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Why We Are Tested: The Psychology of Suffering & Misfortune – Part #2


This is Part #2 of a multipart post: You can find part #1 here 


Thirdly: Abundant trials and tribulations in this world is not a sign of one’s disbelief or Allah’s displeasure with him. On the other hand, most of the people who are inflicted with calamities are the pious and the righteous.

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The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) was asked, “O Messenger of Allah, which of the people are the most sorely tested?” He said:

“The Prophets, then those similar, then those similar. A man will be tested in accordance with his level of faith. If his faith is strong, he will be tested more severely, and if his faith is weak, he will be tested in accordance with his faith. Calamity will keep befalling a person until he walks on the earth with no sin on him.” (Tirmidhi)

Suffering is not an indicator of our self-worth.

In Western culture, there is a deeply rooted belief that any type of suffering, whether it is financial, physical, emotional, familial, etc., is the result of being “unworthy.” If we believe this to be true, then our legitimate suffering is compounded with needless suffering. Success and comfort are like wheels. Those who are on top will one day be at the bottom and those who are on the bottom will one day be on the top. Bear in mind that our suffering in no way reflects who we are as people. Often times, worthy and decent people suffer while cruel and indecent people experience seeming comfort.

For this reason we find that the people of truth are those who adhere to what pleases Allah, who refuse to sway from the religion of Allah – they are most sorely tested in their life and wealth. Their life becomes constrained by the diminution of provisions. Sometimes they are denied the right to work or their freedom suppressed or they are chained in prisons. They encounter every imaginable tribulation a human can endure – and this is the sunnah (conventional practice) of Allah in the past, present and (continues) in the future. They do not encounter these adversities except for the purpose of Allah desiring to establish the proof upon others and, also, in order that He may raise the ranks, in Paradise, of those who go through such adversities.

People may consider this to be strange.

How can the Prophets be most sorely tested?

Should not the opposite be true?

The answer to this question lies in the example of the students in their examination – for the exam of a student in university will be more difficult than the exam a student sits for in secondary school, and the examination of a student in secondary school will be more complex than a student in the preparatory school, and so and so forth.

If someone were to proclaim that the exam should become easier every time the student progresses in his education, for honour and as an encouragement for him, no one will be satisfied with this explanation.

This is true in the case of people. Every time a person’s level of faith and suluk [behaviour] increases, his test in this life intensifies. However, he is rewarded for enduring the adversity, and his station in Paradise is raised the same way a University student receives the highest certificate because his exam was more complex than of others. This is what the logic inclines towards and the soul becomes content with and not the opposite.

Fourthly: A believer can turn a misfortune into a good fortune:

These are not theoretical words which a believer deceives himself and his emotions with. It is the truth for which there is no doubt.

The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said:

عجبا لأمر المؤمن إن أمره كله له خير ، وليس ذاك لأحد إلا للمؤمن ؛ إن أصابته سرّاء شكر ؛ فكان خيراً له ، وإن أصابته ضرّاء صبر ؛ فكان خيراً له “.

(رواه مسلم)

“How amazing is the affair of the believer. Everything is good for him – and that is for no one but the believer: If he is afflicted by any good, he is thankful and that is good for him, and if he is afflicted by any hardship, he is patient and that is good for him.“ (Muslim)

Indeed a believer, when he is tested by losing something from this life, for example, and he is patient, will be recompensed with abundant rewards in the next life. There is no doubt that the reward obtained in the next life will be greater than what he loses in this life for he has substituted loss with profit – and this is for no one except the believer.

Fifthly:Success in this test depends on a person’s Sabr (Patience) Rida (Contentment) and Shukr (Gratitude):

People who are tried by Allah may have four reactions:

Impatience: The people who react by being impatient are the ones who struggle to overcome difficult situations through unlawful means. Like the one who is being tried with poverty but is not patient and steals, lies and cheats to accumulate wealth. Or the one who has been inflicted by the loss of a loved one, and rather than being patient, becomes angry with Allah. Therefore, being impatient is impermissible – a person who is impatient will be punished on the day of judgment.

Patience: These people are the ones who seek to avert difficulties through lawful means only. They refrain from resorting to the prohibited means even if they are easier, shorter and more liked by the soul [nafs]. Whoever is tried with poverty, for example, should be active in seeking lawful work without extending his hand in the unlawful means of attaining a living. Sabr is three types:

  1. Patience in trying to carry out the commandments of Allah.
  2. Patience in trying to avoid sins as the self [nafs] is very often inclined towards sins.
  3. Patience in times of trials and tribulations.

Patience is an obligation [wajib] for which a person is rewarded if he is patient when a calamity strikes him, while the one who abandons patience is sinful in the sight of Allah.

Being patient by observing all the different types of patience is also amongst the conditions of success in the Hereafter. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) says:


By time! Surely people are at loss. Except for those who have faith and do righteous deeds and exhort one another to truth and exhort one another to patience.” (Al-Asr)


Contentment is to be satisfied with Allah’s Decree. This is a higher station than patience (sabr). This is when a person becomes content and does not exert himself to get rid of the misfortune nor does he feel constrained by it, but he is content and satisfied with what Allah has decreed for him. However this should not be the state of the believer in every situation.

Some situation requires us to work hard to change it or else we will be sinful. We cannot be content with evil, for example, whoever is being tested through disobedient children. It is not lawful for him to be content and say, “O Allah I am content with what you have bestowed upon me, I will not [try] and change the situation”. This is not the contentment [rida] which Allah has encouraged us to observe. In actuality, this is being content with disobedience and misguidance, and whoever is satisfied with sin and misguidance has indeed disbelieved in Allah, the Most High.

The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said regarding the disobedient:

‘’whoever strives against them with his hand he is a believer, whoever strives against them with his tongue he is a believer, and whoever strives against them with his heart [by hating the sin] he is a believer, and there is nothing beyond this in iman of an atoms weight’’. (Muslim)

Thus, whoever does not condemn an evil, even with his heart, while becoming content with the vices surrounding him, has no iman in his heart.

Indeed, contentment is not to be observed in such matters. It should,however, be observed in another type of misfortune, such as when someone loses a loved one. As in the case of Umm Salim. It is narrated on authority of Anas bin Malik that he said:

the son of Abu Talha passed away [from Umm Salim]. She [Umm Salim] said to her family, do not inform Abu Talha about his son until I am the first one to speak to him. He said: He [Abu Talha] came and she placed the food near him and he ate until he became satiated. He said: Then she beautified herself for her husband and after he had taken pleasure from her she said ‘What do you think if a people had given another people some property to look after and they came one day to ask for their property back, do you think they have the right to do so?’ Abu Talha said ‘Yes, of course’. So Umm Salim said ‘Verily, Allah has taken back His property’. [meaning his son]. (Muslim)

People may be surprised and ask, how can someone not dislike calamities or be satisfied with a misfortune?

It seems inhuman.

The answer to this is as follows: A person who is sick takes the medication even if it is bitter, despite his willingness and choice; he is ready to take the medication without being forced into it. He even purchases the medicine with his own money because he desires to be cured. Therefore, he does not like the medicine due to it being bitter but he takes it because it has the potential to cure his ailment.

A serious student, for example, rushes to the examination not because of the exam as such but due to it being the only way for him to be successful- to attain a certificate and to display his intelligence.

A person who has an occupation that carries some sort of hardship does it not because he likes hardship but because he understands that the monthly wage he receives is deserving of such privation. If it was said to him that he has been made redundant, he will show patience and not get angry and will try his utmost to return to the job despite the difficulty and hardships that he must endure in it.

This is also true in the case of a believer. He is content with the calamity he encounters not because he likes the pain and misfortune but because he desires to be recomposed by Allah. He recognizes that the misfortunes he encounters in this life is an opportunity for him to earn great rewards in the Hereafter, because he realizes that if the misfortunes are cut off, so too is his reward and a believer does not like his reward to be cut off.

This is the reason why some are of the view that there is a station higher than contentment [ridha]. It is to show gratitude despite the difficulties that the misfortune carries. This is like the position of Khansa. When the news reached her that her four sons had been martyred in the battle of Qadisya she said:

‘’ All praise is due to Allah who has honored me by their martyrdom and I pray to my Lord that He reunites me with them in His mercy.. (Usd al-Ghabat, 7/90)

This is the same person who when her brother Sakhr died felt as if the world had turned upside down for her, cried profusely, sobbed and wrote many poems of eulogy. This was of course in the days of ignorance. How different is the reaction in the days of Islam from the days of ignorance! Indeed, this is Islam’s miracle in the way it models and trains the personality of the believer.

How can she not praise Allah?

Thru martyrdom her children have attained the greatest success – the entrance to the highest level of paradise, Al Firdaws.

This is just like a person who graduated from University and thereafter seeks employment in which he finds himself to be unsuccessful.

Consequently another person mediates on his behalf for work in one of the companies; the person achieves to attain an agreement and helps to secure a job, which, most probably, will not be free from difficulties. Will he be happy with just that?

No, indeed he will thank the person who helped to search for the job and will show gratitude from the bottom of his heart. He may even be unable to express the level of his jubilation for the job he has gained and also to the person who aided him.

If this is the case in the matters of this life, will you, then, be astounded by the contentment felt by a believer with the decree of Allah?

And also from being thankful to Allah for facilitating these opportunities to earn abundant rewards and great blessings?

As for the ruling (hukm) in being content and showing gratitude, it is regarded as being recommended (mandub); a person is rewarded for observing them, however, he will not be sinning in situations where he is unable to be content and show gratitude.

This is of course from the mercy of Allah upon people. Not all or most people are able to be content and be thankful all the time; it is a high station (manzilat) which no one can reach except a few.

Some scholars are of the view that contentment (ridha) is also obligatory (wajib). However, what we have mentioned is sounder. And Allah knows best. 

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Sh. Abdullah Hasan holds an Imam Diploma, BA, and Ijaza Aliyah in Islamic Studies from a European seminary. Disciplines include fiqh, usul al-fiqh, Ifta, and other traditional subjects. He also has a diploma in Arabic from Zarqa Private University and studied at the college of fiqh wa usuluhu at the same university, receiving private training from renowned Scholars in Jordan and the Middle East. With a background in counselling and psychology, he has provided therapy for individuals, couples, and families for over a decade. He holds certificates and diplomas in person-centred psychotherapy, marriage and youth counselling, and SFBT psychotherapy. Sh. A. Hasan is currently pursuing a doctorate in applied psychology after completing a Master's degree in the same field, and also Masters Programme in Medical Psychology. His expertise also extends to Zakat and Islamic philanthropic studies. Having served as an Imam in various UK Muslim communities, Sh. A. Hasan is deeply committed to community and people development. He brings over 10 years of experience in management, leadership, and training within the third sector. Currently, he serves as a teacher of Islamic psychology and counselling, a Consultant Counselling Psychologist at Gift Foundation. Additionally, he provides Chaplaincy counselling from multiple mosques in London, UK. Sh. A. Hasan is the founder of significant initiatives such as Imams Against Domestic Abuse (IADA), the British Imams, Scholars Contributions and Achievements (BISCA Awards), and the British Institutes, Mosques, and Associations (BIMA Awards). He is a member of The Association of Islamic Mental-Health Specialists (AIMS) and actively contributes to numerous other community organisations and projects, nationally and globally.



  1. hkamran

    May 22, 2013 at 1:13 AM

    very very helpful indeed ! JzaK

  2. Fatima Ariadne

    May 25, 2013 at 2:15 PM

    Thank you for writing this. The most beautiful thing in Islam is that you don’t experience a pain for nothing. Either our sins will be forgiven/erased, or we will learn lessons and grow out of misfortune. Actually I have written this similar topic in my blog, “Every Soul is Living Pearl — 5 Ways Sufferings Transform Your Inner Being”. But frankly you wrote it more eloquently here, tabarakallah.

    Though I wonder, if you get people mistreating you and you got pain in the process, will your sins be expiated too from it?

    • Abez

      May 27, 2013 at 3:25 AM

      Narrated Abu Sa’id Al-Khudri and Abu Huraira: The Prophet said, “No fatigue, nor disease, nor sorrow, nor sadness, nor hurt, nor distress befalls a Muslim, even if it were the prick he receives from a thorn, but that Allah expiates some of his sins for that.”

      This sorrow and sadness can come from other people too, and I believe on the Day of Judgment, they either give you some of their deeds as penalty, or if they’re out of good deeds, you can offload some of your sins on to their scale instead.

      I don’t have the source for this though, so if I’m wrong can someone please correct me, but if I’m remembering correctly then can someone help with the source? JazakAllahuKheiran!

  3. Abez

    May 27, 2013 at 3:18 AM

    JazakAllahuKheiran for writing this, I especially loved the analogy about taking medicine- we take it, we’re grateful for it, we pay for it,- even if it tastes bad, because we know it’s good for us.

    May Allah give us all patience.

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