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.” [2:155-6]
Today, on request of a number of people, I’ll be talking about dealing with difficulty and mental illness. I must state that this is not clinical advice and anyone who needs support, should seek help from a qualified practitioner.
Stress affects everyone. Everyone of us faces stressful life situations and although stress itself is not an illness it can lead to depression, anxiety, psychosis and post-traumatic stress disorder. It’s important to know that there are ways to manage stress and Islam outlines such methods which is the topic of my khutba today.
Each of us goes through our own stresses whether that’s biological, psychological or environmental. These may be an illness, emotional or physical abuse, loss of someone close, divorce, low self-esteem, islamophobia at work or college, job or study pressures, social expectations, lack of control over a situation, substance abuse and many more.
These challenges can cause us to feel frustration, sadness, anger, fear, anxiety and even physical illness such as not being able to sleep easily or having headaches and research shows even diabetes.
Interestingly, the paradigm of no pain, no gain only seems to be limited to the gym these days. Even at work, we recognise that if you want the biggest salary prize, you have to take on the biggest challenges. It’s important to remember that you don’t become enormously successful in this Dunya without encountering a number of extremely challenging problems. This principle is also the case in the Akhira – the level of your challenge and response will reflect the level you achieve in the Hereafter. Challenges come to us to make us better not bitter. There is wisdom in challenges, you must look for them. Challenges can make you or break you.
Once Aisha (R.A), the wife of the Holy Prophet (S.A.W) asked, ‘O Messenger of Allah, was there any day more difficult to you than on the day of the battle of Uhud?” We know that in Uhud that the Prophet (S.A.W) was wounded, blood was coming from his blessed face, his teeth were dislodged, and even an arrow came and hit him. On this day, many fled from his side and the Muslims were defeated on the battlefield.
Despite this, the Prophet (S.A.W) said, ‘Yes, there was a day worse than Uhud – the day of Taif; that was the most difficult point of my life’. [Abu Dawud and Ahmad]
The 2 major cities of Arabia were home to the largest and most powerful tribes at the time.Quraysh and Banu-Thaqif. Ammar bin Hisham (Abu Jahl) and Abu Mas’oud at-thaqafi were the two most influential political leaders of their time. The idol, called al-laat, and its temple was also situated in Taif and the hope of the people of Taif was that this temple would receive the same attention as the Ka’bah for this reason. The Prophet(SAW) Zaid ibn Haritha, the third of the believers who used to serve the Prophet(SAW) and was later adopted by the Prophet(SAW). Taif is about 70 miles from Makkah and they had no transport so they journeyed on foot through mountainous regions and the Prophet(SAW) is over the age of 50 having faced severe challenges in the loss of his beloved wife Khadeeja (Ra) and his uncle Abu Talib.
On arriving at Taif, he (SAW) set about arranged meetings with the leaders of Taif. For ten days the Prophet spoke to one of their chiefs after another. None gave him a word of encouragement. The worst response came from three brothers, the sons of Abu Umair at-Thaqafi. These three brothers, Abd Yalil, Masud and Habib, were the recognized leaders of Taif. One of them was married to a Qurayshi woman and the Prophet hoped that this relationship would work in his favor. In the event the three men were extremely rude in their rejection of the Prophet’s approach. The first one said: “I would tear the robes of the Kaaba if it was true that God has chosen you as His Messenger.” The second said: “Has God found no one other than you to be His Messenger?” The third said: “By God, I will never speak to you. If it is true that you are God’s Messenger, you are too great for me to speak to you. If, on the other hand, you are lying, you are not worth answering.”
Fearing that the news of their rejection would serve to intensify the Quraysh’s hostility to Islam, the Prophet requested the Thaqif notables not to publicize his mission. They refused him even that and in fact some narrations explain that they offered rewards to the commoners to harm him(SAW). So crowds of their teenagers and servants chased and stoned him(SAW). The moment his feet were outside Taif, they lined up on and with every step thereon, they threw rocks at him with some narrations mentioning they would target his feet. His feet were soon bleeding and he was in a very sorry state. Zayd tried hard to defend him and protect him from the stones and Zayd was hit with large stones, one of which landed on his head and the Prophet(SAW) pushed him out of the way saying they are targeting me. As soon as their rocks finished, they picked up more, and they continued from the boundary of Taif to an area called Qarnul Manaazil – the distance between these points – 3 miles! At least an hour of constant torture, being pelted by stones and rocks continuously.
After their intense stoning, they finally stopped at Qarnul Manaazil near an orchard that belonged to two brothers from Makkah. Blood was poring down his legs and arms and his feet were completely torn up. His leather sandals had changed colour red and they had congealed so when he managed to get some respite, he had to literally peel them off his feet.
As the Prophet sat down, he said this highly emotional and touching prayer:
اللهم إليك أشكو ضعف قوتي وقلة حيلتي وهواني على الناس
“To You, my Lord, I complain of my weakness, lack of support and the humiliation I am made to receive
ياأرحم الراحمين أنت أرحم الراحمين.
أنت رب المستضعفين وأنت ربي
Most Compassionate and Merciful! You are the Lord of the weak, and you are my Lord
إلى من تكلني إلى عدو يتجهمني أم الى عدو ملكته امرى
To whom do You leave me? To a distant person who receives me with hostility? Or to an enemy You have given power over me?
إن لم يكن بك غضب علي فلا أبالي ولكن عافيتك هي أوسع ليأعوذ بنور وجهك الذي أضاءت له السموات و الأرض
I seek refuge in the light of Your face by which all darkness is dispelled and both this life and the life to come are put in their right course .
وأشرقت له الظلمات وصلح عليه أمر الدنيا والأخره
أن ينزل بي غضبك أو يحل علي سخطك
against incurring your wrath or being the subject of your anger
لك العتبى حتى ترضى ولاحول ولاقوة إلابك
To You I submit, until I earn Your pleasure. Everything is powerless without your support
At this point, the Prophet (S.A.W) said ‘I saw a cloud hovering above me, and lo and behold, I saw Jibreel (Angel Gabriel) came down from that cloud, and besides him was an angel that I had never seen before.’ And Jibreel said to the Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W), ‘O Muhammad (S.A.W), your Lord has seen how your people have responded to you, your Lord has seen what they have said to you, so he has sent me with the angel of the mountains to place at your disposal.’
The angel said, ‘O Muhammad (S.A.W), if you want, command me and I will cause the two mountains of Taif to collapse upon them.’ Taif is situated on a type of plateau between two mountains, and the angel asked the Prophet (S.A.W) if he should just squash the people between the same mountains whose pebbles they used to stone the Prophet (S.A.W) with.)
The Prophet (S.A.W), still bleeding and his shoes still wet with blood says, ‘No! Rather, I pray that Allah (S.W.T) blesses their children to be Muslims and worship Allah (S.W.T) alone. Even if they have rejected Islam, I pray that Allah (S.W.T) blesses their progeny to be Muslim.’ SubhanAllah!
This was truly one of the most challenging and compassionate moments of the Prophet (S.A.W). So many are the lessons we learn from this incident.
1. Find some quiet space
Create space for yourself to talk to Allah(SWT) and focus your mind to – this is true mindfulness. In fact, our salaah is an opportunity to leave your world behind five times every day and have a one-to-one audience with Allah(SWT). Switch off notifications and distractions.
The Holy Prophet (S.A.W) was indeed grieved by this incident, he was hurt, and didn’t realize where he was until he arrived at the garden. When the angel came, the Prophet (S.A.W) did not react emotionally, rather he acted logically and intellectually. He allowed his emotions to be controlled and he reacted in a wise and very humane manner.
2. Share your difficulties with the One who is Most Able
Know that Allah(SWT) is the only One who has been with you throughout and knows your inner-most hurt and emotions. Even if you can’t articulate the pain, He(SWT) knows. Complain to Allah(SWT) and know that He (SWT) hears every word. Know that everything is powerless, except for Him(SWT).
O you who have believed, seek help through patience and prayer. Indeed, Allah is with the patient. [2:153]
Just the fact you have remembered Allah(SWT) is a sign of guidance and eeman (belief). Remain steadfast on this dialogue with Allah(SWT).
3. Ask for your needs
The Prophet(SAW) asked clearly for guidance and direction in this desperate situation and you too need to see a way out of this situation. There’s a saying about challenges and behaviour change – “if it doesn’t challenge you it doesn’t change you.”
4. Identify causes but understand what upsets you
Before you can move forward, you need to acknowledge and process your emotions. In the words of the Prophet(SAW), it was his weakness at being able to convey this message and convince others. It wasn’t the fact he had been hurt that caused his tears, rather it was the fear that He (SAW) had fallen short in this divine responsibility. And his ultimate fear was that Allah(SWT) was displeased with him and for that he could bear any worldly hardships. Ask yourself, what do you really fear – is it humiliation, damage to your ego, rejection, your self-worth? Know that you are of immense value to Allah(SWT) and that He loves you more than all of the people of the world, even more than your own mother.
5. Trust that He(SWT) is in control
The statement of takbir – saying AllahuAkbar – means Allah(SWT) is greater than all else. What counts is your effort, not the result so just give your best and know that He(SWT) is responsible for the rest.
When you face difficult times, know that challenges are not sent to destroy you. They’re sent to promote, increase and strengthen you
6. Ask yourself what is Allah(SWT) trying to teach me through this?
Become an observer to your situation and reflect on the lessons it contains – each situation is a learning experience. Allah(SWT) is putting you through this to build you up. When you give a voice to the thoughts in your head and the emotions in your heart, you will free yourself from some of the burdens. By putting words to your difficulty, you also imprint in your mind what you learned from your actions and consequences.
A story is told of a man found a cocoon of a butterfly in which a small opening had appeared. The man sat and watched the butterfly for several hours as it struggled to force its body through that little hole. Then it seemed to stop making any progress. It appeared as if it had gotten as far as it could and it could go no farther.
So the man decided to help the butterfly, so he took a pair of scissors and snipped off the remaining bit of the cocoon. The butterfly then emerged easily. But it had a swollen body and small, shriveled wings.
The man continued to watch the butterfly because he expected that, at any moment, the wings would enlarge and expand to be able to support the body which would contract in time.
Neither happened! In fact, the butterfly spent the rest of its life crawling around with a swollen body and shriveled wings. It never was able to fly.
What this man in his kindness and haste did not understand was that the restricting cocoon and the struggle required for the butterfly to get through the tiny opening were nature’s way of forcing fluid from the body of the butterfly into its wings so that it would be ready for flight once it achieved its freedom from the cocoon.
Sometimes struggles are exactly what we need in our life. If nature allowed us to go through your life without any obstacles, it would cripple us. If we don’t want to undergo any struggle, we won’t be able to fly!
7. Don’t be too hard on yourself
If you look at this dua, it wasn’t lamenting or very long. Rather, it was a humble and concise outpouring of emotion and Allah(SWT) responded to it immediately. Quit replaying the tape – while some processing is important, going over what happened again and again won’t allow you to take the proper steps to overcome. When you catch yourself replaying the situation in your mind, focus on one positive action step. Remember Allah(SWT), go for a walk, call a friend – interrupting the thought pattern can help you move away from the negative experience and reduce stress and anxiety.
8. Look at those below you
On the authority of Abu Hurairah (RA) who said: the Messenger of Allah SAW) said: “Look at those who are beneath you and do not look at those who are above you, for it is more suitable that you should not consider as less the blessing of Allah.” Bukharee 6490, Muslim 2963
Remember, there are always people in worse situations. He (SAW) managed to find some respite after 3 miles of torture. There may be those whose torture, illness and difficulty persists for far longer and they cannot get away from them because it is an abusive family member or a place of work they cant leave. Despite being drenched in blood, he was still alive. Despite being cast out, he still had Allah(SWT) to turn to.
9. Build supportive relationships
He was accompanied and protected by Zaid bin Haritha (RA). Likewise, find someone good who can support you. Develop a real social network, not just a virtual one. Attend the Jamaat at the masjid. Do seek professional help from a GP or specialist – these are means of support but recognise that ultimately only Allah(SWT) is the one who heals and can change the situation.
10. Don’t dwell on it
Forgive others and forgive. Forgiveness is important to the healing process since it allows you to let go of the anger, guilt, shame, sadness, or any other feeling you may be experiencing, and move on. Once you identify what you’re feeling, give a voice to it and accept that this life is only temporary. This situation will be replayed in the court of Allah(SWT) and there will be no injustice.
The miracle in this situation is not that Allah sent the angel at the Prophet’s (S.A.W) disposal to crush the people of Taif, the miracle isn’t that Allah responded to the prayer of the Prophet (S.A.W) instantaneously, no! The real miracle is the forgiveness of the Prophet (S.A.W) at this time. The real miracle is that the Prophet (S.A.W) overlooked what the people of Taif had done, and he chose to forgive and forget, and to make prayer for the people of Taif because if the Prophet (S.A.W) had willed, there would be no city of Taif right now, but instead he made a prayer for them, and to this day, Taif is a city of Islam.
As a final point, its important that we don’t grow when things are easy; we grow when we face challenges and Islam has provided us clear guidance on how to handle our most challenging days.