Nasr ad-Din Juha was a simple man who lived in a small village. He was a shoemaker and rather a good one. He was not very knowledgeable, nor very rich or very strong or handsome. He was a simple man. But he was a joyful and content man, always with a smile.
Juha grew old and did not have children. His wife passed away long before him and he never got married again. He had no siblings or relatives. Until his last day, he used to wake up at dawn every day and go to the mosque to pray Fajr. From there he would go to his workshop where he would work diligently all day.
When he was getting old, a young man came to him. He wanted to learn Juha’s trade, help him and inherit his workshop. Juha accepted. His name was Abdullah.
One day Abdullah asked Juha: “How come you are so joyful and content when you have no family, wife or children. When God has not given you knowledge or wealth. When you are not known for anything other than being a good shoemaker and a kind person?”
Juha smiled and answered: “Perhaps God did not give me wealth because I would have been mean and it would have corrupted me. Perhaps He did not give me a lot of knowledge because it would have made me proud and arrogant. Perhaps He did not give me children because I would not have been a good parent and I would have raised them to be unjust.
As for my wife, I loved her very much, but she loved God more. How can I argue with that? She only went ahead of me and I expect to join them both soon.
But God gave me two hands and has taught me to make shoes so I did not have to beg, and I could give a little charity to make up for my errors. And He has given me a long life so I could worship him. How can I not be thankful and content?”
The reason for Juha’s joy and contentment
What made Juha a thankful and content man? His good opinion of Allah and of creation. Having a good opinion is to look for the good and expect goodness. The Prophet, peace be upon him said:
Verily, thinking well about Allah is a part of the excellent worship of Allah.Sunan al-Tirmidhi
He also said:
Allah says: If he thinks good of Me, he will have it. And if he thinks evil of Me, he will have it.Musnad Ahmad
How our opinions help us interpret the world
We understand ourselves and the world based on our knowledge and experiences. This creates our opinions, what we think of something. Based on that, we interpret what happens to us.
We are constantly receiving stimuli. A stimulus is any piece of information that we perceive with our senses and through our nervous system reaches our brain. When this electric impulse that we call stimulus reaches our brain we have to interpret it to make sense of it.
Imagine that you are walking and you see a four-legged hairy animal. What is it? It might be a dog or a cat or any other animal that fits that description. The light bounces off the animal and catches your eye. That is a stimulus. Your ocular system transforms this into an electrical impulse and sends it to your brain. Your brain interprets this impulse based on your previous knowledge to decide what kind of animal it is.
But not only that. Let’s say that you saw a dog. How does it make you feel? Maybe you’ve had bad experiences with dogs before and you feel a bit scared. Or maybe you’ve had good experiences and the dog looks harmless and you feel inclined to pet him.
This is how our opinions affect the way we perceive things and how we react to them. Every day at every moment, we are receiving stimuli and interpreting them. It is what makes us see something in a good light or bad light.
The optimism of Prophet Muhammad
The Prophet, peace be upon him said:
I am amazed by optimism, the good word, the kind word.Sahih al-Bukhari
Ibn Abbas reported:
The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, was optimistic and he did not see evil omens, and he liked good names.Musnad Ahmad
This is what today psychology calls “positive thinking”. It has become a branch of study within psychology. It focuses on helping people lead better lives.
But not everything that happens is good and not everyone is kind
That we think well of others does not mean that we are naïve. It means that we do not look for the bad and instead try to see the positive side of things.
Tragic and painful experiences are part of life and having a good opinion will not change that. And it does not mean that we always expect everyone to be kind. However, it can change the way we approach these experiences and deal with them, and it might help us cut down our prejudices and try to understand where the other person is coming from.
For example, having a good opinion of Allah might mean that when something difficult happens to us we try to find what is the good that Allah has put in it for us. What we can learn from that experience. The Prophet, peace be upon him, said:
Wondrous is the affair of the believer for there is good for him in every matter and this is not the case with anyone except the believer. If he is happy, then he thanks Allah and thus there is good for him, and if he is harmed, then he shows patience and thus there is good for him.Bukhari