We are living in times frequently interspersed with a myriad of trials, tribulations and natural disasters. These disturbing events, whether natural or human-incited, cause depression, despair, chaos and socioeconomic problems. Earthquakes, war, civil strife, tyrannical ruling regimes, rebellious social uprisings, crime, permissive youth culture, family breakups and terrorism have become daily headlines. Yet, the harshest tribulations that undermine peace and security in the Muslim Ummah today are internal discord, dissension and divisions.
Ibn Al-Arabi summed up the meanings of Fitnah, when he said: “Fitnah means testing, Fitnah means trial, Fitnah means wealth, Fitnah means children, Fitnah means Kufr, Fitnah means differences of opinion among people, Fitnah means burning with fire.” (Lisan al-Arab by Ibn Manzoor)
During Fitnah, the Haqq (truth) and Baatil (falsehood) become blurry. Fitnah leaves most lay-Muslims going about their daily lives often very confused about what to do. How to keep anxiety at bay and hopes high? Whom from the two propagators of opposing views to consider on the right path? Whom to applaud and whom to condemn?
Our Prophet Muhammad (sa) forewarned us about an onslaught of tribulations and discord near the time, when the mankind will be in its last era. He said: “Time will pass quickly, good deeds will decrease, miserliness will be thrown (in people’s hearts), Fitan will appear, and there will be much Al-Haraj.” The Sahabah enquired: “O Messenger of Allah! What is Al-Haraj?” The Prophet (sa) replied: “Killing! Killing!” (Bukhari)
Even though we cannot claim that mankind has entered this time, the fact is that even since the last century, there has been a great surge in the diverse kinds and regularity of Fitnah.
The question is: what should a believer’s attitude be like during Fitnah?
Part of Sabr, or forbearance, is for a believer not to show an immediate outburst or be hasty in judgment. This includes the incidents of killings or religious conflicts and natural disasters, which end thousands of livelihoods and sweep away entire towns. Silently, the believer deliberates and slowly takes it all in at first.
When Fitnah or dissension is at its peak, opponents on either side of a debate or conflict pressurize religious authorities, influential political figures, governments or even the laypeople to take sides immediately, especially in this age of powerful digital online media and instant communication. In such a situation, a believer’s silence is perceived as betrayal – if he or she remains quiet, their loyalty to Islam itself is questioned.
Refraining from Jumping on the Bandwagon and Taking Sides
When confusion, chaos and opinions are streaming in from all sides, a cautious Muslim endeavors to obey the Prophet’s (sa) advice and keeps his mouth shut, absorbing the influx of content with an unprejudiced mind.
Any wise person knows that nowadays media reports are mostly sensationalized, exaggerated and intentionally repeated numerous times, in order to sustain consistent viewership and acquire sponsors. Even in written publications, scathing write-ups penned by emotionally-charged journalists invite readers to form a strong opinion without being objective.
Abstention from Expressing Opinions Publicly
In today’s age, the multifaceted, round-the-clock media avenues entice a layman to express an opinion about specific individuals, organizations, governments and figures of authority.
Blogs, websites, Twitter and Facebook status updates overflow with a deluge of accusations, rants, abuse, hate speech and public disparagement of others, especially famous celebrities, supposedly “wayward” religious groups and, primarily, leaders and politicians.
Whether the stimulus is a crime committed in broad daylight or the nature of the crime itself in the light of Islamic jurisprudence, television, online media and smartphones churn out incessant opinion editorials, blog posts, articles, live phone calls made on air, Fatwa’s and heated discussions.
The wise Muslim knows that adding another voice to this cacophony will just add fuel to the fire. Hence, difficult though it is, he or she tries to avoid forming or voicing a hard-line opinion, when news of a fresh event reaches them, as they know that doing this will cause no benefit.
Turning to Allah (swt) and Making Dua
It is a teaching of Islam that we should never draw final conclusions about anything, unless a clear proof exists.
A believer knows this and thus turns to Allah (swt). Following the occurrence of a Fitnah, he or she makes the earnest Dua and Dhikr as well as establishes devout prayers late at night, in order to ask Allah (swt) to make the truth about matters and people become clear to him.
Not Passing Verdicts Against Others
Today, the Muslim Ummah is blessed with numerous Islamic scholars. One issue that often arises is how the `Urf Makan (the set of customs of a country or continent, where Muslims reside) differs from that in place elsewhere on the globe.
Hence, every scholar is not equipped to pass verdicts regarding situations faced by Muslims in another part of the world. This means that Fatawa, which apply to Muslims in one place, might not apply to those in another. Average Muslims, however, overlook this factor, when they quote Fatawa from one scholar that are apparently contradictory to those issued by another. Result? Blurring of truth from falsehood.
The optimum approach is to adopt a dignified silence, not get into arguments and avoid quoting Fatawa at the merest enticement. When we have qualified scholars and certified Mufti’s among us, we should leave their work to them.
The Prophet said, “Whoever among you lives (for a long time), will see many differences. I urge you to follow my Sunnah and the way of the rightly-guided Khalifahs, which come after me. Hold on to it firmly…” (Ahmad and at-Tirmidhi)
Advice given by Prophet Muhammad (sa) and the words of his noble companions are like preserved gold. Obeying their words will enable us to save our hearts from disease and will provide us relief from the destructive effects of oft-occurring trials and tribulations.