"So, verily, with every difficulty, there is relief: Verily, with every difficulty there is relief." (Qur'an 94:5-6)
We hear it all the time: this life is a test, and we have to get through it. The hardships of poverty, sickness, death, disability, unemployment, war, natural disasters, and family problems are all tests of the strength of our faith in the Almighty. It is in these trying times that we are reminded of Allah's Magnificence, and we turn to Him for help.
When confronted with tests, it is how we react to them that is important – will we commit a major sin by losing hope in Allah, or will we be grateful to Him for choosing us to test and thereby strengthen our faith?
We cannot hope for our lives to pass by without hardship, because the only time we will live in peace will be after the arrival of our Awaited Imam (may Allah hasten his reappearance). When we do du'a, we call upon him to reappear and deliver justice, but are we truly ready? It is essential to realize that these are the difficulties which strengthen us for his reappearance, because in reality it is he who is waiting for us to reach a strong point in our faith.
While history has shown that certain events occurred as punishments (the punishments sent down upon the people of Prophet Nuh, Prophet Lut, Firaoun, etc.), that does not mean that all tests are punishments sent by Allah. It is not for us to judge the hardship of another – Allah tests those whom He wills. Allah has told us that He will test us throughout our lives anyway, not that anytime something unpleasant befalls us, we should think it is a punishment!
As the time of our Imam's arrival nears, the state of things will only worsen; it will be at the lower-most level of conditions that Allah will send him – meanwhile, we are being tested to see if we will remain firm in times of instability.
To be patient in the face of hardship does not mean to be helpless; it means realizing that what happens is the will of Allah and to be content with what He decrees. It is an honor that He chooses whom He wills to test, and if He has presented us with an obstacle, then He will also give us the strength to endure it.
When faced with a problem, we should look towards our infallible role models (peace be upon them all) for guidance. Prophet Lut was surrounded by people who had sunk deeply into Shaitan's trenches, yet he remained firm in his faith. Prophet Ibrahim had a child after so many years, yet he did not waver when Allah first told him to leave his wife and infant in the desert, and later told him to sacrifice his son. Prophet Muhammad was patient despite the many hardships he faced from the people amongst whom he grew up. Imam Ali remained strong in his faith when faced by his opponents after he lost the support of the Prophet and Lady Fatima. Imam Hussain was patient in the face of his enemies when they did not even allow Imam Hasan's funeral to take place peacefully. Imam Zainul Abideen did not lose faith in Allah despite everything that took place before his eyes. All these examples are but a drop from the ocean of noble traditions for us to gain inspiration from!
Du'a Kumayl, Du'a Yastasheer, and the many supplications in Sahifa Sajjadiyya are all examples of prayers which can be recited particularly in times of troubles and worries. As Allah says in Surah Baqara: "And seek assistance through patience and prayer, and most surely it is a hard thing except for the humble ones," (2:45) and later "O you who believe! Seek assistance through patience and prayer; surely Allah is with the patient." (2:153)
However, it is essential to remember that when faced with a difficulty, we have a responsibility to make use of the intelligent faculties that He has bestowed upon us: in sickness, visit a doctor, take the prescribed medication after being informed of the best route to take, and in addition to all that – do du'a to the Most High.
We should look towards the Prophet and the Ahlul Bayt for their impeccable examples, we should make use of our resources and do du'a, and we must always be aware of the presence of the Most Merciful One. Everything and everyone else is temporary, and it is only He who can always help.
Look at the situation as an electrocardiogram: it is only when there are ups and downs that signify the beating heart that signify life – if the ups and downs disappear and the line becomes smooth, then that means life is over. Likewise, this life has to be filled with events of varying difficulty so that we may learn from our experiences and thereby strengthen our faith in the mercy of Allah – and that, insha'Allah, will lead us closer to our Creator.