Since time immemorial, Almighty Allah has sent many prophets to mankind to preach the oneness of Allah and to guide people who had, time and time again, deviated from the true religion of islâm (islâm = submission to the one God) as taught through those warners.
And there is no god but Him: That is the witness of Allah, His angels, and those endued with knowledge, standing firm on justice. There is no god but Him, the Exalted in Power, the Wise. [True] religion before Allah is islâm [submission to His will]: Nor did the People of the Book dissent therefrom except through envy of each other after knowledge had come to them. But if any deny the Signs of Allah, Allah is swift in calling to account. So if they dispute with you, say: “I have submitted my whole self to Allah and so have those who follow me.” And say to the People of the Book and to those who are unlearned: “Do you [too] submit yourselves?” If they do, they are in right guidance, but if they turn back, your duty is to convey the message… [Sûrah Âli cImrân, 3:18-20]
The Testing of Prophets
By reading about the lives of the exalted prophets and about how they led their lives when faced with trials, tribulations and adversity, we can learn valid and valuable life lessons that we can assimilate into our own lives. Many of the prophets faced resistance, resentment and open hostility when they conveyed their message, as did our beloved Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ). If we turn to the Quran to emulate the ethics embedded in the lives of the prophets and the varied lessons taught by them, we can confront our problems, cope with them and combat them in a truly Islamic way in our everyday lives.
Allah has stated in the Quran that the prophets were men of true faith, their characters personified with patience, sincerity and steadfastness. One prophet who exhibited all these traits in his life and who has thus become the guiding prototype of patience is Prophet Ayyûb (ﷷ ﺳﻼﻢ ). In his life, he encountered personal afflictions, faced enormous tests and extreme adversity, but he did not succumb to the temptation of complaint, nor did he ever contemplate forsaking his faith. He remained patient not just to the very end but to the utmost, so much so that today the saying, ‘the patience of Job’ is synonymous with perfect patience and confidence in God’s wisdom in spite of long suffering.
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The Ancestry of Ayyûb
Prophet Ayyûb (ﷷ ﺳﻼﻢ) was a descendant of Prophet Ibrahim’s brother Nahor, in keeping with Biblical genealogy (Bible, Genesis 22:20-21) ; thus, Ayyub (ﷷ ﺳﻼﻢ ) was indirectly related to the descendants of Ibrâhîm, Ishâq and Ya’qûb.
Prophet Ayyûb (ﷷ ﺳﻼﻢ) lived in the Land of cûṣ ( ﻋﻮﺺ ) [English “Uz”] (Bible, Job 1:1) during the time of his trials. According to the Biblical information, Job and his family lived in proximity to the people of Saba’ (Sheba) (Bible, Job 1:15) who have connections with the southern Arabian Peninsula. Another scholarly opinion (Torah, Job 1:1, translation by Rashi), however, takes the position that cUz refers to ‘Aram‘ —an area that is present-day Syria.
cUz —the great-grandson of Nûḥ (Noah) descended through Noah’s first son Shem [Sam], and Shem’s last son Aram (Iram) (Bible, Genesis 10:1, 22-23)— was the father of cÂd (ﻋﺎ ﺪ) in Islamic tradition (Ibn Kathir’s Story of Hûd). Hûd was the prophet later sent to the people descended from cÂd (Q 26:123-140). Thus, Ayyûb is intimately connected with the lands inhabited by prophets familiar in the Quran and their monotheistic peoples.
Ayyûb as a Prominent Person in his Community
As with other prophets highlighted in the Quran, Ayyûb (ﷷ ﺳﻼﻢ) too was sent to preach the Islamic message of Tawhîd—the oneness of Allah.
“Indeed, We have revealed to you [O Muhammad], as We revealed to Nûḥ and the prophets after him. And we revealed to Ibrâhîm, Isma’îl, Ishâq, Ya’qûb, the Tribes, ‘Isa, Ayyûb, Yunus, Harûn, and Sulaiman; and to Dâwûd We gave the book of Zabûr.” [Sûrah al-Nisâ’, 4:163]
Prophet Ayyûb (ﷷ ﺳﻼﻢ) was wealthy – Allah had endowed him with prosperity and abundant wealth not only in the form of good health, but also in varied worldly possessions – homes, tracts of land, farms, livestock, servants and a large family. However, none of these possessions made him arrogant. He was also a respected and honored member of his community. Like the other Prophets, he was a humble man of great piety, constantly glorifying and devoutly thanking Allah for all the blessings bestowed on him.
Ayyûb’s Response to Change of Fortune and Loss of Companions
After several years of comfort and enjoyment of wealth and happiness, Allah tested Ayyûb (ﷷ ﺳﻼﻢ) with a series of calamities. At first, Allah deprived him of his wealth and riches. But Ayyûb (ﷷ ﺳﻼﻢ) remained firm and constant, unshaken by this disaster, continuing to glorify Allah through steadfast devotion and prayer. Allah then took the lives of Prophet Ayyûb’s (ﷷ ﺳﻼﻢ) children; but even then, he continued to be thankful in his prayers. Allah then took away his health, afflicting him with terrible pain and suffering, loathsome ailments and a horrific disease. People shunned him and avoided his company. Many of his companions abandoned associating with him, and forsook communication with him. Still Prophet Ayyûb’s (ﷷ ﺳﻼﻢ) faith and serenity remained firm and constant, for the core of his spirituality remained faithful to Allah. He constantly worshipped Allah with his heart and his tongue, never lacking in patience and perseverance.
His wife appealed to him to beseech Allah to provide relief from his suffering, but Ayyûb (ﷷ ﺳﻼﻢ) was too ashamed to ask Allah for solace for his tribulations. He felt that Almighty Allah had blessed him for numerous years up until then, with immense wealth and good health. He felt it would be ungrateful and churlish to ask Allah for relief from the suffering he was then undergoing.
It is affirmed in a Hadith that the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ), when asked which people are the most severely tested, said:
“The prophets, then those nearest to them, then those nearest to them. A man is tried according to his religion; if he is firm in his religion, then his trials are more severe, and if he is frail in his religion, then he is tried according to the strength of his religion. The servant shall continue to be tried until he is left walking upon the earth without any sins.” (Jami’ Al-Tirmidhi 2398)
The Testing of the Closest Family Members
There are conflicting records of the extent and duration of Prophet Ayyûb’ illness. It may have lasted for seven years, or eighteen years, but throughout the adversity and difficult times, he did not lament, grow angry or reject the fate decreed to him by Allah. Eventually, no one remained sympathetic or devoted to Prophet Ayyûb (ﷷ ﺳﻼﻢ) except his wife. She took care of his needs, never leaving his side, as she recalled his earlier good treatment of her and his love for her.
As his illness progressed, Prophet Ayyûb’s (ﷷ ﺳﻼﻢ) wife decided to seek her own livelihood to tide them over the difficult times, in order to provide sustenance for herself and her husband. Many people were censorious of granting her employment as they feared the contagious nature of Prophet Ayyûb’s (ﷷ ﺳﻼﻢ) disease. Comments Ibn Kathir:
‘…Then he had nothing left in this world which he could use to help him deal with his sickness or the predicament he was in, besides his wife, who retained her devotion to him because of her faith in Allah and His Messenger. She used to work for people as a paid servant, and she fed and served him [Ayyub (ﷷ ﺳﻼﻢ)] for nearly eighteen years… …She did not leave him, morning and evening, except for when she was serving people; then she would come straight back to him.’ (Tafsîr Ibn Kathîr, Sûrah Ṣâd, 38:41-44)
Eventually, overcome by emotion, she pressed her husband to supplicate to Allah to cure his illness with finality and to provide relief in their situation. Even then he justified his restraint before Allah, saying that prior to this, Allah had blessed them with immense bounty and prosperity for so many years; so, for the sake of his standing before Allah, he should remain compliant and patient. Nevertheless, perceiving his wife’s escalating distress and hardship, Ayyûb (ﷷ ﺳﻼﻢ) appealed to Allah to end this tribulation once and for all.
“And mention Ayyûb when he called out to Allah, ‘Indeed adversity has touched me and You are the most merciful of the merciful.’ “ [Sûrah Al-Anbiyâ‘, 21: 83]
At this articulation of Ayyûb’s (ﷷ ﺳﻼﻢ) trust in Allah’s Will, Allah accepted and answered his supplication:
“Then We answered his call and removed the distress that was on him…” [Sûrah Al-Anbiyâ’, 21:84]
The Reward of Ayyub’s Endurance
But there is more to the resolution of this crisis:
“Remember Our slave Ayyûb, when he invoked His Lord saying: ‘Verily! Satan has touched me with distress [loss of health] and torment [loss of wealth]!’ Allah said to him: ‘Strike the ground with your foot: This is a spring of water to wash in and cool and a refreshing drink.’ And We gave him back his family, and along with them the like thereof as a Mercy from Us, and a reminder for those who understand.” [Sûrah Ṣâd, 38:41-43]
Ibn Kathir explains the ritual climax marking the complete cure:
‘Then the Most Merciful of those who show mercy responded to him, telling him to stand up and strike the ground with his foot. He did this and Allah caused a spring of water to flow. [Allah] commanded him to wash in it, and all the pain and affliction in his body disappeared. Then he commanded him to strike the ground in a different place, and Allah caused another spring to flow, and Ayyub was commanded to drink from it. Thereupon all his internal problems disappeared, and he became healthy again, inside and out. (Tafsîr Ibn Kathîr, Sûrah Ṣâd, 38:41-42)
Thus, after Prophet Ayyûb (ﷷ ﺳﻼﻢ) bathed in the water and drank from it, as instructed, Allah returned him to his former health and granted him his previous unblemished personality:
So much so, that when his wife saw him, she was utterly amazed and said, “May Allah bless you, have you seen the prophet of Allah who was ill here? And by Allah, I have not seen a man more similar to him when he was healthy than you!”
He said, “Indeed, I am he!” (Tafsîr Ibn Kathîr, Sûrah Ṣâd, 38:42)
As a reward for his wife’s patience and steadfastness, Ibn Kathir comments, Ayyûb’s (ﷷ ﺳﻼﻢ) wife was also granted her youth, and Allah blessed both of them with possessions, riches and children like before.
Some commentators suggest that Prophet Ayyûb’s (ﷷ ﺳﻼﻢ) wife had said or done something which displeased him so that he made an oath to reprimand her with a hundred lashings once his disease had been overcome. Regarding fulfilling the oath, he had taken toward his wife, he was told:
[We said], ‘And take in your hand a sheaf [of grass] and strike with it and do not fail to keep your oath.’ Indeed, We found him patient, an excellent servant. Indeed, he was one repeatedly turning back to Allah [in repentance]. [Sûrah Ṣâd 38:44]
This verse is further explained in Tafsir Ibn Kathir:
‘Ayyub (ﷷ ﺳﻼﻢ) had gotten angry with his wife and was upset about something which she had done, so he swore an oath that if Allah healed him, he would strike her with one hundred blows. When Allah healed him, how could her service, mercy, compassion and kindness be repaid with a beating? So Allah showed him a way out [from fulfilling the harshness of his oath], which was to take a bundle of thin grass, with one hundred stems and hit her with it once. Thus he fulfilled his oath and avoided breaking his vow. This was the solution and way out for one who had Taqwa of Allah and turned to Him in repentance.’
Hence, Allah showed him how to avoid violating the specific terms of his oath and yet to also administer it mildly. It was also a befitting way out of a situation for his pious and devoted wife who had stood by him and shown immense forbearance in the most difficult time of their lives.
Ayyûb as our Model of Longsuffering Patience
During his period of deprivation and strife, Prophet Ayyûb (ﷷ ﺳﻼﻢ) did not lose hope in Allah’s bounty, His blessings, and His immense mercy. He had not despaired, nor did he complain. Giving in to these emotions of negativity, despair and loss of faith would be tantamount to succumbing to the whisperings of Satan. He constantly glorified Allah in abject humility, and this is what we, as Muslims need to learn in today’s world, when we are faced with hardships and calamities.
Allah asks us to reflect on man’s impatience, on his tendency to lose hope, and on his lack of confidence in Allah. Often, when humans are tested by Allah, their response is inconsistent:
‘And as for man, when his Lord tries him and [thus] is generous to him and favors him, he says, “My Lord has honored me.” But when He tries him and restricts his provision, he says, “My Lord has humiliated me.”’ [Sûrah Al- Fajr, 89: 15-16]
Allah has told us what to expect:
“And certainly, We shall test you with something of fear, hunger, loss of wealth, lives and fruits, but give glad tidings to the patient ones, who —when a misfortune befalls them— say ‘Lo! We are Allah’s possession, and to Him we shall surely return.’ Such are they on whom are blessings from their Lord, and mercy. Such are the rightly guided.” [Sûrah Al-Baqarah, 2: 155-157].
Accordingly, the true test of our imân and integrity comes when we have the strength to turn to Allah in our weakest and toughest moments, since He, and only He has the power to ease our hardship. Sincere supplication to Allah will therefore be the only succour we will be granted in our most difficult times. Accordingly, we must have implicit faith that if we exercise patience and trust in Allah, and then if He wills, an eternity of peace and happiness will be bestowed upon us in Paradise. Perhaps this is the most valuable lesson we can learn from studying the perseverance, discipline and steadfastness that Prophet Ayyûb (ﷷ ﺳﻼﻢ) practiced in his life.
Stories of the Prophets, 2000, Darul-Ishaat, Karachi
A History of the Prophets of Islam, Volume 1 by Suzanne Haneef, January 2007, Kazi Publications
Stories of the Prophets by Ibn Kathir (Translation – Rashad Ahmed Azami), January 2003 Darussalam Publishers
Tafsir Ibn Kathir, Second Edition (English), September 2000, Darussalam Publishers
Torah, Job 1:1, translation by Rashi, https://www.sefaria.org/Job.1.1?lang=bi&with=Rashi&lang2=bi