How You Can Make a Half-Empty Glass Half Full

Optimism vs Pessimism

It has been narrated that the Prophet (peace be on him) used to love optimism and hated pessimism. He himself was always optimistic and encouraging.

The Prophet’s (peace be on him) Optimism

We can see the positivity of the Prophet (peace be on him) reflected clearly in his sunnah on so many occasions. He filled people with hope and optimism, rather than dragging down their spirits with pessimism. He would give children optimistic names and would change pessimistic names. Even in his appearance, he directed believers to smile, and said smiling at the face of your brother is a charity. From our own experience we know that when we see someone smiling we feel a warm glow of sunshine. Conversely when we see someone frown, it fills us with darkness and anger.

Say What is Positive

Starting from our own selves, we can become more optimistic by adopting a smiling face and choosing optimistic words. If our comments are going to be negative, then it’s preferable to remain silent.
‘And say to my servants (that) they speak that which is best, surely the Shaytan sows dissension among them; surely the Shaytan is an open enemy to man.’ (17:53)

The Toxicity of Pessimism

Unlike the optimism of our beloved Prophet (peace be on him), we have a debilitating pessimism in our community. Whenever we have someone who states an optimistic view in the community, we have someone who shoot it down. We have people who specialise in being pessimistic and like a contagious virus they spread pessimism in the community. A pessimistic person spreads frustration. This is not a uniquely Islamic problem, but a human problem. In the Qur’an Allah the Almighty mentions many scenarios about such people, the musabitoon and the muhabitoon. For instance, the when the people of Musa (peace be on him) had to face Firaun’s troops they cried, ‘We will die, we will be killed’. Musa (peace be on him) acknowledged that they were in danger but showed confidence and trust replying:
‘Surely my Lord is with me and He will soon guide me.’ (26:62)
The Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him) said that pessimistic people sprinkled among the community spread hopelessness and frustration throughout the community. These people can only ever see evil in any situation. They can’t see beyond the half-empty cup. They don’t see the good. Whenever something good happens these people are frustrated because they are programmed to dwell on what is evil. This toxicity is affecting us as humans, so how do we cope with it?

How Can We Deal with Negativity?

There are three ways to handle negativity around us.
1. Do NOT Listen to Negative People.
Allah addresses this very problem in the Qur’an. He says, ‘And amongst you there are many who keep listening to them.’
This is a major problem, those who are not spreading negativity are compounding the problem by giving it an audience, believing it and allowing it to spread. We need to put a distance between ourselves and those initiating it. We have to avoid being in a pessimistic environment, if we cannot control it or stop it. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him) gave the example of the good companion and the bad companion, who are like the perfume seller and the blacksmith. If you work with and hang around a blacksmith you will start to smell bad, or you might burn your clothes and it has a palpable effect on you that leads to people not wanting to be around you. Whereas if you are friends with the perfume seller you may start to smell good and people won’t be driven away. You have to actively choose the environment you want to be in and choose you companions accordingly – and these include members of our own family and community.  You can’t say that it doesn’t affect you, because it does.
The Prophet (peace be on him) even in the most critical situation was optimistic. In the Battle of the Ditch Allah describes their terrifying fear in Surah Ahzab, as their hearts were in their throats:
‘Remember what you felt] when they came upon you from above you and from below you, and when [your] eyes became dim and [your] hearts came up to [your] throats, and [when] most conflicting thoughts about God passed through your minds’ (33:10)
There was a huge stone in the ditch and they asked the Prophet (peace be on him) to come and help them with it. And he took the chisel and was optimistic. As he struck the rock he said he could see the palaces of Shaam. Tirmidhi defined optimism as having trust in Allah the Almighty. This means having a good opinion about Allah the Almighty. In the hadith Qudsi, when Allah says:
‘I am as my servant thinks of Me.’ (Bukhari)
Thus if you believe Allah the Almighty will give you relief from a hardship He will, and if you think He won’t, He won’t. The Prophet (peace be on him) said,
‘Do not leave this world without having a good opinion of Allah.’
2. Change Pessimistic Words to Optimistic Words.
As with the example of Prophet Musa (peace be on him) when his people said that they would all die at the Red Sea, Prophet Musa (peace be on him) assured them that Allah the Almighty would protect them and Allah the Almighty did. In another hadith, we are told:
‘Among the people are those who are keys to goodness and locks to evil. And from among the people are those who are keys to evil and locks to goodness. So glad tidings to the one who Allah puts the key to goodness in his hands, and destruction to the one who Allah puts the key to evil in his hands.’ (ibn Maajah)
So we have to choose: are we a key to goodness or evil? We cannot simply go with the flow but have to protect our community from people who are spreading frustration, as it leads to bad behaviour and oppression.
3. Have Deep Trust in Allah – Even when you hate your situation
There are so many trials facing our ummah that many feel despair about it. However Allah fills us with hope and optimism and Shaytan fills us with despair. Allah the Almighty tells believers not to give up. We need to identify our problems, and then find solutions. We have to trust Allah that even though all the tests and trials that we are experiencing as an ummah may be bitter and painful,  they are good for the ummah and they will take us to a different level. In the hadith the Prophet (peace be on him) said the servant will have a station with Allah, which he will not attain by his own actions. Allah keeps testing him til he reaches that level. Allah wants us to rise up to the next level. You have to pass the test. Do not get stuck on a level. So get the message right from Allah, otherwise you will be stuck on a level forever.
Allah the Almighty knows what is better for you. We are ignorant about our destiny. When we have full trust in Allah then optimism will flourish. Optimism is the reflection of our imaan which has to be translated into actions, not words of frustration and evil.

Have deep trust in Allah. Even when we experience what we do not like, and even hate it from the bottom of our heart, don’t say it is a bad thing. It might be good for you. Like bitter medicine, which has the cure, we have to take it because it has goodness in it. And more than the doctor we trust who prescribes the medicine, we should have trust in Allah, who is the One who gives cure to all our illnesses and all our problems. In Surah Baqarah, Allah the Almighty says:

‘And it may be that you dislike a thing which is good for you and that you like a thing which is bad for you. Allah knows but you do not know.’ (2:216)
The Prophet (peace be on him) was always encouraging individuals and the ummah to act with optimism (tafawul). Let’s spread optimism and be messengers of optimism in our ummah and we will be under the banner of peope who are keys for goodness and not keys of evil. We ask Allah to make us people of goodness. Ameen.
Khutbah delivered by Shaykh Haytham Tamim on 13th May 2014
Transcribed by Zayn Khan