Allah, subhanahu wata'aala, is the creator of mankind and therefore knows his nature more intricately than mankind himself. Allah, subhanahu wata'aala, has therefore chosen for us a religion best suited to the nature of mankind, a religion that goes neither to the extremes of hardship nor of laxity, but instead provides a middle path; in other words, a religion of ease. Allah, subhanahu wata'aala, said;
"Allah intends for you ease, and does not want to make things difficult for you" [2:185]; and "Allah does not want to place you in difficulty" [5:6].
Such easiness is well explained in the hadeeth reported by Abu Hurairah, radiya Allahu 'anhu, that the Prophet, salla Allaahu 'alaihe wasallam, said, "Religion is easy..." [Bukhari], he also said; "The best of your religion, is the easiest." [Ahmad]
The easiness of this religion was put into practise by the best of humanity, the one who came to deliver the message, as Allah, subhanahu wata'aala, said;
"Verily there has come unto you a Messenger from amongst yourselves, it grieves him that you should suffer any difficulty, he is anxious for you, for the believers he is full of pity and merciful" [10:128]
This understanding is clarified in a hadeeth in which the Prophet, salla Allaahu 'alaihe wasallam, said; "… Allah did not send me to be harsh, or cause harm, but He sent me to teach and make things easy" [Muslim]. This understanding is further implemented by the mercy sent to mankind, Muhammed, salla Allaahu 'alaihe wasallam, in the hadeeth reported by his noble and pure wife, 'Aishah, radiya Allahu 'anhu, who said; "Whenever the Prophet, salla Allaahu 'alaihe wasallam, has a choice between two matters, he would choose the easiest, unless it is sinful (act)" [Bukhari].
Many hadeeths have been reported on the matter of easiness: "Allah likes for this nation ease and hates for it hardship and adversity." [Tabaraani].
"We have been given a privilege over other nations... .we have been given verses that no one else has been given, the last two verses of Surah Baqarah(chapter 2)"Our Lord! Punish us not if we forget or fall into error. Our Lord! Lay not on us a burden greater than we have strength to bear" After each statement, Allah responded by saying, "I did, I did, I did"" [Muslim].
To further emphasise this understanding to his companions, when once a Bedouin stood up and started urinating in the mosque, the people caught him; but he, salla Allaahu 'alaihe wasallam, ordered them to leave him and to pour a bucket or a tumbler of water over the place where he had urinated. The Prophet, salla Allaahu 'alaihe wasallam, then said, "You have been sent to make things easy and not to make them difficult" [Bukhari].
An example that illustrates this point is Salah, an act so important and vital to Islam that the Prophet, salla Allaahu 'alaihe wasallam, said; "Between a person and disbelief is discarding prayer" [Muslim]. He also warned against leaving salah, even at the time of his death, in his very last breaths before departing from this world.
Yet in this worship Allah has also prescribed easiness. At first, the number of prayers was fifty in number, but they were reduced several times until they were five. Then it was proclaimed 'O Muhammad, the order is not changed. These five are (equal in reward) to fifty' [Tirmidhi].
Causes of hardship
If Islam is a religion of ease, why do we find many Muslims not practising it? Why do we find them doing very little of what they ought to be doing, and why do even those who practise their religion sometimes find it difficult?
There are reasons why the practice of Islam can becomes hard:
1) Lack of piety
When we speak about Islam being easy we are, in reality, speaking about the easiness of its acts of worship and morals. Religion by definition means commitment and an obligation to a master. Therefore, being a religious person means to be always aware that we are slaves to a master, Allah, subhanahu wata'aala.
From here we see the mistake of those who want 'ease' to mean 'doing nothing', just saying "I am a Muslim", committing themselves to nothing. It is obvious that they want it to be easy, but what exactly do they want? They want an easy life, a life without any religious practices.
The idle belief of 'existing only to live' has long ago been negated by Allah, subhanahu wata'aala. He said:
"Do you think you have been created for nothing and that you will not be resurrected and brought back to Allah again!" [23:115]. He also said: "Thinks man that he is left aimless?" [75:86].
Islam is easy to practice; but those who do not understand the reasons behind their existence, who do not understand the concepts of religion, but meanwhile are striving to secure themselves in this life; then surely they will find its practices difficult.
The easiness of Islam is felt in all of its commandments. Some people find this or that commandment hard to follow but this does not mean that the command is in itself hard; often it is the person who is the cause.
For example Salah, it is an easy act of worship, as Allah, subhanahu wata'aala, has made clear:
"And seek help in patience and prayer and truly it is (prayer) extremely heavy and hard except for Al-Khashi'un (i.e. true submitting)" [2;45].
Prayer is an easy act of worship except, of course, for those who do not truly submit to their Lord; they will find it toilsome.
Why do they find it so? The answer is that it is not the prayer that is difficult, but it is the hearts of these people which have changed from good to bad, as Allah, subhanahu wata'aala, mentioned:
"Verily, the hypocrites seek to deceive Allah, but it is He Who deceives them. And when they stand up to pray, they stand with laziness …" [4;142]; in another verse He subhanahu wata'aala, said; "And that they came not to prayer except in a lazy state …" [9;54].
The rules of Islam did not come as mere do's and don'ts. Each obligation has wisdom and motivation behind it. It should make no difference to us if the wisdom for that particular practice is known or not, because if it is not known to us today, then if Allah wills, He will reveal it to future generations. What is primarily expected from us is to fully submit and implement every command.
For example, the giving of charity, which apparently decreases the wealth of the giver. Islam did not say "Pay charity, pay charity", as this would not motivate people and therefore make it difficult to act upon. Instead Allah says;
"Would you not like to give a loan to your Lord, and this loan will be paid back to you multiplied and you will be rewarded for it." [2:245]
The Prophet, salla Allaahu 'alaihe wasallam, said; "Verily, wealth does not decrease because of charity." [Muslim]
It seems Muslims often ask why this act or matter is Halaal or Haraam. With such an attitude they will never achieve their goal, because behind each injunction there is an aspect of wisdom. Without understanding this, practising Islam becomes a heavy burden. With strong belief, we do not even have to ask whether this or that is halaal or Haraam, but rather if it pleases Allah. Therefore we should take the rules seeking the pleasure of Allah subhanahu wata'aala,. If pleasing Allah subhanahu wata'aala, is, always, our aim, then undoubtedly the practice of religion becomes easy, no matter what apparent hardships we may encounter.
3) Inappropriate environment
It is true that sometimes we find it difficult to practise the religion, even those who are committed to it!
The reason behind this is that we are practising our religion in an non-religious environment. Islam is not meant to be practised while being immersed in a Kufr (disbelieving) society. Its practice will indeed be difficult in such an environment. Therefore, the difficulty cannot be blamed upon Islam as a religion, but rather on the circumstances of the society.
Returning to our example of prayer, we see that prayer by itself is easy, but if you have to stand alone to pray amongst non-Muslims, all of them watching you, it will suddenly become difficult. The obvious conclusion is that the prayer in itself is not difficult, but the environment has made it difficult.
Another example is that of a woman who wears hijaab and is happy to cover herself. If this were an Islamic society, it would have been difficult for her not to be covered, or for a man not to respond to the call to prayer and pray in a mosque. Thus difficulty is not the nature of our religion, but we are trying to be pure in a decadent and immoral environment. These realities are not unknown to Islam, because the Prophet, salla Allaahu 'alaihe wasallam, already warned his companions some fourteen centuries ago, and by that has also warned us by saying, as reported by Abu Tha'laba, radiya Allahu 'anhu, "… Ahead of you are days which will require endurance (in the practice of religion), in which he who shows endurance will be like him who grasps live coals. The one who acts rightly during that period will have the reward of fifty men who act as he does."
The hearers said, "The reward of fifty of them, Messenger of Allah!" He replied, "The reward of fifty of you." A companion said about this difference in reward, "Now you find people helping you to do good deeds, but then they will not find things to help them but they will find things to resist and oppose them." [Tirmidhi].
So Islam is the religion of ease. If we accept it as a religion to start with, then we should take it with its concepts, and practise it in a pure environment (as opposed to a corrupted and decadent one); it will then become an easier religion to practise.
As it is not possible to have a 100% pure society, we have to strive to achieve this by being surrounded by good Muslims. In doing this, the religion will loosen the burdens around it.
The easiness of Islam has even been testified by the enemies of Islam. This was apparent in the statement of the Jews at the time of the Prophet, salla Allaahu 'alaihe wasallam, when a man and a woman from amongst them committed fornication. Some of them said to the others: "Let us go to this Prophet, for he has been sent with an easy law …". [Abu Dawood].
So may Allah, subhanahu wata'aala, make us amongst those who
"Listen to the word and follow the best thereof, whom Allah has guided and those are men of understanding." [39;18].