As the lockdown eases and we see light at the end of the tunnel, we feel relieved to some degree. It’s a good time to reflect on the grief and pain and our coping mechanism – patience.
The Quran teaches that Allah rewards the suffering people since trials and tests are ever-present. “Do people think they will be left alone because they say, “We believe,” then will not be tested? We tested those before them. Allah knows the truthful and the liars” (Al-Ankabut: 2-3).
Sheikh Mohammed al-Ghazali al-Saqqa (1917-1996) explains this verse as follows, he says “life is a test, a trial, which we all have to undergo. Once we passed from this life into the next, we will find out how we have fared and whether we have passed the test or not. Those who pass, will go to Paradise and those who fail will go to Hell. The terms and the severity of the trial vary from one person to another, depending on many factors. This is because our obligations vary according to our attitudes, capabilities, intelligence, resources and willingness to exert ourselves and make sacrifices.”
How do these teachings help to understand the fact that there is suffering and pain in the world?
The answer is that Allah has endowed us with huge potential to cope with adversities, difficulties, trials and the tests of life. The Caribbean Pine Tree is a primitive-looking tree with wiry leaves. They grow in a rocky and rough environment, they are sturdy and can withstand fierce hurricanes and bush fires. But they grow poorly in fertile soil, where they wither and die. Islamic cosmology teaches that like the Caribbean Pines, human goodness, morals and spiritual sense doesn’t develop during easy times. Moral values of kindness, care and forgiveness don’t thrive as we become complacent, lazy and pleasure-seeking. Our relationship with Allah weakens, we forget Him, the light of faith gets dimmer, we forget to pray and ignore charity. With so much beauty, leisure and pleasure around, the belief in Allah, the Hereafter withers and dies. That’s why sometimes a dose of suffering can be good.
Faith in the Almighty Lord
Faith in Allah and the day of judgement helps us to understand suffering, “We will certainly test you with fear, hunger, loss of wealth, health and harvests. Give good news to the patient and who, when they are struck by misfortune, softly say: “We belong to Allah and are returning to Him”. These are the ones who shall be blessed and will be taken care of by their Lord, they are the guided” (Baqarah: 155-157). These verses present suffering as part of the human condition and the Divine plan.
The Quran gives examples of people who suffered at the hands of other people, diseases and natural calamities like the Prophet Job (Ayyub), who despite losing his home, children and wealth remains ever-thankful to the Lord and does not lose faith. When his body is diseased beyond recognition and the pain is excruciating, his faith does not waver, a great example of a sufferer who says “to God we belong and to Him we are returning“. Such patience is exemplary, no wonder God honours him. “and remember Ayyub when He called his Lord: “I am suffering. You are the Kindest of all.” We answered and relieved him of the sufferings, gave back his family, even bigger than before” (Al Anbiya: 83).
Patience is developing physical and psychological resilience
Patience is to undergo difficult and painful conditions without being overwhelmed or over-reactive, it is persevering when provoked, not acting negatively. It is a moral virtue that forms the bedrock of a strong character. The opposites of patience is moaning, groaning and complaining. Patience is regarded as worship that brings a person closer to the Lord. Sa’id ibn Abi Waqqas reported: I said, “O Messenger of Allah, which people are tested most severely?” The Messenger (peace be upon him) said, “They are the prophets, then the next best, then the next best. A man is put to trial according to his religion. If he is firm in his religion, his trials will be more severe. If he is weak in his religion, he is put to trial according to his strength in religion. The servant will continue to be put to trial until he is left walking upon the earth without any sin” (Tirmidhi).
Once the Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “how wonderful is the affairs of the believer, there is good for him in good times and he is thankful and in hard times he bears patiently” (Muslim). The Poet and Philosopher Rumi gives a possible explanation “whoever is more awake, has greater pain, whoever is more aware, has a yellower face. The more aware they are of divine reality and the purpose of life the more sensitive and therefore they feel the pain more intensely than others”.
The relationship between suffering and growth
Psychological research suggests, there is post-traumatic growth as opposed to post-traumatic stress. It is thought that adversity leads to growth, the building of resilience, ability to persevere at times of distress. The Majestic Quran mentions the sufferings of many prophets including Ayyub, Yusuf, Yunus and the beloved Mustafa, who was stoned, insulted and attacked many times. However, we notice they coped well with the traumas and came out with flying colours. This is post-traumatic growth, they understood that success comes after suffering. A Chinese saying beautifully sums this up “when heaven is about to confer, a great responsibility on any person, it will place obstacles in their path to stimulate their mind, harden their nature and improve them” (Mencius). A phrase that we hear so often especially by sports stars “no pain, no gain”, meaning that it’s necessary to suffer in order to succeed.
Wise men have always understood the relationship between suffering and growth. The Prophet (peace be upon him), often told his disciples of the reward that is associated with suffering, he (peace be upon him) said, “whenever you suffer even a prick of a thorn, your sins are forgiven and you’re rewarded” (Bukhari). Sufferings have benefits, Jalaluddin Rumi said “there is an animal called the porcupine that becomes large and fat, if you beat it with a stick, the more you beat it, the more it thrives, growing fat with each strike of the stick, the believer’s spirit is in truth a porcupine, for the blows of suffering make it large and fat. That is why the suffering and tribulation inflicted upon the Prophet’s is greater than that inflicted upon all the world’s creatures”.
So, suffering is necessary to become strong and steely. It helps to detach from the worldly trappings. The sufferer’s reaction shows the strength of their faith and love of Allah. The best strategy is to say, “to God we belong to him we return.”
Times of difficulty are an opportunity to help others
Empathy is an important quality of believers, to help the needy and save the grief-stricken. It’s an opportunity to serve others, the blessed Messenger (peace be upon him) said: “Whoever removes the sufferings of a human being here on earth, God will remove their sufferings on Judgement day.”
There is much heartache, pain, injustice in our world. You are not responsible for it, so don’t feel guilty. Yes, we should care for others and share their burden, commensurate with our capability. Detach yourself and avoid being emotional, frustrated and angry. When emotions go up and down, like a yoyo, you lose control. If you want to help people, you will have to control your emotions. In order to achieve the game plan, emotions must be put aside, with patience and courage you can achieve success.
Grief and pain can’t be explained
Mostly, we cannot make sense of the sufferings that we see all around us that’s because life is too complex and mysterious. That’s okay because there are many things in the natural world that we fail to understand, they are simply mysterious. Questions like: where did Coronavirus come from? No one knows for certain. Only Allah knows the secrets and the mysteries of the universe, put your trust in Him.