Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Dealing With Sadness and Worry

How Islam Deals With Sadness and Worry

By Aisha Stacey

In the Name of Allāh, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.
All the praise is Allāh, Subhanahu wata`ala, and Peace and Blessings be upon His Messenger.

1. The Human Condition

Description: Verily, in the remembrance of Allāh do hearts find rest. [Al-Ra`d, 13:28]

The average human being in the developed world battles sadness and worry on a daily basis. While the majority of the world’s population confront extreme poverty, famine, conflict and despair those of us privileged to lead relatively easy lives must tackle fear, stress, and anxiety. Why are those of us blessed with riches beyond compare immersed in loneliness and desperation? We are living in a time of confusion; we try as we might, and yet gathering material possessions can do nothing to mend broken hearts, and shattered souls.

Now, more than at any other time in human kind’s history, stress, anxiety, and psychological problems are taking a tremendous toll on the human condition. Religious beliefs should afford a sense of comfort however; it seems that 21st century man has lost the ability to connect to Allāh Almighty. Pondering the meaning of life no longer overcomes a feeling of abandonment. This desire to acquire material possessions, which in some way validates our reason for being, has become the balm that soothes our troubled souls. Why is this so?

We have the best of everything readily available, yet the reality is we have nothing. Nothing that comforts the soul. Beautiful furnishings do not hold our hand in the darkest night. The latest entertainment centre does not wipe our tears or soothe our furrowed brow. Those of us living with pain and grief, or afflicted with hardship feel abandoned. We feel rudderless on an open sea. Huge waves threaten to engulf us at any given moment. Our desires and debts stand at the apex and loom over us, like great avenging angels, and we search for comfort in addictions and self-destructive behaviour.

How do we step away from the precipice? In Islām, the answer is remarkably simple. We turn back to our Creator, Allāh. Allāh knows what is best for His creation. He has complete knowledge of the human psyche. He knows of the pain, the despair, and the sadness. Allāh is whom we are reaching for in the darkness. When we put Allāh back on our agenda, the pain will subside.

“Verily, in the remembrance of Allāh do hearts find rest.”

[Al-Ra’d, 13:28]

Islam is not a religion filled with empty rituals and hypercritical rules and regulations, although it can seem so if we forget just what our real purpose in life is. We were created to worship Allāh, nothing more and nothing less. However, Allāh, in His infinite mercy and wisdom did not abandon us to this world filled with trials and tribulations. He armed us with weapons. These weapons are more powerful than the arsenals of the great 21st century armies. Allāh gave us the Quran, and the authentic traditions of His Prophet Muhammad (Sallallāhu 'alaihi wa sallam).

The Quran is a book of guidance and the traditions of Prophet Muhammad (Sallallāhu 'alaihi wa sallam) explain that guidance. The religion of Islam is all about making and keeping a connection with Allāh. This is how Islam deals with sadness and worry. When the wave is about to come crashing down or the world begins to spin out of control Allāh is the one stable factor. The biggest mistake a believer can make is to separate the religious and material aspects of his or her life.

“God has promised those who believe (in the Oneness of God) and do deeds of righteousness, that for them there is forgiveness and a great reward (i.e. Paradise).”

[Al-Maidah, 5:9]

When we accept with full submission, that we are no more than slaves of Allāh, put on this earth, to be tried, tested and tempted, life suddenly takes on a completely new meaning. We recognize that Allāh is the one constant in our lives and we recognize that His promise is true. When we are overwhelmed by worry and sadness, relief comes from turning to Allāh. If we live our lives according to His guidance, we gain the means and the ability to overcome any despair. Prophet Muhammad s.a.w declared that all the affairs of a believer are good.

Indeed amazing are the affairs of a believer! They are all for his benefit. If he is granted ease then he is thankful, and this is good for him. And if he is afflicted with a hardship, he perseveres, and this is good for him. [Sahih Muslim]

Islam has the answer to all the problems that afflict humankind. It asks us to look beyond the need for self-gratification, and further still, beyond the need to acquire possessions. Islam reminds us that this life is but a transient pause on the way to life everlasting. The life of this world is but a fleeting moment, sometimes overflowing with moments of great joy and happiness but at other times filled with sadness, sorrow, and despair. This is the nature of life, and this is the human condition.

In the following three articles, we will examine guidance from the Quran and the authentic traditions of Prophet Muhammad (Sallallāhu 'alaihi wa sallam) in an endeavor to discover just how Islam suggests that we deal with sadness and worry. There are three key points that will allow the believer to free himself from the shackles of 21st century life. They are patience, gratitude, and trust in Allāh. In the Arabic language, sabr, shukr and tawakkul.

“And certainly, We shall test you with something of fear, hunger, loss of wealth, lives and fruits, but give glad tidings to the patient ones.”

[Al-Baqarah, 2:155]

“Therefore, remember Me (God) and I will remember you, and be grateful to Me (for My countless Favours on you) and never be ungrateful to Me.”

[Al-Baqarah, 2:152]

“If God helps you, none can overcome you; and if He forsakes you, who is there after Him that can help you? And in God (Alone) let believers put their trust.”

[Al-`Imran, 3:160]

2. Patience

Description: Happiness in this life and our salvation in the hereafter depend on patience.

Sadness and worry are part of the human condition. Life is a series of moments. At the two extremes are joyful moments that make our hearts sing with gladness and dark moments that plunge us into sadness and worry. In between is real life; the highs, the lows, the mundane and boring, the sweetness, and light. It is in these times that the believer must try to establish a connection to Allāh.

The believer must forge a bond that is unbreakable. When the joy of life fills our hearts and minds we must not forget that it is a blessing from Allāh and equally when we are faced with sadness and worry we must realise that this too is from Allāh, even though at first glance we may not see the blessing.

Allāh is the Most Wise and the Most Just. Whatever condition we find ourselves in, and no matter what we are forced to confront, it is imperative that we open our eyes to the fact that Allāh knows what is good for us. Though we shy away from facing our fears and worries, it may be that we hate a thing that is good for us and desire something that can only lead to ruin and damnation.

“...and it may be that you dislike a thing that is good for you and that you like a thing that is bad for you. God knows but you do not know.”

[Al-Baqarah, 2:216)

The life of this world was designed by our Creator to maximize our chances of living a blissful life in the hereafter. When we face trials, they help us grow and mature into human beings who are able to function effortlessly in this transient world.

Allāh was not abandoned us the temptations and trials of this world; He has equipped us with weapons. Three of the most important are patience, thankfulness, and trust. The great Islamic scholar of the 14th century CE, Ibnul Qayyim said that our happiness in this life and our salvation in the hereafter depend on patience.

“Verily! I have rewarded them this Day for their patience; they are indeed the ones that are successful.”

[Al-Mu’minun, 23:111]

“ be firm or patient in pain or suffering, and adversity, and throughout all periods of panic. Such are the people of truth, the God fearing.”

[Al-Baqarah, 2:177]

The Arabic word for patience is sabr and it comes from a root word meaning to stop, detain, or refrain. Ibnul Qayyim explained [1] that having patience meant having the ability to stop ourselves from despairing, to refrain from complaining and to control ourselves in times of sadness and worry. Prophet Muhammad’s (Sallallāhu 'alaihi wa sallam) son in law Ali Ibn Abu Talib defined patience as “seeking Allāh’s help”. [2]

Whenever we are beset by sadness and worry our first reaction should always be turning to Allāh. By recognising His Greatness and Omnipotence, we begin to understand that God alone can ease our troubled souls. Allāh Himself advised us to call on Him.

“And (all) the Most Beautiful Names belong to Allāh, so call on Him by them, and leave the company of those who belie or deny (or utter impious speech against) His Names.”

[Al-`Araf, 7:180]

Prophet Muhammad (Sallallāhu 'alaihi wa sallam) encouraged us to call on Allāh by all of His most beautiful names. In his own supplications, he is known to have said,

“Oh Allāh, I ask you by every name that You have named yourself, or that You have revealed in Your book, or that You have taught any of Your creation, or that You have kept hidden in the unseen knowledge with Yourself.”

[Ahmad; classified Sahih by Al Baniv]

In times of sorrow and stress, contemplating the names of Allāh can bring great relief. It can also help us focus on being calm and patient. It is important to understand that although the believer is encouraged not to thrash about in grief and anguish or to complain about the stresses and problems, he is allowed to complain about his sadness and worry to Allāh.

Human beings are frail. Our tears fall, our hearts break and the pain is sometimes almost unbearable. Even the prophets, whose connection to Allāh was unbreakable, felt their hearts constrict in fear or pain. They too turned their faces to Allāh and begged for relief. However, their complaints were surrounded with pure patience and pure acceptance of whatever fate Allāh had decreed.

When Prophet Jacob a.s despaired of ever seeing his sons Joseph or Benjamin he turned to Allāh, and the Quran tells us that he complained only to Allāh. Prophet Jacob a.s knew that there was no point in raging against the world, he knew that Allāh loves and protects those who are patient.

“He said: ‘I only complain of my grief and sorrow to God, and I know from God that which you know not.’”

[Yusuf, 12:86]

Quran also tells us that Prophet Job a.s cried out to his Lord. He was impoverished, stricken with disease, and he lost his family, friends, and livelihood yet he bore all this with patience and forbearance. However, in the midst of his pain he turned to Allāh.

“And (remember) Job, when he cried to his Lord, ‘Verily, distress has seized me, and You are the Most Merciful of all those who show mercy.’ So We answered his call, and We removed the distress that was on him, and We restored his family to him (that he had lost), and the like thereof along with them, as a mercy from Ourselves and a Reminder for all who worship Us (God).”

[Al-Anbiyā’, 21: 83-84]

Patience means accepting what is beyond our control. In times of stress and anxiety, being able to surrender to the will of Allāh is a relief beyond measure. This does not mean that we sit back and let life pass by. No! It means that we strive to please Allāh in all aspects of our life, in our work and play, in our family life and in our personal endeavours.

However, when things don’t go the way we planned or the way we wanted, even when it seems that fears and worries are pushing us under we accept what Allāh has decreed and continue to strive to please Him. Being patient is hard work; it does not always come naturally or easily. Never the less a person can attain the quality of patience by acting as if he possesses it. Prophet Muhammad s.a.w said,

“Whoever tries to be patient then God will help him to be patient”. [3]

It becomes easy for us to exercise patience when we realise that it is impossible to count all the blessings Allāh has bestowed upon us. Without even trying, we can all name blessings beyond compare. The air we breathe, the sunshine on our faces, the wind on our hair, the rain on parched earth and the glorious Quran, Allāh’s words to us. Remembering Allāh and contemplating His greatness is the key to patience, and patience is a key to Paradise everlasting, Allāh’s greatest blessing for the fragile creatures called humankind.

3. Gratitude

Description: Give thanks every single day for His blessings upon you.

As fragile human beings, we are often swamped by fears and anxiety. At times sadness and worry threaten to take over our lives. These emotions can become so all consuming that we forget our primary purpose in life is to worship Allāh. When pleasing Allāh is at the centre of all our thoughts, actions and deeds, then sadness and worry can have no place in our lives.

In the previous article, we discussed dealing with sadness and worry by striving to be patient. We also talked about counting the blessings Allāh has bestowed upon us as a way of encouraging patience. Another way of overcoming sadness and worry is by being grateful to Allāh for His countless blessings. Allāh explains in the Quran, that true worshippers are those who are grateful and give thanks.

“Therefore, remember Me (by praying, glorifying, etc.). I will remember you, and be grateful to Me (for My countless Favours on you) and never be ungrateful to Me.”

[Al-Baqarah, 2:152]

There are many ways to express gratitude. The first and foremost way is to worship Allāh in the manner that He has prescribed. The five pillars of Islam [4] were designed by Allāh and they allow us to worship Him easily. Each pillar also allows us to express our gratitude to God. When we fulfil our obligations towards Allāh, just how truly blessed we are becomes obvious.

When we bear witness that, there is no god but Allāh and that Muhammad is His final messenger we are saying thank you. Thank you for showing me the truth! When a believer prostrates before Allāh in quiet joyful prayer, again we are expressing gratitude. During the fast of Ramadān, we become thankful for food and water by realising that Allāh provides our sustenance. If a believer is able to make the pilgrimage to the house of Allāh in Makkah, it is indeed a cause for thankfulness. The Hajj journey can be long, difficult, and expensive.

The believer also expresses gratitude by giving charity. Prophet Muhammad (Sallallāhu 'alaihi wa sallam) advised his followers to give charity everyday to express gratitude to Allāh for every single joint or faculty in his body. [Sahih Bukhari] Imam Ibn Rajab, a noted Islamic scholar of the century said, "Human beings are obligated to give thanks to Allāh every single day for His blessings on them by performing acts of virtue and charity on a daily basis”

If we remember Allāh by reading the Quran and contemplating its meanings, we gain a greater understanding of the life of this world and the hereafter. Consequently, we begin to understand the transient nature of this life and the fact that even the trials and tribulations are blessings from Allāh. Allāh’s wisdom and justice is inherent in even the direst situations.

How often have we heard people with debilitating diseases or terrible disabilities thank Allāh for their conditions, or speak about pain and suffering bringing blessings and goodness into their lives? How often have we listened to others speak about horrific experiences and ordeals, yet continue to thank Allāh.

In times of sadness and worry, when we are feeling alone and distressed, Allāh is our only refuge. When sadness and worry become unbearable, when there is nothing left but, stress, fear, anxiety, and misery, we instinctively turn to Allāh. We know His words are true, we know His promise is true!

“..if you are grateful, I will add more favours unto you.”

[An-Nisaa’, 14:7]

Allāh knows the wisdom behind why good things happen to bad people, or why bad things happen to good people. In general, whatever causes us to turn to Allāh is good and we should be grateful for it. In times of crisis, people are drawn closer to Allāh, whereas in times of comfort we often forget from where the comfort originated. Allāh is the Provider and He is the Most Generous. Allāh wants to reward us with life everlasting and if pain and suffering can guarantee Paradise, then trials and tribulations are a blessing. Prophet Muhammad (Sallallāhu 'alaihi wa sallam) said,

“If Allāh wants to do good to somebody, He afflicts him with trials.”

[Sahih Bukhari]

Prophet Muhammad (Sallallāhu 'alaihi wa sallam) also said,

“No misfortune or disease befalls a Muslim, no worry or grief or harm or distress – not even a thorn that pricks him – but Allāh will expiate for some of his sins because of that.”

[Sahih Bukhari]

We are imperfect human beings. We can read these words, we can even understand the sentiment behind them, but acknowledging the wisdom behind every situation and being grateful for our trials is very difficult. It is much easier to fall into sadness and worry. However, Allāh, the Most Merciful, gives us clear guidelines and promises two things, if we worship Him and follow His guidance we will be rewarded with Paradise and that with hardship comes ease.

“So verily, with hardship, there is ease.”

[Al-Inshirah, 94:5]

This verse is part of a chapter of the Quran revealed when difficulties in Prophet Muhammad’s (s.a.w) mission were weighing him down and causing him normal human distress. The words of Allāh comforted and reassured him just as they comfort us today. Allāh reminds us that with hardship comes ease. Hardship is never absolute; it is always accompanied by ease. For that, we should be grateful. For that, we need to express our gratitude.

We must accept the trials, triumphs, and tribulations that are part of being alive. Each one of them, from the highest highs to the lowest lows is a blessing from Allāh. A blessing designed uniquely for each individual person. When we are overcome by sadness or worry we must turn to Allāh, strive to be patient and grateful and put our trust in Allāh. For Allāh is the most trustworthy. By trusting Him, we can overcome any moment of anxiety and conquer any sadness or worry that tries to creep into our lives.

And Allāh Almighty Knows best


[1] Ibn Qayyim Al Jawziyyah, 1997, Patience and gratitude, English translation, United Kingdom, Ta Ha Publishers.
[2] Ibid. P12
[3] Ibn Qayyim Al Jawziyyah, 1997, Patience and gratitude, English translation, United Kingdom, Ta-Ha Publishers. P15
[4] Testimony of faith, Prayer, Fasting in Ramadan, Compulsory charity, Pilgrimage.

[Excerpted from, Published on 29 Mar 2010 ]

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