There are lot of things that we can talk about Islamic perspective of trials and tests, but here we focus on two basic questions: why does Allah test us & what should our attitude be when facing a test from Allah?
Why does Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) test us?
الَّذِي خَلَقَ الْمَوْتَ وَالْحَيَاةَ لِيَبْلُوَكُمْ أَيُّكُمْ أَحْسَنُ عَمَلًا وَهُوَ الْعَزِيزُ الْغَفُورُ [الملك: 2]
”(Allah is) the One who created death and life, so that He may test you as to which of you is better in his deeds. And He is the All-Mighty, the Most- Forgiving.” (Al-Mulk 67:2)
Many religions preach that trials and tests are always sent as punishment from God. They claim that if you are afflicted with a hardship, such as sickness or loss of wealth, it means you have somehow displeased God. However, this is not true in Islam. In Islam, there is no correlation between our present situation and Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa)’s attitude toward us. For example, if I lose my job, it doesn’t mean that Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) is angry at me. On the other hand, if I get a pay raise at my job, it doesn’t mean that Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) is happy with me. Instead, Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) presents us with these different situations to see how we react to them.
In the above Quraanic Aayah (Verse), Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) tells us that tests and trials are a part of life. Everyone will be tested to a certain extent at times so that Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) can see which person has true faith in him. In other words, He will see who is doing good deeds for the right reason and who only does good deeds when it is convenient.
Prophet Hadhrat Muhammad (SallAllaho ‘Alaihe WaSallam) said:
مَا مِنْ شَىْءٍ يُصِيبُ الْمُؤْمِنَ حَتَّى الشَّوْكَةِ تُصِيبُهُ إِلاَّ كَتَبَ اللَّهُ لَهُ بِهَا حَسَنَةً أَوْ حُطَّتْ عَنْهُ بِهَا خَطِيئَةٌ ۔۔.
“There is nothing (in the form of trouble) that comes to a believer even if it is the pricking of a thorn that there is decreed for him by Allah good or his sins are obliterated.” (Muslim)
This Hadeeth shows us the two general reasons a test may occur in somebody’s life. The first reason is that Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) will test you with something so that you have the opportunity to successfully go through the test with the right attitude, and Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) will therefore raise your station in Jannah (Paradise).
The second reason for facing a trial is that I may have done something wrong and I may not have asked Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) for forgiveness. Instead of punishing me in the Aakhirah (Hereafter), Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) will put me through something in this life. Whatever He puts me through in this life will be nothing like what I would have faced in the Aakhirah, so this trial is actually a form of Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa)’s mercy.
What should a Muslim’s attitude be when faced with a test or trial?
Now that we know the reasons for tests and trials, let’s examine how we as Muslims should respond when faced with a test. The first thing is to keep it all in perspective.
1. KEEP IT IN PERSPECTIVE
لَا يُكَلِّفُ اللَّهُ نَفْسًا إِلَّا وُسْعَهَا ….. [البقرة: 286]
“Allah does not obligate anyone beyond his capacity…..” (Al-Baqarah 2:286)
A person will never be faced with a bigger hardship than they can handle. A lot of times, when we’re going through a trial, we become so focused on the trial that we lose sight of everything else. For example, if a person loses a job, they will often focus on what they don’t have and will forget what they do have, such as their health, family, or (if nothing else) their faith.
Focusing on what we have versus what problems we’re faced with allows us to keep a good attitude about situations, and knowing that Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) will never give us more than we can handle helps us keep everything in perspective.
Keeping the perspective that Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) never gives a person a trial that’s bigger than what they can handle reminds us that no matter what it may be, we should never lose hope or lose patience because we already know we will get through it.
2. ALLAH (SUBHAANAHU WA TA’AALAA) ALWAYS DOES WHAT’S BEST FOR US
عَسَى أَنْ تَكْرَهُوا شَيْئًا وَهُوَ خَيْرٌ لَكُمْ وَعَسَى أَنْ تُحِبُّوا شَيْئًا وَهُوَ شَرٌّ لَكُمْ وَاللَّهُ يَعْلَمُ وَأَنْتُمْ لَا تَعْلَمُونَ [البقرة: 216]
“It could be that you dislike something, when it is good for you; and it could be that you like something when it is bad for you. Allah knows, and you do not know.” (Al-Baqarah 2:216)
Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) is reminding us of something very important here. He is saying that when we are faced with something, we see the here and now. We don’t truly understand the big picture. Therefore, we see things as good or bad because we can only see what’s physically happening in the present.
An easy example to understand is the example of getting a flat tire on the road. Nobody wants to deal with a flat tire because it’s an inconvenience. However, imagine that down the road there was a drunk driver who was out of control. Perhaps by giving us a flat tire, Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) saved us from being harmed by the drunk driver.
One thing we must realize is that Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) will never put us through a trial for no reason. There are several authentic Ahaadeeth where Prophet Hadhrat Muhammad (SallAllaho ‘Alaihe WaSallam) mentioned that Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) loves us more than our own mothers. A mother would never willingly put their child through a hardship for no reason at all. Therefore, it is safe to say that neither would Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa). Every trial or test has a purpose behind it, even if we cannot comprehend it at the time.
With that in mind, here’s an analogy to show how we sometimes can’t see why we’re put through a trial until after we’ve gone through it. When I was younger, my parents were very strict on how much dessert or soda I could have. As a child, I saw these restrictions as unfair. However, now as an adult, I’ve come to realize that they were doing it for my own good. They didn’t want me to intake that much sugar so that I would grow up healthy. Back then, I could only see the here and now and thought they were being cruel to me. However, in reality, my parents were thinking about my future and doing what they knew was best for me even if I didn’t understand it.
Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) does the same thing for us. Sometimes we may really want something and not get it, or we might face some hardship. It’s easy to get focused on the here and now and be tempted to question Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa). However, if we remember how much Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) cares about us, we realize that He is actually doing what is best for us in the long run.
3. REMEMBER THE IMPORTANCE OF THANKFULNESS AND PATIENCE
Prophet Hadhrat Muhammad (SallAllaho ‘Alaihe WaSallam) said:
عَجَبًا لأَمْرِ الْمُؤْمِنِ إِنَّ أَمْرَهُ كُلَّهُ خَيْرٌ وَلَيْسَ ذَاكَ لأَحَدٍ إِلاَّ لِلْمُؤْمِنِ إِنْ أَصَابَتْهُ سَرَّاءُ شَكَرَ فَكَانَ خَيْرًا لَهُ وَإِنْ أَصَابَتْهُ ضَرَّاءُ صَبَرَ فَكَانَ خَيْرًا لَهُ
“Strange are the ways of a believer for there is good in every affair of his and this is not the case with anyone else except in the case of a believer for if he has an occasion to feel delight, he thanks (Allah), thus there is a good for him in it, and if he gets into trouble and shows resignation (and endures it patiently), there is a good for him in it.” (Muslim)
This is one Hadeeth that we should always keep at the forefront of our minds. There are very few periods in our lives where things are simply neutral. Most of the time, things seem to be progressing or it seems as if the entire world has turned against us.
One of the aspects I love above the above Hadeeth is that it shows us how powerful our attitude is because our attitude shows Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) our faith in Him. Our attitude can make a positive situation better and turn a negative situation into a positive situation. In other words, if things are going well and we remain thankful and humble, Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) will turn a good situation into a great situation. As Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) promises in Aayah 7 of Soorah Ibrahim, when we are thankful, He will give us more, In Shaa Allah.
لَئِنْ شَكَرْتُمْ لَأَزِيدَنَّكُمْ وَلَئِنْ كَفَرْتُمْ إِنَّ عَذَابِي لَشَدِيدٌ [إبراهيم: 7]
“If you express gratitude, I shall certainly give you more, and if you are ungrateful, then My punishment is severe.” (Ibrahim 14:7)
On the other hand, if things are not going well but we remain patient and steadfast (i.e. have Sabr), then Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) will bring about some good from the situation, and the situation will eventually be alleviated.
This Hadeeth should give us hope that no matter what we’re going through, Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) has not abandoned us. We just need to maintain the right attitude toward the situation and good faith toward Him.
4. THE REWARDS OF A TEST ARE ALWAYS GREATER THAN THE TEST ITSELF
إِنَّ مَعَ الْعُسْرِ يُسْرًا • فَإِذَا فَرَغْتَ فَانْصَبْ [الشرح: 6-7]
“So, undoubtedly, along with the hardship there is ease. Undoubtedly, along with the hardship there is ease.” (Al-Inshirah 94:6-7)
One thing Ulamaa have mentioned about this Aayah is that by the use of a definite article in the Arabic text, the two verses refer to the same difficulty, but they refer to different eases or rewards. In other words, Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) is telling us that every trial we go through, if faced with the right attitude, will result in multiple rewards that are greater than the trial itself!
With this in mind, knowing that Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) has promised us a victory for facing hardships with the right attitude, it is much easier to stay steadfast in times of trials. An excellent example of what this Aayah means is shown in the life of Prophet Hadhrat Muhammad (SallAllaho ‘Alaihe WaSallam). After preaching Islam in akkah al Mukarramah for close to thirteen years, there were only a handful of Muslims in the city when the Hijrah (Migration) to Madinah al Munawwarah occurred. However, just ten years later, the entire Arabian Peninsula had converted to Islam, and tens of thousands of Muslims accompanied Prophet Hadhrat Muhammad (SallAllaho ‘Alaihe WaSallam) during his final Hajj (Pilgrimage) to Makkah al Mukarramah.
May Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) keep us safe from hardships. However, if we face any, may Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) then allow us to face them with patience and with the right attitude.