I asked Allah why I wasn’t rich. He showed me a man with the wealth of a thousand kings, Who was lonely, and had no one to share it with. I asked Allah why I wasn’t beautiful. He showed me a woman more beautiful than any other, Who was ugly because of her vanity? I asked Allah why He’d allowed me to become old. He showed me a boy of 16, who lay dead at the scene of a car accident. I asked Allah why I didn’t have a bigger house. He showed me a family of six, who had just been evicted from their tiny shack, And were forced, to live on the street. I asked Allah why I had to work. He showed me a man, who couldn’t find a decent job, Because he’d never learned to read. I asked Allah why I wasn’t more popular. He showed me a socialite with a thousand friends, Who all left the moment the money and parties were no longer there. I asked Allah why I wasn’t smarter. He showed me a natural born genius, Serving life in prison for making ill use of his knowledge. I asked Allah why He put up with a thankless sinner like me. He showed me THE QURAAN. I knew then how much He loved me.
Allāh has kept it no secret: as long as man lives, he shall not be left alone.
Tests from all corners of life will be thrown at him in order to uncover his essence and exhibit his core. Indeed, how many a times has one assumed to know another before the latter is tested? The one we had assumed was generous, brave, and wise turns out to be a lowly, selfish and cowardly miser. Conversely, how many times have our eyes looked beyond certain individuals whose voices are not heard and whose deeds are not particularly spectacular, only to be awe-struck by them during testing times when they exhibit unfettered generosity, lion-like bravery, and mountain-like steadfastness?
All things have been created with purpose. Paradise for pleasure, Hell for suffering, and the life of today for tests. Allāh said:
“Never have We sent a Prophet to a place without testing its people with adversity and hardship so that they may humble themselves.”
The reality, however, is a bitter one. Not everyone humbles themselves in repentance after tests. Indeed, a select minority does, but the reactions of the rest of humanity vary immensely – not only in the face of difficulties, but also during times of ease. It really is a fascinating observation, one that is particularly relevant in light of the current global pandemic that has not spared a single household from its grip.
Broadly, there are four distinct categories of people in times of ease and hardship. Which of the four do you fit in? Measure yourself against the following:
The first category: Those who turn to Allāh during times of ease and ignore Him during times of difficulty
Speaking about this category of people, Allāh said:
“And of the people is he who worships Allāh on an edge; if he is touched by good, he is reassured by it, but if he is struck by trial, he turns on his face [to unbelief]. He has lost [this] world and the Hereafter. That is the clearest loss.”
For this category of people, their commitment to Islam only lasts as far as they live a life of wellbeing and prosperity. Should a challenge interrupt their routine, they are the quickest to drop it all, turning to anything for relief, whether it is an ex-partner, pornography, drugs, abandonment of salāh – anything but Allāh. In fact, the reason for revelation of the verse above is a telling one.
A Jewish man once said to the Prophet Mohammad (sall Allāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam):
أدع لي ربك ان يرزقني مالا وإبلا وخيلا وولدا حتى أؤمن بك
“Call upon your Lord to give me wealth, camels, horses, and children so that I believe in you.”
The Prophet (sall Allāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) did so, and Allāh granted this man his requests, after which he embraced Islam. However, Allāh had wished to test him. These blessings were soon taken away from him, and so the man left Islam. Allāh then revealed the verse above.
Ibn ‘Abbās said:
كان الرجل يقدم المدينة فان ولدت امرأته غلاماً أو نتجت خيله قال: هذا دينٌ صالح وان لم تلد امرأته ولم تنتج خيله قال : هذا دين سوء
“There were some who would arrive at Madina. If their wives gave birth to children and their camels produced calves, they would say, ‘This is a righteous religion.’ However, if their wives and camels failed to reproduce, they would say, ‘This is an evil religion.’”
This category of people is common and include:
– A spouse who remains faithful so long as their spouse is, too, faithful. Should unfaithfulness happen, however, the other spouse takes the first opportunity for vengeance by doing the same so that they “get a feel” of what they felt. All along, their chastity was not for Allāh – it was conditional upon a worldly gain. Hence, when that gain disappeared, they let themselves go.
– A sister whose hijāb is pristine and salāh on time so long as her marital life is in place. However, should her marriage end in divorce, her religious life is cast aside, her salāh is dismissed, and the hijāb becomes no more. All of it was conditional on her marriage.
– A Muslim (revert or otherwise) whose commitment to Islam is on point so long as parents or friends do not turn against them. Should that happen, they show no hesitation in shelving Islam both inwardly and outwardly.
The religiosity of this category of people is conditional; steadfastness upon Islam as long as they enjoy a relatively problem-free life. Any obstacles along the way sees them opt out of the religion (or at least many parts of it) in no time.
The second category:Those who turn to Allāh during times of difficulty and ignore Him during times of ease
This group has arguably received the most attention from the Qur’ān. For this category, so long as they are fit, well, and prosperous, Allāh does not appear in their conversations or decisions. It takes a seismic adversity to send them back to Allāh in desperation.
“Whenever adversity touches the human being, he prays to Us, reclining on his side, or sitting, or standing. But when We have relieved his adversity from him, he goes away as though he had never called on Us for trouble that had afflicted him.”
“When We provide comfort for the human being, he withdraws and distances himself, but when adversity befalls him, he starts lengthy prayers.”
When the situation is dire – upcoming exams, plummeting investments, crumbling relationships, worrying medical diagnoses – this category of people will rediscover Allāh. When that dark cloud begins to pass, and when safety and relief erase fear and grief, the previously intense du’ā, punctual salāh, and distancing from sins bid the person farewell.
The arrogance of this category and their utter ingratitude to their Lord is beyond measure. The most famous example is that of the Pharaoh of Egypt, who spent a lifetime crushing his people and calling to the deification of himself. During his hour of need as he drowned, he finally turned to Allāh in desperation, saying:
“I believe that there is no god except the One the Children of Israel believe in, and I am of those who submit!”
The angels heard this late plea of his, and Jibrīl would descend not as a saviour but to thrust the sea sand into the Pharaoh’s mouth, fearing that Allāh’s mercy would descend upon the Pharaoh. It would not, and the Pharaoh’s pleas were rejected:
“Now? When you have rebelled before and had been of the mischief-makers? Today We will preserve your body [corpse] so that you become a sign for those after you. Most people are heedless of Our signs.”
Allāh does not punish from the very first slip. Chances are given, reminders are sent, sins are veiled, and punishment is compassionately delayed repeatedly. Nothing will snap a person into realisation and a penitent retreat more than a devastating calamity.
A thief was presented to ‘Umar (rady Allāhu ‘anhu). Shortly before his hand was amputated, the thief yelled: “Woe to me! This was my first time stealing!” to which ‘Umar responded:
ﻛﺬﺑﺖ ﻭﺭﺏ ﻋﻤﺮ، ﻣﺎ ﺃﺳﻠﻢ اﻟﻠﻪ ﻋﺒﺪا ﻋﻨﺪ ﺃﻭﻝ ﺫﻧﺐ
“I swear by my Lord, you speak a lie! Allāh would never punish a person following his very first sin.”
Shame on man for needing devastating events to bring him back to his senses. A major illness which deprives him for sleep, forcing him back to the prayer mat five times a day, or crippling anxiety which forces him to accept the wrong of his alcohol, drugs, or interest-based business.
Shame on man for only rediscovering passionate du’ā, dhikr, and the Qur’ān following threats of being exposed for illicit behaviour.
Shame on man for needing his wife to walk away from him irreparably for being unfaithful, forcing him to realise the blessing that he once had at home all along.
Shame on man for needing calamities to corner Him into thanking Allāh and forcing him to appreciate His blessings.
If you are feeling healthy, safe from harm, and veiled from shame at this moment, then take the hint: remove yourself from this second category of people and be of those who glorify Allāh in all circumstances, not just when you are lost for options.
The third category: Those who ignore Allāh during both times of ease and hardship
For this category of people, nothing brings about Allāh’s remembrance. Prosperity is simply “luck”, whilst adversity is mere “misfortune”. These people will give it any description as long as it does not involve Allāh.
Speaking about this group – the worst of the four – Allāh said:
“Indeed, mankind was created anxious: impatient when touched with evil, and withholding when touched with good”
Regardless of which way they take, their flame of imān remains blown out. Their ears, eyes, and hearts have been firmly sealed. Even if every circumstance changes, they will not.
Consider the late Christopher Hitchens, who lived his life as an anti-theist arguing a case against God. His diagnosis of cancer towards the latter part of his life did not cause a shift in his position. Hitchens maintained his devout atheism until the very end, and insisting: “No evidence or argument has yet been presented which would change my mind. But I like surprises.”
Consider Abu Jahl, described by the Prophet (sall Allāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) as the ‘Pharaoh of this nation’. Abu Jahl led military campaigns against the Muslims, personally seeing to the persecution of believing men and women. Abu Jahl took charge of the defamation of the Prophet (sall Allāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) and the Muslims. This was his hallmark during his time of ease, which extended until his very last moments as he bled to death at the Battle of Badr. His Godlessness did not change.
After the Battle of Badr, ‘Abdullah Ibn Mas’ūd saw Abu Jahl lying on the ground, taking his final breaths. He placed his foot over his neck – surely a humbling experience one would have thought – to which Abu Jahl muttered:
“You have ascended a mighty mount, you pathetic shepherd.”
This is an accurate depiction of what this third category of people are all about: blind during times of ease and heedless during times of difficulty.
The fourth category:Those who turn to Allāh during times of ease and difficulty
These are the very finest of human beings – the saints of Islam and the truest allies of Allāh. They are clearly identifiable and together share the same characteristics:
They interpret every experience of life, both the happy and miserable, as a test
They recognise that the entire spectrum – from extreme hardship to extreme ease and all that is in between – is a test from Allāh. They make sure to announce this at their every experience.
Take the example of Prophet Sulaymān. Seeing the power that Allāh had endowed him, where Jinn competed to serve him and deliver the thrones of kings to him from continent to continent, Prophet Sulaymān proclaimed:
“This is from the favour of my Lord to test me whether I will be grateful or ungrateful.”
They are fully aware that the greatest guarantor of blessings is gratitude
The equation, as far as they are concerned, is very clear: the greater the gratitude, the greater the preservation of blessings.
This is why Prophet Sulaymān would become intensely grateful before Allāh at the remembrance of any blessing, knowing that this is the fuel needed for the continuity of such blessings. On one such day, it occurred to him just how gifted he had been to hear and understand the language of ants, so he said:
“My Lord, inspire me to be thankful for Your favours which You have blessed me and my parents with, and to do good deeds that please you. Admit me, by Your mercy, into the company of Your righteous servants.”
In the dawn of every blessing that renews itself in the lives of this blessed category of people – when he sees his children running around playfully and healthily, or when his wife calls him to say “hurry, the food is getting cold!”, dinner, or when he cleans himself after using the bathroom in a dignified fashion without needing help, or when he puts food into his mouth without the need of pipes and needles – their hearts are quick to submit in sincere gratitude to Allāh. The words of Prophet Sulaymān above are repeated, as are those by the Prophet Muhammad (sall Allāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam):
“O Allāh, I seek refuge in You from the decline of Your blessings, the removal of Your safety, the sudden onset of Your punishment, and from all that displeases You.”
They recognise that their good deeds today are stored for the rainy days to come.
The Qur’ān has given us two examples of people who experienced a calamity by way of the sea. The first is the Pharaoh of Egypt, and the second is Prophet Yūnus (‘alayhi al-Salām). Both suffered in similar ways and both begged from the same God for help. However, their outcomes were the polar opposite: one was drowned to death, whilst the other was saved. The reason for this is simple: during their times of ease, they were two very different people.
The du’ā of the Pharaoh was rejected and Allāh said to him: “Now? And you had disobeyed before and were of the corrupters?”
On the other hand, the du’ā of Prophet Yūnus was answered, and Allāh said: “And thus we save the believers.”
Prophet Yūnus was righteous, penitent, and hardworking before his trial, so when it arrived, it was quick to depart. Allāh said about Prophet Yūnus:
“And had he not been of those who glorified Allāh, He would have remained inside its belly [i.e. of the whale] until the Day of Resurrection.”
Commenting on this, Qatāda said:
كان كثير الصَّلاةِ في الرّخاء، فنجَّاه الله بذلك; قال: وقد كان يقال في الحكمة: إن العمل الصالح يرفع صاحبه إذا ما عَثَر، فإذا صُرع وجد متكئا
“He [Prophet Yūnus] would pray abundantly during times of ease, and so Allāh saved him through that. It used to be said: ‘Good deeds carry a person when he slips, but should he fall, he will find something to lean on.’”
Thus, when the trial of Prophet Yūnus eventually arrived, its effects were lessened and its end was relief.
The exact same can be said about the famous story of the three men who retreated to a cave from the torrential rain. The three men then became trapped by a falling boulder that sealed the entrance of the cave. Screaming for help was pointless, crying would not avail them, and their arms were no match for the mighty rock before them. This calamity could not have been any darker.
There, the three men discussed what to do and unanimously agreed that their escape can only be through one method: du’ā that includes the mention of a good deed that they had performed solely for Allāh’s pleasure during their times of ease. So, they began:
The first man, in du’ā, relayed a time when he gave preference to his parents over his children when it came to providing them their daily milk. The second man relayed a moment when he walked away from fornication in the nick of time. The third man relayed an awe-inspiring moment of honesty in a business matter. No sooner had they completed their du’ā than the rock shifted from its place and they were set free. Their investment in doing good deeds during times of ease saved them in their darkest hour of need.
In summary, this fourth category of people refuse to allow calamities – whether it is the current pandemic or otherwise – to mark the beginning of their relationship with Allāh, punctual salāh, and repentance. Instead, they lead lives of hardwork, patience, gratitude, and steadfastness around the clock and across borders, inspired by the guidance of the Prophet Muhammad (sall Allāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) who said:
The Path to Progress عن عبد الله بن عمرو قال: سمعت رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم يقول: خصلتان من كانتا فيه كتبه الله شاكرا صابرا ومن لم تكونا فيه لم يكتبه الله شاكرا ولا صابرا من نظر في دينه إلى من هو فوقه فاقتدى به ونظر في دنياه إلى من هو دونه فحمد الله على ما فضله به عليه كتبه الله شاكرا وصابرا ومن نظر في دينه إلى من هو دونه ونظر في دنياه إلى من هو فوقه فأسف على ما فاته منه لم يكتبه الله شاكرا ولا صابرا (سنن الترمذي الرقم: 2512)
Hazrat Abdullah bin Amr (radhiyallahu ‘anhuma) reports, “I heard Rasulullah (sallallahu ‘alaihi wasallam) mention the following:
Two qualities are such that if one possesses them, Allah Ta‘ala will record him as a shaakir (one who is grateful) and a saabir (one who is patienct), and the one who does not possess these two qualities, Allah Ta‘ala will not record him as a shaakir nor a saabir. The person who looks at those who are higher than him in his deen (i.e. deeni progress) and follows them, and he looks at those who are lower than him in his worldly matters (i.e. worldly progress) and praises Allah Ta‘ala for the favors He (Allah Ta‘ala) has blessed him with over those people, then Allah Ta‘ala will record him as a shaakir and a saabir. And the person who looks at those who are lower than him in his deen (deeni progress), and he looks at those who are higher than him in his dunya (worldly progress), and feels grieved over those things of the dunya that he does not possess, then Allah Ta‘ala will not record him as a shaakir nor a saabir.”
Black Friday is the sacred festival of one of the world’s fastest and most aggressively spread new religions.
This religion has its holy places, its towering shopping cathedrals lit with decorations and promises of salvation. This religion has its rituals, its recurring pilgrimages, its devout followers engaged literally in qiyām al-layl as they queue throughout the long hours of the night while the “heedless” are asleep.
This religion has its underlying ideology, political philosophy and supernatural organising principles; unseen forces that its priesthood refer to as “The Invisible Hand” of the all-encompassing Market doctrines.
Perhaps the most successful feat of this new religion is that it has gone under the radar, with its underlying ideologies enjoying the mask of invisibility whilst an increasing proportion of the world’s children are indoctrinated with its baseless, speculative beliefs masquerading as universal truths.
I would love to say that during that time Muslims fulfilled their duty to lead humanity and champion prophetic guidance on the matter, offering humanity once again the formula for centuries of sustained success in this world and more importantly the next. However the truth is that many Muslims are not shielded from the tentacles of this new religion and its influences, ranging from subtle to extraordinarily violent.
This new religion has been described with various, overlapping names and features, including neoliberalism, materialism, consumerism, capitalism, and more, each giving its own unique perspective to the modern malaise, which is in its essence an unhealthy attachment to the material, fleeting gratifications of this dunyā placed here to test us.
“Indeed, We have made that which is on the earth adornment for it that We may test them [as to] which of them is best in deed.
And indeed, We will make that which is upon it [into] a barren ground.”
We buy things we don’t need with money we don’t have.
This new religion has successfully transformed us from a needs-based society to a wants-based society. Gone are the days where we would ask ourselves (or perhaps our parents would ask us), “Do you need this?” Now this seems to be an irrelevance. What we concern ourselves now with is: “Do you want this? Because that is what matters now. The fleeting desires that were once subject to great regulation and subjugation by every wisdom tradition the world has produced, now reign supreme, over-feeding the once distrusted ego to now become a worshipped deity, even to the point of defining new categories for human beings to be forced into.
“Have you seen the one who takes as his god his own desire? Then would you be responsible for him? Or do you think that most of them hear or reason? They are not except like livestock. Rather, they are [even] more astray in [their] way.” 
This new religion has also successfully changed how many of us assign value to each other. A person is rarely weighed by how well they serve their fellow creatures, or other virtues such as sacrifice, patience, perseverance, mercy, humility; rather a person is judged by how faithfully they serve the hyper production-consumption cycle. How economically active are they? What defines you is what you ARE; what you do for a living.
How better is this proven than the fact that we look down upon a woman who makes it her life’s project to nurture her own children’s spiritual, emotional, intellectual and physical purification and growth, as somehow not using her potential; someone “economically inactive”. On the other hand, if she “works” to look after someone else’s children (let alone fattening the bottom line of some earth-polluting corporation), then that is another story. That is a “liberated”, “empowered” woman.
This religion has created an epidemic of mental health illnesses, with 1 in 4 young women—no doubt already exhausted from being objectified for profit for decades—suffering a mental health problem. That very same demographic happens to be disproportionately disposed to, when anxious or depressed, turning to social media; whose entire business model is doing whatever it takes to increase “time spent on site” for selling advertising against.
This new religion has also been credited with the epidemic in loneliness we seem to be leading in. Being indoctrinated from school age to view our fellow human beings as competitors for scarce resources (the defining characteristic of human relations, according to neoliberalism’s ʿaqīda) has turned us against each other, atomising an ultrasocial, communitarian species, winning us in particular the accolade of “loneliness capital of Europe” in what is definitely one of the most depressing competitions in the world. We should not forget Hannah Arendt’s warning that atomisation of the people is a key ingredient for imperial domination and totalitarianism. All of this is not even to mention this new religion’s holy wars and imperialism that continue to ravage much of the world today, as its penitent renegades have warned us.
The preventions and cures that divine guidance give us are multiple and for different echelons. Like any meaningful change it requires both macro level systemic struggles and micro level individual struggles. As for breaking out of the perpetual subjugation of the cycles of hyper consumption at the heart of this religion, then one of our greatest weapons as individuals is shukr.
Approaching the world, each other, our resources, our possessions, our wealth—and Black Friday—through the lens of gratitude and thankfulness, allows us to break free of the spell.
“And He gave you from all you asked of Him. And if you should count the favours of Allāh, you could not enumerate them. Indeed, mankind is [generally] most unjust and ungrateful.”
Being grateful to Allāh gives us the inner contentment that anyone chasing the material is seeking. As the early Muslims would say, “Contentment is a treasure that never depletes,” and “Had the princes known what was in our hearts they would raise their swords against us for it”.
Why is it that many people staying in 5 star hotels, driving luxury cars and eating expensive meals are not happy? They are doing everything that this new religion is telling them should bring them success, but they complain, they focus on negative aspects of those luxuries, or they stay in a state of fear of damaging or losing them. Why is it that another person may enjoy—even materially considering the release of hormones and other neurotransmitters associated with pleasure—a simple piece of bread to a greater extent than the person at the Michelin star restaurant?
The secret is shukr and contentment.
It is not harām to buy nice or even expensive things. “Indeed Allāh is beautiful and loves beauty.” But where do those things fit in our hearts? Do they dominate our attention? Do we spend hours on end researching the latest trends and gadgets to the extent that they distract us even during our personal conversations with Allāh? Or do we, deep down, want to fill in a gap, a void that was left behind because we were not truly grateful of the last blessing that we had?
“And [remember] when your Lord proclaimed, ‘If you are grateful, I will surely increase you [in favour]; but if you deny, indeed, My punishment is severe.’”
Some scholars explained that the “increase” Allāh mentioned in the āyah above is in the sense of the blessing and enjoyment of that particular favour. It could be that those who fail to find contentment and pleasure in an expensive meal fell short in their shukr for the favours upon them; whilst the one who enjoyed a simple meal was given the ability to enjoy that favour due to their shukr. In fact, even the ability to enjoy a favour is a separate favour itself!
All it takes is a change of perspective from within us, to look at our year-old smartphones with a grateful gaze, to appreciate them instead of automatically look for the latest model. All it takes is to stay hungry for a few hours to appreciate the deliciousness of a simple piece of bread dipped in humous or olive oil. Let us remember this when we are bombarded by the flashing images all around us, telling us to spend money we don’t have on things we probably don’t need.
This weekend, when you are about to buy something, think to yourself: do I need this or do I want this? It is of course permissible to buy things you want, but think twice and reflect on why you think you need it. Think about the pleasure that would come to you (on a Day you would need it more) if you spent the same amount of money on one of the many brothers and sisters in great need this weekend. And whatever you do, whatever you buy, and whatever you choose not to buy, remember to be grateful and show shukr to Allāh by your tongue and by your limbs, by using those favours for to draw closer to Allāh.