Times are difficult. Peace and security are scarce and fleeting. Humankind frequently suffers tribulations such as natural disasters, war and tyrannical rulers. Social and economic problems such as unemployment, divorce, permissive youth culture, terrorism, rampant crime and lack of education and morality, abound.

However, out of all problems, dissension, division and discord seem to rule the roost.

Ibn Al-A’rabi 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, a Muslim is often left confused about what to do; how to keep despair at bay and remain hopeful; whose side to take during a conflict, and who to blame or condemn? The haqq (truth) becomes blurry with baatil (falsehood).

Our Prophet Muhammad ﷺ prophesied the onslaught of fitan near the end of time, i.e. when mankind will be in its last part. He ﷺ 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 (Companions) enquired, “O Messenger of Allah! What is Al-Haraj?”. The Prophet replied, “Killing! Killing!”
(Sahih Al-Bukhari: 88, 183)

Not with standing whether we are in those times or not, the fact remains that the frequency of fitnah has increased exponentially since even the last hundred years.  
The question is: What should a believer do when faced with trying situations?

Deliberation and patience

Whenever civil strife, killing, or conflict between ethnic or religious groups take place; or an all-encompassing natural disaster destroys tens of thousands of livelihoods and homes, the believer tries to deliberate and slowly take it all in at first.

It was narrated that Al-Zubair Bin ‘Adiyy (RA) said:

“We came to Anas Bin Malik and complained to him about what we were suffering at the hands of Al-Hajjaj. He said, “Be patient, for there never comes to you a time but what follows it is worse, until you meet your Lord. I heard this from your Prophet .”
(Sahih Al-Bukhari: 7068)

When fitnah is intense, groups on opposing sides pressurize religious heads and people occupying posts of authority take sides immediately. Silence and deliberation is taken as betrayal, the silent Muslim’s faith and loyalty to Islam is questioned. 

It is about such times that the Prophet ﷺ warned us: Narrated Abu Hurairah (RA), the Prophet ﷺ said:

“There will be fitnah (civil strife) which will render people deaf, dumb and blind regarding what is right. Those who contemplate it will be drawn by it, and giving rein to the tongue during it, will be like smiting with the sword.”
(Abu Dawud: Book 30, 4251)

Not taking sides immediately

In obedience to the Prophet ﷺ’s advice, the cautious Muslim keeps his mouth shut and absorbs the information streaming in from all directions with a clear mind and sound heart. He refuses to react and jump to conclusions on the basis of obscure, conjectural media reports, or inflammatory opinion pieces penned by emotionally charged, hype-seeking journalists.

Not expressing opinions

Often, during civic strife or politically chaotic events, the ever-present, multifaceted, round-the-clock media channels invite all and sundry to express their opinions regarding specific individuals, institutions, governments, convicted criminals or even figures in authority. 

Twitter and Facebook become awash with deluges of curse words, abusive language, hate-festering and public denunciation of organizations or individuals, especially rulers and politicians. Whether the stimulus is someone’s conviction for a crime, or the stance of Islamic fiqh regarding the nature of the crime itself, television, radio, online media and even cell phones issue forth discussions, articles, fatwas and heated op-eds.

Confusion, chaos and no less than jurisprudential anarchy result. Difficult though it is, a wise Muslim tries to avoid forming or voicing fixed opinions immediately when he or she hears of an event, as this will cause no benefit; rather, they know that it will just add fuel to the fire.

Turning to Allah (SWT)

Since Islam exhorts that one should never jump to conclusions about an event or person unless clear proof or eyewitness accounts exist, a believer as usual, turns to his Lord in earnest dua (supplication) in dhikr (remembrance of heart and tongue) and in qiyaam (soulful prayers late at night) in order to seek the stance he should take; to beseech the Almighty Allah (SWT) to make the haqq and baatil, both, become crystal clear to him. 

Staying neutral

The times today are such that, while we are still blessed with a multitude of Islamic scholars and people of knowledge, the ‘urf makan – customs of a particular place – vary from place to place, and each scholar is not equipped to give verdicts regarding situations faced by Muslims in another geographical area of the world. Hence, verdicts or fatawa that apply to Muslims at one place might not apply to those in another. This is not taken into account by laymen when they shoot off fatawa from one scholar to counter those given by another during civil strife or war. Result? Confusion and dissension.

The recommended attitude of the common Muslim is that of silence and aversion to rolling off fatawa from the tip of his tongue at the merest of provocations or demands. The role of qualified, expert Islamic scholars and certified muftis should be left to them. 

If Muslims adhere to the advice meted out to them by Prophet Muhammad ﷺ and by his noble Companions (RA), they’d find peace in their hearts and relief from the distress caused by frequent and varying tribulations, or fitan.

The Prophet ﷺ said:

“Whoever among you lives (for a long time) will see many dissensions. I urge you to follow my Sunnah and the way of the rightly-guided Caliphs who come after me. Hold on to it firmly…”
(Musnad Ahmad, 4/126) and Al-Tirmidhi, 2676)

Note: “This article was first published in Saudi Gazette”.