If this applies to you, you’ve reached the right article!
Take a deep breath.
Look up at the vastness of the beautiful sky (if possible), then continue reading.
In Part 1 of this series, we’ve examined and analyzed the idea of being blessed and how a proper understanding of blessings can help our spiritual growth. In this part of the series, In sha Allah, we will examine and discuss the nature of problems, their connection to our personal growth and the fulfillment of our purpose in life.
Why do we have problems?
While answering this question, it’s essential to remember this hadith:
It was narrated from Mus’ab bin Sa’d that his father, Sa’d Ibn Abi Waqqas, said:
“I said: ‘O Messenger of Allah, which people are most severely tested?’ He said: ‘The Prophets, then the next best and the next best. A person is tested according to his religious commitment. If he is steadfast in his religious commitment, he will be tested more severely, and if he is frail in his religious commitment, his test will be according to his commitment. Trials will continue to afflict a person until they leave him walking on the earth with no sin on him.’” [Sunan Ibn Majah]
So, afflictions do happen. They happen to the most righteous of people. They happen even to prophets.
Knowing this might help you feel a little bit relieved that you’re not alone in this. But, you might also start wondering why righteous people get tested more, right?
Now is the time to re-assess our understanding of problems and take a deeper look! Here’s how you can turn your situation around and see your problems for the blessings in disguise that they are:
See it positively: accept the honorable challenge
Let us use common, mainstream examples. Let us, for the sake of demonstration, think about football.
When there are really big, decisive games, the coach usually leaves the least reliable players on the bench; he wouldn’t call them to play. Instead, he chooses the best players to handle this tough and challenging game. Does this mean the coach is displeased with the players he chose to handle the big game? Does this mean he wants to punish them? No. It is a big honor that he chose them and it is a responsibility they’re qualified for. The best players are the ones who’re called for the toughest games. This means they’re ready, they’re well-trained and they can handle it. Even if they fail or get injured, etc., they were given the honor of being chosen for the great responsibility; which is a testimony of his trust in them and a testimony of their ability.
Now, when Allah chooses the best people for the toughest trials, does this mean He is displeased with them or He wants to break their back? No, on the contrary. He wants to give them tremendous rewards in this life and in the hereafter.
First, the people who are able to handle difficulties with patience and grace become exemplary models for many people around them. Thus, they get reward for their patience and for every act of goodness they’ve inspired. Second, Allah expiates their sins and elevates their status in the Hereafter in which they will abide eternally and get whatever they please, endlessly. The Prophet said:
“Never is a believer stricken with a discomfort, an illness, an anxiety, a grief or mental worry or even the pricking of a thorn but Allah will expiate his sins on account of his patience”. [Bukhari and Muslim]
“…indeed, the patient will be given their reward without account.” [Qur’an: Chapter 39, Verse 10]
Whenever you feel like you’ve been hit by a calamity or a difficulty, look for the good in it. Feel honored that Allah chose you for this, that He knows you can handle it, that you’ve been given the opportunity to be an exemplary model for others. Although it may be hard, be thankful that He put you through this so that all your shortcomings and sins would be expiated here in this life, and that you may get endless elevated rewards in the Hereafter, In sha Allah.
Learn how exemplary models handle problems
Let’s not go too far or mention stories of the righteous people of the past. If we look around us, we can find many examples to learn from and reflect upon. Here is one example from a current incident that most of us have been following.
Last February, someone set fire to an Islamic institute in Houston, Texas, called Quba Islamic Institute. The fire drastically destroyed the building and its many contents. After posting updates on this unfortunate incident on their Facebook page, the Quba Islamic Institute received some heartfelt support from people. But they also received some extremely hateful comments that only added insult to injury.
For example, while some people offered to send donations to help rebuild this Islamic facility and make up for the burnt objects, an individual made a condescending comment saying:
“I can donate some bacon sandwiches and a bible if you all want.”
The Quba Islamic Institute replied:
“We would gladly take your donation. Knowledge is something we can never have enough of. And we may feed the homeless in our area with the sandwiches. You are such a thoughtful human being!”
Their overly calm and thoughtful reply was an excellent demonstration of this verse:
“Repel [evil] by that [deed] which is better; and thereupon the one whom between you and him is enmity [will become] as though he was a devoted friend.” [Qur’an: Chapter 41, Verse 34]
The Quba Islamic Institute received numerous hate-filled comments for which they have replied with calmness, patience and courtesy. This has brought them genuine admiration from people around the world who found in them an exemplary model in repelling evil with good and negativity with positivity. The Institute has also received great support financially and otherwise to compensate for their loss.
Reap blessings through your problems
Going back to our question: ‘does having problems mean one is not blessed?’ If we look at the Quba Islamic Institute as an example, we can see that it perfectly highlights the argument we made in the previous section. First, there was a calamity (the burning of the Center). Instead of handling it with despair and anger, those in charge handled it with patience. Upon receiving further difficulty following the calamity (the hateful comments), they still managed to remain calm and patient. Eventually, they taught many people a lesson, gained the respect of people around the world, and found emotional, moral and financial support for their loss. They also managed to spread their message, reach and teach people around the world they never would have known or reached otherwise, and it was through their example in handling difficulty, not through what they preached, that people learned a meaningful lesson.
To add further perspective to this, let’s recall what Allah says about such situations:
“And We will surely test you with something of fear and hunger and a loss of wealth and lives and fruits, but give good tidings to the patient, Who, when disaster strikes them, say, “Indeed we belong to Allah, and indeed to Him we will return.” Those are the ones upon whom are blessings from their Lord and mercy. And it is those who are the [rightly] guided.” [Qur’an: Chapter 2, Verses 155-157]
When facing a problem, remember that we will all be tested. It is not a surprise. It is not a mystery. It is a reality of life. So, try to be patient. Remember it’s temporary and it shall pass. Try to see the lesson in it for you. Seek Allah to help you grow through it and overcome it. And never ever despair!
Reflect on yourself and your life during difficulties
Being in difficulty might in fact be a good time to reflect upon life and remember the meaning and purpose we’re here for. Life is meant to be a test; a test of excellence in conduct:
“[He] who created death and life to test you [as to] which of you is best in deed – and He is the Exalted in Might, the Forgiving” [Qur’an: Chapter 67, Verse 2]
Our faith and our religion are not means of escaping tribulations, they’re a means of knowing how to perceive and deal with them properly. Islam was perfected and completed to teach people how to deal with life and grow physically, spiritually and intellectually. It came to adjust and refine people’s perception of their short journey on earth and to help them put matters in perspective.
The first verses revealed from the Qur’an were:
“Read in the name of your Lord who created – Created man from a clinging substance. Read, and your Lord is the most Generous -Who taught by the pen – Taught man that which he knew not.” [Qur’an: Chapter 96, Verses 1-5]
Those verses were revealed to Prophet Muhammad when he was reflecting upon life, upon existence, seeking meaning, purpose and understanding. Those verses came as an instruction for us to re-examine ourselves and our lives through the eyes of our Creator .
Let us say, for example, that someone drew a painting. Then a group of people came and started discussing this painting, what it means or what it says or what it really is all about. Then the painter informs them that they’ve been looking at the painting wrongly. Maybe it was upside down. They haven’t been seeing it correctly for what it really is. Suddenly, he adds perspective. And who better than the creator to add perspective to that which he has created!
Another example: let us say someone created a machine. Then he gave it to a group of people. The people then started using this machine for many purposes, except the actual purpose that it was created for. They started ruining and damaging the machine and then complaining about it. Then the creator informs them that they haven’t been understanding what this machine is about or what it was created for. You see, it’s always a good idea to understand the creator’s perspective, and it’s always a good idea to read the manual.
And to Allah , the Creator of all that exists, belongs the best example and the highest praise!
Wouldn’t He who created this creation reveal to people that which explains what this creation is really about and how it should be handled?
“Does He who created not know, while He is the Subtle, the Acquainted?” [Qur’an: Chapter 67, Verse 14]
During times of difficulty, try to take a step back. Try to look at the problem as an outsider. Zoom out, if you will, and look at the situation. Try to see if there is something wrong that you have been doing that you need to change. Maybe this is a wake-up call for you. Try to see if there is someone you have wronged who you need to apologize to and act justly towards.
Remember that problems and trials are there to test us, but they’re also there to teach us, refine our character and mold our personalities. Your goal is not to avoid and escape problems, your goal is to always be patient with them, try to see if there is something that you should learn from them, or if there is something that you could teach others.
Learn and grow from life’s lessons
The story of Prophet Adam , the first man Allah created, is the first story mentioned in the Noble Qur’an [Qur’an: Chapter 2, Verses 30-39].
There are countless, incredibly rich and beautiful messages in this story.Let’s reflect here on one aspect of this story.
Allah said describing His relationship with Adam :
“And He taught Adam…..” [Qur’an: Chapter 2: Verse 31]
He “taught” him. Do you see? This is not one fleeting moment of history. This is a major reality of life. We are here to learn. We are here because Allah will teach us. We have an All-Wise Creator who has chosen us, human beings, honored us with an intellect and a moral choice – something not even the angels were bestowed with – and He gave us a lifetime to learn and be taught by Him, through all of life’s experiences. This tells you and me that we are here to learn from The Best Teacher ! That’s why we should never stop seeking knowledge and seeking wisdom and seeking growth through every situation we face. Life has to be a rich experience filled with good and bad for us to learn and grow and prove our faith, love and commitment to our Creator.
Recall what Allah says in Surat Al-Inshiqaq:
“…you will surely experience state after state.” [Qur’an: Chapter 84, Verse 19]
And Surat Al-Mulk:
“[He] who created death and life to test you [as to] which of you is best in deed…” [Qur’an: Chapter 67, Verse 2]
Giving up means giving in to shaytan
Among shaytan’s biggest tricks is to encourage people to give up whenever they face a difficult situation. This way, instead of learning and growing and coming closer to Allah through their difficulty and earn reward, they just give up, lose their faith and lose everything along the way.
“Satan threatens you with poverty [despair] and orders you to immorality, while Allah promises you forgiveness from Him and bounty. And Allah is all-Encompassing and Knowing.” [Qur’an: Chapter 2, Verse 268]
In addition to despair, Satan encourages people to be arrogant, and when one is arrogant, they will be ignorant. The hallmark of the arrogant person is that he/she believes they already know everything. They don’t need to learn anything else or open their hearts and minds to their weaknesses and dependence upon Allah when problems arise.
So this is a reminder for us. We should always examine matters in light of our purpose in life. We have been sent down here from Paradise to learn. And when we learn, we will rise up again, we will be elevated; and will rise up so much in fact that we will earn a level of closeness to Allah not even the angels could reach. It’s a level that can only be earned through enduring the good and bad, choosing the pleasure of Allah for better and for worse, learning through difficulty, giving despite need and remaining patient in this short journey until we reach our place near our Beloved Creator for eternity. It’s a magnificent, rich, blessed journey that Allah has honored us with, and promised to always be on our side teaching us, showing us mercy and being in our company wherever we are:
“…He knows what penetrates into the earth and what emerges from it and what descends from the heaven and what ascends therein; and He is with you wherever you are. And Allah , of what you do, is Seeing.” [ Qur’an: Chapter 57, Verse 4]
1. When in difficulty, turn your heart and mind back to Allah and hold on to Him. Remember that our purpose of life is to establish this bond with Him . Sometimes, a difficulty is necessary because when we’re not in difficulty, we get so absorbed or attached to our blessings that we think we’re independent of Him and we don’t need Him.
“…Indeed, man transgresses. Because he sees himself self-sufficient. Indeed, to your Lord is the return.” [Qur’an: Chapter 96, Verse 6-8]
2. Remember that we will all go back to Allah eventually. That’s a fact we should always remember. Did anyone live forever? Never. We’re all going back to Him. Whatever thing or person you have attached yourself to is temporary; pain and sufferings are also temporary. But the bond you create with Allah through the multiple situations and experiences you go through in this life, is what will really last… eternally.
Make the Qur’an your companion for life
One of the dangers of being in a state of difficulty or a problem, is that the person afflicted might start getting so absorbed in negative thoughts that their iman weakens and they might end up becoming angry and even rebellious against Allah . Remember that Allah said about the Qur’an:
“Say, “It is, for those who believe, a guidance and cure.” [Qur’an: Chapter 41, Verse 44]
“O mankind, there has come to you instruction from your Lord [The Qur’an] and healing for what is in the breasts and guidance and mercy for the believers.” [Qur’an: Chapter 10, Verse 57]
So seek the companionship of the Qur’an to give you perspective of your life and to keep yourself connected with Allah , since the Qur’an embodies His direct words verbatim, and if you want to get closer to Him, then you need to listen to Him first.
- Start reading the Qur’an more regularly. One page at a time. Slowly. Read the meanings and the tafseer (commentary) of what you read. This is the way to directly bond with Allah and directly connect with Him and learn from Him. Find some time daily to be in seclusion with the Qur’an and you will find Allah opening your eyes, heart and mind and filling you with the serenity and satisfaction you are searching for, In sha Allah.
- In addition to reading, listen to the Qur’an. Get any device that plays audio files and upload beautiful Qur’an recitations to it. Using your phone is not recommended because you will hardly concentrate. There are tens of other things you do on your phone like checking your emails, WhatsApp, Facebook, etc. Additionally, your battery will die and this will be uncomfortable and might lead you to give up on this whole idea soon. So, you need a separate device to keep in your company and plug in your ears throughout the day as much as possible. Believe me, it’s a cure. This will have magnificent results. When you listen to Allah more often throughout the day, no negativity or evil whispers will manage to haunt you, and your heart will be filled with peace and contentment, In sha Allah.
You’re stronger than you think you are
If you are reading this and you were about to let yourself drown in despair, then this is for you. You are okay. You will get through whatever you’re in. Things will get better. Seek Allah , He is Ever-Forgiving and Ever-Merciful.
“…and despair not of relief from Allah. Indeed, no one despairs of relief from Allah except the disbelieving people.” [Qur’an: Chapter 12, Verse 87]
In addition to solving the problem you’re in through positive thinking and seeking the necessary means, try not to make the problem the center of your life. Get up and do something good, something positive: make someone happy, help someone. There are plenty of opportunities: shelters, NGOs, orphanages, senior homes, your own family members who might need help, or simply someone who needs a smile put on their face. Be that person. Sometimes, we realize that while healing others, we can be healed, while consoling others, we are consoled, and while giving others, we get tremendously enriched.
Prophet Muhammad taught us:
“Whoever removes a worldly grief from a believer, Allah will remove from him one of the griefs of the Day of Resurrection. And whoever alleviates the need of a needy person, Allah will alleviate his needs in this world and the Hereafter. Whoever shields [or hides the misdeeds of] a Muslim, Allah will shield him in this world and the Hereafter. And Allah is engaged in helping His slave so long as His slave in engaged in helping his brother.” [40 Hadith Nawawi 36]
May Allah help all of us and alleviate our burdens and grant us contentment and peace of heart and mind. Ameen!
Now, tell us, did you benefit from this article? Please use the comments section below to share with us your thoughts and reflections. Stay tuned for the third and final part of this series, In sha Allah.