Our life is a journey of change. Nothing we experience in this life is permanent; rather every situation is temporary and simply transforms into another. These consistent experiences are reminders of the temporary nature of this life – that everything in the dunya (world, this life as opposed to the afterlife), by its very nature, is meant to change. Every ease and hardship that we face does not last forever. Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (glory be to God) says,
“And these days [of varying conditions] We alternate among the people” (Qur’an 3:140)
If we think back to the deep truth conveyed in this verse we will find that this is indeed a reality that we experience daily. Allah (swt) tells us that, throughout our lives, we will always experience circumstances that will challenge us, change us, and cause us to reflect upon our response to each. With the justice of Allah (swt), these conditions alternate among mankind so that no one person experiences constant happiness while another experiences constant hardship or sadness.
For a believer, it is even more imperative to be aware of these alternating conditions in life and to have a proper attitude towards them so we can derive benefit from every situation and aim to please Allah (swt) through them. So what behavior should a submitter to Allah (swt) hold through this ever-changing life?
“Have you not considered how Allah presents an example, [making] a good word like a good tree, whose root is firmly fixed and its branches [high] in the sky? It produces its fruit all the time, by permission of its Lord. And Allah presents examples for the people that perhaps they will be reminded.” (Qur’an 14:24-5)
Allah (swt) presents an example of the ‘good word’, which is the statement of faith (‘There is none worthy of worship except Allah, and Muhammad ﷺ (peace be upon him) is His Messenger’) that it is like a ‘good tree’ which has certain qualities. According to many of the scholars of tafseer (exegesis), the ‘good tree’ with its specific qualities is a reference to the believer who affirms the statement of faith. Narrated Ibn `Umar that the Prophet ﷺ said, “There is a tree among the trees which is similar to a Muslim (in goodness), and that is the date palm tree.” [Bukhari]
Allah (swt) informs us that this tree is not ordinary; rather it is a strong, firm tree whose roots extend deep into the Earth. Likewise, the believer needs to work to have his ‘roots’ deeply and firmly established by having a strong connection with Allah (swt). Salah (the 5 daily prayers), recitation and pondering upon the Qur’an, and seeking guidance in the seerah (story) of the Prophet ﷺ are excellent ways to establish and strengthen our roots. The branches of this tree are described as being really high, as if they’re reaching far into the sky. One of the benefits of the branches is that it provides shade to those under it, and to the believer.
In addition, a tree that has the aforementioned qualities has to be mature, having gone through the process of growing up to reach such a height, strength, and firmness of foundation. And such is the believer—he does not have super strong imaan overnight. He goes through the process of growing his imaan (faith) and little by little it eventually strengthens. As the tree requires constant rain fall to grow and mature, the believer requires constant ‘watering’ of his heart to cultivate the growth and strengthening of imaan. As the tree can only grow with pure water, such is the heart of the believer which demands pure substances to penetrate it for proper nourishment.
Lastly, this tree is not dry without any benefit, as Allah (swt) says that it constantly produces fruits and benefits its environment regardless of the weather or season and it does so by the permission of its Lord. Likewise the believer who establishes his roots and matures in his imaan becomes a source of benefit at all times to those around him. The tree gives its fruits consistently – in rain or shine, wind or thunder, summer or winter. It is steadfast and patient through all the different seasons and situations it encounters throughout its life due to the qualities it has acquired and embellished. This is what the believer aims to do as well, to remain connected to Allah (swt) throughout the seasons of life.
Connecting back to how our lives are constantly experiencing changes, we can now answer the initial question: what behavior should a submitter to Allah (swt) hold through this ever-changing life? He must hold firm in his roots and stand tall, he must constantly seek to water his heart with what is pure in order to strengthen his roots and soul, and he must finally aim to be of constant benefit to his environment and to those around him. If we aim to instill these qualities within ourselves, the constant changes within our lives will cease to be a source of distress; rather they will transform into sources of strength and will define us and in turn become causes of closeness to Allah (swt). As the Messenger ﷺ said, ‘Strange are the ways of a believer for there is good in every affair of his and this is not the case with anyone else except in the case of a believer for if he has an occasion to feel delight, he thanks (God), thus there is a good for him in it, and if he gets into trouble and shows resignation (and endures it patiently), there is a good for him in it.’ [Muslim]