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“Ibn al-Jawzi and Unanswered Prayers”

“Ibn al-Jawzi:

On Why Supplications are not Answered…


The jurist, historian, hadith expert and preacher Ibn al-Jawzi (d.597/1201)[1] reflects in Sayd al-Khatir on the question on answered prayers:[2]

قالت: فسلِّني عن تأخير الإجابة في مثل هذه النازلة!

فقلت: قد ثبت بالبرهان أن الله عز و جل مالك، و للمالك التصرف بالمنع والعطاء؛ فلا وجه للاعتراض عليه.

والثاني: أنه قد ثبتت حكمته بالأدلة القاطعة، فربما رأيتِ الشيء مصلحةً، والحكمة لا تقتضيه، وقد يخفى وجه الحكمة فيما يفعلهالطبيب من أشياء تؤذي في الظاهر، يقصد بها المصلحة، فلعل هذا من ذاك.

والثالث: أنه قد يكون التأخير مصلحة، والاستعجال مضرة، وقد قال النبي صلى الله عليه و سلم: ( لا يزال العبد في خير ما لم يستعجل، يقول دعوت فلم يستجب لي (

الرابع: أنه قد يكون امتناع الإجابة لآفة فيكِ؛ فربما يكون في مأكولك شبهة، أو قلبك وقت الدعاء في غفلة، أو تزاد عقوبتك، في منعحاجتك، لذنبٍ ما صدقتِ في التوبة منه .

فابحثي [ يا نفس ] عن بعض هذه الأسباب لعلك تقعين بالمقصود

والخامس: أنه ينبغي أن يقع البحث عن مقصودك بهذا المطلوب؛فربما كان في حصوله زيادة إثم، أو تأخيرٌ عن مرتبة خير، فكان المنع أصلح!وقد روي عن بعض السلف أنه كان يسأل الله الغزو، فهتف به هاتف: إنك إن غزوت أُسرت، وإن أُسرت تنصرت!

والسادس: أنه ربما كان فقد ما فقدته سببا للوقوف على الباب واللجْء [ أي : اللجوء إلى الله ]، وحصوله سببا للاشتغال به عن المسؤول،وهذا الظاهر؛ بدليل أنه لولا هذه النازلة ما رأيناك على باب اللجء … وإنما البلاء المحض ما يشغلك عنه، فأما ما يقيمك بين يديه ففيهجمالك!

وإذا تدبرت هذه الأشياء تشاغلت بما هو أنفع لك من حصول ما فاتك؛ من رفع خلل، أو اعتذار من زلل، أو وقوف على الباب إلى رب الأرباب!

[My soul] asked me regarding the delay in Allah’s response to supplications and prayers for relief from such calamities and I responded saying: It is proven with clear evidence (burhan) that Allah (Mighty and Exalted) is the Sovereign King (al-malik) and the Sovereign King has absolute power to withhold or give (al-tasarruf bi’l-man` wa’l-`ata’), so there is no way in objecting to Him.

[2] The wisdom behind this is proven by definitive evidence (adilla qati`a). I may think that something is of benefit (maslaha), but wisdom does not necessitate it, but the reason for that may be hidden, just as a doctor may do something that outwardly appears to be harmful, but intends some benefit by it. Perhaps this is something of that nature.

[3] There may be some benefit to be served by delay [s: in the supplication being answered], and some harm in it being answered immediately. The Prophet (saw) said: “A person will be fine so long as he does not become impatient and says, ‘I prayed but I did not receive an answer’…”[3]

[4] The response [s: to the supplication] may be withheld because of some fault in you. Perhaps there was something dubious in what you ate or your heart was heedless at the time when you made the supplication, or your punishment is being increased by means of your need being withheld, because of some sin from which you have not repented sincerely. So, examine some of these reasons [s: i.e. failings], so that you might achieve your aim.

[5] You should examine the intention behind what [you] request, because it being granted may lead to more sin, or prevent you from doing some good, so withholding it is actually better! It was narrated that one of the salaf used to ask Allah to grant him the honour of joining a [military] campaign, but a voice called out to him saying: ‘If you go out on this campaign, you will be taken prisoner and if you are taken prisoner you will become a Christian!’

[6] Perhaps losing what you have missed out will cause you to turn to Allah and getting it will distract you from Him. This is obvious, based on the fact that were it not for this calamity (nazila) you would not have turned to Him, because the real calamity is what distracts you from Him, but what makes you stand before Him is good for you and is in your best interests.

If you ponder these things you will focus on what is more beneficial for you rather than what you had lost or missed, such as correcting a mistake or seeking forgiveness for mistakes or standing before Allah and beseeching Him.” [End]


  • Ibn al-Jawzi delineates the key causes for why a prayer or supplication (du`a’) is not answered:

[1] Allah’s Will: Allah may or may not answer a certain supplication/prayer. Ultimately, it is up to Him as He is not obligated to do anything towards His creation although He does so out of a contingent act of benevolence.

[2] Hidden wisdom: sometimes because we don’t understand an apparent explanation or reason behind why something happens or doesn’t happen, we conclude there is no reason, explanation or underlying wisdom:

[P1] I can’t seem to understand the benefit in X,



[C1] X has no benefit.

This is fallacious for the reason that my knowledge (or lack of it in most cases) is not the standard for a generalised truth claim. In the example given by Ibn al-Jawzi, a doctor may administer some medication or perform some act that appears harmful to me but the specialised knowledge the doctor has is sufficient justification for him doing it. The reason and explanation is beyond me, but nevertheless, there is a reason and explanation.

[3] Benefit in Delay: If Allah is Omniscient then He knows in totality whether something is beneficial whether now, later or in the future for me (or anyone) even though I do not know. Thus, I may think a delay is bad but this association between delay = bad is not very good reasoning:

[P2] Prayer/Supplication X is delayed,



[C2] the delay in X is something bad.

To automatically conclude that an unanswered prayer/supplication now is something bad is fallacious simply because the delay may be the thing necessary to ward off some greater harm. Allah knows better and we don’t.

[4] Sin: Often, answered prayers/supplications may be due to our own transgressions such as insincerity, lack of integrity, lack of commitment, weak belief, heedlessness, etc. Thus, we may not even be in a position worthy of a response.[4]

            Often we think in the following way:

[P3] I didn’t get X (i.e. what I wished for),



[C3] Not getting X was something bad.

[P4] I missed out on X,



[C4] Missing out on X was something bad.

Both types of reasoning are not strong at all. Not getting what one wishes for or missing out on something that appears beneficial might be the very things that saves a person’s belief (iman), religious integrity or relationship with Allah which are more important than anything else. Not getting X and missing out on X might be the means by which a person ultimately draws closer to Allah. Anything therefore that takes us away or distracts us from Allah is – even though we may not see it – a calamity…

And with Allah is all success.


[1] For references on him, see al-`Alwaji, Mu’allafat Ibn al-Jawzi; EI2, s.v. “Ibn al-Djawzi” (H. Laoust) and Swartz’s biographical sketch in A Medieval Critique of Anthropomorphism, pp.3-33 with references therein.

[2] Ibn al-Jawzi, Sayd al-Khatir, pp.59-60.

[3] Muslim, Sahih (#2735).

[4] See Ibrahim Ibn Adham’s remark on unanswered prayers and the reasons at

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