Recently my family and I experienced a difficulty when our business was damaged by an explosion. Alhamdulillah, no one was hurt in our facility, but we were still shaken up by the incident. There were brothers and sisters from the Islamic community who expressed their sympathies and offered help. But surprisingly, there were some who were very dismissive using excuses like “insurance will take care of it,” “you will be fine,” and “it’s not so bad!” While we accepted Allah’s qadr and remained patient throughout the ordeal, it still hurt. We had worked so hard to get things up and running and felt we could lose everything in an instant. This had me thinking about how we deal with one another when we are going through adversities. Do we write off people’s pain because we think it somehow diminishes their faith or do we acknowledge it and help them move on with wisdom and kindess?
No human being that reaches adulthood leads a carefree life. Our faith teaches us that we are here on this Earth to be tested. We will experience happiness, sadness, fear, grief, love, and hatred. It is our response to these tribulations that defines who we are and how firm our faith may be.
“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.”
(Surah Al-Baqarah, 2:155)
With this verse of the Quran, Allah reminds the believers that to overcome adversity we must keep our faith firm. Remaining patient no matter what calamities befall us is the way we display our full commitment to our Creator. Patience is enduring struggles knowing wholeheartedly that Allah is in control and never doubting His ultimate plan. We can teach our children about this aspect of our faith by looking into our life manual – the Quran. In the Quran, there are countless stories about the lives of the Prophets and Messengers of Allah and their resilience during the harshest trials. What they all had in common was their unshakeable faith and constant supplication. Yet, no one can ever deny that they experienced and expressed pain during these trials. They were superb humans, but not superhumans.
- Prophet Nuh, peace be upon him, lost his son to disbelief and witnessed his death as he drowned among the wrongdoers. He was sad and anxious, but he prayed to Allah for aid and submitted to His final Judgement.
- Prophet Ibrahim, peace be upon him, was rejected by his own father and was forced to flee from his homeland. Once he attained prophethood and later married, he and his wife were tested with infertility. These things caused him great suffering. Nevertheless, he used to pray to Allah for righteous offspring that would carry on his message of monotheism and was gifted with Prophets Ismail and Ishaaq.
- Prophet Yaqub, peace be upon him, had many children but they plotted against their own brother, Yusuf, and threw him into a well. Because of their jealousy, they were willing to do the unthinkable to their own flesh and blood. Prophet Yaqub cried so much when he lost his son that he became blind, but he asked Allah for “beautiful patience” until he was reunited with him after many years.
- Prophet Ayyub, peace be upon him, dealt with debilitating illness and lost his wealth and family. He experienced pain and anguish. After lots of supplication, he was able to regain his health.
All of these are examples of afflictions that any human being may experience in their lifetime – things like loss, non-practicing or non-Muslim relatives, family problems, infertility, jealousy, and illness are common issues. Each story in the Quran was resolved through patience and prayer – instilling in us the importance of these acts of worship.
“Oh you who have believed, seek help through patience and prayer. Indeed, Allah is with the patient.”
(Surah Al-Baqarah, 2:153)
There are so many lessons about patience in our scripture; it is a given that we must be resilient.
On the other hand, how do we interact with those who are living through hardship? What role do we play when people close to us are experiencing the harsh realities of life? The incident with my family reminded me that many Muslims seem to misunderstand the concept of patience in Islam. They believe showing fortitude in times of worry and sadness consists of suppressing or minimizing normal emotional responses. They may offer reminders like “Just make dua,” “Be patient,” or “Don’t worry,” but are often harsh in their approach. One friend confided that when she had a miscarriage a sister told her she should not be sad because how could she possibly miss a child that never existed. As a mother who has also experienced a miscarriage, I thought it was the most callous and tone-deaf thing someone could ever say.
Yet there are Muslims who equate feelings of pain or sadness with a lack of faith out of pure ignorance, forgetting that even the prophets, messengers, and pious people before us experienced normal human emotions. They shed tears, they felt sadness, grief, and even anger.
When we look at the Seerah, or the life story of our Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, we see that he recognized people’s feelings and empathized with them when they were going through hard times. He never trivialized a person’s worry or grief, no matter how small.
Islam did not come to ban our feelings. Instead, the Quran and Sunnah lays out the guidelines with which to approach negativity and channel our emotions in ways that are neither harmful to ourselves nor disrespectful to our Creator. The following examples from the Sunnah highlight how the Prophet, peace be upon him, showed exceptional kindness by normalizing expressing emotions within the boundaries of our faith:
1. When losing a pet.
Anyone who has ever had a pet will testify to the fact that they are like another member of the family. Both children and adults become emotionally attached to animals they care for. During the time of the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, there was a boy who had a pet sparrow. When the sparrow died, he became extremely sad. Rather than dismiss this seemingly insignificant incident (on the grand scale of the Prophet’s overall mission), the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, addressed the matter. In a hadith, Anas ibn Malik reported:
“The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, would come to us and I had a little brother whose nickname was Abu Umayr. He had a pet sparrow he used to play with and it died. The Prophet entered one day and saw him grieving, so he said, ‘What is the matter with him?’ They said, ‘His sparrow has died.’ The Prophet said, ‘Oh, Abu Umayr, what happened to the little sparrow?’”
By acknowledging what happened and listening to the grieving boy, the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, validated his feelings and provided him comfort during his difficulty. More importantly, he did not chastise the boy for crying over his lost pet.
2. When losing property or wealth.
Have you ever lost something dear to you like a piece of jewelry or money? Then you know the desperation that one feels when you are searching for that missing item. Even if someone says, “Forget it, it’s just a material thing,” it does not make your sadness any less. This occurred to a person close to the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, and his response can teach us a thing or two about patience. Aisha, his wife, may Allah be pleased with her, said:
“We set out with Allah's Messenger on one of his journeys until when we reached Al-Baida or Dhatul-Jaish, a necklace of mine was broken (and lost). Allah's Messenger stayed there to search for it, and so did the people along with him. There was no water at that place, so the people went to Abu Bakr As-Siddiq and said, ‘Don't you see what Aisha has done? She has made Allah's Messenger and the people stay where there is no water, and they have no water with them. Abu Bakr came (into my quarters) while Allah's Messenger, peace and blessings be upon him, was sleeping with his head on my thigh. He said to me, ‘You have detained Allah's Messenger and the people where there is no water and they have no water with them. So, he admonished me and said what Allah wished him to say and hit me on my flank with his hand. Nothing prevented me from moving (out of pain) but the position of Allah's Messenger on my thigh. The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, got up when dawn broke and there was no water. So, Allah revealed the Divine Verses of Tayammum… Then the camel on which I was riding was caused to move from its place and the necklace was found beneath it.”
For a simple lost necklace, the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, was willing to stop a whole expedition even at a place where there was no water for his followers to make wudu or drink! He sympathized with his wife and never minimized her feelings, even though there was a large group of companions with him. Even Abu Bakr, may Allah be pleased with him, was upset! But Allah’s plan for them was greater, and because of the Prophet’s patience the verses of tayammum were revealed.
3. When dealing with illness.
The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, used to visit the sick and offer words of encouragement. Whenever he visited an ailing person, he would say,
“La ba’sa, tahurun insha’Allah,” meaning “No harm, it will be a purification for you (for your sins) if Allah wills.”
These words of kindness would give hope to the person who was ill and remind them to remain steadfast. He did not, on the other hand say, “Why are you complaining? Don’t you trust Allah?” He would never say such a thing, but we hear that coming from people nowadays.
The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, would also pray for the sick person. Aisha reported that when he visited any ailing member of his family, he would touch the sick person with his right hand and supplicate:
“Oh Allah! Lord of mankind! Remove this disease and cure (him or her)! You are the Great Curer. There is no cure but through You, which leaves behind no disease."
4. When losing a loved one.
One of life’s biggest tests is the loss of those who are close to us. We will inevitably experience this type of loss, and no one is immune to the heartbreak that follows. However, some well-meaning Muslims in our community may try to get us to suppress our feelings. Worse yet, if our deceased relative was non-Muslim, they may tell us we have no right to grieve over them! I have heard of such cases while speaking with other converts. This is far from the Sunnah. Our beloved Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, lost many loved ones during his lifetime, both Muslim and non-Muslims. He was equally sad for all of them. Anas ibn Malik reported about the death of the Prophet’s son, Ibrahim:
“… The Prophet took hold of Ibrahim, kissed him, and smelled him. Then, we entered after that as Ibrahim was breathing his last breaths. It made the eyes of the Prophet shed tears. Abdur Rahman ibn Awf said, ‘Even you, Oh Messenger of Allah?’ The Prophet said, ‘O Ibn Awf, this is mercy.’ Then, the Prophet wept some more, and he said, ‘Verily, the eyes shed tears and the heart is grieved, but we will not say anything except what is pleasing to our Lord. We are saddened by your departure, Oh Ibrahim.’”
What an emotive moment for the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, and a powerful lesson for those in his presence and for us. Even in the toughest situations, we should never say anything that would be displeasing to Allah, but we can grieve. The companion, Abdur Rahman ibn Awf, was surprised to see the Prophet crying, but he quickly learned that this emotional response is part of the mercy that resides in our hearts and a normal part of being human.
On another occasion the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, was told that Saad ibn Ubadah was ill. The hadith states,
“He went to visit him and when he entered, he saw him unconscious. The Prophet asked: ‘Has he died?’ The people attending him answered in the negative. The Prophet’s eyes were tearful. Those attending also cried when they saw the Prophet cry. He said to them: ‘Do you hear me? God does not punish anyone for a tearful eye or for sad feelings. But He punishes or forgives for what this might do. He pointed to his tongue…’”
The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, did not discourage his followers from going through the motions of grief but he did urge them to pray. He said,
"When a person suffers from a calamity and utters: 'Inna lillahi wa inna ilaihi raji'un. Allahumma ujurni fi musibati, wakhluf li khairan minha (We belong to Allah and to Him we shall return. O Allah! Compensate me in my affliction, recompense my loss and give me something better in exchange for it), then Allah surely compensates him with reward and a better substitute." (Muslim)
As parents, when we go through tests and trials and when we interact with those who are dealing with hardships, we are indirectly teaching our children. They observe our behavior and our responses often become ingrained in their minds. If any statement summarizes this article, it is the saying of the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him: “Allah does not punish anyone for a tearful eye or sad feelings.”
Empathy begins at home. Therefore, we should be kind to those around us who are going through tough times and remember that tests will eventually find us, too, and we would want people to be empathetic with us. If we want to be like the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, we must always choose kindness.
Wendy Díaz is a Puerto Rican Muslim writer, award-winning poet, translator, and mother of six (ages ranging from infant to teen). She is the co-founder of Hablamos Islam, a non-profit organization that produces educational resources about Islam in Spanish (hablamosislam.org). She has written, illustrated, and published over a dozen children’s books and currently lives with her family in Maryland. Follow Wendy Díaz on social media @authorwendydiaz and @hablamosislam.