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Ibn `Atta’ on Calls of Distress

In his well-known book, Al-Hikam (Words of Wisdom), sheikh Ahmad Ibn `Ataa’illah As-Sakandari says:

The best way to ask Him is through expressing your distress, and the fastest way to acquire His gifts is through expressing your humility and need.

The word of wisdom under discussion is about du`aa’ (supplication). It is not about the etiquette of supplication, but it is about the condition of the heart during supplication.

Allah asks the disbelievers about their own experiences:

{Who is it that responds to the distressed when he calls out to Him, and who removes the ill, and has made you inherit the earth? Could there be any divine power besides Allah?} (An-Naml 27: 62)

In this verse Allah makes it clear to the disbelievers that when they were in distress and sincerely asked Allah for help, He answered them. If this is the case with disbelievers in distress, what about if a believer is in distress and asks His Lord for help!

Therefore, distress gets the supplication answered quickly. The Sheikh says: “The best way to ask Him is through your distress”. If you are in distress and ask Allah sincerely, while feeling the need for His help after the means have failed you, then rest assured that Allah will answer your supplication.

This applies not only to asking Allah for worldly help but also for help with matters of faith as well. The best way to ask Him to guide you is also through distress, need, humility, and hope in His mercy. This is best illustrated in the Prophet’s supplications in different situations.

In the battle of Badr the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) turned towards the qibla (prayer direction), stretched his arms out and began his supplication to his Lord:

“O Allah, accomplish for me what You have promised me. O Allah, bring about what You have promised me. O Allah, if this small band of Muslims is destroyed, You will never be worshipped on the earth!“

He continued his supplication to Allah for a long time, until his mantle slipped down from his shoulders. (Reported by Muslim)

This is a supplication from someone in distress, and it was a supplication that was answered swiftly.

Then the Sheikh explains other useful clues for supplication. He says: “And the fastest way to acquire good traits is through expressing your humility and need”. Some scholars comments on the verse, {Charity is for the poor} (At-Tawbah 9: 60) saying that: If a human gives charity to a poor person in need, what about if the poor person shows his need to Allah? Surely Allah will give him out of His bounties, even more than what another human might give him.

According to the prophetic traditions we know, the person who performs supplication should face the qibla (prayer direction), stretch his hand while praying to Allah, and start the supplication with praising Allah and invoking peace and blessings on the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). It is also recommended to invoke peace and blessings on the Prophet in the middle and at the end of the supplication. This is the apparent acts of supplication. However, what is of more importance is the condition of the heart when praying to Allah, which we often ignore to follow the example of the Prophet in.

The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) used to recite certain prayers at certain situations, such as getting up in the morning, going to bed, wearing his clothes, taking off his clothes, looking at the mirror, washing himself, sleeping, seeing a new moon, in the evening, in the morning, going out, coming back home, and so on. It is not enough that we follow the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) by memorizing and uttering these supplications. We must acquire the spirit behind them, which is to be connected with Allah at all times.

If we trace the history of supplication, we will not find any person, even previous Prophets, who had this continuous stream of supplications, as much as Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). If we survey the Psalms, the Torah, and the Gospel, we will not come across so many supplications as we come across when we survey Prophet Muhammad’s tradition, peace be upon him.

Moreover, we also learned that Prophet Muhammad’s supplications were accompanied by deep emotions. `A’ishah, the Prophet’s wife, was asked by `Ataa’ about the most astonishing event she witnessed about the Messenger of Allah. She cried and said:

Whatever was not astonishing about him? One night he came and got in bed with me. My skin touched his and he said: “O Abu Bakr’s daughter, let me off! Let me worship my Lord.” I said: “I love being with you, but I prefer to do as you wish”.

I let him. He got up and took ablution without wasting water. Then he started praying and crying. He cried so much that his tears flew down through his chest.

Then he bent for ruku` and cried. Then he prostrated for sujud and still cried. Then he raised his head and still cried. He continued to cry until morning. When it was time for the Morning Prayer (fajr), Bilal came and recited the adhan (call to prayer).

And then I said: “O the Messenger of Allah! What makes you cry? Allah has forgiven your sins, committed and to be committed.” He said: “Shall I not be a thankful servant to Allah? Shall I not give Him thanks?”. (Al-Bukhari)

Prayers may be answered immediately and may be answered eventually.  When Allah does not answer your prayers immediately, be certain that Allah is choosing the best for you. Allah has always been choosing the best for you. Allah says about Himself: {In His Hand is all good.} (Aal `Imran 3: 25) And Allah’s giving may be in this world or in the world to come, and the choice is His: {And Your Sustainer creates whatever He wills; and He chooses} (Al-Qasas 28: 68) Certainly, His choice is far better and more excellent than ours.

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