Supplications in Hard Times


Ibn Abbas reports that at times of distress, the Prophet used to pray for God’s help as follows:

“There is no deity other than God, the Supreme, the Forbearing. There is no deity except God, the Lord of the heavens and the Earth and the Lord of the Great Throne.”  (Related by Al-Bukhari, Muslim, Ahmad, Al-Tirmidhi and Ibn Majah).

Everyone of us may go through times of distress, which could result from natural causes, as in the case of illness, or could result from other people’s hostile actions, or may even be self-inflicted.

At such times, a believer turns to Allah for help and removal of the causes that have brought about his or her distress. Yet, people often feel that they cannot express their feelings well enough as they turn to Allah for help. They may feel that they fall short of making their requests clear.

The first thing to be said about this is that what really matters is the fact that we should address Allah in earnest, acknowledging the truth that He is the only Allah in the universe, and our total and complete submission to Him. We should also realize that He is aware of our feelings and knows fully well what we want when we lift our hands and start praying to Him, seeking His help and appealing to Him to lift our distress. Allah answers our prayers because by addressing them to Him we acknowledge His Lordship and power. He does not turn anyone who comes to Him with such sincere acknowledgment empty-handed. As we make our helplessness and our need of God’s help clear, He is certain to help us. This is clearly seen in some of the Prophet’s own prayers.

Ibn Abbas reports that at times of distress, the Prophet used to pray for Allah’s help as follows:

“There is no deity other than God, the Supreme, the Forbearing. There is no deity except God, the Lord of the heavens and the Earth and the Lord of the great Throne.” (Related by Al-Bukhari, Muslim, Ahmad, Al-Tirmidhi and Ibn Majah).

The first thing to note in this Hadith is that although it is described as the Prophet’s prayer at the time of distress, it contains no supplication, prayer or request. It is simply a form of glorification of God. This point may be answered in two ways: the first is that it may be an opening for prayer, which may take any form. As it starts with this glorification of Allah, it is certain to be answered.

The other way is that a supplication may be stated clearly or implicitly. To glorify Allah or praise Him is to put one’s request to Him, because He is aware of our needs and He responds to our glorification with grace and compassion.

Besides, Allah has told us in the Qur’an about Prophet Jonah who was swallowed alive by the whale. In his distress, Jonah turned to Allah with an appeal for help. However, in his appeal, Jonah said no more than a heartfelt glorification, recognizing his position in relation to Allah:

{Indeed, there is no deity other than You; limitless are You in Your glory. Certainly, I have done wrong.} (Al-Anbiyaa’ 21:87)

Allah follows this by saying that He responded to Jonah’s appeal, relieved his distress and helped him to come out of the whale in safety.

Numerous stories speak of believers appealing to Allah by glorifying Him when they are faced with difficult situations, and that their appeals work wonders as Allah relieves their distress by the most unexpected means. Al-Hajjaj was a governor of Iraq for many years toward the end of the first century of the Islamic era. He was famous for his strong measures against those suspected of opposition to the Umayyad rule. Ibn Abi Shaibah stated in his Al-Musannaf that One day, Alhajjaj sent to Al-Hassan ibn Al-Hassan to come over to him. Al-Hassan realized that this call bore no good will toward him, as he was known for being against the Umayyad rule. He feared for his life. However, he had no option but to go. Just before starting, he prayed glorifying Allah: “There is no deity other than God, The Forbearing One, The Generous One. All glory belongs to Allah. Blessed is Allah, the Lord of the great Throne. All praise is due to Allah, the Lord of all the worlds.” When he was admitted before Al-Hajjaj, the latter looked at him silently, then said to him: “By Allah, I have sent to you intending to order your execution. Now I feel inclined toward you, and I love you dearly. Ask me for something you need.”

Nevertheless, it should be pointed out that one may say such appeals with all sincerity, but his distress might not be removed immediately, as happened to Jonah and Al-Hassan. In such an eventuality, one should trust that Allah has allowed his/her distress to continue because He wants only what is good for him/her. It may well be that He knows that by allowing the distress to continue for a while, He will open a better prospect for His servant.

The best example is the fact that Allah causes even His best servants to die. Death involves distress, at least for those who love the dying person. Yet death is necessary for a much better prospect, namely admitting the dying person to heaven.

The Prophet has also taught us certain prayers which he recommends us to say three times each morning and evening.

One is: “O Allah! Grant me health in my body. O Allah! Grant me good hearing. O Allah! Grant me good eyesight. There is no god but You.” (Abu Dawud)

The other is: “O Allah! I seek refuge in Thee from infidelity and poverty. O Allah! I seek refuge in Thee from punishment in the grave. There is no god but You”. (Abu Dawud)

It is highly significant that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) has combined in one prayer an appeal for protection against denying Allah and poverty. The two may seem to be widely apart, but the fact is that poverty often leads a person to disbelief. He may feel that he is hard done by when he sees others, who may be less talented than him, enjoying a life of riches while he lives in poverty. This may cause him to doubt Allah’s justice. If he allows such feelings to linger in his mind, he may find himself moving along the way to first denying Allah’s justice, then denying Allah Himself.

On the other hand, a person may find poverty a very hard burden. So, he tries to relieve it by every means. If he cannot, he may resort to crime or sinful actions. These may jeopardize his position in the hereafter. In this sense, poverty brings him close to the position of an unbeliever. Hence, the Prophet appeals to Allah to spare him both unbelief and poverty.

The other prayer appeals for sound health in body, hearing and sight. Although the latter two are part of the body, and sound body health means sound sight and hearing, yet they are singled out because they are the most important faculties a person has. If one loses either of them, one may suffer much trouble. Sound faculties and sound health mean a great deal to every one of us. Hence, we do well to repeat the Prophet’s prayer three times every morning and every evening.

Author : Adil Salahi is the Executive Director of Al-Furqan Heritage Foundation. He teaches Islamic Studies at the Markfield Institute of Higher Education, Leicester, England. After working for the BBC Arabic Service for several years, he worked for the Arabic daily, al-Sharq al-Awsat. He continues to publish a column, “Islam in Perspective”, in its sister publication, Arab News, an English daily published in Saudi Arabia. He has produced an English translation of several volumes of Sayyid Qutb’s commentary, In the Shade of the Quran (Leicester, Islamic Foundation), as well as several other books on Islamic subjects.

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