Although a large portion of the population in all societies is afflicted by a major illness or calamity sometime in their life, most people try not to think about or remember these events, thinking about them only a few days in the year. What can the Divine purpose be in giving people this sort of grief? Is it that those hit by an illness or a calamity have been condemned by the Lord while others are rewarded? To understand the secrets behind the events in this life one must consider the Hereafter as part of the whole picture. Otherwise every solution or understanding will fall short or go astray. In this respect, how Islam handles the situation of “being ill and/or being afflicted by a tragedy” is explained clearly in the Risale-i Nur Collection.
Bediuzzaman Said Nursi reveals the beauty and purposes behind these seemingly ugly events in the “twenty-fifth flash”1 with twenty-five remedies. Almost every remedy starts with a warning sentence advising “patience and thankfulness”; the reason for this is that a person who tries to understand everything without a strong belief in God and in the Hereafter feels impatient and will often complain. At first sight, the statement “An illness is not a malady; it is a cure” strikes almost everyone as paradoxical. Life is the most important asset that one has in this life, and it has a purpose. Life will pass very quickly in ease and heedlessness without bearing any fruit; illnesses and calamities slow time down, and give room for life to yield its fruit. This helps prevent us from wasting our lives.
To show a given situation in all its clarity Nursi considers all possible aspects of it. When we are ill or struck by a calamity we implicitly assume that a right has been taken from us; yet it is at this difficult time that we are asked to be patient and think of the positive side of what has happened. However, this is not all. When the situation is considered from a more fundamental point of view, it becomes clear that a person has no right to complain if they truly understand that they are not even the owner of their own selves:
“It is your duty not to complain, but to offer thanks and be patient. For your body, organs, and faculties are not your property. You did not make them and you did not buy them from other workshops. That means they are the property of another. Their owner has disposal over His property as He wishes.”
The purpose of the above statement is not to close the matter at this point, leaving no room for further discussion, but to make it clear that, there is no justification for any complaint and the All-Compassionate God will reward those moments of illness and tragedy lived in tranquility and patience, as Nursi states:
“Through the calamity of good health, some of your fellows become neglectful, giving up the five daily prayers, not thinking of the grave, and forgetting God Almighty. For the superficial pleasure of a brief hour of this worldly life, they shake and damage a never-ending, eternal life, even destroying it. Through illness you see the grave, which you will, in any event, enter, and the dwellings of the Hereafter beyond it, and you act in accordance with these. That means that for you, illness is good health, while for some of your peers good health is an illness...”
Ironically, the passing of pain is a pleasure, and the passing of pleasures is a discomfort, a constant sorrow left in the spirit. Even some pleasures that only last a day or a few minutes will sometimes cause a suffering that lasts years. It is not difficult to find an example of this; the use of drugs is an obvious parallel. The purpose in this life is to know our Creator and to prepare ourselves for an Eternal Hereafter, yet there are many distractions on the path. Illness gives us a warning: “Your body is not composed of stone and iron; it is made up of various materials which are always inclined to decay. Stop being proud, understand your impotence, recognize your Owner, know your duties, and learn why you came to this world!” This is what is secretly declared to the heart.
Everything is understood by its opposite. Light would not be known if there was no darkness. “If there was no thirst, there would be no pleasure in drinking water.” And as for illness, Nursi gives the following beautiful comparison: “If there was not this illness in your head, or in your hand, or stomach, would you have perceived the pleasurable and enjoyable Divine bounty of the good health of your head, hand, or stomach, and offered thanks? For sure, not only would you not have offered thanks for it, you would not have even thought of it! You would have unconsciously spent that good health on heedlessness, and perhaps even on dissipation.”
The All-Compassionate God from His mercy forgives the sins of the ill believer; this can be found in a authentic hadith: “As ripe fruit falls from the tree that is shaken, so too do the sins of a believer fall with his shaking in illness.”2 What can be better news for a believer than this? With patience and by not complaining, one can transform a passing illness into everlasting health. Said Nursi gives the most fundamental and important cure: “Thus, the first thing you have to do is to search for the cure of belief, which is a healing remedy that is sure for the innumerable illnesses of that infinitely wounded and ill, yet extensive immaterial being of yours; you have to correct your beliefs, and the shortest way of finding such a cure is to recognize the power and mercy of the All-Powerful One of Glory by means of the window of your weakness and impotence; this has been shown you from behind the curtain of heedlessness, rent by your physical illness.”
Death plays the main role in causing pain, fear, and anxiety, as this is where illness may lead. Hear Said Nursi as he warns: “So know firstly and believe firmly that the appointed hour is determined and does not change. Those weeping beside the grievously ill and those in perfect health have died, while the grievously ill have been cured.” Moreover, for a believer, death is not a terrifying end; rather, as clearly shown through magnificent analogies in Nursi’s other masterpiece The Words, death is: “…to be discharged from the burdensome duties of life. And for them it is a rest from worship, which is the instruction and training in the arena of trial of this world. It is also a means rejoining friends and relations, ninety-nine out of a hundred of whom have already departed for the next world.”
The fifteenth remedy is of special importance, because it takes the whole issue to a different platform and shifts the perspective from being focused on merely being “patient and thankful” to establishing the social status of those who are ill and in hardship. The following hadith illustrates this: “Those afflicted with the severest trials are the prophets, then the saints and those like them.”3 That is, “Those most afflicted with tribulations and difficulties are the best of men, the most perfect.” In the same remedy, Nursi also mentions that some illnesses that cause death are a type of martyrdom.
The duty of the people around those who are ill is to look after them with compassion, and to visit them without being a burden. These hard times not only produce all the rewards mentioned above for the person who lives through them, but for the believer around them if they know their responsibilities: “To please an ill person’s heart and console him is like giving alms. Fortunate is the person who pleases the easily touched hearts of the father and mother at the time of illness, and who receives their prayer.”
All the remedies that Said Nursi proposes are focused around one issue, which is a strong belief in God, and the Hereafter. This belief shows its effect when one carries out one’s religious obligations as much as possible. This is a belief that will save a person from heedlessness and ignorance, and that will prepare them for the appointed time, which is a door to the eternal life; a belief that will transform the ugly faces of illnesses and calamities to the beautiful faces of eternal life in the gardens of Paradise.