The main maqsad or purpose of the human being in this life is to submit to the will and decree of Allah and worship Him from his first breath to his last.
Allah through His immense wisdom and prudence has decreed the people be tried and tested in various ways in order for Him to develop their psyche and to strengthen their character towards that which is pleasing to Him.
Going through suffering makes us normal and draws us closer to Allah. As an Imam I am frequently asked by people who are going through difficulties in life ‘why does Allah give us trials?’
At that point it is always beneficial to not only provide them with the philosophical answers but it is crucial that they receive some sort of counseling.
It is always important for us believers to remind each other of the divine wisdom of calamities and misfortunes in life. Everyone, in various capacities, goes through difficulties in life.
The believer, however, is cognizant of the fact that the trials that he/she encounters are there so that Allah can develop and strengthen his character. They remind us of our limitations as human beings and our complete need of Allah. The consequence of not fully comprehending the divine wisdom of tests, I have observed, is complete denial of the existence of Allah, may Allah save us.
In the next few installments I will be expounding upon a prophetic tradition on this very subject, which is extracted from a lecture I delivered a couple of years ago at an Islamic Institute in London, based on a book called ‘Prophetic Guidance on the Purification of the Soul’ by Dr Sharaf al-Qudat (Jordan).
عن أبي هريرة أنَّ رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم قال يقول الله تعالى ما لعبدي المؤمن عندي جزاء إذا قبضت صفيَّه من أهل الدُّنيا ثمَّ احتسبه إلا الجنَّة. رواه البخاري
Abu Hurayrah reported: The Messenger of Allah said:
“Allah, the Exalted, says: “I have no reward except Jannah for a believing slave of Mine who shows patience and anticipates My reward when I take away his favorite one from the inhabitants of the world.” (Bukhari)
This Hadith is a Hadith Qudsi which means ‘holy’ or ‘pure’ hadith. A Hadith Qudsi is a hadith in which the Prophet relates to the people what Allah says in its meaning [ma’nan] and its wording [lafdhan], because of His saying: ‘’slave of mine’’, if it was from the Prophet then the wording would have been: ‘’a believing slave’’ as it occurs in the first part of the hadith therefore, this hadith is from Allah, the Most High.
Some people may find this strange. Because if it is Allah’s speech why is it not included in the Qur’an?
The simple answer to this is that the Qur’an is part of Allah’s speech and not His entire speech. For example the previous revealed books i.e. The Torah and the Gospel in their original form were also Allah’s speech but they are not part of the Qur’an. This is also true in the case of hadith Qudsi.
However there are some fundamental differences between the Qur’an and Hadith Qudsi:
- The Qur’an is unique and is inimitable in both its word and meaning. However the Hadith Qudsi is not inimitable.
- The narration of the Qur’an is ‘Mutawatir’ or consecutive and uninterrupted. This means it has been narrated by a large number of people in every level of the chain such that it is impossible for all of them to make a mistake or error. Not all Hadith Qudsi are Mutawatir there are many that are Ahad meaning the number of people in every level are less than the mutawatir chain. Therefore some of the hadith Qudsi are Sahih, Hasan, Da’if and even Mawdu’.
- The Qur’an is recited in the Salah and the mere recitation of the Qur’an is ‘Ibadah. This is not the case with Hadith Qudsi. [al qur’an muta’bbad bitilawatihi].
This hadith reminds us of the divine test which we may encounter in this world:
The test of Allah through misfortunes or calamities.
Why does Allah test us?
What are the wisdoms of misfortunes?
Firstly: Misfortunes and calamities are from the sunan [conventionary practice] of Allah in the universe for which every person is inflicted with, Allah says:
“Be sure we shall test you with something of fear and hunger, some loss in goods or lives or the fruits (of your toil), but give glad tidings to those who patiently persevere”(2:155)
And He also says:
أَمْ حَسِبْتُمْ أَن تَدْخُلُواْ ٱلْجَنَّةَ وَلَمَّا يَأْتِكُم مَّثَلُ ٱلَّذِينَ خَلَوْاْ مِن قَبْلِكُم مَّسَّتْهُمُ ٱلْبَأْسَآءُ وَٱلضَّرَّآءُ وَزُلْزِلُواْ حَتَّىٰ يَقُولَ ٱلرَّسُولُ وَٱلَّذِينَ آمَنُواْ مَعَهُ مَتَىٰ نَصْرُ ٱللَّهِ أَلاۤ إِنَّ نَصْرَ ٱللَّهِ قَرِيبٌ
“Or do you think that you shall enter the Garden (of bliss) without such (trials) as came to those who passed away before you? they encountered suffering and adversity, and were so shaken in spirit that even the Messenger and those of faith who were with him cried: “When (will come) the help of Allah.” Ah! Verily, the help of Allah is (always) near!” (2:214)
Secondly: The purpose of misfortune and calamity is not necessarily for revenge, punishment or humiliation:
“But when He tries him, restricting his subsistence for him, then he says (in despair), “My Lord has humiliated me!” (Fajr:16)
Calamities and misfortunes are often tests from Allah. There is much wisdom in such tests; in fact there is wisdom in everything Allah does. The most prudent are as follows:
1-Establishment of Allah’s proof:
Allah does not reprehend a people unless they, out of their own will and deed, deny the proofs of Allah after it has been made clear to them.
If Allah simply created people without putting then through some test in this life, and then announces to a group among them, ‘enter the Hellfire’ they will respond, ‘O our Lord give us a chance [to do good], command us whatever you wish and we will carry out everything you demand of us’.
If they are not given the opportunity to do good they will feel that they have been wronged. So Allah wants to give them this opportunity to establish the proof upon them. This is despite Allah’s knowledge that the polytheists, on the Day of Judgment, will swear by Allah that they have not associated partners with Him, Allah says, ‘’they will say, by our Lord we have not committed shirk’’
Anas bin Malik said, “We were with the Prophet and he smiled so broadly that his molar could be seen, then he said: “Do you know why I am smiling?
We said, `Allah and His Messenger know best.’
He said: “Because of the way a servant will argue with his Lord on the Day of Resurrection. He will say, “O Lord, will You not protect me from injustice” [Allah] will say, “Of course.” The servant will say, “I will not accept any witness against me except from myself.” [Allah] will say, “Today you will be a sufficient witness against yourself, and the honorable scribes will serve as witnesses against you.” Then his mouth will be sealed, and it will be said to his faculties, “Speak!” So they will speak of what he did. Then he will be permitted to speak, and he will say, “May you be doomed! It was for you that I was fighting.”” [Reported by Muslim and An-Nasa’i]
This is the meaning of Allah, the Most High’s, statement:
الْيَوْمَ نَخْتِمُ عَلَى أَفْوَهِهِمْ وَتُكَلِّمُنَآ أَيْدِيهِمْ وَتَشْهَدُ أَرْجُلُهُمْ بِمَا كَانُواْ يَكْسِبُونَ
“This Day, We shall seal up their mouths, andtheir hands will speak to Us, and their legswill bear witness to what they used to earn” (Ya-Sin: 65)
حَتَّى إِذَا مَا جَآءُوهَا شَهِدَ عَلَيْهِمْ سَمْعُهُمْ وَأَبْصَـرُهُمْ وَجُلُودُهُم بِمَا كَانُواْ يَعْمَلُونَ وَقَالُواْ لِجُلُودِهِمْ لِمَ شَهِدتُّمْ عَلَيْنَا قَالُواْ أَنطَقَنَا اللَّهُ الَّذِى أَنطَقَ كُلَّ شَىْءٍ وَهُوَ خَلَقَكُمْ أَوَّلَ مَرَّةٍ
“Till, when they reach it, their hearing (ears) andtheir eyes and their skins will testify against them asto what they used to do. And they will say to theirskins, “Why do you testify against us?” They will say:“Allah has caused us to speak — as He causes all thingsto speak, and He created you the first time” (Fussilat: 20-21)
All these texts refer to after the slaves have associated partners with Allah and disobeyed Him. How would they be if Allah did not give them the opportunity to repent or do good deeds?
2-Thorough examination (tamhis):
Difficulties unveil the true nature of people by sieving out the good from the bad, the righteous from the wicked and the believer from the hypocrite.
Such thorough examinations are of great benefit for the Muslim community. Allah says, in the verses which speak about the battle of Badr and what the Muslims have obtained in it, clarifying the wisdom of this testing.
“Allah will not leave the believers in the statein which you are now, until He separateswhat is evil from what is good” (Aal-Imran:179)
Difficulties, also, enable you to identify your true friends and helpers from friends of convenience as a poet said:
جزى الله الشدائد كل خير وان كنت تغصصني بريقي
وما شكري لها إلا لأني عرفت بها عدوي من صديقي
“May Allah reward hardship with all good though itstrangles me and makes me breathless. And mygratitude towards it is not for any other reasonexcept that it enabled me to recognise my friend frommy enemy”.
3-Expiation of Sins (Takfir al-Dhunub):
Allah may decide to punish a person for his sin in this world rather than in the hereafter.
There is no doubt that the punishment of this world despite its magnitude is nothing compared to the punishment of the hereafter, however light it is, Allah says:
وَلَعَذَابُ الاٌّخِرَةِ أَكْبَرُ لَوْ كَانُواْ يَعْلَمُونَ
“But truly, the punishment of the Hereafter is greater if they but knew” (Al-Qalam:33)
There are many texts which show that Allah expiates sins of people through inflicting them with some misfortune or calamity. They include:
The hadith of the Prophet in which he said, ‘The believing man and woman will continually be tested in his self, his children, and his wealth until he meets Allah and that which he has of the misfortune.”
And his statement, When Allah desires for His servant some good, He hastens his punishment in this life, and when Allah intends some good for His servant He will postpone His punishment until he will be recompensed on the day of judgment’’.
In addition, the authentic statement of the Messenger of Allah : Abu Sa’id Al-Khudri and Abu Hurayrah both narrated that the Prophet said:
“A Muslim is not afflicted by hardship, sickness, sadness, worry, harm, or depression – even if pricked by a thorn, but Allah expiates his sins because of it” [Bukhari]
4-Elevation of ranks (Raf’ al-Darajat):
This is from the apparent meaning of the hadith. If a believer after being afflicted by a misfortune or hardship patiently perseveres, his sins are forgiven and he is raised up in ranks.
This was the condition with the prophets and messengers. They were all tested and tried and thus Allah , because of their patience and forbearance, raised their ranks amongst the people. The evidence for this is the hadith at hand,
“I have no reward except Jannah for a believing slave of Mine who shows patience and anticipates My reward when I take away his favourite one from the inhabitants of the world.”
We also read this in a hadith narrated by Anas who said that he heard the Prophet say that Allah said:
إذا ابليت عبدي بحبيبتيه فصبر عوضه منهما الجنة
“When I affect my slave in his two dear things(i.e., his eyes), and he endures patiently, heshall be compensated with Paradise”. (Bukhari)
5-Admonition for the negligent and a warning:
This is considered like a warning that is issued to a student or an employee who is being negligent or has some shortcomings.
The aim is to alert the person of the shortcoming. If the person takes heed he will be successful otherwise he will deserve the punishment. Perhaps the evidence for this is His, the Most High’s, saying:
“Before you We sent (messengers) to many nations,and We afflicted the nations with suffering andadversity, that they might learn humility, Why then, did they not supplicate in humility when a calamity from Us came upon them? Instead, their hearts were hardened and Satan adorned for them what they were doing. [An’am: 42-43]
Adversity and calamity struck them because they neglected to supplicate to Allah in humility. They did not comprehend the wisdom of tribulation and as such did not turn to Allah in humility. Instead, Satan adorned for them what they were doing.
6-Destruction which serves as a punishment for those that were warned but did not heed the warning and persisted upon committing sins:
“…For their sins We destroyed them…” (An’am:6)
And, ‘’Indeed We have destroyed generations before you when they transgressed, and their Messengers had come to them with clear signs, but they were not the ones who would believe. This is how We punish the guilty people’’ [Yunus: 13]
“When We decide to destroy a population, We(first) send a definite order to those amongthem who are given the good things of this lifeand yet transgress; so that the word is provedtrue against them: then We destroy themcompletely” (Al-Isra: 16)
7-A reminder of Allah’s favors upon mankind:
That is because man, who has been created with the faculty of sight, often forgets the blessing of being able to see. He does not fully give its due right.
If Allah was to temporarily take away his sight then return it to him he would realise the value of this great bounty.
Constant bounties and good-fortune often makes people forget the value of these bounties good-fortune for which they forget to show gratitude. Allah takes it away from people and then returns it to them in order for them to be reminded about these bounties and that they show gratitude to Allah for them.
Suffering makes us human.
Suffering and adversity have existed as long as human beings have. When we suffer we are connected to the common fate of the people who came before us and the people who will come after us.
Indeed, in tribulations there is a reminder for the person afflicted and others of the bounties of Allah . For example, when a person encounters a senile person he will appreciate the blessing of intellect. When a person observes a non-believer living his life like cattle, he will value the blessing of iman [faith]. When a person meets a sick person he will realize and value the blessing of good health. When he sees an impoverished person he will appreciate the blessing of wealth. When he encounters an ignorant person he is thankful for the blessing of knowledge. A person whose heart is awake and open to the reality will show gratitude but those who do not have [awakened] hearts will not show gratitude for the bounties of Allah ; instead they will be haughty and behave arrogantly towards the creation of Allah!!
8-Lessen people’s attachment to the Dunya:
If the dunya was free of any hardship and misfortune then people would have even been more attached to it and neglect the next life.
However, calamities and misfortunes alert people to the realities of the life of this world and awaken them from their neglectful state. Also they remind them about the next world which is free of any kind of misfortunes except for the wrongdoers.
9-Strengthening the personality of the believer (Saql Shakhsiya al-Mu’min):
Through hardship and difficulties Allah makes firm the hearts of the believers. This is why Allah chose our Prophet to grow up as an orphan and experience numerous hardships. As for those children who are pampered, generally, their personality is weakened because of this.
Through hardship and difficulty a believer is able to reach his full potential and growth in Iman and Taqwa.
10-Often a misfortune and calamity may come with a combination of wisdoms as in the case of the calamity at the battle of Uhud.
إِن يَمْسَسْكُمْ قَرْحٌ فَقَدْ مَسَّ ٱلْقَوْمَ قَرْحٌ مِّثْلُهُ وَتِلْكَ ٱلأَيَّامُ نُدَاوِلُهَا بَيْنَ ٱلنَّاسِ وَلِيَعْلَمَ ٱللَّهُ ٱلَّذِينَ آمَنُواْ وَيَتَّخِذَ مِنكُمْ شُهَدَآءَ وَٱللَّهُ لاَ يُحِبُّ ٱلظَّالِمِينَ
“If a wound has touched you, be sure a similarwound has touched the others. Such days (ofvarying fortunes) We give to men and men byturns: that Allah may know those that believe,and that He may take to Himself from your ranksMartyrs-witnesses (to Truth). And Allah loves notthose that do wrong”.– and so that Allah may purify those who believe and eradicate the disbelievers. (Aal-Imran:140-141)
In these two verses we can identify a number of wisdoms in what took place during the battle of Uhud:
- Days of varying fortunes among people – these have its causes and reasons
- Establishment of Allah’s proof against those who turn their backs on His Guidance
- Elevation of the ranks of the Shuhadah [martyrs]
- A test and tribulation to the believers
- A warning to the negligent [non believers]
Suffering is only as bad as we make it. If we believe we are entitled to a life of comfort, then a life that consists of suffering is simply unfair, and who likes an unfair world?
But if we believe that life is about growth and that growth entails a degree of pain and suffering, then there is nothing unfair about it.
How many people are tested with a disabled child – for example – this [in turn] is an enormous test for his entire family, and a test for him when he grows, and also, a test for the entire society – to determine whether the society takes care of him. This also acts as a reminder to others of the bounties that Allah grants them. Therefore, if the parents, the disabled, and others take heed – and the society fulfils its rights of the disabled, they all are rewarded according to their level of patience and how well they protected the weak and the afflicted.
11-Sometimes a hardship can be a blessing in disguise:
People who are afflicted with some misfortune may only see one side to the happenings and be heedless to other aspects, for which after a certain period of time, the beneficial side to the misfortune are unveiled to them.
Sometimes, they are convinced that the calamity they were suffering from was a good thing as opposed to being an omen or a calamity. Allah says:
‘’Fighting has been prescribed for you even though you detest it, it may be that something you dislike be good for you, and it may happen that something you like be bad for you, Allah knows while you do not’’.
Suffering gives us a greater appreciation of the moments of comfort. If life were comfortable 24/7, we wouldn’t be able to appreciate the moments of comfort. There would be nothing to compare comfort to. This is analogous to a marathon runner. If there were no suffering in running a marathon there would be no comfort, and certainly no sense of accomplishment, in crossing the finish line. Mountain climbers voluntarily endure excruciating suffering, often for weeks on end, in their attempt to reach the summit. They risk their lives; endure high altitude sickness, bottomless crevasses and glaciers, mountain storms, snow blindness, and sudden storms all to experience the several moments of magnificent comfort and satisfaction the mountain summit has to offer.
In addition, the misfortune may be good for his religiosity and for his next life, but even, also, for his living in the dunya.
12- Suffering is a normal part of parenting, marriage, working, and every other worthwhile endeavor:
If we are in a constant state of suffering and anguish then something is most likely not as it optimally should be. However, periodic suffering in all areas of life is normal.
Every good marriage has periods of discord and uncertainty. Every healthy parent/child relationship goes through phases of disrespect and resentment with our children or parents not doing what we think they ought to be doing and us not doing what they think we ought to be doing. Jobs, homes, neighborhoods and communities enter and leave our lives based on need, interest, and a variety of other factors, which are often based on suffering.
Lobsters are soft animals with hard shells that do not grow. When lobsters outgrow their shells they climb into a rock cleft. They face the uncertainty of being swallowed up by another animal or of being swept away by the current. Yet imagine if lobsters stifled their discomfort rather than using it as a catalyst for growth: they would be a miniature species.
We can emulate lobsters by accepting suffering as a sign that it’s time for growth and renewal. The bottom line is that periodic suffering is part of every aspect of our lives and it need not be “bad.”
Suffering is what it is and what we make of it. Not pleasant, but generally not unbearable or unacceptable.