Many will agree life is a gift. But life is not always easy. In times of adversity, a person may even see life as more of a burden rather than a gift. However, as Muslims, we are taught to not lose hope. In this article, we will explore the idea of hope and its importance. We will likewise see what our religion, Islam, has to say about it.
When a person hopes for something, this means he is expecting something desirable or good to happen. He or she is optimistic about his/her future. In difficult times, a person with hope believes there is light at the end of every tunnel. He/she believes happiness always awaits him.
Hope contributes positively to an individual’s outlook and his/her capability in dealing with difficult moments in life. Even so, the future is still uncertain. One might argue that hope may hurt the person more in the long run if the outcome is not like what he expected it to be.
“Wandering hope brings help to many men, but others she tricks.”
While hope does help individuals and comfort them, some will think, for certain people, it is only the case in the short term but not for long. This is because if the unwanted outcome occurs or if things didn’t turn out to be like what was expected to happen, disappointment will hit them and their hope will go to waste.
As Muslims, unless the things we hope for are delusional, there is no such thing as false hope. According to an Egyptian scholar, Dr Amru Al-Wirdani, hope flies with two wings; the wing of guided optimism and the wing of realism. This illustrates us of what it means to be hopeful. An extended or excess form of optimism that is not grounded in the basis of reality, such as fantasizing or wishful thinking is not part of what it means to be hopeful.
‘Extended false hope’ is heavily warned against in Islam. For example, the most delusional thing we could hope for is as if we would live this worldly life forever and that tomorrow is always guaranteed. Consequently, we are likely to go against God’s commands and delay our repentance.
In his book Maṭharat al-Qulūb, Imam Mawlūd writes:
“Its quick-acting poison is extended false hope, which is assuring yourself that death is a long way off.
This generates hardheartedness and indolence regarding obligations, which leads to inroads to the prohibited.
Regarding the one who is engaged in preparing for tomorrow or writing works of knowledge, (extended hope) is not blameworthy.”
From this passage, we can deduce that the exception of ‘extended hopes’ is towards matters that are not harmful and are considered to be good deeds in the Islamic teachings. This is because the rewards of hoping to do good deeds are similar to good intentions, which entail rewards from The Almighty. Nonetheless, true hope should be coupled with action, and, in our tradition, it should likewise be accompanied by fear and complete reliance on God.
قَالَ وَمَن يَقْنَطُ مِن رَّحْمَةِ رَبِّهِۦٓ إِلَّا ٱلضَّآلُّونَ
He (Prophet Abraham a.s) said, “Who can lose hope in the mercy of his Lord except those who have lost the straight path?”
(Surah Al-Hijr, 15:56)
There are many Quranic verses and prophetic narrations that mention hope and stories of people from the previous communities. In those verses and narrations, the people of God are never described as being despair and hopeless. The aim is to encourage Muslims to not give up in life and to rekindle hope in them.
In what follows are pointers in which Islam teaches its followers with regards to hope and its practice in the religion.
1. In Islam, hope has a partner, and its partner is fear. Imam Ibn al-Qayyim al-Jawziyyah says:
"The heart in its journey towards Allah s.w.t. is like a bird whose head is love, and hope and fear are its two wings."
The righteous person would strengthen his wing of fear in the time of happiness, so God is always remembered, and recklessness is prevented. Whereas in time of calamities and nearing death, he will strengthen his wing of hope for God is All-Merciful.
However, there are sayings of which both hope and fear should be in complete balance. Excess hope, as previously discussed, is feared to deceive individuals and make them delusional. On the contrary, excess fear will lead them to hopelessness and despair. These two situations are harmful to them both in this worldly life and, most importantly, the hereafter.
2. Furthermore, Islam teaches its followers to completely rely on God in every matter. Tawakkul, the Arabic term for reliance on God, is us taking our leap of faith into the unknown future with complete trust in God. In one prophetic narration, Prophet Muhammad s.a.w says:
لَوْ أَنَّكُمْ كُنْتُمْ تَوَكَّلُونَ عَلَى اللَّهِ حَقَّ تَوَكُّلِهِ لَرُزِقْتُمْ كَمَا يُرْزَقُ الطَّيْرُ تَغْدُو خِمَاصًا وَتَرُوحُ بِطَانًا
“If you all depend on Allah with due reliance, He would certainly give you provision as He gives it to birds who go forth hungry in the morning and return with a full belly at dusk.”
Tawakkul, in this sense, is not just to place trust upon God but to also make the right effort accordingly to the intended purpose. The hadith did not mention that the birds waited in their nests and expect God’s provisions to appear before them. Instead, they fly out in search of their daily provisions in the early mornings. This balanced outlook of tawakkul is, therefore, constituent of both effort and total reliance upon God. A true Muslim is someone who strives and works hards to get what he/she wishes for and rely on Allah s.w.t for whatever the outcome is after one has made and exhaust all efforts.
If we trust in God and rely on Him, we will not be overly concerned about the unpredictable future. As understood from our Prophet’s saying, God will take good care of us. If that is the case, Muslims should similarly place their hope ultimately in God alone. The moment we realise this, we shall understand none of our hope goes to waste.
قَالَ رَبِّ إِنِّى وَهَنَ ٱلْعَظْمُ مِنِّى وَٱشْتَعَلَ ٱلرَّأْسُ شَيْبًا وَلَمْ أَكُنۢ بِدُعَآئِكَ رَبِّ شَقِيًّا
He (Prophet Zakariyya a.s) said, “My Lord, I am in a state that bones in my body have turned feeble, and the head has flared up grey with old age, and I never remained, My Lord, unanswered in my prayer to You."
(Surah Maryam, 19:4)
There is so much to learn from our predecessors about hope. One important figure is Prophet Zakariyya a.s. He wanted a child but both he and his wife were old. It was almost impossible for them as an old couple to bear a child.
Despite that, he remained hopeful, continued with life and prayed to God. He had his complete trust in God. Praying to God, He even mentioned that God never left any of his prayers unanswered. Prophet Zakariyya a.s was eventually given a child. Sometimes, what may be seen as impossible, is not entirely impossible, when we put our hope in God.
Indeed, we will not always attain what we want, at least that is how we perceive it to be. But if God is where we place our trust and hope, whatever the future holds for us will not affect us much. This is because we believe God will only want the best for us, be it in the past, the present, or the future. Prophet Muhammad s.a.w says:
إِنَّ اللَّهَ جَلَّ وَعَلا يَقُولُ أَنَا عِنْدَ ظَنِّ عَبْدِي بِي إِنْ ظَنَّ خَيْرًا فَلَهُ وَإِنْ ظَنَّ شَرًّا فَلَهُ
"Allah Almighty says: I am as my servants expect me. If he thinks good of me, he will have it. If he thinks evil of me, he will have it."
(Sahih Ibn Hibban)
At times, we may feel life for us is a burden. Yet, giving up hope for a better future is not healthy for us. In this article, I have so far shared some ideas about hope and its importance.
Our religion, Islam, also takes the topic seriously and that it is an integral part of our faith. In discussing the matters, we have seen how hope, in Islam, should be coupled with fear and complete reliance on God. Ultimately, if in God we place our hope, He will not disappoint us, His beloved servants. We may not always get what we asked or prayed for, but believe in Him. He knows what is best for us and let us be thankful for what we are given.
I believe there is a lot more for us to learn about hope. Nonetheless, my hope from this article is to shed some light on the matter, and, most importantly, is for us to never give up hope.
Al-Mundhiri on hope and good thoughts about Allah. (2019). Retrieved January 27, 2021, from abuaminaelias.com website: https://abuaminaelias.com/al-mundhiri-on-good-thoughts-allah/
Bahmani, F., Amini, M., Tabei, S. Z., & Abbasi, M. B. (2017). The Concepts of Hope and Fear in the Islamic Thought: Implications for Spiritual Health. Journal of Religion and Health, (1), 57–71. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10943-016-0336-2
Balance between Hope and Fear - IOU Blog. (n.d.). Retrieved January 27, 2021, from islamiconlineuniversity.com website: https://blog.islamiconlineuniversity.com/question/balance-between-hope-and-fear/
Bonab, B. G., & Koohsar, A. A. H. (2011). Reliance on God as a Core Construct of Islamic Psychology. Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences, 216–220. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sbspro.2011.10.043
Heuvel, S. C. (2020). Historical and Multidisciplinary Perspectives on Hope (pp. 3–22). Springer.
Hope and Trust in God: Reflections on Zakariah and Mary. (n.d.). Retrieved January 27, 2021, from whyislam.org website: https://www.whyislam.org/islam/hopeandtrust/
In Hardship and in Ease: How to Rely on God | Yaqeen Institute for Islamic Research. (n.d.). Retrieved January 27, 2021, from Yaqeen Institute for Islamic Research website: https://yaqeeninstitute.org/roohi-tahir/in-hardship-and-in-ease-how-to-rely-on-god
M.H. Shirvani, S. (2018). “Raising Hope” in Quran and psychology. Retrieved January 27, 2021, from The Scientific Electronic Library Online website: http://www.scielo.org.za/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S0259-94222018000100044
Yusuf, H. (2012). Purification of the Heart: Signs, Symptoms and Cures of the Spiritual Diseases of the Heart (pp. 69–80). Sandala.