A summary of a more detailed comprehensive lecture on the topic delivered at the Kensington Prayer Facility, in Harare, Zimbabwe,
As human beings, the unknown and things upon which we have no control over inherently distress us. This is because Allah سبحانه وتعالى has created us as anxious human beings. As the Qur’an says, “indeed, mankind was created anxious” [70:19] Everyone experiences stress for many different reasons, the most common of which are circumstantial realities, such as the death of a loved one, prolonged sickness, or financial difficulties. However, some people are created with an intrinsically anxious demeanor causing them to be more easily stressed than others, and this is a physical reality (i.e. They have been created this way)
We know that the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم experienced a great deal of stress when his people refused to accept his message. Allah سبحانه وتعالى knew the emotional attachment the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم had to this message and the physical impact such stress was causing him, and thus he revealed the verses “and perhaps you will kill yourself (or invoke a great deal of harm) if they do not believe in this message, out of sorrow.”[18:6]
Even though we understand stress to be a creation from the creations of Allah سبحانه وتعالى we should understand that Allah سبحانه وتعالى does not reveal a sickness except that he reveals its cure, and thus we should take the following prescribed medicine as an antidote to stress.
As physical stress requires physical intervention by healthcare professionals, we will focus on ten ways to manage circumstantial stress from an Islamic perspective.
1. Mental coaching
As mentioned in surat al-Baqarah, “Allah does not burden any human being beyond what they can bear.”[2:286] Allah سبحانه وتعالى will never give us responsibilities that we cannot handle and thus we need to trust that if Allah سبحانه وتعالى brought us to it, He سبحانه وتعالى will surely take us through it. Just like the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم and his companions went through times of hardship as a minority during the early days of Islam, their persistence and trust in Allah سبحانه وتعالى got them through it and established them as the new ruling majority. We need to have this firm belief, constantly revisiting and mentally coaching ourselves through this knowledge, to ensure that we do not feel defeated before the battle has even begun.
2. No such thing as complete evil
As Muslims we believe that good and bad fate is from Allah سبحانه وتعالى however, we should also recognise that all fate is only evil in a relative way, based on an individual’s perception. For example, a sudden intense hail storm that damages your car and the cars around you may seem like a very evil thing. However, to the windscreen repairer struggling with business, praying desperately to acquire enough funds to go to the Hajj, this is in fact a huge blessing! Every circumstance is relative; the good that comes to one individual may be an evil to another. And thus we refer to the hadith of the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم that “if something bad happens then bear it with patience, and that is good for you and if something good happens then be thankful, and that is good for you.” [Muslim] Therefore, if you see a situation as purely evil then you allow for that situation to consume you entirely; instead, the day a difficulty strikes you, bring ease to yourself by remembering that this difficulty is a means for you to worship Allah سبحانه وتعالى:it is always a win-win situation. Remember that no matter what you lose, you still have Jannah.
3. Underlying wisdom
Everything that happens to you is but a mere pixel of the greater picture which is kept with Allah سبحانه وتعالى. The greatest of examples depicting this is found within Surah Yusuf. We know that Yusuf عليه السلام was abducted as a young boy, thrown into the bottom of a well, and left for dead. Upon hearing this incident some may think this is quite an evil situation to be in. However, if Yusuf عليه السلام was not thrown into that well then he wouldn’t have been found by the Egyptian caravan and sold as a slave to the Egyptian finance minister. If all of this didn’t happen, then he wouldn’t have worked closely with the finance minister to learn the tricks of the trade.Furthermore, he wouldn’t have ended up in the finance minister’s house getting enticed by the wife of the minister, leading to his unjust imprisonment. And if he wasn’t imprisoned, he wouldn’t have been able to interpret the dream of the inmates and ultimately the king. If he didn’t interpret the king’s dream he wouldn’t have been trusted in a position of government and preserved stock levels during the years of drought, thus saving millions of lives. SubhanAllah, had he not been in the well fifty years before, he couldn’t have been the minister of finance fifty years later!
We need to constantly remind ourselves that we don’t know nor understand the bigger picture. As the days go by Allah سبحانه وتعالى will begin to open doors for you and slowly but surely you will see the wisdom behind your difficulties and the fruits of your persistence.
4. Morning and evening athkaar (supplications)
The ultimate protection against stress is found within these daily athkaar, yet too many people are either unaware or negligent of them. Nowadays they are so easily accessible, you can simply download the Hisnul Muslim (Fortress of a Believer) application on your phone and read them within their appointed times: from fajr until midday, and from asr until maghreb.
These duas are practical and all-encompassing tools to managing and minimising your stress. Whether it’s through seeking protection from potential harm, as highlighted in the dua “In the name of Allah with whose name there is protection against every king of harm in the earth or in the heaven, and He is the All-Hearing and All-Knowing”, or from your own thoughts and worries through the dua “O Allah, I seek refuge in You from worry and grief, and I seek refuge in You from disability and laziness, and I seek your refuge from stinginess and miserliness and I seek refuge in You from being heavily in debt and being overpowered by men”, these duas cover the various aspects of stress and difficulty we face in daily life.
Dua is the weapon of the believer and should in fact be our first line of defense when we feel the symptoms of stress overcoming us. This is why the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم has shared so many duas specific to the management of stress. A final dua that encompasses all of the tips mentioned so far and that we should endeavour to memorise is “O Allah, I am your slave, the son of your slave. My forelock is in Your Hand. Your judgment of me is inescapable. Your trial of me is just. I am invoking You by all the names that You call Yourself, that You have taught to anyone in Your creation, that You have mentioned in Your Book, or that You have kept unknown. Let the Qur’an be delight of my heart, the light of my chest, the remover of my sadness and the pacifier of my worries.” [Musnad Ahmed]
The Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم said “whoever continually seeks forgiveness from Allah, then Allah will appoint for him a way out of every distress, a relief from every anxiety and will provide for him from where he did not suspect.” [Abu Dawud] This is the power of istighfar: our sins are what block the mercy of Allah سبحانه وتعالى and thus it is only when we actively seek forgiveness from Allah سبحانه وتعالى with an attentive and engaged heart that we will feel His mercy and see His blessings from places we never could have imagined.
It was the sunnah of the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم to pray whenever stress or worry came to him. Allah سبحانه وتعالى reveals in surah Al-Hijr, “indeed we already know that what they say to you is stressful, so exalt Allah with praise and be of those who prostrate to Him, and worship Allah until the certainty arrives.” [15:97-98] Getting closer to Allah سبحانه وتعالى through our prayers and worship is a means of happiness: “whoever does good deeds than Allah will give them a resilient and happy life and we shall pay them certainly a reward in proportion to the best of what they used to do.” [16:97] Conversely, He says “the one who turns away from my remembrance than for him will be a depressed life.” [20:124]
The Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم would describe prayer as the coolness of his eyes yet what is the situation of our own prayers?
7. Pondering over the Qur’an
Ibn Qayyim رحمه الله narrates that whenever his teacher, Ibn Taymiyyah رحمه الله, would become stressed or worried, he would recite from the verses that bring about joy and hope. He would compile the verses of Jannah and reward, and recite them repeatedly whilst pondering over them in relation to his present situation.
We too should be able to extract verses from the Qur’an that bring about our own joy and solace. As Hasan al-Basri رحمه الله says “search for happiness in three things: your prayer, your remembrance of Allah سبحانه وتعالى and your recitation of the Qur’an. If you find it, then that’s where it all is. And if you don’t find it then know that Allah سبحانه وتعالى has closed the door of happiness and opened the door of stress,” meaning that if we don’t find our happiness in our prayer, dhikr, and recitation of the Qur’an, than we will not find it anywhere else.
8. Take the means
Some of us have an incorrect understanding of tawakkul. We think it is to merely put our trust in Allah سبحانه وتعالى, however we miss the essential point of putting our trust in Allah سبحانه وتعالى after we have tied our camel. It is a dual process whereby we must take the physical necessary means and then seek Allah سبحانه وتعالى mercy upon the means that you have taken. For example, lock your house and ask Allah سبحانه وتعالى to bless it. You need to do whatever it takes to remove yourself from the stressful situation. If it’s your environment that is invoking stress, than you must take yourself away from it; don’t just sit and expect things to change. Insanity is doing the same thing expecting different results.
9. Do not open the doors to shaytaan by saying “if only”
Hindsight is only a good thing if it’s related to the future; however dwelling on the past and saying “if only” is a means of opening the door to shaytaan.
As the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسل advises “do your best to do that which benefits you, and seek assistance from Allah and don’t feel incapable or defeated. If something afflicts you don’t say, ‘if only i did this’, but rather say Allah has decreed this and what he decreed has happened.” Take lessons from the past; however, becoming consumed with what has already occurred is a trick from the shaytaan to consume you and your thoughts, and invoke doubt and stress upon you emotionally and physically.
10. Be proactive not reactive
Allah says in His book:
“The people have disbelieved who said Allah is one of the trinity. And those people have disbelieved who said Allah is poor and they are rich.”
Even Allah سبحانه وتعالى has had a people speak in an oppressive way about Him, and thus who are we to be free from the tongues of people?!: no-one is free from the tongues of human beings. The important thing is to train yourself to not allow people to walk in your head with their dirty feet. Negative and retrogressive comments should simply be ignored and it is important we learn how, and when, to allow things into our mind and when to simply disregard them.
Finally, you should be proactive in regards to your time management. Never allow important things to become urgent as anything done urgently will be done in a stressful way. Anything done with high stress has poor quality and anything with poor quality has no output. For example, if you pray asr at the beginning of its time it is not urgent and thus we can focus and enjoy our prayer. However, if we pray asr towards the end of its time, it then becomes urgent and we all know how that ends: high stress, rushed, no concentration, reciting the shortest of surahs.
May Allah سبحانه وتعالى forgive our past sins and inspire our future and shower upon us mercy. May He remove all of our difficulties and stressors and cause us to be human beings that follow the guidance of the Qur’an and Sunnah in all of our circumstances. Ameen.