Some Practical Guidelines in Dealing With Trials
[What follows is an excerpt from Mushfiqur Rahman's work entitled “Islamic Perspectives on Trials and Tribulations.” After discussing the Islamic philosophy behind trials and tribulations and how these life events and challenges prepare one's heart for tests, the author lists some practical guidelines, drawn from the Qur’an and the Sunnah, on dealing with trials.]
Seek Refuge From Trials
One should not solicit trials from Allah. No matter how pious one might be, he or she should not be proud of having unshakable faith but always remain humble and ask Allah to guide him and to keep him on the right path. Indeed, if it was not for the mercy and guidance of Allah, he could not have remained a believer and a practicing Muslim. Therefore, he should often ask for forgiveness from Allah for sins and mistakes committed so that He does not take him to task for those mistakes. In the Qur’an, Allah teaches the believers to make the following supplication:
Our Lord! Take us not to task if we forget or commit mistakes. Our Lord! Lay not on us a burden such as You laid on those gone before us. Our Lord! Lay not on us burdens which we do not have the power to bear. And overlook our faults, and forgive us, and have mercy upon us. (2:286)
The Prophet Sallallahu 'alyhi wa sallam, the most pious and faithful of all believers, frequently used to make the following supplication:
O Allah, I seek refuge in Thee from the punishment of the grave; I seek refuge in Thee from the trial of the Antichrist; I seek refuge in Thee from the trial of life and the trial of death; O Allah, I seek refuge in Thee from sin and debt. (Muslim)
Giving sadaqa (charity) often can prevent calamity for a believer. The Prophet Sallallahu 'alyhi wa sallam said:
Give the sadaqa without delay, for it stands in the way of calamity. (Tirmidhi)
Be Ready For Trials
While a believer should seek refuge in Allah from trials, he should, at the same time, be always ready for trials. His supplications for forgiveness might save him from some trials, but there will still be trials that he will face for sure. Therefore, a believer should always be mentally prepared for afflictions and calamities so that he can pass the tests with success.
Always Have Focus on the Hereafter
If one is afflicted with a calamity, he should remember that our life is short and our ultimate destination is the Hereafter. Therefore, he should remain patient, ask Allah for help, and remember that he will be meeting Him soon:
Who say when afflicted with calamity: “To Allah we belong and to Him is our return.” They are those on whom (descend) blessings from Allah and Mercy and they are the ones that receive guidance. (2:156-157)
The Prophet Sallallahu 'alyhi wa sallam said:
If any Muslim who suffers some calamity says that which Allah has commanded him: “ ‘We belong to Allah and to Him shall we return’: O Allah, reward me for my affliction and give me something better in exchange for it”, Allah will give him something better than it in exchange. (Muslim)
The Prophet Sallallahu 'alyhi wa sallam once grabbed Abdullah ibn ‘Umar by his shoulders and said:
Be in the world as if you were a stranger or a wayfarer. (Bukhari)
When a believer always keeps the Hereafter in focus, he remains calm and in control at whatever calamity he faces. For him, dunya (this world) is not the end of everything, and thus he does not breakdown but stays calm and deals with all crisis with faith and trust in Allah .
Be Patient at the First Stroke
The mettle of a person is proven when he remains calm and in control even at a sudden and unforeseen calamity or difficulty. The Prophet Sallallahu 'alyhi wa sallam said:
Patience is only at the first (stroke) of grief. (Bukhari and Muslim)
When Calamity Befalls, Remember That It Is a Test.
Any affliction that a believer suffers is a test from Allah. If he does not recognize the test, then he may feel despair and thus fail the test. The believer should particularly keep in mind the following verses from the Qur’an that remind that every single believer will be tested:
We shall try you until We test those among you who strive their utmost and persevere in patience; and we shall try your reported (mettle). (47:31)
Ye shall certainly be tried and tested in your possessions and in your personal selves. (3:186)
Do men think that they will be left alone on saying “We believe” and that they will not be tested? (29:2)
Ask Allah For Forgiveness
When calamity strikes a believer, he should take all steps necessary to remedy the situation. Having faith and trust in Allah never means inaction or complacency with difficulties. This has been made quite clear in both the Qur’an and the examples of the Prophet Sallallahu 'alyhi wa sallam.
From a spiritual perspective, the very first thing that the believer should do is turn to Allah for forgiveness. One of the most beautiful and effective supplications that he can make is the supplication made by Prophet Jonah (called Yunus in the Qur’an). When the people of Nineveh rejected the message of Jonah to worship Allah alone, Jonah left the city out of despair, expecting that Allah’s punishment on them was imminent. That was a mistake, for a Prophet can never forsake his mission and leave without the consent of Allah. This was only a mistake in judgment, and not a rebellious action. Nevertheless, for a Prophet or a man of piety, even a minor mistake comes out to be significant in contrast to the faith and piety that Allah has blessed him or her with. Jonah was soon consumed by a whale. It was a dark night, and he was in the dark stomach in the dark bottom of the sea. Stricken with this calamity, Jonah realized his mistake and immediately turned to Allah for forgiveness. He made a supplication that was simple and short. Nevertheless, its words carry so much significance that this small supplication is considered to be the “Mother of all supplications”. From the darkest chamber of the whale’s stomach, he cried out to Allah:
There is no God but You! Glory be to You! I have done wrong. (21:87)
This short supplication has three important components. First, Jonah recognized that there is no other authority or power worthy of worship except Allah. Besides Him, he can turn to no one for help – no king, no judge, and no personal attorney. If there is anyone who is capable of forgiveness and help, that is only Allah, the Supreme Authority of the entire universe. Second, he declared that Allah is above all blames and shortcomings. Allah is not to be blamed for his situations, for He never commits a wrong against anyone. He is above and beyond all faults and shortcomings. Lastly, he admitted that he has committed a mistake. This admittance and recognition of one’s own fault is perhaps the most important element in seeking forgiveness. For Jonah, this admission did not merely come out from his lips but also from the bottom of his heart. This short supplication was so heavy in weight that Allah turned to him in forgiveness and delivered him from these three layers of darkness.1
Sincere admittance of mistakes and repentance, thus, is a necessary condition for supplications to be heard. Allah is indeed the Most Merciful and He is quick to forgive His slaves.
Ask for Help With Patience and Salat
After faith and trust in Allah, the most import quality that a believer needs during calamity and affliction is patience. Patience is such a virtue that it is frequently mentioned both in the Qur’an and the hadith. Indeed, the Prophet Sallallahu 'alyhi wa sallam said that it is the best gift that one can receive from Allah:
No one is granted a gift better and more comprehensive than patience. (Bukhari and Muslim)
In many places in the Qur’an, Allah asks the believer to seek His help with patience and salat, such as:
O ye who believe! seek help with patient perseverance and prayer: for Allah is with those who patiently persevere. (2:153)
Seek (Allah's) help with patient perseverance and prayer. (2:45)
One of the best times to offer salat is late night before the time for fajr starts. Called the tahajjud prayer, there are many excellences for this prayer. The believer should try to make as much tahajjud prayer as possible and ask Allah for help and forgiveness, as this is one the best times to make prayers and supplications:
And for part of the night also praise Him, and at the retreat of the stars! (52:49)
And during part of the night (also) celebrate His praises and (so likewise) after the postures of adoration. (50:40)
And part of the night prostrate thyself to Him; and glorify Him a long night through. (76:26)
When people and all other creatures around are deep in sleep, it is only the believer who keeps awake and is immersed in worshiping Allah . In that still silence of the dead of the night, it is, as if, only two are engaged in a private conversation: one who begs for help and mercy, and the Other Who listens to his prayers.
Avoid the Two Pitfalls
Truly man was created very impatient: fretful when evil touches him, and niggardly when good reaches him. (70:19-21)
There are two categories of people that a righteous believer should not slip into.
The first kinds are those who desperately seek Allah’s help and forgiveness when in calamity or peril. Then when Allah delivers them from their calamity, they forget Allah and go back to their usual life of indifference to Allah and the Hereafter. About these people, Allah says:
When trouble touches a man he cries unto Us (in all postures) lying down on his side or sitting or standing. But when We have solved his trouble he passes on his way as if he had never cried to Us for a trouble that touched him! Thus do the deeds of transgressors seem fair in their eyes! (10:12)
The second kinds are those who worship Allah and follow his commandments so long as they enjoy a comfortable or trouble-free life. Then when calamities strike them, they break down and become indifferent to Allah and his commandments out of anger and frustration. It is, as if, they deserve a comfortable life in return for their worshipping of Allah . About them, says Allah :
Among men is he who worships Allah, while remaining on the borderline; if any good befalls him, he is satisfied; but if a trial afflicts him, he utterly turns away. He will incur loss both of this world and the Hereafter. That indeed is a clear loss. (21:11)
Falling into one these two categories is an utter failure. A true believer is one who always worships Allah – whether in calamity or in good fortune. When in calamity, he remains patient and pleased with Allah, and when something good happens to him, he thanks Allah. Thus he always earns rewards and Allah’s good pleasure while he lives in this world. The Prophet Sallallahu 'alyhi wa sallam said:
How wonderful is the case of a believer! There is good for him in everything, and this is not the case with anyone except a believer. If prosperity attends him, he expresses gratitude to Allah and that is good for him; and if adversity befalls him, he endures it patiently and that is better for him. (Muslim)
Keep in Mind the Eventual Success
Verily with every difficulty, there is relief. (94:6)
It is a source of great comfort for a believer to know that his or her afflictions will one day come to an end and there will be relief for him. Therefore, he should keep this eventuality in mind and go through his trial with patience, forbearance, and faith in Allah. There will be a day – whether in this world or the Next – when he will come out victorious and successful for passing the test. For a believer in affliction, that is the ultimate success that awaits him. Says Allah :
Verily, the Hereafter will be better for thee than the present. (93:4)
Show Kindness to Those Who are Afflicted
If someone is afflicted with a calamity, other believers should often visit or call him or her and inquire about his (or her) welfare. One should never demoralize an afflicted believer by saying that Allah is displeased with him or that he has committed some sin for which he is being punished. Instead, believers should tell him good words that will uplift his spirit. They should tell him about the fact that Allah tests those whom He loves, and that it is the righteous believers who suffer the most in this life so that they can get Paradise in the Hereafter. The believers should sympathize with him and offer their help. The Prophet Sallallahu 'alyhi wa sallam, out of his sympathy for the afflicted, said:
If you were to sell fruits to your brother and these are stricken with calamity, it is not permissible for you to get anything from him. (Muslim)
Remember Past Trials and Benefit From Them
A wise person always takes lessons from hardships and afflictions and tries to improve his or her situation. A believer who has come out of an affliction should be self-critical and objectively analyze the possible causes for his affliction, and make corrections accordingly. For example, if he has been involved in a serious road accident while driving and Allah spared his life, then he should be more careful in driving, follow all traffic laws, and drive defensively. Or if he became seriously sick due to unhealthy eating habits and he recovered, then he should control his diet and do regulars exercise to stay fit and healthy. Most important improvements of all are amending one’s character and conduct and turning to Allah in obedience.
There is also spiritual benefit in remembering the past trials as that will make the believer always remain conscious of the fact that life is short with all its vicissitudes and he will soon return to Allah . The Prophet Sallallahu 'alyhi wa sallam said that remembering past trials can even earn him reward:
If any Muslim man or woman suffers a calamity and keeps it in his memory, even if it happened a long time ago, saying each time it is remembered, 'We belong to Allah and to Him do we return,' Allah, who is Blessed and Exalted will give a fresh reward each time it is said, equivalent to the reward when it happened. (Ahmad)
Epilogue: Life is a Testing Ground
Islam is submission to the will of Allah. For one who submits, a mere declaration or display of belief will not be taken for success, but his or her heart and soul will for sure be put to test.
Allah will test him to see whether he follows His commandments or his own desires; whether he lives a righteous and godly life or lives according to what his nafs (self ) dictates; whether the faith he displays is firmly rooted in his heart or is it merely on the surface and thus is knocked off at a slight wind; whether he will continue to have faith and love of Allah when in calamity as he does when in comfort; whether he will continue to remember and worship him if given bounties and comforts of life as he does when he lives a modest life. Allah will test him to see if his faith, trust, and love of Him is unconditional or is it conditioned with good health and comfortable life free from stress and anxiety.
For a righteous Muslim, this life is a testing ground where he will continue to be tested until he meets Allah . For him, tests will be done right here on earth while he lives, and not after he dies. He knows that as soon as death arrives and he steps into the Next World, his tests are over. There, he only receives the results of his tests, and then enjoys (or suffers) the fruits of his deeds that he committed during a short span of time called Life.