Who’s the greatest?
Throughout time, we have always loved competition. Whether football, MMA, sports day, car racing or at the gym.
Yesterday, we saw more than 700,000 teenagers received their GCSE results in the UK – a day filled with joy, disappointment and relief.
Many of us have probably passed a similar day and there are many lessons we can take from tests for our whole life.
The benefit of tests are:
- Performance measure: you know where you are against a challenging standard. How quickly can you run the 100m, retain Biology information or solve a problem?
- Keep you on point: tests are a reminder of information and help you retain it longer
- Self-assessment: Identify your gaps and weaknesses
- Get organised: You are able to connect the dots by putting it into your own words and experiences
- New application: Every test stretched you to adapt to a new context
- Focus: Testing gives us motivation to prepare and a deadline to work towards
- Establish your worthiness for responsibility or privilege
Sometimes Allaah tests His slaves with calamities in order to raise them in status and to expiate for their sins, as the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “No misfortune or disease befalls a Muslim, no worry or grief or harm or distress – not even a thorn that pricks him – but Allaah will expiate for some of his sins because of that.” (Agreed upon. Narrated by al-Bukhaari, 5641)
In education, many ask the question, why do I need to do this test for or learn this material – it’s not even relevant? However, once the test has passed, its quite obvious how that learning and process of applying knowledge to problems was essential to succeed. Would Khabib Nurmagomedov have been given the chance against Mcgregor without an unblemished record through 27 professional fights, the first Russian to win a UFC title? No. Was every fight necessary for him. Yes.
In life too, sometimes we don’t appreciate the test as we were unprepared for it. There are a number of ways to deal with tests and each one is at a different level:
- Anger – you may see this in people becoming angry at everyone and everything. Others may scream and wail when they lose something. Some may go as far as questioning Allah(SWT) and their belief.
- Patience: like medicine, it is something bitter, but its outcome is sweeter than honey. A person may find something burdensome and dislike it, but he bears it with patience and steadfastness. Whether it happens or not is not the same for him; rather he dislikes what he is going through of hardship, but his faith protects him from becoming discontent.
- Acceptance (rida), which is of a higher degree than patience. Although we may feel sad when calamity strikes, we know Allah(SWT) knows everything and accept that everything in this Dunya will pass. This is contentment which only comes through knowing Allah(SWT) created us and like our gym trainer or teacher would push us to achieve more, Allah(SWT) knows exactly what we are capable of and tests us. In this state of being pleased with his Lord, the believer remembers Allah(SWT), may He be glorified and exalted, and accepts that Allah will cause him to alternate between times of ease and times of hardship.
- Gratitude. This is the highest status. It means that a person is grateful to Allah for whatever befalls him of calamity, and is thus included among the grateful slaves of Allah. When he realises that there are calamities greater than what has befallen him, and that calamity affecting one’s worldly interests is easier to bear than calamities that affect one’s religious commitment, and that punishment in this world is easier to bear than punishment in the hereafter, and that this calamity may be a means of expiating his sins and increasing his hasanaat, he will give thanks to Allah for that. A person may also increase in faith thereby.
Referring to this state, the Prophet(SAW) said “Wondrous is the affair of the believer for there is good for him in every matter and this is not the case with anyone except the believer. If he is happy, then he thanks Allah and thus there is good for him, and if he is harmed, then he shows patience and thus it is good for him.” [Sahih Muslim 2999]
I want to share a story with you about someone who was blessed with tests throughout his life and take some lessons from how he dealt with them.
Musab ibn Umayr was born and grew up in the lap of affluence and luxury. His rich parents lavished a great deal of care and attention on him. He wore the most expensive clothes and the most stylish shoes of his time. Yemeni shoes were then considered to be very elegant and it was his privilege to have the very best of these.
As a youth, he was admired by the Quraysh not only for his good looks and style but for his intelligence. His elegant bearing and keen mind endeared him to the Makkan nobility among whom he moved with ease. Although still young, he had the privilege of attending Quraysh meetings and gatherings. He was thus in a position to know the issues which concerned the Makkans and what their attitudes and strategies were.
So, Mus’ab heard about the social change that Prophet Muhammad (SAW) was introducing and knew of how Quraysh was worried about this. But he was a thinker and knew the good character of as-Saadiq ul-Amin (the Trustworthy). He ventured out to the house of Al Arqam not worried about Quraysh’s hostility. There he was welcomed met the Prophet teaching his small band of companions, reciting the verses of the Quran to them and performing Salat with them in submission to God, the Great, the Most High. Musab was totally overwhelmed by what he had seen and heard. The words of the Quran had made a deep and immediate impression on him.
In this first meeting with the Prophet, the young and decisive Musab declared his acceptance of Islam. It was a historic moment. The keen mind of Musab, his tenacious will and determination, his eloquence and his beautiful character were now in the service of Islam and would help change the course of men’s destinies and of history.
And so the tests began. Despite the Quraysh’s hostility towards Muslims, Musab had only one major concern – his mother, Khunnas bint Malik. She was a woman of extraordinary power, a dominant personality who could easily arouse fear and terror. When Musab became a Muslim, the only power on earth he might have feared was his mother.
For this reason, he decided that he should conceal his acceptance of Islam until such time as a solution should come from God. He continued to frequent the House of al-Arqam and sit in the company of the Prophet.
However, the eyes and ears of the Quraysh were on every road and there were many Quraysh informers. Before long, Musab was seen as he quietly entered the House of al-Arqam, by someone called Uthman ibn Talhah who also saw him praying in the same manner as the Prophet(SAW) on another occasion.
Musab was called before his mother, his clan and the Quraysh nobility who had all gathered to find out what he had done and what he had to say for himself.
With a certain humility and calm confidence, Musab acknowledged that he had become a Muslim he explained his reasons for so doing. He then recited some verses of the Quran – verses which had cleansed the hearts of the believers and brought them back to the natural religion of God. Though only few in number, their hearts were now filled with wisdom, honor, justice and courage.
As Musab’s mother listened to her son on whom she had lavished so much care and affection, she became increasingly incensed and she felt she had to do something to avenge the gods which her son had forsaken. She had Musab taken to a far corner of the house where he was firmly bound and tethered – a prisoner in his own home.
For a long time, Musab remained tied and confined under the watchful eyes of guards whom his mother had placed over him to prevent him from any further contact with Muhammad and his faith. Despite his ordeal, Musab did not waver. He must have had news of how other Muslims were being harassed and tortured by the idolators. For him, as for many other Muslims, life in Makkah was becoming more and more intolerable. Eventually, he heard that a group of Muslims were preparing secretly to migrate to Abyssinia to seek refuge and relief. His immediate thoughts were how to escape from his prison and join them. At the first opportunity, when his mother and his warders were off-guard, he managed to slip away quietly. Then with utmost haste, he joined the other refugees and before long they sailed together across the Red Sea to Africa.
LESSON: His trial did not break him. Rather, at the first opportunity, he raced back to Allah(SWT) and His Prophet(SAW). If your test brings you back to Allah(SWT), then know it is, in fact, a blessing and you have succeeded as the outcomes of trials are three:
- It is a punishment for your sin and this is still better than being punished in the Afterlife
- It is a purification for you – if you do tawbah as a result of this trial, this is evidence of this
- It enables you to be truly grateful to Allah(SWT), and this is the best of the best outcomes
Although the Muslims enjoyed peace and security in the land of the Negus, they longed to be in Makkah in the company of the noble Prophet. So when a report reached Abyssinia that the conditions of the Muslims in Makkah had improved, Musab was among the first to return to Makkah. The report was in fact false and Musab once again left for Abyssinia.
Whether he was in Makkah or Abyssinia, Musab remained strong in his new faith and his main concern was to make his life worthy of his Creator.
When Musab returned to Makkah again, his mother made a last attempt to gain control of him and threatened to have him tied up again and confined. Musab swore that if she were to do that, he would kill everyone who helped her. She knew very well that he would carry out this threat for she saw the iron determination he now had.
Lesson: Everything pales in comparison to the love of Allah(SWT) for the believer and true freedom is not to be tied down to anything of this dunya.
Separation was inevitable. When the moment came, it was sad for both mother and son but it revealed a strong persistence in kufr on the part of the mother and an even greater persistence in iman on the part of the son. As she threw him out of her house and cut him off from all the material comforts she used to lavish on him, she said: “Go to your own business. I am not prepared to be a mother to you.” Musab went up close to her and said: “Mother, I advise you sincerely. I am concerned about you. Do testify that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad is His servant and His Messenger.”
“I swear by the shooting stars, I shall not enter your religion even if my opinion is ridiculed and my mind becomes impotent,” she insisted.
Musab thus left her home and the luxury and comforts he used to enjoy. The elegant, well-dressed youth would henceforth be seen only in the coarsest of attire. He now had more important concerns. He was determined to use his talents and energies in acquiring knowledge and in serving God and His Prophet.
Lesson: Apply your energies and talents to good actions for the Akhira rather than just for your job and family – your accounting skills for the masjid, your gift of the gab for charitable causes, your friends circle to encourage some learning.
One day, several years later, Musab came upon a gathering of Muslims sitting around the Prophet, may God bless him and grant him peace. They bowed their heads and lowered their gaze when they saw Musab, and some were even moved to tears. This was because his robes were old and in tatters and they were immediately taken back to the days before his acceptance of Islam when he was a model of sartorial elegance. The Prophet looked at Musab, smiled gracefully and said:
“I have seen this Musab with his parents in Makkah. They lavished care and attention on him and gave him all comforts. There was no Quraysh youth like him. Then he left all that seeking the pleasure of God and devoting himself to the service of His Prophet.” The Prophet then went on to say:
“There will come a time when God will grant you victory over Persia and Byzantium. You would have one dress in the morning and another in the evening and you would eat out of one dish in the morning and another in the evening.”
In other words, the Prophet predicted that the Muslims would become rich and powerful and that they would have material goods in plenty. The companions sitting around asked the Prophet:
“O Messenger of Allah, are we in a better situation in these times or would we be better off then?” He replied: “You are rather better off now than you would be then. If you knew of the world what I know you would certainly not be so much concerned with it.”
After about ten years of inviting people to Islam, most of Makkah still remained hostile. The noble Prophet then went to Taif seeking new adherents to the faith. He was repulsed and chased out of the city. The future of Islam looked bleak.
It was just after this that the Prophet chose Musab to be his “ambassador” to Yathrib to teach a small group of believers who had come to pledge allegiance to Islam and prepare Madinah for the day of the great Hijrah.
Musab was chosen above companions who were older than he or were more closely related to the Prophet or who appeared to possess greater prestige. No doubt Musab was chosen for this task because of his noble character, his fine manners and his sharp intellect. His knowledge of the Quran and his ability to recite it beautifully and movingly was also an important consideration.
Musab understood his mission well. He knew that he was on a sacred mission. to invite people to God and the straight path of Islam and to prepare what was to be the territorial base for the young and struggling Muslim community.
He entered Madinah as a guest of Sad ibn Zurarah of the Khazraj tribe. Together they went to people, to their homes and their gatherings, telling them about the Prophet, explaining Islam to them and reciting the Quran. Through the grace of God, many accepted Islam. This was especially pleasing to Musab but profoundly alarming to many leaders of Yathribite society.
Once Musab and Sad were sitting near a well in an orchard of the Zafar clan. With them were a number of new Muslims and others who were interested in Islam. A powerful notable of the city, Usayd ibn Khudayr, came up brandishing a spear. He was livid with rage. Sad ibn Zararah saw him and told Musab:
“This is a chieftain of his people. May God place truth in his heart.” “If he sits down, I will speak to him,” replied Musab, displaying all the calm and tact of a great daily.
The angry Usayd shouted abuse and threatened Musab and his host. “Why have you both come to us to corrupt the weak among us? Keep away from us if you want to stay alive.” Musab smiled a warm and friendly smile and said to Usayd: “Won’t you sit down and listen? If you are pleased and satisfied with our mission. accept it and if you dislike it we would stop telling you what you dislike and leave.”
“That’s reasonable,” said Usayd and, sticking his spear in the ground, sat down. Musab was not compelling him to do anything. He was not denouncing him. He was merely inviting him to listen. If he was satisfied, well and good. If not, then Musab would leave his district and his clan without any fuss and go to another district.
Musab began telling him about Islam and recited the Quran to him. Even before Usayd spoke, it was clear from his face, now radiant and expectant, that faith had entered his heart. He said:
“How beautiful are these words and how true! What does a person do if he wants to enter this religion?”
“Have a bath, purify yourself and your clothes. Then utter the testimony of Truth (Shahadah), and perform Salat. Usayd left the gathering and was absent for only a short while. He returned and testified that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah. He then prayed two rakats and said:
“After me, there is a man who if he follows you, everyone of his people will follow him. I shall send him to you now. He is ‘Sad ibn Muadh.”
Sad ibn Muadh came and listened to Musab. He was convinced and satisfied and declared his submission to God. He was followed by another important Yathribite, Sad ibn Ubadah. Before long, the people of Yathrib were all in a flurry, asking one another.
“If Usayd ibn Khudayr, Sad ibn Muadh and Sad ibn Ubadah have accepted the new religion, how can we not follow? Let’s go to Musab and believe with him. They say that truth emanates from his lips.”
The first ambassador of the Prophet, peace be on him, was thus supremely successful. The Prophet had chosen well. Men and women, the young and the old, the powerful and the weak accepted Islam at his hands. The course of Yathribite history had been changed forever. The way was being prepared for the great Hijrah. Yathrib was soon to become the center and the base for the Islamic state.
Less than a year after his arrival in Yathrib, Musab returned to Makkah. It was again in the season of pilgrimage. With him was a group of seventy-five Muslims from Madinah. Again at Aqabah, near Mina, they met the Prophet. There they solemnly undertook to defend the Prophet at all cost. Should they remain firm in their faith, their reward, said the Prophet, would be nothing less than Paradise. This second bayah or pledge which the Muslims of Yathrib made came to be called the Pledge of War.
From then on events moved swiftly. Shortly after the Pledge, the Prophet directed his persecuted followers to migrate to Yathrib where the new Muslims or Ansar (Helpers) had shown their willingness to give asylum and extend their protection to the afflicted Muslims. The first of the Prophet’s companions to arrive in Madinah were Musab ibn Umayr and the blind Abdullah ibn Umm Maktum. Abdullah also recited the Quran beautifully and according to one of the Ansar, both Musab and Abdullah recited the Quran for the people of Yathrib.
Musab continued to play a major role in the building of the new community. The next momentous situation in which we meet him was during the great Battle of Badr. After the battle was over, the Quraysh prisoners of war were brought to the Prophet who assigned them to the custody of individual Muslims. “Treat them well,” he instructed.
Among the prisoners was Abu Aziz ibn Umayr, the brother of Musab. Abu Aziz related what happened: “I was among a group of Ansar…Whenever they had lunch or dinner they would give me bread and dates to eat in obedience to the Prophet’s instructions to them to treat us well.
“My brother, Musab ibn Umayr, passed by me and said to the man from the Ansar who was holding me prisoner:
‘Tie him firmly… His mother is a woman of great wealth and maybe she would ransom him for you.'” Abu Aziz could not believe his ears. Astonished, he turned to Musab and asked: “My brother, is this your instruction concerning me?” “He is my brother, not you,” replied Musab thus affirming that in the battle between iman and kufr, the bonds of faith were stronger than the ties of kinship.
At the Battle of Uhud, the Prophet called upon Musab, now well-known as Musab al-Khayr (the Good), to carry the Muslim standard. At the beginning of the battle, the Muslims seemed to be gaining the upper hand. A group of Muslims then went against the orders of the Prophet and deserted their positions. The mushrikin forces rallied again and launched a counterattack. Their main objective, as they cut through the Muslim forces, was to get to the noble Prophet.
Musab realized the great danger facing the Prophet. He raised the standard high and shouted the takbir. With the standard in one hand and his sword in the other, he plunged into the Quraysh forces. The odds were against him. A Quraysh horseman moved in close and severed his right hand. Musab was heard to repeat the words:
“Muhammad is only a Messenger. Messengers have passed away before him,” showing that however great his attachment was to the Prophet himself, his struggle above all was for the sake of God and for making His word supreme. His left hand was then severed also and as he held the standard between the stumps of his arms, to console himself he repeated: “Muhammad is only a Messenger of God. Messengers have passed away before him.” Musab was then hit by a spear. He fell and the standard fell. The words he repeated, every time he was struck were later revealed to the Prophet and completed, and became part of the Quran.
After the battle, the Prophet and his companions went through the battlefield, bidding farewell to the martyrs. When they came to Musab’s body, tears flowed. Khabbah related that they could not find any cloth with which to shroud Musab’s body, except his own garment. When they covered his head with it, his legs showed and when his legs were covered, his head was exposed and the Prophet instructed:
“Place the garment over his head and cover his feet and legs with the leaves of the idhkhir (rue) plant.”
The Prophet felt deep pain and sorrow at the number of his companions who were killed at the Battle of Uhud. These included his uncle Hamzah whose body was horribly mutilated. But it was over the body of Musab that the Prophet stood, with great emotion. He remembered Musab as he first saw him in Makkah, stylish and elegant, and then looked at the short burdah which was now the only garment he possessed and he recited the verse of the Quran:
“Among the believers are men who have been true to what they have pledged to God.”
The Prophet then cast his tender eyes over the battle field on which lay the dead companions of Musab and said: “The Messenger of God testifies that you are martyrs in the sight of God on the day of Qiyamah.”
Then turning to the living companions around him he said: “O People! Visit them, send peace on them for, by Him in whose hand is my soul, any Muslim who sends peace on them until the day of Qiyamah, they would return the salutation of peace.”
Ibn Ishaaq narrated in his Maghaazi that Sa‘d ibn Abi Waqqaas said: We were people who endured a hard life in Makkah with the Messenger of Allah (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him) and faced difficulties. When calamity befell us, we regarded it as a test and bore it with patience. Mus‘ab ibn ‘Umayr was a young man who lived a life of the greatest ease in Makkah, and his garments were the finest, as his parents spent generously on him. Then I saw him, when he became Muslim, looking very tired and unwell, to the extent that I saw his skin peeling off like the skin of a snake.… Then Allah, may He be glorified and exalted, honoured him with martyrdom on the day of Uhud. [as-Siyar wa’l-Maghaazi, p. 193]