The Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, is reported to have said: “How wonderful is the case of the believer; there is good in everything and this is not the case with anyone except a believer. If good attends him, he expresses gratitude to Allah (One God) and that is good for him; and if adversity befalls him he endures it patiently and steadfastly and that is better for him” [Prophetic saying, Sahih Muslim].
God says, in the Qur’an, that we will all experience tests and trials in life:
“We shall certainly test you with fear and hunger, and loss of property, lives, and crops. But give good news to those who are steadfast/patient/persevering.” (Qur’an, 2:155).
On the question of tests and trials in our life - how do we view them and how do we respond?
Do we view trials and difficulties as a curse or scourge?
Do we respond to such situations in our life with emotional outbursts and complain about the unfairness of life?
Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya, the 13th century Islamic scholar said:
“Trials from God (Most High) test the servant, whose duty in responding is patience [sabr] and forbearance:
- to restrain himself from anger with what is decreed;
- to restrain his tongue from complaint;
- to restrain his limbs from offences, with emotional outbursts (such as striking one’s face in grief, rending one’s clothes, tearing one’s hair and like acts).
Patience, then, rests on these three supports, and if the servant of God maintains them as he should, affliction will become benefaction, trial will change to bounty and what he dislikes will become what he loves.
For God (Exalted and Sublime) does not try the servant in order to destroy him. Rather, He tries him to put his patience and devotion to the test.
For the servant owes devotion to God in affliction as in ease.
He must have as much devotion in what he hates as in what he loves.
And while most people offer devotion in what they love, it is important to do so in the things they hate.
It is by this that servants’ ranks are distinguished and their stations determined.” [Al-Wabil al-Sayyib, The Invocation of God by Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya].
The life story and struggles of the first woman in the Canadian Forces to wear a headscarf, the late Wafa Dabbagh, may God forgive and have mercy on her, is instructive for us as it relates to the topic of Sabr (patience and steadfastness).
Wafa Dabbagh came to Canada in the 1980s and settled in Montreal.
She would move to Windsor from Montreal in the 1990s and she went about establishing a life in that city.
One day, she went to the employment centre in Windsor but she could not get into the building.
So she went next door to find out how to get into the building.
Next door happened to be the recruitment centre for the Canadian Forces.
The person in the recruitment centre for the Canadian Forces told her how to get into the employment office, but as she got up to go, something made her turn back to ask what was available here.
The officer told her about the different lines of trade that were possible in the Canadian Forces.
Wafa Dabbagh told the recruitment officer that she was interested in applying.
That spur of the moment decision would change her life and would make her a pioneer for Canadian Muslims - being the first Muslim woman, wearing a hijab, to serve in the Canadian armed forces.
Wafa Dabbagh served with the Canadian Forces for over 16 years.
She said that at no point did the fact that she wore a headscarf come up during the application process.
“I went through all the tests and interviews, but it was not until I went to the reserve unit in Windsor that the commanding officer rang around the other units and found out, much to my surprise, that I was the first woman in the Canadian Forces to wear a headscarf.”
Wafa went through a range of roles during the 16 years of her time with the Canadian Forces.
She worked aboard ships, and later as a logistics officer; she was also a divisional training officer, training naval cadets and new officers who had just joined the Navy.
She was deployed overseas in a number of locations, including Palestine, where she was a military and personal advisor to the Canadian Forces Task Force Commander Jerusalem.
When she was preparing for another trip in June 2010, specifically to Sudan as a UN military observer, she was undergoing some routine check-ups to make sure she was in healthy condition.
When the results came back, the doctors found a tumor on one of her lungs, and after further tests, she was diagnosed with lung cancer.
She had been in the navy for 14 years at that point, where she was in the prime of my health.
As can be imagined, she was now at a crossroads in her life with this diagnosis of lung cancer.
She was interviewed, after this diagnosis - this is what she said in this article and which I want us to take a lesson from about tests and patience.
“While other people could have seen the cancer as a curse and been left feeling down and depressed with no hope, I saw it as a gift from God.
I believe if God sends you something it’s because He is testing you because He loves you.”
Wafa Dabbagh is an example of how believers must understand trials and tribulations in life – she responded with 'gracious patience.'
Wafa Dabbagh tells of how living with cancer transformed how she looked at life.
She found she had a big support system behind her, from the Canadian forces, her family, her friends and her neighbors.
She said, “It’s another indication that God loves me. People, strangers stepped forward to help her—to bring her food, to drive her to appointments.
“This is why I say my cancer is a gift from God, because without it, I would never have been introduced to all these beautiful, wonderful people.“
Patience, steadfastness and perseverance in the face of difficulty are traits that believers strive to embody.
“God loves those who are steadfast.” [Qur’an, 3:146].
(Excerpt of a Friday Khutba [sermon] delivered by Muneeb Nasir).