As the scorching sun beat down on the sand, an exhausted man turned and began to walk away from his family. His shocked wife called out to him, asking where he was going. The man did not reply. Clutching their baby in her arms, she desperately asked: “Is this what your Lord has ordered?”
What is precious to you? Setting aside our religion, broadly speaking we can categorize what is important to us into: family, health and wealth or status.
Calamity strikes us all, and we all know the most beloved to the Lord of all creation are the Prophets (ʿalayhim al-Salām). Yet, if we study their lives we see great tests in all of them.
Look, for example, at the life of Prophet Muḥammad (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam). He (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) was tested in all three categories. The best of mankind had to bury six of his children, he suffered days with ill-health and was injured in battle. Muḥammad (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) went from being one of the most noble, respected men of Makkah to being ridiculed and exiled. And now, the city which expelled him rises and sleeps by calling his (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) name.
Or we can look at Ibrāhīm (ʿalayhi al-Salām). His reputation was tarnished and he was thrown in the fire, he was tested with his own father refusing to accept Islām, and he perhaps had the greatest test with his family when he was ordered to slaughter his own beloved son.
Or we can turn to Nūḥ (ʿalayhi al-Salām) whose people ridiculed him for nearly a millennium. We can only imagine his pain upon calling out to his son to join him on the ark.
Or we can learn from story of Yūnus (ʿalayhi al-Salām)م) in the stomach of the whale. In that darkness upon darkness did he call upon Allāh with a timeless and beautiful repentance which has been immortalised in the Qur’ān:
“There is no God worthy of worship except You. Glory be to You, verily I was among the wrong doers.” [Al-Qur’an, 21:87-88]
There are numerous such examples from the lives of the Prophets. We can see, from these few illustrations, that Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) tests those whom He loves, and the more He (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) loves someone, the greater the trial.
In the comfort of our homes this is an easy concept and one we all subconsciously nodding at in agreement. However, it is only when disaster strikes that our true conviction becomes manifest. Whether it be losing your job and looking at your children wondering how you will pay next month’s bills, or being informed you or a family member have a serious illness, or mischievous people spreading false rumours about you; trials take a multitude of forms. When a tribulation strikes, at that very moment, there is a natural human reaction but the subsequent attitude is what separates the soot from the gold.
We live in troubled times. In the UK 20% of the population suffer with anxiety or depression and nearly 7% have attempted suicide.
A similar prevalence of depression and anxiety exists in the USA with various reasons being cited including relationship or financial concerns. Yet, little discussion exists in the medical world about the potential link between a lack of religiosity and depression. An interesting study conducted in the USA of offspring of depressed parents (who are therefore at risk of developing depression themselves) reveals:
“This 10-year follow-up study found a long-term protective effect of high personal importance of religion/spirituality against major depression.”
There are many limitations to this study, not least of all the small sample size and the geographical location of the sample size and its inherent religious denominations. Nevertheless, it still makes for interesting reading.
As Muslims, when a trial strikes, the minimum acceptable response is not to despair but have patience, and the best response is to be content with the Decree of Allāh. This is not to say as Muslims we cannot have the illness of depression or anxiety, indeed not, but it is our response to this illness which is critical.
Ibn al-Qayyim said: “The ibtilaa’ (testing) of the believer is like medicine for him. It cures him from illness. Had the illness remained it would destroy him or diminish his reward and level (in the hereafter). The tests and the trials extract these illnesses from him and prepare him for the perfect reward and the highest of degrees (in the life to come).”
By changing our mindset from viewing trials as something to feel resentful of, to looking at it as an opportunity to draw closer to Allāh, we can turn a negative experience to one which enriches our life.
From the greatest gifts of a tribulation is reliance upon Allāh (tawakkul) and sincerity to Him (ikhlās). After all, it is in these difficult moments that we see, with crystal clear vison, that only Allāh can help us get out of this situation and so, with a broken, humble heart do we raise our hands to the sky imploring Him to send His aid.
These trials are golden opportunities to experience Allāh’s names and attributes. Some study Allāh’s names and attributes in a sterile academic fashion, perhaps, even commit them to memory. Yet, the slave who calls out to Al-Samī (The All Hearer) and says: “You alone hear my secret pain” or the slave who says: “Yā Basīr (The All Seer) – you can see the difficulty I am in” or the slave suffering with debt who calls out to Ar-Razāq (The Provider) or the one with illness who calls out to As-Shafee (The Curer) have the opportunity to actually experience these attributes of Allāh.
We do not worship an abstract concept, but an actual supreme Being who has names and attributes. By calling on Him through these names and attributes we can appreciate them and develop our relationship with Him. In the final analysis, what is life but a journey to Ar-Raḥmān and developing our relationship with Him? Whilst we should fill our days with rituals, we should also spend time reflecting over our days to date, taking stock and planning what we want to achieve for this Deen. Ultimately drawing closer to Lord of the worlds and seeking His beautiful countenance.
Whilst we should be dignified and firm in the event of a trial, we should not expect them, but instead only have the best of expectations of Allāh. In a ḥadīth Qudsi, Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) says:
“I am as My servant expects me to be” [Sahih Al-Bukhari]
Nor should we look forward to tests as the Messenger of Allāh (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said:
“O people! Do not long for encountering the enemy but supplicate to Allāh to grant you security. However, when you face the enemy show patience and steadfastness; and keep it in mind that Jannah lies under the shade of the swords.” [Sahih Al-Bukhari and Muslim]
Keep your eyes on the prize. Know that this journey, even with its potholes has as its final destination either gardens of eternal bliss or never-ending hellfire. Paradise is pure, and will only accept the pure.
The litmus test for our relationship with Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) is our supplication. How often do we call upon our Rabb? When we make the morning duʿā’ asking Him to grant us the ‘nūr’ and ‘victory’ of the day, does it fill us with optimism or do we merely pay lip service to such words? The quality and frequency of our duʿā’ demonstrates our hearts’ reliance upon the Lord of the worlds. The fruit of regular duʿā’ is nothing other than cultivation of love of Allāh. In the words of Ibn-ul Qayyim, love of Allāh “is a sweetness or pleasure that if you are without it, life becomes a thing of worries and of pain.”
So, let us return to the man leaving his wife and baby in the sweltering, barren Arabian dessert. Once Hajar is informed this is an order from Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā), her anxiety turns to patience. After the small bag of dates had finished and the mother’s breast milk had run dry, the baby naturally started to cry. In utter panic she ran between two mountains looking for some assistance. Yet there was not a soul in sight. Whether it was north, south, east or west, in every direction nothing but desolate land. Perhaps only a mother can begin to appreciate her panic as she heard her baby’s cries, not knowing where or when she could find some water, but never losing hope in Ar-Raḥmān.
Suddenly a spring of water sprouts from beneath the feet of her kicking, crying, dehydrated baby. What relief she must have felt; a spring of water which would go on to quench the thirst of countless people for thousands of years to come. If Hajar had known that her running between Safa and Marwah would be celebrated until the end of time by millions, if not billions of people, she would have run with a huge smile on her face. And so, it may be, that our patience during the most difficult of times, will be rewarded with the pleasure of Allāh, the ultimate reward which will last an eternity: Imagine your smile then.