If one sought to summarise the life of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ in just one word, what would it be? I have thought about this question at length, and my proposition is that the one word that encapsulates his life best is thabāt, which translates to immovability or steadfastness. It is not just the number of tests that he laboured against which is amazing, but the sheer diversity of them as well. The Prophet ﷺ faced trials and tests in the political, physical, financial, familial, moral, and ideological spheres. Yet, in the face of each tribulation, his position was the same: immovable thabāt.
Hounded by torture
The initial reaction of the Makkan pagan community towards the newly born mission of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ was persecution. This hostility was even found among his own family members, as the Prophet ﷺ suffered at the hands of his uncle and neighbour Abū Lahab. Furthermore, ʿUqbah b. Abī Muʿayṭ smothered the neck and back of the Prophet ﷺ as he prostrated to his Lord with the intestines of a camel, rendering him motionless on the ground. He ﷺ would have remained in this state, had it not been for his daughter Fāṭimah, who rushed to remove the filth from him. While the Prophet ﷺ was covered with this filth, the pagans watched on while hysterically laughing. On another occasion, ʿUqbah choked the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ from behind during his prayer. Others would mock his claims of there being a resurrection by blowing depleted bones into his blessed face, and loudly asking, “Allah will revive this?!”
The Prophet ﷺ said:
لَقَدْ أُخِفْتُ فِي اللَّهِ وَمَا يُخَافُ أَحَدٌ وَلَقَدْ أُوذِيتُ فِي اللَّهِ وَمَا يُؤْذَى أَحَدٌ وَلَقَدْ أَتَتْ عَلَيَّ ثَلَاثُونَ مِنْ بَيْنِ يَوْمٍ وَلَيْلَةٍ وَمَا لِي وَلِبِلَالٍ طَعَامٌ يَأْكُلُهُ ذُو كَبِدٍ إِلَّا شَيْءٌ يُوَارِيهِ إِبْطُ بِلَالٍ
“I was subjected to fear in the path of Allah at a time when no one else was afraid, and I was harmed in the path of Allah at a time when no one else was in pain. At one point, thirty consecutive days and nights passed by where Bilāl and myself had nothing to eat, except the little that Bilāl would hide under his armpit.”
A summary of his stance during this phase of persecution can be captured by one word: thabāt.
Hounded by family
After physical pressure proved ineffective in breaking the resolve of the Prophet ﷺ, the pagans employed a new pressuring technique: lobbying members of his family. They approached the Prophet’s uncle, Abū Ṭālib, who – despite being a pagan – was a staunch supporter of the Prophet ﷺ. They wanted Abū Ṭālib to exert pressure on his nephew and put an end to his mission. On one occasion, it seemed that Abū Ṭālib’s resolve had weakened, and there were indications that he intended to abandon his nephew. The Prophet ﷺ sensed this potential isolation. Despite being all alone, the Prophet ﷺ gave a stunning response, which would be eternalised in the books of history:
يَا عَمُّ، وَاَللَّهِ لَوْ وَضَعُوا الشَّمْسَ فِي يَمِينِي، وَالْقَمَرَ فِي يَسَارِي عَلَى أَنْ أَتْرُكَ هَذَا الْأَمْرَ حَتَّى يُظْهِرَهُ اللَّهُ، أَوْ أَهْلِكَ فِيهِ، مَا تَرَكْتُهُ
“O uncle, I swear that if they were to place the Sun in my right hand and the Moon in my left hand in return for me to walk away from my mission, I will not do so. I will persist till this religion prevails or I die in the process.” He then wept.
This second phase of tribulation can be, once again, captured by one word: immovable thabāt.
Hounded by worldly incentives
After failing in their second approach, the pagans considered yet another technique, one that continues to bring the most resolute of people to their knees. Such a method even causes the most principled of people to crumble. It is none other than offering worldly temptations. All positions of authority were offered to the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, including kingship, unlimited amounts of wealth, and the finest of women from Quraysh. All that was sought in return was for the Prophet ﷺ to end his mission.
During one of the negotiations regarding this matter, the Prophet ﷺ did not interrupt the ambassador of Makkah. The Prophet waited for the ambassador to completely finish his offer, and then politely asked: “Have you finished?” ʿUtbah said, “Yes.” It was at this point where the Prophet ﷺ said: “So, listen to me now.” He merely recited verses from the Qur’an, all of which were from Sūrah Fuṣṣilat, He continued until he reached the following verse:
فَإِنْ أَعْرَضُوا فَقُلْ أَنْذَرْتُكُمْ صَاعِقَةً مِثْلَ صَاعِقَةِ عَادٍ وَثَمُودَ
“But if they turn away, then say, ‘I have warned you of a thunderbolt like the thunderbolt [that struck] ʿĀd and Thamūd.’”
It was as if an actual thunderbolt had struck the ambassador’s heart, as he pleaded with the Prophet ﷺ to stop reciting. He swiftly returned to his community, urging them to let the Prophet ﷺ continue his call. What word would best summarise this phase of trials in the Prophet’s ﷺ life? Undoubtedly, it would be immovable thabāt once again.
Hounded by religious pressure
Next, the pagans decided to present yet another offer to the Prophet ﷺ; they would embrace Islam on the condition that he worship their idols for a year, and they would worship Allah for the following year. In response to this, Allah revealed Sūrah al- Kāfirūn, which the Prophet ﷺ recited publicly to the pagans. This caused them to realise that this option would be rejected as well. They then insinuated that they would believe should he create a special gathering for them, to the direct exclusion of the poor people of Makkah. Again, he rejected this request in compliance with Allah’s instructions:
وَلَا تَطْرُدِ الَّذِينَ يَدْعُونَ رَبَّهُم بِالْغَدَاةِ وَالْعَشِيِّ يُرِيدُونَ وَجْهَهُ
“And do not send away those who call upon their Lord in the morning and afternoon, seeking His face…”
What single word can be used to describe this phase in the Prophet’s ﷺ life? Undoubtedly, that word is thabāt.
Hounded by defamation
Next in their arsenal was mockery, where they would use dismissive labels against the Prophet ﷺ. Depending on the time period and context, they would call him a liar, magician, madman, soothsayer, or poet. They played with the letters of his name, changing it from Muhammad (the praised one) to Mudhammam (the reviled one). They altered the greeting of peace from al-salām ʿalaykum (peace be upon you) to al-sām ʿalaykum (death be upon you). They also requested a different Qur’an to the one he ﷺ was reciting, and even demanded that the Book be revealed wholesale as opposed to its piecemeal form of descent.
They would also try to publicly embarrass him, asking him to prove his prophethood by causing springs to gush forth from the Earth, or producing lush gardens and flowing rivers. They demanded that he cause the heavens to fall on their heads, or to cause them to come face to face with Allah and His angels. In all of these cases, Allah taught His Prophet to provide the following response:
سُبْحَانَ رَبِّي هَلْ كُنْتُ إِلَّا بَشَرًا رَسُولًا
“Glory be to my Lord! Am I not only a human messenger?”
Nothing can be more demoralising than satire and belittlement, yet despite all of this, the Prophet ﷺ remained unfazed. His hallmark during this phase was, once again, thabāt.
Hounded by the rage of war
Following his migration to Madinah, Allah gave permission to the believers to partake in jihād in defence of their lives. But the theme of thabāt in the Prophet’s life simply did not change.
Consider, for instance, the Battle of Ḥunayn, where the Muslims were caught off-guard by a meticulously planned pagan ambush. This caused the Companions to momentarily flee from the battlefield, leaving the Prophet ﷺ exposed with only a few Companions who stood firm around him. Despite this threat, he was not afraid, and never abandoned his position. Instead, he called back his Companions by shouting at the top of his voice:
أَنَا النَّبِيُّ لاَ كَذِبْ، أَنَا ابْنُ عَبْدِ الْمُطَّلِبْ. هَلُمُّوا إِلَيَّ أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ، أَنَا رَسُولُ اللَّهِ، أَنَا مُحَمَّدُ بْنُ عَبْدِ اللَّهِ
“I am the Prophet, and there is no lie in that! I am the son of ʿAbd al-Muṭṭalib! Come to me O people, I am the Messenger of Allah! I am Muhammad b. ʿAbd Allāh!”
In fact, he said this as he singlehandedly charged towards the advancing torrent of pagan soldiers with fearlessness. This caused al-ʿAbbās to pull back the reigns of the camel in order to slow it down, as he feared for the life of the Prophet ﷺ.
Furthermore, regarding the Battle of Badr, ʿAlī gave the following vivid testimony:
لقد رأيتُنا يوم بدرٍ ونحنُ نَلوذُ برسول الله صلَّى اللهُ عليه وسلَّم، وهو أقربنا إلى العدُوِّ وكان من أشدِّ الناس يومئِذٍ بأساً
“I remember how we were on the day of Badr, drawing near to the Prophet ﷺ. He was the one closest to the enemies among us, and was the bravest warrior on that day.”
His political life, again, is best abridged in one encompassing word: thabāt.
Hounded by death
The Prophet ﷺ witnessed numerous tragedies throughout his life. He buried his wife Khadījah, his first and greatest love. Likewise, his eyes fell on the mutilated corpse of his uncle Ḥamzah, following a devastating loss in the battlefield. Furthermore, he had to witness the death of almost every child he had. Lastly, he bore the stress of seeing the corpses of his loyal Companions scattered across the battlefield in defence of his blessed life. How much trauma can one bear? Nevertheless, he weathered it all in a breath-taking display of thabāt.
How does this relate to us?
Unbeknown to most, the test for thabāt in the life of a Muslim is a daily occurrence. In fact, you might be subject to a test regarding it during every hour of your life. Regardless of whether you are at home or behind a desk, in the public sphere or private quarters, the test is active and the Eyes of the Divine are on you.
You may find yourself being called to prayer for the fifth time during the day, and you feel that your body, soul or both are on the verge of letting you down. But you pull yourself together in a display of mighty thabāt before Allah.
When carnal desires peak, hormones rage, and sinful opportunities for relief are but a click away, you still are able to maintain control over yourself. The following realisation dawns upon you: “I am at the heart of a burning test, one that Allah will help me extinguish with thabāt.”
You may come across a damaging but popular shubhah (doubt) which seeks to undermine a fundamental truth of the religion or the character of the Prophet ﷺ. This dangerous illusion may cause people to drop like flies all around you. But you remain braced and cling on to your faith. You realise that it is yet another test, as you exhibit impressive thabāt.
When a distressing ordeal befalls you and separates you from something that you loved, you veer away from the dark paths of despair. Despite the tears and anguish you may experience, at the end of the day you find your way in a path of thabāt.
When those around you abdicate their Islamic dress and descend from the lofty thrones of ḥijāb and ḥayā’, you on the other hand see it as an opportunity to represent the prophetic way during times of estrangement. You realise that the reward is now aggrandised, and thus you hold on to your ḥijāb with unconquerable thabāt.
When it is time to plan your wedding, and familial pressure for a concert-like setting begins to mount, you display what no man could ever scale. You firmly manifest thabāt like a mountain and act upon what you know will serve you best in the Hereafter.
When meeting an enemy at any front, particularly where the odds are against you and your adversary is light years ahead, you do not give up hope. Instead, you recall the Glory of He who is above His Throne, just as you recall the feebleness of all that which is beneath it. You move your mouth in His remembrance, and remain stationed in a brave display of thabāt.
It is easy to put a case for thabāt in abstract terms. But living by it is another tale. Thankfully, its stores are available for its seekers.
1) A conscious and intentional retreat to the Qur’an
If approached with understanding, contemplation, and application , this method of fostering thabāt is quite unmatched. In fact, according to Allah, this is one of the primary purposes of the Qur’an’s revelation. Allah said:
قُلْ نَزَّلَهُ رُوحُ الْقُدُسِ مِن رَّبِّكَ بِالْحَقِّ لِيُثَبِّتَ الَّذِينَ آمَنُواْ وَهُدًى وَبُشْرَى لِلْمُسْلِمِين
“Say, ‘The holy spirit has brought it down from your Lord with the truth to strengthen the believers (“to give thabāt”), and as a guide and good news for those who submit.’”
In order to actualise thabāt through this method, the following is suggested. Approach the Qur’an in this contemplative manner for at least 15 minutes a day. You will see results. Īmān has both short and long term dimensions. If you feel that your reading has not bolstered the former dimension by creating the immediate buzz that we crave and enjoy, do not worry. Be assured that it is certainly reinforcing the latter and long-term component, and will come to your rescue when you are tested down the line.
2) The remembrance of Allah
It is truly amazing that the verse which orders us to have thabāt on the battlefield also includes an instruction to remember Allah abundantly:
يَـٰٓأَيُّهَا ٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُوٓا۟ إِذَا لَقِيتُمْ فِئَةً فَٱثْبُتُوا۟ وَٱذْكُرُوا۟ ٱللَّهَ كَثِيرًا لَّعَلَّكُمْ تُفْلِحُونَ
“O believers! When you face an enemy, stand firm (“have thabāt”) and remember Allah much, so you may triumph.”
So, if the remembrance of Allah helps one during the rage of war, what then of its effects on our day-to-day battles that are far less intense? The answer has already been spelt out by Allah:
الَّذِينَ آمَنُواْ وَتَطْمَئِنُّ قُلُوبُهُم بِذِكْرِ اللّهِ أَلاَ بِذِكْرِ اللّهِ تَطْمَئِنُّ الْقُلُوب
“Those who have faith and whose hearts find rest in the remembrance of Allah – truly it is in the remembrance of Allah that hearts find rest.”
In order to activate this source of thabāt, the following routine is suggested. Start by setting a reoccurring alarm for the morning and evening remembrances. Then, print out a comprehensive list of post-prayer remembrances. Implementing these two things effectively sets one up nicely for more.
3) You get what you ask for
One thing that all Muslims of exemplary thabāt have in common is that they all asked Allah for this faculty. The army of Prophet Dāwūd – which defeated Jālūt and his men – appealed to Allah for thabāt by saying:
رَبَّنَا أَفْرِغْ عَلَيْنَا صَبْرًا وَثَبِّتْ أَقْدَامَنَا وَانصُرْنَا عَلَى الْقَوْمِ الْكَافِرِين
“Our Lord, pour upon us patience, brace our feet, and give us victory over the disbelieving people.” Allah answered their prayers and, against all odds, they were victorious.
As a further suggestion, it is recommended that one memorise the duʿā’ of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, who would appeal to his Lord by saying:
اللَّهُمَّ إِنِّي أَسْأَلُكَ الثَّبَاتَ فِي الأَمْرِ وَالْعَزِيمَةَ عَلَى الرُّشْدِ
“O Allah, I ask You for thabāt in all my affairs and determination in following the right path.”
4) Find a tarbiyyah-based programme
Attending a class is one thing. Being part of a gradual development programme is something different altogether. The process is longer but the results are finer. With the latter, you will become a primed human being, whose love of Islam is woven into the essence. Likewise, you will become resilient to tribulations, and gain the ability to accept sacrifices. Finally, your determination to live by a vision will be far greater. To demonstrate this, we can ask: Who were the ones who stood firm around the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ in thabāt during the Battle of Ḥunayn, when the majority of the Muslim army momentarily fled? Well, consider who al-ʿAbbās, the uncle of the Prophet ﷺ, was instructed to call back to the battlefield.
The Prophet ﷺ did not instruct al-ʿAbbās to call back all 12,000 Muslim soldiers, as he knew that many of them were new Muslims who had not had sufficient time to grow as Muslims. They could not bear the necessary thabāt which that dire hour of war required. In fact, he did not even call back the 10,000 men who had recently conquered Makkah with him, despite the grand status of those who became Muslim before the conquest. No, the Prophet’s call was actually addressed to a very select group of Muslims: the People of the Tree. The People of the Tree are the Companions who pledged allegiance to the Prophet ﷺ at al-Ḥudaybiyyah. Since they were people of tarbiyyah, they could be relied upon.
Al-ʿAbbās screamed at the top of his voice, saying:
يا أصحاب الشجرة، يا أصحاب البيعة يوم الحديبية، اللَّهَ اللَّهَ، الكرة على نبيكم!
“O People of the Tree! O people who made the pledge on the day of al-Ḥudaybiyyah! I implore you in Allah’s name! Your Prophet is under attack!”
Then, the Prophet ﷺ instructed al-ʿAbbās to be even more specific. He ordered him to call back an even smaller group from the people of the pledge: the Anṣār. So, al-ʿAbbās screamed:
يا أنصار الله وأنصار رسوله
“O Anṣār of Allah and His Messenger!” Then, he specified even further by saying:
يا بني الخزرج، يا بني الخزرج
“O tribe of Khazraj! O tribe of Khazraj!” Then, he specified further, calling back the sub-tribe of Ḥārithah, who were from the finest members of Khazraj.
So, what was the response of the People of the Tree, the Anṣār, the Khazraj tribe, and Ḥārithah sub-tribe? I leave the answer to al-ʿAbbās, who vividly described what happened next. He said:
فوالله، لكأن عطفتهم حين سمعوا صوتي عَطْفَة البقر على أولادها
“I swear by Allah, they were stirred by hearing my voice just like a cow is stirred to protect its calves from harm!” The Anṣār responded collectively and passionately:
يا لبيك، يا لبيك!
“We are here for you! We are here for you!”
That exclusive minority was the first to return to battle, encouraging others to do so as well, and the Muslims snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. This is the blessing of tarbiyyah, whose main outcome is thabāt.
In light of America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, an article was published by the Wall Street Journal with the following title: “The Unconquerable Islamic World”. It contains the following notable passage: “Historians, soldiers and politicians will debate for decades the particulars of what went wrong during America’s intervention in Afghanistan. But a simple truth has been apparent for years: We Westerners failed not for lack of effort, but because military and economic power alone cannot change the Islamic world in a lasting way.”
The political scientist Samuel Huntington was right: “Islamic societies belong to a distinctive civilization that resists the imposition of foreign values through power. We may believe that argument or not, but trillions of dollars, tens of thousands of lives, and two decades of warfare have not proved otherwise.” Truly, we are the greatest nation of thabāt that history has ever known, and you are part of that nation.
There are two bridges that every Muslim must cross over: an earthly one – that of Islam – and an unearthly one, the Sirāṭ of the Hereafter. One’s thabāt on the former will determine his thabāt on the latter. Therefore, the mindset of a Muslim is an unconquerable one, and his identity is always impregnable. Should a single word define him or her, that would be thabāt.
 Aḥmad, on the authority of Anas b. Mālik.
 Sīrah Ibn Hishām.
 Al-Qur’an, 41:13.
 Al-Qur’an, 6:52.
 Al-Qur’an, 10:15.
 Al-Qur’an, 25:32.
 Al-Qur’an, 17:90-93.
 Al-Qur’an, 17:93.
 Al-Qur’an, 16:102.
 Al-Qur’an, 8:45.
 Al-Qur’an, 13:28.
 Al-Qur’an, 2:250.
 Abū Dawūd, on the authority of Shaddād b. Aws.
Shaykh Ali Ihsan Hammuda is Islam21c’s Tarbiya Editor. A UK national of Palestinian origin, he gained bachelors and masters’ degrees in Architecture & Planning from the University of the West of England, before achieving a BA in Shari’ah from al-Azhar University in Egypt. He is currently based in Wales and is a visiting Imām at Al-Manar Centre in Cardiff, and also a senior researcher and lecturer for the Muslim Research & Development Foundation in London. Shaykh Ali is the author of several books including ‘The Daily Revivals’, ‘The Ten Lanterns’ and ‘The Friday Reminder’. He delivers sermons, lectures and regular classes across the country.