“I gave a talk in November 2023 organised by The Sila Initiative about how to avoid depression, loss of hope and despair, and not have a bad opinion of Allah over the events in Gaza. Because of the confusion in the hearts of many Muslims, [I am sharing below] the main points that were covered in the lecture. I hope that they will be of benefit and a reason to alleviate grief, and our success is only through Allah.
Barik Allah fikum,
Note: translations of Quranic verses are taken from Keller, Nuh Ha Mim, The Quran Beheld
ATTAINING THE RANK OF THE MARTYRS
When oppression proliferates in the world, it is often the case that there is no other way to remove it than warfare. This is legitimate military combat commanded by Allah. Without it, countries would be invaded and people’s lives, property, rights, liberty and dignity violated. Without it, the religion of Allah would not be preserved and people be free to worship Him
4.75 So how can you not fight
in the path of Allah,
and for the downtrodden
—-of men, women, and small children unable to emigrate—- who say: ‘Our Lord, take us out of this town
whose people are idolatrous oppressors,
and bestow us from Yourself
a powerful ally.’
The people who go forth to battle for the sake of God Almighty in required circumstances do so knowing that they are likely to die. They may also have the concern of leaving widows and orphans behind them. But without the sacrifice made by the few, there is prolonged suffering, or even destruction for the many. From a worldly perspective loss of life is a tragedy. But from a spiritual perspective, those who die as martyrs in battle have a great and everlasting station with Allah. This is because they gave the most precious thing they possess, their very selves, for the good pleasure of their Lord. In return, their tremendous rank in the next world includes that they are counted among those of the highest standing.
4.69 And whoever obeys Allah and the Messenger shall be with those Allah has truly blessed,
of the prophets, the utterly true,
the martyrs, and the wholly righteous:
And how excellent are those as companions!
The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) informed us that the martyr is forgiven all of his sins, except for rights owed to other people.
The Prophet (Allah bless his and give him peace) said, ‘Being killed in the path of Allah expiates everything except debt.’ (Muslim, 1886b)
And he said, ‘The martyr is forgiven all sins except debt.’ (Muslim, 1886a)
The martyr is directly entered into paradise and remains there until the Day of Judgement.
3.169 Nor ever deem those slain in the
path of Allah to be dead: Rather they are alive, with their Lord, being provided for;
3.170 Overjoyed at what Allah has given them
out of His pure favor, and filled with gladness for those who have yet to join them,
that they need never be feared for,
nor shall they grieve;
1.171 Filled with gladness
at a supreme blessing from Allah
and immense bounty,
and that Allah wastes not the wage of believers.
The life enjoyed by martyrs in Paradise before the Day of Resurrection differs from the life and reward they will have after Judgement. The former is described in a narration from the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace).
Masruq relates, ‘We asked Abdullah (Ibn Masud) about this verse: Nor ever deem those slain in the path of Allah to be dead: Rather they are alive, with their Lord, being provided for.’ He said, “We too asked about that, and he (the Prophet) said, ‘Their souls are in the hollows of green birds that have lanterns suspended from the Throne. They roam where they wish in Paradise, and then return to the lanterns. Their Lord looked upon them and said, “Is there anything you desire?” They said, “What can we desire, when we roam as we please in Paradise.” And He repeated this with them three times. So, when they saw that they would not be left without being asked, they said, “O Lord, we desire that you return our souls to our bodies so we can battle another time in Your path.” So, when He saw that they had no need, they were left.’”’ (Muslim, 1887)
As for the indescribable life that martyrs will be favoured with after the Day of Judgement, this is also indicated in a hadith from the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace).
The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, ‘No one who enters Paradise will want to return to this world, even if he possessed everything in it, except the martyr. He will wish that he could return to the world and be killed ten times over because of what he has seen of honour and largesse.’ (Bukhari, 2817)
The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, ‘If it were not that I would be placing a hardship on my nation of followers, I wouldn’t sit back from any military expedition. I would have loved that I was martyred in the path of Allah and then brought back to life and again be martyred and brought back to life and then again be martyred.’ (Bukhari, 36)
Special rulings apply to the martyr killed in battle, such as not washing and shrouding the body. These are the martyrs of this world and the next. But the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) told us that there are other people who will have the same reward in the next world as the martyr from war. The common factor in this group is a gruesome death. By the mercy of Allah, the suffering experienced by these people when dying is compensated by the tremendous rank given to martyrs.
The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, ‘There are seven types of martyrdom besides being killed in the path of Allah. The one who dies of the plague is a martyr, the one who dies of drowning is a martyr, the one who dies of pleurisy is a martyr, the one who dies from a stomach disease is a martyr, the one who dies from burning to death is a martyr, the one who is killed from a building collapsing on him is a martyr, and a woman who dies while pregnant is a martyr.’ (Abu Dawud, 3111)
Losing one’s life in defense of one’s property, self, religion and family is also a reason to be rewarded with the high degree of martyrdom.
The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, ‘Whoever wants a person’s wealth without right and that person then fights and is killed, he is a martyr.’ (Tirmidhi, 1420)
The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, ‘Whoever is killed defending his property is a martyr, and whoever is killed defending his own life is a martyr, and whoever is killed defending his religion is a martyr, and whoever is killed defending his family is a martyr.’ (Tirmidhi, 1421)
Without suffering, the exulted rank of martyrdom could not be reached. As for those left behind who have lost their loved ones, it is a consolation for them that they were given such a station.
ACCEPTING THE DESTINY OF ALLAH
Belief in destiny is of the principle tenets of faith in Islam. This means that all things in existence are known to Allah, Mighty and Majestic, in His eternal knowledge and manifested by His will and omnipotent power.
54.49 Verily We have created every single thing in exact foreseen due measure.
33.38 … And the command of Allah was ever a destiny fittingly determined.
Nothing in the whole of creation happens except through His will and determining. This does not exclude the freewill of the human being in his choices, which are already known to God Almighty in His eternal knowledge and He has allowed to be manifest. Even though Allah has allowed the manifestation of man’s choices, it doesn’t mean that He is pleased with them. Therefore, as long as the human being has sound intellect, and is able to judge matters and decide what action he is taking, he is responsible before Allah for what he has chosen.
2.281 And fear an unspeakable day when you are all returned to Allah; Then, and yet graver, every soul shall be paid back in full what it has earned,
while they shall not be wronged.
The person who is unable to make a sound decision, such as a child, or someone who is either unconscious or insane, is not held accountable for their actions.
The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, ‘The Pen has been lifted from the minor, the insane and the sleeper.’ (Ibn Majah, 2042)
While Allah knows all things, and has determined all outcomes and what everyone will receive, He has hidden this from man and directed him to strive to attain what has been written for him. His determining also means that both ease and hardship in life are from His destiny.
Not a breath do you take,
save He makes something He has destined occur in you. (Hikam, 22)
The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, ‘Everything has a true reality, and a servant will not attain to the true reality of faith until he knows that what hit him was never going to miss, and what missed him was never going to hit.’ (Ahmad, 26944)
The person who realizes that the hardship and trials he faces are from the destiny of Allah has more ability to accept them. When he misses out on something he wanted, or loses something precious to him, the pain he feels is alleviated by his belief that this was not meant for him. With the passing of time, it is often the case that when one looks back at the tribulation experienced, one realizes that much wisdom was gained that wouldn’t have otherwise come about. New situations may emerge that are an improvement on the past, or new horizons appear in one’s life. The awareness that trials contain benefits brings about a strength in the soul that enables it to face the blows of fate with a certitude that there will inevitably be good in the outcome. However, this does require belief in Allah and trust in Him.
9.51 Say, ‘Nothing shall befall us
but what Allah has inscribed in our favour: He is our Supreme Master,
and in Allah
let believers put their trust.’
Learning to trust in the wisdom of the destiny of Allah is of the treasures of life. Such a person is with his Benevolent Lord in times of ease and times of hardship, because he knows that both are coming from Him for benefit being bestowed. He begins to live in the comfort of closeness to his Beloved and contentment with what He has chosen and written. He has certitude and trust in the wise creating of Allah and isn’t blown over by distressing events, even if he doesn’t directly understand why they are occurring. Without trials, this contentment and equilibrium is not set as a firm trait.
Abu Dharr said, ‘The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) said to me, “Shall I not point out to you a treasure of the treasures of Paradise?” I said, “By all means, O Messenger of Allah.” He said, “There is no power or strength except with Allah.”’ (Ibn Majah, 3825)
SUMMARY OF THE WISDOM AND NECESSITY OF TRIALS IN LIFE
In nature, storms thunder across the land and icy gales freeze the trees to their core, making them drop their leaves so they are left shaking in the cold and wind. Everything is dark and dreary. But without the severity of winter the earth would not be renewed, and there would be no meadows and flowers in the spring, and no fruits in the summer. A perpetual spring would mean that everything would look pretty but not come to fruition, while a perpetual summer would only cause everything to dry up and die. Thus is the life of the human being, in which trials play a similar role of renewal and growth. We can therefore understand that trials in life are from the wisdom of Allah and through them we gain much benefit and advancement. It is of human wisdom that we acknowledge that trials and tribulation are from the Divine Plan and indicate God’s ultimate perfection in what He has chosen for His servants.
2.269 He gives wisdom to whomever He wills,
and whoever has been given wisdom
has been given immeasurable good.
It is our lack of acceptance of a hidden mercy for us in trials that makes the pain of them unbearable, or the lack of readiness to ride them out with patience until that mercy becomes apparent.
Being withheld from only pains you because you do not understand what Allah intends thereby. (Hikam, 94)
Whenever He gives to you
He shows you His kindness,
and whenever He denies you
He shows you His power;
so in both He is revealing Himself to you,
and drawing near with His loving-kindness to you. (Hikam, 93)
Allah Mighty and Majestic has given the most difficult trials to the prophets, then to those most dedicated in following them; each according to the strength of his faith. In return they are given greater reward and higher degrees forever in Paradise. One can infer from this that a life of ease, free of travail, is not a sign that one is doing well. Someone gliding through his existence from one pleasure to another has been left to himself. He has made no preparation for life after death and the meeting with Allah. This means to be godforsaken.
21.44 Rather we gave these miscreants and their fathers
to go on enjoying themselves,
until their lives seemed long to them in blind contentment….
10.7 Verily those with no hope to ever meet Us, and well pleased with the paltry life of this world, and secure in it,
and who are utterly heedless of Our mighty signs: 10.8 Those, their refuge is the hellfire
for all they so long earned.
STEADFAST PATIENCE (SABR)
Being steadfast and patient is the most praised virtue in the Quran, appearing close to one hundred and ninety times. A few verses have been selected below to illustrate its merit, along with some of the sayings of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace).
16.96 …And We shall certainly requite the steadfast their wage, as if their every deed
were the best one they ever did.
2.153 O you who believe,
seek help through patience and the prayer; Verily Allah is with the dauntlessly patient.
39.10 …The dauntless in patience with adversity shall but be requited their full wage without reckoning.
The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, ‘Whoever tries to be patient, Allah will give him patience, and no one has been given a gift better and more expansive than steadfast patience.’ (Bukhari, 1469)
The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, ‘The prayer is a great radiance, charity a decisive proof, and patience a resplendent light.’ (Muslim, 223)
The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, ‘How wondrous and strange is the matter of the believer, for everything about it is the best for him, and that is true for no one else but the believer. If happiness befalls him, he gives thanks and it is best for him, while if affliction befalls him, he is steadfast in patience and it is best for him.’ (Muslim, 2999)
Steadfast patience is the ability to contain and hold back oneself in disliked situations from the likes of anger, hysteria, excessive grief, loss of hope and despair, despondency, complaining, retaliation and other negative states and emotions. The least of patience is to bear up and wait through hardship and calamity. A higher level of patience is to accept what Allah has destined, trusting in Him completely and His wisdom in what He has chosen and created, and waiting with composure for the outcome. Ibn Rajab said in his letters, ‘Waiting for relief from suffering with steadfast patience is worship, for trials eventually end.’ (The Letters of Ibn Rajab, 3/155)
This doesn’t mean that one is inhuman and devoid of emotion. In the following narration the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) demonstrated to his followers the balance between full acceptance of the destiny of Allah and submission to His will in a state of patient composure, even in situations involving those dearest to us, and the ability to also respond to life situations with mercy or other humane emotions.
Usama bin Zaid said, ‘The daughter of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) sent word to him to come as her child was dying. The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) sent word back to her giving her greetings of peace and saying, “To Allah belongs what He has taken, and to Him belongs what He has given. Everything lives to a predetermined appointed time, so let her be dauntlessly patient and seek reward with her Lord thereby, that her patience be counted amongst her good works.” She sent word back to him, swearing by Allah that he should come. So, he rose and with him was Sa’d bin ‘Ubadah, Mu’adh bin Jabal, Ubayy bin Ka’b, Zayd bin Thabit and other men. When the child, gasping for breath, was lifted up to the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) his eyes flowed with tears. Sa’d said, “O Messenger of Allah, what is this?” He said, “This is mercy that Allah has placed in the hearts of His slaves. Allah only has mercy on those of His slaves who are merciful.”’ (Bukhari, 1284)
Scholars commenting on this narration have noted that the full submission of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) to the destiny of Allah and his steadfast patience was a cause for blessing and reward, for the child is mentioned in other narrations to have survived and lived a full life.
Man was created to know and worship His Lord by free choice in all the circumstances of life; in both ease and hardship. The life of this world is very short, but it is the springboard for the eternal life of the Hereafter. On the condition of being a believer, every effort man makes for the sake of Allah, or anything that he suffers will be a reason for either reward or expiation in the next world. Patience is the vehicle to carry all of this through. For this reason, it has been said, ‘Whoever doesn’t have patience will not triumph.’
22.34 …So your god is but One God, so to Him alone submit; And give glad tidings to the humble in serene devotion:
35. Those who when Allah is mentioned their hearts quake with fear; And who patiently bear everything that befalls them;
And who keep well the prayer;
And who expend of what We have provided them.
The following narrations are vivid examples of the reward of Paradise for patiently enduring affliction:
‘Ata bin Abi Rabah said, ‘Ibn ‘Abbas said to me, “Would you like me to show you a woman from the people of Paradise?” I said, “Of course.” He said, “That black woman came to the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) and said, ‘I have epileptic fits and my nakedness becomes exposed, so pray to Allah Most High for me.’ He replied, ‘If you want, you can be patient and you will have Paradise, and if you want, I will pray to Allah Most High to cure you.’ She said, ‘I will have patience.’ Then she said, ‘My nakedness becomes exposed, so pray to Allah that it doesn’t.’ So he prayed for her.”’ (Bukhari, 5652)
The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, ‘Allah has said, “If I try My slave by the loss of his two loved ones and he then has steadfast patience, I will compensate him for them with Paradise.”’ (meaning by ‘his two loved ones’ his eyes) ( Bukhari, 5653)
A woman suffering bouts of mental derangement came to the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) and said, ‘O Messenger of Allah, pray for me.’ He said, ‘If you want, I will pray to Allah for you and He will cure you. And if you want, you can have patience and you won’t be taken to account on the Day of Judgement.’ She said, ‘Then I will have patience and not be taken to account.’ (Ahmad, 9689)
In the last narration, the woman with bouts of derangement preferred to suffer for as long as she was alive. In return, she was guaranteed from the Prophet himself (Allah bless him and give him peace) direct entry into Paradise without being taken to task for her sins or shortcomings. This is the logic of someone who believes in the Resurrection and the Hereafter: enduring a few years of suffering is worth it when they will be followed by eternal bliss.
2.155 And we shall try you with some little of fear and hunger,
and loss of wealth, lives and crops;
And give great glad tidings to the patient:
2.156 Those who say when any calamity strikes them, ‘Verily we are Allah’s,
and to Him are we bound to return.’
2.157 Those, on them shall be endless tender blessings from their Lord in light and help, and mighty mercy, and those are the guided.
The unchanging kindness of Allah is that whoever has patience and endurance in trials will find something great at the end. This usually occurs in this world before the next. The terrible, long persecution of Pharoah to Musa (Moses) and his people ended in a tremendous victory when Pharoah and his army were drowned and the children of Israel delivered and rewarded. But the outcome only came after several decades of perseverance.
7.136 So We took vengeance on them and drowned them in the deep sea, for that they cried lies to Our signs, and heeded them not at all.
137. And We bequeathed
the people who had been downtrodden the land from east to west
that We filled with blessings;
And the consummate Word given by your Lord was fulfilled to perfection unto the children of Israel for their steadfastness;
And We laid waste
to all that Pharoah and his people had so long worked and raised up on trellises
and built loftily high.
Every difficulty contains a blessing we need and an increase of good, but we simply have to wait it out; things are only going to change when Allah wills. In the meantime, one does what is right to the best of one’s ability, and takes the blows of fate as they come in the best way one can. Patience doesn’t mean that one is unperturbed, but one tries to keep on going undaunted without giving in to despair. If the self is trained to have patience, then it will be learnt. Whereas if one becomes used to despair and loss of hope, then they will become a habit. Instead, one actively engages the soul to be firm on the response that is pleasing to Allah learnt from revelation and prophecy, and waits for a solution to emerge, all the while seeking His help. The more this is applied through life experience, the more capable one becomes at it. By not having patience however, all benefit to be gained from the trial could be completely lost.
Even in terms of worldly benefit, it is often the case that the greater and more prolonged the trial, the greater the gift and recompense when it ends. In the story of the Prophet Yusuf (Joseph), his prolonged trial ended in him being raised to the position of head vizier, second only to the king in the superpower of his day. If Allah had relieved him of his hardship from the beginning, he wouldn’t have reached the generous gift He had in store for him. Therefore, one should not be hasty, even though pain is difficult to put up with.
Anas bin Malik related, ‘Unhurried deliberateness is from Allah, while hastiness is from the Devil.’ (Bayhaqi, Sunan al-Kubra, 20270)
When the good and wisdom of the trial finally unfolds, the person for whom Allah has destined the good who was hasty, angry, bitter, or suffering from other blameworthy traits or emotions has good reason to feel regret. Such a person missed out on the reward of steadfast patience. They also missed out on having appropriate manners and decorum with God Almighty who willed a good outcome and boon from the trial. If they only had patience and trust in Him, they would have had honour as well as bounty. As for those for whom their reward has been stored up for them for the Hereafter, the same response of regret for not having given Allah Most High His due will occur on the Day of Judgement, but multiplied many times over.
The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) instructed us to have patience from the beginning of a calamity to its end. The lofty and full accomplishment of the virtue of patience that is an emulation of the prophetic messengers is the ability to remain firm and composed, even at the first slam of tribulation.
The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) passed by a woman weeping at a grave. He said, ‘Fear Allah and have patience.’ She replied, not recognizing him, ‘Go away! You don’t have the likes of my tribulation.’ She was then told that he was the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace). So, she quickly went to his door and not finding any guard there she said, ‘I didn’t recognize you.’ He replied, ‘Steadfast patience is but at the first strike of calamity.’ (Bukhari, 1283)
Ya’qub (Jacob), upon whom be peace, was faced with the tragedy of his beloved son Yusuf (Joseph) having disappeared. He was elderly and couldn’t go out and search for him, and there was no point in depending on his ten sons because they were the ones who made the intrigue to begin with. When they lied to their father about what befell Yusuf, they were not going to then take him to the well that they threw him into. Ya’qub resolved to have patience, but not just any patience. Rather, he was going to have consummate patience.
18. And they brought lying blood on his gown;
He said, ‘Rather, your hearts have made plausible to you a heinous thing;
So mine is patient grace;
And Allah is the unfailing help against
what you describe.
Of the meanings of ‘grace’ is that which is done in a pleasing manner. Combined with ‘patience’ it also has the meaning of patience that is willingly done. Patient grace, or sabrun jamilun, the very best of steadfast patience that is a mark of those following prophetic guidance, is defined by scholars through five conditions:
1. Not complaining to people, but only to Allah
2. Trusting in Allah (tawakkul)
3. Acceptance of the destiny of Allah
4. Not despairing
5. Patiently waiting for the outcome
It is said that the person implementing the above conditions is so composed that he can’t be identified from among people as someone undergoing a severe trial. He is not heard complaining and his complete trust in Allah and acceptance of His destiny pushes back despair and bestows him the ability to wait. A man of great spirituality, ‘Abdullah al-Kharraz, was asked, ‘What is steadfast patience?’ He said, ‘Leaving complaining and to conceal one’s distress and tribulation.’ (Tabaqat al-Sufiyya, Pg, 289) Needless to say, this takes practice.
The next of the attributes of the heart to be discussed is complimentary to patience and frequently mentioned in the prophetic narrations together with it. This is ihtisaab.
Bedrock is the solid rock underlying soil. When a building is made, the first stage is to clear the soil and place a foundation on the bedrock. Otherwise, the construction erected on the foundation will not be stable and will eventually collapse. Ihtisaab, together with patience, are the bedrock upon which the means to successfully go through trials are built.
The attribute of having ihtisaab means to seek the countenance of Allah and His reward through one’s works such that they count for one. In acts of worship, the mention of ihtisaab often implies that an effort be made.
The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, ‘Whoever fasts the month of Ramadhan in sincere faith and seeking reward thereby from Allah (ihtisaaban), his past sins will be forgiven.’ (Bukhari, 38)
In calamities and suffering, ihtisaab means to intend the reward of Allah through one’s steadfast patience and acceptance of destiny so they be counted of one’s good works. Ihtisaab is thus the explanation for patience in tribulation and its driving force. Because it is so axial to a good outcome in trials, a number of narrations from the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) have been listed below to help grasp its meaning and significance.
The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, ‘Allah Most High says, “I have nothing other than Paradise to give in recompense to my believing slave who, when I take the soul of the most beloved of people to him in the world, bears up with it in steadfastness, seeking thereby to be rewarded.”’ (Bukhari, 6424)
Someone who lost one of the most beloved of people to her was Umm Haritha. Her son, Haritha, was hit by an arrow and killed in the first battle of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) and his companions against the Meccan idolators, the Battle of Badr. In the following narration she came to the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) seeking solace for her grief.
Anas narrated that Haritha was killed at the Battle of Badr while still a youth. His mother came to the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) and said, ‘O Messenger of Allah, you know how dear Haritha is to me. If he is in Paradise, then I will be steadfast and seek reward with Allah thereby that my steadfastness be counted of my good works. But if he is not in Paradise, then you will see what I will do [of crying and grief].’ He replied, ‘May you be shown mercy; are you simpleminded? Is Paradise just one lush grove? Rather there are multitudes of lush groves of Paradise and he is in the highest, Firdous.’ (Bukhari, 6550)
The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) said to a group of women from the Medinan Helpers, ‘There is no one of you who loses three of her children and then seeks reward with Allah by being steadfast except that she will enter Paradise.’ A woman from amongst them said, ‘O Messenger of Allah, even if the children who die are two?’ He replied, ‘Even if they are two.’ (Muslim, 2632)
‘Aishe related that she asked the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) about plagues. He told her they are a punishment that Allah sends to whom He wills, but has made them a mercy for believers; for there is no one at the time of a plague who stays in his country with steadfastness, seeking reward thereby with Allah, and knowing that nothing will befall other than what Allah has destined for him, except that he will have the reward of a martyr. (Bukhari, 3474)
The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, ‘Allah Mighty and Majestic says, “Whoever I have taken away his two loved ones (his eyes) and he is then steadfast, seeking reward with Allah thereby that his steadfastness be counted of his righteous works, I am not content to give him in recompense anything less than Paradise.”’ (Tirmidhi, 2401)
The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, ‘If any of you is hit with a calamity, then let him say, “Verily we are Allah’s and to Him are we bound to return. O Allah, I seek recompense with you by having steadfastness and acceptance of Your destiny in my tribulation, so reward me and substitute for me better than it.”’ (Abu Dawud, 3119)
The attribute of ihtisaab is the way to process extreme pain through spirituality. The believer implementing ihtisaab knows that the life of this world is simply the stage on which the choice of faith and righteous works are made alongside those who used their freewill to reject belief in God and His prophets. The flow of the stage performance is interspersed with disturbance, and occasional tragedy and catastrophe. When the believer goes through a trial, he turns to his Lord and not to his self. His surety that his patience and acceptance of destiny and the wisdom of Allah in what He has created will be rewarded not only gives him strength to endure the difficulty, but also gives him the ability to manage his pain and contain it. He takes what would be described in our modern parlance as trauma, places it in a package, and sends it to the Day of Resurrection where he will find his reward for his steadfastness. He doesn’t keep looking back to the past, dwelling on it and reliving the disturbing or even harrowing experience as this is contrary to patience for the sake of Allah and ihtisaab of seeking reward thereby that one’s patience be counted amongst one’s righteous works. This includes wrong done to one by others, all of which will be addressed and rectified on the Day of Judgement. One evaluates the past, understands what happened and why, and then leaves it behind to go forward to more acts of worship and righteous works in the time that remains of life.
As for events that happened in childhood, or suffering that occurred before one was able to learn and inculcate the attributes of steadfast patience and ihtisaab, the solution is to apply them retroactively. By doing so, the same results can be achieved of being able to put the pain of the past behind one.
A historical example of putting terrible events behind one and hoping for the reward of Allah for persevering through them with steadfastness appears in the lives of the companions of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace). Many of them who were socially downtrodden, without anyone able to defend them, were persecuted for their faith in the first years of Islam by gruesome tortures. The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) passed by ‘Ammar bin Yasir and his parents while they were being tortured. He wasn’t able to help them, but bade them to have patience and gave them tidings of Paradise. ‘Ammar survived, but his parents were killed in front of him. Yet despite his great suffering, we do not hear from the well documented life of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) and his companions that ‘Ammar or any of the other companions who also underwent great suffering ever complained. To do so would be unbecoming and undermine the worship of the effort and sacrifice they had made purely for the sake of Allah Mighty and Majestic and His good pleasure. This is the perspective of someone who believes in God Almighty and the everlasting life of the next world.
The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, ‘I am astounded over the believer; if he is struck by good, he praises Allah and thanks Him. And if he is struck by affliction, he remains firm, seeking thereby reward from Allah, and is steadfast in patience. The believer is rewarded in everything, even for the morsel of food that he raises to his mouth.’ (Imam Ahmad, 1575)
13.22 And those who prove steadfast, seeking their very Lord; And who keep the prayer;
And expend of what We have provided them, secretly and openly; And repel the ill with the good:
Those have the final fair outcome
of the endless abode.
23. Lush groves of Eden;
They shall enter them, and all who were righteous of their forbears, their spouses, and their offspring;
Angels entering upon them from every door.
24. ‘All pure secure peace to you, that you had steadfast patience; And how splendid the outcome of the endless abode!’
As for the person who doesn’t turn to Allah in his trials, but turns to his self, he doesn’t find strength or relief. Nor does he have answers because he isn’t accessing the medicines from revelation and prophecy and is unable to see the larger picture of life. He tries to process his pain by turning it over and over in his mind. Many thoughts from the Devil are thrown in along the way and taken up by the self to enhance the experience, expand the story, or place blame on others for the misery he is stuck in. Going over pain again and again only keeps reopening the wound. Confucius said the following wise words about this, ‘To be wronged is nothing unless you continue to remember it.’
Pain and suffering are a great obstacle for someone whose perspective is dominated by YOLU; the idea of ‘You Only Live Once’. This is the concept that one will only exist once, in this world. Therefore, the point is to be happy, enjoy oneself, and have as much fun as possible. Such delusion can only fill life with ongoing disappointment as the blows of fate strike, like the storms in nature that no man can hold back. People who believe in God Almighty should turn instead to the purpose of life, wisdom to be found in trials, and to patience and ihtisaab. This is also the way to develop resilience and attain to the virtue of not complaining.