Anger, Ordeals, Grief & Tests
That God never changes the condition of a people unless they change what is in themselves [13:28] enjoins on us, not just some external reform fixated on a few manifestations of outward piety and morality, but instead an inward transformation – a realignment of the soul – which reflects genuine piety and purity of the heart. Regrettably, some see in this a call to quietism, while in reality it is a position of empowerment. For as we work on our inner world, keeping a keen eye upon the obligations and responsibilities we have in the outer world, we will begin to see the promise of Allah come to fruition in the human saga: If the people of the cities had but believed and shown piety, We would surely have opened for them blessings from the heaven and from the earth. [7:96]
To think that we should put all or most of our eggs in the basket of political activism, letting spiritual activism play second fiddle, isn’t just religiously naive; it continues to invite humiliation upon this blessed, yet fragile ummah too. Here, I’ll let the following hadith have the final say in the matter: ‘When you deal in ‘inah, hold on to the tails of cows, content yourself with farming and abandon striving [in Allah’s path], Allah will cover you all with humiliation and will not lift it from you, until you return to your religion.’1
Anger is so often the thing that demolishes the bonds of love and affection between husband and wife, or between people in general. A man once said to the Prophet ﷺ: ‘Counsel me.’ So he ﷺ advised: ‘Do not become angry.’ The man repeated his request several times, and each time he ﷺ said: ‘Do not become angry.’2
Our learned ones have explained the words, “Do not become angry” to mean: Do not do those things which will arouse one’s anger or unleash one’s temper; and if one is already angry, do not do or say anything in a state of anger.
In fact, in Islam, controlling one’s temper and restraining the soul’s anger is deemed to be a sign of intelligence, as well as a mark of piety. The Qur’an depicts the believer as those who: when they are angry, forgive. [42:37] And as: those who control their anger and are forgiving towards people. [3:134]
Not allowing our tempers to flare, or our anger to be aroused – or at least not giving vent to our anger – must be something we must work on, if we wish to traverse the path of piety and intelligence; and if we wish our relationships to flower and deepen. Learning to control one’s anger is one of the great hallmarks of the Sunnah and one of Islam’s cardinal spiritual virtues.
Anger often erupts when our pride is dented or our egos offended. Learning humility and humbleness is key to controlling anger. Likewise, forbearance and being forgiving are also keys. We learn in one hadith that: ‘Knowledge is gained by [actively] seeking it, and forbearance is gained by [actively] imposing it upon oneself.’3 As we learn to swallow pride and adorn ourselves with the virtues of forbearance and forgiveness, the oftentimes thin veneer of anger begins to dissipate.
The Sunnah also teaches us that when anger begins to swell, change our posture. So if one is standing, sit down; if sitting, lie down. Seeking refuge in Allah from shaytan is also recommended.
As for righteous anger and indignation, which is born of faith and is rooted in divine love, that is another matter altogether. And how rare it truly is!
Ibn Mas‘ud (one of Islam’s earliest converts and leading scholars) said of the Prophet, when he had sustained an injury during the battle of Uhud: ‘I can see myself looking at Allah’s Messenger ﷺ, as he spoke about one of the prophets of old who, when his people had beaten him, was wiping the blood from his face whilst praying: O Allah! Forgive my people, for they know not.’4
As Muslims seek to mould and live out their lives in the light of revealed truths – in a continent that has become largely religiously illiterate, on top of being plagued with acute economic downturn and growing social unrest – they will be looked upon more and more as being counter culture; odd; out of sync with society; an annoyance, even; or a fifth column, perhaps! Are the insults or the demonisation of Islam and Muslims likely to stop any time soon? Most Muslims, I suspect, will intuit not!
Sometimes, though, as with the above, the inbreak of truth can lead to the outbreak of violence. Of course, even believers can or should take recourse to the law-enforcing agencies in order to procure justice or to fend-off harm. But where the law is unable, or simply fails them, faith instructs us to be patient and steadfast, and to cleanse our hearts of rage, revenge or undue anger. The higher virtue would be to repel evil with what is better [41:34] and pray, not for the ruin of the aggressors, but for their guidance and salvation. O Allah! Forgive our people, for they know not.
Many are the emotions that assail the heart, but grief, without doubt, is the hardest of all. The pain felt at the loss of a loved one awakens grief, yet seldom is much gained by yielding too far to grief’s cruelty. Yes, tears must flow. Pain must be endured. Souls must sorrow and be scarred. That you grieve not, none have the right to insist. Weep, then, but wail not; and let not sorrow’s suffering tarry too long. For your loved one would not have you sorrow more than is fitting.
What would he say to you, he whose loss you lament? That he welcomes the love you thus show to him; but that he doesn’t want your grief to be prolonged. He’d ask that you gently put your sorrows to slumber and remember him in the splendour of his days. And that although time will assuage the pangs of grief, he’d want that we move on from such grief by choice.
Remember and recollect: recall the most cherished things about the one who is loved but is lost; of how he enriched our lives and the lives of others too. For this honours our departed loved ones, and consoles us and keeps them with us in our hearts.
If death taketh away, life doth giveth. If so young a life is taken and an older one still remains; but when did death ever promise that it’d take us in order of age?! Now is a time to reflect, not just that all things are mortal, but also that their mortality follows no fixed law.
If tragedy darkens our days, how can we deny that the sun still shines. If destiny deals an unexpected blow, how can we give up on life. If we have buried one of our loved ones, other of our cherished ones still live on. So now is the time to cherish our living loved ones even more: celebrating our love of them and spending time with them. For we cannot love only when we’ve lost.
And while we honour those who have passed on with loving remembrance, we know that such remembrance is not without its bitterness. Yet still, let’s put our sorrows to slow slumber and remember him in the glory of his days.5
And We test you with evil and with good as a trial, states the Qur’an [21:35]. According to Islam, life is not seen as being a random act of chance with no purpose and meaning. Instead, life is a theatre of signs and tests for the life to come. Trials, tests, ordeals and adversity are the inevitable price that we each must pay for the privilege of being born into the human drama. Providence allots to each of us opportunities, circumstances, talents and abilities so as to engage life’s tests and ordeals. Revelation also tells us that what counts, isn’t so much the form or nature of the actual tests, but how we respond to them. Sometimes we are tried with the obvious: hardships, misfortunes, calamities. At other times, with the less obvious: wealth, wellbeing, or material abundance. Both, nonetheless, are seen by the believer as tests.
As for the obvious, Allah says in the Qur’an: We shall indeed test you with something of fear and hunger, loss of property and of lives and crops; but give glad tidings to those who are patient. [2:155] If the one being tried in this way is a person whose faith is generally upright, in terms of observing the religious injunctions and avoiding the prohibitions, then such trials are a sign of Allah honouring them and seeking to raise them in rank. The Prophet ﷺ said: ‘When Allah loves a person, He tries them.’6 He ﷺ also told us: ‘No Muslim is afflicted with hardship, pain, anxiety, grief or injury; even to the extent of being pricked by a thorn, without Allah causing it to be an atonement for his sins.’7 This is the case provided they show patience, continue to observe the religious duties, and their conviction in Allah’s essential goodness does not waver.
Those who are not upright, especially those who make little or no attempt at being so, then such trials are the upshot of sins and rebellion against God: Whatever good befalls you is from Allah, whatever ill afflicts you is from yourselves. [4:79] Such ordeals, then, are either a mark of divine wrath and punishment, or a caution from Allah to repent and amend our ways.
As for the less obvious tests, we read in the Qur’an: If they had but followed the path of rectitude, We would have given them abundant water, so as to try them. [72:16-17] Again, if a person is upright, then the ease, blessings or opulence Allah gifts to them is also a trial, to see if they are thankful; and to see if they enjoy such blessings in a lawful way, utilise them in the worship of Allah, as well as in the service of others. When blessed with Allah’s bounties and blessings, the believer acknowledges: ‘This is the favour of my Lord, that He may try me whether I will be thankful or ungrateful. He who gives thanks, he only gives thanks for [the good of] his own soul, and he who is ungrateful [is so only to his own soul’s hurt], for my Lord is Rich, Generous.’ [27:40] Now those who show gratitude, or shukr, Allah says: ‘If you are thankful, I will increase you. But if you are ungrateful, My torment is indeed severe.’ [14:7]
As for those who aren’t upright, nor attempt to walk the path of rectitude; those who neglect religious observance and who languish in the domains of disobedience, when they are surrounded by ease or blessings, it is nothing but istidraj – Allah seizing them little by little; His punishment coming upon them gradually without them realising it. The Qur’an says: We shall seize them by degrees from whence they know not. And I shall grant them respite; for [assuredly] My devising is firm. [69:44-5] Echoing these words, the Prophet ﷺ warned: ‘If you see Allah granting a servant something of the world that he desires, despite him being deep in sins, then [know] it is istidraj.’8 Indeed what trial could be worse than when blessings are, in reality, nothing but curses?
Allahumma nas’aluka an taj‘alana mimman idha
u‘tiya shakara, wa idha’btuliya sabara,
wa idha adhnaba
1. Abu Dawud, Sunan, no.3462. Ibn Taymiyyah deemed its chains to be good (jayyid) in Majmu‘ Fatawa (Riyadh: Dar ‘Alam al-Kutub, 1991), 29:30. ‘Inah is a particular business transaction that seeks to circumvent the shari‘ah, in order to loan money on interest (riba). More generally, it may point to any ruse or legal stratagem (hiyla) which seeks to skirt around the shari‘ah rulings, so as to make the haram halal. See: Ibn ‘Uthaymin, Sharh al-Mumti‘ (Saudi Arabia: Dar Ibn al-Jawzi, 2004), 8:210-11.
2. Al-Bukhari, no.5765.
3. Al-Khatib, Tarikh, 9:127. It chain was graded as hasan in al-Albani, Silsilat al-Ahadith al-Sahihah (Riyadh: Maktabah al-Ma‘arif, 1995), no.342.
4. Al-Bukhari, no.3477; Muslim, no.1752.
5. Adapted and reworked from A.C. Grayling, The Good Book (London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2011), 93-5.
6. Al-Bukhari, no.5645.
7. Al-Bukhari, no.5641.
8. Al-Tabarani, Mu‘jam al-Awsat, no.9426. Its chain is hasan, as per al-‘Iraqi, al-Mughni ani’l-Haml al-Asfar (Riyadh: Maktabah Tabariyyah, 1995), no.3772.