"If anyone removes one of the anxieties of a distressed person in this world, Allah will remove one of the anxieties of the hereafter from him. If anyone conceals a fault of a Muslim, Allah will conceal his faults in the hereafter. Allah keeps helping a man (or woman), so long as he (or she) keeps helping his (or her) brother (or sister)." - Prophet Muhammad, may Allah's peace and blessings be upon him (Musnad Ahmad)
Last year I had the opportunity to ask Shaykh Yahya Rhodus how to deal with anxiety from witnessing wars, cruelties and catastrophes, and not being able to do as much as we want to help those in need. The Syrian civil war escalated last year and the news was filled with pictures of dead bodies and of children being mutilated and murdered. I witnessed a level of evil that was unfathomable to me.
This year, the list of catastrophes keeps getting longer. The kidnapping of 200 Nigerian school girls. The siege on Gaza. The mystery of the missing MH370 and the crash of MH17. The persecution of Syrians, Iraqis and the Rohingya. The trials and hardship faced by our brothers and sisters in faith and humanity seem to continue.
As a Muslim, Malaysian and a fellow human being, my heart aches but as the Malay proverb goes, "Berat mata memandang, berat lagi bahu yang memikul" (The eyes may feel weary [witnessing the hardship of others] but the shoulders that carry the burden feel even more weary). Yes, we can pray for them. We can also donate to charities and in the case of Palestine, we can boycott certain companies and protest against the collective punishment of the Gazans. But sometimes it doesn't feel like enough and it's normal to feel saddened by this.
Shaykh Yahya Rhodus has one the most calming aura I have ever felt, mashaAllah, so I asked him for advice and this is what he had to say (please note that it is paraphrased):
The first step is to accept that dealing with reality is very hard. One of the signs of the end of times is that we become more aware of tribulations (and other people's realities) and we have less ability to cope. Get used to being alone - do it for five or ten minutes. Reflect on these things: your mortality, how the dunya is passing (it's not utopia), you have a Rabb and there is wisdom behind all things, injustices will be dealt with. e.g. innocent children will go to Paradise.
Face the Qibla and make dhikr - it is a staple food for our spirituality, it is essential. Bring to heart that your Lord sees you and say, "Ya Allah" a hundred times. Dhikr is to your soul what food is to your physical body. You will develop a resistance to reality.
Love the righteous (and follow their example). Read their biographies. Imam al-Junayd said stories are armies Allah (subhana wa taala) sends to the heart. (Personal note: What I gather from this is that when we know righteous people of the past have endured hardship we will gain strength from knowing how they overcame or endured them.)
I have learned to seek peace and refuge in God - as-Salaam - the Source of peace and safety, free from all kinds of imperfections. And I continue to learn the many ways we can do so. I do not claim that this is an easy or quick fix but alhamdulillah, it has worked for me. It also helps to lead a balanced lifestyle and have a good support system consisting of people who understand what you're going through.
May salaam (peace) envelope our hearts and bodies. May salaam spread in Palestine, Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Africa, Myanmar, and all over this earth. May salaam conquer evil. May we awaken and rise to serve Him and His creations who need us for this world is surely a place of trial, made to break us and build our characters.
I have faith in Allah (swt) and I am certain that He is the Most Just. Things may not always happen in a way that I understand but even in hardships there are blessings. It's a matter of perspective. A matter of faith.
P.S. Do watch this lecture by Mufti Menk: "The Tragedy of MH17: Our Response as Muslims". I think many people will be able to relate to it.