We are taught that we should not ask for or seek out tests or difficulties in life. In fact, our Prophet (SAW) instructed us to “Seek refuge with Allah from trials and tribulations, both visible and hidden” (Muslim). Yet, the virtues and rewards of observing patience in the face of adversity is highly extolled in our deen.
I remember when I first heard the story of Umm Al Momineen, Umm Salamah (RA), in which she narrates the events following the death of her beloved husband, Abu Salamah (RA). The Messenger of Allah (SAW) taught her how best to respond to her trial, by teaching her the beautiful words of the Istirjaa. She says:
“The Messenger of Allah (SAW) said: ‘There is no Muslim who suffers a calamity and says what Allah has commanded: ‘Innaa Lillaahi wa innaa ilayhi raji’oon. Allaahummaa ujurni fi museebati w’ukhluf li khayran minha’ (Truly! To Allah we belong and to Him we shall return. O Allah, reward me for my calamity and compensate me with something better than it), but Allah will compensate him with something better.”
“When Abu Salamah died, I said, ‘Who among the Muslims could be better than Abu Salamah, the first household to migrate to the Messenger of Allah?’ Then I said [this dua] and Allah (SWT) compensated me with the Messenger of Allah” (Muslim).
The inspiring narrative ends on a happy note where she is blessed with a new husband in the person of the Prophet (SAW) – a prospect she could never have imagined. He (SAW) was the result of her faith, her patience and her dua at the time of her loss.
As I sat listening, mesmerised, feeling the emotional turmoil Umm Salamah (RA) went through and reflecting on the power of Allah (SWT), I made a silent dua: “Oh Allah, don’t place me in any trial. But if and when you do, for You do as You will, according to Your Wisdom, then guide me to remember You when calamity strikes. Guide me to the Istirjaa. Give me the strength of faith and soundness of mind to pray to you for patience and better compensation at that critical moment.”
“Be sure we shall test you with something of fear and hunger, some loss in goods or lives or the fruits (of your toil)” (Al Baqarah: 155).
Indeed whatever is destined for us, good or bad, comes to pass. One fine day, the unexpected happened. Allah tested me with a severe personal loss. The precise moment the news of my calamity hit my ears, something amazing happened. In a split second, time froze; my mind called a shutdown and numbed all my senses; blocked all stimuli and detached me from my physical environment.
It was as if I was floating outside my body, looking down at the proceeding events.
It was then that I heard my lips murmur “Innaa Lillaahi wa innaa ilayhi raji’oon. Allaahummaa ujurni fi museebati w’ukhluf li khayran minha.” I returned to the scene of reality. Then the gravity of the blow hit me full force. Yes, the sky did seem to fall. The world did spin around me. The earth did tremble under my feet. Darkness momentarily covered my eyes. The heart wrung and bled. The tears flowed in scalding streams. A dark cloak of intense pain and shock muffled me into silence.
But, Subhan Allah, all that happened after the remembrance of Allah. Indeed, my Lord had listened to my dua, made years ago. Indeed it was He (SWT) who guided me to the Istirjaa when I could have easily forgotten it in the midst of my shock and grief. And indeed, Allah is Most Loving and Most Merciful to His servants. Indeed it is His Mercy and blessing that He gave me the patience at the first instance of trial.
The scholars have said that if we are guided to patience and to the words of Istirjaa after a disaster hits us, we should thank Allah for this honour. The Qur’an tells us: “… Give glad tidings to those who patiently persevere” (Al Baqarah: 155). Every time I recall that experience, I’m filled with gratitude.
So, did I get the response to the latter part of my dua? Not yet. But I’m confident and positive that He (SWT) will recompense. Allah is to His servant as His servant imagines Him to be. For He (SWT) has said, ‘Whatever My servant assumes of Me, that is how I will treat him…” (Muslim).