DESPAIR, PESSIMISM, AND other forms of spiritual ailment have so overwhelmed some of us that we have become helpless, lost self-esteem, succumbed to feelings of defeatism and disappointment, and abandoned all attempt at making a difference in this life and for the next.
People of this sort have nothing for life and the living, save blame, accusations, suspicions, and insults. They forfeit all opportunities of learning, doing good, and engagement in beneficial labor.
Plagued with idleness, indolence, and failure, they lead a life fraught with worry, stress, and mental instability. Their behavior is sour, their temperament petulant, their efforts fruitless, and their worries snowball day by day. An Arab adage aptly captures their sorry situation:
Indolence wedded procrastination giving birth to regret. Wretchedness married languor siring deprivation. (Adab Al-Dunya wa’l-Dîn, 407).
How proud Satan is of this lot! And why shouldn’t he be? They are part of his hosts, marching to his drumming. They are a weapon in his demonic arsenal, which he employs in spreading fatal spiritual diseases and debarring the slaves of Allah from rising up to their worldly and otherworldly responsibilities.
The Virus Spreads
Worse still, these destructive maladies have stolen into the hearts of some dâʿîs, or callers unto Allah, and some students of ʿilm, leading them to believe that munkar (wrong) is too vast to be righted. Overwhelmed by these feelings, they have grown too enfeebled to shoulder the responsibility of reform, and so withdrawn into themselves and sunk into isolation.
It is as though these people had never heard Allah’s words:
And do not despair of Allah’s mercy. For, most surely, none despairs of Allah’s mercy except the disbelieving people. [Sûrat Yûsuf, 12:87]
or His words:
And who desponds of the mercy of his Lord but those who are astray [Sûrat Al-Ḥijr, 15:56];
or the Messenger’s ﷺ response when asked about major sins:
[Major sins are]: Associating false gods with Allah, despairing of Allah’s spirit, and desponding of Allah’s mercy. (Al-Bazzâr. Rated ḥasan by Al-Albâni, 2051)
The Prophetic Antidote Administered
The students and professors of ʿilm, and Muslims in general, should rise above despair. They should cast aside despondency. They should assume a proactive attitude. They should diligently seek to reform themselves and others—taking strength from patient endurance, from trust in the Lord of the Heavens and the Earth, from hopefulness, and hope in Allah’s promise. Allah said:
Call to the path of your Lord, O Prophet, with sound wisdom and fair admonition. And as to all people, argue gently with them in the fairest manner. Indeed, it is your Lord alone who knows best all those who have strayed from His straight path; and He knows best all those who are guided aright. Moreover, if you believers punish aggressors, then punish them with the like of that with which you have been afflicted by them. But if you remain patient, it is, most surely, better for those who are patient. So be patient, O Prophet. Yet know that your patience shall not endure through adversity except with the help of Allah. Thus do not grieve over those of them who oppose you, nor be in any distress because of what they plot against you. [Sûrat Al-Na ḥl, 16:125-128]
And He said:
And thereby We made from them exemplary leaders, guiding their people by Our command—when they had endured patiently, and when they had certainty in the truth of Our revealed verses. [Sûrat Al-Sajdah, 32:24]
He also said:
But as to those who strive for Us alone, against every evil, We shall, most surely, guide them upon Our pathways to salvation. For, indeed, Allah is, most surely, with those who excel in doing good. [Sûrat Al-ʿAnkabût, 29:69]
In the first days of the mission of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, Muslims encountered violent and relentless opposition from the polytheists of Makkah. Compelled by the immense torture that the Makkans were heaping upon their heads—and in a moment of human weakness to which not even the indestructible Companions l were immune—some of them went to the Prophet ﷺ and implored him, saying:
Would that you petition Allah to grant us victory over our enemies! Would that you supplicate in our behalf! The Prophet ﷺ responded with these words: By Allah! This affair (Islam) is bound to triumph such that a man will travel from Ṣanâʿa (the capital of Yemen, to the west) to Ḥadramawt (a Yemeni region toward the east) fearing only Allah and the wolf for his sheep. That is Allah’s promise. But you are in haste. (Bukhâri and Muslim)
As the above ḥadîth demonstrates, the Prophet ﷺ exhorted his Companions l to persevere in faith with patience, steadfastness, and hope in Allah. It was the wont of the Prophet ﷺ to give glad tidings, to refrain from spreading bad news, and to command others to do the same. When the Prophet ﷺ sent Muʿâdh ibn Jabal and Abû Mûsa Al-Ashʿarî to Yemen, he advised them:
Make things easy for people, and do not make things difficult for people. Give glad tidings. Let not your behavior drive people away from Islam. Avoid dispute and be in agreement with one another. (Bukhâri and Muslim)
In order for Muslims to carry out the divine command of doing good, enjoining justice, and combating injustice, they need a significant and persistent dose of encouragement and cheering. The torch of hope, hopefulness, and confidence needs to be kindled in their hearts such that these hearts become free from all traces of despair and despondence.
In a time when the outnumbered and overpowered followers of the Prophet ﷺ were suffering tremendous persecution and oppression at the hands of their disbelieving fellow tribesmen, he gave his Companions l the good news of their God-promised victory over Chosroes’ Persian Empire and Caesar’s Roman Dominion.
The Prophet ﷺ said:
Indeed, Allah has tilted earth before me, till I saw its eastern and western expanses. And, sure enough, my Ummah’s dominion will cover those parts of the earth which Allah has shown me. Moreover, I was given the two treasure troves: The red [signifying the Roman Empire) and the white [signifying the Persian Empire]. (Muslim)
History tells us how his remarkable prophesy came true. Not long after the Prophet ﷺ pronounced this singular vision, the Persian and Roman territories fell one after another into the hands of Muslims.
Hope Yet Springs
Now, when one observes the current condition of the Muslim Ummah, one is bound to see many pleasing things, much good news. Muslims are coming back to their religion. The numbers of Muslims who honor and hold fast to the Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ is on the rise. The signposts of the Sharîʿah are conspicuous. The lights of the Sunnah are brilliant. Boundaries of falsehood and heresy are clearly marked. All these things make one hopeful and fill one’s heart with trust in Allah’s succor:
Yet most surely, the help of Allah is ever near! [Sûrat Al-Baqarah, 2:214]
So, you dâʿîs who invite to the truth, and you students of knowledge who are the bearers of the prophetic heritage, let not despondence hold back your laboring for your Lord. Be steadfast. Endure in faith patiently. Keep marching down the path of learning, teaching, and guiding humankind from the darkness of ignorance, polytheism, sin, and heresy, to the white shores of peace, salvation, and bliss.
Thank Allah that goodness is ever-present in the Muslim Ummah. Processions of Muslim reformers will never cease. The Prophet ﷺ said:
The example of my Ummah is like that of a rainy season. None knows whether its beginning or end will be good. (A ḥmad and Tirmidhî)
He said also:
Allah will continue to raise from among the Muslim Ummah those whom He uses to uphold His religion. (A ḥmad and Ibn Mâjah)
Also, on the authority of Thawbân, who quoted the Prophet ﷺ as saying:
There will ever be a contingent from among my Ummah who will continue to rally around the banner of truth, undaunted by the betrayals they meet, until they meet Allah in that state. (Muslim)
With such glad tidings and heart-comforting words, no one should succumb to despair and despondency. Hopefulness strengthens hearts, reinforces resolve, and opens the gates of hope, work, sacrifice, and giving.
The man of hope faces difficulties better, handles distress graciously, and persists in doing good and making a difference to the last moments of his life. The Prophet ﷺ said:
If the Hour of Judgment comes and one of you has a sapling in his hand, let him plant it before he stands up, if he is so able. (A ḥmad and Bukhâri)
Subḥân’Allah! Transcendent is the Glory of Allah! If we are commanded to continue benefiting humanity and enriching life even when besieged by the terrors of the final quaking of the earth at the Hour of Doom, what about before that!?
The reasonable, resolute reformer braces himself and prepares for whatever difficulties he may face in his journey to Allah. He works hard, sincerely, wisely, and knowingly, trusting in the certainty of Allah’s aid. He is all hope that Allah will empower him to attain his noble goals.
The Prophet ﷺ advised Ibn ʿAbbâs with these words:
Truly, with patience comes victory. Truly, with distress comes relief. (Aḥmad)
Imâm Ibn Al-Qayyim said:
Supremely noble feats invite troubles. Happiness is accessible only through a sea of hardship, which cannot be crossed save on the ships of tenacity and seriousness. (Miftâ ḥ Dâr Al-Saʿâdah, 1:363)