Learn optimism from the Prophet (peace be on him)
How did the Prophet (peace be on him) handle pessimism from people around him?
The Quran refers to pessimism, which is atirah, in many ayahs. When you recite Surat Yaseen, it mentions the fear of bad omens:
They (people) said: “For us, we see an evil omen from you; if you cease not, we will surely stone you, and a painful torment will touch you from us.” (36:18)
This was common among the Arabs, who held superstitions and would have irrational fears related to omens, such as a black bird flying by, certain days or numbers. We still have these fears and superstitions in some cultures. However the Prophet (peace be on him) countered this mentality. He brought a message of common sense, the truth and spread the culture of optimism. Anas bin Malik narrated that the Prophet (peace be on him) said:
“Not the transmission of disease of one person to another and no evil omen, but I am pleased with good omens.” He was asked: “What is good omen?” He replied, “A good word.” (Bukhari and Muslim)
`Urwah bin `Amir (may Allah be pleased with him) said: When talking of omens was mentioned in the presence of the Messenger of Allah (peace be on him) he said:
“The best type of omen is the good omen.” He added, “A Muslim should not refrain from anything because of an omen.” He told them, “When any of you sees anything which he dislikes, he should say: Allahuma la ya’ti bil-hasanati illa Anta, wa la yadfa`us-sayyi’ati illa Anta, wa la hawla wa la quwwata illa Bika: O Allah! You Alone bring good things; You Alone avert evil things, and there is no might or power but in You.’ (Abu Dawud)
Spread optimism – What is in a name?
Words are powerful and names are significant too. Each name can be pregnant with meaning, associations, subtle nuances and emotions, so when the Prophet (peace be on him) would come across someone whose name had negative connotations or gave a bad impression, he would change it. For instance, he changed the name of the man whose name was Hazn which means rugged and tough, to Sahl which means ease. He would also change name of female companions as one’s name not only impacts one’s sense of self but how others perceive you.
Link between optimism and tawakkul (reliance) on Allah
There is a link between tawakkul and optimism because people of true reliance are optimists. Reliance on Allah is when you do your bit, whether it is your revision, your research, or your training and then you leave the outcome to Allah Almighty. Not doing your bit is laziness, not reliance.
If you rely on Allah truly you would be provided with your rizq as Allah provides the birds. They leave their nests every morning hungry, but they go and search for their food. They do not sit in their nests waiting for their sustenance to land. And each day Allah provides for them and they came back in the evening, satisfied.
The Prophet (peace be on him) said:
“If you all depend on Allah with due reliance, He would certainly give you provision as He gives it to birds who go forth hungry in the morning and return with full belly at dusk.” (Tirmidhi, ibn Majah, Ahmad)
Smiles and Salam – the greeting of optimism
The Prophet (peace be on him) wanted to spread this positivity from the moment he arrived in Madinah. Abdullah bin Salam narrated what that he instructed them in his opening speech, to spread the salam:
“When the Messenger of Allah (peace be on him) came to Madinah, the people rushed towards him and it was said: ‘The Messenger of Allah (peace be on him) has come!’ I came along with the people to see him, and when I looked at the face of the Messenger of Allah (peace be on him), I realised that his face was not the face of a liar. The first thing he said was: “O people, spread (the greeting of) Salam, offer food to people and pray at night when people are sleeping, you will enter Paradise in peace.” (Musnad al Bazzar)
Mu’adh ibn Jabal reported that the Prophet (peace be upon him) sent him to a people and he said:
“O Messenger of Allah, instruct me.” The Prophet said, “Spread peace (the salam), offer food, and be modest before Allah as you would for a man of dignity from your family. If you do a bad deed, follow it with a good deed. Make your character as excellent as you can.” (Musnad al Bazzar)
The salam is a greeting of hope and promise. It creates good vibes in the community. On another occasion the Prophet (peace be on him) taught us that it is charity to meet your brother with a cheerful face. This is both inwardly and outwardly positive because your smile reflects a happy internal state. These small gestures have an effect on the whole atmosphere of a place. One smile spreads from person to person. Just as the serious, stressed and grumpy faces on public transport can make everyone feel miserable.
Allah reminds us throughout the Quran that full control is in His hands, and all good is from Him, while evil is from ourselves. Therefore do not follow the pessimistic approach of the community which is not in line with Islam.
Abdullah ibn Mas’oud narrated that the Prophet (peace be on him) said:
Taking omens is polytheism(Shirk); taking omens is polytheism(Shirk). He said it three times. Every one of us has some, but Allah removes it by trust (in Him). (Sunan Abu Dawood)
Everyone of us has experienced a bad omen from time to time, for instance you see something and then a misfortune befalls you, but you change this by relying on Allah, not on signs. As the bigger picture is that everything is in Allah’s hands and He wants us to be people of activism.
At the time of the Prophet (peace be on him) pessimism was deep rooted in the community, and it was embedded in their mentality until the revelation came to liberate them from this negativity and transform their beliefs and practices.
When times are hard look at the bigger picture
In Makkah when the Prophet (peace be on him) was trying to spread the message, he met with resounding resistance, and persecution of his followers was rife, which was a huge challenge for them and their morale. One day, the companion, Khabbab came to the Prophet (peace be on him) who was standing by the Kaaba, and asked him why he did not seek support from Allah and supplicate for them when they were suffering so much. But the Prophet (peace be on him) replied that this religion will reach as far as you can imagine.
“Khabbab bin Al-Aratt reported: We complained to the Messenger of Allah (peace be on him) regarding the persecution inflicted upon us by the disbelievers while he was lying in the shade of the Ka’bah, having made a pillow of his cloak. We submitted: “Why do you not supplicate for our prevalence (over the opponents)?”. He replied, “Among those people before you, a man would be seized and held in a pit dug for him in the ground and he would be sawed into two halves from his head, and his flesh torn away from his bones with an iron comb; but, in spite of this, he would not wean away from his Faith. By Allah, Allah will bring this matter to its consummation until a rider will travel from San’a’ to Hadramout fearing none except Allah, and except the wolf for his sheep, but you are in too much of a hurry”. (Bukhari)
Despite their acute suffering, the Prophet (peace be on him) was teaching his companions that the time would come when they would be victorious so they should not lose faith and hope even when times were hard, because they were in the right and the truth will always prevail and justice will be done. He shifted their perspective from their own pain, to the bigger picture and predicted a time when every house on earth would know about this deen. It would be universal.
In the midst of fear, remember you are not alone
During the migration, when the Prophet (peace be on him) escaped his assassination and left Makkah with Abu Bakr (may Allah be pleased with them) they took refuge in a cave, where Abu Bakr was terrified that they would be killed. As captured in the Quran in Surat Tawbah, the Prophet (peace be on him) calmed his fears and told him not to be afraid, saying “Be not sad (or afraid), surely Allah is with us.”
Allah gave him permission to migrate from Makkah to Madinah in the company of Abu Bakr (may Allah be pleased with him) who feared for him from the polytheists who wanted to kill him. The Messenger (peace be upon him) said to him while they were in the cave: O Abu Bakr, what do you think of two men, the third of them is Allah?
So, Allah sent down His Security and Comfort on His Prophet and provided him with angels to guard him and make him firm, and failed the plot and conspiracy of the disbelievers. Allah made their word inferior, rescued him and made him secure, and they returned as losers. The word of Allah (the truth and monotheism) is the superior and nothing can make it inferior, for the truth cannot be changed and right cannot be changed to falsehood. Allah is the Almighty and nothing can fail him, and He is wise in all His Commands. (9:40)
What we see here is that the Prophet (peace be on him) had done all he could from his end. Now he submitted himself to the will of Allah. He had optimism and tawkkul, and he trusted that Allah Almighty would undoubtedly find them a way out.
Failure and negative outcomes are often the precursors for success
During the Treaty of Hudaibiya, the Prophet (peace be on him) drew up a contract with the disbelievers to end the war between them for 10 years. Three negotiators came to prepare, but the first two could not reach an agreement with them. The third man came and said his name was Sahl bin Hunaif meaning ease and the Prophet (peace be on him) said this was a good sign, it meant they would have ease and things would go smoothly. Sure enough, they signed the Treaty of Hudaibiya. The terms of the treaty did not appear to be in favour of the believers however history shows that it was these bitter conditions which led to the conquest of Makkah, without bloodshed. At the time, the 1500 companions who were psyched up and ready to perform umrah, were gutted that they would not be able to do it as per the terms agreed. Though the Prophet (peace be on him) had seen a vision that they would perform Umrah, the Quraysh refused them entry that year. Dissatisfaction and frustration and upset filled the air. Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) would have preferred to fight them. Yet the Prophet (peace be be on him) said calmly that as he was the Messenger of Allah, he had complete faith that Allah would never let him down.
Abu Wail (may Allah be pleased with him) narrated:
We were in Siffin and Sahl bin Hunaif got up and said, “O people! Blame yourselves! We were with the Prophet (peace be on him) on the day of Hudaibiya, and if we had been called to fight, we would have fought. But `Umar bin Al Khatab (may Allah be pleased with him) came and said, ‘O Allah’s Messenger (peace be on him)! Aren’t we in the right and our opponents in the wrongs’ Allah’s Messenger (peace be on him) said, ‘Yes.’ `Umar said, ‘Aren’t our killed persons in Paradise and theirs in Hell?’ He said, ‘Yes.’ `Umar said, ‘Then why should we accept hard terms in matters concerning our religion? Shall we return before Allah judges between us and them?’
Allah’s Messenger (peace be on him) said, ‘O Ibn Al- Khattab! I am the Messenger of Allah and Allah will never degrade me.
Then `Umar went to Abu Bakr (may Allah be pleased with him) and told him the same as he had told the Prophet. On that Abu Bakr said (to `Umar). ‘He is the Messenger of Allah and Allah will never degrade him.’ Then Surat-al-Fath (i.e. Victory) was revealed and Allah’s Messenger (peace be on him) recited it to the end in front of `Umar. On that `Umar asked, ‘O Allah’s Messenger (peace be on him)! Was it (i.e. the Hudaibiya Treaty) a victory?’ Allah’s Messenger (peace be on him) said, “Yes”. (Bukhari)
Motivate others and lift their spirits
In the Battle of the Trench (Ghazwa Khandaq) which was a crucial battle that took place on the borders of Madinah, the Quraysh mobilised an army of 10,000 to attack Madinah where the believers were a mere 3000. After consultations and a long deliberation, the Prophet (peace be on him) decided to stay in the city and accept the suggestion of Salman al Farsi, who knew far more of the techniques of warfare than was common in the Peninsula, to dig a moat around Madinah to prevent the enemy entering the city. This tactic had never been used by Arabs before. They worked night and day for 10 days in back-breaking shifts to a dig a 3m wide ditch that was 1.5 km long. However they faced an obstruction, as they hit an immoveable rock, so they called upon the Prophet (peace be on him) to find a way out from this predicament. The Prophet (peace be on him) struck the stone three times, and it was from his miracles that he had been given the strength of 40 men. With each strike a flash of light appeared. Salman asked the Prophet (peace be on him) what these lights were and the Prophet (peace be on him) foretold that the Muslims would conquer Yemen, Sham (Jordan, Palestine, Lebanon and Syria) and Persia. In the midst of their terror, when they could not see beyond their immediate plight, and concern for their survival, the Prophet (peace be on him) drew their attention to future, when Islam would spread throughout the world. They won the battle, without fighting and with very little losses, as the enemy could not cross the moat. The Prophet (peace be on him) as a leader, raised their spirits, gave them hope, and inspired them not to be weak. It is important for a leader to acknowledge his team’s fears, and also to motivate them and enable them to see beyond the task at hand to the longer game.
Tamim al- Dari a companion narrated that the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said:
“This matter will certainly reach every place touched by the night and day. Allah will not leave a house or residence but that Allah will cause this religion to enter it, by which the honourable will be honoured and the disgraceful will be disgraced. Allah will honour the honourable with Islam and he will disgrace the disgraceful with unbelief.” (Musnad Ahmad)
In another narration the Prophet (peace be on him) was shown all the corners of the earth and he saw that the deen would spread everywhere.
Some people sell false hope and make money from it, like fortune tellers, but real hope is based on reliance on Allah and trusting him while doing our best.
Optimism in the Quran through gratitude
The Quran teaches us continually to be optimistic. On a daily basis we reiterate words of optimism. At least 17 times, we recite Surat al-Fatiha in our daily fard salah, beginning with the word ‘Alhamdulilah rabil alameen’ which is the first word of the Quran, after the basmallah. Thus we begin with the praise to Allah, and an attitude of gratitude.
Having gratitude is a positive mindset, it means you can see the good things in your situation. In fact part of the therapy for people who are suffering from a low mood is to acknowledge what they are thankful for in their lives. This affirmation helps them realise that there is much for them to be happy about, even when they are struggling with difficulties in their life.
The Fatiha is an antidote to depression, a fortress. If we truly reflect on its the meaning it trains us to see the cup half full not half empty. Some people specialise in seeing the world through misery and gloom.
And if you tried to enumerate the favors of God, you will not be able to count them. God is Forgiving and Merciful (16:18)
Indeed there are many more hidden favours that we are not even aware of.
Spread joy and love
On many occasions the Prophet (peace be on him) encouraged us to spread love and to express love and to improve our relationships. Al-Miqdam ibn Ma’dikarib reported that he said:
“When a man loves his brother, let him tell him that he loves him.” (Sunan Abu Dawood)
When you are with people of optimism you feel uplifted and when you are with people of pesssim they fill you with gloom. A pessimistic person will always find something to moan about, even when he is standing by the Kaaba. If that is you, and you are the one who is always complaining, change yourself. If you try to change, Allah will enable you change. However you have to recognise this and be the first to make the effort to alter this negative mindset.
Have a good opinion of Allah
Tirmidhi described optimism as having a good opinion of Allah (husn dhan billah). At the heart of optimism is having a good opinion of Allah. The Prophet (peace be on him) was always cheerful (daiman bishr), and smiling. His smile reflected that his heart was fully connected to Allah and trusted that Allah would never let him down.
If you are in pursuit of goodness, you can also be sure that Allah has your back. When you are the servant of Allah, He will never let you down.
Delivered by Shaykh Haytham Tamim on 4th January 2022 to the New Muslims Group – Al Manaar
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