I know a story that isn’t just a story. It begins with a woman who loved something more than the glitter of this life. She was a woman who never allowed herself to be defined or limited by her painful circumstances; she carried in her such a deep faith that she was willing to die for it. She was a queen, yet saw through the thrones and palaces of this world. She saw through her palace in this life, and looked instead to her palace in the next. But, for Asiyah, wife of Pharoah, this was not just a metaphoric glimpse of the heart. For Asiyah, her glimpse was a vision of her physical eyes.
Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) says: “God sets forth an example for those who believe — the wife of Pharaoh who said: ‘My Lord, build for me with Thee a house in heaven, and save me from the Pharaoh and his doings, and save me from an unjust people.’”
I’ve heard the story of Asiyah countless times. And each time it strikes me. But it wasn’t until recently that her story hit me for another reason entirely. A few months ago, I was facing a difficult test. And the beauty of having righteous, angel-like souls as your company is something priceless. When you are in a difficulty, it only takes one text message, one status update on Facebook, one email to the VirtualMosque listserve, and you have a whole army of beautiful souls praying for you. Subhan’Allah (glory be to Him).
So I made that request. I asked for the greatest gift any human being can give to another. I asked for sincere du`a’, supplication. What I received overwhelmed me. I’ll never forget that gift of Allah. I had people praying for me in qiyam (night prayer), while standing in front of the kabaa, while traveling, even while giving birth. I received so many du`a’s, yet there was one that really hit me. It was just a simple text message, but it read: “May you be shown your Home in Jennah so that any hardship is made easy on you.” I read it and it hit. It really hit.
And then I remembered the story of Asiyah, and suddenly realized something amazing. Asiyah was undergoing the most severe torture any person could imagine. Pharoah was the greatest tyrant ever to walk the earth. He wasn’t just a ruler over her. He was her husband. And in her final moments, Pharoah began to brutally torture her. But something strange happened. Asiyah smiled. She was going through one of the most severe hardships any human being could experience, and yet she smiled.
How is that? How it is that she could be tortured and smile, and when we face a traffic jam, or someone looks at us the wrong way, we can’t handle it? How is it that Prophet Ibrahim `alayhi sallatu wa sallam (may Allah send His peace and blessings on him) was faced with one of the greatest calamities, and yet the fire felt cool for him? Why do some people who have nothing find no reason to complain, while others who have ‘everything’ find nothing but reasons to complain? How is it that sometimes we have more patience with the big challenges in life than we do with the everyday small ones?
I used to think calamites were hard because certain things are just objectively difficult to bear. I thought there was a master list, a standard hierarchy of difficulty. The death of a loved one, for example, is always harder to bear than getting a traffic ticket. It seems obvious enough. It seems obvious.
But, it’s also wrong.
A calamity of any type is not hard to bear because the calamity itself is difficult. The measure of ease or difficulty in hardship is on a different scale—an unseen scale. Whatever I face in life will be easy or difficult, not because it is easy or difficult. The ease or difficulty is based only on the level of Divine help. Nothing, nothing is easy, unless God makes it easy on me. Not a traffic jam. Not a paper cut. And nothing is hard if Allah makes it easy on me. Not illness, not death, not being thrown into fire, or tortured by a tyrant.
Ibn Attaillah al-Sakandari said it beautifully: “Nothing is difficult if you seek it through your Lord, and nothing is easy if you seek it through yourself”.
Ibrahim (as) was thrown into fire. God willing none of us will ever face such a trial in this life. But there is not a person who won’t get thrown into some sort of emotional, psychological or social fires in their life. And don’t think for a moment that God cannot make those fires cool for us. Asiyah was being physically tortured, but Allah showed her a home in Jennah. So she smiled. Our physical eyes will not see jennah in this life. But, if Allah wills, the vision of our heart can be shown the home with Him, so that every difficulty is made easy. And maybe we too can smile, even in those times.
So the problem is not the trial itself. The problem is not the hunger or the cold. The problem is whether we have the provision needed when that hunger and cold come. And if we do, neither hunger nor cold will touch us. It won’t hurt. The problem is only when the hunger comes and we don’t have food. The problem is when the snow storm hits and we have no shelter.
Indeed Allah sends the trials, whereby we may be purified, strengthened and returned to Him. But, know for sure that with that hunger, thirst and cold, Allah also sends the food, the water and the shelter. Allah sends the test, but with it He can send the sabr (patience), and even the rida (contentment) to withstand it. Yes, Allah (swt) sent Adam down to this world where he would have to struggle and face trials. But he also promised His Divine help. The Qur’an tells us: “He said: “[ Allah ] said, “Descend from Paradise – all, [your descendants] being enemies to one another. And if there should come to you guidance from Me – then whoever follows My guidance will neither go astray [in the world] nor suffer [in the Hereafter].” (20: 123)
Perhaps one of my favorite du`a’s is that of the Prophet ﷺ (peace be upon him) at Taif. Bloody and covered with wounds, he called out to His Lord: “ I seek refuge in the light of Your Face by which all darkness is dispelled and every affair of this world and the next is set right.“
Indeed Allah does test those whom He loves and He tests in proportion to the level of faith. But so too does Allah send His Divine assistance whereby any test can be made easy and any fire can be made cool. So too can Allah send His Divine assistance whereby a single glimpse of His light and the home with Him can make us smile—even in the midst of the flames of trial.