Islam and hardship

Waiting patiently for the end of hardship

Asalamaleikum.. I have gone thru hard time for almost a year. I try to stay high in faith and sabr but it’s very hard. I keep waiting for something good to happen, but nothing has happened yet.. feeling depressed. Is it actually true that if I am grateful I will get more? Because I’m waiting, but everything stays the same. Please remember me in your dua, I do not want to become ungrateful 🙁

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

In my own life I have noted that God’s solution to my problems do not come immediately. Some of them take years. But when they come, they come from the most unexpected directions. For the past 9 years I have been asking God to give my life meaning and purpose, and in the past year, when I finally decided to completely dedicate myself to God and to read the Quran for an hour every day for the rest of my life, everything has changed for me. I feel like I am in a spaceship directed by God. Nothing gets in the way and all problems vanish away.

So I recommend patience and, most importantly, dedicating yourself to God. God will constantly test us with problems and hardships until we learn the lesson; the lesson being that we can never achieve any success or guidance unless it comes through Him. Please see the page Guides on Getting Closer to God on my site, apply their teachings, and leave it to God to take care of your fate.

Best wishes inshaAllah.

They cannot stop sinning despite their worship and feel like a hypocrite

Salamalaikum Brother Ikram, I hope all is well. I tried to implement what you mentioned in your essays into my life. But I still feel guilty, shameful, and lonely. It's a part of life now. I have been patient and I have sought therapy for a long time as well, but nothing seems to work. I keep going back to committing sins that I should not because of these feelings. It's a cycle: I pray, I read the Quran, then I feel guilty, and then I sin, and then I go back to praying. It feels like its never-ending. I feel like a hypocrite. I pray every day and ask for forgiveness but then I return to the sin. Is there something you would like to recommend me?

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

I am very happy that you tried to implement what I say in my essays. I believe your course of action should now be patience and perseverance. You should be prepared for this state of things to continue for months and even years as disheartening as this sounds. Even if you fail a thousand times, always get back up and go back to God. Consider this a test of your patience and loyalty.

If you understand Arabic, I recommend listening to the Quran for an hour every day. If not perhaps reading it English will also help, get a good translation (such as Abdel Haleem’s) and spend an hour with it every day. Keeping doing this for months and see where that takes you.

Additionally you could try learning more about Islam. As your knowledge increases you will be better able to understand yourself and find the best path forward. You can check out our curriculum page and start reading the books on there.

I would greatly appreciate it if you report back your progress. Thank you for staying in touch and may Allah bless you and make things easy for you.

Finding meaning in life when the most precious thing is taken away from you

You know when the most precious thing is taken away from you, there is nothing that can replace it. I can't seem to find meaning in anything else and now everything seems bleak to me. How do I go about just living life? Nothing matters. I can't seem to find the importance of anything else.

Sorry about your situation. I have been in similar situations and I believe the best thing to do is to consider yourself on break from ordinary life. You are in an in-between state until God creates a new life for you. Focus on doing your duties, and constantly ask God for guidance, forgiveness and ease, and through Him seek a satisfactory solution. It may take months or years; your job is to struggle through it, stay patient, and leave it to Him to create a meaningful life for you anew. Nothing is impossible for God, so even if you see no way out, even if you see no alternative to what you have lost, trust Him, stay patient, and leave it to Him give your life a new meaning.

I also recommend that you seek medical help if you are severely depressed. The right drugs can make this period of life more bearable and productive, and once you no longer need them you can stop using them.

Dealing with the meanness of people in Islam

Salam Aleyckoum, what to do when people act badly with me and what to do when people without even speaking to them come to distribute wickedness about me ? I always try to act nicely and never say anything but i always cry about that.

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

The best thing to do is to forgive them and ignore what they do. The Quran says:

Good and evil are not equal. Repel evil with good, and the person who was your enemy becomes like an intimate friend.

But none will attain it except those who persevere, and none will attain it except the very fortunate.

(The Quran, verses 41:34-35)

Every time they do something wrong toward you, if you patiently endure it, then you can consider that a good deed written for you by God. And perhaps their good deeds will also be given to you by the amount of wrong that they do. Try to think of them as an opportunity for you to increase your good deeds, even though I know this will not always be much consolation.

A powerful way to build patience is to develop a close relationship with God. When you fully submit to Him and rely on Him then the difficulties of this life will start to appear small and insignificant. Please check out the page Guides on Becoming a Better Muslim for more information on this.

Best wishes.

Are misfortunes punishments from God?

Assalamu alaikum! Lately I've been anxious about bad things happening to me or my family. I don't know if this is related to that, but I don't pray 5 times a day, although I'm trying to get better. But every time something bad happens to me, I wonder if it's a punishment from Allah because I'm not a very good Muslim, or wonder if I could have prevented it if I had prayed more. Is that a correct way to think about misfortune?

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

When things go wrong in your life it could either be a test, a punishment, or a sign or reminder. So it is right to fear that you may have displeased God. When something bad happens to my children, even if it just a fall, I always worry if it is because I have done something to displease God.

The Quran says:

Whatever good happens to you is from God, and whatever bad happens to you is from your own self. We sent you to humanity as a messenger, and God is Witness enough. (The Quran, verse 4:79)

The Quran also says:

We sent messengers to communities before you, and We afflicted them with suffering and hardship, that they may humble themselves.

If only, when Our calamity came upon them, they humbled themselves. But their hearts hardened, and Satan made their deeds appear good to them.

Then, when they disregarded what they were reminded of, We opened for them the gates of all things. Until, when they delighted in what they were given, We seized them suddenly; and at once, they were in despair. (The Quran, verses 6:42-44)

Is menstruation a punishment from God?

Aslamalaikum, I was wondering whether menstruation is a punishment from allah swt as I have heard that it was sent down as a punishment for hawa after she told adam to eat the fruit from the tree but I have also read that it is a blessing which I don't fully understand how it can be a blessing as it is so painful etc.

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

In my thinking the idea that someone could be punished for the sins of someone else is ridiculous. There is nothing in the Quran or widely-transmitted hadith that tells us Eve told Adam to eat of the fruit. That is a Jewish and Christian belief, in the Quranic version of the story they are both equally responsible. 

And you, Adam, inhabit the Garden, you and your wife, and eat whatever you wish; but do not approach this tree, lest you become sinners.”

But Satan whispered to them, to reveal to them their nakedness, which was invisible to them. He said, “Your Lord has only forbidden you this tree, lest you become angels, or become immortals.”

And he swore to them, “I am a sincere advisor to you.”

So he lured them with deceit. And when they tasted the tree, their nakedness became evident to them, and they began covering themselves with the leaves of the Garden. And their Lord called out to them, “Did I not forbid you from this tree, and say to you that Satan is a sworn enemy to you?”

They said, “Our Lord, we have done wrong to ourselves. Unless You forgive us, and have mercy on us, we will be among the losers.” (The Quran, verses 7:19-23)

If menstruation makes life difficult, God can always make up for it by making other things easy. 

What use does God have for your punishment if you have given thanks, and have believed? God is Appreciative and Cognizant. (The Quran, verse 4:147)

You cannot earn the rewards of patience unless you have something to be patient about. So menstruation is a blessing in that it gives you a chance to prove your patience and your ability to love God despite seemingly suffering needlessly.

Ideally there should be nothing that can happen to you that would decrease your love for God. This attitude is best expressed by the Iraqi poet Badr Shakir al-Sayyab in this poem:

For You is praise, no matter how long the distress lasts,
And no matter how oppressive the pain becomes,
For You is praise, afflictions are bestowals,
And suffering is of Your bounty.
Did You not give me this darkness?
And did You not give me this dawn?
Does the ground then thank raindrops,
But become angry if the clouds do not find it?
For long months, this wound
Has been cutting my sides like a knife.
The affliction does not calm at morning,
And nighttime does not bring death to wipe out the agony.
But if Job was to cry, he would cry,
“For You is Praise, for suffering is like drops of dew,
And wounds are presents from the Beloved,
The stacks of which I hug to my chest.
You presents are before me, they do not leave,
Your presents are accepted, bring them on!”
I hug my wounds and call out to visitors:
“Look here and be jealous,
For these are presents from my Beloved!”
And if the heat of my fever approaches fire,
I would imagine it a kiss from You fashioned from flame.

When life’s difficulties cause you to doubt God

Salaam, I feel like everything in my life seems to be going wrong. I am losing my faith in Allah and his plan for me. I am a good and genuine person, all I want is to build for my future etc, I cannot find a job although I have two good degrees, I started my own business and that is not seeing any success either. These past 3-5 years I feel like I have been tested in so many ways and I keep getting told to trust in Allah's plan. I just feel so broken, every glimmer of hope I get it's taken away

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

I have been in similar situations. The point is to show you your weakness and powerlessness in order to make you truly submit to God. True submission means there should be nothing that God does to you that would make you dislike Him or question His wisdom and mercy. When you reach this stage, you will know that no good or bad can reach you except with God’s permission. You will stop being impatient for change knowing God is already fully in charge.

You wish for change because you feel your present situation is wrong and unfit for you. It is very common for us to feel this way, but it is the wrong attitude to have. The correct attitude is to fully settle your heart to you present situation and be fully ready for it to continue this way for the foreseeable future. When you know in your heart that everything that happens to you is from God, you will stop being impatient for change. You feel like you are in a bus controlled by God and you will leave it to Him to take you where He wants.

It is very difficult to maintain such a state for long, which is why I recommend an hour of Quran-reading every day which helps maintain our awareness of God’s power and closeness. I always remind myself that nothing that happens should reduce my love for God. Accept life as it is and love God whether good or bad befalls you. This is true submission.

It is good to work to change your situation for the better. I am not saying that we should give up and do nothing. But our starting point should always be love and acceptance of God and acceptance of our situation as it is. We can work for change, but we are never guaranteed success. Everything comes from God, so we might as well attach our hearts to Him and leave it to Him to take care of our fate.

You have not achieved true submission until you fully feel in your heart that nothing that befalls you can reduce your love for God. It is a favor from God to put you in such a difficult situation that forces you to fully submit to Him in this way. Those who always have it easy never get this chance to truly submit. So consider it God’s love for you. He wants you to detach from everything so that your heart is attached to nothing but Him. And once you reach that stage, God can open all His doors to you in an instant and completely change your life.

So do not lose hope in God. Always try to be in state where nothing that befalls you can reduce your love for Him. And when you are this close to God, you will stop worrying much about your worldly failures and concerns. You will feel as if you have already achieved the greatest success and you will leave it to God to take care of your future.

Please also see my essay below:

Islam and Depression: A Survival Guide

Best wishes.

Her abusive parents make her feel depressed

Assalamu aleikum, for several years i have been feeling like a burden and a problem to my parents. they never support or show love and admiration for anything me or my sisters do, they’re always scared that we’re going to ruin their reputations and have absolutely zero respect for us, the degrading things they’ve told us would take hours to count. lately this has been weighing on me and my mental health is at my lowest, i have dark suicidal thoughts but i know i’d never have the courage to-

-take my own life. i want to get professional help but feel like they would humiliate me for that too. do you have an advice for me? maybe i should pray more or something. i’m sorry if this is too dark but I've been feeling helpless for a long time

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

Sorry to read about your difficult situation. It is natural for such difficult situations to make us wish that we did not exist. Unfortunately there may be no solution except to be patient. Maybe getting professional help will help even if your parents dislike it. When some people make our lives miserable other people can help us feel consoled.

In general we have two options when faced with such situations; either to give in to them and let them defeat us, or we can do our best to keep close to God and to think the best of Him despite feeling lonely, abandoned and unspiritual. This is how we can prove we are extraordinary; to keep our souls above our suffering, not letting it crush us and patiently waiting for God to ease our situation and replace it with something better.

The best people you meet in your life are those who suffered like you do, but who were able to defeat the suffering by keeping close to God and thinking the best of Him. And the some of the worst people you meet are those who suffered and who let their suffering make them dislike God so that they now hold a grudge against Him and reject Him and blame Him for having meaningless and empty lives.

Please check out my three essays below where I discuss how to find meaning in suffering and how to overcome it:

Islam and Depression: A Survival Guide

God has not abandoned you: Regaining your sense of purpose when life feels spiritually empty, lonely and meaningless

The Road to Maturity: On Dealing with Life’s Unsolvable Problems

Best wishes.

Islam and Depression: A Survival Guide

A street in Chefchaouen, Morocco

Please note that this article is not meant as a replacement for medical help, but as a supplement to it.

What does Islam have to offer someone who has been suffering depression for years and sees no end in sight to their suffering?

Depression is not sadness and cannot be cured by thinking positively as some people insultingly think. The dismissive attitude of many Muslim immigrants toward depression is due to the fact that, thanks to having very large and well-functioning families, they enjoy a very powerful protection against depression that is largely lacking in the West (for more on this see the section on loneliness and social alienation below). Depression is what it feels like to be stuck in darkness between two high walls, with no way forward and no way backward. Every bad memory of the past feels as if it happened this very moment, while the future feels as if it will contain nothing but a continuation of the present misery. Depression is not caused by thinking negative thoughts. The line of causation is in the opposite direction; it is the depression that causes the negative thoughts. A depressed person can think of a happy event that took place years ago only to remember the negative things that happened during it. The negativity of depression blankets all of their thoughts like a dark cloud.

Some forms of depression are caused by life circumstances, while others, such as bipolar depression, are caused by chemical changes in the brain that are completely outside a person’s control. Positive things happening in their lives can help them experience short episodes of happiness, but these episodes end very quickly and the depression always comes back. For this reason, such people need long-term strategies that take the reality of their situation into account.

In this essay I will describe a long-term plan for dealing with depression that first takes the spiritual side into account and then the material side. This plan is not a cure, it is designed to make depression understandable and manageable for the person who suffers it so that they may, with God’s help, slowly climb out of it.

Acceptance

When we are depressed, we feel as if we have been abandoned in this big, wide world to suffer on our own, without any purpose or wisdom behind it. Day after day passes, we suffer, and we are not better off for it. What is the point?

The first step toward dealing with depression is to realize that God could solve all of our problems and take away our depression an instant, but He is choosing not to do it. You have not been abandoned by Him, He is allowing this to happen to you and watching you suffer every second. This sounds rather cruel, why would a kind God allow this? Some people abandon religion because of this, being unable to accept that a true God would watch humanity suffer without intervening to help them.

But think about Prophet Muhammad PBUH. He was chosen by God to teach and spread His religion. Yet he had to suffer abuse and persecution in Mecca for 13 year. Why did God allow this to happen? God could have made the Prophet successful on the very first day he received the revelation. But instead he had to go through an excruciatingly painful 13-year process filled with failures and losses.

The reason for that is that the universe is designed by God to function in this way. We can call the process that the Prophet had to go through “suffering through time”. Patiently suffering through time is how a believer’s character is proven. The Prophet could have just suffered for a day or two, or a month, then he could have been granted success. But God did not lose anything by letting him suffer for 13 years, those years were necessary for him to be shaped into the person he was.

Suffering through time is how we prove, every hour of every day, that we have faith in God. It enables us to affirm, and affirm, and affirm our faith day after day and year after year until we have truly proven ourselves to God. Once we reach the stage He desires, He can then grant us the greatest success and the greatest happiness in a single day.

Your depression is not purposeless. Your depression is a matter between you and God. He is completely in charge of it and only He can put a stop to it, if and when He wants. This is not to deny that your depression may have a material cause and may be treatable with the right drugs and therapies; but it is all up to God whether you will be able to find the right people to help you and the right treatment. God’s help does not come down from the sky in the shape of angels, He helps us by arranging this world in the right way for us to be helped while hiding His own hand in the matter. God does not want us to see Him or to see any direct evidence of His existence, He wants us to always have the option of doubting His existence, because this is what enables us to prove our faith in Him. There is no point in having faith in something when you have direct evidence of its existence, it would be like having faith in the law of gravity.

When you suffer, if you turn your back on God and blame Him for not helping you, you are failing His test. The attitude He wants you to show is one of submission and acceptance, the attitude that the Prophets of the Quran all show toward God when they suffer. Your attitude should not be, “God, I know you are in charge, and I know you are watching me suffer. You are so cruel to allow this to go on!” Your attitude should be:

God, I know you are in charge, and I know you are watching me suffer. Forgive any sins that may have brought me here, help me correct any mistakes I have made that have brought me here, guide me and increase me in knowledge. Help me learn what I am supposed to be learning.

Depression is one of the ways that God distinguishes His faithful believers from the fair-weather believers whose faith is only strong when things are going well in their lives. Depression is an opportunity for you to transcend your human limitations, to show that you can love God and believe in Him even as He watches you suffer. This proves that you truly respect Him the way He deserves to be respected (by always thinking the best of Him) and that you have faith in His power, wisdom and love.

So be like Prophet Muhammad PBUH and the other Prophets. Do not despair, for if you do, you fail the test.

Think the best of God

It can be very difficult to think any positive thoughts about God when you feel so bad. In fact, sometimes it can be all that you can do to stop yourself from thinking very bad thoughts about Him. Those who truly fail their test are those who allow their suffering to permanently color their thinking about God. They build up a strong grudge and hatred against God for creating them, for creating this world the way it is. Some of these people end up calling themselves atheists, even though they do not really doubt God’s existence in their hearts, they just have a blinding hatred for Him.

If the best that you can do is to resist negative thoughts about God, then this is the best that you can do. God does not ask you to do more than you are able. Resist negative thoughts and constantly pray to God for His help.

Give up, surrender and learn the lesson

Depression causes you to suffer through time, sometimes for months and years, in order to prove your powerlessness to you. Depression shows you that you are not in charge. It is like a storm that throws us here and there, wherever it wants, while we are powerless to do anything about it. And that is the point. Suffering is designed to make us humble ourselves before God:

We sent messengers to communities before you, and We afflicted them with suffering and hardship, that they may humble themselves. If only, when Our calamity came upon them, they humbled themselves. But their hearts hardened, and Satan made their deeds appear good to them. (The Quran, verses 6:42-43)

The Quran also says:

But those who do not believe in the Hereafter are swerving from the path. Even if We had mercy on them, and relieved their problems, they would still blindly persist in their defiance. We have already gripped them with suffering, but they did not surrender to their Lord, nor did they humble themselves. Until, when We have opened before them a gate of intense agony, at once they will despair. (Verse 23:73-77)

The above passage describes the response of many people to depression. Rather than using the opportunity to affirm their faith in God, they despair. And if they are cured, rather than learning anything from their suffering, they again go back to ignoring God for most of them time.

Your depression is designed to help you break that cycle. God wants you to give up and surrender, to acknowledge that there is no power in this world besides Him. The Quran tells us the story of Prophet Yunus (Biblical Jonas) who also despaired of God like so many people do, but he was able to overcome his despair:

And Jonah, when he stormed out in fury, thinking We had no power over him. But then He cried out in the darkness, “There is no god but You! Glory to You! I was one of the wrongdoers!” So We answered him, and saved him from the affliction. Thus We save the faithful. (21:87-88)

Like Prophet Yunus, surrender completely to God and acknowledge that He is in charge and that only He can help you.

Stop hurrying

When suffering depression, we always wish for a magic cure that will stop the pain immediately. But remember the stories of the Prophets. Prophet Yaʾqūb lamented the loss of his son Yusūf for years before God gave him back his son. God could have prevented his suffering, but He did not. Yaʾqūb did not complain to God, asking Him why He had to do that to him when He could solve all of his problems instantly. He instead accepted his fate and knew that the matter was in God’s hands and that only God knew where it would lead.

Rather than rejecting your suffering, come to terms with it by accepting it and accepting the fact that it may go on for the foreseeable future. Rather than giving God an ultimatum, saying He should cure you within the next week or month or else you will stop believing in Him, your attitude should be one of utter submission. You belong to God and it is His business what He does with you.

Imagine someone who suffers depression for 60 years, dies, then enters Paradise, where every day is as good as the happiest memories of their lives, and where they can live forever. Exchanging a mere 60 years for an eternity of complete happiness is very much worth it if we think about it.

But the deal God offers us is actually much better than that. The Quran says:

Truly, with hardship always comes ease. (94:5 and 94:6)

It also says:

Whoever works righteousness, whether male or female, while being a believer, We will grant him a good [worldly] life—and We will reward them according to the best of what they used to do. (16:97)

It also says:

And thus We established Yusuf in the land, to live therein wherever he wished. We touch with Our mercy whomever We will, and We never waste the reward of the righteous. But the reward of the Hereafter is better for those who believe and observed piety. (Verses 12:56-67)

Prophet Yusuf suffered unjustly for many years, being away from his family and later being put in prison for no fault of his own. But the Quran says God rewarded him in this worldly life by granting him a very high status, while also keeping in store a greater reward in the hereafter.

Cure your soul then seek a material cure

For You is praise, no matter how long the distress lasts,
And no matter how oppressive the pain becomes...

Badr Shakir al-Sayyab, “The Journey of Job”

Let us say, like in those lines above from the Iraqi poet Badr Shakir al-Sayyab, you have accepted your fate. You have faced God and said to Him in all sincerity that you are willing to take whatever He sends your way. What is there to do next?

The next step is to make it part of your daily routine to perform a certain amount of extra worship, if you are able (if not, read on for what to do). What I recommend is performing at least an hour of tahajjud and Quran-reading every night before bed (see here for more details), other times and other forms of worship might work better for some. Your goal should not be to perform this until you get a cure. Your goal should be to perform this daily for the rest of your life.

It is impossible to remain close to God, to submit to Him and to rely on Him in full sincerity unless you dedicate a part of your day, every day, to extra worship. Just a few days of skipping this extra worship is sufficient to re-attach your heart to the worldly life and to put you back in square one, lost in the worldly life and faraway from God.

It is against human nature to submit to God, to remain pure of sin, to rely on Him and to only seek refuge in Him. Human nature makes us want to be egotistic, short-sighted and selfish. We need daily work to subdue the ego and restore the balance. You cannot maintain the character and spirituality of the Prophets and saints if you do not work for it daily. As soon as you stop the work, your human nature will reassert itself. This is a struggle that we have to keep for the rest of our lives.

If you are desperate to escape your depression, then this should be your first step. Promise God to perform an extra hour of worship every day for the rest of your life if He enables you to do it, and ask Him to give you a meaningful and productive life in return. Do this and your life may completely change within the next few months.

If you are too demotivated to perform worship

Sometimes it is enough of a struggle to get out of bed in the morning. If that is the case with you, start praying for these three things every time you think about God: ease, guidance and forgiveness. Even if you do not feel repentant, even if you cannot help but feel resentment for being in the situation you are, keep asking God for His forgiveness. Instead of turning your back on Him because of your suffering and resentment, turn to Him despite these things. Start facing Him and conversing with Him even if you do not feel like it, even if your negative thoughts make you feel as if He dislikes you and has abandoned you. Voice your thoughts to Him and complain to Him of your situation and your suffering.

Keep turning to God again and again and again even if everything makes you want to turn away from Him in anger and resentment. Do your best to think the best of Him regardless of how you feel. God is not going to ignore you. But He will not magically cure your situation either, God, in general, does not perform miracles in front of us, because that would be direct evidence for His existence. He wants to hide Himself from us so that we have the choice of having faith in Him or rejecting Him. While God will likely not suddenly fix your situation, if you keep up doing these things, He will cause small changes in your life that will accumulate over time, so that in three months, or six months, things could be very different for you.

Keep asking for God’s help and slowly, but surely, He will help you get on your feet and rebuild your life.

Start measuring time in periods of 3 months

When we are depressed, we tend to measure our suffering in minutes and hours. We feel as if our situation will continue in exactly the same way for eternity. We cannot think of any happy memories and we cannot think of anything to be optimistic about.

That is the normal depressed brain at work. What you should do is override that type of thinking by reminding yourself that change takes time, because God does not magically solve our problems for us. He helps us help ourselves, helping us so subtly that afterwards we are almost always able to take all the credit and ignore His part in it.

Start thinking of time in terms of three-month periods. Follow the advice in this essay then three months from now look back and see how things have changed. Chances are you will be in a much better state than you are now. And three months after that things will be even better. After a year passes, you may still have some depression, but God may have caused many changes in your life that enable you to feel much more purposeful and optimistic than you feel now.

Material considerations

 

Exercise

Some people claim that exercise can cure depression. You should rightly be skeptical of such claims. But it is true that exercise can greatly improve your levels of motivation. It might make you feel 30% better than you feel right now, you may still feel depressed, but this might just be enough to give you the motivation to perform tahajjud, Quran-reading and other beneficial things. I recommend performing an hour of vigorous but not too strenuous exercise on an exercise bike. You can do it while watching a video.

Loneliness and social alienation

People who grow up in larger families are less likely to be depressed. Merely having more people around you in your life can be your greatest defense against depression, even if your relationship with these people has many flaws. For some Muslim immigrants coming from the Middle East, depression sounds like a wholly alien and impenetrable thing because they have never experienced it themselves and have no idea what is like to experience it. Some of them rather insultingly talk about how it is a lack of spirituality or a possession by Satan that is causing depression. The reason these people cannot experience depression is the fact they come from societies organized in such a way that make depression almost impossible, and in this is an important clue for treating depression.

In the Middle East, it is common for a person to be surrounded by siblings, aunts, uncles, siblings and other relatives who all contribute to a person’s self-esteem. The conviviality of these societies makes each person feel cared about, as if they have a very important place reserved for them by their societies. To understand the nature of this “place”, it is best compared to a king or queen’s throne. A king or queen gets treated with extreme respect and consideration regardless of who they are and what kind of personalities they have. The fact that they are king or queen, the fact that they have this “place” reserved for them by society, makes everyone treat them that way. In the same way, in a well-functioning Middle Eastern society, each person is given a “place” that ensures them love, respect and consideration regardless of their personalities. In other words, a person in such a society does not have to do anything to earn the respect and consideration of those around them. These things are automatically granted to them merely by the virtue of being born into that society.

Imagine if one day you woke up and discovered you are in a king’s palace and everyone started treating you like you are the king or queen. It will not take very long for you to believe it when everyone does that for you. In those Middle Eastern societies I am describing, a person is made to feel the same way by their relatives; they are treated as if they are lovable, as if they are important, as if they matter very much, and since everyone around them does that, a person starts to believe these things. This is probably more powerful than any anti-depressant. Each relative contributes 2% or 3% to a person’s sense of being important and lovable, and what do you know, it all adds up to such a high degree that it is made physically impossible for that person to suffer depression.

In the West, while certain people enjoy similar societies, this is the exception. In general, people in the West are socially alienated; most of the people around them do not treat them as if they have a place of great importance reserved for them. They are not surrounded on every side by people who treat them as if they are very important and very worthy of love. And because of that, people feel that they do not really have a place in society. They feel displaced, alienated.

To understand these things better, I recommend that you read Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (in the 19th century at least some Western societies used to be like the Middle Eastern ones I describe). In the story, Mrs. Bennet is a rather ignorant and annoying woman and people are aware of it, yet everyone treats her as if she is an important person and as if she matters very much. It can be said that she does not “deserve” this good treatment. She has not done anything to deserve it, it is something automatically given to her by her society, and this acts as a very strong defense against her feeling lonely and depressed. It is almost as if there is a society-wide conspiracy to make her feel important and loved.

For a person to feel as if they matter and as if they are loved, it is essential that people around them constantly reaffirm these things. In the Middle East, this happens for most people on a daily basis because it is embedded within almost every social interaction. No one needs to say “I love you” because it is so strongly assumed that saying that is as ridiculous and unnecessary as saying “electricity exists”. In the West, however, a person can spend an entire day without anyone affirming their worth and importance. And if this continues day after day and week after week, so that feeling loved and cared about is a pleasant surprise rather than as common as air, then apathy and depression are the result.

Depression, in other words, is the natural result of people not constantly reassuring you, implicitly through their actions and manners, that you are loved and cared for.

According to that, the cure would be to have a large extended family that acts the way I described above. But since the type of family and society we have is out of our control, there isn’t much we can do about them. But recognizing the displacement and alienation are important contributors to depression can help you come up with strategies to use this knowledge to reduce your depression.

For example, having people around you even if you do not know them can help improve how you feel. You can confirm this by going to a coffee shop or library. You will be a lot more motivated to read something beneficial at one of these venues than you will be alone at home. Just having people around you gives you a sense of belonging that somewhat reduces your depression.

The best way to attack depression would be to increase your social connections, simply increasing the number of people you meet on a daily basis who are nice to you will greatly improve your self-esteem and diminish your depression. Many cities have clubs and meet-up groups that you can join to spend more time around other people. There are many sites like VolunteerMatch.org that help you find volunteering opportunities around you, volunteer at the charities and projects you like and the people you meet and your interactions with them can help you as much as any antidepressant can.

For an introverted person, meeting new people is always a challenge, this is something that exercise can help with because exercise reduces social anxiety. If you just ran for two miles, social anxiety would be the last thing on your mind for a while.

Try to spend less time alone and more time around other people. If you live with your parents, stay in the living room more often and spend less time in your room.

It is not always possible to do something about loneliness, and sometimes you are stuck around people who only worsen your depression. For this reason it is crucial that you constantly ask for God’s help, because He can arrange your circumstances for you and create ways for you reduce your loneliness. He can open doors for you that you did not know even existed.

Get medical help

Some types of depression are caused by your brain’s physiology. A person with bipolar II is going to be stuck in a never-ending cycle of depression and elation. Some of these people never get diagnosed because they are good hiding their depression and their periods of elation never reaches the point of mania and psychosis (as happens in bipolar I).

While medical help will likely not entirely cure you, it can improve how you feel to the point where you can feel motivated to do other things to improve your situation. If there is a drug that can reduce your depression by half, then there is no reason why you shouldn’t benefit from that. Therapy can also be very helpful, not necessarily because of any special knowledge of the therapist, but because just having someone be nice to you and treat you like you matter is very important for fighting depression.

Educate yourself

There are many people who, after reading a dozen or more books, were able to find just the right lifestyle and routine to help them keep their depression under control. Read memoirs and autobiographies by people who suffered from depression. Read any book on the topic of depression that you find interesting. These books can help point you in the right direction even if none of them give you a complete answer.

Summary: Remain with God

God can help you get into exactly the right situation you need to cure your depression. He can help you find exactly the right type of medical help that can help you, or guide you to the right advice or the right life choices. Realize that you are not in charge and that if God does not help you, nothing can. You should do everything you can to help yourself, but it is God who can make all the difference between whether your efforts will be successful or end in failure.

You should therefore prioritize the spiritual side over the material side. Take care of the state of your heart and soul, and God can take care of the rest for you by making things easy for you and guiding you in the right direction.

For more Islamic advice relevant to depression and other hardships, please check out my following essays:

 

Her parents fight constantly and stress her out

Assalamualaikum, I live in a family that is not harmonious and makes me stressful, I have been tried to be patient but I think to get married so that I can get far away from my parent. Is it a good idea ? Please advise me.

My parents are constantly fighting. If they’re not done fighting at home, they fight in public and often they drag me and my brother into it as well. What’s worse is we’re expected to start smiling and acting normal as soon as the scene is over. We’re expected to have no feelings at all. I’m sick of all this embarrassment it has left me scarred. I’m tired of praying because nothing ever changes! I’m so sick of life. The only reason I’m alive is because I cant commit suicide.

Despite of all these problems, I have made it into med school but now I just cant do it anymore. I am so depressed and hurt I just cant study anymore. I cant focus on anything. I have stopped enjoying every hobby that I had. My life sucks and I just want to get it over with.

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

I am sorry to read about your situation and I hope things get better for you. Please see the articles on this page on my site where I deal with the various aspects of parent-child relations.

For general guidance on dealing with difficult and impossible situations, please also see my essays God has not abandoned you and The Road to Maturity: On Dealing with Life’s Unsolvable Problems.

Best wishes inshaAllah.

What to do when feeling far away from God

I’m far away from Allah, I don’t pray anymore and I say everyday I will start tomorrow, I don’t read quraan or even islamic post or videos and I feel nothing spiritual.. and every time I try to get closer i fell like I’m pushed away. What should I do?

I would say speak sincerely to God. Tell Him you do not feel spiritual and that you do not know what to do to get closer to Him. Keep asking Him every day to guide you and make things easy for you. If there is nothing you can do, you can at least speak to Him. I do not think there is such a thing as a person asking God for guidance and not being guided. You will be guided, it will just take time. Keep asking for His help and guidance and He will bring about the conditions for you to be guided. This can take months or years. Never despair in His ability to fix your life and make it happy and meaningful. He can do that, but sometimes we have to go through periods of suffering that teach us important lessons and make us better people down the road.

A Muslim who cannot escape the guilt of a sinful life

I’m a revert, I lost my path again. I don’t really pray much now but still on deen. I have some confessions to be made cause these are eating me away. I tried to tell it all in a prayer (while making dua) but these things they still haunt me and I’m still in touch with it cause I’m bonded with it. I can’t let it go. It is a part of my life. I regret but I have no other option. Sometimes it gets suicidal but there’s no point in self harm. I can’t sleep and function properly.

Humbly ask God for His help and guidance. Talk to Him and tell Him that you are weak and that you do not know what to do. If you sincerely call for His help, He will help you. It might take time, but if you sincerely ask Him every day then your life will slowly improve, so that a year from now your situation may have greatly improved.

Do not give up hope. Prophet Ibrahim says:

“And who despairs of his Lord’s mercy but those who are truly lost?”1

And do not expect too much improvement immediately. Leave it to God to fix your life. If at the moment you feel so weak and exhausted that there is nothing you can do, then let it be so. God does not ask you for more than you are able.

Also see: On giving up a sinful relationship

Hope for someone desiring suicide

I want to KILL myself But im not cuz its haram But idk what to do help me Give me hope

Think back to the past and remember all the difficulties that you once suffered from and that have disappeared from your life. Sooner or later, your present difficulty will also be part of the past and will stop influencing you. No matter how difficult the day or week is, it will pass. To kill yourself is to say that you do not believe that God can put a stop to your situation. Do you think God is that powerless? Ask God for help and He can help you in ways you never expected.

Please see these two articles I wrote a while ago:

The Road to Maturity: On Dealing with Life’s Unsolvable Problems

God has not abandoned you: Regaining your sense of purpose when life feels spiritually empty, lonely and meaningless

The Road to Maturity: On Dealing with Life’s Unsolvable Problems

Schale mit Blumen by Marie Egner (1940)

Every person’s life seems to contain problems that have no solution. Such problems can last for years, even decades. Among such problems are:

  • Poverty: A person’s life may be denied many joys and contain many indignities brought about by poverty.
  • Having a disabled child: An otherwise happy and wealthy couple may be force to worry and spend much of their time and energy in the care of a disabled child, without any hope of things getting much easier.
  • Having to take care of an elderly parent: There are people who spend years as part-time nurses, having to take care of a parent that cannot take care of himself/herself. The person may not be able to afford professional care, so that despite their life’s various demands, this extra demand is placed on them, sometimes for many years or a decade.
  • Illness: There are people who suffer from an illness that prevents them from enjoying the foods they like or the activities they enjoy. Some illness are uncurable and will put a damper on a person’s life for the rest of their lives.
  • Family problems: A person may have nearly everything they want, but their life may be made extremely difficult due to abuse or neglect from a spouse, meanness from family members, or having a child that constantly gets into serious trouble.

There problems are unsolvable in the sense that there are generally no quick solutions to them. We desire to live in Paradise on earth, having a peaceful and easy life that is not marred by any serious issues. We wish to live in a light-hearted comedy rather than a tragedy.

But that desire for perfect peace will never come true in this life, because that is not the purpose of this life. Ibn Ata Allah al-Iskandari says:

So long as you are in this world, be not surprised at the existence of sorrows.

Ibn al-Qayyim says:

God, glory to Him, created His creation to worship Him, and that is their purpose, as He says: “I have not created jinn and humans except to worship Me” [Quran 51:56]. It is clear that the perfect servitude and worship that is required of humans cannot be achieved in the Home of Bliss [Paradise], but can only be achieved in the home of affliction and trials.

Ibn al-Jawzi says:

The worldly life has been created as a place of testing. The wise person should fully habituate himself to patience.

We want to escape this world with all of its little annoyances and worries and inconveniences so that we can enter a world of perfect peace. But this desire is mistaken and can never be attained in this world. Even if we unexpectedly acquire great wealth, leave behind all of our worries, move to a different country, buy an amazing house, and find a great spouse, the excitement of all of these will wear off in a few day, and we will feel as if we are back to square one. Problems will start to haunt us again out no nowhere. The perfect spouse may end up not being so perfect. We may engage in a seemingly profitable business enterprise that brings us great fear and worry, perhaps due to choosing the wrong business partner. If the wealth is enough to make us needless of any extra work or investment, we may dedicate ourselves to making art, or writing novels or poetry, only to experience discontent and grief as people ignore or criticize our works. Meanwhile, in our new social circle we may start to be judged for all kinds of things that we dislike to be judged for, and this may make us feel inferior.

While films and novels often tell us that we can live happily ever after once we solve our problems, get rich, or escape our past lives, reality will always prove this false. This world is a place of testing. There is no escaping God’s tests, and He knows better than anyone else exactly how to test you. Even if you are the ruler of the world, God can defeat all of your plans and place you in utter misery if He wishes. There is no escape from God. Regardless of where we run to, He will always be there first, ready with the next barrage of tests designed to build us into better and worthier people.

If you suffer from a problem of inconvenience and think “This is too stupid, I shouldn’t be having to deal with this type of nonsense!”, you have actually misunderstood the test. If something makes you feel discontented, impatient, angry or unthankful toward God, then that is exactly the type of test you should be going you through. A test that does not hit you right where it hurts is not a proper test. You have to best tested for all that you have, each test should reach deep into you and tempt you to anger and ungratefulness.

The Building of Character

Ibn al-Qayyim says:

When God tests you it is never to destroy you. When He removes something in your possession it is only in order to empty your hands for an even greater gift.

God does not take sadistic pleasure in seeing us suffer. The purpose of His tests is to show us our true natures, our weaknesses and our absolute dependence on His mercy, and these things prompt us to seek to improve ourselves. People who are never shown their faults and weaknesses fail to develop. If we are unaware that a problem exists, we have no incentive to seek a solution.

Mostafa Sadeq al-Rafi’i says:

When I looked into history I found a small number of individuals whose lives mirrored the life-cycle of a grain of wheat. They were torn from their roots, then crushed, then ground in mills, then kneaded with fists, then rolled out and baked in ovens at high temperatures… just so they could provide food for others.

The best people you meet are not people who have been spared life’s troubles. They are people who been crushed again and again by life’s troubles until they have reached a state of near-perfect acceptance and humility, so that they no longer reject God’s decrees nor do they desire to escape their lives. They know God is in charge, and that He can cure them from their distress any time He wants. They look to Him for help and seek refuge only in Him. The poet Badr Shakir al-Sayyab, who suffered for years from a painful illness and from loneliness and nostalgia, expresses this type of thinking in his famous 1962 poem Sabr Ayyub (The Patience of Job).

For You is praise, no matter how long the distress lasts,
And no matter how oppressive the pain becomes,
For You is praise, afflictions are bestowals,
And suffering is of Your bounty.
Did You not give me this darkness?
And did You not give me this dawn?
Does the ground then thank raindrops,
But get angry if the clouds do not find it?
For long months, this wound
Has been cutting my sides like a dagger.
The affliction does not calm at morning,
And nighttime does not bring death to wipe out the agony.
But if Job was to cry, he would cry,
“For You is Praise, for suffering is like drops of dew,
And wounds are presents from the Beloved,
The stacks of which I hug to my chest.
You presents are in my line of sight, they do not leave,
Your presents are accepted, bring them on!”
I hug my wounds and call out to visitors:
“Look here and be jealous,
For these are presents from my Beloved!”
And if the heat of my fever approaches fire,
I would imagine it a kiss from You fashioned from flame.
Beautiful is insomnia, as I watch over Your heaven
With my eyes, until the stars disappear
And until Your light touches the window of my home.
Beautiful is the night: The hooting of owls
And the sound of car horns from a distance
The sighs of patients, a mother retelling
Tales of her forefathers to her child.
The forests of a sleepless night; the clouds
As they veil the face of heaven
And uncover it from under the moon.
And if Job cried out, he would say:
“For You is praise, O One who hurls fate,
And O One Who, after that, decrees the cure!”

If you are tested, instead of thinking “This shouldn’t be happening to me!”, consider it an opportunity to practice patience and a call to improve yourself. We never grow if we constantly turn our backs on our problems. Growth happens when we accept that this is exactly what we should be going through, this is God’s decree for us. If God wants, He can remove our difficulty in an instant. If we feel impatient and discontented, this is a clear sign that we are not close enough to God, that we are rejecting Him. We are, in effect, telling Him “We dislike this thing that You are doing to us O God and reject Your decree for us, we know better than You what should be happening to us, and this is not it.” You will meet many religious people who are stuck in this way of thinking. Their life’s difficulties, failures and missed opportunities are present in their minds and they blame God for not providing them with a better lot.

That is the state of a spiritually stagnant person. As for the best of the believers, they walk with God through life. They know He is in charge. They know that life’s difficulties are reminders from God that they should not put their trust in this world and that they should not expect to achieve perfect peace in it. Perfect peace is only achievable in the afterlife. Abdullah, son of Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal, asked his father one day:

"O Father, when will we ever achieve rest?"

His father looked him in the eye and said:

"With the first step we take into Paradise."

Rather than feeling discontented with life’s unsolvable problems, accept them and tell yourself that this is the fate that has been decreed for you. If you wish for a better fate, if you wish God to raise your status and remove the various indignities you suffer in life, ask Him to raise your status. Only He can help you. Ibn al-Qayyim says:

Whoever among the workers wishes to know his status in the eye of the King, then let him look at what jobs He gives him and with what He busies him.

If you want to have a better lot in life, if you want your life to be more meaningful and to contain fewer problems, then ask yourself whether you deserve it, whether you deserve to be given special treatment over the millions of people who are equally suffering. In reality, you want God to treat you as if you are special. Do you deserve such treatment? If you constantly turn your back on Him, if you only do the minimum He asks of you, if you never take refuge in Him and do not consider Him in charge, then you are giving Him no reason to treat you specially. If you want a higher status in life, become the type of person who deserves a higher status in life. Do your best to stay close to Him. You should ask Him for these five things in every prayer you pray (during prostration) (I have written my favorite Arabic prayer words that I say for these purposes):

  • To forgive your sins. Allahumma innaka affuwwun tuhibbul afwa faafu anni (O God, you are the Most Forgiving, and You love forgiveness, so forgive me.)
  • To guide you and increase your knowledge and wisdom. Allahumma zidni ilman wahdini li aqraba min haza rushdan (O God, increase me in knowledge and guide me to a better state of maturity than what I currently possibly)
  • To support you: Allahummanasurni wa anta khairun nasireen (O God, support me, and You are the best of supporters.)
  • To bless your time and works: Allahumma baarik fi aamali wa awqati (O God, bless my works and my times/moments.)
  • To make things easy for you: Allahumma yasir li amree (O God, make the matters of my life easy for me.)

As Muslims, the best source of guidance we have is the Quran. Always remember the saying of the famous Pakistani poet and scholar Muhammad Iqbal:

Of the things that had a profound effect on my life is an advice I heard from my father: "My son, read the Quran as if it was sent down specifically to you."

Make the Quran your guide in life and treat as if it was sent down to you this very moment. The Quran is not meant to be a reference that we leave on the shelf. It is meant to be a guide that is present with us through life. When you suffer difficulty and discontent, always go back to the Quran and it will teach you a new lesson every time if you persevere in reading it.

Difficulties are part of the design of our universe. If we want to mature and to be raised in status, instead of rejecting God’s decrees, we must accept them, embrace them and seek refuge and support only in Him. Only He can make things easy for us, help us mature, make our lives more meaningful and raise our status. And rather than expecting to achieve perfect peace in this life, we should accept its nature (that there can be no perfect peace in it), and we should instead put our hopes for our final rest in the afterlife.

The life of this world will never live up to our expectations. We always think if only we get this or that we will be so happy! But as soon we get there, we start to feel like we are back to square one. Life’s problems continue to haunt us. And there is no escape. There are elderly people who, having always rejected God’s decrees, continue to express anger at life for throwing problems and undignities in their faces. Do not be like them. Accept the nature of this world. If you want your life to be more meaningful, if you want your difficulties to raise you rather than degrade you, ask God to raise your status, and do what is necessary to please Him and convince Him that you deserve a better lot in life.

Enduring the difficulties of having an abusive mother

So i gave in thinking that maybe she had undrestood herself and that she could not treat me and my sibling like that. Well I was wrong, every time she gets mad she wants me out and calls me crazy and maniac because of my mental illness. She is still bitter because of my father and i don't like it when she brings him and his family in our arguments (when they divorced she used us as a weapon and made dad leave us children because of the problems she was causing problems and manipulated us to hate

him. Anyways few years ago he came back in our live (this was again because of an argument between me and her and for some reason she called dads family) anyways she always calls him names and took it the point where she calls my late grand mom awful names. She made always makes bad duas to me and my sibling and calls my sister fat (she's overweight) and all. Our dad lives overseas so I can't move there. I'm really sick and tired of this and in Islam says that we always have to bare it all with

I appreciate the difficulty of your situation. Do you not have any relatives you could ask for your help or advice? They may be able to help you in some way.

Islam teaches us how to deal with life’s problems, it does not solve them for us. Muslims and non-Muslims both suffer from such problems. Sometimes you just have to endure, to read the Quran and to pray. If you are patient, your difficulties will help build your character and make you a wiser and better person than others of your own age. Some years from now you may be rewarded with a great life for your present difficulties. Prophet Yusuf and Prophet Muhammad both suffered through many difficulties, but eventually God gave them all that they desired. Always remember this sura 93 of the Quran:

1. By the morning light.

2. And the night as it settles.

3. Your Lord did not abandon you, nor did He forget.

4. The Hereafter is better for you than the First.

5. And your Lord will give you, and you will be satisfied.

6. Did He not find you orphaned, and sheltered you?

7. And found you wandering, and guided you?

8. And found you in need, and enriched you?

9. Therefore, do not mistreat the orphan.

10. Nor rebuff the seeker.

11. But proclaim the blessings of your Lord.

Getting over an impossible love

I don’t know if this is gonna sound ridiculous/stupid... but I’ve been having feelings for someone for the past 3 years and I can’t seem to get over it, I make dua Everyday asking Allah to strengthen my heart and remove these feelings, I try to keep myself busy with work and worship but at the end of the day I still come back to this , the worst part is that this person is married. I will never act on this feelings but it hurts a lot that I can’t do anything

Everyone’s life seems to contain some unsolvable problems. It can be a chronic illness, poverty, having a disabled child, having an elderly parent that one is forced to take care of, having a grown child who constantly causes problems, having an uncaring spouse, not being able to find someone to marry, etc. Your unsolvable problem appears to be your love for that person.

The main thing to do regarding life’s unsolvable problems is to accept them, to humbly submit to God’s decree and be thankful that things are not worse, and to realize that God could be saving us from many other problems that others suffer from. If our problem is solved, it is quite possible that a new problem may arise in our lives that is just as serious and painful as the one before, and most people’s lives appears to be a story of going from one unsolvable problem to another. This is how this world works, there is no way to achieve permanent peace in it. This world always promises us utopia but never delivers. Regardless of what we accomplish, in a few days or weeks we are always back to square one, always with new problems, worries and discomforts ruining things for us.

The thing to do is to sit back and understand that this is how the world works. We want to create heaven on Earth, but we can never achieve it. It is far better to keep in mind that this world will soon pass and that the comfort and peace we desire can only be achieved in a different world.

One thing you could do that might help you move on is to read a lot of books (50 or more). As you read more and more, your thinking and understanding will change and this can make it easier to get over the past and look forward to the future. You can check out this page on my my site for a list of books to read.

A Collection of Quotations of Ahmad Moftizadeh

I read this book as part of my reading of all available material on Ahmad Moftizadeh. It is a short book of a little over 100 pages. Below I will mention some of the ideas and quotations I found interesting.

Regarding education, he says that the best way to raise Muslim children is for the parents to be good, spiritual Muslims, meaning that teaching them technical things about Islam is of secondary importance. Sending your child off to Quran school while they are treated with disrespect and abuse at home is not going to turn them into good Muslims. Their main idea about Islam will come from their parents and the rest of the people they see around them who are supposedly Muslim.

O God, if possible, place all the troubles of this world on my shoulders so that no on else may suffer.

The above is an expression of his love for humanity and his willingness to suffer and die for people’s sake. His unconditionally loving attitude toward people was perhaps the greatest reason why he attracted so many devoted followers.

Changing society is secondary and is a consequence of changing individuals. it is individuals that must first be changed.

The purest state of humanity is childhood. The purest human is a child. It is children who most deserve to be served and taken care of.

I am not sold on this idea, because an adult is just a child into whom decades of effort have been poured. When the time comes to decide between allocating resources to children versus adults, who should be given preference? Moftizadeh suggests it is the child, but I don’t see this as a clear choice. Serving an adult so that they can become productive members of society can make it more likely that children will be served.

Taking faith away from people is like taking instincts away from animals.

Meaning that without faith, humans will be as lost as animals would be without their instincts.

The Quran, for a person's spiritual livelihood is similar to the earth for a person's material livelihood.

Meaning that the same way that the earth sustains us materially, the Quran sustains us spiritually.

I swear to God, in all honesty and frankness, that true faith in God cannot exist in the heart of someone until that heart loves the poor.

The first pillar of religious activism is the love of the poor.

When a Muslim's past is not burdened with sins and disobedience of God, their eyes do not become veiled by delusion and they know that God continues to love them.

Meaning that when hardship strikes, a person who is close to God will not think badly of God and think that He dislikes them and enjoys punishing them.

“I am tired of fighting and tired of trying…”

how could life fight me so hard while i didn’t do anything to deserve this hurt ,, I am tired of fighting and tired of trying, i don’t need this life I don’t want it, i can’t hold on, life is not for me i think i came here wrong i don’t belong here i don’t know where i even belong but it’s not here,, you should give it to someone else a dying baby whose parents are crying for his life or maybe a dying old father who has children crying for another day with him,, u should give it to them not me

Life’s difficulties are training for what comes afterwards, in a year or two. No difficulty lasts forever. Instead of succumbing to your difficulty and listening to Satan’s whispers when he tells you your life is purposeless and meaningless, patiently wait until God changes things for you.

If you lose hope in God in times of extreme difficulty, it means you will also lose your dedication to Him in times of ease. There is no such thing as a true friend of God who is close to Him and worships Him when things are going easy and who then turns his back on Him when hardship befalls them.

God teaches us to think the best of Him at all times. Satan  tells us to think the worst of Him, to lose hope in His mercy and question His wisdom. Which voice do you choose to listen to?

When you can, follow the steps I describe in my answer God has not abandoned you.

If you cannot find the motivation to do anything to get closer to God, trust in His saying “with hardship comes ease” and do your best to survive until things change.

God has not abandoned you: Regaining your sense of purpose when life feels spiritually empty, lonely and meaningless

Flowering Azaleas by Marie Egner (c. 1895)

I would appreciate some advice. I pray all my prayers on time and I read Quran daily, along with other forms of worship, but I feel so numb & empty. I feel like I have no purpose in this life, like if I died it won't even matter. I don't affect this Ummah in any way. I just work full-time, I'm single, I don't have friends, my family and relatives are not on good terms, and I have social anxiety so I hate interacting with others. I feel so useless, is there a point to my worship?

It is human nature to want to be productive and achieve things for the sake of any cause you believe in, such as Islam. But ideally, your Islam should not be in any way attached to results.

Even if you were the only remaining human on earth, you can still perfectly apply Islam in your life, achieving your mission in life and a great success in the afterlife.

Your mission is the same as the Prophet’s mission, peace be upon him. It is to read the Quran and apply it wherever you can in your life, living by its manners, principles and philosophy.

When speaking of placing humans on Earth, God said to the angels, “I am placing a steward on Earth.” What is a steward? It is someone who takes care of something, for example a farm, for the sake of its owner, until the owner comes back.

We Muslims (and faithful Christians and others) are stewards on Earth. Our job is to take care of it for the sake of its Master. And this is achieved by following God’s Straight Path. The Straight Path is a program designed to ensure two things: humanity’s long-term survival (by placing various mechanisms to ensure that humanity doesn’t die out), and humanity’s short-term moral integrity (never justifying evil in the name of the greater good, never saying “the end justifies the means”).

We stewards are God’s representatives on Earth, and an important part of our stewardship is to keep God’s remembrance alive:

"And I have chosen you so listen to what is being revealed.
"Indeed, I am God, there is no god except Me, so worship Me and establish the prayer for My remembrance. (The Quran, verses 20:13-14)

Regardless of your situation, you are always able to fully live your life as a Muslim. You do not need anyone else’s involvement, this is something between you and God.

I have lived alone twice in my life, once when I was 18 and another time when I was 27, and both are some of the worst experiences of my life. I understand the difficulty of your situation, and how purposeless and meaningless it feels.

These are the times when your faith in God is tested. Will you think bad thoughts about Him, consider Him incapable of helping you, or consider Him unkind so that He wants you to suffer?

If we are fair-weather friends of God, then we will worship Him and love Him when things are easy, and once things get truly difficult, once our patience is tested, we fail the test and prove that we are unworthy of being honored by Him.

The Prophet, peace be upon him, suffered many hardships during his career that must have seemed purposeless and needless, since God had the power to protect him at all times and to ensure the very best for him. For 13 years he and his followers had to suffer under the hands of the pagans of Mecca. Couldn’t have God made this only one year, so that the Prophet and his followers used their time more productively? Couldn’t they have used all these years of suffering better if God had enabled Islam to spread faster? What was the point of the Prophet losing his wife and his main protector in Mecca, his uncle Abu Talib, at a crucial place in his career, greatly weakening him?

What the Prophet was taught with all of these difficulties is that God is a King, and He does as He wishes with His servants. If we have truly submitted, we will accept His decrees, thinking the best of Him and continuing to love Him, praise Him and worship Him, even as we suffer knowing that He can end our suffering.

Know that God has no need of you. You cannot do God any favors. No matter how talented or capable you are, God can always create someone with exactly your talents and abilities in little time. Everything we do for God’s sake is actually a gift from Him, because it is He who taught us, guided us, and sustained us throughout all of these years so that we could do this thing in His name and claim credit for it.

Any good deed you do for God is actually a favor from Him. If you want to be productive, to serve Islam, Muslims and humanity, what you are actually asking is for God to give you the favor of being useful in His cause.

You are asking God for a great favor. Ask yourself if you deserve it. Ibn al-Qayyim says:

Whoever, among the workers, wishes to know his status in the eye of the King, let him look at what jobs He gives him and with what He busies him.

If you want the King to give you a great job the ensures you rewards in this life and the afterlife, then you must know that this job is given to those He wishes, and not to everyone. You must purify yourself, rededicate yourself to God, give up all sinful behaviors, and constantly seek His guidance and forgiveness, while remaining patient and thinking the best of Him, and in this way you will be guided to Him step by step, month after month, until you reach a place where He decides to give you a better task in life.

There are no shortcuts if you want to be a sincere and useful servant of God. You must turn yourself into the type of person who deserves God’s honor and favors, and He will give these to you.

God can change your situation in an instant, solving all of your problems, giving you immense knowledge and placing you somewhere where you can be a great and highly admired leader. God will not do this for you, because God does not perform miracles for us. If God did miracles for us, yet we sinned afterwards, this would cause us to deserve the utmost punishment from Him, as happened to Jesus’s apostles:

112. “And when the disciples said, 'O Jesus son of Mary, is your Lord able to bring down for us a feast from heaven?' He said, 'Fear God, if you are believers.'“

113. They said, “We wish to eat from it, so that our hearts may be reassured, and know that you have told us the truth, and be among those who witness it.”

114. Jesus son of Mary said, “O God, our Lord, send down for us a table from heaven, to be a festival for us, for the first of us, and the last of us, and a sign from You; and provide for us; You are the Best of providers.”

115. God said, “I will send it down to you. But whoever among you disbelieves thereafter, I will punish him with a punishment the like of which I never punish any other being.” (The Quran, verses 5:112-115)

They demanded a miracle from God, and God answered their prayer. But to maintain justice, it is necessary for God to hold these people who see the miracle to extremely stringent standards afterwards. Disobeying God after seeing physical evidence with your own eyes of His power is a far greater sin than disobeying God while He feels hidden from you.

It is out of His mercy that He does not do miracles for us. If He did miracles, this would be a burden that many of us couldn’t carry. On the one hand, it would cheapen our good deeds, because now we’d be doing them while having some proof of God’s existence. On the other hand, it would greatly increase our sinfulness if we disobeyed Him in anything, because we’d be committing sins while having had direct experience of Him.

What God wants, instead, is for us to go through the boring, difficult, numbing experiences of life, so that the good we do can be fully attributed to us, and so that we can be rewarded for our faith and patience. If God intervened directly in our lives, showing Himself and performing miracles, all of these things possibilities would be destroyed.

Accept your situation, knowing that God is fully capable of changing it in an instant. He wants you to be responsible for the change, so that He can reward you for it, instead of He Himself causing the change directly and taking away the chance for you to prove yourself.

Nothing you achieve in this life is going to be of any worth except the record of your deeds. Even if you build the world’s greatest mosque in His name, when the world ends, it will be destroyed and turned into nothing, as if it never existed. If you want to work for Him, then know that results only come through Him, and not through your own efforts. If He allows you to achieve any success in His name, then know that this is a favor from Him, not a favor from you to Him.

This is not to say that nothing we do for Him is of value, saying that He can accomplish anything He wants Himself. It is, rather, to realize that there are two worlds, the world of the seen and the world of the unseen. The unseen world is that which has priority. Nothing you do in the seen world is of value if the unseen part of your world is corrupt. And nothing you do in the unseen world is worthless regardless of your results in the seen world.

Becoming a chosen servant of God

If you want to become the type of servant that God favors by making him or her productive in His cause, then these are the steps you can follow to accomplish this.

1. Clean your slate

Chronic sins in your life will block God’s blessings. You cannot hope to be honored by God if part of your life is in direct contradiction to His teachings. For example, if you have usurious debt (debt upon which you pay interest, such as mortgage, car or credit card debt), then this is going to be a blocker of God’s blessings in your life. If you have cut off your relationship with a family member despite the fact that God commands love and kindness and tolerance toward them, then this will block God’s blessings.

Think of your life and find anything that could be considered a chronic sin, and fix it as soon as you can, doing your utmost to do so. God will not believe you to be sincere in wishing for His forgiveness and love if your life contains sinful parts that are insults toward Him.

The next thing to do is to ask God for His forgiveness for every great and small sin you have ever committed. Do this with every prostration of every one of your formal prayers, and do it after every formal prayer.

Equally important is to not add new sins to your record. Your goal should be to have a pristine record, clear of all sins. You cannot hope to have God’s favors if you are carrying a great burden of sins on your back.

2. Reestablish your connection with God through worship and Quran-reading

Perform tahajjud at night and read Quran between every two units. The Quran is the most important guide in our lives, because it is humanly impossible for us to remain mindful of all of our duties and concerns. Without the Quran, we end up focusing on one thing and ignoring other equally important things. We may think that being kind to our parents, or being charitable, or doing public service, or performing dhikr throughout the day, is the most important thing in life. We invariably edge toward one or a few things and lose our balance. Through daily Quran reading, we are made mindful of every possible mistake and are reminded of the dozens of things that we need to balance in life to be well-rounded and complete believers. There is no one clever maxim or teaching (“subdue the ego!”) that can replace the Quran, nothing can replace it because humans are complicated and life is complicated and to remain on track and to remain connected with God in the best way possible, we need its thousands of verses to help shape our characters and correct our errors.

For more tahajjud please see my essay: Mysticism without Sufism: A Guide to Tahajjud, Islam’s Meditation Practice

Sit down for a few minutes after every formal prayer, supplicating to God for everything you desire. Do this with all of your five prayers.

3. Be patient and do not expect results

Even if you do not see results for months, detach yourself from expecting results, knowing that God is a King, and a King does what He wills with His servants. Submit to His decree. Do your part of worship, seeking forgiveness and avoiding sins, knowing that God will do His part. If you repent, worship Him ardently and constantly pray for His help, yet see no results for a week or two, what do you know, perhaps if you are patient, results will come in a few months, when you are ready for it.

If you feel numb, uncared for and abandoned, then realize that all of us have felt like that at some point in our lives, even the Prophet, who after revealing the first few revelations, stopped receiving revelation for a period of six months to two years, after which these verses were revealed:

1. By the morning light.

2. And the night as it settles.

3. Your Lord did not abandon you, nor did He forget.

4. The Hereafter is better for you than the First.

5. And your Lord will give you, and you will be satisfied.

6. Did He not find you orphaned, and sheltered you?

7. And found you wandering, and guided you?

8. And found you in need, and enriched you?

9. Therefore, do not mistreat the orphan.

10. Nor rebuff the seeker.

11. But proclaim the blessings of your Lord. (The Quran, verses 93:1-8)

4. Read

An important help toward being patient, thinking the best of God and understanding His decrees is to read. Read Ibn al-Jawzi‘s and Ibn al-Qayyim‘s sayings. If you do not speak Arabic, read multiple translations of the Quran, especially Muhammad Abdel-Haleem’s. Read Tariq Ramadan’s In the Footsteps of the Prophet if you haven’t. Read every good Islamic book you can find, especially by modern, mainstream writers.

5. Put your hopes in the afterlife

This world will never live up to your expectations, and nothing you achieve in it will last forever. It is a central spiritual teaching of the Quran to focus more on the hereafter than on the present life, as verse 4 above teaches.

Think of this world as nothing more than a waiting room. You are here for a while, waiting for the door to be opened, behind which there is a beautiful and thriving city where you can finally have peace and freedom from all stress and worry. Arriving at this city must be your goal, you must never be deluded by the cheap counterfeit goods of the worldly life, which almost always cause as much pain as the pleasure they bring.

If you at this moment feel depressed and unable to do anything for the afterlife, then wait patiently, and this in itself is worship. Imagine yourself waiting in that waiting room. Just wait, if you cannot do anything more. Wait, knowing that eventually the door will open. You do not need to do anything more than waiting, God does not burden you with more than you are able.

6. Be easy on yourself

A mistake many of us make is to rededicate ourselves to God for a short period of time, such a during Ramadan, only to burn out, feeling that we can never be the perfect saint that we hope to be.

Never push yourself beyond what you are able to carry at this moment. Continue to enjoy what you enjoy, reading novels, browsing your favorite sites, playing video games, doing whatever (non-sinful) thing you enjoy doing.

Islam does not ask you to give up the pleasures of this world, or to turn yourself into a God-worshiping robot. It asks you reform your life, to remain close to God as much as you are able, and to continue living a normal human life. God does not blame you for enjoying yourself, for taking the time off to go to the park, to listen to music, to do anything you find enjoyable and uplifting.

Be gentle with yourself and increase what you do for God only when you are able. If today you are tired and cannot perform an extra good deed that you performed yesterday, then do not do it.

Pushing yourself too hard can cause your ego to rebel, because it will feel like Islam is an enemy that wants to prevent it from enjoying life. Children and teenagers also feel this way when their parents try to push them too hard to be pious and religious.

Instead, be a gentle and kind master with yourself, respecting your own dignity and giving yourself time to do what you enjoy.

7. Rely on His guidance

Another mistake that people make is losing hope in God’s ability to guide them. They lose hope and think that they are permanently lost, thinking as if God is incapable of reaching into their lives and purifying it again. The truth that Quran teaches us is that God is with us every hour of every day, teaching us, educating us, helping us overcome challenges and grow into better humans.

Some Muslims, especially strict ones, mistakenly think that for a person to acquire guidance, a thousand things have to go exactly perfectly for them. In reality, once a person accepts the Quran as their guide, and sincerely prays to God for guidance, then their guidance is assured. God will take care of arranging for them everything necessary to help them grow and improve. The Quran speaks much of guidance (al-huda), and there would be little point in mentioning this if it was all about a human’s own efforts toward learning about God and Islam. Rather, guidance is largely about God bestowing His favor upon humans, inspiring them and helping them along the way:

God chooses to Himself whom He wills, and He guides to Himself whoever repents. (The Quran, 42:13)

He said, “I am going towards my Lord, and He will guide me.” (The Quran, verse 37:99)

No matter how lost you feel, pray to God for guidance, and He will guide you, in ways you do not expect. He will arrange for you to go through the right experiences, to hear, read and see the right things, to be able to learn and grow and mature. What you must do, above all, is repent and be sincere.

On social anxiety and loneliness

I too do not enjoy social interactions except with people I know really well. This is perfectly normal. It is not a character flaw, it is due to your genes. If you get only four hours of sleep one night, the next day nearly all of your social anxiety will be gone, because the parts of your brain that cause you social anxiety will stop doing their usual thing.

Consider social anxiety just one of life’s annoyances, similar to a person who has an accident and has to limp for the rest of their lives. It is probably never going away completely, although many things can significantly reduce it (such as gaining wealth and status). Accept social anxiety as a part of life and move on. There are people who are blind, be thankful that your problem is not as serious. It will still get in the way of enjoying a life that people would call normal, but it is not more than you can bear.

When you are in a situation where your social anxiety becomes a factor, it is like a person who has a limp being expected to move fast or run. It is not enjoyable and you’d much rather avoid it, but if you think of it as just another physical disability, then you will be able to handle it with few negative emotions. If people constantly expect you to be outgoing and comfortable socially, then the blame is on them for expecting you to act in a way you are not designed to act. Instead of trying to live up to their expectations, trying to act the way their genes make them act, instead of acting the way your genes make you act, be comfortable with yourself, accepting your limitations, finding social enjoyment in the ways you can (instead of in the ways people expect), and having hope that as you grow older, you will learn better ways of dealing with the issue.

If you feel lonely and wish for meaningful social interactions, for example with a loving spouse, then you can pray for this and let God decide when and how you will have it. Loneliness is just one of the many tests of life, and the happiness we desire from ending our loneliness is only something that God can give to us:

42. And that to your Lord is the finality.

43. And that it is He who causes laughter and weeping.

44. And that it is He who gives death and life.

45. And that it is He who created the two kinds—the male and the female.

46. From a sperm drop, when emitted.

47. And that upon Him is the next existence.

48. And that it is He who enriches and impoverishes. (The Quran 53:42-48)

It is best not place your hopes of fulfillment in this life, as already mentioned, and this includes hoping for an end to loneliness. It is better to put our ultimate hope in the afterlife and to serve God as best as we can, expecting favors and blessings only from Him, whenever He decrees these for us.

This is about the spiritual side of things. As for the material side of things, you are free to seek fulfillment, for example by trying to get married. If you take care of the spiritual side, God will give you His help and guidance as you use your intelligence and planning ability to improve your material situation.

Spiritually, seek fulfillment only through God. Wealth, a spouse, family and friends will not bring you fulfillment unless He allows it and makes it possible. In the worldly life, act like any intelligent human, spiritually, act like His servant, knowing that He is the King above all kings.

Also see:

What is “sabr”?

What is sabr actually? Is it to learn to be stoic?

Sabr means “patience”, its literal meaning is “to withhold”. To have sabr means to be able to withhold yourself from doing anything that displeases God. In times of hardship, sabr means not to complain, not to think negative thoughts about God, and not to give up worshiping Him and seek refuge in other things.

In times of ease, sabr means to withhold yourself from using God’s blessings to disobey Him. It also means to continue worshiping Him as ardently as during times of hardship, instead letting times of ease make you complacent and lazy toward worship.

To have sabr means to be steadfast. Regardless of what life throws at you, if you have sabr, you continue to obey and worship God, withholding yourself from doing things that displease Him.

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