In a reference to the unlimited grace which Allah bestows on those of His servants who are keen to earn His pleasure, we mentioned recently that Allah credits any dutiful servant of His who is prevented by illness from doing a good action which he habitually does with the same reward as if he has done it. Thus if a Muslim is in the habit of fasting one day a week or more and he suffers an illness which prevents him from fasting for several weeks, or if his illness prevents him from doing his habitual night worship, Allah adds the reward of such good actions as he is used to do when he is healthy, despite the fact that he has not done them. This is certainly an act of grace which only Allah can bestow. Moreover, when a Muslim falls ill, or indeed suffers any physical or mental hardship, he stands to earn something for it.
Aisha, the Prophet’s wife (Pbuh), quotes him as saying: “For any adversity a Muslim suffers, Allah erases some of his sins, even though it may be no more than a thorn pricking him”. (Related by Al-Bukhari). Another version of this Hadith is also related by Al-Bukhari on the authority of two of the Prophet’s (Pbuh) companions, namely, Abu Saeed Al-Khudri and Abu Hurairah who quote him as saying: “Whatever befalls a Muslim of exhaustion, illness, worry, grief, nuisance or trouble, even though it may be no more than a prick of a thorn, earns him forgiveness by Allah of some of his sins.”
The first thing to note in these two Hadiths is that when a Muslim suffers some adversity, whether physical or mental, or has some serious or light trouble to contend with, he will have some reward for enduring it with patience and contented acceptance. The reward is not given in the same way as a good action entered in his record, because he does not bring such an adversity upon himself. It befalls him through no action of his. He is pardoned some of his sins. In other words, a punishment that he may have incurred will be waived. Eventually, this will have the same effect as something added to his credit. On the Day of Judgement, our good deeds are put in the balance against our bad ones. If some of the latter have been pardoned, then the net result will be the same as if a reward is credited to us.
In order to drive the point home to us, the Prophet gives the example in both Hadiths of a prick of a thorn. Since this happens to every one of us without being too much of a bother, we can understand how significant is this example of Allah’s grace. It is needless to say that the greater the suffering the better the reward. We cannot expect that a person who suffers’ a prick of a thorn will have the same volume of sins pardoned for him as someone who is confined to bed through illness for several weeks or several months. If the adversity is serious and the sufferer endures it with patience, contented with what Allah has given him and recognizing that the adversity is merely a trial through which he proves his strong faith, then it may earn him admission into heaven. Consider the following Hadith related by Al-Bukhari, Muslim and An-Naseai:
“Atta’ ibn Abu-Rabah reports that once Abdullah ibn Abbas, the Prophet’s cousin who was one of the best scholars among the companions of the Prophet, said to him: Would you like me to point out to you a woman who will be in heaven? Atta’ said: Yes. Ibn Abbas said: This black woman came once to the Prophet (Pbuh) and said: “I suffer from severe epilepsy and parts of my body get exposed. Will you please pray Allah for me?” The Prophet (Pbuh) said to her: “The choice is yours: You may wish to endure it with patience and have admission into heaven as your reward, or you may wish me to pray Allah to cure you.” She said: “I will endure it, but some parts of my body get exposed, so pray Allah for me not to be exposed.” The Prophet (Pbuh) prayed for her.
The woman in this story was called Suairah, an Abyssinian black woman who was attached either through slavery or alliance to the tribe of Asd. She used to come to the Prophet (Pbuh) after the death of his first wife, Khadeejah, and he used to treat her with kindness and fitting hospitality. He knew that she was a firm believer. Therefore, when she asked him to pray for her recovery, he wanted to point out to her that enduring her hardship which was serious indeed, would lead her to heaven. Since this is the most credited prize of all, he did not want her to miss the chance of making sure of earning it. She knew that had the Prophet (Pbuh) prayed for her recovery, she would have been immediately cured. Allah answered every supplication the Prophet (Pbuh) made at any time of his life on behalf of any of his companions. As a firm believer, she did not want to risk the greater prize. Therefore, she immediately chose to endure her trouble with patience and perseverance. When a person suffers a fit of epilepsy, he is unconscious. People tend to think of an epileptic patient as someone whose illness makes him inferior to them. He cannot control his mental power. Even when he is not suffering a fit, he is looked upon with a mixture of condescending sympathy, pity and superiority. Nevertheless, the woman was willing to endure all that for the much greater reward of admission into heaven.
We can further appreciate that she was a woman of strong belief because she was worried of what may happen to her when she was overtaken by a fit of epilepsy. Unconscious, she may expose some parts of her body which she is supposed to cover. As we all know, a Muslim woman may not expose in front of men who are unrelated to her any part of her body except her face and her forearms. As she might fall down she might leave her arm or her leg or her head, or any other part of her body to be seen by any passer-by. She wanted to avoid that if she could. Nothing would guarantee it better than a prayer to Allah by the Prophet (Pbuh) which he offered on her behalf without any hesitation. We are also told that when the woman felt that a fit of epilepsy was about to overtake her, she went to the Kaa’ba where she held tight to its covers. Thus, she was actually appealing to Allah to protect her. It is needless to say that she would not have any blame attached to her for exposing her body when she was unconscious. Nevertheless, she would much sooner remain covered. Hence her appeal to Allah and the Prophet (Pbuh). Recognizing the significance of all this, Ibn Abbas had no hesitation in describing her as a woman who is destined to go to heaven.
When a believer understands all this, he would not feel too depressed when he suffers a serious illness. No one suggests that a Muslim should wish for illness or try to catch it.
Indeed, health is a blessing which every one of us should work diligently to preserve. The Prophet (Pbuh) points out that good health is the greatest blessing with which anyone may be favoured, next to the blessing of being strong in faith. Moreover, we are accountable for how we use our good health. If we undermine it, we expose ourselves to not only suffering ill health in this world but also to punishment in the life to come. But if one is taken ill, he should accept his trial with patience, remembering that he will be rewarded for it. Indeed, the Prophets was covered, and he felt that Prophet(Pbuh) used to be the ones who suffered more of illness. Abu Saeed Al-Khudri visited the Prophet (Pbuh) when he was unwell. He put his hand on a piece of velvet cloth with which the Prophet (Pbuh) had very high temperature. Abu Saeed said: “Messenger of Allah, you have a very high fever”. He said: “We are like this: our trials are very hard and our reward is multiplied.” Abu Saeed asked: “Messenger of Allah, which people have the greatest affliction?” He replied: “The Prophets (Pbuh), and then the most pious and righteous. Any one of them may be tested with poverty until he could find nothing more than a robe to cover himself with and he would wear that. Another could be tested with fleas until they almost killed him. They were more pleased with their affliction than any of you may be pleased with gifts.” (Related by Al-Bukhari in Al-Adab Al Mufrad).