Understanding the Wisdom of Calamities
By Shaykh Abdul-Rahim Reasat
Pain. We cannot escape pain. Pain, in this life, is inevitable. We are here to be tested to determine our unending rank and recompense in the Hereafter. These tests are usually in the broad categories of ease – which demands gratitude – or difficulty – which requires a combination of patience and the expectation of a reward from God.
The benefits that rain down upon us from these trials are numerous and well worth examining closely. However, prior to this, the difficulties need to be understood, felt, experienced, and processed.
This is how those benefits dye a believer’s perception with the hues of a deeper faith. This is how one becomes malleable to the trials that hammer down upon us to shape us into better versions of ourselves. This is how the friction of pain polishes us to the point that we glisten and gleam.
The Prophet’s Approach to Pain
Running from the pain, or blocking it out with distractions, or feigned shows of strength – deny one of the fruits indicated above. Indeed, the greatest being in God’s creation (peace and blessings be upon him) engaged deeply with his human experiences, whilst remaining within the bounds of his slavehood to God.
When his son, Ibrahim, passed away whilst only a toddler, he said, “Indeed the eye weeps, and the heart grieves – yet we don’t say anything but that which pleases our Loving Lord. We, by your parting – O Ibrahim – are truly saddened” (Bukhari). He felt the emotions and allowed the physical responses Allah created in us to occur and expressed what he felt. This was tempered with limiting the expression of grief to the words that increase one only in closeness to Allah, and not anything that would do otherwise. This is the response of someone who understood the purpose and benefit of tests and pain.
How Do I Process My Pain?
Besides the points gleaned from the blessed words of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him), we have other gifts from the Qur’an’s perfect guidance. It gives us an understanding of the inherent – yet occasionally occluded – beauty in the trials, and the foreknowledge of the inevitable occurrence of these events.
These two matters grant the believer a deep grasp of the wisdom behind trials, and aid one in seeing that one will grow and benefit from them. Without them, one can be crippled with pain, from not understanding the matter as it should be.
Working Towards Iron-Clad Fortitude
Surah al-Hadid is an ocean that gives wave after wave of goodness and guidance. There are two particular verses that light the way in this discussion particularly well. They will be discussed briefly.
“No calamity hits in the land, nor in your own selves, except that it has been in a tremendous book before We beautifully created it. Indeed, that, for Allah, is very easy. So you don’t be excessively grieved by what escapes you, nor overly exultant because of what He granted you…”
There are some Arabic words in the former of the two verses which deserve a closer examination. Seeing the beauty underlying the word choices in the Qur’an eventually gives one certainty that it is from God, and that every single word – in all canonical variants – was specifically chosen by Him.
“What Hits Was Never Going to Miss”
The first word of note is asaaba – ‘َأَصَاب.’ It has a root meaning which indicates the occurrence of events in the proper and most fitting manner. Added to this is the nuance of water flowing and settling in a spot, and the usage of a derivative of the root to express an arrow hitting the bullseye. This analysis of the word is not extensive.
When we factor in the above nuances we see that every trial in our lives is tailor-made for us. It has hit its mark. We can’t escape it, and pondering the “If only…” scenarios is fruitless.
It came at the right time, in the right way, and with the right intensity. It could not have been escaped, nor could it have been outrun.
This is beautifully expressed in the hadith, “Know, what hit you was never going to miss, and what missed you was never meant to hit” (Tirmidhi).
This brings great ease to the believer. He takes the necessary precautions but realizes that what came into his life of difficulties, and what he was not affected by, are all matters that were meant specifically for him.
The result is relief from the paranoia and excessive worry over being affected by the evil eye, black magic, and other matters that are a cause of stress and anxiety to those who don’t realize that Allah is in complete control.
A believer is at ease, knowing that whatever happens is tailor-made to bring him good through some avenue in his life. Everything is perfectly suited for his long-term, ever-lasting benefit.
Perfectly Suited Trials
We can be sure that everything that happens is perfect, and not just inevitable. What hits is actually perfect and beautiful, as is the missing of the arrows they were not meant to hit the mark.
How do we know this? In expressing the creation of the calamities, Allah used a verb derived from the root bara – ‘برأ.’ It is understood, generally, to mean ‘creating’. However, a deeper analysis of the word indicates meanings of being devoid of deficiencies and flaws, which gives us the understanding of something being perfected and immaculately formed.
Infuse these nuances into the reading of the verse, and you get the understanding that all tests are perfectly planned and beautifully designed by God to be the best possible situation for us – with eternity in mind. The benefit of the trial is to elevate, in Paradise, the immortal version of every believer.
He is the canvas, and the calamity is the paint that alters the immaculate nature of that canvas. Focusing in on the actual point of contact may make one think the paint has stained the perfect white canvas, yet, when one steps back and looks with a gaze that shows the merging on the individual ‘stains’, it present before one an image of striking beauty, nuance, meaning, artistry, and skill. This is how all tests are for the believer, and God is the perfect architect who has designed your life. Reflect on this…
All that remains is the appropriate response. The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) said,
[I’m truly amazed] at the affair of the believer. Everything that happens to him is the best possible thing for him – and that’s not for anyone but the believer. If happiness comes he is grateful – and that’s best for him. And if harm comes to him he is patient – and that’s best for Him (Muslim).
All Matters are Decreed
Everything that afflicts us has been pre-planned by God, the perfect designer. The verse entails guidance about general calamities, such as pandemics, economic instability, floods, earthquakes, and other such wide-ranging trials. It also highlights the personal pain which hits harder and is felt more keenly by the individual. It is all in the right time and place, in the best way.
Knowing that it is known to God, and preordained is also a huge blessing. With this knowledge, one can process this pain effectively.
Not knowing this can lead one to excessive grief that holds one back, and, in cases of ease, it can lead one to become too fixated on a blessing, such that it can make one forget it came from God. This can then lead people to arrogance and boasting, because they see themselves as intrinsically deserving these blessings, and thereby feel superior to others who don’t have it. But this is a discussion for another time…
Here, we wish to see that being aware that the slings and arrows of fortune are, in fact, gracious. One need not take arms against the sea of troubles, for it’s waves come to bring benefits to your shores.
Forewarned is Forearmed
Knowing that all matters are decreed provides a believer to see things differently: the trials of life will come, certainly. But they are carried by wisdom, and they leave gifts and goodness in their wake.
Knowing that a loved one who passes onto the Hereafter at a particular time was meant to go makes the parting easier. The pain is there, as the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) expressed. That is the human condition. However, the pain is lessened knowing that matters are being directed by Allah, who has our best interests in mind. More so, than even ourselves. He sees what we do not, and knows what we do not. This knowledge makes his decision better than what we assume to be good for ourselves.
One knows that this life is temporary. Only that which is done for the sake of Allah lasts. One sees that the pain is temporary, and a test, just like the blessings, which are temporary, and a test.
This doesn’t mean that we don’t feel sadness, or that it negates one’s patience. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) named the year of the passing of his wife, Khadija, and his uncle, Abu Talib, ‘The Year of Sadness.’ He felt grief despite having the perfect spiritual state.
What the verse negates is intense and excessive grief that stems from a lack of understanding of the purpose of calamities. This can be understood from the juxtaposition of the grief with the word that indicates excessive happiness in a blessing that leads to arrogance and boasting.
Not seeing the wisdom behind trials, and not seeing the benefits they provide for a Muslim, makes detaching from the aspects of this life that we have a strong bond with difficult. One only feels the sense of loss and pain more keenly.
Knowing that this is the nature of this life allows the believer to prepare himself. Blessings are enjoyed – but they don’t distract one from the Giver of the blessings. The pain of trials is felt, but it develops the believer. He becomes closer to God, and grains further gifts from Him.
The grief and happiness benefit when one knows it is a trial ultimately designed to raise one higher in Paradise. Happiness and grief devoid of this are – for the believer – dysfunctional. They hinder him from his long-term benefit. That’s why understanding this allows one to be prepared, and so, forearmed.
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