thus fail the test. The believer should particularly keep in mind the following verses from the Qur’an that remind that every single believer will be tested:
We shall try you until We test those among you who strive their utmost and persevere in patience; and we shall try your reported (mettle). (47:31)Ask Allah (swt) For Forgiveness
When calamity strikes a believer, he should take all steps necessary to remedy the situation. Having faith and trust in Allah never means inaction or complacency with difficulties. This has been made quite clear in both the Qur’an and the examples of the Prophet (p).
From a spiritual perspective, the very first thing that the believer should do is turn to Allah (swt) for forgiveness. One of the most beautiful and effective supplications that he can make is the supplication made by Prophet Jonah (called Yunus in the Qur’an). When the people of Nineveh rejected the message of Jonah to worship Allah alone, Jonah left the city out of despair, expecting that Allah’s punishment on them was imminent. That was a mistake, for a Prophet can never forsake his mission and leave without the consent of Allah.
This was only a mistake in judgment, and not a rebellious action. Nevertheless, for a Prophet or a man of piety, even a minor mistake comes out to be significant in contrast to the faith and piety that Allah has blessed him or her with. Jonah was soon consumed by a whale. It was a dark night, and he was in the dark stomach in the dark bottom of the sea. Stricken with this calamity, Jonah realized his mistake and immediately turned to Allah for forgiveness. He made a supplication that was simple and short. Nevertheless, its words carry so much significance that this small supplication is considered to be the “Mother of all supplications”. From the darkest chamber of the whale’s stomach, he cried out to Allah:
This short supplication has three important components. First, Jonah recognized that there is no other authority or power worthy of worship except Allah. Besides Him, he can turn to no one for help – no king, no judge, and no personal attorney. If there is anyone who is capable of forgiveness and help, that is only Allah, the Supreme Authority of the entire universe. Second, he declared that Allah is above all blames and shortcomings. Allah (swt) is not to be blamed for his situations, for He never commits a wrong against anyone. He is above and beyond all faults and shortcomings. Lastly, he admitted that he has committed a mistake. This admittance and recognition of one’s own fault is perhaps the most important element in seeking forgiveness. For Jonah, this admission did not merely come out from his lips but also from the bottom of his heart. This short supplication was so heavy in weight that Allah (swt) turned to him in forgiveness and delivered him from these three layers of darkness.
Sincere admittance of mistakes and repentance, thus, is a necessary condition for supplications to be heard. Allah (swt) is indeed the Most Merciful and He is quick to forgive His slaves.
Ask for Help With Patience and Salat
After faith and trust in Allah, the most import quality that a believer needs during calamity and affliction is patience. Patience is such a virtue that it is frequently mentioned both in the Qur’an and the hadith. Indeed, the Prophet (p) said that it is the best gift that one can receive from Allah:
No one is granted a gift better and more comprehensive than patience. (Bukhari and Muslim)In many places in the Qur’an, Allah (swt) asks the believer to seek His help with patience and salat, such as:
O ye who believe! seek help with patient perseverance and prayer: for Allah is with those who patiently persevere. (2:153)One of the best times to offer salat is late night before the time for fajr starts. Called the tahajjud prayer, there are many excellences for this prayer. The believer should try to make as much tahajjud prayer as possible and ask Allah (swt) for help and forgiveness, as this is one the best times to make prayers and supplications:
And for part of the night also praise Him, and at the retreat of the stars! (52:49)When people and all other creatures around are deep in sleep, it is only the believer who keeps awake and is immersed in worshipping Allah (swt). In that still silence of the dead of the night, it is, as if, only two are engaged in a private conversation: one who begs for help and mercy, and the Other Who listens to his prayers.
Avoid the Two Pitfalls
Truly man was created very impatient: fretful when evil touches him, and niggardly when good reaches him. (70:19-21)There are two categories of people that a righteous believer should not slip into.
The first kinds are those who desperately seek Allah’s help and forgiveness when in calamity or peril. Then when Allah (swt) delivers them from their calamity, they forget Allah and go back to their usual life of indifference to Allah and the Hereafter. About these people, Allah (swt) says:
When trouble touches a man he cries unto Us (in all postures) lying down on his side or sitting or standing. But when We have solved his trouble he passes on his way as if he had never cried to Us for a trouble that touched him! Thus do the deeds of transgressors seem fair in their eyes! (10:12)The second kinds are those who worship Allah and follow his commandments so long as they enjoy a comfortable or trouble-free life. Then when calamities strike them, they break down and become indifferent to Allah and his commandments out of anger and frustration. It is, as if, they deserve a comfortable life in return for their worshipping of Allah (swt). About them, says Allah (swt):
Among men is he who worships Allah, while remaining on the borderline; if any good befalls him, he is satisfied; but if a trial afflicts him, he utterly turns away. He will incur loss both of this world and the Hereafter. That indeed is a clear loss. (21:11)Falling into one these two categories is an utter failure. A true believer is one who always worships Allah (swt) – whether in calamity or in good fortune. When in calamity, he remains patient and pleased with Allah, and when something good happens to him, he thanks Allah. Thus he always earns rewards and Allah’s good pleasure while he lives in this world. The Prophet (p) said:
How wonderful is the case of a believer! There is good for him in everything, and this is not the case with anyone except a believer. If prosperity attends him, he expresses gratitude to Allah and that is good for him; and if adversity befalls him, he endures it patiently and that is better for him. (Muslim)Keep in Mind the Eventual Success
Verily with every difficulty, there is relief. (94:6)It is a source of great comfort for a believer to know that his or her afflictions will one day come to an end and there will be relief for him. Therefore, he should keep this eventuality in mind and go through his trial with patience, forbearance, and faith in Allah. There will be a day – whether in this world or the Next – when he will come out victorious and successful for passing the test. For a believer in affliction, that is the ultimate success that awaits him. Says Allah (swt):
Verily, the Hereafter will be better for thee than the present. (93:4)Show Kindness to Those Who are Afflicted
If someone is afflicted with a calamity, other believers should often visit or call him or her and inquire about his (or her) welfare. One should never demoralize an afflicted believer by saying that Allah is displeased with him or that he has committed some sin for which he is being punished. Instead, believers should tell him good words that will uplift his spirit. They should tell him about the fact that Allah tests those whom He loves, and that it is the righteous believers who suffer the most in this life so that they can get Paradise in the Hereafter. The believers should sympathize with him and offer their help. The Prophet (p), out of his sympathy for the afflicted, said:
If you were to sell fruits to your brother and these are stricken with calamity, it is not permissible for you to get anything from him. (Muslim)Remember Past Trials and Benefit From Them
A wise person always takes lessons from hardships and afflictions and tries to improve his or her situation. A believer who has come out of an affliction should be self-critical and objectively analyze the possible causes for his affliction, and make corrections accordingly. For example, if he has been involved in a serious road accident while driving and Allah (swt) spared his life, then he should be more careful in driving, follow all traffic laws, and drive defensively. Or if he became seriously sick due to unhealthy eating habits and he recovered, then he should control his diet and do regulars exercise to stay fit and healthy. Most important improvements of all are amending one’s character and conduct and turning to Allah (swt) in obedience.
There is also spiritual benefit in remembering the past trials as that will make the believer always remain conscious of the fact that life is short with all its vicissitudes and he will soon return to Allah (swt). The Prophet (p) said that remembering past trials can even earn him reward:
If any Muslim man or woman suffers a calamity and keeps it in his memory, even if it happened a long time ago, saying each time it is remembered, 'We belong to Allah and to Him do we return,' Allah, who is Blessed and Exalted will give a fresh reward each time it is said, equivalent to the reward when it happened. (Ahmad)Epilogue: Life is a Testing Ground
Islam is submission to the will of Allah. For one who submits, a mere declaration or display of belief will not be taken for success, but his or her heart and soul will for sure be put to test.
Allah (swt) will test him to see whether he follows His commandments or his own desires; whether he lives a righteous and godly life or lives according to what his nafs (self ) dictates; whether the faith he displays is firmly rooted in his heart or is it merely on the surface and thus is knocked off at a slight wind; whether he will continue to have faith and love of Allah when in calamity as he does when in comfort; whether he will continue to remember and worship him if given bounties and comforts of life as he does when he lives a modest life. Allah (swt) will test him to see if his faith, trust, and love of Him is unconditional or is it conditioned with good health and comfortable life free from stress and anxiety.
For a righteous Muslim, this life is a testing ground where he will continue to be tested until he meets Allah (swt). For him, tests will be done right here on earth while he lives, and not after he dies. He knows that as soon as death arrives and he steps into the Next World, his tests are over. There, he only receives the results of his tests, and then enjoys (or suffers) the fruits of his deeds that he committed during a short span of time called Life.