There is a common sentiment that humans feel when a calamity or misfortune strikes -“Why me? Why did this happen to me?” In that moment there is a sudden surge of emotions – confusion, devastation, and fear. But in the face of trials and tribulations, we must be steadfast and remind ourselves of our duty towards Allah, our trust in Him, and our belief that every test is a means to increase our faith and earn the ultimate reward: “Whoever works righteousness, man or woman, and has faith, verily, to them will We give a new Life, a life that is good and pure, and We will bestow on such their reward according to the best of their actions” (Qur’an 16:97).
It is certainly understandable that it helps to be optimistic when extending care to another person.
The Qur’an tells us that the path of belief and righteousness is one that requires strength and fortitude: “And what will explain to you what the steep path is? It is the freeing of one from bondage; or the giving of food in a day of hunger to an orphan, relative, or to the needy in distress. Then will he be of those who believe, enjoin patience and perseverance, and encourage kindness and compassion. Such are the Companions of the Right Hand” (90:12-18). These verses elucidate the importance of good deeds, of kindness, compassion, helping others and caring about other people when they suffer. And the reward promised to those who persevere on the steep path of purifying the heart and building a good character is to be among the”Companions of the Right Hand.” These are the people who will be in gardens of bliss in the Hereafter (see 56:27-40). A fundamental provision for the journey on the steep path is being content with the decree of Allah. This enables us to cope with tough situations in a way that accords with the teachings of the Qur’an and Sunnah. Then, rather than asking “Why me?” we are prompted by our faith to say “Indeed we belong to Allah , and indeed to Him we will return” (Qur’an 2:156).
Even at times when we are facing more minor difficulties, some people fall into a negative mindset, feeling sad, hopeless, or bitter. They are apt to complain about their plight as if they expected every day to be smooth and easy and without challenge. One of the best ways to combat such a mindset which is excessively focused on self and feeling like a victim, is to help others and find ways to ease their burdens. This inevitably puts things in a larger perspective and brings a sense of purpose and fulfillment.
Caring for Others – A Gate to Goodness
Our beloved Prophet (pbuh) demonstrated simple yet exceptionally effective ways to care for others that had a profound effect on the community. Abu Dharr (may Allah be pleased with him) reported that the Prophet (pbuh) said, “Indeed the gates to goodness are many: glorifying God, praising Him, magnifying Him, saying ‘There is no god but Allah,’ enjoining the good and forbidding the wrong, removing [any source of] harm from the road, making the deaf hear [by helping them in things that are obstructed by their deafness], guiding the blind, showing the seeker his need, striving as far as your two legs can carry you and with deep concern to give succor to him who asks, carrying with the strength of your arms [the burdens of] the weak. All these are charity.” And he added, “And your smiling in the face of your brother is charity, your removing of stones, thorns, and bones from people’s paths is charity, and your guiding a man gone astray in the world is charity for you” (Authenticated by Al-Albani).
We want to enter the “gate of goodness” and how simple is it to remove impediments from people’s paths? Wintertime is a great opportunity to shovel for neighbors especially the elderly. We can help by running errands for the those who are old or frail or sick. And certainly we can smile often, spreading an upbeat attitude and good cheer.. All these and countless other acts are doable and they are opportunities to earn Jannah-the ultimate reward.
With respect to neighbors, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) preached and practiced exemplary caring behavior. Ibn Umar and Aishah (may Allah be pleased with them) reported: “The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) said, “Jibril kept recommending treating neighbors with kindness until I thought he would assign a share of inheritance [to them]” (Bukhari and Muslim). Abu Dharr (may Allah be pleased with him) reported: “The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) commanded me thus, ‘O Abu Dharr! Whenever you prepare a broth, put plenty of water in it, and give some of it to your neighbors’” (Muslim).
Aishah (may Allah be pleased with her) reported: “I said, ‘O Messenger of Allah (pbuh), I have two neighbors. To which of them should I send a present?’ He replied, ‘To the one whose door is nearer to you’” (Bukhari). Abdullah bin `Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) reported: “The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) said, ‘The best of companions with Allah is the one who is best to his companions, and the best of neighbors to Allah is the one who is the best of them to his neighbor’”(Tirmidhi).
Altruism, Optimism, and Patience – Essential Traits
Islam teaches us to cultivate altruism, to have unselfish caring for the welfare of others. The Prophet (pbuh) said: “No one of you [truly] believes until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself” (Bukhari and Muslim). He also said: ”The most beloved of people to Allah is he who brings most benefit [to others], and the most beloved of deeds according to Allah SWT is that you bring happiness to a fellow Muslim …” (Al-Tabarani). A quintessential example of altruistic behavior is that of the Ansar, the people of Madina who welcomed and hosted the Muslims from Makkah (“ansar” means “helpers”). Abu Hurayra narrated (may Allah be pleased with him): “The Ansar were so generous that they said to the Prophet, ‘Please divide the date-palm trees between us and them (with the Muhajirin or the emigrants from Makkah).’ The Prophet (pbuh) said, ‘No.’ The Ansar said, ‘Let them do the labor for us in the gardens and share the date-fruits with us.’ The Emigrants said, ‘We accepted this’ [as they did not want things for free]” (Bukhari). Such was the extent of the altruistic attitude and behavior of the Ansar and the mutual love and caring that grew between the Ansar and Muhajirin.
It is clear that Islam enjoins upon us to be caring about others and help them in any way we can. In addition to a foundation of altruism, another trait that is essential when we endeavor to help others is optimism. Knowing that the one in need is likely to be under duress and feeling burdened, interacting with him or her with an optimistic attitude is beneficial. Of course one must take into account the seriousness of the difficulty they are facing and not overdo the optimism. Otherwise it could backfire and come across as inappropriate and insensitive. But maintaining a demeanor that is calm, hopeful, and encouraging – all aspects of optimism – is certainly beneficial. Keep in mind that optimism is contagious and research shows that people who are optimistic lead happier and healthier lives.
There is another interesting point about optimism. It is certainly understandable that it helps to be optimistic when extending care to another person. However, optimism comes full circle because when a person helps another in need, he comes to more appreciate the countless blessings of Allah (swt) bestowed upon himself, thus augmenting his already positive, optimistic outlook. And his state of gratefulness only increases his blessings. The Qur’an states: “If you are grateful, I will certainly give you more …” (14:7).
Another essential trait to cultivate in order to empathically and attentively extend help and care to others is patience. In the verses mentioned above about the “steep path” (90:12-17), helping one’s own relative or the orphan or the needy is associated with sabr, which is patience and perseverance.
The Qur’an also states: “Seek Allah’s help with patient perseverance and prayer. It is indeed hard except for those who are humble” (2:45). What is noteworthy here is that Allah points out to us that it is hard to be patient and alerts us to the reality that only through humbleness might we be patient and inclined to supplicating Him for help. This makes sense that humbleness yields patience, both of which are necessary and predispose a person to expend of time and resources to help others. Those who are arrogant, impatient, and intolerant are not likely to feel compelled to help those in need.
Array of Benefits and Blessings by Caring for Others
What we can see is that caring for others, in addition to supporting the welfare and well-being of others, provides a wide array of benefits and blessings for ourselves. It is an antidote to feeling sad, hopeless, or bitter. Rather than complaining about our own difficulties or setbacks, we can take action by first resolving as best we can our personal challenges and then leaving it up to Allah (swt) to take care of the rest. Then we can offer some of our time and energy and resources to help others. We’ve also seen that caring for others is a gateway to goodness and an opportunity to earn Jannah. And finally, we see that the duty to care about and help others as ordained by Allah (swt) requires us to cultivate altruism, optimism, and patience – all indispensable traits for those who navigate the steep path of purifying the heart and building a good character. Each day is a new journey, an opportunity to seek the pleasure of Allah (swt) by performing heartfelt acts of kindness and caring.