Coming to Terms with Change: 3 Lessons from Hijrah

How many times have you jumped into the unknown, switching to a new school, workplace, career, or even country?

How did you feel during the moment when you completely took the plunge? Anxious, nervous, terrified, and unsure of yourself, finding your way through a major change in life is a serious undertaking.

Now imagine that you are not changing by choice, but by force. Almost everyone that you are leaving behind despises you and never wants to see you again. They have taken almost everything that you own and have physically threatened the lives of you and your friends and family.

Where you are going is just as uncertain; an unfamiliar locale that could hold just as many problems as where you came from.

This is just a taste of what the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) went through on his journey from Makkah to Madinah, or what we call the Hijrah.

As we are currently in the season of the new Islamic year, which marks the anniversary of the beginning of Prophet Muhammad’s journey, here are a few important lessons that we can take from the Hijrah.

Doing What is Right is Worth the Sacrifice

Referring to the element of hardship, the first lesson that we learn from the Hijrah is that sacrifice, or giving up the things we love the most, is an important part of being on the path of God.

Sometimes we tend to think that what is right and what is easy go hand in hand, and this could just as easily have been the case for the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

Imagine if he had just recognized Allah as another idol, part of the hundreds that the Makkans already worshipped. How much better would his life and the lives of his companions been? The Makkans promised him a lot materially, so I imagine he would be doing well.

However, Prophet Muhammad refused because he knew that what he was doing was part of something bigger and, more importantly, something that was right. He was not after material wealth, fame, or power, but rather strove only to serve the Truth.

This is precisely why he left his home and all his possessions behind.

This is something that we can integrate into our own lives. Of course, there is moderation, and you should always think deeply before jeopardizing your own well-being or that of others.

However, the Hijrah teaches us that when you are faced with an important decision, the main thing you think about should not be which option gives me the best outcome, but which option is right.

Leaving Behind What is Bad is Preferred Over Doing Something Good

The second lesson from the Hijrah is a phrase often heard in Arabic: “al-Takhliyyah Qabl al-Tahliyyah” which roughly means that leaving something bad is preferred over doing something good.

The root of this lesson comes from a Hadith where the Prophet Muhammad was asked:

“What is the best Hijrah?”

To which he responded:

To leave what your Lord dislikes.

Think about it a bit: how many times have you thought about applying a Sunnah like growing a beard (if you don’t already have one)?

It’s easy, it’s a practice of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him)!

But then think again: how many bad habits do you have in your life? It won’t be as easy to remove them as stopping shaving, but to do so first means that you are performing the best possible Hijrah and directly applying the practices of the Prophet Muhammad. You won’t win any gorgeous beard competitions any time soon, but you will on the overall be a better person.    

Keeping a Positive Attitude in the Face of Overwhelming Odds

The third lesson from the Hijrah is to always stay positive and look for the light no matter where it might come from.

The year before the Prophet Muhammad immigrated to Madinah is known as the Year of Sorrow. He lost his uncle, Abu Talib, who had stood next to him and protected the Muslims politically, even though he never embraced the Islamic faith.

He also lost his wife, Khadija, who had been his greatest supporter even when he had his own moments of uncertainty.

Finally, the Prophet Muhammad’s trip to Ta’if to spread the message of Islam, a city not far from Makkah, ended up in a failure, and he was rejected by the city’s inhabitants and left cast out and injured.

Throughout this year, there were many events that would make even the strongest-willed person think twice about sticking to their cause.

The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) did not, however, and rather chose to look at his predicament positively. When the Angel Gabriel suggested that the angels could crush the people of Ta’if in revenge, Prophet Muhammad said:

No.

Also, after he was rejected from Ta’if he took refuge in an orchard and met a Christian named Addas, who gave him some grapes and consoled him.

After hearing about Islam from Prophet Muhammad, he converted, meaning that the trip had an ultimate purpose.

Not too soon afterwards, the Prophet’s prayers were answered as he was approached by tribal representatives from Yathrib (soon to be Madinah), offering him and his followers refuge.

The takeaway from this story is that life can be dark. You can lose your job, watch your personal relationships wither, or sometimes feel that your whole life is collapsing right before your eyes…

In these moments it is easy to lose faith, thinking that things would just be easier if you gave up. Instead, the Prophet Muhammad’s journey of immigration to a new land shows us that we should always look on the bright side.

I would imagine that, even in those darkest of times, that there are others standing next to you with their hands held out in friendship.

Think of the new opportunities that await you, the new things that you can learn, and how you can turn this hardship into a chance to grow and change.

About Brian Wright
Brian Wright is an Assistant Professor of Islamic Studies at Zayed University, Abu Dhabi. He holds a PhD from the Institute of Islamic Studies at McGill University. His dissertation was on Islamic criminal law in Egypt, India, and Ottoman Turkey during the 19th century. He has studied fiqh with a number of traditional scholars in Egypt and India.