The Seventeen Benefits of Tribulation

 بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَـٰنِ الرَّحِيمِ

Narrated by Abu Said Al-Khudri and Abu-Huraira, the Prophet (PBUH) said: “No fatigue, nor disease, nor sorrow, nor sadness, nor hurt, nor distress befalls a muslim, even if it were the prick he receives from a thorn, but that Allah expiates some of his sins for that.”

The Prophet (PBUH) was someone who went through unparalleled hardship, and yet he never allowed any difficulties to disturb him or put him in a state of turbulence. In this video lecture, Hamza Yusuf explains why.

The lecture is based on the book written by 7th century scholar Sultan Al-Ulema who died in 660 and lived in Egypt: ‘The Book of Calamities, Tribulations, Hardships and Disasters or the Benefits of Tribulations and Tests’. Sultan Al-Ulema wrote this book to point out all the tests, the benefits that come from having tribulation in your life, and the extraordinary aspects of the Prophet’s (PBUH) life.

The word in Arabic for someone who has forbearance is ‘halim‘. The Prophet (PBUH) was described as ‘he had more forbearance than anybody else’. Whereas the word for intellect is ‘hilm‘. ‘Safaha‘ is the opposite of ‘hilm‘ – that is, the man with no intellect; he has ‘Safaha‘ (lightness) and has no stability because intellect stabilizes you. That is why a ‘halim‘ is somebody who does not get disquieted or perturbed in life.

Interestingly, the word for dreamer is ‘halim’. The word for a person who is dreaming is ‘ha’lum‘. Now why do you think that the word for somebody who does not get perturbed is ‘halim‘ and the word for a dreamer is  ‘ha’lum‘? It is hard to dream when someone is agitating you. Dreams need a state of quietude in order for you to sleep.

So, the ‘halim‘, the person who has forbearance, is a person who in the face of tribulation, whether it is a person or circumstance, does not lose their cool. For instance, the prophet (PBUH) was described that whenever people would speak ill to him he would return with what the Quran says: repay it with a good turn.

وَلَا تَسۡتَوِى ٱلۡحَسَنَةُ وَلَا ٱلسَّيِّئَةُ‌ۚ ٱدۡفَعۡ بِٱلَّتِى هِىَ أَحۡسَنُ فَإِذَا ٱلَّذِى بَيۡنَكَ وَبَيۡنَهُ ۥ عَدَٲوَةٌ۬ كَأَنَّهُ ۥ وَلِىٌّ حَمِيم

Other examples of the Prophet (PBUH) is when he was in the cave with Abu Bakr. Abu Bakr was very nervous because right outside the cave were the Quraysh and the Prophet (PBUH) was in a complete unperturbed state. Even in battles, the muslim fighters used to hide behind him when it got difficult.

There’s also the famous story of the Jews that came to the Prophet (PBUH) and purposely upset him in order to elicit a response and it was Omar who got very angry and the Prophet (PBUH) was completed unperturbed even though he was insulted by them. The man said he had seen all the characteristics of prophecy except for one ‘hilm‘, and he needed to test that so he purposely evoked a negative response but did not get it from the Prophet (PBUH). So he knew that the Prophet had ‘hilm‘.

One of the things about people who are disconnected from Allah is that they get completely disquieted whenever things get difficult. It is a sign of weak ‘iman‘.

There is a story of a physician in India who used to treat people with ‘ruqyah‘. One of the modern physicians thought he was completely insane and when he started arguing with him about this, he said “how do you think that words can affect anything, you need to give people antibiotics and you need to give them things that will change their states”, so the other physician who believed in ‘ruqyah‘ called him a donkey. He got really angry and then called him a pig and he was about to kill him. So the physician in India said, “two words I said to you and look at how they have changed your state. You are red and ready to kill me” because of two words.

Words have the power to elicit responses from us, yet it becoming increasingly difficult to just listen and talk to each other without getting heated.  So, what ‘hilm‘ is, is the ability to not allow your button to be pushed – it really is one of the gifts of Islam if people take it seriously. It is hard to do and people get better at it than others, but it takes a great deal of effort and it does not stop: it gets finer and finer.

So this book he wrote was as a way of helping people to understand what tribulations really are because one of the reasons we get disquieted about difficulties is that we do not understand what the wisdom of the difficulty is from Allah: If you believe in Allah, the difference between you and someone who does not believe in Allah is that you will derive benefit from that condition.

If you do believe in God you will live in a world filled with God, but if you disbelieve in God you will constantly be re-affirmed in your disbelief. That is why atheists cannot understand people that believe in God and people that believe in God cannot understand atheists – both of them are seeking a proof for their belief. That is one of the meanings of the ‘hadith‘: “I am in the opinion of my servant”, so if my servant thinks I am nothing, that is what he finds.

عن أبي هريرة – رضي الله عنه – قال : قال النبي – صلى الله عليه وسلم – : يقول الله تعالى : أنا عند ظن عبدي بي ، وأنا معه إذا ذكرني

Calamities and tests and tribulations and distasters have different benefits based upon the different ranks of people. ‘Rutbah‘ is a rank, it is used in modern Arabic in military rank. ‘Rutub‘ are the ranks that people are in relation to Allah. Nobody knows the armies of your Lord except Allah, so Allah has ‘junood’; people have different ranks.

In Islam those ranks are hidden. You do not know the stations of people with Allah. It is something that Allah has hidden.

One of the ‘ulema‘ said that Allah hid three things in three things.

1) He hid His contentment in His obedience – you never know what Allah will accept from you. Allah might not accept a great thing you did that was an act of obedience but He might accept a small thing. For example, the prostitute who was forgiven for giving a dog water. She was forgiven her sins for giving a dog water.

2) He hid his wrath in His disobedience – for example, the woman who locked up the cat and went to hell for locking up a cat. That was an indication of her state: she was a cruel woman because if you do not have compassion with animals it is a sign of cruelty. There is a relationship between kindness to animals and kindness towards humans.

3) He has hidden his ‘awliya’ amongst His servants – so it might even be a non muslim. According to Imam Qurtabi, Omar was beloved to God when he was in Makkah prostrating to idols. So you do not know, you could meet a person and he could be better than you.

So he says benefits are based on the differences of the ranks of people. For some people a tribulation removes wrongs. For others, it is to elevate their rank.

Imam Al-Ghazali says there are wrongs in this world that are only removed by depression. If you are wondering why people get depressed, people get depressed from ‘thunoob’ (sins). So, the soul can be troubled. You can numb it, you can preoccupy yourself, you can entertain yourself, you can do all these things to not deal with the soul’s anguish but you cannot remove the anguish of the soul. It is not possible.

Karl Marx said “Religion is the opium of the masses”. Abdul Hakim Winter said “but opium is the religion of the masses”. That is, the escape from reality. All they are trying to do is to numb the pain of existence but the existence is painful because you are not fulfilling your function. When you do not fulfill your function there is always trouble. Anytime anything in the body is not fulfilling its function there is pain.

The same is true for the soul. If you are not fulfilling your function which is to worship Allah, testify to His unity and to behave accordingly then you will be in pain and suffering until you come into accordance and that is a gift from Allah in the same way that pain, signs and symptoms are gifts for people so they can go to a physician and get well.

The Prophets (PBUT) have tribulation, not to remove their wrongs but to elevate their rank. And that is the case of some of the ‘saliheen‘ as well.

One of the things that Omar said that they noticed about Islam is when they entered into Islam and they would do something wrong they would see an immediate effect – whereas they never saw it in the ‘jahiliyah‘ and that was because of their ‘maqam‘ with Allah.

Once the Prophet (PBUH) was walking and there was a young man who saw a woman and he was looking at her. Then the man ran into the wall. The Prophet (PBUH) said that was his removal of the wrong, and it happened immediately. So that was a blessing to have that wrong removed.

A woman, one of the ‘saalihat‘, was walking and she stumbled and hurt her leg. She began to laugh and somebody thought she was crazy and said, “are you majnoon?” She said, “no I fell and when the pain came I remembered the hadith where the Prophet (PBUH) said a believer does not get a thorn in his foot except it removed wrongs and the sweetness of my wrongs being removed overwhelmed my pain’. That is ‘iman‘.

The seventeen benefits:

1) You realize the power of Lordship (Allah) over you – there are things you cannot control. The illusion of reality is that we are independent and can do whatever we want. Calamities snap us out of that illusion

2) You realize your servitude and your brokenness before the will and power of God – the words of God indicate this when He said: “those who when an affliction strikes them they say surely to God do we belong to Him we return”. They finally admit that when the calamity comes that they are in the dominion of God

3) You become sincere to Allah  – one has no place of return in putting off or defending against the calamities, except to Him. The only source from calamity is Allah

4) You return to Allah and you are suddenly fervent in desire of Allah – when calamities hit, a person calls on Allah, returning back to Him

5) It leads to a humbled state before God – Allah afflicts who He loves just so He can hear them call onto Him. Relax the mind and be content in affliction: “Say who will save you from the darknesses of the land and the sea when you call Him, abased and humbled, in fear and in concealment”

6) You become forbearing toward the One who has afflicted you – There is a difference in the rankings of forbearance based upon the differences of the calamities in their enormities and in their severity, whether they are great or small. A forbearance shown when there is a great calamity is much greater than any other type of forbearance

7) You can actually forgive the one who has wronged you – one of the greatest rewards is forgiving people who have done you a wrong. Allah says: “those who forgive people, Allah loves those people”

8) You learn patience – “Allah is with the patient ones”, so when you show patience it is a great blessing. To wait for an opening from Allah is one of the greatest acts of ‘ibadah‘. The ‘sabiroon‘ are given their rewards without any reckoning

9) You become happy because of these benefits – just as somebody who has great diseases is happy when he drinks the bitter cure that will remove that disease, he is drinking it and he is happy about it because he is thinking not about the bitterness and the difficult of the remedy, but he is thinking about the benefits that will come from taking the bitter remedy. This is the way people are of Allah with the tribulations

10) You become grateful – people who have tribulation from Allah know that Allah only does those things to benefit them to make them grow and so they say ‘alhamdulillah

11) The purification that these calamities have towards people’s wrongs and sins – Allah said that anything that afflicts you is from what your own hands have wrought and He pardons much of what you have done: what you are being afflicted with is actually much less than what you deserve. Allah pardons so much, it makes you feel grateful that Allah has overlooked so many shortcomings

12) You become compassionate – Allah enables you to show care and compassion towards other people that are in tribulation: “Whoever relieves a quorba, one of the calamities of this world for a believer, Allah will relieve a calamity for him on yaum ul qiyammah”

13) Tribulation gives you the blessing of having true knowledge of the extent of well being – it is better to appreciate it when you have got it. The nature of blessings is that nobody realizes the extent of them until they have lost them

14) Allah has prepared from the blessing of the hereafter, based on ranks – there are people who are content that will have a higher rank in paradise than people who were simply patient

15) What is hidden inside the folds of these calamities are blessings – there is goodness/benefit in a problem. Allah says: “Maybe you dislike a thing and Allah will put in it much good”

16) Tribulation prevents you from arrogance, pride, evil, tyranny – if you have problems, you won’t harm others

17) You learn to have contentment – tribulations afflict the good and evil; whosoever does not like it then it is just on him and he has lost the dunya and the akhirah and whoever is pleased with it he is pleased because he knows that if those are the tribulations that it takes to get him into paradise then he is content with it

(Thanks to Nihal for directing me to the lecture on YouTube. I included some additions myself – they were not in the video. They are in purple. Anything wrong I have said is from myself, Rabina yesami7ny – Allah knows best.)

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