O Prophet! We have sent you as a witness, and a deliverer of good news, and a warner, and a caller to ˹the Way of˺ Allah by His command, and a beacon of light. [Ahzab 33:45-46]
The word optimism is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “hopefulness and confidence about the future or the success of something”. Islam is a great advocate of optimism; it encourages its followers to have a positive outlook on life and, having made the necessary effort, to hope for the help of Allah and the best outcome. Hence, being optimistic is a part of Islam and a prerequisite to having a strong and unwavering faith. The optimist sees the opportunities in their difficulties, unlike the pessimist who sees the difficulty in every opportunity.
Optimists do acknowledge negative events, but they are more likely to avoid blaming themselves for the bad outcome, inclined to view the situation as a temporary one and likely to expect further positive events in the future.
In fact, all incidents in a believer’s life become a source of goodness owing to his or her optimistic attitude, as is evident from the words of the Prophet ﷺ: “How amazing is the affair of the believer! There is good for him in everything and that is for no one but the believer. If good times come his way, he expresses gratitude to Allah and that is good for him, and if hardship comes his way, he endures it patiently and that is better for him.” (Muslim)
Our Prophet(SAW) is not just a role model in the way he performed the prayer but he was a role model in all aspects of his life and he should be our overall model as well in all aspects of our life especially our manners and characteristics. Of the amazing qualities of the Prophet(SAW), he was the most optimistic person that you can ever imagine.
We live in a time where the media is almost completely filled with negative news and we love to revel in drama filled with tragedy. We recognise that times are hard around us as inflation soars, energy prices lift and politically and economically there are so many challenges. Moreso, in these times, we are in need of this one quality – a positive mindset and an optimistic heart and tongue.
The Prophet (SAW) would turn every frown and negativity into a smile and positivity. On meeting a bedouin who was depressed and sad, Rasoolullah(SAW) asked him where he came from. He said they came from a valley known as the valley of shi’bul dhalala (misguidance), he(SAW) responded, rather, it is shi’bul hidayah – the valley of guidance. Which land are you from? A land known as the dead land. Rasoolullah(SAW) said , rather it is a green, lush land. What’s your daughter’s name to which he responded ‘Aasiyah (meaning sinner), he(SAW) said no she is Jamila (beautiful conduct).
For many years, he preached Allah’s Word to people without much success, yet hopeful that the future would be brighter. When he brought his mission to Taif and was stoned and injured by its inhabitants in response, he expressed his hope that the next generation would embrace faith.
Even when he migrated, the land was known as Yathrib which means a place of loss, so the Prophet(SAW) called it Taybah – the good city and today we remember it as Madinah un-Nabi – the city of the Prophet(SAW).
He migrated to Madinah believing that the Muhajirin and Ansaar could be merged into a single community. In Madinah, he hoped that the hypocrites would see the light and truly embrace faith, or else cease to harm the community. He was proved right on each of these occasions. It was his trust in Allah, combined with his sincerity of intention and immense toil, which led to his becoming the greatest and most influential human being of all time.
The refugees journey Allah(SWT) records how the mushrikeen were conspiring to kill the Prophet(SAW):
“If you help him (Muhammad) not (it does not matter), for Allaah did indeed help him when the disbelievers drove him out, the second of the two; when they (Muhammad and Abu Bakr) were in the cave, he said to his companion (Abu Bakr): “Be not sad (or afraid), surely, Allaah is with us.” Then Allaah sent down His Sakeenah (calmness, tranquillity, peace) upon him, and strengthened him with forces (angels) which you saw not, and made the word of those who disbelieved the lowermost, while the Word of Allaah that became the uppermost; and Allaah is All-Mighty, All-Wise” [al-Tawbah 9:40]
Imam Ahmad (3241) narrates that Quraysh met together one night in Makkah. Some of them said: When morning comes, imprison him in chains – meaning the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him). Some said, No, kill him; and others said, No, drive him out. Allaah informed His Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) of that, so ‘Ali slept in the bed of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) that night, and the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) went out and hid in the cave. The mushrikoon spent the night lying in wait for ‘Ali, thinking that he was the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him). When morning came, they pounced on him, and when they saw ‘Ali, Allaah thwarted their plot. They said, Where is that friend of yours? He said, I do not know.
It was narrated that ‘Aa’ishah, the wife of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him), said: “… then the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) and Abu Bakr headed towards a cave on the mountain of Thawr, and they hid in it for three nights, during which ‘Abd-Allaah ibn Abi Bakr – who was a smart young lad – stayed with them at night then left just before dawn (at the end of the night) so that he would be among Quraysh in Makkah when morning came, as if he had spent the night among them. He used to listen out to see what they were planning, then he would bring news of that [to the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) and Abu Bakr] when darkness came…”
So they set out after him and when they reached the mountain, they were confounded. They climbed up the mountain and passed by the cave, and saw a spider’s web over its entrance. They said, If anyone had entered here, the spider would not have spun a web over the entrance. And he stayed there for three nights.
Abu Bakr (may Allaah be pleased with him) said: I said to the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him), when I was with him in the cave: “If one of them looks down at his feet he will see us.” He said, “What do you think, O Abu Bakr, of two the third of whom is Allaah?” Narrated by al-Bukhaari, 3653.
Is the glass half-full or half-empty? Yesterday, I was speaking to a local student of knowledge who has had a sight disability since a young age and was on morphine from the age of 10. Now, in this early adult years, I asked him when he woke yesterday and he said 5am and even 5 hours are good. On probing, it was apparent he had spent years only managing to sleep for 2-3 hours at a time and when I asked him about his condition, he said it was common in his family with one of his sisters blind, while the other is partially sighted and he felt he was in the best position of the three.
Ibn Abbas reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, was optimistic, he did not see evil omens, and he liked good names. Source: Musnad Aḥmad 2762
Abu Huraira reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace be and blessings on him, said, “Allah Almighty says: I am as My servant expects of Me and I am with him as he remembers Me. If he remembers Me in himself, I will remember him in Myself. If he mentions Me in a gathering, I will mention him in a greater gathering. When he draws near Me by the span of his hand, I draw near him by the length of a cubit. When he draws near Me by the length of a cubit, I draw near him by the length of a fathom. When he comes to Me walking, I come to him running.” Source: Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī 7405, Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim 2675
أَنَا عِنْدَ ظَنِّ عَبْدِي بِي وَأَنَا مَعَهُ إِذَا ذَكَرَنِي فَإِنْ ذَكَرَنِي فِي نَفْسِهِ ذَكَرْتُهُ فِي نَفْسِي وَإِنْ ذَكَرَنِي فِي مَلَإٍ ذَكَرْتُهُ فِي مَلَإٍ خَيْرٍ مِنْهُمْ وَإِنْ تَقَرَّبَ إِلَيَّ بِشِبْرٍ تَقَرَّبْتُ إِلَيْهِ ذِرَاعًا وَإِنْ تَقَرَّبَ إِلَيَّ ذِرَاعًا تَقَرَّبْتُ إِلَيْهِ بَاعًا وَإِنْ أَتَانِي
You can pretty much guarantee 90% of the time the news will be negative, so if that’s the first thoughts of your day, it starts you off on a negative mind frame. When you go out into the world, your thoughts about what happens in your life will be affected by that negative mind frame, most of the time while you are truly unaware.
In the eye of the storm – facing difficulty
A believer remains steadfast in difficult times, knowing that no hardship lasts forever. The believer also recognizes that there never is a problem without a solution, as Allah says, “For indeed, with hardship, there is ease. Indeed, with hardship, there is ease.” (Qur’an 94:5-6) Furthermore, no person is ever burdened beyond one’s capacity; Allah ensures that each of His slaves has the strength to bear whatever befalls him or her: “And We charge no soul except [what is within] its capacity, and with Us is a record which speaks with truth; and they will not be wronged.” (Qur’an 23:62) Hence, a believer remains patient and confident about the future in difficult times instead of being overcome by the circumstances.
A believer is motivated enough never to end one’s own life or to wish for death when confronted with hardships. It is the believer’s optimistic view of this life, with all its opportunities of doing good and earning reward, that makes this life sacred. The Prophet ﷺ said, “None of you should wish for death. If he is righteous, perhaps he may add to [his] good works, and if he is a sinner, possibly, he may repent.” (Bukhari)
Have an abundance mindset, not scarcity
The Messenger of Allah ﷺ summarized the true objective of ensuring the best outcome in this life and the next when he said: “Whoever’s greatest concern is this world, Allah will scatter his affairs and place poverty between his eyes, and nothing of this world will come to him except what was already written for him. But, whoever has the next world as his intention, Allah will gather his affairs and place his richness in his heart and the world will come to him submissively. [Jami’ At-Tirmidhi Vol. 4, Book 11, Hadith]
Ibn Qayyim eloquently sums up this concept of Allah’s mercy and love for His slave in the statement: “Had Allah lifted the veil off the reality of His delicate dealings, [unnoticed] kindness, and how He plans for him in ways he realizes and ways he doesn’t realize – his heart would melt out of love for Allah and longing for Him, and would fall in gratitude to Him. However, the heart has been veiled from witnessing this due to its attachment to the world of lusts and its focus on material factors. By that, it has been barred from its complete bliss, and [even] that is preordained by the Mighty, the All-Knowing. [Tareeq al-Hijratayn. Pg.180]
What optimism is not
Optimism is not being unrealistic or ignoring real problems. Rather the optimist is going through the same challenges as you and I. The only difference is they are certain that Allah(SWT) has placed a cure for every illness and that there is nothing that is greater than Allah(SWT) so why ever lose hope?
Of course, we all think about our problems. But it is your choice to be led by your problems or led by Allahs guidance and certainty that this life is a test which will make you, not break you.
The Prophet(SAW) said that optimism is not wishful thinking – having no care about our own actions. Rather, the distinction between optimism and wishful thinking as: The difference between it [hope] and merely wishful thinking is that mere wishful thinking involves laziness wherein the person neither exerts himself, nor strives [to achieve what he wishes for]. Hope, however, entails striving, exertion and beautiful reliance. The first is like the one who wishes that the earth would plant and sow its own seeds for him. The second is like the one who [actually] tills the soil, plants the seed and then hopes that crops will grow. This is why the Pious (‘arifun) are agreed that hope is not correct, except if accompanied by action. [Madarij al-Salikeen, 2/27-28]
How do you develop optimism?
- Challenge yourself to look at things differently Britain is famous for its irregular weather and you often come across people who complain a lot about the weather. Rather than looking at your day being ruined because it was dark or rainy outside. Just like in lockdown, you found many complained but few were the ones who appreciated the opportunity to slow down, spend time with the family, relax at home. Make an active effort to try on a positive lense as much as possible. After a while, this will become effortless, a more automatic and optimistic frame of mind.
It is said that if you want to see the sunshine you have to weather the storm, so in every test, you will only gain in your appreciation of easier times and situations.
Malcolm X said there is no better teacher than adversity. Every defeat, every heartbreak, every loss contains its own seed. Its own lesson on how to improve your performance the next time.
- Take note of the company you keep – negativity is contagious. We all have those friends who are chronic complainers or gossipers. After spending a few hours with them we find ourselves jumping on the bandwagon.
The good news is that positivity is also contagious. Emotions pulse through social networks, both in person and digital. Ask yourself whose feed you are reading and who you follow – do they use positive, clean language or are they mocking, critical and swearing?
- Choose what you brew
Take time to reflect on the good in life and everything you do have, rather than that which you don’t. It is better to have a mat in your house rather than a bed in the hospital. Experiencing limits on your wealth is better than limits in your breathing. This could be anything — a cup of tea that filled you with joy, your children smiling at you, a random act of kindness by a stranger or even breathing in some fresh air on your morning walk. This will allow you to focus on the positives of your day and cultivate an optimistic mindset, a perfect note on which to end your day.
Acknowledge what you can and cant control – while some people may be unable to deal with uncertainty, positive individuals are able to adapt and thrive.
A teacher once took his student for a drive saying I want to show you a place where there is so much potential – more than any other place in our city. It has potentials to make billions of dollars, to change the world, the potential to cure so many diseases and to solve so many problems. So the young students mind is filled with ideas about this Silicon valley they may be heading to. The car pulled up and to the students surprise, it was at the graveyard. The teacher explained that the potential of the ideas these people had is invaluable but its been buried with them because they never discovered their talent and utilised it. Don’t let your talents and your potential to be buried with you. Allah(SWT) told the angels when creating Adam(AS), I know what you don’t of their potential. These are gifts from Allah(SWT) to you – what you do them are your gifts back to Allah(SWT).
The best optimism – have a good opinion of Allah(SWT)
The Prophe(SAW) reminded us that God is Good إِنَّ اللَّهَ طَيِّبٌ لَا يَقْبَلُ إِلَّا طَيِّبًا and the source of all goodness. Allah(SWT) will never decree upon you something in which the evil outweighs the good of it, even if thats not according to your timeline.
Hayyan Abi al-Nadrah reported: I went out to visit Yazid ibn al-Aswad as he was suffering a fatal illness, and I met Wathilah ibn al-Asqa’ who also wanted to visit him. We entered Yazid’s home and Wathilah said, “What do you expect from Allah?” Yazid said, “By Allah, I expect good from Allah.” Wathilah said, “Rejoice! For I heard the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, say that Allah Almighty said: I am as my servant expects me. If he expects good, he will have it. If he expects evil, he will have it.” Source: Ṣaḥīḥ Ibn Ḥibbān 641
قَالَ إِنَّ اللَّهَ جَلَّ وَعَلا يَقُولُ أَنَا عِنْدَ ظَنِّ عَبْدِي بِي إِنْ ظَنَّ خَيْرًا فَلَهُ وَإِنْ ظَنَّ شَرًّا فَلَهُ
Abu Huraira reported: The Messenger of Allah(SAW) said, “Verily, thinking well about Allah is a part of the excellent worship of Allah.” Source: Sunan al-Tirmidhī 3970
And remain focused Abu Huraira reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “Call upon Allah with certainty that He will answer you. Know that Allah will not answer the supplication of a heart that is unmindful and distracted.” Source: Sunan al-Tirmidhī 3479
Someone asked Rabia al Adawiyaa (rh) “I have sinned so much. Will Allah(SWT) accept my repentance?” She replied – rather it is the opposite. You are only able to repent if Allah(SWT) had forgiven you.”
A well known Shaykh was flying out of Egypt and had to fly from Alexandria but the timing was very soon after fajr so he reached out to a friend in the area and asked if they could leave the closest masjid open so he could rest there and pray before flying. This was arranged and he arrived at 2am. On entering the masjid, he saw a man in the Imam’s spot crying out and speaking in the local Egyptian dialect – Yaa Rabb, Khalaas Yaa Rabb Ta’ibtu. Arooh f’ayn? Enough my Lord , I have become exhausted. To where should I turn My Lord. And the Shaykh said to himself, this is not the crying of a sinner, rather this is cry of a good man. This person was forced by circumstances far beyond him. He says “When he finished, I gave him salaam, sat by him and patted him saying ‘What’s wrong my brother? Your dua wa breaking my heart. Why all these tears.”
He responded “I swear by Allah, I dont know what to say to you. My wife has an operation today at 9am which costs 15,400 junayh (local currency) and I don’t have even a single junayh. I said my brother, I dont have anything with which to help you but know that the Prophet(SAW) said Allah(SWT) is more merciful than a mother. No one that has trusted in Allah(SWT) has ever been let down, hurt or betrayed.
Then I stood, prayed my witr salaah and slept. When it came to fajr time, the local Imam asked this same Shaykh to lead the salaah, to which I explained that I am tired after having journeyed this far, but the local Imam insisted saying please lead, even if you read some short surahs. So I did. After the salaah, a man came forward from the third row and he was wearing expensive clothes. He shook my hand and said, I watch your show on TV. I live on the third floor of this masjid building and when I heard your voice I immediately came down to give salaam to you. I am the owner of a plastic factory close by and Allah(SWT) has blessed me with a new branch of the factory nearby. I collected my zakat money and it amounts to 15.400 junayh. The Shaykh on hearing felt goosebumps and started to cry. People in the masjid wondered why the Shaykh is crying. He thought to himself, he doesnt know there was a man asking for exactly this same amount under the same roof the whole night. So the Shaykh began to search for this man, trying to remember his face. He found him with red eyes from all the crying and he asked him – what made you cry. The man said didnt I tell you? Now, he calls the businessman and the man repeats that his wife has an urgent appointment which he could not afford and it costs 15.400 junayh.
Both men start crying and hugging each other. The rich man said “Shaykh, I put this money in the cupboard a week ago and my wife would say to me every day, go and give this right of Allah(SWT). But I refused saying I dont just want to give it away, I must find someone who is desperately in need so Allah(SWT) can ease my difficulty on the day when I will be desperately in need.
Then he reached into his jacket and gave him an envelope with the exact amount of 15.400 junayh. The poor man between tears said Ana uhibbak Yaa Rabb – I love you My Lord – repeating this again and again.
They abandon their beds, invoking their Lord with hope and fear, and donate from what We have provided for them.
No soul can imagine what delights are kept in store for them as a reward for what they used to do. [As-Sajdah 32:16]
Imam ibn ul Qayyim said “This great reward (in Jannah) was hidden because they hid the night prayers and they were aware from their rest in their desire to be with Allah(SWT).”