Do the people think that they will be left to say, "We believe" and will not be tried?
Mus'ab bin Sa'd narrated from his father that a man said: “O Messenger of Allah! Which of the people is tried most severely?” The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said: “The Prophets, then those nearest to them, then those nearest to them. A man is tried according to his religion; if he is firm in his religion, then his trials are more severe, and if he is frail in his religion, then he is tried according to the strength of his religion. The servant shall continue to be tried until he is left walking upon the earth without any sins.”
And know that when the trials of life have rendered you
Despairing of all hope, and of all joy bereaved,
Then shake yourself and rouse yourself from heedlessness,
And make pure hope a meadow that you never leave.
Habib `Ali bin Muhammad bin Husayn Al-Habashi (d. 1915 CE)
As I get closer to 40, it feels like more and more people I know are experiencing serious difficulties and challenges in life. I’m not talking about earning that next promotion, getting your kids into the best schools or finding a halal way to invest your money – all of which may have some level of importance, but when compared to more serious challenges and tribulation, begin to seem trivial. I’m talking about the serious trauma that we, young and old, are silently experiencing: loss of spouses and children, debilitating diseases, domestic violence, broken families, mental illness, extreme loneliness – the list goes on. While many still find strength in God during these trials, the result of our individual and collective trauma is increasingly the opposite – distance from God and a loss of hope.
Social media is making our trials appear worse. Our friends are seemingly always at brunch or on vacation. The endless news cycle reminds us of the constant war and suffering. We are witnessing an increasing gap between the rich and the poor. Life just seems unfair. Even those raised as practicing Muslims sometimes wonder – “I did everything right, listened to my parents, didn’t date, stayed away from drugs, never drank alcohol. I gave up so much to please God, so why am I suffering?” Amidst so much pain, where do we find comfort?
Many of us were fed a mantra that if we would only “return to Islam” and “be good Muslims,” God would relieve us of our challenges and bring us the material success our once great civilization had lost. Well, there is no such promise of success in this life. The reality is that God tests His most beloved servants more than anyone else. Of course, tests take many forms, and wealth and health can be just as much of a test as poverty and sickness. But the key to contentment is understanding that everything that comes our way is a trial. This life is the abode of trials. This life will be difficulty after difficulty, even when we experience material success. Yes, there will be unconditional pleasure and comfort, but in the life to come.
In the words of one of my teachers, “Islam is not an event. It’s a process. It takes a lifetime to ‘do Islam.’” We must expect struggle. When the first calamity strikes, how will we respond? When we face our mortality, how will we meet our Lord?
As in all things, we should take comfort in the example of our beloved Prophet Muhammad ﷺ. We often overlook the serious difficulties, many of them personal, that he encountered in his mission. Yes, he was ultimately triumphant and successful, but if we are to truly take the Prophet of God as our model, we must be people who learn to persevere. No one was more tested than the Prophet and no one responded to those tests in a more beautiful way. God chose him above all creation and his tests and trials in his personal life were not a punishment, but rather a means by which he was raised. May God’s peace and blessings be upon him.
The difficulties of the Prophet ﷺ in his early life and during the Makkan period of his prophethood are well known. His father passed before he was born. At six, he loses his mother. At eight, his grandfather. He loses his sons in infancy. Most of his people rejected his message and ridiculed him. They boycotted his clan and forced him into exile. And, at the height of this difficulty, he lost his beloved wife and most ardent supporter, Khadijah (may God be pleased with her). After all of this, he was forced to leave his homeland.
But even in Madinah, amidst a flourishing community and victory after victory, the Prophet ﷺ continued to experience serious trials, many in his personal life. After the glorious victory of the Battle of Badr, he returned to the death of his daughter Ruqayyah. The next year, he lost his childhood friend and uncle Hamza at Uhud. The year after that, his wife Zaynab bint Khuzayma. Soon after, his cousin Abu Salamah. The next year he has to defend against a siege of Madinah by close to 10,000 allied enemy forces. The next year, his wife ‘Aisha is victim to a terrible slander. The next year, even though there is relative peace and prosperity in Madinah after the Treaty of Hudaybiyah, his household experiences domestic discord – requiring him to spend a month in solitude. He then loses his eldest daughter, Zaynab. Then his cousin Ja’far ibn Abi Talib, who only recently returned from Abyssinia, and Zayd bin Haritha, who he raised like a son, are killed at Mu’tah. The companions had never seen such an emotional display from the Prophet, who wept as he held the children of Ja’far and Zayd. Shortly after the conquest of Makkah, he learns of the death and performs the funeral prayer for Ashamah, the Najashi of Abyssinia who granted asylum to his companions fifteen years earlier. Upon returning from Tabuk, he loses another daughter, Umm Kulthum. The next year, he loses his infant son, Ibrahim.
Anas (may God be pleased with him) narrates that the Prophet held Ibrahim while Ibrahim was breathing his last breath. The eyes of the Prophet (peace be upon him) began shedding tears. Abdur-Rahman bin ‘Awf (may God pleased with him) said, “O Messenger of God, you too weep?” The Prophet said, “O Ibn ‘Awf, it is mercy.” As he weeped the Prophet said, “The eyes are shedding tears and the heart is grieved, and we will not say except what pleases our Lord. O Ibrahim! Indeed we are grieved by your separation.”1
At age 62, the Prophet ﷺ, with Ibrahim’s death, had buried six of his seven children. And what is the Prophet’s response? Yes, he grieved and encouraged us to grieve in a healthy way. But does he give up? Does he lose hope? Quite the opposite. He never waivers and only increases in his certainty that God’s promise is true. And perhaps the most amazing of all, despite experiencing these personal trials, his primary concern always remained his Ummah. May God’s peace and blessings be upon him.
No one is saying we can’t complain. We should complain. There is tremendous benefit in our healthy complaining. The Prophet’s famous prayer after Ta’if, at a time of immense struggle and difficulty, is the greatest example of a servant’s complaint to their Lord in a time of distress and difficulty:
O Allah, I complain to You of my weakness, my scarcity of resources and the humiliation I have been subjected to by the people.
O Most Merciful of those are are merciful. O Lord of the weak and my Lord too.
To whom have you entrusted me? To a distant person who receives me with hostility? Or to an enemy to whom you have granted authority over my affair?
So as long as You are not angry with me, I do not care. Your favor is a more expansive relief to me.
I seek refuge in the light of Your Countenance by which all darkness is dispelled and every affair of this world and the next is set right, lest Your anger or Your displeasure descends upon me. I desire Your pleasure and satisfaction until You are pleased.
There is no power and no might except by You.
As the Prophet ﷺ demonstrated, we complain to God through our supplication for divine assistance. We should also be compelled to act in the face of injustice perpetrated by other people. Of course, if we are victims to abuse or violence, we should report it to the proper authorities and seek the help of qualified professionals. The point is not to simply roll over and take all trials in a resigned and helpless state. The point is to remind ourselves that this world is a place of tribulation and there is no true everlasting pleasure in this transient world.
The students of the late Dr. Hassan Hathout2 (may God have mercy upon him) often relate the story of his prayer after learning of the tragic death of his infant daughter. One cannot even begin to imagine the immense pain upon hearing such news, but his response exemplifies the reaction of a heart connected to God: “My Lord, You gave me my daughter, and You took away from me my daughter, give me strength to respond in a way that is most pleasing to You.” What are we doing to prepare our hearts to respond to God’s decree in such a beautiful way?
Yes, the Prophet’s trials were more than any of us could even imagine, let alone handle. God prepared the Prophet ﷺ for an extraordinary purpose. We, as believers, also have a great purpose and will be prepared accordingly. Of course, we never ask God for hardship. We ask for ease, wellness and facilitation, but it is only when we have firm belief that God is in charge, and directs all affairs, do we find comfort in whatever challenges come our way. The Prophet knew with absolute certainty that nothing happens except by the decree of God – and that is why he continued to persevere through all the personal hardship. And part of our certainty is that God has told us that none of us will be tested more than we can handle. We must have certainty that God’s promise is true. We must never lose hope.
By Muizz Rafique , 09 Aug 2018