When I was in the hospital laboring with the hardships of having my first child, the discomfort of the contractions was so great at times that it was nearly impossible to see past the pain. In fact, there was no escape from the tortuous grip of labor pains, and the ordeal off and on felt more like a punishment than anything positive. Yet, in the back of my mind, I tried to remind myself that insha’Allah it would all be worth it once my wonderful “bundle of joy” was born. Then during a quieter time of my labor experience, I had a visit from family friends. They had some interesting advice: they suggested that during the moments of intense pain, I should continuously say “alhamdulillah” and remind myself to be grateful. I smiled at their advice, but found it very odd—I was confronted for the first time with this interesting question: Is thankfulness an appropriate reaction to hardship?
Prophet (pbuh) said, “Whoever loses a loved one from the people of this world and then seeks recompense with his Lord, will be compensated with Paradise.
I decided to take their advice, and during and between painful contractions I uttered the words “alhamdullilah.” Finally, the moment arrived and my first child was born. I was understandably overcome by immense feelings of relief and gratitude, not only for the blessed gift of the new child, but also that the ordeal of labor and the previous nine months of pregnancy were finally a thing of the past. During my labor experience I didn’t fully grasp the concept of being grateful in the face of hardship. However, after a great deal of reflection and examination of the issue, I came to discover many positive benefits of feeling gratitude even in the midst of life’s greatest trials, tribulations, and challenges.
Struggles and hardships are universal human experiences, and all of us have been faced by the dilemma of how to respond to such difficulties when they strike. We can all be somewhat comforted by the fundamental fact that misfortunes and adversities are a natural part of life. After all, a perfect life without hardships and tribulations sounds more like Paradise than life on earth. Obviously this “dream life” of perfection is not meant for this world —but is certainly promised to the righteous in the next life. Allah (SWT) says in the Quran, “Or do you think that you will enter Paradise without such [trials] as came to those who passed away before you? They were afflicted with suffering and adversity and were so shaken in spirit that even the Messenger and those of faith who were with him cried: ‘When will the help of Allah come? ’Ah! Verily, the help of Allah is always near” (Qur’an 2:214).
Although hardships by definition are experiences we would naturally prefer to avoid, they can bring with them positive change, unexpected blessings, and an opportunity for developing a stronger level of faith. Unless we realize the importance of practicing gratitude in every circumstance of daily living, the perpetual ups and downs of life can lead us to ingratitude. Allah (SWT) says in the Quran: “If you become ungrateful, then [know that] indeed Allah is independent of you; and He does not like the ungratefulness of His servants; and if you give thanks, He is pleased with you; and no burdened soul will bear another soul’s burden; then to your Lord is your return; and He will tell you the truth of what you used to do. Verily, He knows what lies within the hearts” (Al Zumar 39:7).
To practice gratitude at all times, it is helpful to realize that everything good we have in our life is from Allah (SWT), and we could never enumerate all the blessings He has bestowed on us. It also helps to explore additional motivations that can inspire us in our practice of gratitude during the various trials and tribulations in our lives.
Gratefulness for the Relief Promised to Us
To begin with, we can feel grateful that the pain of whatever hardship has struck us will not last forever, and Allah does not burden us with any difficulty beyond what we can handle. This is a beautiful gift to us from Allah (SWT), worthy of sincere thankfulness. Allah says in the Quran: “Allah puts no burdens on any person beyond what He has given him. After a difficulty, Allah will soon grant relief ” (65:7). And in another verse Allah(SWT) says, “So verily with every hardship there is relief” (94:5). Any promise made to us by Allah(SWT) is a guarantee. We can have peace of mind in the knowledge that most hardships are temporary, and relief is soon to follow. For that we should be grateful.
Opportunity to Come Closer to Allah (SWT)
When we are tested by a difficulty, often our first reaction is to turn to Allah for help. Whatever our spiritual state and level of faith prior to the hardship, the adversity itself has shown us how much we are in need of Allah (SWT), and the act of turning to Him through sincere prayer and du’a of yearning for His help brings us closer to Him, increases our faith, and grants us the blessings that come from increased worship. This is one of the purposes of hardship. Allah says in the Quran: “And We have sundered them in the earth as [separate] nations. Some of them are righteous, and some far from that. And We have tried them with prosperity and adversity in order that they might return” (Al-A’raf 7: 168).
Another benefit of remembering Allah is that a distressed person can find peace. Allah says: “Verily in the remembrance of Allah, hearts find rest” (13: 28).Our Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was so exemplary in his turning to and worshiping of our Creator. It was narrated that the Prophet (pbuh) used to pray so much that his feet would become swollen, and when he was asked as to why he prays so much, he said, “Shall I not be a thankful servant (to Allah)?” (Bukhari).
Opportunity to Become More Humble
In our busy lives, it is easy to become forgetful of Allah (SWT) and start to look at our success as “self- made.” It is easy to fall into denial that it is Allah (SWT) who granted us the intellect and will to strive and achieve; and it is by His leave that we have been accorded opportunities, accomplishments, and successes. Allah says in the Quran: “And whatever of blessings and good things you have, it is from Allah” (al-Nahl 16:53).Yet we can deceive ourselves and lose our humbleness bit by bit, sliding ever more into arrogance. Allah (SWT) cautions us about this: “So when some hardship reaches man, he prays to Us; then later when We bestow a favor upon him, he says, ‘I obtained this only because of some knowledge [I have]’; in fact it is a test, but most of them do not understand” (Al Zumar 39:49).
In another verse, Allah (SWT) indicates that hardship itself is intended to keep the human being humble: “We have sent [Messengers] unto people that were before thee, and We afflicted them with tribulation and adversity, in order that they might grow humble”(Al-An‘am 6:42). Thus, hardship serves as a purification of the soul, helping us to learn and remember that we are not self sufficient, but rather it is Allah (SWT) who has granted us success and blessings, and thus deserves our praise and thanks.
Gratefulness Brings an Increase in Blessings
Perhaps our hardship is a loss of some worldly possession. Or it might be that we lost our job, our business failed, our car was wrecked in an accident, or our home was somehow destroyed. Facing any of these difficulties involves a sense of loss and misfortune. Yet, this is precisely the time to look at all the other blessings that Allah has bestowed on us and thus realize that we can put our loss in a larger perspective and refocus our attention to all the things we still have to be thankful for. Perhaps we lost our job, but we still have health and intelligence and faith, and trust in Allah SWT that when one door closes, others open that can bring us something equal or better to what we lost.
There was a Muslim sister who was feeling a great sense of loss because her marriage had failed. She shared that it was the remembrance of Allah and thankfulness for all the other favors and blessings in her life that helped her to cope with the loss of her relationship. The fact is that we can never count all the blessings given to us by Allah (SWT), and it is precisely during times of loss that we should express gratitude and thanks to Him and acknowledge all the blessings we still have in our lives after the loss. In so doing, we are promised that Allah will increase our bounty. He says: “And [remember] when your Lord proclaimed: ‘If you give thanks, I will give you more; but if you are thankless, verily, My punishment is indeed severe” (Ibraheem 14:7).
Gratitude for the Removal of Sins
Sickness and physical ailments are hardships that every Muslim faces at some point in his or her life and in varying degrees of severity. However, we should always keep in mind that the suffering caused by this, as with all afflictions, can purify us and erase sins. Knowing this can help us to better cope with the distress, and gives us a reason to be grateful for the hardship. In one hadith, a man visited Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) while he was suffering from a high fever. He touched him and said, “Oh Allah’s Apostle! You have a high fever.” Allah’s Apostle (pbuh) said, “Yes, no Muslim is afflicted with harm because of sickness or some other inconvenience, but that Allah will remove his sins as a tree sheds its leaves” (Bukhari). And Aisha (may Allah be pleased with her) reported that the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) said, “For any adversity a Muslim suffers, Allah erases some of his sins, even though it may be no more than a thorn pricking him” (Bukhari).
Blessings of Surrender to Allah’s Decree
One of the greatest challenges to cope with is the death of a loved one. When someone we care about passes away, the best we can hope for is to see them again in the hereafter. So how can we possibly justify feelings of gratitude for such a loss? Well to begin with, we must acknowledge that everything in Allah’s creation belongs to Him and will return to Him. Gratitude in this instance would include being thankful for the time we were able to spend with our loved one during their life. In addition, we can feel grateful they lived a good life, and insha’Allah died in a state of belief.
We can also be appreciative for the opportunity to offer du’a for the loved one that has passed away. It is narrated that the Messenger of Allah said: “When a man’s child dies, Allah, may He be exalted, says to His angels: ‘Have you taken the soul of the child of My servant?’ They say, ‘Yes.’ He then says: ‘What did My servant say?’ They say: ‘He praised You and said inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji’un (verily to Allah we belong and unto Him is our return).’ Allah, may He be glorified and exalted, says: ‘Build a house for My servant in Paradise and call it the house of praise’” (Tirmidhi). In declaring the words “To Allah we belong and to Him we return,” one finds a certain peaceful surrender, trust, and a fundamental gratefulness for one’s belief and faith. It displays the understanding that all of creation belongs to and will return to Allah at the appointed time. In addition to this realization, we can also be grateful for the rewards that come from this surrender to Allah’s decree. After all, is there any greater reward than a home built for us in Paradise? Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said, “Whoever loses a loved one from the people of this world and then seeks recompense with his Lord, will be compensated with Paradise.
Gratitude for the Good We May Not Be Able to See
There are times in our lives when we are faced with a situation that seems negative at first glance, but perhaps has good in it that we only at a later time become aware of. These are situations that may cause us stress at first or even anger, but then later we find that the situation was in fact, a blessing in disguise. I recall a story about a man who was overseas trying to catch an international flight. Unfortunately, he was late by several minutes and the boarding agents had already closed the gate. The man was furious and argued with the boarding agent, demanding to get on the plane. The agent refused and the plane left without him.
The next day the man learned that the flight he had missed crashed, and his life was thus spared. He, of course, now was overtaken with gratitude for being late for the flight and not allowed to board. This is a reminder to us that we should show gratitude in times of hardship, keeping in mind that everything happens for a reason and we are often unable to comprehend the wisdom of Allah. Allah (SWT) says: “…it may be that you dislike a thing which is good for you and that you like a thing that is bad for you. Allah knows but you do not know” (Al-Baqarah2:216). We need to trust in Allah (SWT) and express gratitude for both ease and difficulty in our lives. There are countless blessings that await us when we do so.
Hardships are Sent Because of Allah’s Love for Us
Finally, what if a hardship is sent to us out of Allah’s love for us? Knowing this possibility is all the more reason to be thankful in times of difficulty. Realizing that hardships can bring us closer to Allah SWT, humble us, or even bring us unexpected bounties, and knowing that Allah SWT, in His wisdom, provides times of hardship for our purification and betterment, and that all of that is out of His love for us — that should certainly uplift our perspective on hardships! The Prophet (pbuh) said, “When Allah loves a servant, He tests him” (Tirmidhi). The Prophet (pbuh) also said, “Whoever Allah wishes good for, He inflicts him (with hardship)” (Bukhari). The fact is, this life is about tests —testing of our faith, our character, and our commitment to striving for good. We cannot possibly comprehend the wisdom of Allah (SWT) in every case, or understand the purpose behind every hardship. But we can certainly trust in our Creator and show gratitude, and look for the positive, as well as the opportunity, in any difficulty.
Whenever a difficulty befalls us, we should place our trust in Allah and express gratitude. We should avoid at all costs becoming ungrateful servants, or even worse, failing the test by losing faith, and turning away from Allah (SWT). Allah says, “And of the people is he who worships Allah on an edge. If he is touched by good, he is content; but if he is struck by trial, he turns on his face. He has lost [this] world and the Hereafter. That is the manifest loss” (Al Hajj, 22:11).
Although this life is not a paradise and will always be filled with uncertainties and challenges, losses and sorrows, we can strive to live according to an Islamic principle that elevates us to a higher degree of wisdom and eman — seeking the good in all things. The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) describes this: “How amazing is the affair of the believer; there is good for him in everything. If he experiences something pleasant, he is thankful, and that is good for him; and if he comes across adversity, he is patient, and that is good for him” (Muslim).