Finding consolation in the Quran when you suffer a big setback
Though the verses of Surat Aal Imran were revealed to the Prophet (peace be upon him) 1400 years ago, when you read them you feel that these verses are speaking to our reality right now.
These verses were addressing the issue of the Battle of Uhud, when the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) had instructed his companions where to stand and what to do during the battle, but they disobeyed him and accordingly they lost because of that disobedience. They suffered many injuries and many fatalities and the Prophet (peace be upon him) was also injured.
Zoom out to the bigger picture
It is the sad aftermath of the battle that these verses address, so it may surprise us that they begin by citing Allah’s favours. One of these is that Allah sent us the Prophet (peace be upon him) and that is the greatest ni’mah – to be given hidayah (guidance) from Allah Almighty through the revelation.
لَقَدۡ مَنَّ ٱللَّهُ عَلَى ٱلۡمُؤۡمِنِينَ إِذۡ بَعَثَ فِيهِمۡ رَسُولٗا مِّنۡ أَنفُسِهِمۡ
يَتۡلُواْ عَلَيۡهِمۡ ءَايَٰتِهِۦ وَيُزَكِّيهِمۡ وَيُعَلِّمُهُمُ ٱلۡكِتَٰبَ
وَٱلۡحِكۡمَةَ وَإِن كَانُواْ مِن قَبۡلُ لَفِي ضَلَٰلٖ مُّبِينٍ
Certainly did Allah confer [great] favour upon the believers when He sent among them a Messenger from themselves, reciting to them His verses and purifying them and teaching them the Book and wisdom, although they had been before in manifest error. (3:164)
The bitterness of defeat
In these verses, Allah Almighty gives guidance on what to do in circumstances where you are struck a blow that sends shockwaves through you and leaves you reeling. Remember that Uhud was the first battle where the Muslims experienced defeat. Prior to this, at Badr they tasted the joy of victory, but at Uhud they tasted the bitterness of defeat. Allah Almighty therefore teaches them in these verses how to cope when you feel devastated by the pain of defeat, the injuries, the broken hearts and shattered morale.
Allah Almighty says that this command from Allah Almighty didn’t happen without a reason and a cause, and that we need to search inside ourselves to find it.
أَوَلَمَّآ أَصَٰبَتۡكُم مُّصِيبَةٞ قَدۡ أَصَبۡتُم مِّثۡلَيۡهَا قُلۡتُمۡ أَنَّىٰ
هَٰذَاۖ قُلۡ هُوَ مِنۡ عِندِ أَنفُسِكُمۡۗ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ عَلَىٰ كُلِّ شَيۡءٖ قَدِيرٞ
Why [is it that] when a [single] disaster struck you [on the day of Uhud], although you had struck [the enemy in the battle of Badr] with one twice as great, you said, “From where is this?” Say, “It is from yourselves.” Indeed, Allah is over all things competent. (3:165)
Allah Almighty is saying that we bring defeat upon ourselves. Had the army followed the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) instructions at Uhud, they would have won. This is a lesson to us not to blame others when we fail. We have to take responsibility for things when they go wrong. We need to underline the words ‘it’s because of you’:
“ هُوَ مِنْ عِندِ أَنفُسِكُمْ “
Allah is saying take personal responsibility. Do not blame others for your failure. Don’t blame your enemies for being strong, rather blame yourself for your weakness. Take your matters in your own hands, and do not rely on anyone else.
In the midst of Uhud and our current situation, hypocrisy and hypocrites become as visible as daylight. Allah is just exposing those who portrayed that were good when in reality they were only wearing masks to conceal the evil within.
Allah Almighty mentioned those who are the fifth column – the ones who spread rumours and undermine any side from within. In Arabic they are called the ‘At-tabour al-khamis’. The troublemakers who spread mischief. The term “fifth column” originated during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s, where nationalist forces claimed they had four columns of soldiers approaching Madrid but had a “fifth column” of supporters within the city itself – the ones who worked secretly against the interests of the larger group to which they appeared to belong. The fifth column will carry out espionage, sabotage and subversion activities to weaken and destabilise the organisation, nation, or community.
Allah Almighty is warning us that we will face such challenges, so we should be careful how we deal with them. Don’t allow them to destroy your morale and make you lose hope. If you look at many leaders in the Muslim world, it fills you with despair, but the Quran is telling us that this is nothing new. The Quran is breathing reality.
ٱلَّذِينَ قَالُواْ لِإِخۡوَٰنِهِمۡ وَقَعَدُواْ لَوۡ أَطَاعُونَا
مَا قُتِلُواْۗ قُلۡ فَٱدۡرَءُواْ عَنۡ أَنفُسِكُمُ ٱلۡمَوۡتَ إِن كُنتُمۡ صَٰدِقِينَ
Those who said about their brothers while sitting [at home], “If they had obeyed us, they would not have been killed.” Say, “Then prevent death from yourselves, if you should be truthful.” (3:166)
وَمَآ أَصَٰبَكُمۡ يَوۡمَ ٱلۡتَقَى ٱلۡجَمۡعَانِ فَبِإِذۡنِ ٱللَّهِ وَلِيَعۡلَمَ ٱلۡمُؤۡمِنِينَ
And what struck you on the day the two armies met was by permission of Allah that He might make evident the [true] believers. (3:167)
وَلِيَعۡلَمَ ٱلَّذِينَ نَافَقُواْۚ وَقِيلَ لَهُمۡ تَعَالَوۡاْ قَٰتِلُواْ فِي سَبِيلِ ٱللَّهِ
أَوِ ٱدۡفَعُواْۖ قَالُواْ لَوۡ نَعۡلَمُ قِتَالٗا لَّٱتَّبَعۡنَٰكُمۡۗ هُمۡ لِلۡكُفۡرِ
يَوۡمَئِذٍ أَقۡرَبُ مِنۡهُمۡ لِلۡإِيمَٰنِۚ يَقُولُونَ بِأَفۡوَٰهِهِم مَّا لَيۡسَ
فِي قُلُوبِهِمۡۚ وَٱللَّهُ أَعۡلَمُ بِمَا يَكۡتُمُونَ
And that He might make evident those who are hypocrites. For it was said to them, “Come, fight in the way of Allah or [at least] defend.” They said, “If we had known [there would be] fighting, we would have followed you.” They were nearer to disbelief that day than to faith, saying with their mouths what was not in their hearts. And Allah is most Knowing of what they conceal – (3:168)
Visually the scene is set with the hypocrites who had stayed back, lounging about as the injured army, their morale at rock bottom, returned home. The army, still licking their wounds, now had to face these hypocrites, who taunted them that had they listened to their advice they would not have suffered.
The statements of the munafiqeen are captured here, as they played a huge role in creating disturbance on the battlefield and off the battlefield. The movers and shakers of disturbance in any community are usually hypocrites. Worse than your obvious enemies are those who stab you in the back from own religion or community, who speak your language and carry your flag.
The Quran instructed the believers to challenge the hypocrites’ claim. If they were so sure they were right, then why they should ‘protect themselves against death’? Death can come at any time, in any place. Nothing can keep death away from you. Any freak incident can cause death, not just being in the battlefield. How did they propose to escape it?
Saying ‘keep death away’ is another way of saying ‘keep the enemy away’ (as the enemy wants to inflict death) and thus believers were told to call on the hypocrites to do more than just talk the talk, and instead put forward their plan of action to keep themselves and the community safe.
Hypocrites specialise in spreading negativity and bringing down people’s morale. While there are some people who always see the good in even the darkest of situations, there are others who seem to have an obsessive compulsive fretfulness. They are the sort, who even in the most uplifting environments, even in the vicinity of the Kaaba, manage to feel troubled.
The Quran is fighting negativity and passivity. Pervasive and damaging, those who do not lift a finger manage to make the loudest noise. Discouraging others, their advice is disheartening: ‘Nothing will change. Your vote won’t count. How can one person make a difference?’
Criticising others without taking any action yourself achieves nothing. We need to be an active ummah, not a reactive ummah. Sadly we have been a reactive ummah for a long time. However, when you are connected to the truth it gives you energy. We should harness this energy and channel it towards good causes.
Flipping your perspective – your losses are overall gains
وَلَا تَحۡسَبَنَّ ٱلَّذِينَ قُتِلُواْ فِي سَبِيلِ ٱللَّهِ
أَمۡوَٰتَۢاۚ بَلۡ أَحۡيَآءٌ عِندَ رَبِّهِمۡ يُرۡزَقُونَ
And never think of those who have been killed in the cause of Allah as dead. Rather, they are alive with their Lord, receiving provision, (3:169)
Allah Almighty also addressed the issue of the shuhada (martyrs) as this was the first time believers experienced a significant loss of life and encountered shuhada for the first time, as they did not have shuhada at Badr. However at Uhud, 70 individuals were martyred, which was a big blow and a shock for the Muslims. 14 of them were Shuhada from the Muslims, 6 from Al Muhajireen and 8 from Al Ansar. In Palestine, they use a special word for people who pass away. They say ‘irtaqa – ارتقى ‘ , they have been elevated to heaven, rather than ‘killed’. This use of language provides a comforting and reassuring perspective.
Those who were martyred for the sake of Allah continue to live in another world.
Their life is a different life from ours. It is in barzakh. The souls of the shuhada (martyrs) go directly to Jannah where they are green birds. Until the Day of Judgement, when their souls will be put into the bodies that the people of Jannah will have.
Rasul Allah (peace be on him) said: Their (shuhada’s) souls are in the crops of green birds, which have lamps hanging from the Throne, and they roam freely wherever they want in Paradise, then they return to those lamps. Their Lord looked down upon them and said: ‘Do you desire anything?’
They said: ‘What could we desire, when we can roam freely wherever we want in Paradise?’ (Muslim)
Alhamdulillah, in Jannah, the shuhada are delighted with what Allah has given them. They are so happy here that there is nothing more that they desire.
فَرِحِينَ بِمَآ ءَاتَىٰهُمُ ٱللَّهُ مِن فَضۡلِهِۦ وَيَسۡتَبۡشِرُونَ بِٱلَّذِينَ
لَمۡ يَلۡحَقُواْ بِهِم مِّنۡ خَلۡفِهِمۡ أَلَّا خَوۡفٌ عَلَيۡهِمۡ وَلَا هُمۡ يَحۡزَنُونَ
Rejoicing in what Allah has bestowed upon them of His bounty, and they receive good tidings about those [to be martyred] after them who have not yet joined them – that there will be no fear concerning them, nor will they grieve. (3:170)
Allah Almighty conveys that while the loss of so many lives is a source of deep pain, He reassures them that those who were martyred are enjoying the delights of Jannah.’ We can see and hear this in all these videos. A bereaved mother who saw her son in Jannah, a father who saw his daughter, and they ask their loved ones, “What happened to you? Did you feel pain?” And martyrs reply “No there was no pain, I was just running in Jannah now, I am enjoying Jannah.” It’s a very comforting message. And Allah Almighty is preparing the community that these losses are not a loss, in fact they are a win-win situation. Thus strengthening them mentally, spiritually, and psychologically in the face of adversity.
۞يَسۡتَبۡشِرُونَ بِنِعۡمَةٖ مِّنَ ٱللَّهِ وَفَضۡلٖ
وَأَنَّ ٱللَّهَ لَا يُضِيعُ أَجۡرَ ٱلۡمُؤۡمِنِينَ
They receive good tidings of favour from Allah and bounty and [of the fact] that Allah does not allow the reward of believers to be lost – (3:171)
ٱلَّذِينَ ٱسۡتَجَابُواْ لِلَّهِ وَٱلرَّسُولِ مِنۢ بَعۡدِ
مَآ أَصَابَهُمُ ٱلۡقَرۡحُۚ لِلَّذِينَ أَحۡسَنُواْ مِنۡهُمۡ وَٱتَّقَوۡاْ أَجۡرٌ عَظِيمٌ
Those [believers] who responded to Allah and the Messenger after injury had struck them. For those who did good among them and feared Allah is a great reward – (3:172)
Allah Almighty is reminding believers that although they are disheartened from the loss they suffered, they are not in the same category as those who are going against His will and earning His wrath. Allah is saying those who are following His guidance and clinging to His commands are higher in His eyes. This gives believers a boost and a much needed reminder. Even though they may have been defeated by life’s events, realising that they are still on the right track is encouraging. This mechanism helps them come back and shows them the way.
Rising above the emotion
Sometimes we are caught up in one part of the jigsaw and forget the whole. Allah Almighty wants us to put more parts together to see the bigger picture. Allah Almighty is shifting attention from loss to what is ultimately most important. He is telling us to zoom out from all-consuming emotions, which shut down the rational part of the brain, to the wider implications, making us aware of what really matters.
Psychologically our vision is clouded after an emotional disaster but we are being told not to divert our attention from our purpose. We may have different bumps on the way, but we should not let this change our direction. Just as when you are not holding tight to the steering wheel, your car might veer slightly or sharply off track.
Naturally it is not easy to have this zoom out mechanism when you are overwhelmed to point of collapsing. Yet beyond the pain of your calamity lies the whole world. Step back and see the bird’s eye view. It’s not the end. Beneath the clouds you can’t see the sun. But when a plane rises above the clouds, it is always sunny. Revelation gives us this lift. It is beautiful.
Based on a talk by Shaykh Haytham Tamim 9th Dec 2023 and his tafseer of Surat Aal Imran
Transcribed by Zayna
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