There are numerous ways to achieve contentment with the decree of Allah:
The servant having certainty in Allah and a firm trust that whatever He decrees for a believer will be good for him. As such he will be like a patient who has submitted to the ministrations of a skilled doctor: such a patient will be content with his ministrations be they painful or not because he has complete trust that the doctor is doing only that which will be of benefit to him.
Looking to the reward that Allah has promised for contentment. The servant could well be so engrossed in powering this that he forgets all about the pain he is facing. It is reported that a righteous woman from the Salaf tripped and broke a nail whereupon she laughed saying, ‘The delight of His reward has made me forget the bitterness of His pain.’
Immersing oneself in love of the One who sends tribulation, constantly being aware of His magnificence, beauty, greatness and perfection which is without limit. The potency of such awareness will cause the servant to drown in it such that he no longer senses pain much in the same way that the women who saw Yusuf forgot about the pain of cutting their hands. This is a higher station than those previously mentioned.
The point here is that the Prophet, SallAllahu Alayhi Wa Sallam, enjoined ibn Abbas, RadhiAllahu Anhuma, to work deeds while in a state of contentment if he was able to do so. If not, he said,
“If you are unable, know that great good lies in bearing with patience what you dislike,”
this then proves that being content with decrees that are hard to bear is not an obligation but rather a recommendation, a state of excellence. Whoever is unable to be content must instead be patient. Patience is obligatory, it must be present, and it contains great good. Allah, Most High, has commanded patience and promised great reward for it:
“The patient will be paid their wages in full without any reckoning.” (al-Zumar 39:10)
“Give good news to the patient: those who, when disaster strikes them, say, ‘We belong to Allah and to Him we will return.’ Those are the people who will have blessings and mercy from their Lord; they are the ones who are guided.” (al-Baqarah 2:155-157)
“Give good news to the humble hearted, whose hearts quake at the mention of Allah, and who are patient in the face of all that happens to them.” (al-Hajj 22:34-35)
Al-Hasan said, ‘The state of contentment is rare, but patience is the recourse of the believer.’ (Abu Nu’aym) Sulayman al-Khawas said, ‘The station of patience is below that of contentment. Contentment is that a person, before the onset of tribulation, is content whether it is present or not. Patience is that a person, after the onset of tribulation, bears it steadfastly.’
The difference between patience and contentment is that patience is to restrain the soul and to prevent it from displeasure while sensing discomfort or pain. Contentment necessitates that the heart readily accept what it is facing and, even if it was to feel some pain at what it is facing, the sense of contentment will lessen it, perhaps even remove it altogether. This is because the heart has felt the soothing breath of certainty and cognisance.
This is why a large group of the Salaf such as Umar ibn Abdul Aziz, Fudayl, Abu Sulayman and ibn Mubarak would say, ‘The person who is content does not desire a state other than the one he is in whereas the patient does.’ This state of being is reported from a group of Companions, amongst whom were Umar and ibn Masud, RadhiAllahu Anhuma.
Abdul Aziz ibn Abu Ruwwad said, ‘Amongst the Children of Israel there was a devout worshipper who saw a dream in which he was told that so-and-so would be his wife in Paradise. So he went to her as a guest for three nights to see what she did. She would sleep while he prayed by night and she would eat while he fasted. When he left her, he asked her about the greatest deed she felt she did. She replied, ‘I do no more than what you have seen except that I have one quality: If I am in trying times, I do not want to be in times of ease. If I am ill, I do not wish to be healthy. If I am hungry, I do not wish to be full. And if I am in the sun, I do not wish to be in the shade.’ He said, ‘By Allah, this is equality that is beyond the reach of the servants!’
Patience is to be shown at the onset of calamity as is authentically reported from the Prophet, SallAllahu Alayhi Wa Sallam. (Bukhari) Contentment is shown after the onset of calamity as the Prophet, SallAllahu Alayhi Wa Sallam, said in his supplication,
“I ask You for contentment after the decree.” (Ahmad)
This is because a servant could well resolve to be content at the decree before it occurs, but the resolve dissipate when he actually faces it. Whoever is content after the decree has befallen is one who is truly content. (Khattabi Sha’n al-Du’a)
Patience is obligatory and must be present. Beyond patience there is displeasure and malcontent and whoever is displeased at the decree of Allah, his lot will be displeasure. Moreover, the pain he will face and the malice of enemies will be far greater than his despair.
The Prophet, SallAllahu Alayhi Wa Sallam, said,
“Whoever inculcates patience in himself, Allah will grant him patience. Allah has not granted anyone a gift better and more expansive than patience.” (Buhkari)
Umar, RadhiAllahu Anhu, said, ‘The best of our lives have been those accompanied by patience.’ (Bukhari) Ali, RadhiAllahu Anhu, said, ‘Patience with respect to faith is like the head with respect to the body: a person who has no patience has no faith.’ (Ibn Abi Shaybah al-Iman)
Al-Hasan, R.A., said, ‘Patience is one of the treasures of Paradise. Allah only confers it to those He enables.’ Maymun ibn Mihran said, ‘No Prophet or anyone else has ever attained good except through patience.’ Ibrahim al-Taymi said, ‘Allah does not gift a servant with patience at harm, patience at tribulation and patience at calamity except that He has conferred on him the best [gift] after faith in Allah, Mighty and Magnificent.’ He derived from this the saying of Allah, Most High,
“…rather, those with true devoutness are those who have faith in Allah and the Last Day, the Angels, the Book and the Prophets, and who, despite their love for it, give away their wealth to their relatives and to orphans and the very poor, and to travellers and beggars and to set slaves fee, and who establish prayer and pay zakat; those who honour their contracts when they make them, and are patient in poverty and illness and in battle. Those are the people who are true. They are the people who have taqwa.” (al-Baqarah 2:177)
Umar ibn Abdul Aziz, R.A., said, ‘Allah does not grant a blessing to a person only to take it away, leaving patience in its place, except that the replacement was better than what was removed.’ Then he recited,
“The patient will be paid their wages in full without any reckoning.” (al-Zumar 39:10)
One of the righteous would have a piece of paper which he kept in his pocket. Every hour he would look at it and read it. Written therein were the words,
“So wait patiently for the judgement of your Lord – you are certainly before Our eyes.” (al-Tur 52:48)
Beautiful patience is a servant’s keeping his tribulation to himself and not telling anyone about it. Allah, Most High says,
“But beauty lies in patience.” (Yusuf 12:83)
In exegesis to this, a group of the Salaf said that it referred to patience that was not accompanied by any form of complaint. (Tabari)
Ahnaf ibn Qays had lost his sight for forty years, yet he told no one. Abdul Aziz ibn Abu Ruwwad became blind in one eye for twenty years, then, one day, his son looked at him carefully and said, ‘Father, one of your eyes is blind!’ He replied, ‘Yes my son, for the past twenty years have I been content with Allah.’ Imam Ahmad never complained of any illness that afflicted him to anyone. It was mentioned to him that Mujahid would dislike moaning while ill, so he stopped doing it and never did so till the day he died. He would exhort his self saying, ‘Be patient or you will regret!’
Yahya ibn Muadh said, ‘If you love your Lord and He decreed hunger and nakedness for you, it would be obligatory for you to bear it and withhold it from creation. The lover patiently bears harm from his beloved, so why would you present your complaints to it for something it has not done to you?’ The Messenger of Allah, SallAllahu Alayhi Wa Sallam, and his Companions, RadhiAllahu Anhuma, would tie rocks to their bellies against the hunger they faced. (Bukhari)
Uwais would collect broken pieces of bone from the rubbish heaps with dogs crowding around him trying to do the same. One day a dog barked at him and he said, ‘Dog, do not harm one who does not harm you, eat what is close to you and I will eat what is close to me. If I enter Paradise, I would be better than you, and if I enter the Fire, you would be better than me.’
Ibrahim ibn Adham would collect ears of grain along with the poor. Seeing that they disliked his competing with them in acquiring them, he thought, ‘I have abandoned property in Balkh to compete with the poor in collecting grain?’ After that he would only ever gather amongst the animals who would pasture in that land.
Imam Ahmad would collect grain with the poor. Sufyan al-Thawri was once employed to look after two camels while on the road to Mecca. He cooked food for some people and it tasted so bad that they beat him for it. Fath al-Mawsili would build fires for people for a wage. In their view, the tribulations of this world would be blessings. One of them said, ‘The true jurist is one who sees tribulation as a blessing and ease a misfortune.’ It is mentioned in a Judea-Christian narration, ‘If you see someone affluent approaching, say, “A sin whose punishment has been hastened on!” If you see someone poor approaching, say, “A sign of the righteous, welcome!” (Dhahabi)
One of the Salaf said, ‘When I am afflicted with calamity, I praise Allah four times: I praise Allah for it not being worse than it is, I praise Allah for nourishing me with the ability to bear it patiently, I praise Him for granting me the accord to say, “To All we belong and to him we return,” and I praise Him for not making the tribulation in my religion.’
Looking to relief through patience is an act of worship since tribulation never remains forever. If the most severely afflicted person were to be dipped but once in the bliss of Paradise and then asked, ‘Have you ever seen calamity? Have you ever encountered calamity?’ He will reply, ‘My Lord, no!’ (As mentioned in the hadith recorded in Muslim)