by Abdul Sattar Ahmed
Many of us have experienced, are experiencing or will experience difficult moments that make us wonder whether there is any hope for our future. These moments rock the foundations of our inner selves. They can throw us into abysses of doubt and devastate our self-esteem, nearly obliterating our sense of hope for a life that we dreamed of.
These moments are often full of anger, sadness, regret, or a combination of all. They show up in our lives as the death of our child, emotionally painful marital strife or divorce, through difficult living situations, or health problems that wage war upon our physical bodies which leave us in constant pain. They can materialize through financial losses, physical assault, or sexual abuse and victimization.
How does one recover from these traumatic times? How does one trudge through them and come out of the other side still capable of functioning and finding some semblance of joy in life? And how does one deal with the realities of these problems, and find the strength to develop optimism and happiness again?
If you are being victimized or have thought about hurting yourself – seek help from professionals immediately.
Before we discuss how to turn towards God to withstand tribulations and heal the rifts in our hearts, I want to mention that if you are being hurt physically in any way, you should not hesitate for a single moment in seeking help from the authorities. Contact a friend, a school counselor, a teacher, or the police. Many people hold off on doing so, thinking that their situation will get better or that reporting their victimization will somehow bring dishonor on their family; they think their abuser will one day stop. This only makes bringing an end to the abuse more difficult. You need empowering to end the situation immediately, and then we can begin to discuss your healing process. The same goes for anyone thinking about hurting themselves or have already self-harmed. Before any progress can begin spiritually, this physical complication needs to end.
Islam values the roles of expertise and professionalism, as the Prophet ﷺ (peace be upon him) said: “Verily Allah has prescribed proficiency (إحسان) in all things” (Muslim). We should remember that religion alone is not a ‘cure all’ – but that each subject field has its own set of professionals and licensed workers who can help us through various issues. Thus, if victimized, we should always seek to protect ourselves through the professionals in law enforcement, and sound medical advice – in addition to prayer and faith.
The Trap We Fall Into: “When my situation is better, I will be able turn to God and practice my religion better.”
One of the reasons for Islam’s revelation, along with improving the human condition and pointing the way towards Allah’s worship and love, is to give us the spiritual sustenance we need to navigate through life’s tribulations.
As Muslims we can make the mistake of idealizing Islam as being some kind of perfect lifestyle that if implemented ‘we will have the perfect life, without the trials and difficulties we face today’. We may think that Islam is a set of teachings, rules, and acts that we can only incorporate fully when our lives aren’t so messed up. What happens when we think this?
Firslty, we may suffer withdrawal symptoms of finding sweetness in our prayers and pray just to get salat out of the way, if we pray at all. We break our relationship with the Qur’an. We might start to withdraw emotionally and spiritually from engaging with Islam as an active path to allow God’s Light to burn away the impurities, the anger, the sadness, the depression, and the burden in our hearts. Finally we may completely stop thinking about Islam altogether, learning about it, and conversing with it. We instead believe that before we can engage with Islam and partake in strengthening an ongoing relationship with God – we need to lick our wounds and heal from the calamity that has befallen us.
This thinking is a fatal mistake that first and foremost is one of Shaitan’s (Satan) best tricks: to push us away from engaging Islam and pursuing a relationship with God, precisely when our hearts are bursting with negative emotions and sadness. Shaitan dupes us precisely when we NEED GOD THE MOST. This in turn misplaces the reason why Islam came with a form of worship to God and functional way of life. Islam came to strengthen us, heal us, and ultimately guide us to salvation from these trials of life. Whether those trials are spiritual, material, emotional, or all of the above, we must maintain that Allah (swt) is our Friend. The One Who will never leave His worshipper alone. The One God Who will never forsake His slave. He is Allah. And His names tell us about His true attributes:
As-Salam – The Source of Peace
Al-Muhaymin – The Guardian
Al-Qahhaar – The One Who Subdues with Strength
Ar-Razzaaq – The Provider
Al-Fattah – The Giver of Victory
Al-Latif – The Gentle
Al-Nur – the Light
Al-Mu’eed – The Restorer
So, we come to the main question. If we are going through a tribulation and we are stressed with what no-one in the world understands, why would we not want the Source of Peace on our side? Why wouldn’t we want to engage with Ar-Razzaaq, The Provider to strengthen us? Why do we shy away from studying and delving into life’s trials that the Giver of Victory has sent down to us?
It is time to ask the only One Who Subdues with Strength to subdue our sorrow, and ask God to shine His light into our lives and Restore our joy. This is why Muslims use du`a’ (supplication) for anxiety as taught to us by the Prophet ﷺ:
“O Allah, I am Your servant, son/ daughter of Your servant, son/ daughter of Your maidservant, my forelock is in Your hand, Your command over me is forever executed and Your decree over me is just. I ask You by every name belonging to You, which You name Yourself with, or revealed in Your Book, or You taught to any of Your creation, or You have preserved in the knowledge of the unseen with You, that You make the Qur’an the life of my heart and the light of my breast, and a departure for my sorrow and a release for my anxiety.”
Just look at this beautiful du`a’ taught to us by our Prophet ﷺ. Here, we are reminded of Allah’s (swt) Overwhelming Dominance over everything and over ourselves. We are also reminded of His Names, so that we can feel connected to His unlimited abilities that help us understand His roles in our lives. And finally, we are reminded of the Book – the Qur’an – that He sent, and through the Qur’an, the religion that is outlined for us.
But how can the Qur’an be our heart’s light and a release for our sorrows if we never read it? How, if we did not drown ourselves in it and in learning its secrets?
The Test is Not Whether We Bear Calamity, But Whether it Pushes Us Towards Allah
We know from Surat-al-Mulk that Allah (swt) has created life and death in order to try us and test us. We also know that Allah (swt) tries those whom He loves. However, there is more to life than simply passing a test of difficulty.
The test is not only whether or not we will bear the burden we are given, with patience. The test is also accepting that for our patience, at the end of the road is a guaranteed reward. It is accepting that a child we lost will insha`Allah (God willing) play with Prophet Ibrahim (as) in Paradise. That through patience a broken marriage devoid of love will be replaced by one that is better in this world or in the Hereafter. And that a painful sickness endured with remembrance of God, only results with each ounce of pain forgiving a sin clean.
The test is not simply to remember these things either, though they are the key to being patient. The ultimate test is whether the calamity pushes us towards Allah (swt). Whether we are able to take our difficult situation, and rather than relying on ourselves alone, recognize our dependency on and rely on God. From this we can then pursue a stronger relationship with God Who can bring peace to our hearts, and we can seek knowledge of how the deen (way of life) He revealed can in fact ease our pain.
It may be easy to worship Allah and engage with His deen when our lives are perfect. But that is exactly the wrong point. Our lives are not perfect, and will never be. So will we worship Him by participating fully in His Religion, even when things fall apart around us? Will we accept that the Sovereign King has the power and the mercy to bring us what we so desperately need? We must begin turning back to Allah, today, because He loves us unconditionally every day. And how does Allah love His servants? This story from the Prophet ﷺ should give us the answer:
“…Suddenly, a woman saw an infant in the midst of the captives. She took hold of it, brought it into her bosom, and started nursing it. The Prophet then told the Companions, “Do you think that this woman would throw her child in the fire?” We said, “No, By Allah she would not, if she is able not to.” He then said, “Allah the Exalted is more merciful with His slave than this woman with her child.” (Al-Bukhari)