Nature of Suffering

Aisha Asif

Too often when we face some difficulties or experience some sort of loss, we feel sorry for ourselves. We wonder why we are suffering, and what we did to deserve this particular hardship.

 Some of us who are more self-examining might retrace our steps in an attempt to understand where exactly we went wrong. We might think: “I pray five times a day (okay, so maybe I miss one sometimes), I fast in Ramadan and I give charity when I can. I might have a slight backbiting problem and somewhat of an addiction to a mind-blowing fantasy action show I watch. But, I am honestly trying to improve; I am sincere in my quest to become a better Muslim. Heck, I even make my parents take me to the Islamic convention every year because there are people there to help me along my way. So, why does it seem like God is striking me down with one difficulty or another?”

And people might tell us that it’s because God is testing us, or it might just be the consequence of some unjust act we had committed so we kind of deserve what we’re getting if we’re really honest with ourselves. Considering the first possibility, that God is testing us, we might ask why He would do that. And God answers this question in this verse: “Do people think that they will be left alone because they say:

‘We have faith’, and will not be tested? And We indeed tested those who were before them. And God will certainly make known those who are true and will certainly make known those who are liars” 

(Quran, 29:1-3)

 And we should take into consideration that when the verse was revealed, God was addressing, in the first case, the greatest generation of Muslims – the companions at the time of the Prophet, peace be upon him, who were physically and mentally persecuted in such atrocious ways just because they believed in the Oneness of God.

It’s just like in those epic fantasy action shows we watch. In order to become a part of an exclusive elite group who champion justice and protect the public, the protagonist has to prove his sincerity, his worth, and his dedication. This weeds out the coward or the blowhard who makes bold claims but shrinks at the first moment his conviction and endurance are required. So while we are suffering, we should remember that God is merely testing our sincerity and resolve, which He has every right to do. Muslims are to be people of their words and Islam is a practical religion. A Muslim is enjoined to testify to his belief and to act upon that belief.

Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) has related that God said, “I was a Treasure unknown, then I desired to be known so I created a creation to which I made Myself known; then they knew Me.” Living in this world with its numerous distractions, sometimes God causes us to suffer to remind us of Him, so that we remember in the midst of all of our activities what truly is important and why we are here on this earth. The Prophet, peace be upon him, said “When God desires the redemption of His people, He causes them to suffer in this world. But when He is averse, He leaves them to transgress until death overtakes.”

So our suffering is merely a calling from The Reliever. The pain we are feeling is a reminder to turn to Him. And if we stray from the path, we are reminded by our difficulties to call upon The Guide. We must understand that God doesn’t want anything bad for us. What we’re experiencing as a test from God or as a consequence of some wrong doing on our part, is a reminder from God for His servants that, in the words of Yasmin Mogahed, a freelance writer and international speaker, “no matter how far they’ve fallen or strayed, He always awaits their return.”

Finally, let us contemplate the truly inspiring words of Imam Al-Ghazali which illustrate God’s immense love for us:

“[I]f a man ceases to take any concern in worldly matters, conceives a distaste for common pleasures, and appears sick in depression, the doctor will say, ‘This is a case of melancholy and requires such and such prescription.’ The physicist will say, ‘This is dehydration of the brain caused by hot weather and cannot be relieved till the air becomes moist.’ The astrologer will attribute it to some particular conjunction or opposition of planets. ‘Thus far their wisdom reaches,’ says the Quran. It does not occur to them that what has really happened is this: that the Almighty has a concern for the welfare of that man, and has therefore commanded His servants, the planets or the elements, to produce such a condition in him that he may turn away from the world to his Maker. The knowledge of this fact is a lustrous pearl from the ocean of inspirational knowledge, to which all other forms of knowledge are as islands in the sea.”

Next time, whether you have a common cold or a serious health condition, in the face of simple inconvenience or heartrending misfortune — whatever the difficulty or loss — find a moment to be thankful and know that God loves you. 

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