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Why We Are Tested: The Psychology of Suffering & Misfortune Part1


The main maqsad or purpose of the human being in this life is to submit to the will and decree of Allāh subḥānahu wa ta’āla (glorified and exalted be He) and worship Him from his first breath to his last.

Allāh subḥānahu wa ta’āla (glorified and exalted be He) 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 Allāh. As an imām I am frequently asked by people who are going through difficulties in life ‘why does Allāh 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 Allāh can develop and strengthen his character. They remind us of our limitations as human beings and our complete need of Allāh. The consequence of not fully comprehending the divine wisdom of tests, I have observed, is complete denial of the existence of Allāh, may Allāh save us.


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 raḍyAllāhu ‘anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) reported: The Messenger of Allāh ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said:

“Allāh, 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.” (Bukhāri)

This Hadith is a Hadith Qudsi which means ‘holy’ or ‘pure’ hadith. A Hadith Qudsi is a hadith in which the Prophet raḍyAllāhu ‘anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) relates to the people what Allāh 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 Allāh, the Most High.

Some people may find this strange. Because if it is Allāh’s speech why is it not included in the Qur’an?

The simple answer to this is that the Qur’an is part of Allāh’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 Allāh’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 ṣalāh 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 Allāh through misfortunes or calamities.

Why does Allāh test us?

What are the wisdoms of misfortunes?

Firstly: Misfortunes and calamities are from the sunan [conventionary practice] of Allāh in the universe for which every person is inflicted with, Allāh says:

وَلَنَبْلُوَنَّكُمْ بِشَيْءٍ مِّنَ ٱلْخَوْفِ وَٱلْجُوعِ وَنَقْصٍ مِّنَ ٱلأَمَوَالِ وَٱلأَنفُسِ وَٱلثَّمَرَاتِ وَبَشِّرِ ٱلصَّابِرِينَ

“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 Allāh.” Ah! Verily, the help of Allāh is (always) near!” (2:214)

Secondly: The purpose of misfortune and calamity is not necessarily for revenge, punishment or humiliation:

وَأَمَّآ إِذَا مَا ٱبْتَلاَهُ فَقَدَرَ عَلَيْهِ رِزْقَهُ فَيَقُولُ رَبِّيۤ أَهَانَنِ

“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 Allāh. There is much wisdom in such tests; in fact there is wisdom in everything Allāh does. The most prudent are as follows:

1-Establishment of Allāh’s proof:

Allāh does not reprehend a people unless they, out of their own will and deed, deny the proofs of Allāh after it has been made clear to them.

If Allāh 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 Allāh wants to give them this opportunity to establish the proof upon them. This is despite Allāh’s knowledge that the polytheists, on the Day of Judgment, will swear by Allāh that they have not associated partners with Him, Allāh says, ”they will say, by our Lord we have not committed shirk”

Anas bin Malik raḍyAllāhu ‘anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) said, “We were with the Prophet ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) and he smiled so broadly that his molar could be seen, then he said: “Do you know why I am smiling?

We said, `Allāh 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” [Allāh] will say, “Of course.” The servant will say, “I will not accept any witness against me except from myself.” [Allāh] 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 Allāh, 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)

All these texts refer to after the slaves have associated partners with Allāh and disobeyed Him. How would they be if Allāh 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. Allāh 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.

مَّا كَانَ ٱللَّهُ لِيَذَرَ ٱلْمُؤْمِنِينَ عَلَىٰ مَآ أَنْتُمْ عَلَيْهِ حَتَّىٰ يَمِيزَ ٱلْخَبِيثَ مِنَ ٱلطَّيِّبِ

Allāh 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 Allāh reward hardship with all good though it strangles me and makes me breathless. And my gratitude towards it is not for any other reason except that it enabled me to recognise my friend from my enemy”.

3-Expiation of Sins (Takfir al-Dhunub):

Allāh 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, Allāh 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 Allāh subḥānahu wa ta’āla (glorified and exalted be He) expiates sins of people through inflicting them with some misfortune or calamity. They include:

The hadith of the Prophet ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) in which he said, ‘The believing man and woman will continually be tested in his self, his children, and his wealth until he meets Allāh and that which he has of the misfortune.”

And his ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) statement, When Allāh desires for His servant some good, He hastens his punishment in this life, and when Allāh 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 Allāh ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him): Abu Sa’Īd Al-Khudri and Abu Hurayrah both narrated that the Prophet ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said:

A Muslim is not afflicted by hardship, sickness, sadness, worry, harm, or depression – even if pricked by a thorn, but Allāh expiates his sins because of it” [Bukhāri]

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 Allāh subḥānahu wa ta’āla (glorified and exalted be He), 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 raḍyAllāhu ‘anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) who said that he heard the Prophet ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) say that Allāh 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, he shall be compensated with Paradise”. (Bukhāri)

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 Allāh in humility. They did not comprehend the wisdom of tribulation and as such did not turn to Allāh 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:

Allāh says:

فَأَهْلَكْنَٰهُمْ بِذُنُوبِهِمْ

“…For their sins We destroyed them…” (An’am:6)


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