Islamic Studies

On Trials

The arrival of the new year, 1 January 2009, was welcomed in my part of the world with playful and cheerful fireworks; yet there is a painful reminder that there are other people in the world whose lives are currently interacting with a less benign variant on fire. To remind and reflect on such realities should evoke from us a heartfelt ‘To God we belong, and to Him we shall return’ (inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji’un). This, in turn, makes one ponder on the reality of life itself, and God’s Word – the Noble Qur’an – is always the place to start: ‘Glorious is the One in whose Hand is the Kingdom (of the whole universe), and He is Able to do all things; the One who has created death and life so that He may try you, as to which of you is best in conduct. He is the August, the Forgiving’ [67:1-2].

Muhammad al-Jibaly, in Sickness: Regulations & Exhortations, has done a commendable job of articulating the reality of trials in this life. He introduces this particular topic with the following: ‘Our life in this world is precarious. We pass through alternating periods of happiness and sadness, vigor and weakness, wealth and poverty, health and sickness, and so on – until we die.’ He goes on to narrate a wonderful narration of the Prophet Muhammad (may the peace and blessings of God be upon him), narrated by Bukhari in Adab al-mufrad: ‘Indeed, amazing is a believer’s affair! It is always best for him – and this is for no one except a believer. If he is granted ease of living, he shows gratitude (to Allah), and this is best for him. And if he is afflicted with a hardship, he perseveres, and this is best for him.’ Thus al-Jibaly points out that the believer must encounter a trial with patience and ‘should never rebel or express dissatisfaction with Allah’s decree’ (sabr); and ‘a believer should trust that Allah (great and glorious is He!) will reward him for his affliction’ (ihtisab).

Al-Jibaly highlights, with sources in the Qur’an and hadith, the great benefit of afflictions for the believers:

    • As expiation of sins until, as recorded in a hadith, a people meet Allah ‘burdened with no sins’;
    • A sign of Allah’s love, as in the hadith narrated by Tirmidhi: ‘When Allah (great and glorious is He!) loves some people, He subjects them to affliction’;
    • Indication of righteousness, as in the hadith narrated by Ahmad, Tirmidhi and others: ‘The most afflicted among the people are the prophets, then the best, then the (next) best. A person is afflicted in accordance with his faith. If his faith is firm, his affliction is intense. And if his faith is weak, his affliction is light…’

Nevertheless, one is reminded by al-Jibaly that the sunnah indicates that one must not wish or ask for affliction, but rather we are instructed to ask for ‘well-being’. For instance, the hadith narrated by Ibn Majah and Ahmad: “There is no supplication that a person can make better than, ‘O Allah, I ask You for well-being in this life and the hereafter’ (Allahumma inni as’aluk al-mu’afata fid-dunya wal-akhirah).”

One can take the following hadith, narrated by Muslim, as a basis for helping someone who is harmed: ‘Whosoever of you sees an evil action, let him change it with his hand; and if he is not able to do so, then with his tongue; and if he is not able to do so, then with his heart – and that is the weakest faith.’ The benefit of such aiding can be seen in another hadith recorded by Muslim: ‘Whosoever removes a worldly grief from a believer, Allah will remove from him one of the griefs of the Day of Judgment. Whosoever alleviates [the lot of] a needy person, Allah will alleviate [his lot] in this world and the next. Whosoever shields a Muslim, Allah will shield him in this world and the next. Allah will aid a servant [of His] so long as the servant aids his brother…’

The first duty of the one trying to deliver aid is spiritual, in the form supplication. As expounded by Abu Ammaar Yasir Qadhi in his Du’a: The Weapon of the Believer, supplication has conditions for acceptance, manners that should be adhered to, and recommended times.

A second duty for those far away is to send financial aid to the oppressed, and numerous worthwhile charities operate in the oppressed parts of the world (even under very strenuous conditions – may God reward them.).

A third activity that God might bring benefit through is taking certain means, such as public protest (which can be through marching or petitioning).

From a beautiful narration of Ibn ‘Abbas (may God be well pleased with him and his father) recorded by Tirmidhi, the Messenger (may the peace and blessings of God be upon him) said:

    ‘O young man…If you ask, ask of Allah. If you seek help, seek help in Allah. Know that if the nation were to gather together to benefit you with something, they would not benefit you with anything except that which Allah has already recorded for you. If they gather to harm you by something, they would not be able to harm you by anything except what Allah has already recorded against you…’

Ibn Rajab, in his Compendium of Knowledge & Wisdom, states that one should only ask Allah for things. Jamaal al-Din Zarabozo, in his Commentary on the Forty Hadith of al-Nawawi, endorses the view of Ibn Rajab, but also states that there is a permissible asking; and that ‘is where people ask of each other what is normally within the ability of a human being’ – which he calls ‘the kind of mutual assistance and help that takes place all the time among mankind.’ Zarabozo adds: ‘when turning to other humans for this permissible type of request, one should realize that the request will only be satisfied by them if Allah guides them to that decision.’ Hence even in this scenario, the refinement of one’s exertion is spiritual. Such an attitude would transform protest marches into being more like vigils.

In conclusion, one must recall that our lives are short, and history is long. Thus we must exert a great deal of personally beneficial action into our short lives. While history is a long running narrative where the tale of tyranny often runs into eventual ruin, but not before it has often blighted a generation, or two, or more. The story of all history is bound to the ultimate fate of all things; but, in reality, our lives are strictly concerned with our individual fate. Therefore we operate personally within the knowledge of higher purposes and vision, without losing focus on perspective at any given moment. That vast perspective takes into concern the lives of others and grand scales, but the individuality can never afford to be lost in the midst of the crimes that man commits. Nevertheless, such a personal focus does not do away with the hearts bleeding, tears flowing and limbs serving others – as one can see in the sunnah. Soft-heartedness is a mercy of God to whom He wills – and may He save us from its opposite. Amin.

Wa ma tawfiqi illa billah – my success is only through Allah. Rabbana atina fi’d-dunya hasanatan, wa fi’l-akhira hasanatan, wa qina ‘adhab an-nar – Our Lord, give us good in this world and the next, and save us from the punishment of the Fire. Amin – and may Allah give good to everyone who says ‘amin’ to this supplication.

About the author

Andrew Booso

Andrew Booso is originally from London, England and is a graduate of law from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). He has taken religious instruction from Shaykh Iqbal Azami and Shaykh Muhammad Akram Nadwi, as well as numerous students of knowledge. He is currently on the Advisory Board of the England-based Spring Foundation, which is a scholarship charity for students of the Islamic sciences.

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