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IOK Ramadan: Good and Bad are Tests from Allah | Keys To The Divine Compass [Ep17]

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This Ramadan, MuslimMatters is pleased to host the Institute Of Knowledge‘s daily Ramadan series: Keys to the Divine Compass. Through this series, each day we will spend time connecting with the Qur’an on a deeper, more spiritual, uplifting level.

Previous in the series: Juz 1 Juz 2 Juz 3 Juz 4 Juz 5 Juz 6 Juz 7 Juz 8 Juz 9 Juz 10 Juz 11 Juz 12 Juz 13 Juz 14 Juz 15 Juz 16

Juzʾ 17: Good and Bad are Tests from Allah ﷻ

To drive the reality of death into our hearts, in order to etch it into our consciousness, Allah ﷻ says, “Every soul will taste death. And We test you ˹O humanity˺ with good and evil as a trial, then to Us you will ˹all˺ be returned.” Every single soul, every single living being, all of us, will taste death. This is an absolute certainty and the ultimate reality of life. Life can be described as a series of uncertainties; we do not know what is going to happen the next year, month, week, day, minute, or second. As human beings, we really do not know what is going to happen from one moment to the next. I can be healthy, breathing, and alive, and all of a sudden, within a blink of an eye, that life can be taken away from me. We like to think we are in control of our lives and our futures. That is one of the reasons we make all of these various, elaborate, and detailed plans for the future; our families, education, savings, retirement, investments, stocks, crypto-currency, 401k’s, and Roth IRA’s. We have these high hopes, aspirations, and dreams that we plan and prepare for. We can plan and prepare all we want, but we really do not know what is going to happen in the future.

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However, there is one thing that every single one of us knows for sure; that we’re going to eventually leave this world. The only real certainty in life is death. There is a set appointed time for our departure and the departure of our loved ones from this world. We may not know when, where, or how we’re going to die, but our death is inevitable. Our death will not come a moment sooner nor a moment later than its appointed time. 

The word choice that Allah ﷻ uses is very interesting. He ﷻ doesn’t just say that we will die, but that we will taste death. For some people, the “taste” of death may be bitter and for others it may be sweet. The way a person who is passing away “tastes” death is very different from the family member who is losing their loved one. The “taste” varies from person to person and circumstance to circumstance. The way a father “tastes” the death of a child is very different from the way a child “tastes” the death of a mother. Every single one of us is going to experience death in our lives; either the death of a loved one and eventually our own. Some of the commentators mention that this is referring to the pain and difficulty experienced at the time of death. As the Prophet ﷺ said, “Indeed death has its difficulties/pangs.” Regardless of who we are, we will all experience a little difficulty at the time of death. For some of us it will be extremely difficult and for others it will be extremely easy. This is the absolute law that governs life. 

Whatever happens to us through this journey of life, both the good and the bad, is a test from Allah ﷻ. “And We test you ˹O humanity˺ with good and evil as a trial.” Allah ﷻ is informing us that the life of this world is a test. Allah ﷻ tests us and tries us with both good and evil; both are a trial. In this world, Allah ﷻ is going to test us and try us in many different ways. As mentioned in Tafsīr Ibn Kathīr Allah ﷻ will test us with hardships and blessings, ease and difficulty, health and sickness, prosperity and poverty, the permissible and the impermissible, obedience and disobedience, guidance and misguidance; all as a trial. 

This is a very unique and important statement. Allah ﷻ is providing us the proper perspective on life; both good and bad are trials. It is easy to understand the concept of a difficulty or hardship being a trial or a test. That is generally what we think about when we think about being tested by Allah ﷻ; we think of something negative. We think of some type of hardship, trial, challenge, adversity, or difficulty. We’ll think about some type of loss; physical, material, or financial. These are obvious tests and trials from Allah ﷻ; specifically a test of our patience and steadfastness. These types of trials demonstrate how much patience, faith, and reliance we have in Allah ﷻ.

In this verse, Allah ﷻ is telling us that the blessings we receive from Him are also a test. Health, wealth, safety, security, food, clothes, shelter, and prosperity are also tests from Allah ﷻ. They’re a test of our gratitude. Allah ﷻ makes it clear that everything in our lives – the good and the bad– is a trial for us. How will we handle the situation that Allah ﷻ has placed us in? Will we be grateful in times of ease and prosperity and will we be patient in times of difficulty and poverty? Oftentimes, this is something that we overlook. That is why ʿUmar (ra) used to say, “We were tested with difficulty so we were patient and we were tested with ease but we didn’t have patience.”

بلينا بالضراء فصبرنا و بلينا بالسراء فلم نصبر.

Syed Quṭb has a very powerful quote regarding this concept. He writes, “To be tested with good things is more difficult than hardship, even though it may appear easier. For the fact is that many people can endure being tested by evil, but few can endure a test with the good. When the test takes the form of sickness and weakness, many are able to endure and withstand the hardship, but when its form is that of good health, strength and ability, then few are those who pass through successfully.

People may be able to withstand poverty and deprivation, maintaining their dignity in such situations, but few are those who succeed in a test with comfort and affluence. For the latter tempts us to satisfy all our desires. Equally there are many who cannot be deterred by torture or physical harm. They are not overawed by such threats and actualities. By contrast, however, only a few can resist the temptations posited by wealth, position, comfort and desire. It is not difficult to tolerate the hardships of struggle and the injuries that one sustains in such a struggle. But it is extremely hard to experience comfort and a carefree life without becoming so keen to maintain it even at the expense of one’s dignity. Indeed such an experience could easily lead to accepting humiliation in order not to lose it.

A test with hardship may arouse within us a keen sense of dignity, encouraging us to resist. Thus, all our powers and faculties are directed at the hardship and enable us to pass through successfully. Affluence, on the other hand, has a calming effect which reduces our awareness of the test. Hence, many fail it. This applies to all human beings, except those that God helps and protects.”

Although we may not realize it, being tested with ease and prosperity is more difficult and challenging than being tested with hardships. That is because ease, comfort, luxury, money, and prosperity oftentimes lead a person to become heedless and careless. It is easy to forget about Allah ﷻ in times of prosperity and to be fooled by one’s material comforts. A person may think that they have achieved all of this prosperity through their own skills and hardwork or that it is a sign that Allah ﷻ is pleased with them. Prosperity is a very real trial and this is a very important perspective that oftentimes is missing. Living a life of ease and prosperity is not necesarilly a sign of Allah’s pleasure. Similarly, a life of difficulty and hardship is not necessarily a sign of Allah’s displeasure. The exact opposite can be true. As the Prophet ﷺ said, 

إِذَا أَرَادَ اللَّهُ بِعَبْدِهِ الْخَيْرَ عَجَّلَ لَهُ الْعُقُوبَةَ فِى الدُّنْيَا وَإِذَا أَرَادَ اللَّهُ بِعَبْدِهِ الشَّرَّأَمْسَكَ عَنْهُ بِذَنْبِهِ حَتَّى يُوَفَّى بِهِ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ

“If Allah wants good for his servant, He hurries on His punishment in this world, and if He wills ill for a servant, he holds back punishing him for his sin so He can give it to him in full on the Day of Resurrection.”

As believers, Allah ﷻ has made both prosperity and adversity avenues of good for us. The Prophet ﷺ said, “The affair of the believer is amazing, because all of his affairs are good for him. This applies to no one other than a believer. If he experiences what is good and pleasing, he will express his gratitude to God and this is good for him. On the other hand, if he experiences hardship, he will patiently persevere and this is good for him.” Everything a believer experiences in this world is a source of blessing and benefit. The Prophet ﷺ said, “No fatigue, illness, anxiety, sorrow, harm or sadness afflicts any Muslim, even to the extent of a thorn pricking him, without Allah wiping out his sins by it.” It is all about perspective and reframing; having the right understanding of the reality of the life of this world. 

At the end of the verse Allah ﷻ reminds us, “Then to Us you will ˹all˺ be returned.” All of us, every single human being, will go back to Allah ﷻ on the day of resurrection to be questioned, held accountable, and judged. All of us are going to be judged and held accountable for our words and actions. In essence, this statement is both a promise and a warning. It is a promise for those who work hard, struggle, and try to do well on their test. At the same time it is a warning for those people who are careless.

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The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

IOK Seminary Faculty train highly motivated and dedicated Muslim men and women in classical Islam and contemporary scholarship, giving them the tools to grow as individuals, effectively serve those around them, and preserve the Islamic tradition in the West.

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