My father passed away ten months ago [in Ramadhan 2002] after a long and hard battle against multiple myeloma. He had been diagnosed two years earlier and we had all known then that the cancer was in its advanced stages. Even so, I was not prepared. When he breathed his last, the pain was like nothing I had ever felt before. I learnt then that grief is not something you can plan for – it is a profoundly lonely and frightening experience.

My father battled the disease stoically and sought comfort in prayer and supplication. He was blessed with a cheerful and vibrant countenance and it was this that made it hard for people to believe that he had such a serious illness. He did lose his hair and his usual vigour due to the chemotherapy; nevertheless, he still managed to look almost healthy. Looking back, I know now that he struggled very hard to appear well – he kept up his immaculate appearance and put up a brave front in front of others.

My mother stood by him throughout his illness, nursing him and taking care of his every need. She fought fatigue and despair and held his hand when he felt alone and afraid. This woman who must have had dreams of growing old with her husband remained a pillar of strength when he passed away and kept the family united.

Through my mother and father, I have grown to appreciate how very resilient the human spirit can be. So, today, I would like to talk about meeting adversities with grace and courage.

Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala says in the noble Qur’an, “And certainly We shall test you with something of fear, hunger, loss of wealth, lives and fruits, but give glad tidings to those who are patient.” (Al Baqarah 2: 155)

This life is filled with fortune and benefits as well as hardship and trials. Our lives alternate between comfort and suffering. The believer, however, knows that the pleasures of this world are but temporary and that he should focus on ensuring that he has provisions of piety which would serve him well in the hereafter. Allah tells us, “Truly, the life of this world is nothing but a [quick passing] enjoyment, and verily, the Hereafter that is the home that will remain forever.” [Al-Ghafir: 39]

I am reminded of a conversation that took place a few years ago. I was then struggling to become a more practicing and knowledgeable Muslimah. It seemed that the harder I tried, the more trials I seemed to encounter. This I conveyed to a friend whom I always turned to for guidance and support.

I had expected words of consolation and understanding, but the reply I got was brief and almost curt – “But of course… Jannah does not come cheap.”

I was taken aback then, but I now know that that person’s words are true. Allah has said in Surah al-`Ankaboot: 2-3]: “Do people think that they will be left alone because they say: ‘We believe,’ and will not be tested. And We indeed tested those who were before them. And Allah will certainly make (it) known (the truth of) those who are true, and will certainly make (it) known (the falsehood of) those who are liars, (although Allah knows all that before putting them to test)…”

Indeed, this world is the place of striving and the Hereafter is the place of reward… provided we remain patient and steadfast. As Allah promised: “And certainly, We shall test you with something of fear, hunger, loss of wealth, lives and fruits, but give glad tidings to as-Saabiroon (the patient), who, when afflicted with calamity, say: ‘Truly, to Allah we belong and truly, to Him we shall return.’ They are those on whom are the Salawaat (i.e. who are blessed and will be forgiven) from their Lord, and (they are those who) receive His Mercy, and it is they who are the guided ones…” [al-Baqarah:155-157]

Meeting Pain with Patience
Sadness, anguish and even anger in times of trials are natural. The danger is that if we do not exercise sufficient self-control, these feelings may take over us and cause us to lose perspective. This trait is not restricted to the fairer sex of course, but we do have a tendency to become emotional and overwrought. We forget that there are others who are afflicted with much worse. We lament and moan about our difficulties, forgetting that they are blessings in themselves.

One may find it odd to say that trials are a boon, but we need to only look at the Qur`an and Sunnah to know that trials refine our character and fortify our faith. Allah tests His slaves with calamities in order to raise them in status and to expiate for their sins, as the Prophet sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam said in another hadeeth: “No misfortune or disease befalls a Muslim, no worry or grief or harm or distress – not even a thorn that pricks him – but Allah will expiate for some of his sins because of that.” (Agreed upon, narrated by al-Bukhari)

It is part of the mercy of Allah that disasters befall sinners in this world, so that their souls might be purified and they might come back to Allah before they die: “And verily, We will make them taste of the near torment (i.e. the torment in the life of this world, i.e. disasters, calamities) prior to the supreme torment (in the Hereafter), in order that they may (repent and) return (i.e. accept Islam).” [al-Sajdah:21]

There is a hadeeth of Sa’d who stated: The Prophet sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam was asked: “Who from mankind suffers the greatest afflictions?” He replied: “The Prophets, then those most like them, then those most like them. A person is afflicted with calamities in comparisons to his Deen, so if he is firm in his Deen, then his afflictions are strong and if he is weak in his Deen, then his afflictions are lighter. A person is afflicted with calamities until he is left walking upon the face of this earth without any sins.” [Ahmad & at-Tirmidhi]

I was struck by the lessons in this hadeeth. However hard our trials, we should remember that the prophets and messengers of Allah `alayhimus salaam who were the closest to Allah were the MOST tested among mankind. The Messenger of Allah sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam was maligned, taunted, beaten till he bled, boycotted and driven to hunger on many occasions … he bore all this with courage and fortitude. In fact, severe trials used to make him stronger and even more resolute. How can we then complain of our hardships which pale in comparison?

The True Women of Substance
We would do well to draw inspiration from the many stories of the outstanding women in our glorious history. These women had a deep conviction in Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala and it is this that kept them steadfast throughout their ordeals.

There is the story of Hajar, the wife of `Ibrahim and mother of Isma`il. When she and her son were left in the desert of Makkah with no means of support, she calmly asked her husband if Allah had commanded it. When he replied in the affirmative, she faced her situation with optimism, saying, “Then He is not going to abandon us.” [Reported by al-Bukhari]

Then there was Sumayyah radhiallahu `anha, the mother of `Ammar ibn Yasir radhiallahu `anhuma. She and her family were of the early Muslims who were persecuted by the Quraish. They were tortured with burning sand poured over them, heated shields placed onto their bodies and much more. When she refused to recant, Abu Jahl, the wicked enemy of Islam, stabbed her abdomen till she died. Such was the strength of this old woman who had the honour of being the first martyr of Islam.

Umm Salamah Asma bint Yazid bin Sakan Ansariah radhiallahu `anhuma lost not one but three of her loved ones in the Battle of Uhud. When told that her father, brother `Amir and uncle Ziyad bin Sakan were martyred, she pushed her grief aside and asked about the Prophet sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam. When she saw him alive, she thanked Allah and said that all other troubles faded into significance.

How to Remain Steadfast
We are told that, “On no soul does Allah Place a burden greater than it can bear.” How can we then remain stoic and patient in times of hardship?

[1] Place your trust in Allah
Allah reminds us time and again in the Qur`an to rely on Him: “So rely upon Allah; indeed, you are upon the clear truth” (An-Naml: 79). Also: “… And when you have decided, then rely upon Allah. Indeed, Allah loves those who rely [upon Him]” (Aal-‘Imraan: 159) and “… And rely upon Allah. And sufficient is Allah as Disposer of affairs” (An-Nisaa’: 81)

[2] Seek help in prayer
Whenever the Messenger of Allah sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam was afflicted with problem, he would initiate a prayer. He said, “The light of my eye is in prayer.” [Ahmad & An-Nisa`i]

We should keep our tongues moist with dhikr for indeed, the remembrance of Allah would fill us with tranquility. There are also various du`aa that help to remove distress. The story of Abu Umaamah radhiallahu `anhu illustrates this. The Messenger sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam met him and asked, “Abu Umaamah, why do I see you sitting in the Masjid when it is not time for prayer?” He said: “Grief and debts on me, O Messenger of Allah.” He said: “Shall I teach you words that if you should say, Allah will release you from your grief, and pay off your debts.” I said: “Yes, O Messenger of Allah.” He said: “Every morning and in the evening say, ‘O Allah I ask refuge in you from grief and sorrow and I ask refuge in you in disability and laziness, and ask refuge in Allah from cowardliness and stinginess, and I ask refuge in you to be overwhelmed by debts and over the control of men.'” Abu Umaamah said: “I did that and Allah Subhanahu Wa Taala relieved me from my grief and paid off my debts.” [Abu Dawood]

[3] Accept the decree of Allah
The Messenger sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam said: “From the happiness of the son of Adam is that he accepts what Allah decrees, and the misery of the son of Adam is that he rejects, and rebels against what Allah decrees.” [at-Tirmidhi]

Dawood Ibn Sulaiman said, “Three things indicate the piety of a believer; his trust in Allah in what he has not attained; his satisfaction with whatever he has attained and his patience over what he has missed.”

Remember also the hadeeth that says, “If Allah wants to do good to somebody, He afflicts him with trials.” (Al-Bukhari)

[4] Appreciate the rewards behind hardship
Surely we cannot refuse this gift from Allah! Shurayh said, “A slave will not be afflicted by a trial except that he finds three blessings therein, (1) that the trial has nothing to do with his religion, (2) that the trial was not bigger than it is, and (3) that Allah gives him patience to bear it.”

In a hadith narrated by Bukhari and Muslim from Abu Hurayrah, the Messenger of Allah, sallallahu alayhi wa sallam, said: “Hell has been veiled with desires, and Paradise has been veiled with hardships.”

Trials, however difficult, are opportunities… stepping stones to Jannah. Can we refuse this gift of Allah?

May Allah give us strength and steadfastness, ameen.