This life is meant to be treated as an entrance examination of sorts. It is a testing ground to pick the best of us, to see the state of our hearts and sincerity towards Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He).
ٱلَّذِى خَلَقَ ٱلۡمَوۡتَ وَٱلۡحَيَوٰةَ لِيَبۡلُوَكُمۡ أَيُّكُمۡ أَحۡسَنُ عَمَلاً۬ۚ وَهُوَ ٱلۡعَزِيزُ ٱلۡغَفُورُ
“[He] who created death and life to test you [as to] which of you is best in deed…” [Quran; 67:2]
Having this knowledge alone is a mercy from Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He), because we are then equipped to reframe every situation as an examination rather than a situation of permanency. Imagine if we did not have this knowledge–as is the case with those who haven’t received the message or failed to internalize it. Happy moments would spoil us and desperate moments would throw us into despair!
Happiness as a Precursor to Success
لَٮِٕن شَڪَرۡتُمۡ لَأَزِيدَنَّكُمۡۖ
“If you are grateful, I will surely increase you…”
When things become difficult, we do not go off-track by falling into despair. Instead we keep in mind that it is a test and therefore take action and persist until we cross the examination successfully. If the situation cannot be changed, we can still change our mindset about it. So there still is some action and perseverence involved.
The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) is reported to have said, “How wonderful is the case of a believer; there is good for him in everything and this applies only to a believer. If prosperity attends him, he expresses gratitude to Allah and that is good for him; and if adversity befalls him, he endures it patiently and that is better for him”. [Muslim]
Therefore a believer is in one of four states:
- Witnessing blessings
- Seeking forgiveness
A person who has cultivated an attitude of contentment (rida) will always be prepared to deal with life with the upper hand. He hits the ground running in any new challenge because he is already armed with optimism and conviction.
Happiness depends a great deal on how we perceive the world. A tendency to complain and find the negative in everything will, needless to say, create unhappiness. On the contrary, qualities such as being empathetic, being a good listener, developing emotional and social intelligence lead to a more positive emotional state.
As the prevailing culture moves more and more towards individualism and instant gratification, perhaps we are missing the very key to true, fulfilling happiness which lies in serving Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He) and fellow human beings. A believer who submits himself to Allah’s will finds bliss even in apparent hardship.
Rather than seeing happiness as the ultimate goal in life, we aim for peace–inwardly, outwardly, in this life, and in the Hereafter. In other words, happiness refers to the consequence of achieving a heart that is at peace.
There is a difference between emotional happiness and spiritual happiness. Emotional happiness may come as a reaction to external stimuli and is dependent (addiction), whereas spiritual happiness entails self-mastery and self-control (freedom and peace).
Service to others plays an important role in attaining spiritual happiness. It involves nurturing your faith and connection with Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He) by liberating yourself of your own personal concerns in order give to others. In making others happy, we are likely to find our own happiness.
Cultivating a Positive Attitude
For a Muslim, the first step in cultivating a positive attitude is in realizing that every circumstance that one is placed in is from Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He) as a challenge to test our response. Therefore, rather than being overwhelmed by the circumstance, the reaction should be to analyze and arrive at the best possible response to every circumstance–be they good or bad.
Islam teaches us supplications such as the following which help us cultivate a positive outlook with regard to every situation.
اللَّهُمَّ إِنِّي أَعُوذُ بِكَ مِنَ الأَرْبَعِ مِنْ عِلْمٍ لاَ يَنْفَعُ وَمِنْ قَلْبٍ لاَ يَخْشَعُ وَمِنْ نَفْسٍ لاَ تَشْبَعُ وَمِنْ دُعَاءٍ لاَ يُسْمَعُ
Allahumma inni a’udhu bika minal-arba’: min ‘ilmin la yanfa’u, wa min qalbin la yakhsha’u, wa min nafsin la tashba’u, wa min du’a’in la yusma’
“O Allah, I seek refuge with You from four things: from knowledge that is of no benefit, from a heart that does not fear (You), from a soul that is never satisfied, and from a supplication that is not heard.” [Ibn Majah]
We are servants of Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He) and life is about service to Him. We must remember that the pleasure of Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He) is to be earned through obeying Him and His displeasure (may He safeguard us from it) lies in disobeying Him.
Therefore always have good intentions and consciousness of Allah’s watch and presence over your life. Develop a forgiving disposition such that you incline even towards vengeful behavior with forgiveness (based on wisdom, rather than being naive or passive).
وَلَا تَكُونُواْ كَٱلَّذِينَ نَسُواْ ٱللَّهَ فَأَنسَٮٰهُمۡ أَنفُسَہُمۡۚ أُوْلَـٰٓٮِٕكَ هُمُ ٱلۡفَـٰسِقُونَ
We read in the Quran, “And be not like those who forgot Allah, so He made them forget themselves. Those are the defiantly disobedient.”
So keep in mind the purpose of this life and where we are headed ultimately. Do not get distracted by matters other than your service to Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He). One who forgets Allah will forget what he is here for and lose his connection with his real purpose. Gradually a darkness descends on him, for there is no light without Allah, and he loses real happiness. Thus this leads to seeking superficial and transient means of joy, such as showing off to win the admiration of other mortals, or intoxicating one’s self with worldly distractions.
The sweetness of abstaining from wrong and seeking what is right purely in the pursuit of Allah’s pleasure and setting right one’s relationship with the Creator is an incomparable feeling. The one who has tasted this will not exchange it for anything else and will only be driven to seek more of it. It is pure and fulfilling in a way that nothing else can satisfy you.
A means to true happiness is to fill one’s heart with the remembrance of Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He) and to utilize one’s faculties in serving Him. True happiness is achieved through dedicated service and worship towards Allah, salvation from Hell, and admission to Paradise in the Hereafter.
ٱصۡبِرۡ عَلَىٰ مَا يَقُولُونَ وَسَبِّحۡ بِحَمۡدِ رَبِّكَ قَبۡلَ طُلُوعِ ٱلشَّمۡسِ وَقَبۡلَ ٱلۡغُرُوبِ (٣٩) وَمِنَ ٱلَّيۡلِ فَسَبِّحۡهُ وَأَدۡبَـٰرَ ٱلسُّجُودِ (٤٠)
“So be patient, [O Muhammad], over what they say and exalt [Allah] with praise of your Lord before the rising of the sun and before its setting, and [in part] of the night exalt Him and after prostration.” [Quran; 50:39-40]
وَجَزَٲٓؤُاْ سَيِّئَةٍ۬ سَيِّئَةٌ۬ مِّثۡلُهَاۖ فَمَنۡ عَفَا وَأَصۡلَحَ فَأَجۡرُهُ ۥ عَلَى ٱللَّهِۚ إِنَّهُ ۥ لَا يُحِبُّ ٱلظَّـٰلِمِينَ
“And the retribution for an evil act is an evil one like it, but whoever pardons and makes reconciliation – his reward is [due] from Allah . Indeed, He does not like wrongdoers.”
قَوۡلٌ۬ مَّعۡرُوفٌ۬ وَمَغۡفِرَةٌ خَيۡرٌ۬ مِّن صَدَقَةٍ۬ يَتۡبَعُهَآ أَذً۬ىۗ وَٱللَّهُ غَنِىٌّ حَلِيمٌ۬
“Kind speech and forgiveness are better than charity followed by injury. And Allah is Free of need and Forbearing.”
مَنۡ عَمِلَ صَـٰلِحً۬ا مِّن ذَڪَرٍ أَوۡ أُنثَىٰ وَهُوَ مُؤۡمِنٌ۬ فَلَنُحۡيِيَنَّهُ ۥ حَيَوٰةً۬ طَيِّبَةً۬ۖ وَلَنَجۡزِيَنَّهُمۡ أَجۡرَهُم بِأَحۡسَنِ مَا ڪَانُواْ يَعۡمَلُونَ
“Whoever does righteousness, whether male or female, while he is a believer – We will surely cause him to live a good life, and We will surely give them their reward [in the Hereafter] according to the best of what they used to do.”
وَعَسَىٰٓ أَن تَكۡرَهُواْ شَيۡـًٔ۬ا وَهُوَ خَيۡرٌ۬ لَّڪُمۡۖ وَعَسَىٰٓ أَن تُحِبُّواْ شَيۡـًٔ۬ا وَهُوَ شَرٌّ۬ لَّكُمۡۗ وَٱللَّهُ يَعۡلَمُ وَأَنتُمۡ لَا تَعۡلَمُونَ
“But perhaps you hate a thing and it is good for you; and perhaps you love a thing and it is bad for you. And Allah Knows, while you know not.”
وَلَنَبۡلُوَنَّكُم بِشَىۡءٍ۬ مِّنَ ٱلۡخَوۡفِ وَٱلۡجُوعِ وَنَقۡصٍ۬ مِّنَ ٱلۡأَمۡوَٲلِ وَٱلۡأَنفُسِ وَٱلثَّمَرَٲتِۗ وَبَشِّرِ ٱلصَّـٰبِرِينَ
“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,”
Tests are a part of this worldly life and they can come in various forms. Not everyone has the same tests, at the same time, to the same degree. Some tests affect wealth, while others affect well-being. Some may be short-term, while others tarry for a relatively longer period. Some may be minor tests, while others are intense and can leave one shaken.
However, Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He) assures us that those who are patient through their trials will receive glad tidings. A believer may feel shaken through a trial but his faith remains unshaken.
أَمۡ حَسِبۡتُمۡ أَن تَدۡخُلُواْ ٱلۡجَنَّةَ وَلَمَّا يَأۡتِكُم مَّثَلُ ٱلَّذِينَ خَلَوۡاْ مِن قَبۡلِكُمۖ مَّسَّتۡہُمُ ٱلۡبَأۡسَآءُ وَٱلضَّرَّآءُ وَزُلۡزِلُواْ حَتَّىٰ يَقُولَ ٱلرَّسُولُ وَٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُواْ مَعَهُ ۥ مَتَىٰ نَصۡرُ ٱللَّهِۗ أَلَآ إِنَّ نَصۡرَ ٱللَّهِ قَرِيبٌ۬
“Or do you think that you will enter Paradise while such [trial] has not yet come to you as came to those who passed on before you? They were touched by poverty and hardship and were shaken until [even their] messenger and those who believed with him said, “When is the help of Allah?” Unquestionably, the help of Allah is near.” [Quran; 2:214]
“The believer is not afflicted by the prick of a thorn or what is worse (or greater) than that, except that by it Allah raises him in rank and removes sin from him.” [Tirmidhi]
Avoid comparing your life with that of others.
وَلَا تَمُدَّنَّ عَيۡنَيۡكَ إِلَىٰ مَا مَتَّعۡنَا بِهِۦۤ أَزۡوَٲجً۬ا مِّنۡہُمۡ زَهۡرَةَ ٱلۡحَيَوٰةِ ٱلدُّنۡيَا لِنَفۡتِنَہُمۡ فِيهِۚ وَرِزۡقُ رَبِّكَ خَيۡرٌ۬ وَأَبۡقَىٰ
“And do not extend your eyes toward that by which We have given enjoyment to [some] categories of them, [its being but] the splendor of worldly life by which We test them. And the provision of your Lord is better and more enduring.”
Instead of comparing your life with that of someone else, compare your today with your yesterday. Reflect on what has improved and show gratitude. This is a healthy route to take especially when bombarded with various forms of day-to-day stress and disappointments.
Again, gratitude in every situation is the way to go.
لَٮِٕن شَڪَرۡتُمۡ لَأَزِيدَنَّكُمۡۖ وَلَٮِٕن ڪَفَرۡتُمۡ إِنَّ عَذَابِى لَشَدِيدٌ۬
“If you are grateful, I will surely increase you but if you deny, indeed, My punishment is severe.”
To realize one’s slavehood (ubudiyyah) is to embrace the fact that Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He) is one’s Creator and Sustainer, to accept that everything is from Him, and to turn to Him in both times of ease as well as hardship in a manner that is pleasing to Him.
In the second verse of Surah Al-Mulk, Allah says:
“He is the One who created life and death so that He may try you which of you are best in conduct; and he is the Mighty, the Forgiving.” [Quran; 67:2]
The Quran and hadith remind us that we will face trials and tribulations. At the same time, the human being is susceptible to evil inclinations if he does not purify his soul and constantly keep himself in check.
“Every son of Adam commits sin, and the best of those who commit sin are those who repent.” [Ibn Majah]
This pull towards evil is caused by the “evil self” (nafs-an-ammaarata-bis-soo’) which Allah has mentioned in the Quran. This is aggravated by the Satan via promptings to engage in shameful thoughts and deeds.
The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said, “When any one of you sleeps, Satan ties three knots at the back of his neck. He recites this incantation at every knot, ‘You have a long night, so sleep.’ If he awakes and remembers Allah, one knot is loosened. If he performs wudu [ritual ablution], the (second) knot is loosened; and if he performs prayer, (all) knots are loosened. He begins his morning in a happy and refreshed mood; otherwise, he gets up in bad spirits and sluggish state.” [Bukhari and Muslim]
Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He) has mentioned to us that Satan is a clear enemy. At the same time, we also have the option of enjoying angelic presence by engaging in good acts such as the remembrance of Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He) or reciting the Qur’an, for example. It is a battle to constantly overpower the Satanic influence and engage righteously but, with time and practice, one or the other can become second nature.
Once control over the heart is established, the mind automatically surrenders to the heart. The heart feeds the mind with desires and ideas and the mind controls the rest of the body in order to bring the good or the evil act in to existence or to restrain from it.
“Beware, in the body there is a piece of flesh; if it is sound, the whole body is sound and if it is corrupt the whole body is corrupt, and hearken it is the heart.” [Sahih Muslim]
“Verily, when the slave (of Allah) commits a sin, a black spot appears on his heart. When he refrains from it, seeks forgiveness and repents, his heart is polished clean. But if he returns, it increases until it covers his entire heart…” [Tirmidhi]
The stronger one’s faith in Allah, the stronger the whispers of good become. Once a person establishes faith in the heart, he is automatically inclined towards good and away from evil. However, the devil tries to create doubt. These doubts can be eradicated through knowledge, reciting the Quran, chanting the remembrance of Allah, and many other pious acts and deeds. The main goal of the devil is to lure people into eternal damnation and destruction and he exhausts all his tricks and efforts to achieve this.
The remembrance of Allah in various forms is effective in eradicating the whispers of evil and strengthening the good. Coupled with this, one must also seek refuge in Allah from the accursed devil.
وَإِمَّا يَنزَغَنَّكَ مِنَ ٱلشَّيۡطَـٰنِ نَزۡغٌ۬ فَٱسۡتَعِذۡ بِٱللَّهِۚ إِنَّهُ ۥ سَمِيعٌ عَلِيمٌ
“And if an evil suggestion comes to you from Satan, then seek refuge in Allah. Indeed, He is Hearing and Knowing.” [Quran; 7:200]
One must also take care to guard his obligatory acts of worship–especially the five obligatory daily prayers and other essentials such as fasting and charity, which have many spiritual, physical and emotional benefits.
Adhering to the example of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) helps one stay upright and fight the devil. By increasing our love for the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) and emulating him in our day-to-day life, we hone our character and willpower to resist evil and engage in good.
It is beneficial to keep the reality of death in mind and to reflect on our destination frequently. Remembering death is an aid to keeping desires in check and working to build a sound afterlife. Remind yourself of the temporary nature of this life and how neither good times nor bad times remain forever.
The real test may be after the difficulty has passed. Does one continue to maintain the spiritual connection with Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He) when times get better or does one fall back into negligence? Good times must not cause one to become complacent in getting closer to Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He). Bad times must not trigger despair to the extent that one pushes himself away from Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He) and stops calling on him.