The word optimism is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “hopefulness and confidence about the future or the success of something”. Islam is a great advocate of optimism; it encourages its followers to have a positive outlook on life and, having made the necessary effort, to hope for the help of Allah and the best outcome. Hence, being optimistic is a part of Islam and a prerequisite to having a strong and unwavering faith. In fact, all incidents in a believer’s life become a source of goodness owing to his or her optimistic attitude, as is evident from the words of the Prophet ﷺ: “How amazing is the affair of the believer! There is good for him in everything and that is for no one but the believer. If good times come his way, he expresses gratitude to Allah and that is good for him, and if hardship comes his way, he endures it patiently and that is better for him.” (Muslim)
In the Face of Difficulty
A believer remains steadfast in difficult times, knowing that no hardship lasts forever. The believer also recognizes that there never is a problem without a solution, as Allah says, “For indeed, with hardship, there is ease. Indeed, with hardship, there is ease.” (Qur’an 94:5-6) Furthermore, no person is ever burdened beyond one’s capacity; Allah ensures that each of His slaves has the strength to bear whatever befalls him or her: “And We charge no soul except [what is within] its capacity, and with Us is a record which speaks with truth; and they will not be wronged.” (Qur’an 23:62) Hence, a believer remains patient and confident about the future in difficult times instead of being overcome by the circumstances.
A believer is motivated enough never to end one’s own life or to wish for death when confronted with hardships. It is the believer’s optimistic view of this life, with all its opportunities of doing good and earning reward, that makes this life sacred. The Prophet ﷺ said, “None of you should wish for death. If he is righteous, perhaps he may add to [his] good works, and if he is a sinner, possibly, he may repent.” (Bukhari)
When Confronted with Loss
Even in the event of a major loss, such as the death of a beloved one, a believer says, “Indeed we belong to Allah, and indeed to Him we will return.” (Qur’an 2:156) This statement is an acknowledgement of the fact that the deceased has not actually “passed away”; instead he or she has “passed on” to the next world, and likewise, we all shall one day leave this world behind. The fact that the departed soul has “returned to Allah” implies that there is no reason to wail, or to grieve beyond what is reasonable, because Allah is the Most Just and He loves His slaves far beyond their comprehension.
The Hope for Divine Blessings
Islam encourages us to ask Allah for His blessings in both the worlds. These blessings can take the form of worldly benefits and resources – particularly when one is financially insecure or struggling to make both ends meet. The prophets, Dawud (David) and Sulayman (Solomon), prayed to Allah for His blessings and were rewarded with splendid kingdoms to rule over. Prophet Ayyub (Job) remained hopeful of Allah’s blessings when he suffered from illness, poverty, and loneliness; he was granted sound health, much wealth, and a large family, as a reward for his confidence and trust in Allah.
The Qur’an also recounts the story of two farmers, one being extremely rich and ungrateful, and the other being poor but conscious of Allah. When the former mocked the latter due to the difference in their wealth, the poor farmer simply replied, “It may be that my Lord will give me [something] better than your garden.” (Qur’an 18:40) This is the sort of attitude that pleases Allah and has been commended by Him.
One often needs to take calculated risks in life, and someone who is not optimistic may not be able to gather enough courage. In the Battle of Badr, for instance, the Muslims were heavily outnumbered and ill-equipped for the encounter; yet, they exercised steadfastness and trust in Allah which resulted in a huge victory. Their situation was similar when they departed on the Tabuk expedition, which resulted in a fine moral victory for the Muslims when the enemy withdrew its forces without any fighting taking place. The Treaty of Hudaybiya too was a risk for the Muslims due to its unfair clauses. Yet, the Prophet ﷺ risked signing this treaty due to his optimism for peace and establishing cordial relations with his opponents to spread the message of Islam. The signing of this treaty was hailed as a “manifest victory” by Allah then and there – it eventually led to the spread of Islam in the entire Arabian Peninsula.
The Qur’an narrates the story of Talut (Saul), an Israelite king who led an army against the mighty forces of Jalut (Goliath). Many of Talut’s soldiers lost courage prior to battle, saying, “‘There is no power for us today against Jalut and his soldiers.’ But those who were certain that they would meet Allah said, ‘How many a small company has overcome a large company by permission of Allah. And Allah is with the patient.’” (2:249) It was thus the optimism of a small group of true believers, and their trust in Allah, which led to an unexpected victory for the Israelites and commenced a new era of prosperity for them.
Many a times, a person sins, and then errs again by assuming his or her sin to be unforgivable. Similarly, many of us become pessimistic by thinking that our sins are too great or too numerous to be forgiven. In fact, Allah has informed us that no sin is ever unforgivable if the sinner truly repents. Nor can sins ever be too great in magnitude for Him to forgive. This is because the mercy of Allah is vast and all-encompassing; He loves to forgive and erase sins, and to bestow compassion on His slaves. The extent of Allah’s mercy and forgiveness is indicated by the following words of the Prophet ﷺ, “Allah has divided mercy into one hundred parts; and He retained with Him ninety-nine parts, and sent down to Earth one part. Through this one part, creatures deal with one another with compassion, so much so that an animal lifts its hoof over its young lest it should hurt it.” (Bukhari, Muslim)
Allah has informed us of His immense mercy frequently in the Qur’an: “Say, ‘O My servants who have transgressed against themselves [by sinning], do not despair of the mercy of Allah. Indeed, Allah forgives all sins.’ Indeed, it is He who is the Forgiving, the Merciful.” (Qur’an 39:53) In fact, giving up hope of Allah’s mercy or His help is a sign of disbelief, as indicated by the advice given by Prophet Yaqub (Jacob) to his sons, “…despair not of relief from Allah. Indeed, no one despairs of relief from Allah except the disbelieving people.” (12:87)
How Deeds are Recorded
Optimism with regard to deeds stems from Allah’s supreme mercy and benevolence, and it is all the more evident in the way our deeds our recorded. The Prophet ﷺ said, “Allah records good and bad deeds in this way:
- If anyone intends to do a good deed, but does not do it, Allah still records it with Him as one full good deed.
- If he intends a good deed and then carries it out, Allah records it with Him as ten to seven hundred times in reward or even increases it many times more.
- If anyone intends to do a bad deed but does not actually do it, Allah records it with Him as one full good deed.
- If he intends to do a bad deed and does it, Allah records it with Him as only one bad deed.” (Bukhari)
The Ultimate Example
Optimism was a significant trait of the Prophet ﷺ, which greatly helped in the fulfillment of his prophetic mission. For many years, he preached Allah’s Word to people without much success, yet hopeful that the future would be brighter. When he brought his mission to Taif and was stoned and injured by its inhabitants in response, he expressed his hope that the next generation would embrace faith. He migrated to Madinah believing that the Muhajirin and Ansaar could be merged into a single community. In Madinah, he hoped that the hypocrites would see the light and truly embrace faith, or else cease to harm the community. He was proved right on each of these occasions. It was his trust in Allah, combined with his sincerity of intention and immense toil, which led to his becoming the greatest and most influential human being of all time.