By Asif Uddin
…is this calamity a result of our sins or is it a trial from Allah? In either situation, there are practical steps the believer…
Our beloved Prophet said, ‘On the Day of Resurrection people will wish that their skins had been cut with scissors in this world, when they see the reward of those who were struck with calamity.’1 A woman is going through a divorce; a man has lost his father who he loves dearly; and a family have lost their home to an earthquake. Many of us either go through trials or know people who have been afflicted with some type of calamity. Are these calamities a trial or a punishment and how should we react in such a situation? The nature of man is that he will go through a range of emotions such as happiness, sadness, anger and remorse. These emotions are ever changing and so we maybe happy one day and sad another. Our lives may pass trouble free one year and difficult to bear the next, as the great companion Ibn Masud (radiallahu anhu) said “For every moment of joy there is a moment of sorrow, and no house is filled with joy but it will be filled with sorrow.” So it is with certainty that we will face a calamity, but how do we react? The first thing we must ask ourselves is that is this calamity a result of our sins or is it a trial from Allah? In either situation, there are practical steps the believer can undertake in order to react in a way that is pleasing to Allah.
Be patient when the calamity first strikes
From a psychological perspective, this helps the believer tremendously. When a man loses his father, he should try to remember that as time goes by the memory of his father will slip away and he should seek comfort in this great blessing from Allah, who allows man to forget easily. In truth no one can remember every single calamity that has befallen them. Seeking Allah will bring him great solace and help him deal with the pain he is going through. The grieving individual will be a source of comfort and inspiration for his family and be an example to others of how a believer reacts in a situation like this. The initial moments in which the calamity first strikes are the most important as this will set the path for the emotions of that person for the period to follow. It is for this reason that our Prophet said with great wisdom that ‘Verily patience (is only Sabr when practiced) at the first hit (of news).’2 This is a distinguishing character of a believer, at its foundation is a great wisdom, and it is only after some time does he/she realise its true effects. Indeed it was said, ‘A man, with wisdom as soon as adversity appears does that which a foolish man does after a month (i.e. he resorts to patience).’3
Ask yourself if this calamity is a result of a sin or a trial
In order to resolve a problem, it is crucial to identify the cause. Thus, the believers should ask themselves as to the cause of the calamity. Has it occurred as a praiseworthy trial from Allah with which he wills well for me? Or is it because of my sins and transgressions against Allah? Either way, the calamity is a blessing in disguise, as Ibn Taymiyyah said, ‘A calamity that makes you turn to Allah is better for you than a blessing which makes you forget the remembrance of Allah.’ If it is a praiseworthy trial, then it is because Allah wants well for us. The rewards for such a situation are so numerous that one of the scholars of the past stated that ‘were it not for the calamities of this world, we would come empty-handed on the Day of Resurrection’. It is only through reflecting upon the rewards of patience in the face of hardship will a true slave of the Most High realise the great wisdom behind it.
Al-Fadl ibn Sahl said, ‘There is a blessing in calamity that the wise man should not ignore, for it erases sins, gives one the opportunity to attain the reward for patience, dispels negligence, reminds one of blessings at the time of health, calls one to repent and encourages one to give charity.’ It is a way of gaining expiation for sins and increasing rewards, as our Prophet said: ‘The believer is not harmed by a thorn or anything greater, but Allah will raise him in status thereby, or erase a sin thereby.’4 If it is a punishment, then it is a blessing from Allah that He punishes us in this short life rather than punish us in the hereafter, ‘When Allah wills good for His slave, He hastens the punishment for him in this world, and when Allah wills ill for His slave, He withholds the punishment for his sins from him until he comes with all his sins on the Day of Resurrection.’5 In grasping this very important tool, the believer raises his status, providing himself with a sword of virtue, which strikes down any calamities he may face, and with it he takes on many of the characteristics of the believers. For instance, pondering on the cause will drive out one’s blameworthy characteristics, such as arrogance and weakness and replace it with humbleness and strong resolve. Most importantly, it makes the believer turn to Allah in a way that he has perhaps never done before. As was succinctly said by the great scholar of al-Sham, ‘From among the perfection of Allah’s bounty upon His believing servants is that He imposes difficulties and hardships upon them in such a way that it forces them towards believing in His Oneness. They then call upon Him in total devotion, they hope from Him and from no one else. In so doing their hearts are attached to Him and no one else.’6
Turn to Allah alone
This is a time when we realise that no on one can truly help us except Allah, however, many people seek aid from as well as complain to people. There will come a time when we excessively seek assistance and complain to our friends and family to the extent that they will become agitated and annoyed. So why don’t we ask the one who has the ability to resolve our problem and Who in contrast to humans, becomes angry if we do not complain to Him. The Prophet said, ‘Whosoever does not supplicate to Allah, He will be angry with Him.’7 One of the scholars said that when you ask the people first and Allah last, then Allah will give you what you want last. So, if we truly claim to profess: ‘iyyaka nasta’in’ (In you alone do we seek assistance) several times a day, why is it that our actions are contrary to this? If we truthfully want to overcome our problem, then we should seek help from Allah alone and not the people. As Fudayl Ibn ‘Iyad said, ‘If you lose hope in all people and you do not ask anything from them, your Lord will give you all that you want.’
Du’a (supplication) and the Prayer
The greatest form of supplication we can make to Allah is through the prayer. It is through this prayer that we communicate to our Beloved, a time that we have an opportunity to have a private meeting with the One Who created us all, The Lord of the ‘Alamin. Is it not far better to speak directly to our Creator than any king, president or prime minister? Indeed He is the One who never breaks his promise and the One who has the ability to make those matters that seem impossible, possible. How many people in the past have pleaded with their leaders to resolve their problems, or alternatively on their deathbeds begged their doctors to save their lives? How shameful it is that we feel comfortable doing this to the creation and yet we forget to beg from Allah. The prayer is an embodiment of begging Allah for his vast mercy and showing our thanks of the bounties he has bestowed upon us.
Every action in the prayer represents a position of a slave. It is only when we are standing straight in a high position that we recite the speech of Allah – the Qur’an – while we are prohibited to recite it whilst prostrating, the lowest of positions. We recite the favours that Allah has bestowed upon us whilst we are standing and beg and supplicate to him when we are lowly. And this is when the slave is closest to his Lord, ‘The nearest a slave can be to his Lord is when he is prostrating, so invoke (supplicate) Allah much in it.’8 There are certain periods of the day when these private meetings are more blessed and the One Who created us is more likely to answer them. If we truly desire for our supplications to be answered – then we should seek to find out when these moments are. It suffices to say that these times are either connected to an act of worship or are done in a state of hardship. It is as though we are being informed that if we want our supplications to be answered, then it will be – whilst worshipping the Lord. Consequently, through his great mercy He answers the supplications of those who find themselves in difficult situations.
Seek forgiveness from Allah
If we find that Allah has not answered our supplications then perhaps the one who is supplicating is weak and full of sin. In fact, it could be that it is the sin itself that he committed that caused the calamity to befall him.
And whatever of misfortune befalls you, it is because of what your hands have earned. And He pardons much.9
So we should meticulously scrutinize all the sins that we have committed and seek Allah’s forgiveness for it. For some this is something difficult to do; this is why we are encouraged to repent once we have sinned. ‘The (angel) on the left hand raises his pen (i.e., delays writing) for six hours before he records the sinful deed of a Muslim. If he regrets it and seeks Allah’s forgiveness, the deed is not recorded; otherwise it is recorded as one deed.’10 And ‘Ali, the fourth righteous caliph of Islam (radiallahu anhu) said, ‘No calamity befalls except due to a sin, which is not alleviated except with repentance’11 How sad it is that the tears roll off the cheeks so easily when we are in a state of grief and anxiety and yet so difficult when seeking the forgiveness from Allah. We should be cautious of abstaining from that sin and we should fear returning to it more than fearing the calamity itself. This great companion of our Prophet also said, ‘Let a man not have hope in anyone except his Lord. Let a man not fear anyone except his sin’12.
Remember the benefits of calamities
A Muslim should remember how short this life is and reflect upon how eternal nature of the hereafter. We should live our lives as though we are in a constant period of calamity – this does not mean that we should not feel happiness, because it is through the worship of Allah that true happiness is attained. We should reflect upon the worship we perform whilst we are in a state of hardship and increase more in our worship in times of ease, as our beloved Prophet said, ‘Recognise and Acknowledge Allah in times of ease and prosperity, and He will remember you in times of adversity.’13 It is ironic that we remember Allah and beseech Him with all sincerity when we are in the midst of a calamity, like being imprisoned or tortured. We then recite and memorise much Qur’an and perform many supplications and voluntary prayer, but when we are free and removed from calamity we seemingly forget Allah; failing to recognise the blessings that He continuously showers upon us, praying only a little and neglecting supplications. It is incumbent upon us turn away from such heedlessness and live our lives as if we are imprisoned, for al-Mustafa said, ‘Indeed this world is a prison for the believer and a paradise for the disbeliever.’14 A common problem facing the Muslims is that we have an imbalance of fear and hope of Allah; it is almost as though we hope too much and fear too little.
It is as though we have been guaranteed swift admission into Paradise as soon as we die. Instead, we should fear Allah more when we are healthy, and hope more when we are sick. This way our complacency will decrease. As the great Imam of Makkah, Fudayl Ibn ‘Iyad said: ‘Fear is better than hope when a person is healthy. But when death comes to him, hope is better than fear’.
After hardship comes ease
How many calamities have we faced in our lives and have found comfort after it? It is human nature to feel as though the pain will never go away and that our life has ended once calamity strikes. However, the believer is one who analyses things in the long term and is not overwhelmed by short-term problems. Allah, the Exalted, says,
So verily after الْعُسْر(hardship) comes يُسْرًا(ease), verily after الْعُسْر(hardship) comes يُسْرًا(ease). 15
How many times have we heard and read this ayah, but have we pondered over it deeply? This is something we can take comfort in, that after this difficult period, we will find some rest and ease. The fact that Allah said this twice indicates the notion of emphasis. The word الْعُسْرِ (hardship) is in its definite form (it has ‘al’ in front of the word) which means that a person may have one problem, but the word يُسْرًا is in the indefinite form which means that after a problem, Allah will give you many eases (possibly of different types). And that the hardship mentioned in the first verse is the same as the hardship in the second, but the ease stated in the first verse is different to the second. So Allah has closed one door for us, but He will open many other doors. This ease will only come about after experiencing hardship. And we know the value of something after encountering its opposite. The Prophet said, ‘Know that victory (or achievement) comes through patience, relief with affliction, and hardship with ease.’16
This life is full of joys and calamities, most understand the blessings of its joy but few comprehend the blessings in its calamities. Allah has blessed us with this understanding, strengthening our souls and mind. A great imam of Islam, Al-Hasan al-Basri, said, ‘Do not resent the calamities that come and the disasters that occur, for perhaps in something that you dislike will be your salvation, and perhaps in something that you prefer will be your doom.’ May Allah enable us with patience and piety.
1. Sunan al-Tirmidhi.
2. Sahih al-Bukhari and Sahih Muslim.
3. ‘Uddah as-Sabirin wa Dhakhirah al-Shakirin, Ibn al-Qayyim quotes from a ‘wise man’.
4. Sahih Muslim.
5. Sunan al-Tirmidhi
6. Ibn Taymiyyah, taken from, The Sunnah way of the Sufis by Harith al-Muhasibi.
7. Al-Musnad of Imam Ahmad.
8. Sahih Muslim.
9. Al-Qur’an: [al-Shura 42:30]
11. Qa’idah fi al-Sabr, Ibn Taymiyyah, which is found in Jami’ al-Masa’il, edited by Muhammad ‘Uzayr Shams.
14. Sahih Muslim.
15. Al-Qur’an, [al-Sharh 94:5-6]
16. Sunan al-Tirmidhi.