Divine Decree, Contentment, and Lessons From the Prophet’s Life
The Divine Decree
One of the central tenets of our faith is belief in the Divine Decree, as established in many Qur’anic verses and prophetic hadiths. Our Beloved Messenger (peace and blessings be upon him) would often stress the importance of conviction in the Divine Decree, both its good and its evil, and according to some narrations, both its sweet and its bitter [Sahih Ibn Hibban].
The nature of this life is tribulation, which can be sweet when testing our gratitude or bitter when testing our patience. Life is not meant to be Paradise, and our outlook therefore is always meant to be directed ahead. “Our abode is in front of us, and our life comes after our death,” said Ibrahim ibn Adham. Even the Messenger himself (peace and blessings be upon him) used to say, “O Allah, there is no life except the life of the hereafter” [Bukhari]. Why is there no life except that of the hereafter? Because true life is one without stress and without the bitter blows of fate, which exists only in Paradise. This life, then, must for sure be bitter at times.
Furthermore, the tests of this life are absolute and fixed, as they were decreed preeternally by Allah Most High. As Imam Tahawi states in his treatise on Islamic creed:
We affirm the existence of the Preserved Tablet, the Pen, and all that has been inscribed in it. If all of creation were to unite in order to eliminate something whose existence had been inscribed in the Tablet based on Allāh’s decree, they would not be able to prevent its existence. Likewise if they were to unite altogether in order to bring into existence that which was inscribed in the Tablet to not exist, they would prove incapable. The [ink of the] Pen has dried with regard to the existence of all that shall exist until the Day of Arising.
Our Beloved Messenger (peace and blessings be upon him) highlighted this tenet when he said, “Know that what does not afflict you could never have afflicted you; and what afflicts you would never have missed you.” He then followed the statement with the remedy for afflictions, “And realize that victory is with patience, relief is with stress, and indeed with difficulty comes ease.” [Nawawi’s 40 Hadith]
Once the believer realizes that he/she has no control or power over the blows of fate, his/her only recourse is to submit to the Divine Decree and strive to actualize a state of total contentment. This is the very essence of our religion, itself named Islam or “submission.” From the Prophetic supplications in this regard is the statement, “I am pleased with Allah as my Lord, with Islam as my religion, and with Muhammad as my Prophet” (peace and blessings be upon him). Our Prophet guaranteed that whoever says this is promised Paradise [Abu Dawud].
رَضِيْتُ بِاللهِ رَبّاً وَبِالإِسْلامِ دِيْناً وَبِمُحَمَّدٍ صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ رَسُوْلاً
One of the most potent means by which one can realize true contentment is sincere supplication (du`a). It is narrated that Ibn Abbas (may Allah be pleased with him) used to say, “O Allah, make me content with what you have provided me, send blessings for me therein, and replace for me every absent thing with something good/better” [Bukhari/Adab al-Mufrad].
اللّهُمَّ قَنِّعْنِيْ بِمَا رَزَقْتَنِيْ ، وَبَارِكْ لِيْ فِيْهِ ، وَاخْلُفْ عَلَى كُلِّ غَائِبَةٍ بِخَيْرٍ
If one holds fast to sincere supplication for something, one should rejoice since the supplication itself is one of the strongest indicators that Allah Most High wants to give that person that thing. One’s asking for contentment is a sign that Allah wants to bestow contentment on that person.
Also, even from a purely worldly perspective, contentment is the greatest remedy for stress, as it is entails an enormous relief. For this reason, our Messenger (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “Hold fast to contentment, for indeed it is wealth that never ends” [Tabarani/Awsat]. People under stress will pay enormous amounts of money to alleviate their pain, whether through pharmaceutical drugs, psychiatric therapy or the like, yet a believer that is content with Allah’s decree finds a greater relief without spending anything – a treasure indeed.
Contentment, then, is the source of true enrichment and honor; it is the way of relaxation and relief in a world designed to disappoint us, so that our true repose is only with the Creator of that world. Contentment is a trait of those who are truly intelligent and chivalrous; it transforms the bitter blows of fate into breezes of Paradise. It is indeed, as one early Imam put it, “a king that resides not except in the heart of a believer.” [Risala Qushayriyya]
From an otherworldly perspective, the fruits of contentment are of course much greater. We cannot fathom the reward that awaits a person of contentment in the next life; it is sufficient for us to know that if we are pleased with Allah, then Allah will be pleased with us.
Divine Wisdom and Good Opinion
Also, one should always remember that nothing exists except that it reflects Allah’s infinite wisdom, for He has called Himself “The All-Wise” (Al-Hakim). There is always the big picture, a larger context that we are unable to perceive with our short-sightedness. Allah Most High is fully aware of how things unfold in the long run, and we must place our trust in Him, fully realizing that there is wisdom in His decisions.
In this regard, our Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) advised us to maintain a good opinion of our Lord, for He Most High states, “I am in the opinion of My servant” [Bukhari]. If we are convinced that Allah is looking out for our best interests when He decrees painful situations, and that He will replace what is lost with something much better for us in both this life and the next, then that is exactly how we will find Him, without a doubt.
A Reflection on the Year of Sadness
On a closing note, one can reflect on the Year of Sadness (`Aam al-Huzn) in the life of our Beloved Messenger (peace and blessings be upon him) and find many lessons therein to help one in one’s own trials. I would just like to mention one aspect that will insha’Allah be a comfort for us in our times of difficulty.
This year was the most difficult year in the Prophet’s life (peace and blessings be upon him); in it, he lost his beloved wife Khadija (may Allah be pleased with her) and his beloved uncle Abu Talib, and he was rejected by the people of Ta’if and violently driven out of their town, all the while being stoned by their children. Yet despite these severe trials, he turned to his Lord and sought only His good pleasure. The very next major event in his life was the blessed Night Journey and Heavenly Ascent (al-isra’ wal-mi`raj), arguably the greatest spiritual experience he had in his blessed life (peace and blessings be upon him). One can appreciate, then, that if we patiently endure our difficulties with contentment in the Divine and seeking His good pleasure, then He will replace those difficulties with our own spiritual “ascents.” This is the secret of tribulation – in it lies the greatest of opportunities for proximity to the Divine, insha’Allah.
And Allah alone gives success.
By: Shaykh Faraz Rabbani