Responding to Discouragement
(Second and final part)
By Maulana Abu Rajab Muhammad Asif Attari Madani
Some people continued to work in the lush fields as the sun reddened and the evening rolled in. A young man came out, trying to find his way in the growing darkness. Zigzagging through the unfamiliar terrain, he stumbled into an old, dry well. He survived the dive but was covered in bruises, cuts, and grazes. He was in there for a while but eventually gathered the strength to try to escape by scaling the broken, rusty ladder affixed to the wall.
By now, people had flocked around the well, waving their hands and shouting, “Many people have died here, and you too will not be able to get out.” Their discouraging words echoed down the well, but the young man was undaunted. After several attempts, and to the surprise of everyone, the dishevelled youth finally emerged from the mouth of the well. They asked his name but soon realised that he can neither hear nor speak!
When they were shouting down the well, he assumed they were encouraging him. By taking a positive approach to their negativity, his determination was bolstered, and he was able to save himself.
Although we cannot control people’s optimism or pessimism towards us, we can choose how we respond. Do we let their words drive us into the ground or do we rise with more resolve in pursuit of success? We should adopt a positive mindset, and no matter how much discouragement we face, we should act as though we never heard anything and strive even harder for success. Through the mercy of Allah Almighty, a day will come when those who tried to discourage us will see our success and be amazed.
13 tips on how to avoid the negative effects and harms of discouragement
1. If one receives discouragement from a place where they expected encouragement, it becomes very difficult to maintain composure. Therefore, if we become a reflection of the meaning of couplet, things will be easy:
Na sataish ki tamanna mujhe na
na kisi waah ki khawahish na kisi aah ka gham
(Meaning, I have no desire for praise nor any fear of criticism. Similarly, I have no desire of being praised nor any sadness over anyone’s disapproval)
2. Be like a river which never stops and continues to flow by creating a path between the rocks and stones.
3. Keep your heart strong and not like a fragile glass. Be like foam which absorbs all water, whether it is hot or cold.
4. Failure and discouragement are like glass shards on the road to success. If you fear them, the journey will come to a stop. Therefore, remove as much fear of failure and discouragement from your heart as you can.
5. “What do people say about us?” A much more important question is, “What do we say about ourselves?”
There are two types of people in this regard:
* i. Those who internalise and repeat the negative perceptions others have about them. If people label them as timid, undetermined, weak, and a failure, then without thinking that people could be wrong, they begin to think of themselves in the same way.
* ii. The second type are those who, in response to the negative and discouraging statements of others, consider themselves to be that which their heart, mind, observation, expertise, and experience tell them that they are. Therefore, if you wish to save yourself from losing courage, then do not take the comments and feedback of every person seriously.
6. Only those who dare to err are discouraged, and it is only those who actively pursue their goals that err. So treat your mistakes as a confirmation of your hard work, not a sign of inability.
7. Everyone is busy passing judgements on others. Such folks are everywhere, readily sharing their uninformed musings about any topic after only a few minutes of superficial “research.” Vulnerable and insecure people are easy targets for such people. Therefore, do not be so irresolute and weak that people do not listen to you, easily target you, and discourage you. Make yourself strong so that only those who are worth listening to speak to you.
This can be understood in the following way: If there is a road that passes by a jungle and there is a fox or other small animal crossing the road, the traffic does not stop, rather, even the one riding a cycle or motorbike shoos it away and tries to make it move quickly. However, if a strong animal, like an elephant, cheetah or lion is crossing the road, the traffic stops for 500 metres, or even more than that; nobody will make a sound nor press their horn, rather they will wait for the lion to cross. Now, think whether you want to become a lion, or a fox?
8. Discouragement can also be a person’s own fault, because sometimes, despite our failings, a person encourages us and gives us the guidelines for success, but we listen with one ear and take it out of the other. When this person grows weary and criticises us, we complain that we are being discouraged. But, ponder for a moment over who is responsible for this discouragement; you or him?
9. Be prepared for criticism, or even ridicule, when sharing innovative ideas, starting new work, or when adopting a new approach. Others will have their own way of thinking, and so it is possible that your ideas and the change in your way of doing things will not resonate with them.
The fifth Caliph, Sayyidunā ʿUmar ibn ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz رَحْمَةُ الـلّٰـهِ عَـلَيْـه is a radiant example of unwavering mettle in the face of severe discouragement. He is the one who took usurped assets from the powerful and returned them to their rightful owners and led a social revolution that left none in need of zakat. However, in response to this, a few powerful individuals, including members of his family, turned against him and threatened him, but he remained steadfast. Consequently, his enemies had him fatally poisoned, marking the end to the tidal transformation that he had brought about in just two and a half years.
Similarly, we can look at the aeroplane, which is from among the modern inventions, and journeys can be traversed quickly and easily via this very speedy technology, and how convenient it is. Do you think that when the first person to come up with this idea shared his thoughts with the people, they lifted him on to their shoulders and lauded him, or discouraged him, by saying: “You must be insane to think that the thing you make will fly in the sky, and that too whilst being made of metal!”
10. Not all criticism is bad. Constructive criticism is a powerful tool that you can utilise to improve yourself. Even if the one criticising is a child, be sure to reflect; they may be correct and have your best interests at heart.
11. Some poor souls are intrinsically pessimistic, readily putting down your efforts even if they are perfect. “What is new here?” “It is nothing special” “I didn’t enjoy it” “It is not praiseworthy”, and other similar statements, usually leave their lips. The solution to such people is to not take them seriously in the first place, or if you have the courage, then tell them to find the faults present in the work and correct them too.
Like the artist who showcased his landscape painting in an art gallery with the caption: “If there are any faults, highlight them.” After a few hours, he saw that the painting was full of circle markings, but he was very tolerant and went to his mentor, telling him everything. The mentor told him to paint another picture and caption it: “Correct any faults.” So, he did this, and after the entire day had passed, he looked at the painting in the evening, and there was not even a single mark on it; it was the same as it was in the beginning.
12. Sometimes, we discourage ourselves by comparing and belittling our field or expertise in comparison to others. Then we garner unrealistic hopes, take incorrect decisions, pick the wrong people for group work, and finally give up when the results are not what we expected. We should avoid this too.
13. You are not the first or last person who will be discouraged. History is full of people who were discouraged.
The disbelievers tried to dissuade our beloved Prophet صَلَّى الـلّٰـهُ عَلَيْهِ وَاٰلِهٖ وَسَلَّم in many ways. They accused him of insanity, and even his relatives, such as his uncle Abū Lahab, sternly opposed him. He صَلَّى الـلّٰـهُ عَلَيْهِ وَاٰلِهٖ وَسَلَّم and his family were ostracised for three years and confined to the Valley of Abū Ṭālib. Camel entrails were placed on his blessed back whilst he prostrated, in a bid to publicly insult him. During his trip to Taif, some foolish thugs pelted him with stones. Eventually, he صَلَّى الـلّٰـهُ عَلَيْهِ وَاٰلِهٖ وَسَلَّم was compelled to leave his birthplace of Makkah and migrate to Madinah. He صَلَّى الـلّٰـهُ عَلَيْهِ وَاٰلِهٖ وَسَلَّم was tested so much that he صَلَّى الـلّٰـهُ عَلَيْهِ وَاٰلِهٖ وَسَلَّم said, “I have been tested the most in the Way of Allah.” However, he صَلَّى الـلّٰـهُ عَلَيْهِ وَاٰلِهٖ وَسَلَّم faced the circumstances with such determination and patience that the intellects are left amazed.
Then the noble Companions were made to face discouraging situations after accepting Islam; some were not spoken to by their mothers, some were subjected to oppression by their fathers, some were made to lay down on the scorching hot sand and weight was placed on their chest, and they were told to leave Islam, but the resolve of those who were on the path of truth did not falter in the slightest. If one was to read the accounts of the pious predecessors, they would come across countless examples of how they did not pay any heed to discouragement and were successful in attaining their goal.
In recent times, we have the example of the acclaimed societal reformer, Allamah Muhammad Ilyas Qadiri دَامَـتْ بَـرَكَـاتُـهُـمُ الْـعَـالِـيَـهْ. Although today he is hailed as the pioneering founder and leader of the largest religious movement in the Islamic world, Dawat-e-Islami, around 41 years ago, when he was working to expand the work of Dawat-e-Islami, there were few who encouraged him but many who discouraged him. However, his sincere devotion to the cause of Islam and deep concern for the welfare of Muslims bore fruit. Today, millions of believers across the world have found the path to Allah through Dawat-e-Islami.
The following is what a very sensible and honourable student told me about an account from his childhood: “I had just started to memorise the Quran when a relative of mine suddenly began to ask me to recite various parts of the Quran from memory in front of my family. I was only a child at the time, so I became overwhelmed with nerves and could not recite confidently. Upon this, that relative of mine began to say discouraging things, like, ‘Memorising the Quran is not within his capability; he is only fooling you,’ etc. Angered by this, my elder brother hit me in front of everyone for the first time in my life. This totally shattered my small heart, but the mercy of Allah Almighty wrapped me, and I continued to memorise the Quran. Then a day came when I memorised the entire Quran, and I am also a fifth year student of the Islamic scholarship course. Also, I have had the honour of reciting the Quran several times in Taraweeh.”
Either you or someone you know has probably faced similar incidents. Do not be discouraged, and remember that great achievements are often preceded by great adversity. May Allah Almighty grant us success in both worlds.
اٰمِیْن بِجَاہِ النَّبِیِّ الْاَمِیْن صَلَّی اللہ تَعَالٰی عَلَیْہِ وَاٰلہٖ وَسَلَّم
 Tirmizi, vol. 4, p. 213, Hadith 2480