It is a hallmark of depressed people that they give up on hope. Life for these people can seem void of color, so mundane that it is not worth living any more. Any energy spent on the face of earth seems such a waste for them. Hence, depressed people seem to care less about putting an effort to change, or to make meaning of their existence. Many of them lose track of the whole purpose of life and extinguish into demise or willfully end their lives. It is my belief that the same cascade of misery that applies to an individual also applies to a community or even a nation at large. Think about that as you read this paragraph again and think about the blessing of having hope.
We often refer to Islam as a life style (as opposed to just-a-religion). I would like to add another alteration for the way we understand Islam and say, that Islam is also an art of living. I say that, because of the ornamentation Islam allows us to solicit to give meaning to life, while at the same time remaining within the scope of worship and religious rituals. One of the hallmarks of this deen (religion) that Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) asked us to practice, and has become to many of us a forgotten ibada (worship), is the ibada of hope. Yes, hope can be an ibada, and arguably, one of the noblest and most honored in the eyes of God. It is also no surprise that the holy Qur’an and the seerah (life) of the Prophet ﷺ (peace be upon him) have an abundance of parables and stories that are hope-enriching, I shall mention a few:
The story of Yusuf (`alayhi assalam – peace be upon him) is a remarkable ode to hope that the Qur’an beautifully captures. One great verse in this chapter talks about the prophet Jacob, Joseph’s father, sending his sons back to Egypt to get back their little brother Benjamin who was captured by the Aziz whom they will get to know as none other than Yusuf. Jacob had lost Yusuf before Benjamin some 25 years earlier and when he sends his other children to look for Benjamin, this is what he says: “O my sons, go and find out about Joseph and his brother and despair not of relief from Allah . Indeed, no one despairs of relief from Allah except the disbelieving people.”” (Qur’an, 12:87). He kept hope in finding his son Yusuf (as) for a quarter of a century until Allah (swt) brought them back together. This a lesson for all of us to keep the hope in Allah (swt) when we suffer in relationships and in moments of separation that Allah will find an exit for us with His mercy: “… despair not of the mercy of Allah …”
During the battle of Al-Ahzab (also known as the battle of the trench) the tribe of Quraish had not yet embraced Islam and had formed a coalition against the Muslims in Al-Madina. The coalition included Quraish themselves, Jewish tribes near al-Madinah, and other strong Arab tribes such as the tribe of Ghatafan. The Muslims felt at loss until they decided to adopt a military strategy borrowed from Persia. They decided to dig a trench around al- Madinah so that their enemies might not get to them. It was not an easy chore, and the Muslims worked on the trench through the cold nights of the dessert and through the burning hot days. The Qur’an describes those times as times of great fear and despair. They were seeing the armies gather around Al-Madinah in camps from a distance with horses, weapons, swords and spears. These were times of great tribulation where some Muslims started questioning their own faith. One very cold night as the Muslims were digging the trench, they faced a huge white rock that they were unable to break. They turned towards the Prophet ﷺ asking him for advice. He then took it upon himself to break this stone with his own blessed hands. He grabbed the sledgehammer of Salman Al Farsi (radiAllahu `anhu – may Allah be pleased with him) and hit the rock thrice, shattering it into pieces. With each strike, there was a spark and with each spark, the Prophet ﷺ said Allahu Akbar and gave the Muslims glad tidings.“Bismillah.” One third of the rock was broken. He said, “Allahu Akbar! I was given the keys of Damascus. I swear by God that I see the red manors of Damascus now!” Then, he said, “Bismillah!” again and hit the rock with the sledgehammer again. One third of the rock was broken. The Prophet said, “Allahu Akbar! I was given the keys of Persia. I swear by God that I see the city of Madayin of the Chosroes and his white manors!” Then, he said “Bismillah!” again and hit the rock with the sledgehammer; the remaining part of the rock was broken into pieces. The Prophet said, “Allahu Akbar! I was given the keys of Yemen. I swear by God that I see the gates of Sana now!” (Narrated by Imam Ahmad in his Musnad). All of these cities were given to the Muslims in conquest during the times of Omar (ra) and Othman (ra). This is a great lesson from our holy prophet PBUH that even during the times of difficulty where there might not seem to be any string of hope, we should not give up on the promise of Allah (swt).
After the battle of Uhud, the Muslim were exhausted and defeated as they retreated to the mountains. They had lost some of their greatest men in this battle, including the uncle of our Prophet ﷺ, the brave and noble man, Hamzah (ra). He was savagely killed and mutilated, causing the Prophet ﷺ himself to cry for him on that day. Their wounds were still open and their souls were shaken and defeated. They feared that this would be the end of their nation and that the Quraish would have the upper hand afterwards. They felt ashamed that they had made the Prophet go out for war when he felt that it was not wise to do so. The Prophet ﷺ’s life itself was endangered and he was beaten so savagely that the metallic sheaths of his helmet penetrated into his holy face. In the midst of all this turmoil, Allah (swt) revealed these blessed verses from Surat Aal-‘Imran:
“So do not weaken and do not grieve, and you will be superior if you are [true] believers.
If a wound should touch you – there has already touched the [opposing] people a wound similar to it. And these days [of varying conditions] We alternate among the people so that Allah may make evident those who believe and [may] take to Himself from among you martyrs – and Allah does not like the wrongdoers,” (Qur’an, 3:139-140).
The only analogy I can think of as I read the context of these touching verses is that of a mother who meets her child who has been beaten and humiliated in school. She dusts the dirt of his clothes, gives him a hug, and tells him that she loves him, and that he will always be great in her eyes. A great lesson, that despite the defeat of our ummah, if we are true believers, we should not feel demoralized and we are to hold onto the rope of hope in Allah (swt).
In the Musnad of Imam Ahmad, there is a story that people came complaining to the Prophet ﷺ that a youth was a hypocrite because he prays all night (or prays qiyam at night), and when he wakes up in the morning, steals from people. It seems that the sahaba felt uncomfortable that someone with such a great honorable deed such as qiyam,would still live a double life and would commit a kabirah (a major sin). The Prophet ﷺ planted the seeds of hope for people like this young man when he said: “His prayer will eventually forbid him from committing this sin.” In this story, there is a great lesson that we are all human and that we have our shortcomings. We sin in the day and during the night, in private and in public, so much so that some of us have lost hope in ourselves that we will ever repent to Allah (swt). Just like this young man, we all have hope that one day we will be granted the precious gift of repentance and steadfastness. This is a great lesson that we should never lose hope, that Allah (swt) will accept us, that His mercy is greater than our sins.
We need hope to live our spiritual life and to make sense of the challenges that face us on the road to Allah (swt). We need hope as an Ummah when we witness what is happening in Syria and the rest of the Muslim world, we need hope as a community when we feel estranged and alienated on the road of improving or surroundings and making da’wah, we need hope as individuals to keep the energy for reformation alive, we need to learn how to instill hope in our children and in people around us, and we need hope when treating our own selves. We should never lose hope on our Ummah, never lose hope on the validity and uniqueness of our Islam or our Muslim identity. If we lose hope, we will get depressed as individuals and as a nation, and we will not be able to achieve the role that Allah (swt) has allocated to us in the Holy Qur’an, a mercy to mankind, like our Prophet ﷺ was:
“And thus we have made you a just community that you will be witnesses over the people and the Messenger will be a witness over you.” (Qur’an, 2:143)