(3:139) Relentless Optimism

وَلَا تَهِنُوا۟ وَلَا تَحْزَنُوا۟ وَأَنتُمُ ٱلْأَعْلَوْنَ إِن كُنتُم مُّؤْمِنِينَ ١٣٩
Do not lose heart or despair- for you will have the upper hand, if you are ˹true˺ believers.

When news arrived of an unprecedented Confederate army had gathered to destroy the Muslims, larger than any ever seen before in Arabia, the companions immediately began digging a trench to protect the exposed front of Madinah. With little time on their side, the smallest setback could prove fatal for the believers as the marching army would arrive in a matter of days. In that moment, as unfortunate as it was symbolic, they were blocked by a boulder so large even the strongest of them could not break it. These great companions, full of faith and understanding, knew immediately who to turn to; the Prophet ﷺ.

As our Beloved ﷺ was handed the axe, he struck it once and a tremendous spark emerged, filling the horizon. With great joy, he exclaimed, “Allahu Akbar! The keys of Syria are granted to me. I swear by Allah, I can see its palaces at this very moment.” He struck the axe again, and another spark lit up the sky. “Allahu Akbar! Persia is granted to me. I swear by Allah, I can now see the white palace of Madain.” On the third strike, a tremendous spark emerged once again, causing the rock to crumble. The Prophet ﷺ exclaimed, “Allahu Akbar! I have been given the keys of Yemen. I swear by Allah, I can see the gates of Sana’a from where I stand.”

In their darkest moment, the Prophet ﷺ shared nothing but hope with the believers. In the face of annihilation, met with an insurmountable obstacle, He shared a prophecy of incredible victories in the future with such certainty, it made the impending calamity seem nothing more than a minor setback. To have such tremendous optimism, conviction even, in the face of such dire odds is a hallmark of the Prophetic call, and is something that our community desperately needs to rediscover. While there are countless similar incidents to recall, three are particularly noteworthy:

  • After a group of disbelievers in Makkah violently attacked, strangled, and beat the Prophet ﷺ while he was praying, he turned to his companions and said “Rejoice, for Allah ﷻ will make His religion prevail, complete His Word, and support His Prophet. Verily, those (perpetrators) whom you see today will be slain by Allah through your hands soon.”
  • During his migration from Makkah, the Prophet ﷺ was relentlessly pursued by disbelievers seeking to kill him, if not for hatred then for the heavy bounty on his head. Suraqah, a skilled bounty hunter, successfully tracked him down within the desert, but each time he approached, his horse sank into the sand and he stood at the mercy of the Prophet ﷺ. After vowing to end his pursuit, his horse was released and he free to return to his home. However, the allure of money was too great, rescinding his word and attempting his capture repeatedly, each time meeting the same outcome! On the third attempt, the Prophet ﷺ came to him and promised him a bounty far greater; the bracelets of the emperor of Persia! He agreed, and did not pursue him again.
  • Before the battle of Badr, the Muslims were hopelessly outnumbered and under resourced. They faced an army 3 times larger than their own, and hadn’t come out prepared for such a war. In the face of such dire odds, the Prophet ﷺ walked around the battle field marking out the precise spots where each of their leaders would fall. Each of them fell in the precise spot he had marked.

As a community, we have neglected this sunnah of relentless optimism shown by the Prophet ﷺ. We mistake the struggle with the outcome, seeing a difficult route or stumbling block as an omen of what’s to come. Whilst the Prophet ﷺ saw with revelation, he spoke of how he loved optimism, calling on people to seek good omens. The companion Anas ibn Malik narrated from the Prophet ﷺ:

لاَ طِيَرَةَ، وَخَيْرُهَا الْفَأْلُ ‏”‏‏.‏ قَالُوا وَمَا الْفَأْلُ قَالَ ‏”‏ الْكَلِمَةُ الصَّالِحَةُ يَسْمَعُهَا أَحَدُكُمْ ‏”‏‏
“There are no bad omens, but the best of omens is the Fa’l.” They asked, “What is the Fa’l?” He replied, “A good word that one of you hears (and takes as a good omen).

The Prophet ﷺ actively encouraged us to be positive and ignore any negativity. His emphasis on hearing good words suggests we should actively encourage and support one another in this pursuit. We should constantly remind one another and seek good signs wherever they are! This characteristic is a prophetic one, shared by all those before him too. Imam Ghazali narrates a story of Jesus (as) and a disciple passing a rotting carcus of a dog. Whist his disciple complained of its stench, the Prophet (as) remarked “What white teeth it has!”. He only saw the good in any situation. Prophet Ibrahim, even as he was thrown in the fire, never lost faith that Allah ﷻ would help him. Prophet Musa as he stood between the sea and the army of Pharoah knew his Lord would save them from a massacre. It’s not that bad things don’t happen or failure doesn’t occur; it’s having relentless optimism, certainty even, in spite of them – that things will work out for the good eventually.

For the first time in British history, a Muslim leads a major political party and stands as an elected head of state. In one of his first public acts, he breaks his fast and prays in congregation in a building once a symbol of colonialism in his ancestral homeland. As a community, we must see this as a good omen. We must break free of this overwhelming negativity that surrounds all our current affairs, and our tendency to criticise, complain and see the worst in each incident. Yes there is much pain and struggle to complain of. Yes there is racism, poverty, political powers and public opinion we face as obstacles, but we cannot find ourselves imprisoned in a spiral of negativity that paralyses us from moving forwards. We must raise ourselves and the next generation with an optimism that they can succeed regardless of the challenges. There are as many friends out there as enemies, and we have the greatest and only friend we need on our side: Allah ﷻ. When we meet our unbreakable rock in our battle trenches, when the odds are overwhelmingly stacked against us, we must do what the companions did; turn to the Prophet ﷺ for help. His sunnah is to see optimism wherever he looked, and it’s time we follow the same path too.


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