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Trials and Tribulations in the life of Prophet Muhammad: Lessons for Current Leaders and Daies

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“Certainly, We will test you.”

 al-Quran 2:155

Allah gives us His words that trials and tribulations are inevitable, whether you are a layman, or especially when you are a leader and a Daie. Even the infallible (ma’sum) prophets and messengers of Allah were inflicted with difficulties and challenges.

You would agree with us that your journey of leadership and Da’wah is full of hurdles and struggles. Isn’t it?

But what for we may ask?

Throughout the 23 years of the Prophet’s life ﷺ as a prophet and a messenger, you are proud of his glorious achievements and victories. Being a leader and a Daie, you shared the tales and spirit with your audience and fired them up.

Yet, behind all those glories were great trials and tribulations, blood and tears, pains and disappointments . 

Allah assures there will be trials and tribulations

What we mean by trials and tribulations here are the mehnah and fitnah, if you’re looking for the Arabic term of it. They are about difficulties, hardships, and problems, particularly those that test your courage and endurance.

A lot of the verses in the Quran speaks about the infliction of trials and tribulations for human beings:

“We shall certainly test you by afflicting you with fear, hunger, loss of properties and lives and fruits.”

al-Quran 2:155

Allah guarantees that there will be trials and tribulations in our lives. But that’s not all. For those who are having faith, the tests would be heavier. 

“Do people think that they will be let go merely by saying: “We believe,” and that they will not be tested? Indeed We have tested those who were before them.”

al-Quran 29:2-3

And you think as front liners of this faith you are subjected to fewer or simpler tests?

And so you may pick the smoother, comfortable, and convenient paths?

On the contrary, as the successors of this prophetic legacy of Islam, you are going to prepare yourself, internally and externally, to face all the trials and tribulations that Prophet Muhammad ﷺ and the Sahaba went through.

Various forms of trials and tribulations

Back then in Makkah, Prophet Muhammad ﷺ and the Sahaba faced various forms of trials and tribulations. 

1. Persecution, physical torture and execution

During the initial phase at Makkah, the Prophet ﷺ and the Sahabas were mercilessly tortured and abused. Even when they became stronger in Madinah, the believers had to face battles which cost them injuries and losses of lives.

Our Prophet ﷺ was strangled from behind when he prayed in public, camel intestines were dumped over him while he prostrated, and he was also spat at and beaten till he became unconscious. His very life was targeted when he was about to emigrate to Madinah.

2. Verbal mockery, ridicule and hate speech

What better way to suppress public support towards someone than a smear campaign? 

The disbelievers at that time used the ‘media’ to the maximum to taint the believers with all sorts of verbal abuse. Not only did the Quraishites make use of the local media to spread ‘Islamophobia’, but they also spread the campaign against the non-Meccans coming for Hajj.

Besides the ridiculing of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ and the Sahabas as mentioned in the Quran 68:2 (with the grace of your Lord, you are not insane), Allah also recorded the case of one mocker in a specific chapter, namely, the Chapter of al-Masad. Abu Lahab and his wife were prominent figures whose words had the power of moving people. Thus, even the ‘influencers’, as we call them today, were against Da’wah!

3. Social, food and economic boycott

There was a three-year brutal protection embargo launched by the Meccans on the family of the Prophet, the clans of Hashim. Initiated by the clans of Makhzum and Abd al-Shams, they were pressuring the clan to retract the Hashemites’ protection of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ. 

They pledged not to sell, purchase and marry any women from the Hashemites. Food supplies were cut. History recorded that the believers had to feed on the leaves of plantain. Throughout your work of Da’wah, have you ever experienced such a challenge?

4. Emigration from hometown

Amid the conflicting clans in Yathrib, Prophet Muhammad ﷺ was offered to emigrate there to lead the people towards unity. Despite his innate love and patriotism for his hometown, a door of opportunity has opened and he ﷺ had to prioritise the ultimate objective of Da’wah over it.

Emigration was not an easy task. Prophet Muhammad ﷺ and the Sahabas had to move in silence. When this secret was exposed, the disbelievers were furious and tried to stop the believers from leaving. They were in fear of the believers’ power had the believers managed to reconcile with the people of Yathrib.

5. Bloody battles and armed threats against faith

Even after migrating to Madinah, the believers could not sit still. The disbelievers of Makkah and their allies came together to fight against our faith. Political elements immediately paved their way in in the form of the fight for power, influence and regional leadership. Series of battles were waged, and Prophet Muhammad ﷺ and the Sahabas had to defend themselves with whatever they had.

Yes, you may have learnt how the believers managed to gain victory.

Yes, you also may have learnt great lessons of their defeat such as the battles of Badr, Uhud, Khandaq, Tabuk and so on. 

What you may have seldom underlined are the real challenges they had to overcome prior to the victory, such as insufficient weaponry as well as emotional and mental preparation.

6. Human management – from managing a small group in Makkah to a nation in Madinah

Each of the Sahabas possessed different qualities and personality. And Prophet Muhammad ﷺ had to embrace and manage the diversity of the believers well. He had to integrate Madinah’s diverse tribes, including the sly Jewish non-believers into a nation. As the number grew, the task became complex. It required a sound reading of the local culture, demography, and political landscapes. 

7. Governance issues – of treachery and one-sided treaties

Throughout the seerah, strategic engagements and relations were initiated, and treaties and truces were signed for the sake of Da’wah. The number and nature of those arrangements became more complicated as the believers were assuming the role of governing Madinah.

Not all those efforts at collaboration went well. The truce of Hudaybiyyah, for instance, was deemed by the distraught Sahabas as siding with the disbelievers. There was also the event of treachery committed by the Jewish clans of Nadhir and Quraizah of Madinah. They were siding against their Muslim fellow citizens during the battle of Khandaq, which went against the agreed national constitution.

Going through those journeys of trials and tribulations (the list below) should make you sit down humbly and think: 

Our predecessors have gone through so much to uphold this faith. Just how severe are the challenges and difficulties we are facing today that justifies our claim as the proud successors of this prophetic legacy?

What does this part of the seerah teach you?

1. Difficulties strengthen your faith and hope in Him

It is the challenges and difficulties that make one’s faith stronger. And it is the opposition and the persecution that make one’s sacrifice worthwhile. It is the strong wind that trains the root to hold the earth firmer.

“(He) who created death and life to test you (as to) which of you is best in your deed. And He is the Most Mighty, the Most Forgiving.”

al-Quran 67:2

The treaty of Aqabah I and II that led to the eventful Hijrah to Madinah happened during the very year after our Prophet’s Year of Sorrow – when his beloved wife, Khadija and his supportive uncle, Abu Talib passed away.

The Sahabas weren’t equipped to face the first-ever battle with the disbelievers from Makkah. But they stood firm and went for it anyway. They ended up experiencing the impossible and their faith became stronger.

After years of Da’wah, the Prophet ﷺ and the Sahabas managed to open up Makkah as a superior party. After all the unimaginable pains inflicted, they instead put Da’wah first and ended up forgiving everyone. As a result, people accepted Islam in droves. (al-Quran 110:1-2)

2. Difficulties are a validation test

Sa’d bin Abu Waqqas, said: “O Messenger of Allah, which people are most severely tested?” He ﷺ said: “The Prophets, then the next best and the next best. A person is tested according to his religious commitment. If he is steadfast in his religious commitment, he will be tested more severely, and if he is frail in his religious commitment, his test will be according to his commitment.” 

Hadith from Sunan Ibn Majah, graded Hasan

The path of Tarbiyyah, Da’wah and Jihad isn’t going to be lined with a bed of roses. And if indeed roses are appearing somewhere along this path, you should be very cautious of them.

Trials and tribulations are a process of your validation: are you truly standing up for this faith, or are you merely ‘seeking for roses’. That’s why Allah condemned some of you whose faith fluctuates as the trials and tribulations are afflicted:

“And among people is he who worships Allah on the borderline: if any good befalls him, he is satisfied; but if a trial afflicts him, he utterly turns away. He will incur the loss of this world and the Hereafter. That indeed is a clear loss.”

al-Quran 22:11

“Do you suppose that you will enter Jannah untouched by the suffering endured by the people of faith who passed away before you? They were afflicted by misery and hardship and were so convulsed that the Messenger and the believers with him cried out: “When will Allah’s help arrive?” (They were assured:) “Behold, the help of Allah is near.”

al-Quran 2:214

The validation test, by the way, is not to have any of you dismissed. It is only to highlight the side of your weakness, and for you to improve it so you would pass. This critical point must be judiciously understood because an extreme treatment will lead to the undesirable issues of factional disunity, discrimination and takfir among you.

3. Difficulties push you to develop a creative way out

Retreating to Yathrib only to return to Makkah stronger was a creative move. Digging a trench – i.e limiting the enemy’s move when you are outnumbered – was also a creative move. Aiming for a prominent figure between Abu Jahl and Umar al-Khattab to embrace Islam and to become the pillar of strength for the believers was also a creative move.

Without such creative resolutions, the believers would not be able to bring themselves out of critical situations. 

A mission of building a God-mindful community, nation and civilisation was a mission of dealing with intense crises and conflicts. It took novel decisions and moves for the mission to proceed particularly when what was against the believers then was the cunning and dominating ideologies of Taghut.

Trials and tribulations as of today

Prophet Muhammad ﷺ was enlisted among the messengers of Ulul ‘Azmi (literally the possessor of determination) for no small reason. He faced great trials and tribulations, challenges and difficulties throughout his work of Tarbiyyah, Da’wah and Jihad. And if you observe closely the issues that the Prophet had to face are repeating themselves today.

Today, the corrupt systems are returning to where they were before the advent of Islam, although in different names and genres. Although admittedly some Islamic solutions are being gradually introduced into the systems to reform them, there is much more that needs to be done. 

And on the path towards that holistic reform, you will be facing great trials and tribulations. 

The principal difficulties are there just like what your predecessor faced: persecutions, physical tortures, verbal abuses and mockeries, hate speeches and Islamophobia.

In addition, expect trials and tribulations in the economic and geopolitical fight today because you will be conflicting your divine principle with your nation’s economic struggle. You are trapped in between the big nations’ fight for supremacy while trying to preserve your faith-inspired guidance.

Today’s trial and tribulation are also a test of indulgence – in power and wealth – both of which are a necessity but also a  trap for the beholders. The Sahabas have been tested on this during the battle of Uhud, and we can see how both factors – of power and wealth – led to the downfall of the caliphate later on.

The take-aways

1. When facing trials and tribulations in pursuing your Tarbiyyah, Da’wah and Jihad, be steadfast!

Allah elevates people who work for the cause of Islam even though it comes with a price. Let not all those challenges and difficulties tie your hands from advancing this cause. Instead, consider them as the stepping stone to firmer faith in Allah and earn the rewards in the Hereafter.

2. When facing trials and tribulations in pursuing your Tarbiyyah, Da’wah and Jihad, dig the divine wisdom from the seerah

The best role model for the leaders and Daies is Prophet Muhammad ﷺ himself, and the generation of people he trained (was also the best). Dig the divine lessons from the seerah and strategise them for your work of today. Regard the seerah beyond mere tales and bedtime stories

3. When facing trials and tribulations in pursuing your Tarbiyyah, Da’wah and Jihad, continue with the legacy. 

Prophet Muhammad ﷺ was sent to us as the final prophet and messenger. After his passing away, the responsibility to lead the ummah and spread the word of Islam befall upon you and me. Keep on doing this prophetic work, so that the Tawheed in both hearts and systems will be preserved until the end of time.

What makes a great Muslim leader? THE BEST FIKRAH. We enrich Muslim leaders with the right perspectives on Islam and societal issues, with capable leadership.

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