Resilience: Face the brutal facts + Absolute faith in
Resilience was exemplified when he was not successful in Makkah, whereby Muhammad(SAW) decided to go to At-Ta’aif, which was the home of Banu Thaqeef which was the other big tribe in Al-Hijaz in the hope that they would be more receptive to his message. Banu Thaqeef were honored as one of the most important tribes of the Arabs, as the Quraysh were honored and they also had a temple of a goddess in their town.
They proved to be worse. He presented the message to the leaders of the tribe of Banu Thaqeef. But such is the working of Shaytaan when Islam is presented that they responded in ways that broke their own traditions and etiquette and shamed themselves for posterity in the annals of the history of Banu Thaqeef and the Arabs. The Arabs were famous for their code of honor of honoring the guest. There are many famous stories in the history of the Arabs about people, especially tribal chiefs who literally impoverished themselves in their commitment to honoring their guests. Muhammad(SAW) was not a stranger but a well-known person from the nobility of Quraysh and most deserving of their courtesy and hospitality even if they did not want to agree with his message.
Rasoolullah(SAW) went to At-Ta’aif with Zayd bin Haritha(RA) as his companion and attempted to present the message of Islam to the three brothers who were the leaders of Banu Thaqeef. As I have mentioned hospitality and generosity towards the guest was a time honored code among all tribal societies, especially so among the Arabs. It must have been in the mind of Rasoolullah(SAW) that given this tradition and his own status, the chiefs of Banu Thaqeef would at least give him a hearing. But to his utter astonishment, instead of greeting him with the civility that was his right as a guest and as he was a member of the aristocracy of the Quraysh, the Banu Hashim, they violated every rule of honoring the guest and treated him shamefully dishonoring themselves and the honor of Banu Thaqeef. Their story is written in words of shame in the annals of history to the end of time and Allah(SWT) decreed that when the Banu Thaqeef of At-Ta’aif eventually came to Islam, they came as conquered people, losing all their wealth to the Muslims. Allah(SWT) doesn’t forgive those who trouble His Anbiya.
Rasoolullah(SAW) tried to meet the three brothers who were the chiefs of the Banu Thaqeef. Two met him but one refused. One said, ‘I will tear apart the Kiswatul Ka’aba if Allah(SWT) sent you as a Prophet.’
The second said, ‘Could Allah(SWT) not find anyone better than you send as a Prophet?’
The third simply refused even to meet him and said, ‘I can’t talk to you because if you are in fact the Prophet then I am not qualified to talk to you. And if you are a liar then why should I talk to you?’
In a last attempt at damage control Rasoolullah(SAW) said to them, ‘If you can’t accept my message at least keep this conversation private.’ But they refused and instead they got their slaves and others to revile Rasoolullah(SAW) and to throw rocks at them and drive them out of the city. Zaid bin Haritha(RA) tried to shield Rasoolullah(SAW) as best he could. But with people throwing rocks from all sides, both of them were wounded. Rasoolullah(SAW) bled from the wounds he received until his shoes stuck to his feet. It is tragic that people attack those who only want to help them.
Imagine the scene, when an aristocrat from the Quraysh, the best man who walked the earth, is reviled, abused and beaten only because he brought the message that there is nobody worthy of worship except Allah(SWT).
Remember that the Creator of the heavens and the earth was watching all this. Yet He allowed it to happen in order that the commitment of His Messenger(SAW) became clear to all of mankind to the end of time. It was His intention that this Messenger(SAW) was to be the last of them and that the message would henceforth be transmitted by his followers. And so it was necessary to establish a model of commitment which would be a shining beacon of guidance to anyone who faced any difficulty with respect to taking the message of Islam to an uncaring world. Nobody who studies the life of Muhammad(SAW) can say that for him it is more difficult than it was for the Messenger(SAW) of Allah(SWT).
That is the reason why the One who created everything and in Whose Hand is the control of everything, did nothing to stop a single stone from hitting His Nabi but became Himself the witness in favor of His Nabi that he didn’t leave any stone unturned in his effort to take the message of Islam forward.
Eventually Rasoolullah(SAW) and Zaid bin Haritha(RA) took refuge in a farm, which belonged to two people of Makkah. They saw Rasoolullah(SAW) ’s condition and sent their slave Addas (who was a Christian) with some grapes and water for him. Even though they were his enemies, they decided to help him in honor of the tradition of hospitality of the Arabs. When Addas gave the grapes to Rasoolullah(SAW), he picked one up and said, ‘Bismillah.’ Addas said, ‘The people of this land don’t speak these words.’ Rasoolullah(SAW) asked him, ‘Where are you from and what is your religion?’
Addas said, ‘I am a Christian from Nineveh in Iraq.’ Rasoolullah(SAW) said, ‘So you are from the land of the pious man Yunus ibn Matta, Nabi of Allah(SWT).’ Addas said, ‘How do you know about Yunus?’ Rasoolullah(SAW) said, ‘He is my brother as he was a Prophet and I am a Prophet.’ Allah(SWT) guides those who are sincere to the truth; so Addas bent down and kissed the feet of Rasoolullah(SAW) and his hands and his head. His masters looked at what was happening and said, ‘See how he corrupts everyone? Now our slave has also gone into his religion.’
When Addas returned to his masters, they asked him why he’d kissed the hands and head of Muhammad(SAW)? Addas said,
‘There is nobody in all the land who is finer than him. He told me something that nobody but a Prophet could have told me.’ They said to him, ‘Don’t let him make you leave your religion because your religion is better than his.’ The amazing thing in this conversation is that the people advising Addas to remain Christian were themselves idolaters who knew nothing about Christianity. Yet they didn’t want him to accept Islam.
Enmity is a strange disease which blinds those afflicted by it to all good, just because it comes from the one they hate.
Imagine the situation of Rasoolullah(SAW). He had failed in his attempt to present Islam to the people in Ta’aif. He already had very little success with the people in Makkah. What must have been his feelings at that time which was the worst of all failures because he had been personally abused and assaulted? He fell in Sajda and made a dua that has become famous in the Seerah.
Dua at Ta’aif
“O Allah! I complain to You of my weakness, my scarcity of resources and the humiliation I have been subjected to by the people. O Most Merciful of those who are merciful. O Rabb of the weak and my Rabb too. To whom have you entrusted me? To a distant person who receives me with hostility? Or to an enemy to whom you have granted authority over my affair? So long as You are not angry with me, I do not care. Your favor is expansive relief to me. I seek refuge in the light of Your Face by which all darkness is dispelled and every affair of this world and the next is set right, lest Your anger or Your displeasure descends upon me. I desire Your pleasure and satisfaction until You are pleased.
There is no power and no might except by You.”
Allah(SWT) heard the dua of His Nabi and sent Jibreel(AS). He (Jibreel(AS)) came with another angel. Jibreel(AS) said to Rasoolullah(SAW), ‘Your Rabb has heard your dua and has ordered me to bring this angel and put him in your control. Order him and he will obey.’ The angel said, ‘Ya Rasoolullah(SAW). I am the angel of the mountains. Your Rabb ordered me to place myself at your command. Order me and I will bring together the two mountains on either side of the valley of Ta’aif and all those who tormented you will be wiped out.’
Rasoolullah(SAW) said to him, ‘Allah(SWT) didn’t send me to kill people. Allah(SWT) sent me to guide people to that which is pleasing to Him. It is my hope from my Rabb that even if these people don’t accept my message today, their descendants will accept it one day.’ Such was the Messenger of Allah(SAW) whose kindness and mercy is an example for all time.
There are many lessons for us in this story apart from the major lesson about commitment. But one of the lessons we learn is about the devotion of the Sahaba towards Rasoolullah(SAW). Zaid bin Haritha(RA) shielded Rasoolullah(SAW) by his own body. He took the rocks meant for Rasoolullah(SAW) on himself. Other Sahaba did the same in Badr and Uhud where they protected him from arrows. Abu Talha Al Ansari(RA) took so many arrows on his right arm that his arm bristled with them and those who saw him marveled at how he continued to stand as a human shield for Rasoolullah(SAW).
Today, to protect his Sunnah is equal to protecting the blessed body and person of Rasoolullah(SAW) . Abu Muslim Al Qawlaani (May Allah(SWT) have mercy on him) said, ‘Do the Sahaba of Rasoolullah(SAW) think that we are going to let them have Rasoolullah(SAW) to themselves? No, we will compete with them for the Baraka of Rasoolullah(SAW) and take our share of him.’ Today when we protect the Sunnah by practicing it, defending the honor of Rasoolullah(SAW) and speaking out against those who seek to revile him, what we do may not be as great as what Zaid(RA) or Abu Talha(RA) did but Allah(SWT) will be pleased with us if we support His Messenger and his Sunnah and will reward us in keeping with His Own Majesty and Grace. Similarly leaving the Sunnah or attacking it or denying the importance of Ahadith, is tantamount to attacking the person and body of Rasoolullah(SAW) like the people of Ta’aif did. It is our choice who we want to be clubbed with – the Sahaba or the Kuffar and Munafiqeen; with the people of Jannah or People of An-Naar.
On a side note, Khalid al Udwani As-Thaqafi(RA) was a small boy when Rasoolullah(SAW) was speaking to the people of Ta’aif. He said: Rasoolullah(SAW) recited Sura At-Taariq and I listened to the Sura and memorized it.
Later when he accepted Islam, he said, ‘I knew this Sura from that day when I memorized it when I was not even a Muslim.’
What stands out so clearly in this dua is how Rasoolullah(SAW) speaks of his own weakness and lack of influence. He does not curse those who rejected, insulted and tormented him. He does not call down on their collective heads, the wrath of Allah(SWT) for refusing to accept his message. He faces his own weakness and asks Allah(SWT) to give him strength. He says to Allah(SWT) that as long as He is pleased with him, he does not care about the opinion of the world. And if He is not pleased, then he (Muhammad(SAW)) will do everything in his power to continue to work until He is pleased.
Being goal focused when you are being applauded for it is easy. Being goal focused when you are being criticized for it and when you have no apparent support is very difficult. Especially when this criticism may take nasty forms of physical or psychological abuse. To continue to remain on your chosen path and to face your own failure to convince people; yet have no doubts about your eventual success is the test of the leader. In the dark of the night, when the darkness within the soul is more opaque than the darkness outside, when a man stands alone without any visible support, that is when he realizes that the real support for the mission has to come from within. And that comes with a connection to Allah(SWT), where he feels completely comfortable with taking his troubles to the only One who can solve them.
For Rasoolullah(SAW), At-Ta’aif was not intimidation or losing hope in his mission but a renewing of resolve and a strengthening of the spirit. After the incident of At-Ta’aif the situation deteriorated steadily. The two major sources of support that he had in the persons of his uncle, Abu Talib and his beloved wife, Sayyida Khadija (RA) both died within a short time of each other.
The threat to his mission, his followers and to his own life got more and more severe and eventually he had to leave his beloved Makkah, the place of his birth and ancestors. But through all this what comes out most clearly is the fact that he did not let up his effort for his message even momentarily. He continued to work ceaselessly to take his message of the Oneness of Allah(SWT) to anyone who would listen to him and even to those who refused to listen. He did not lessen his effort nor did he lose hope.
This dua is a landmark for anyone who wishes to learn the right conduct for the one who wishes to lead. Despite his suffering, he did not curse those who persecuted him. Instead he recommitted to his covenant and declared that he would continue to brave all difficulties and strive until he satisfied Allah(SWT) that he had completed his task. It is this commitment which continues undiminished irrespective of the opposition or difficulty that is the hallmark of the exceptional leader. On the contrary difficulty seems to only make the commitment even more keen and strong.
Opposition is not proof that you are wrong but that you are right for only then are you opposed. The blow that doesn’t break your back only strengthens you.
Resilience consists of two apparently paradoxical positions: facing the facts about the failure without any attempt at disguising the reality; simultaneously having absolute faith in eventual success even when you can’t see any signs that your work is succeeding.
Research tells us that when people are going through times of disruptive change they feel:
- Disorientation: Drifting at sea, buffeted by waves of hatred and disapproval.
- Depression: Intimidated, attacked, lost, wanting to hide but nowhere to do it.
- Loss of purpose: Lack of leadership, looking everywhere for direction.
- Fear of elimination: Fearful about personal safety, looking over the shoulder.
It is during these times that we see the siege mentality that we are seeing today in Muslim speech, writings and actions. People who feel besieged react in two ways: They get intimidated and internalize the criticism and propaganda to the extent that they become apologetic and overly self-critical. Or they go to the other extreme and become militantly defensive and defend everything that their members do no matter how indefensible it may be.
There are three keys to survival in such times of disastrous and disruptive change:
1. Face the brutal facts without losing hope.
2. Make sense of what is happening and create a roadmap out of the mess.
Extensive research with inmates of concentration camps shows that those who eventually survived and escaped were those who faced the brutal facts of their situation without any attempt at painting them in a ‘rosy’ hue or indulging in hope bordering on fantasy. They did not tell themselves that rescue was round the corner nor did they wait for a messiah to come to save them. They did not imagine that their captors would suddenly see the error of their ways or would become inclined towards them. In short, the survivors did not fool themselves. They said to themselves in so many words, “We are in serious trouble and our very existence may be in danger. These are the reasons we are here. These are the things that can happen to us including our elimination.” They did not spend time complaining or blaming their captors or in abusing themselves or wallowing in self-pity.
Instead they objectively took stock of their situation and had the courage to look it fully in the face and to recognize it for what it was; very grave and potentially lethal.
Yet these people also did not lose hope in their eventual success. They had faith and took the help of their ideology and belief and strongly believed that eventually they would survive and would outlast their captors. They believed that they had the capability to resist and absorb any punishment that was dished out to them. This confidence is critical to resilience. Coupled with this is the sense that though they may be losing temporarily they are on the right path and will win in the end.
Two apparently paradoxical attitudes: looking at the brutal facts yet not losing hope in eventual success, no matter how impossible it may seem at that moment. This was the key to the success of people interned in some of the most brutal concentration camps in the world. And history tells us that they did survive.