Optimism in Times of Adversity

A man passed by al-Miqdaad ibn al-Aswad, one of the most distinguished Companions of the Prophet (SAW). The man said, “How lucky your two eyes that witnessed the Prophet (SAW)”. Ibn al-Aswad profoundly responded by saying,

Why should anyone wish to witness a scene that Allah (SWT) did not wish him to see? He does not know what it would have been like if he had witnessed it or which party he would have been among if he went back in time. By Allah! Allah’s Prophet saw people who were thrown right into Hell, so you should thank Allah that you were spared such a trail and were honored by firm belief in Allah and his Prophet”.

Webster defines adversity as “a state or instance of serious or continued difficulty or adversity”. As human beings, we all struggle with adversity especially in societies which are driven by competition and materialistic pleasure. This drive creates difficult expectations, labels, and stigmas that breed unhealthy communities which spur widespread stress and pain. As Muslims, many of us struggle to define our role and place in societies where Muslims are the minority. We are horrified and worried when atrocities seem to occur so often solely because of the faith we believe in. Across the world, many countries with Muslims as the majority population are crippled by war such as Syria and Yemen. In addition, random terrorist attacks in Mali and New Zealand have us wondering whether we will be attacked at our local masjid, or even in public settings such as offices and schools.

Our Ummah has always faced adversity and we will continue to do so as we struggle to be on the path of Islam. However, Allah (SWT) has given us the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) as a guide to this Ummah on how to deal with adversity and keep our optimism. His life is a means for us to be inspired and motivated to strive for excellence. Indeed, the Prophet (SAW) was tested more than any other prophet that preceded him. The rapid spread of Islam and the change it brought to the world was built upon a prophet and his companions who endured an extraordinary amount of adversity, all in order to provide a means of salvation for the generations that would come after them.

Many Muslims know the basics of the Prophet’s life such as his birth in Makkah, the migration to Madina, some of the battles, and the conquest of Makkah. However, if one were to read the Seerah of the Prophet (SAW) in-depth, one would be astonished to the sheer amount of trauma, pain, and grief the Prophet (SAW) experienced. He was subject to intense verbal/physical abuse, public humiliation, family deaths, and more. Upon all the physical and emotional toll, we know different people are more or less sensitive to adversity. For the Prophet (SAW), the adversity of establishing the Deen was immensely troubling as he had the purest and softest of characters. In addition, the prophets who came before him were comforted in knowing that they had a successor. Some of them were their children in Ismail (AS) to Ibrahim (AS) and Yahya (AS) to Zakariyya (AS). But the Prophet (SAW) had no prophet to follow him, therefore his message would be the last that mankind could benefit from. The Quran says in Surah al-Ahzab:

مَا كَانَ مُحَمَّدٌ أَبَآ أَحَدٍ مِن رّ‌ِجَالِكُمْ وَلَكِن رَّسُولَ اللَّهِ وَخَاتَمَ النَّبِيّـِينَ وَكَانَ اللَّهُ بِكُلّ‌ِ شَيْءٍ

عَلِيماً

Muhammad is not the father of (any) of your men, but (he is) the Messenger of Allah and last of the prophets. And God has full knowledge of all things.

To proclaim the Divine Message to a resistant society has shown through the history of the Prophets to yield hardship and extreme difficulty. To be the final messenger was an increased burden. One example was when the Prophet (SAW) was praying in front of the Kaaba and a member of the Quraysh named Uqbah ibn Abu Mu’ayt placed the intestines, dung, and feces on the back of the Prophet (SAW) while he was in sujood. The weight of the filth was so heavy that the Prophet could not get up until he received the assistance of his daughter Fatima (RA) who was a pre-teenager at the time. How hurtful must that scene have been for the Prophet (SAW)? How did he deal with the humiliation the leaders of his city displayed in front of his child? How disheartening must have it been for his resolve to establish the worship of Allah? This type of treatment was a regular occurrence in the pre-Hijrah era of Islam. Eventually, the treatment spurred into a boycott against the Muslims and the Hashemites who were the Prophet’s clan. According to Muhammad: His Life Based on the Earliest Sources by Martin Lings:

A document was drawn up according to which it was undertaken that no one would marry a woman of Hashim or give his daughter in marriage to a man of Hashim; and no one was to sell anything to them, or buy anything from them. This was to continue until the clan of Hashim themselves outlawed Muhammad, or until he renounced his claim to prophethood.

In those three years of boycott, many of the followers of the Prophet (SAW) such as Abu Bakr (RA) lost their statuses in society. Public humiliation, poverty, malnourishment, torture, molestation, and even murder were perpetrated against the small community of Muslims around the Prophet (SAW).

In eye-opening speech on the phase of the Prophet’s life, Shaykh Abdul Nasir Jangda says,

It feels tragic to me at times...we don’t fully appreciate what that was like. It was very difficult. It was three years of boycott...In the most extensive Seerah book, we’ll talk about those three years of boycott in four or five pages. There are narrations which talk about the fact that they would hear the cries of babies going to sleep at night. They buried so many children and babies at that time who died due to disease, malnourishment, starvation. They could hear the mothers crying who had buried their babies the day before. It was a time of great suffering and sacrifice.

Shortly after the ban was annulled, Allah (SWT) increased the test of His beloved Messenger at a time called ‘Ām al-Ḥuzn (عام الحزن), the Year of Sadness. In 619 AD, Khadijah bint Khuwaylid (RA), the wife of the Prophet (SAW) for 25 years passed away. When the Prophet (SAW) was in shock after the first revelation descended, it was Khadijah (RA) who comforted him and consoled him. She was one of the first believer, mother of the Prophet’s (SAW) children, and a caretaker to the Prophet’s (SAW) cousin Ali and adopted son Zayd (RA). She was his main confidante and his closest friend. Her death was considered to be the greatest personal tragedy to the Prophet (SAW). In fact, his later wife ʿĀʾishah bint Abī Bakr (RA) said that she was never jealous of the co-wives of the Prophet (SAW) except for Khadijah who had passed before she had wed the Prophet (SAW). The Prophet (SAW), who would usually stay quiet in disputes with Aisha, stated when ʿĀʾishah voiced her upsetedness at the Prophet’s lingering love for Khadijah:

Make this clear Aisha, you are not better than Khadijah. She believed in me when no one did and she testified to my truth when people said I was a liar. She gave everything she had to give me support.

Shortly afterward, Abu Talib, the Prophet’s (SAW) uncle and chief tribal protector in Makkah passed away. Abu Talib had been the caretaker of the Prophet (SAW) after the Prophet’s (SAW) mother and grandfather passed away. But the situation before the passing of both these allies to the Prophet (SAW) was poor and it was now going to become unbearable. Abu Lahab, another one of the Prophet’s uncles and one of his bitter enemies, arose as chieftain of the Hashemites would not give the Muslims adequate protection.

When adversity brought the Prophet (SAW) to his knees, he put his trust in Allah (SWT) and continued to push forward. It was in this moment of desperation that the Prophet was sent his ultimate test; the Day of Taif. The Prophet (SAW) described the Day of Taif more testing than the Battle of Uhud. In his desperation, the Prophet (SAW) travelled to the nearby city of Taif in order to seek the city’s protection. When the Prophet (SAW) met with the three leaders of the city, they feverishly rejected him and decided to turn the public against him. The representatives of the community gathered the youth, slaves, and others and to stone the Prophet (SAW) and Zayd ibn Harithah (RA). The people of Taif purposely targeted the Prophet’s (SAW) feet, severely damaging them. His blessed body was profusely bleeding and the crowd pursued both the Prophet (SAW) and Zayd ibn Harithah for an excruciating three to six miles until he settled in a private orchard. It was in this moment where all hope had vanished. Now pushed to his extreme limits of endurance, he raised his hands and called out to his Lord:

اللهم إليك أشكو ضعف قوتي وقلة حيلتي وهواني على الناس

ياأرحم الراحمين أنت أرحم الراحمين

أنت رب المستضعفين وأنت ربي

إلى من تكلني إلى عدو يتجهمني أم الى عدو ملكته امرى

إن لم يكن بك غضب علي فلا أبالي ولكن عافيتك هي أوسع لي

أعوذ بنور وجهك الذي أضاءت له السموات و الأرض

وأشرقت له الظلمات وصلح عليه أمر الدنيا والأخره

أن ينزل بي غضبك أو يحل علي سخطك

لك العتبى حتى ترضى ولاحول ولاقوة إلابك

To You, my Lord, I complain of my weakness, lack of support and the humiliation I am made to receive.

Most Compassionate and Merciful! You are the Lord of the weak,and you are my Lord.

To whom do You leave me? To a distant person who receives me with hostility? Or to an enemy You have given power over me?

As long as you are not displeased with me, I do not care what I face.I would, however, be much happier with Your mercy.

I seek refuge in the light of Your face by which all darkness is dispelled and both this life and the life to come are put in their right course against incurring your wrath or being the subject of your anger.

To You I submit, until I earn Your pleasure. Everything is powerless without your support.

When we struggle with adversity, calling out to our Lord is one of the last things that comes to our mind. Even if it does, we struggle to motivate ourselves to learn how to make dua to Allah (SWT) and we struggle to raise our hands. The amount of sincerity and power of this dua to Allah (SWT) was so great that Jibril (AS) came down to the Prophet (SAW) and reported that the Prophet’s (SAW) appeal shook the heavens. Here, the Prophet (SAW) seeks only the pleasure of his Lord and he will do whatever he can to fulfill his Lord’s pleasure. However, the pleasure of Allah (SWT) only comes with Allah’s (SWT) own support and we should be seeking it with every trial or tribulation that we face.

There are three lessons that we can take away the way the Prophet (SAW) dealt with adversity. First, how can we sincerely put our trust in Allah (SWT) to give us guidance when we have little to no relationship with our Lord to begin with. Therefore, the struggling believer must consistently engage in self-reflection. He or she should be asking, “Am I praying my five daily prayers?”, “Am I consistent in my prayers?”, “How much attention and effort do I give my five prayers?”, “Do I engage in the remembrance of Allah in my daily actions?”, “How often do I ask Allah (SWT) for help”, “Am I trying to learn what is halal and haram?”. “Am I trying to inculcate more good deeds in my life?”, “Am I trying to leave sinning?”, “If I am still struggling in my relationship with Allah (SWT), am I reaching out to someone more learned?”, etc. These are the first things we need to be fulfilling in our struggle to be optimistic. If we still need help, we should not have fear in asking a professional such as a counselor or mentor.

Second, we need to be active in making our society a better place. The prophets were not just scholars, but they were changers. They sought to make society a better place. Not only is our duty as Muslims to others who are struggling, but it alleviates a lot of burden on us when we help others. We are reminded of the hadith,“Whoever relieves a believer’s distress of the distressful aspects of this world, Allah will rescue him from a difficulty of the difficulties of the Hereafter.”

Lastly, be comforted in Allah’s (SWT) everlasting control over all the affairs of humanity and beyond. Allah (SWT) was there before us, when we die, and for eternity. Everything is in accordance of His will. When we set our intentions right and make sacrifices in our lives to please Him, Allah (SWT) will replenish the believer with something equal or better. After this painful period in the Seerah, Allah (SWT) gifted His devout Messenger with two things, the miraculous journey of the Isra wal M’iraj and the story of Prophet Yusuf (AS). The story of Prophet Yusuf (AS) was sent down to show the Prophet (SAW) that he was not the first prophet who experienced difficulty. In Surah Yusuf, the Quran reminds us that Allah (SWT) is عَلِيۡمٌ and حَكِيۡمٌ, the All-Knowing and All-Wise. In the verses of the Surah, these words were mentioned before the adversities in Yusuf and Yaqub’s (AS) life, during the adversity, and after Allah (SWT) had rewarded Yusuf and Yaqub for their resolve. There is light at the end of every tunnel of adversity and only Allah (SWT) can give us the guidance to get there, we only have to turn to him.

We ask Allah (SWT) to grant us the ability to maintain our optimism in our adversities. We ask Allah (SWT) to grant us an understanding of Islam so that we may help others overcome their adversities. We ask Allah (SWT) to relieve the adversity of the Ummah.