How do we take God as our Witness during Trials and Tribulations?
By Fedwa Wazwaz, Engage Minnesota
God! There is no deity but He! To Him belong the most Beautiful Names. (Qur’an 20:8)
The name An Nafi means God is the one who helps and confers all advantages, who creates all that produces benefit for us, from our wealth to our charms to our intelligence. It is God who gives us moments of genuine and healthy laughter, and who comforts our souls.
The name Ad Darr means God is also the one who, in His wisdom, also allows adversity or distress. God does not set out to punish us. But He has given us free will, and He allows that things that hurt us to exist.
“He is the One who makes you laugh or cry.” Qur’an 53:44
These two names fit together, and together they show how benefit and harm are part of a cycle, like circling around the Ka’aba. These apparent opposites make us aware that every action is part of a larger balance, even when the whole pattern is not visible to us.
When we receive benefits, we should turn to God. And when harm falls to us, we should also turn to God. We may turn to other people in both cases as well—to be grateful or to seek help. But the prophets show us that the turning to God can give us a sense of empowerment. This way, we will never be humiliated by seeking help that doesn’t come.
We will always have God.
How to keep the faith
Everyone eventually finds obstacles in their path. All of us, sooner or later, find people who will hurt us, whether these people are close or distant. These trials can help us find ourselves. Indeed, these trials can be a mercy. After all, people who know only an echo chamber of praise often are unable to listen—as Satan was unable to listen—and they often take the wrong path.
Sometimes, we can turn to others to help us. But sometimes, as when Joseph, upon him peace, was alone, or when Asiya was alone with Pharaoh, there is nothing to do but flee to God.
Satan refused to flee to God.
Why would God allow good people to be harmed?
There are many reasons why God might allow harm. We don’t know these reasons, and should never try to act on God’s behalf, to teach others through harming them. Yet harm can help us learn many things.
All the prophets were attacked and hurt, and the prophet Muhammad, upon him peace and blessings, was harmed most of all. After each of these harmful experiences, the prophets fled to God and turned to Him, and thus they witnessed that He was the one who could guide, help, aid, and protect. Perhaps none of us can understand God by sitting down on a couch and reading about Him on a weekend afternoon. Even the Prophets had to experience pain and suffering.
Indeed, the prophets were constantly being attacked, not just physically, but emotionally, mentally, and psychologically.
Once, the Prophet Muhammad, upon him peace and blessings, went to pray near Mecca. Relatives and some of the community members threw trash over his head while he was bowing. They were laughing at him and mocking him, trying to humiliate him in front of everyone.
One of his aunts used to put thorns on the ground, such that, when Muhammad, upon him peace and blessings, walked, it would hurt his feet. She also made up songs to taunt him. Once, when the Prophet went to the city Ta’if, the youth were set upon him with stones and ridiculed and mocked him.
Two of the Prophet’s married daughters were divorced, just to cause the Prophet harm. Yet he welcomed his daughters home and treated them with dignity and respect. Whatever others did to humiliate him, he turned to God for help, and he bore it all with patience.
Muhammad also experienced all types of character assassination, both from family members and from outsiders. They called him crazy, a liar, a magician, and a breaker of family ties. And yet he was able to overcome all this by turning to God for help and solace.
The prophets attempted to nurture society despite being attacked, abused, and mocked. They did this with tremendous character, and it helps us see the road we need to travel.
People came from many directions to set upon the Prophet and his companions. The Prophet, upon him peace and blessings, would flee to God and call for help and aid. In this way, he experienced and witnessed God.
We, too, can follow this path. We can turn to God, such that He comes to our aid, stands by us, and helps us. This can help build our strength, and build our emotional and spiritual muscles.
The prophets relied on God, and aid from God. For them, the door to God was always open.
If you had the choice, should you live without harm?
The prophet was given a choice: Would you like to live in wealth, as some of your companions do? Would you like to be protected from all harm?
Muhammad was asked this question by the angels, and his answer was an unequivocal No. After all, if Muhammad was to be guiding people, then he had to know the people’s reality. He had to experience their reality and to keep faith alongside them. It’s exceptionally hard—if it’s possible at all—to live separately, in a mansion, and preach to the poor.
Muhammad, upon him peace and blessings, knew what other people suffered, since he was being persecuted while they were being persecuted. Indeed, the prophets all experienced human suffering.
Thus, God filled Muhammad’s heart with mercy. Prophet Muhammad, upon him peace and blessings, was the first among the Muslims to face oppression from family and community, as well as from outsiders. He was the first to be forced into exile, to be mocked and ridiculed, and to face war and hardships. His wisdom was to learn patience and humility and to rely on God.
There were many who did evil turns to Muhammad, such as Hind—who had Muhammad’s beloved Uncle Hamza killed and mutilated. Yet Hind was later welcomed into the community of Muslims. Muhammad had to struggle with the idea of engaging her. But with God’s help, he did.
Sometimes, when we are faced with trials and tribulations, we ask, Why me? Sometimes, we say, I am good person, so this shouldn’t happen to me!
And yet the Prophet was sinless, and still, he experienced trials. At each moment, Muhammad fled to God.
We must entertain the idea that we have sinned. Yet, even if you are sinless, repent anyway. Repenting is not the same as feeling guilt, as we’ve discussed earlier. It’s an internal state of correction, learning, and coming closer to God.
It’s only the arrogant and egotistical person who does not repent or flee to God during a trial. Adam fled to God and sought repentance, as did every Prophet. It is only those like Satan or Pharaoh who refused, who thought fleeing to God was a form of humiliation.
When people hurt you, God uses these trials to push you to Him. It is an elevation in the station with God. People usually run to more powerful people for help and victory. However, if the person harming you is the most powerful or influential in the town that is hurting you and no one from the people will respond to his oppression and push him/her back within their boundaries, then who does this person go to?
The person turns to God.
Flee to God.
God wants you to turn to Him and connect to Him. That is the wisdom behind the problem. God can be correcting you or elevating you to a station. He could have found you heedless and not mindful of your values and faith. He could be increasing your faith.
Every person finds someone who is an obstacle in their path, or someone who will hurt them. No one can escape that. God allows these obstacles and hurts so you do not rely on them. Work with people, but do not rely on them. Engage them but do not rely on them. Benefit them but take your complaints to God.
Why does God allow people who are Muslims to hurt other Muslims? God has made some of us a trial for others – will you be patient? This means some people are a source of pain, a trial or tribulation for others to hurt others, so people are tried and do not attach themselves to them or seek comfort in them.
Understand that An Nafi and Ad Darr is Allah, God.
At times, the wisdom is you are not abiding by the boundaries of Islam and God wants to discipline you to teach you to be aware and to be mindful.
Or you sinned and God wants to purify you from sin.
Or people are praising you and this praise is going to harm you, and God wants to protect you from this praise so you do not become intoxicated. On the outside – it is painful, but internally it is a form of Mercy to protect you from a bad state that afflicted Satan.
A lot of people turn the religion as rules and laws and are unmindful of the servitude to God, and God has placed them on this earth, in two ways. Gratitude in good times, not just in words but to share the gifts and benefit people with the gifts. And Patience in bad times. Patience is a form of servitude.
So God will send people to hurt you with their tongue to protect you from arrogance and egoism and to expect from God reward, and turn to God for help and protection.
Don’t ask why or question His wisdom? Have a good opinion of God always.
God requires from you patience in bad times and gratitude in good times. Al-Ḥasan al-Baṣrī, an important Muslim figure of the past said:
The goodness in which there is no evil is: gratitude (to Allah) in times of well-being and patience in times of misfortune. Yet how many of those who are blessed are not thankful, and how many of those who are tried are not patient?
Why did God allow bad people to harm the Prophet and his companions? So they will flee to God and turn to Him and they witness that He is the one that will guide, help, aid and protect. He cannot witness this by sitting down on a couch and reading it. Even the Prophets had to experience this even though he was sinless.
What did the Prophet used to pray? Many people in many directions were set upon the Prophet and his companions. The Prophet upon him peace and blessings would flee to God and cry for help and aid, so one does not find comfort from them, so one experiences and witnesses God in truth helping, protecting, and aiding.
He relied on God, and the aid and victory from God. His patience and responding according to his values and patiently beseeching God for help – opened the door for help from God. Since they lost hope in everyone and anyone helping them, they only had hope in God.
You are in Our Eyes.
The prophet did not have constant happy days. He was given the choice to live like his companions or protected from any harm. He chose to live like his companions, so he could be a living guide showing them that like them he is facing harm, pain, all types of oppression and persecution so they can learn and know how to use their faith to face these trials and oppressions.
What will Satan say to the companions if the Prophet did not experience the oppression they experienced? He will tell them he is calling you to be patient, yet he is living like a king. He is preaching to you to do what he is not experiencing. Who will listen if he lives in a mansion while those he calls to are in hunger and pain?
God filled his heart with His Mercy for His creation. And he was the first one of the Muslims to face and taste oppression from family, community, and outside. He was the first to be kicked out in exile, and mocked and ridiculed, faced war, etc.,
This is a reality that needs to be embraced by all privileged and unprivileged. The wisdom is to learn patience and humility, and to rely on God and rely on Him. Like all the Prophets fled to God during a trial. He is the Powerful One, the Strong, the One that can Abase your oppressors or guide them.
The Prophet turned and fled to God, sought His help and aid, and relied only on God. Sometimes the trial and tribulation is because one is away from prayers. The aim is not to be perfect or sinless, but that the importance is that the person is continuously and perpetually fleeing to God, not a once or an isolated moment. But always turning to God and returning to Him. The problem or trouble is the trial and tribulation comes and the person says, I am good person why did this happen to me and does not understand the wisdom which is to turn and flee to God. If you sinned, repent. If you did not, still turn and flee to God. The Prophet was sinless and fled to God and turned to Him. You are a servant of God, and you need to experience this servitude by constantly turning to Him. You cannot just intellectually learn this, you must experience it.
All of us commit sin and God is Oft-Forgiving. However, the aim is not to feel bad but to turn to God and experience His Forgiveness and His reality and His presence. The aim is to turn to God while experiencing total helplessness and powerlessness as well as no hope from anyone for help except God and seek His help and victory.
We all sin, but how often do we turn to God and repent and repair the harm is the question we need to focus on? How often? An isolated moment?
The Muslim leaders of the past, the righteous ones, yes had problems, but ask how often did they repent and flee to God? How often and how many times did they cry and seek His Forgiveness. Not an act, but a genuine feel the wrong and feeling remorseful. Asking God for help and aid and Forgiveness.
With the exception of the Prophets, we are not divinely protected from sin. Prophet Muhammad, upon him peace and blessings, said:
By the One in Whose hand is my soul, if you did not commit sin Allaah would do away with you and bring people who would commit sin then pray for forgiveness.
And he said:
Every son of Adam sins, and the best of those who sin are those who repent.
The people that God loves are the ones who frequently repent, and if you count the times they repent – it is perpetual and continuous.
And whoever does evil or wrongs himself but afterwards seeks Allaah’s forgiveness, he will find Allaah Oft‑Forgiving, Most Merciful. (Qur’an 4:110)
How can we possibly know God the Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful if we are never in need of forgivneness and mercy? Some of His Beautiful Names would be meaningless to us if we did not have a need to experience them in our lives. When God allows us to sin, He opens a door to know Him in a way the Angels who are sinless cannot know Him. Yet, while we all sin, not everyone repents.
Will they not turn with repentance to Allaah and ask His forgiveness? For Allaah is Oft‑Forgiving, Most Merciful. (Qur’an 5:74)
The arrogant and egotistical person does not repent or flee to God during a trial. Adam fled and sought repentance, and so did every Prophet. Yet, Satan or Pharaoh would not. Satan was a worshipping slave but did not like the feeling of being in a remorseful state, whereas as Adam, upon him peace, accepted it and turned and fled to God, sought remorse. Pharaoh was not a worshipping slave but felt he was god. Satan was brought low and this did not humble him but cause him to plot and plan to bring Adam and his progeny down. Pharaoh remained in power, and was given warnings and this did not humble him, but caused him to plot and plan to oppress Moses and his followers.
Hence, true humility is not whether you are up or down, but if you are continuously and perpetually repenting and turning to God.
Some would get angry and say God, why did you do this to me, I am a good person and doing good deeds and lose sight of the wisdom that the Prophets are sinless and were persecuted the most yet accepted their trials and tribulations with patience and fleeing and beseeching God for help, aid and victory. Again this is an ongoing process and circular process, not a one-time event. It was faced by the sinless and the best of creation and as humans, we too will face trials and tribulations.
This is an excerpt from a forthcoming book, currently titled Reflections of Faith: Lessons from the Prophets.
Fedwa Wazwaz is a Palestinian-American born in Jerusalem, Palestine and raised in the US. She has completed training in restorative justice at the University’s Center for Restorative Justice and Peacemaking. She was a 2008-2009 policy fellow at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs. She lives in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota.
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