Allah has a way of organising His creation in a fixed precedent that will never change. A man can only propagate the human race. A sapling in the ground will only produce a tree of the same species. When clouds combine, they will produce rain. The whole creation of Allah follows a constant system, and similarly, the way Allah deals with us follows a certain fixed system. This is called the sunnah of Allah.
The lack of comprehension and understanding of the sunnah of Allah is a problem. Psychologists agree that the unknown, uncertainty, doubt and lack of confidence weakens people. The unknown compromises and clouds the ability to handle a situation correctly, because of the lack of knowledge. In the context of Islam, if we do not comprehend and understand the message of Allah, we become nervous, weak and hesitant and we do not know what to do.
There is also a sunnah to achieving victory. Imam Shafi'ee was once asked which comes first – victory or trial? He replied that we will never achieve victory without passing a trial first. If we understand this sunnah of, then a lot of things will fall into place.
Surah Al Ankabut states:
"Alif-Lam-Mim. Do people think that they will be left alone because they say: "We believe," and will not be tested. And We indeed tested those who were before them. And Allah will certainly make (it) known (the truth of) those who are true, and will certainly make (it) known (the falsehood of) those who are liars, (although Allah knows all that before putting them to test)." (Al Qur'an 29: 1-3)
If we choose to be on the path of Allah, the tests that we have to undergo will make the journey of iman a lonely one, filled with sacrifice and hardship. From the beginning of time, those on the road towards Allah are always against the odds. Their families and friends are often the first to turn against them. This is even true of a Muslim family where one of the members decides to increase his own journey of iman. We have seen Muslims parents threaten to kick out their daughter because she wanted to wear a veil. There are Muslim families exerting incredible pressure against their children for wanting to marry someone pious but without status.
Often, the journey is frequently marked by the desire to get away from our hostile environment. We want to escape and migrate from one country to another, run away and dream of a better future in a different location in order to seek a gentler environment. This is normal.
However, according to the sunnah of Allah, it is also the journey of opening from Allah after the difficulty has been overcome: "As for those who strive hard in Us (Our Cause), We will surely guide them to Our Paths (i.e. Allah's Religion - Islamic Monotheism). And verily, Allah is with the Muhsinun (good doers)." (Al Qur'an 29:69)
So, if you pass one level of trial, Allah will grant you and opening and a corresponding level of victory. Yet this victory is double edged, because He will then try you with what He has given you. If you pass this new trial, Allah will give you a new victory, but still continue to test you. Each trial comes with a higher level of difficulty, but the mu'min will be able to pass the trials easily if his faith and connection with Allah is strong, even if the ground he is standing on is crumbling under his feet. At each level the trial is passed, Allah will then give you a similar level of victory. This alternating cycle of trial and opening continues until we die.
Even Rasulullah SAW and the Companions were not exempt from this sunnah. The opening of Makkah and the triumph of Islam occurred after twenty three long years of hardship, sacrifice, personal tragedies and struggle. The early Muslims lost everything they owned when they were forced to migrate to Madinah, with many of them having to sever ties with their spouses, parents and children. The early Muslims were continuously tested through the loss of their wealth, death, poverty and war. Yet, for enduring all these trials, look at their ultimate victory. More than 1400 years after their deaths, Islam still continues to flourish, due to the seedlings of effort that they planted all those years ago. They are indeed victorious.
A true journey of iman allows no rest or respite. It is a journey to asses your love of iman and love of Allah, and you will continuously be challenged to prove your devotion to Allah. The conditions, venue and time will change, but the sunnah of Allah remains constant, no matter how old you are or which part of the world you live in.
The Qur'an, revealed centuries ago, is a direct message to you and the stories in the Qur'an can be personified to your circumstances, but only if you understand its wisdom. If you cannot comprehend its message, this lack of knowledge and the fear of the unknown will place you in a state of imbalance and uncertainty, making you weak and defeated.
All of the above require reinforcements - the pillar of iman (faith) coupled with the patience to live out that faith. We need to always be prepared to demonstrate patience with the sunnah of Allah, both when He gives you or when He withholds from you.
"Whoever hopes for the Meeting with Allah, then Allah's Term is surely coming. And He is the All-Hearer, the All-Knower. And whosoever strives, he strives only for himself. Verily, Allah is free of all wants from the 'Alamin (mankind, jinns, and all that exists)." (Al Qur'an 29:5 -29:6)
The prime example of one who sacrificed for Allah is Ibrahim AS. Allah descended one trial after another upon him. Each trial was succeeded by a victory, but the succeeding trial was even more difficult. Ibrahim AS and his family passed each phase of trial which is why his family is so venerated up to today.
Eid al Adha, which is celebrated annually, revives the story of Ibrahim's AS sacrifice. No other Prophet had to make such monumental and heart rending sacrifices as Ibrahim AS had. As a boy, he was forced to assist in his father's idol-making business. He refused to collaborate with his father in claiming that these statues were gods to be worshipped, and for that he was beaten. How unacceptable such actions would be in today's context where smacking a child is considered abusive and even criminal in some jurisdictions!
He then started his journey of iman alone, contemplating in solitude in order to seek God. Against all the hostility, he believed in Allah and stood for the truth. A series of trials ensued. His father opposed him. His community turned against him. King Nimrod, the tyrant ruler at the time, confronted him for believing in Allah, and sentenced him to death by fire. The whole town gathered kindling to burn Ibrahim AS alive.
As Ibrahim AS was catapulted towards the raging flames, Jibril AS, the angel of wind and the angel of rain came and offered him help in rapid succession, but because they were not commanded to do so by Allah, Ibrahim AS refused their help. He relied on Allah alone to save him and believed without the shadow of a doubt that Allah would indeed save him.
True enough, Allah changed the quality of the fire and made it a cool abode for Ibrahim AS. By some reports, he claimed that his time in the fire was one of the best times of his life!
The message here for the rest of us is simple: Do we believe in Allah, or do we believe in the conditions?
Allah then sent a mosquito into Nimrod's head, such that he suffered chronic headaches which could only be alleviated by smacking his head with shoes. Allah had chosen to disgrace Nimrod, and used an insignificant, crippled mosquito to compound the humiliation. His army was later defeated by a swarm of mosquitoes. Look at how Allah granted victory or defeat with the most nondescript of creation!
Later, Ibrahim AS yearned for a child in order to continue the legacy of da'wah, but his wife Sarah was barren. When they migrated to Egypt, they came across Hajr the slave woman. Sarah consented Ibrahim AS to marry Hajr in order to bear him children. However, once the baby, Ismail AS, was born, jealousy consumed Sara, and she asked her husband to travel far away with Hajr and the infant and to leave them there.
Realising that this was the will of Allah, Hajr did not kick up a fuss but instead obeyed the command of Allah without resistance. When left alone in the desert with a starving child, she did not wail and cry in rage or anger. Instead, she placed her utmost reliance on Allah, even when both of them were at the brink of death. For this devotion and loyalty, Allah granted victory to Hajr. Not only was she instrumental in discovering the Zam Zam well and the establishment of Mekkah, but no one can perform umrah and hajj without replicating her footsteps to commemorate how she ran back and forth between the hills of Safa and Marwa to find water. Further, her son was granted the most noble descendant – Muhammad SAW.
More trials followed Ibrahim AS. When Ismail AS was at the brink of adulthood, Ibrahim AS was ordered to slaughter him as a sacrifice to Allah. It was difficult especially given that Ismail AS was his only child and that he had yearned for him for all of his life, but he understood that everything he had, including his beloved son, was a trust from Allah, and that such trust, when reclaimed by the Owner, should be returned willingly. When he obeyed, Allah again switched the conditions, making the blade too blunt to pierce Ismail's AS skin, and substituting a sacrificial ram in place of Ismail AS.
Both father and son were so honoured by Allah that they were commanded to rebuild the Ka'bah, which is now the focal point for all salat and hajj rituals for Muslims until the end of time. The rewards continued: Ibrahim AS was then granted another son, Ishaq AS through his first wife Sarah AS, who was previously thought to be barren. Ishaq AS in turn, was the forefather of all the future Prophets and Messengers, including Musa AS, Sulaiman AS and Daud AS, except for Muhammad SAW who was a direct descendant of Ismail AS.
Ibrahim AS had passed the test after test, and for that, his rewards were enormous. The ultimate victory was when Ibrahim AS was commanded to call the azan in the middle of the desert to invite others there. He wondered how this could be, as there was no one there to hear his call. Yet, Allah allowed his words of "labaikallahuma labaik" to resonate and be responded by millions of Muslims until the end of time.
When we make our sacrifice of livestock during Eid Al Adha, it is actually a metaphor for sacrificing all that we love for the sake of Allah. Often the symbolism is overlooked and the occasion becomes a festival for feasting and visiting friends and family.
Ayyoub AS also had to undergo horrific trials. He bore a prolonged chronic and excruciating illness and the loss of his family and fortune with patience. Ultimately, after eighteen long years of suffering these adverse conditions, Allah rewarded him with more than what He had originally taken from him. His bounty was increased, and with that bounty also came victory.