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We Are All Being Tested

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“Do you believe that your struggle is more severe than the personal trials of every other Muslim? Why then do you say yours is “unfair”? Is it unfair because you are facing it, or is it unfair because you believe no other trial is at least as severe?”

— from the journal of Umm Zakiyyah

During the most difficult and confusing times of our lives, our faith is often shaken. We begin to question who we are and what we believe. Sometimes when there is no one around to hear us but the walls of our room and God above the heavens, we cry out, “Why me? Why is this happening to me?”

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Our despair can be due to the death of a loved one, to a terminal illness diagnosis, or even the loss of a coveted career or educational opportunity. But regardless of the details of our individual trials, beneath each episode is the excruciating feeling of helplessness because we have lost—or we are at risk of losing—something that is dear to us or something that we believe is essential to our sense of self or the meaning of our lives.

No one is exempt from life’s trials, not even prophets and righteous people.

Allah says,

“Or do you think that you will enter Paradise while such [trial] has not yet come to you as came to those who passed on before you? They were touched by poverty and hardship and were shaken until [even their] messenger and those who believed with him said, ‘When [will come] the help of Allah?’ Unquestionably, the help of Allah is [always] near.”

—Al-Baqarah (2:214)

UZ Corner

Can You Help Me?

Being in a position where I’m regularly contacted by people seeking advice during some of the most difficult and trying times of their lives is very humbling. Emails, phone calls, and whispered stories in which someone seeks help and guidance are parts of my daily life, as it is for many public figures, community leaders, and respected members in the Muslim community.

Though the details of each story are unique, many of those seeking advice have very similar (and sometimes identical) struggles. But not every narrative is shared for the purpose of receiving spiritual direction. Some people need only a shoulder to cry on or someone to listen with empathy and without judgment to their pain and confusion. For most of us, both are essential to getting through a difficult trial. Thus, it is a combination of both religious honesty and nonjudgmental compassion that we all need when we reach out to someone and say, “Can you help me?”

When We Don’t Care What’s Right

In facing the inevitable trials of life, there are times when we don’t care what is right or wrong and we merely want what we want even if it means displeasing Allah. In these circumstances, our reaching out and seeking advice is usually for the purpose of eliciting from someone affirmation that, in response to our trial, we don’t actually have to do what we know full well Allah has required us to do.

What makes this spiritual trauma both crippling and self-destructive is that we are not always conscious of our illicit intentions. It often takes an outsider looking in to point out the sometimes obvious inconsistencies in our words and actions, inconsistencies that go far beyond the natural, inevitable inconsistency that we are all riddled with as humans. Destructive spiritual trauma occurs when our trials exacerbate the darkness of our souls, when we are effectively throwing ourselves headlong into sin and, more tragically, disbelief.

The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), “The believer is the mirror of the believer.” Thus, during these times, our entire perception of reality hinges on someone holding up a mirror in front of us and showing us our reflections, no matter how repulsive our image might be.

Spiritual Destruction

When our trial involves open disobedience to Allah, it is excruciatingly difficult to face ourselves, so we often lash out at others and blame them for holding up a mirror in front of us. We often become meticulously critical of and ultra sensitive to everything that is said to us or to even how people behave around us. In this way, we project our guilty conscience on others and interpret nearly every word of advice as a personal attack. Sometimes we become, quite frankly, pretty nasty people to be around. Loved ones may even tiptoe around us, afraid that even the innocent “How are you?” will be interpreted negatively.

Sometimes we even provoke discord so that we can accuse someone of being mean to us, especially those who are reminding us of Allah and pleading with us to repent and change our ways. We might rush to social media so that we can play victim behind our Facebook or Twitter accounts, cushioned by the multitude of “likes” and “followers” who will nearly always support our pity parties…because we craftily frame our posts such that we evoke the most sympathy and the least scrutiny, sometimes even hiding behind someone else’s words or blog that we share on our page.

Some of us make the spiritually tragic choice to use social media to not only publicize our sin, but also to openly promote it. This promotion is often carried out under the guise of some greater cause or “spreading awareness” about an issue that we claim is close to our hearts (an issue that conveniently allows us to continue our sin guilt-free while painting others as harassers and aggressors if they, publicly or privately, tell us that we are wrong).

If we are promoting our un-Islamic lifestyle of drinking alcohol or interacting inappropriately with the opposite sex, our “greater cause” will likely be “Don’t judge.” If we are promoting our non-hijabi status, we will likely—in addition to championing the “Don’t judge” cause—criticize and shame movements that praise or support successful hijabis who are athletes, journalists, or public figures. “So are the only real Muslim women those who wear hijab?” we might cry out indignantly, even as the pro-hijab movements claimed nothing of this sort.

Thus, when our response to our test is so spiritually destructive that we have moved from feeling shame for our sin to openly bragging about it or even promoting it, it’s not good enough to merely have multitudes of people being kind and empathetic due to our struggles in the faith. We feel the need to go a step further and tear down those who are being positively recognized for their strengths in the areas that we have refused to work on spiritually.

Whose Trial Is More Difficult? Mine or Yours?

In the short story, “The Invitation,” we learn the trials of two best friends, Faith and Paula. Faith is struggling with her attachment to her high school boyfriend, John, as she comes to terms with her spiritual obligations after becoming Muslim. And Paula is struggling with her faith and sexuality after she decides to come out as gay—and convert to Islam.

Whose trial is more difficult? Faith’s or Paula’s? Oftentimes, when pondering the answer to this, we use our opinions, experiences, and selfish perceptions to come to a conclusion. However, we have no way of knowing whose test is more difficult because, ultimately, the most excruciatingly difficult tests are faced by those with the most emaan (faith) in their hearts.

Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) was once asked, “O Messenger of Allah, who are the people who are most severely tried?” He replied, “The people who are tested the most severely are the Prophets, then the righteous, then the next best and the next best, and a man will be tested in accordance with his level of faith; the stronger his faith, the more severe will be his test” (sahih, Ahmad).

Thus, the level of difficulty a person faces through his or her tests is a matter of the unseen, as we have no way of knowing the level of righteousness in a person’s heart.

This Is So Unfair!

It’s difficult not to look at someone else’s life and think that they have it easier than we do. After all, we experience firsthand only our own trials, not anyone else’s. As such, we have intimate knowledge of the painful nuances and visceral realities of whatever trial we’re facing. We have no way of having that same level of knowledge regarding someone else’s life, no matter how close they are to us, in our hearts or circumstance.

“This is so unfair. This is so f—ing unfair.”

These are Faith’s angry words from “The Invitation” in response to her difficult trial—and they mirror how so many of us feel about the tests Allah gives us, even if we don’t speak these words aloud.

None of us is immune to the degeneration of the human spirit. We can all fall victim to the darkness of sin that mars our souls. And we can all fall victim to imagining that Allah is being unjust or “unfair” by giving us a trial that no one else has to face.

But ultimately, we are all being tested…and we can all pass our tests, with the help of Allah.

And, unquestionably, the help of Allah is always near.

 

 

Umm Zakiyyah is the internationally acclaimed author of the If I Should Speak trilogy. Her latest novel Muslim Girl is now available.

To learn more about the author, visit ummzakiyyah.com or subscribe to her YouTube channel.

Copyright © 2014 by Al-Walaa Publications. All Rights Reserved.

WRITTEN FOR MUSLIMMATTERS.ORG

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Daughter of American converts to Islam, Umm Zakiyyah, also known by her birth name Ruby Moore and her "Muslim" name Baiyinah Siddeeq, is the internationally acclaimed, award-winning author of more than twenty-five books, including novels, short stories, and self-help. Her books are used in high schools and universities in the United States and worldwide, and her work has been translated into multiple languages. Her work has earned praise from writers, professors, and filmmakers. Her novel His Other Wife is now a short film. Umm Zakiyyah has traveled the world training both first-time authors and published writers in story writing. Her clients include journalists, professional athletes, educators, and entertainers. Dr. Robert D. Crane, advisor to former US President Nixon, said of Umm Zakiyyah, “…no amount of training can bring a person without superb, natural talent to captivate the reader as she does and exert a permanent intellectual and emotional impact.” Professor K. Bryant of Howard University said of If I Should Speak, “The novel belongs to…a genre worthy of scholarly study.” Umm Zakiyyah has a BA degree in Elementary Education, an MA in English Language Learning, and Cambridge’s CELTA (Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults). She has more than fifteen years experience teaching writing in the United States and abroad and has worked as a consultant for Macmillan Education. Umm Zakiyyah studied Arabic, Qur’an, Islamic sciences, ‘aqeedah, and tafseer in America, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia for more than fifteen years. She currently teaches tajweed (rules of reciting Qur’an) and tafseer. In 2020, Umm Zakiyyah started the UZ Heart & Soul Care community in which she shares lessons she learned on her emotional and spiritual healing journey at uzhearthub.com Follow her online: Website: uzauthor.com Instagram: @uzauthor Twitter: @uzauthor YouTube: uzreflections

6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. Umm Hadi

    January 6, 2015 at 1:27 AM

    Dear Sis, Asalaam a laikum wrwb,
    Masha allah very well written, very inspiring!
    Barak Allahu feekum.

  2. p4rv3zkh4n

    January 6, 2015 at 8:08 PM

    The intellectual richness of Islamic Theology provides us with many reasons for having trials, some of which include:

    1. The primary purpose of the human being is not enjoying luxuries but rather it is to know and worship God.

    The main purpose of the human being in this life is to submit to the will and decree of Allah and worship Him, revere Him and know Him.
    “And I did not create the jinn and mankind except to worship Me.” [Quran 51:56]

    2. God also created us for a test, and part of this test is to be tested with suffering to see how we act. The Qur’an mentions “The One Who created death and life, so that He may put you to test, to find out which of you is best in deeds: He is the all-Almighty, the all-Forgiving” [Qur’an 67: 2]

    3. Having hardship and suffering enables us to realise and know God’s attributes such as ‘the Victorious’, The granter of security, The Responsive, The Helper, and ‘the Healer’.

    4. God has given us free will, and limited free will includes choosing between good and evil acts. Thus sometimes human sufferings are the divine legislated consequences of their own actions.

    5. Struggling through hardships can be a means of tawassul.

    When Musa alaihissalam was in Midyan alone and away from his family, he cried out to Allah;

    “O my Lord, indeed I am for whatever good You would send down to me, in need.” [Quran 28:24]

  3. Zane Khan

    October 22, 2015 at 5:34 PM

    Being gay is definitely harder. Faith can eventually overcome her boyfriend and find another muslim to love and marry. Paula can never get married because she is gay. Paula also probably feels constant shame and guilt like all of us gays who do not act on our desire. To be gay is such a hard test, one of the most severe. The people who acted on it were punished the worst, as mentioned in the Quran in Surah Lut. Muslims who are gay either leave Islam or commit suicide. This speaks volumes about the severity of this test.. On top of being hard, it’s just so confusing. Why am I gay if Allah hates it? Did Allah make me gay? I didn’t choose to be gay. How do I become un-gay? It’s virtually impossible. How do I even imagine the joys and spouses of Jannah if I don’t even swing that way? Am I supposed to live my life all alone? People will start to suspect my homosexuality if they see I chose not to get married….

    May Allah SWT give all the gays who don’t act on their desires the highest level of Jannah.

    • Umm Zakiyyah

      October 22, 2015 at 7:22 PM

      Zane, thank you for your comment. Ameen. May Allah give all believers who strive against their desires and hold on to their faith Jannah without account.

      I agree with you 100% that the test of being gay is definitely harder than not being gay, if we are looking at the lens of life through sexuality alone. However, life is much more nuanced than this. If we pick any trial and look at life through that lens alone, then whoever has the obviously more difficult challenge will have the harder test. Sexuality is not a small matter, but neither is hearing, seeing, communicating, having good health, not living in poverty, living in a war-free region, not being physically tortured everyday, not being imprisoned, and the list goes on.

      The point of my post was to point out that the trials of life touch everyone, and the extent that those trials try that person to the very core is a matter of the ghayb (unseen) about which only Allah knows. Yes, being gay is technically a harder trial than not being gay. However, this doesn’t mean that every gay person has a more difficult life than every non-gay person.

      The Prophet, sallallaahu’alayhi wa sallam, taught us that those with the most difficult trials are the prophets and messengers, then those with the most emaan accordingly. Thus, can anyone argue that a gay person today has a harder life than Allah’s prophets, or the Companions, and the most faithful of the believers?

      I definitely believe the suicide rate amongst gays and their rate of leaving Islam points to a very trying test. However, the truth is, it is the minority of all of humankind who will die as believers. So the trial of holding on to one’s faith, like the trials of life itself, is not merely about sexuality. In fact, some trials are so severe that some people lose their appetite for physical pleasures altogether.

      The goal of anyone who is striving with any personal trial should not be to question Allah, but to focus on the Hereafter, as Allah decrees trials in ways we do not understand. In Surah Al-Baqarah (2:102), Allah tells us about the Angels Harut and Marut who taught the people sihr (magic): “But neither of these two [angels] taught anyone [such things] till they had said [to them]: ‘We are only for trial, so disbelieve not [by learning magic from us]…”

      Why send these angels with something that would only cause people to disbelieve? we might ask. Yet Allah says, “He (Allah) cannot be questioned as to what He does, while they (humans) will be questioned” (21:23).

      Thus, for any of us to go astray or commit suicide due to frustration with the tests Allah has given us is something we’ll be questioned about, and if this is combined with disbelief, we will not be pardoned or forgiven for it. In light of the severity of life itself, it is of little benefit to argue who’s test is harder, as we already know that emaan comes with the greatest trials, regardless of any other trial that comes along with it.

      May Allah make our affairs easy for us, and may He give us tawfeeq upon His religion. And may He protect us from the whispers of Shaytaan, the evil of ourselves, and all forms of misguidance and kufr. And may He forgive our sins, have mercy on us, and take our souls in the best way and grant us the highest success in this world and in the Hereafter, though we could never deserve this great blessing.

      • Zane Khan

        October 27, 2015 at 7:31 AM

        Assalamu alaikum Umm Zakiyyah,

        May Allah SWT continue to grant you immense wisdom, clarity, and strength. I don’t want to compliment you for I know you won’t want that, but I will say this: Allah SWT has given you a lot of understanding.

        I was wondering if there was a way I could reach out to you and if I could ask your advice?

        • Umm Zakiyyah

          October 27, 2015 at 11:07 PM

          Wa’alaiku mus salaam wa rahmatullaahi wa barakaatuh, Zane

          Ameen, and may Allah (SWT) increase you in righteous knowledge and may He write you down amongst those whom He loves and grant you Jannah without account.

          You may contact me at ummzakiyyah@yahoo.com

          BarakAllaahufeek.

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