It is a scary word. Very scary.
Alhamdulillah, Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) has not tested me with cancer.
However, Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) decreed that I observe cancer patients within my family circle. I did.
I first observed cancer directly when my uncle was diagnosed with it.
Recently an acquaintance of mine, who I came to learn about closely during my hajj in 1432 H, has been diagnosed with cancer. His cancer reawakened in me all the emotions that I went through when my uncle was struggling with cancer.
My youngest uncle was very close to us in terms of age.
We used to play together. We used to laugh together. We used to have fun together. We used to fight together. This continued for a few years.
Then came the happy occasion. My uncle got married.
Six months after his marriage, while he was still in his nuptial bliss, he suddenly felt a pain in his stomach.
We thought that this was something that would pass by. We paid no attention.
The pain persisted for a while. My uncle went to see a doctor. The doctor did some screening. Then he was admitted to Hamad Medical Hospital.
I still did not know what his problem was. I was thinking that it was something that would go away. Then my father told me one day. His problem was hepatocellular carcinoma.
Hepatocellular carcinoma. I did not take biology in high school. Still as soon as I heard the word carcinoma, I knew it. My uncle had cancer. It was liver cancer.
I have heard people describing certain circumstances where they felt that there was no earth beneath their feet. When my father disclosed my uncle’s sickness to me, my mind blanked out and I felt that there was no earth beneath my feet. My mind tried to deny it, but there was no denial from the decree of Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He).
My uncle only survived three months after his diagnosis. His was an aggressive type of cancer.
Observing my uncle suffering from cancer was a tremendously humbling experience. It brought in my mind many reflections. I learned many lessons.
Probably the biggest lesson that I learnt from closely observing cancer patients is that I am alone.
Yes, I am alone. You are alone. Everyone is alone. However, when the affairs are easy, when we are blessed with health and security, we do not feel this loneliness. We feel that life around us is moving along with us.
However, when we are struck with a calamity from which no one can rescue us except for Allah, we suddenly realize that everyone is on his or her own. We suddenly realize that life around us is not moving along with us.
When my uncle was struggling with cancer, we were there for him. However, nothing stopped for him. We continued what we were doing. We ate. We slept. We went to schools. We went to work. Despite being there for him, we had to continue with our life. Nothing stopped for my uncle.
One day I was eating duck roast and I was enjoying it. Suddenly I was shaken by a guilt impulse. I said to myself, “Subhanallah, my uncle is fighting against cancer and I am enjoying duck roast?”
This is duniya. This is worldly life. This is the life that we love so much. This is the life that we are immersed in. But when a calamity isolates us, no matter how important we think we are, life will not stop for us for a moment. It will go on its own way.
Because life cannot stop. Life went on. Life goes on. Life will go on. Because this is how Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) created and ordained this worldly life. Allah confined us by time and then ordained time to flow until the Day of Judgment. And in this flow of life, everyone is alone.
When we come to this world, we come alone. When we die, we go alone. And when we will be standing before Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) on the Day of Judgment, we will be alone.
Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) said in the Quran:
قُلْ إِن كَانَ آبَاؤُكُمْ وَأَبْنَاؤُكُمْ وَإِخْوَانُكُمْ وَأَزْوَاجُكُمْ وَعَشِيرَتُكُمْ وَأَمْوَالٌ اقْتَرَفْتُمُوهَا وَتِجَارَةٌ تَخْشَوْنَ كَسَادَهَا وَمَسَاكِنُ تَرْضَوْنَهَا أَحَبَّ إِلَيْكُم مِّنَ اللَّهِ وَرَسُولِهِ وَجِهَادٍ فِي سَبِيلِهِ فَتَرَبَّصُوا حَتَّىٰ يَأْتِيَ اللَّهُ بِأَمْرِهِ ۗ وَاللَّهُ لَا يَهْدِي الْقَوْمَ الْفَاسِقِينَ
Say, [O Muhammad], “If your fathers, your sons, your brothers, your wives, your relatives, wealth which you have obtained, commerce wherein you fear decline, and dwellings with which you are pleased are more beloved to you than Allah and His Messenger and jihad in His cause, then wait until Allah executes His command. And Allah does not guide the defiantly disobedient people.” [The Noble Quran 9:24]
The Messenger of Allah ﷺ (Peace be upon him) said, “Be in this world as if you are a stranger or a wayfarer.”
Why did Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) threat us to love Him above anything else? Why did the Messenger of Allah ﷺ (Peace be upon him) exhort so much to live our life like a stranger?
Because Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) and His Messenger ﷺ (Peace be upon him) know the reality of this life. We love our parents. We love our spouse. We love our brothers and sisters. We love our wealth. We love our children to death. But despite all such love, we cannot overcome the fact that we are alone until we enter jannah.
This loneliness is scary. And it will be scarier if you have never thought that you are alone and suddenly Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) makes you discover that you are alone. If you are caught off guard, you are bound to fluster and fail.
I asked myself, “O my soul! Are you ready to meet Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He)?”
I did not have any answer. If Allah were to test me with a calamity of the scale of cancer (and we seek Allah’s refuge from it), how would be my response? Is my relationship with Allah strong enough to withstand such calamity? Is my imaan strong enough to endure such calamity? Have I perfected my servitude and love for Allah to rise above and free myself from the loneliness that Allah has decreed for me?
That is why Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) threatened us to love Him the most. Even the threats of Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) are mercy for us. Unless we love Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) above everything else, and have true friendship with Him, our faith is not safe. A calamity may shake it. And we seek Allah’s refuge from it; a calamity may also uproot the faith completely.
Because when faith is not strong enough, when faith has not been perfected through actions, people cannot accept the decree of Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He), and this rejection leads to disbelief.
That is why continuous nurturing of faith through submission is important. That is why always asking Allah and sincerely imploring Him to keep us steadfast in the deen is important. Because we do not know if we would be able to die with faith. Because we do not know how our faith will be affected if Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) tests us with a big calamity. Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) taught us the following dua in the Quran:
رَبَّنَا لَا تُزِغْ قُلُوبَنَا بَعْدَ إِذْ هَدَيْتَنَا وَهَبْ لَنَا مِن لَّدُنكَ رَحْمَةً ۚ إِنَّكَ أَنتَ الْوَهَّابُ
“Our Lord, let not our hearts deviate after You have guided us and grant us from Yourself mercy. Indeed, You are the Bestower. [The Noble Quran 3:8]
The Messenger of Allah ﷺ (Peace be upon him) taught us a similar dua. He would often pray:
“O Turner of the hearts, make my heart firm upon Your Religion.”
The Messenger of Allah ﷺ (Peace be upon him) not only taught us, but he also set example for us.
The Messenger of Allah ﷺ (Peace be upon him) was an extremely loving person. We cannot fathom the love he had for his wife Aisha (R). He ﷺ had immense love for his grandchildren Hassan (R) and Hussain (R). He ﷺ loved his daughters, particularly Fatima (R). He had special love for Abu Bakr (R), Umar (R), Uthman (R), and Ali (R). He had great love for His companions. However at the time of death, when he was given the choice of meeting Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) or spending few more days with the people whom he loved, the Messenger of Allah ﷺ (Peace be upon him) immediately choose to meet Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He). He ﷺ had perfected his love for Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) through his obedience and complete submission, and in the process he ﷺ had freed himself from the loneliness that every human soul is destined with.
So we should strive. We will never reach the level of the Messenger of Allah ﷺ (Peace be upon him), but we will have to strive as much as we can to perfect our servitude to Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He). Because perfecting our friendship with Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) through worshipping Him is the one and only way to safeguard our faith against the trial of loneliness that will inevitably surround us during the time of big calamity or the time of our death.
Also observing cancer patients has made forgiving people easier for me. Because when you understand our confinement to the qadar of Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He), when you understand our helplessness before His irresistible power and majesty, when you understand the true nature of this worldly life, your heart should expand. If someone is being mean with you, do not be mean with him or her in return. Think of the big picture. Time is not far when we will perish from this worldly life. Therefore, what is the point of replying to pettiness with pettiness? What is the point of replying arrogance with arrogance? If we truly understand the bigger picture, we will be wise and forgiving people would be easier.
Another lesson that I learnt from cancer patients is gratefulness. Have I been grateful enough to Allah? Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) has blessed me with health, wealth, time, and energy. He blessed me with everything that I need. And how did I respond to his blessings? I committed sins. When I observed cancer patients, I asked myself, “Subhannallah! If Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) were to test me with such calamity, would I have committed the sins that I am committing now?”
I would not.
Thus the test when Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) blesses us with ease is to stay away from disobedience. Because during the time of ease, it is very easy to fall into disobedience.
Cancer is a tremendous trial. I simply cannot fathom the profundity of this trial. Anyone who is being tested with this trial can only be consoled by the words of Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) and His Messenger ﷺ (Peace be upon him).
The Messenger of Allah ﷺ (Peace be upon him) said, “Strange is the affair of the mu’min (the believer). Verily, all his affairs are good for him. If something pleasing befalls him he thanks (Allah) and it becomes better for him. And if something harmful befalls him he is patient and it becomes better for him. And this is only for the mu’min.”
Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) said in the Quran:
وَنَزَعْنَا مَا فِي صُدُورِهِم مِّنْ غِلٍّ تَجْرِي مِن تَحْتِهِمُ الْأَنْهَارُ ۖ وَقَالُوا الْحَمْدُ لِلَّهِ الَّذِي هَدَانَا لِهَٰذَا وَمَا كُنَّا لِنَهْتَدِيَ لَوْلَا أَنْ هَدَانَا اللَّهُ ۖ لَقَدْ جَاءَتْ رُسُلُ رَبِّنَا بِالْحَقِّ ۖ وَنُودُوا أَن تِلْكُمُ الْجَنَّةُ أُورِثْتُمُوهَا بِمَا كُنتُمْ تَعْمَلُونَ
And We will have removed whatever is within their breasts of resentment, [while] flowing beneath them are rivers. And they will say, “Praise to Allah , who has guided us to this; and we would never have been guided if Allah had not guided us. Certainly the messengers of our Lord had come with the truth.” And they will be called, “This is Paradise, which you have been made to inherit for what you used to do.” [The Noble Quran 7:43]
The believers, whom are being tested with big calamities like cancer now, may be through this trial Allah will forgive them on the Day of Judgment and will admit them in jannah.
O Allah! Help us to love You above everything else. Verily your promise is true and this duniya is nothing but a delusion.
O Allah! Make us among those who submit completely.
O Allah! Make us among those who strive hard and perfect their servitude through continuous worship.
O Allah! Make us among those who are truly grateful.
O Allah! Bless all the Muslim cancer patients with shifa and bless them with patience. Make the affairs easy for them and their family.