A life lived without anguish is only half a life. So why can't we embrace knock-backs?
Why are we tested?
Allah subhanahu wa ta`la, exalted and free from imperfection is He, states that every man and woman will be tested with difficulties, hardship and loss in life. Allah tests us for the following reasons:
- To distinguish between those who sincerely believe in Allah and those who don't.
- To encourage mankind to strive to do good deeds.
- To purify the soul and expiate sins.
- To distinguish between those who believe in the Hereafter (akhirah) and those who do not.
- For believers to earn the reward of Paradise (Jannah), if they remain patient and faithful to Allah throughout adversity.
"Do people think that they will be left alone because they say: 'We believe and we will not be tested'?" (Qur'an, Al-Ankabut, 29:2)
"Who has created death and life that He may test who is best in deed." (Qur'an, Al-Mulk 67:2)
"Whatever trouble, illness, anxiety, grief, pain and sorrow afflict a Muslim, even if it is the pricking of a thorn - Allah removes some of his sins because of it." (Narrated by Abu Sa`eed al-Khudri, Bukhari and Muslim)
"...We might test him who believes in the Hereafter from him who is in doubt concerning it: and the Lord watches over all things (All-Knower of everything i.e. He keeps record of each and every person as regards to deeds and then He will reward them accordingly.)" (Qur'an, Saba 34:21)
"Did you think that you would enter Paradise without Allah testing those of you who fought hard in His cause and (also) test those who are as-Sabireen (the patient ones)?" (Qur'an, Al-`Imran 3:142)
As mentioned before Allah subhanahu wa ta`la tests his creation to distinguish between those who have faith and those who do not. The stronger they are in faith, the more He will test them. Although this may seem unfair, Allah is never unjust.
The more He tests the believers, the more He will reward them in return. The opportunities to earn the rewards of Allah are equal for both men and women. However, the rewards for believers and non-believers (or disbelievers) are quite different. Rewards for non-believers are only awarded in this life, whereas the rewards for believers are rewarded in this life and in the Hereafter (akhirah).
The life often feels like a prison to the true believer because of all the Islamic restrictions, sacrifices, and severe hardships he has to endure. His life is spent in constant struggle between his own wanton desires and his moral conscience. However, Allah is aware of all his efforts and self-sacrifice and will either rewards for it in this life or in the Hereafter (or both). Every times a believer makes a sacrifice for Allah's sake, he sins will be expiated. A good deed will be written for him and its reward multiplied hundreds of times. Allah provides incentives such as these to encourage us to strive harder and make more and more sacrifices in our lives.
If a person embraces Islam sincerely, then Allah shall forgive all his past sins, and after that starts the settlement of accounts: the reward of his good deeds will be ten times to several hundred times for each good deed, and an evil deed will be recorded as it is, unless Allah forgives it too out of His Mercy.
Worship consists of three levels of belief and striving:
- Islam - total submission and obedience to Allah.
- Imaan - true faith consisting of belief in the heart, speech of the tongue and action of the limbs.
- Ihsaan - perfection of worship, doing good deeds as though you see Allah, and if you cannot achieve this feeling or attitude then you must remember that He sees you.
Every believer should try to live his life according to these basic levels of worship.
The highest level of attainment in Paradise is Al-Firdaws, which is situated directly beneath Allah's throne. This level is reserved in honour of the martyr [Muslim fighters who die defending their faith; by plague; abdominal disease; drowning or death by a falling building; burns; pneumonia and delivery. Narrated by Abu Hurayra], who sacrificed his/her life in Allah's cause. Paradise descends through various levels of striving. The more we strive in Allah’s Cause with our lives, wealth, desires and emotions, the better our position will be in Paradise, insha-Allah (God willing).
Allah’s Messenger said: “The world is the believer’s prison and the infidel’s paradise.” (Muslim)
"Paradise is surrounded by hardships and Hellfire is surrounded by temptations." (Muslim)
This is a test. You will be held accountable for your whole adult life. Your results will come in shortly after.
This life is like a paradise for the disbeliever, that person appears to have fewer restrictions and make fewer sacrifices. However, this is the choice that person makes and one that bears heavy consequences (penalties) in the Hereafter. He denies the existence of his Divine Creator and remains disobedient to His Divine Authority. But by seeking only to please themselves and gain instant gratification, that person sacrifices the best that is still yet to come. Allah will deny him the pleasures in Paradise.
The ways in which believers and disbelievers cope during trials are also radically different. Believers acknowledge and accept that their destiny is in the hands of Allah. For every blessing they receive they are grateful to Allah and for every tragedy that befalls them, they accept and endure it patiently for the rewards it brings. Alternatively, they may express their pain and anguish to Allah, but not excessively to show disrespect or conflict with God’s Divine Will.
When Muslims become overwhelmed with stress, they often become frustrated and impatient, and find it difficult to control their emotions. Instead of controlling their nafs (desires and emotions), which is what God is testing them on, they fall into disappointment, depression and displeasure. Rather than turning to Allah at that precise moment to alleviate their worries, they may use regretful coping mechanisms such as superstition, alcohol or drugs. As a result, all their efforts to cope with life’s problems are made in vain, as they are made with very little remembrance of Allah. This is the opposite of the purpose of the test. Allah is calling out to the believer ‘Remember Me!’
Weaker Muslims may also fail to give thanks and praise to Allah for His Kind favours, especially in times of comfort and ease. Instead, they take full credit for all their success and achievements in life. When performing acts of charity or kindness they may think they are deserving of that reward and yet the intention to do it for God’s sake and gain His love are absent. Thus, Allah says:
“Say: Shall We tell you the greatest loser in respect of their deeds? Those whose efforts have been wasted in this life while they thought that they were acquiring good by their deeds!” (Qur’an, Kahf 18:103-4)The attitude of the truer believer though, is totally different:
"Wonderful is the case of the believer – there is good for him in everything, and this is only for the believer. If he experiences a blessing, he is grateful to Allah, which is good for him, and if he experiences an adversity, he is patient, which is also good for him." (Muslim)Allah tests mankind in terms of their good deeds and self-sacrifice. Many people assume these good virtues are enough to be rewarded with Paradise but Allah will only accept them and reward the worthy actions if two basic conditions are met.
- Firstly, the intention for doing good deeds must be for God’s sake alone, without any showing off or for praise and attention.
- Secondly, deeds must also be performed in accordance with the Qur’an and Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him. The Prophet clearly stated that is we are only motivated to perform kind acts to satisfy our egos and credibility, we may receive our rewards for it in this life, but at the expense of those in our afterlife.
“Verily, Allah does not treat the believer unjustly in regard to his virtues. He would confer upon him (His blessings) in this world and would give him reward in the Hereafter. And as a non-believer, he would be made to taste the reward (of virtue in this world) what he has done for himself so much that when it would be the Hereafter, he would find no virtue for which he should be rewarded.” (Muslim)
Although life is a kind of prison for believers and a paradise for disbelievers, Muslims need to take solace knowing that these positions will be reversed in the Hereafter.
On the Day of Judgement, God will dip believers once in paradise and ask them if they experienced any troubles in the worldly life. Although they would have experienced many, they will immediately reply that they had not. Paradise beautifully and lovingly compensates for all a Muslim’s misery and pain, and allows Muslims to forget all their suffering. Similarly a disbeliever will be dipped once in Hellfire and be asked if he/she experienced any comforts and material blessings, to which he/she will reply they never had.
It is important to note that although Paradise is granted to every sincere and faithful believer, some Muslims will be sent to the Hellfire for an appointed duration of time. The punishment they receive will be according to the gravity of their sins. However, eventually they will be taken out by Allah's Mercy and transferred into Paradise. What of the disbelievers? Theirs is the fiery home for eternity:
“There will be some whom the Fire would reach their ankles, some to their knees, some to their waste and to some it would reach up to their collar bones.” (Muslim)
Whoever said “None has the right to be worshipped but Allah” (Laa ilaha il'allah wahdahu la shareekalak) and has good faith in their hearts equal to the the weight of an atom, will be taken out of Hell.
To best summarise why a believer is tested comes from our Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, who always relied on God's Mercy:
“The deeds of anyone of you will not save you from the Hellfire”. The Sahaba replied, “Not even you, oh Prophet of God?” He replied, “No, even I will not be saved unless and until Allah bestows His Mercy on me. Therefore do good deeds properly, sincerely and moderately, and worship Allah in the forenoon and in the afternoon and during a part of the night, and always adopt a middle, moderate, regular course whereby you will reach you target (Paradise).” (Bukhari)
Abridged excerpt from Overcoming Trials and Tribulations According the the Qur'an and Sunnah, Ruqaiyah Abdullah