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Difficulties: True Character of the World

Ibn `Atta’ Words of Wisdom (8)
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In his well-known book, Al-Hikam (Words of Wisdom), sheikh Ahmad Ibn `Ataa'illah As-Sakandari says:

"Do not be surprised when difficulties happen in this worldly abode. It is only revealing its true character and identity."

If the servant of Allah repents to Him, relies on Him, purifies his intention to Him, reflects on Him, and seizes the time, the light of faith will shine in his heart and his journey will draw closer to Allah. In any case, as Ibn `Ataa had said, "there is no real distance between you and Him so that you embark upon a journey. And the connection between you and Him is not cut so that you seek to mend it".

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Prophet Muhammad mentioned that Allah said:

"My servant continues to draw near to Me with additional work until I love him. When I love him, I am his hearing with which he hears, his sight with which he sees, his hand with which he strikes and his foot with which he walks. If he asks me, I will give him, and if he seeks my refuge, I will grant it to him."( Al-Bukhari) and  "And if he draws near to Me a hand's span, I draw near to him an arm's length. And if he draws near to Me an arm's length, I draw near to him a fathom's length. And if he comes to Me walking, I go to him at speed" (Al-Bukhari and Muslim.).

However, it is one of Allah's consistent and universal laws that when Allah loves someone, He will test him with trials in this world. Allah says:

{Do people think that on their mere claiming, “We have attained to faith”, they will be left to themselves, and will not be put to a test?} (Al-`Ankabut 29:2).

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A claim of belief has to be put to test. Allah says:

{And most certainly We shall try you all, so that We might mark out those of you who strive hard in Our cause and are patient in adversity: for We shall put to a test the truth of all your assertions.} (Muhammad 47:31)

Trials vary but the expected reaction is the same; patience and piety.

{And most certainly shall We try you by means of danger, and hunger, and loss of worldly goods, of lives and of labor's fruits. But give glad tidings unto those who are patient in adversity} (Al-Baqarah 2:155).

{You shall most certainly be tried in your possessions and in your persons; and indeed you shall hear many hurtful things from those to whom revelation was granted before your time, as well as from those who have come to ascribe divinity to other beings beside God. But if you remain patient in adversity and pious - this, behold, is something to set one's heart upon} (Aal `Imran 3:186).

Allah announces that this worldly life is worth very little. So, if He deprives a person of this worldly life or part of it and guides him to repentance and bestows on him His mercy and paradise instead, then what a great deal! Therefore, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said:

"The most severely tested people are the prophets, then the next best, then the next best. A man will be tested in accordance with his level of commitment to God" (Ibn Hibban).

For this reason, if life is full of difficulties and challenges, one should not be surprised or asks why. It is as if Ibn `Ataa is asking us: What is the name of this world? The answer in Arabic is ‘ad-dunya’, which literally means the lower life. Therefore, it is not surprising if bad conditions, unpleasant manners, and fatal consequences reveal themselves, because these things are derived from the very character and nature of this lower worldly life.

Patience is in doing good, in avoiding evil and patience with tests.
Accepting this nature of worldly life helps the servant acquire a basic virtue and cross a very important stop in his journey to Allah. It is patience with tests. Patience is a characteristic that gets the servant into God's Presence, as mentioned before: (God is with those who are patient in adversity) (Al-Baqarah 2:153). And if we are in Allah's Presence, then why would we worry?

Patience is of three types, namely, (1) patience in doing good, (2) patience in avoiding evil, and (3) patience with tests. Patience in doing good deeds (1) means that the believer should always be active, without placing hardship on oneself. Allah says:

{God has laid no hardship on you in anything that pertains to religion} (Al-Hajj 22:78).

The Prophet saw an old man walking, supported by his two sons, and asked about him. The people informed him that he had vowed to travel on foot to the Ka`bah. The Prophet said: "Allah is not in need of this old man's torturing himself," and ordered him to get a ride to the Ka`bah.(An-Nasaa'i) It is not ‘patience’ to torture oneself or cause it harm.

As for patience in avoiding evil (2), it means that a believer should stay away from committing what God has forbidden. For one example, we read in the Qur'an about Prophet Yusuf/Joseph and one of the tests he was put to. 

{And it so happened that she in whose house he was living conceived a passion for him and sought to make him yield himself unto her; and she bolted the doors and said, "Come you unto me!" Joseph answered: "May God preserve me!”} (Yusuf 12:23).

There is a great reward for this type of patience. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) says that one of the seven persons whom Allah would give protection with His Shade on the Day when there would be no shade but that of Him is

"A man whom a beautiful woman of high rank seduces for adultery, but he rejects by saying: I fear God." (Al-Bukhari and Muslim)

Refraining from committing sins is a condition for purifying one's heart.
And patience with Allah's tests (3) is at different levels, all of which bear the meaning of refraining from something. The most basic level of patience with Allah’s tests is to refrain from committing evil acts. Then, a higher level is to refrain from complaining by your tongue. Finally, the highest level of patience is to refrain even from complaining in your heart.

Refraining from committing sins is a condition for purifying one's heart. Allah says about the hypocrites:

{Indeed, We tested them through suffer­ing, but they did surrender to their Sustainer; and they will never humble them­selves} (Al-Mu’minun 23:76).

When a person faces some problems, then he/she is at a cross-road; either to repent and surrender to Allah, or to fall into sins, which means failing the test.

At a higher level, patience with Allah's tests requires one to refrain from even complaining about the test. This is called ‘beautiful patience’, as Allah tells us about the story of Prophet Jacob (peace be upon him), when he said: {I will only show beautiful patience} (Yusuf 12:18), and {it is only to Allah that I complain of my deep grief and my sorrow} (Yusuf 12:86). Prophet Jacob (peace be upon him) complained only to his Lord and refused to complain to anyone else.

Being patient with Allah's Decree on the level of the heart is the best type of patience. The believer attains this degree when he/she not only refrains from speaking about the difficulty, but also refrains from agonizing about it in his heart. The soul is always at peace, even at the peak of crisis. The Prophet said:

"Genuine patience is at the first stroke of a calamity" (Al-Bukhari and Muslim).

If the believer is patient at the face of tests, he/she will advance in the way of Allah.

{Consider the flight of time! Verily, a human is bound to lose himself, unless he be of those who attain to faith, and do good works, and enjoin upon one another the keeping to truth, and enjoin upon one another patience in adversity} (Al-`Asr 103:1-3).

And in any case, adversity does not last forever.

{And, behold, with every hardship comes ease: verily, with every hardship comes ease!} (Al-Inshirah 94:4-5).

Related Links:
When the Final Destiny Is Clearly Stated
Determination: A Believer's Attribute
Reward for Long Hard Struggle

Dr. Jasser Auda is an Associate Professor at Qatar Faculty of Islamic Studies (QFIS), with the Public Policy in Islam Program. He is a founding member of the International Union of Muslim Scholars, based in Dublin; member of the Academic Board of the International Institute of Islamic Thought in London, UK; fellow of the International Institute of Advanced Systems Research (IIAS), Canada; member of the Board of Trustees of the Global Civilizations Study Centre (GCSC), UK; member of the Executive Board of the Association of Muslim Social Scientists (AMSS), UK; member of the Forum Against Islamophobia and Racism (FAIR), UK.  He has a PhD from University of Wales, UK, on the philosophy of Islamic law; a PhD from the University of Waterloo, Canada, on systems analysis; and a Masters of Jurisprudence from the Islamic American University, Michigan, on Islamic legal purposes (maqasid al-shariah). He memorized the Quran and received traditional studies in Islamic sciences in Al-Azhar Mosque in Cairo, he was a founding director of the Maqasid Research Center in Philosophy of Islamic law in London, UK, and a visiting lecturer to Alexandria University Faculty of law, Egypt, the Islamic Institute of Toronto, Canada, and the Islamic Fiqh Academy of India. He has lectured on Islamic law, its philosophy, and its relation to the issues of Muslim minorities and policy in a couple dozen countries around the world. He was a contributor to policy reports related to Muslim minorities and Islamic education to the UK Ministry of Communities and the Higher Education Funding Council of England, and has written a number of books, the latest of which in English is: Maqasid Al-Shariah as Philosophy of Islamic Law: A Systems Approach, London: IIIT, 2008, and in Arabic: Averröes's Premier of the Jurist: Synopsis and Commentary, Cairo: Al-Shuruq Al-Dawliya, 2010.

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