The following is an extract from my new e-book Coping with Suffering.
Sabr is an Arabic word that means ‘perseverance’ and ‘persistence’. The believer should exercise sabr in order to remain spiritually steadfast and to keep doing good actions in the personal as well as social domains. Sabr is all the more significant while dealing with problems and setbacks. Sabr is essential for the alleviation of suffering.
The Quran promises a double reward to those who practise sabr in the face of difficulties and challenges. Nothing happens without Allah’s knowledge. If you are going through a phase of suffering Allah knows that and He has willed it thus. You should not question His will. Everything that is happening is part of His divine plan. You may not understand it.
Even the prophets did not have it easy. They endured trials and tribulations. Prophet Yusuf (biblical Joseph) was thrown into a well as a boy by his brothers. Prophet Yunus (biblical Jonah) had to live in the belly of a whale for three days. If the prophets of Allah were thus tested, what about the ordinary mortals?
We are weak creatures who easily fall prey to temptations. Therefore we need to fight a constant war, jihad, against the temptations. That is how we sustain a world of peace and goodness where suffering will not have a place. Jihad is of three different types:
· A believer’s internal struggle to live out the Muslim faith as best as possible
· The struggle to build a good Muslim society
· Holy war: the struggle to defend Islam, with force if necessary
The struggle to make oneself and the community living in harmony with the divine order would create a kind of paradise on earth. It is the duty of every Muslim to create a just and equitable society where the poor and the vulnerable are taken care of. Prophet Mohammad had a socialist vision. The believers were encouraged to share their wealth for the welfare of the whole community. Contributing to the society [zakat] accompanied by prayer [salat] represent two of the five essential ‘pillars’ or practices of Islam.
The Quran and the Muslim traditions offer explicitly clear guidelines for the believers to form an ideal society. Duties to parents, neighbours, relatives, sick people, the old, and minorities are all well-defined. It is a religious obligation to respect and obey your parents and take care of them, especially in their old age. Even duties towards other relatives, neighbours and orphan children are specified.
A utopian society where suffering would be minimal was what the Prophet envisaged. There was equality of the sexes too in it. Islam is often seen today as a misogynistic religion. The perception is not without reasons either. Islam has undergone many undesirable changes. A religion which sought to create a paradise on earth has ended up creating hells almost all over the world. A religion of peace has become a religion of terrorism. A religion of joy has become a religion of suffering.
Far from being a misogynist, Prophet Mohammad advocated women’s rights. The Quran strictly forbade the killing of female children and rebuked the Arabs for their dismay when a girl was born. It also gave women legal rights of inheritance and divorce. In that regard, Islam was ahead of most other religions. Mohammad encouraged women to play an active role in the affairs of the community. They were free to speak out their opinions and were listened to respectfully. Even the hijab is a later addition.
In short, Islam was a progressive religion in its early days. It had a great vision. Its greeting, ‘Salam alaykum’ [Peace be with you] was an invitation to universal fraternity. It was an invitation to a possibility of a better world, a joyful world, that would eventually lead us all to a more joyful heaven.
It is a tragic pity that this great vision of a joyful existence has been reduced to its exact opposite today. It is a historic irony that a religion which was to be an oasis of peace and joy in a desert of strife and tears has become a major source of suffering in the world.
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