The Stronger the Faith, the Harder the Test, and the Greater the Reward

A believer afflicted with a severe calamity should take comfort from the fact that those who have strong faith are given the harder trials. This is established by the Prophet (p). When asked about who suffers the greatest afflictions, he replied:

The prophets, then those who come next to them, then those who come next to them. A man is afflicted in keeping his religion. If he is firm in his religion his trial is severe, but if there is weakness in his religion it is made light for him, and it continues like that till he walks on the earth having no sin. (Tirmidhi)

Why is it, one may ask, that people who are faithful and righteous should have to suffer?

To get an answer, we should ask ourselves: is there any achievement without an effort or any fruit without labor? The obvious pattern that we see in our human experience is that those who work hard and go through the process of struggle are rewarded with success in this materialistic world. The greatest reward of everything that one can imagine is Paradise. In fact, the bliss and happiness in Paradise is so great that one cannot even imagine it (32:17). How can then one expect that he will achieve this greatest success without him being thoroughly tested to see if he qualifies for it?

One should not think that following the rituals, such as making salat five times a day, is enough test for him. The external rituals that we do and the laws of the shari’a that we observe returns immediate benefit to us as they bring peace and happiness to our families and provide us with a healthy social and moral society in which to live and prosper. Thus, one should not expect that observing Allah’s commandments and reaping these benefits in turn is the only tests. The real test is the test of the heart where faith lives, and that is tested with affliction and hardship to check if the faith and trust in Allah is firm and well-rooted or is it weak and superficial:

Do men think that they will be left alone on saying “We believe” and that they will not be tested? We did test those before them and Allah will certainly know those who are true from those who are false. (29:2-3)

Each believer, therefore, must expect to be tested. The stronger his faith, the harder will be the test, and the greater his reward will be if he remains patient having unshakable faith and trust in Allah (swt). The Prophet (p) said:

The magnitude of the reward goes along with the magnitude of the affliction. (Tirmidhi)

And the believers will continue to go through trials and tribulations in their life until their sins are wiped and they die and meet Allah (swt) free from all sins:

The believing man or woman continues to have affliction in person, property and children so that they may finally meet Allah, free from sin. (Tirmidhi)

That is so because Allah (swt), in His Mercy and Generosity, not only rewards one when he is patient through his trials, but also sheds his sins for the pains and sufferings that he or she goes through. No matter how small the trial or how insignificant the discomfort, Allah (swt) will reward him for that and eliminate some sins. Said the Prophet (p):

No calamity befalls a Muslim but that Allah expiates some of his sins because of it, even though it were the prick he receives from a thorn. (Bukhari)

The question one should ask himself is: “What is my reflex when I do get a prick of a thorn, or stumble on the street and hurt my toe, or my computer suddenly crashes making me loose some work? Does some uncomely word slips through the mouth to release anger and frustration, or do I stay in control and remain calm, patient, and thankful to Allah?”

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Allah Never Gives a Trial That is Too Great to Bear

Human beings are created weak (4:28).

When a sudden calamity or distress befalls us, we easily become overwhelmed and often cry out, “O Allah! This is too much for me to bear!” It never is.

The believers should know it for fact that Allah (swt) never puts any burden on a soul that is beyond its ability to bear. Perhaps because we often lose sight of this fact that Allah (swt) mentions this in several places in the Qur’an:

On no soul doth Allah place a burden greater than it can bear. (2:286)

On no soul do We place a burden greater than it can bear: before Us is a record which clearly shows the truth: they will never be wronged. (23:62)

No burden do We place on any soul but that which it can bear. (6:152)

And those who believe and do good – We do not impose upon any of them a burden beyond his capacity. (7:42)

This fundamental truth is actually obvious to a believer who reflects. For, if the point is to test one’s level of faith and commitment to Allah (swt), then it would be an injustice to put a burden on a soul that it will surely fail, and Allah (swt) never commits injustice against anyone: …

nor is thy Lord ever unjust (in the least) to His servants. (41:46)

Verily Allah will not deal unjustly with man in aught: it is man that wrongs his own soul. (10:44)

Therefore, no matter how difficult one’s situation is or how severe his sufferings, he should have absolutely no doubt in his mind he has the ability to deal with the trial. Allah (swt) is Just, and every affliction that He tests his faithful servant with, there is always two viable outcome for him: passing the test with success and thus earning Allah’s good pleasure, or failing it.

Trials are a Sign of Love By Allah

One individual once told another one who was going through tribulations that Allah (swt) was displeased with him, and hence his difficulties. This man lacked wisdom, for his comment was offensive to the person who was already distressed. More importantly, his understanding was incorrect from an Islamic perspective. The one who received the comment was a gentleman and also knowledgeable in Islam. Thus, it was not surprising that he decided to digest his remark and refrained from giving a response.

There are people who do maintain that incorrect understanding. Whenever they see a believer who is suffering from some calamity or disease, they think that this is a reflection of Allah (swt)’s wrath on him.

They should remember about the Companions of the Prophet (p) who were severely persecuted or even killed after becoming Muslim, an event that wipes out all past sins. Even the prophets of Allah, the best of all people who ever walked on the face of the earth, were persecuted by their community without exception. Was Joseph not thrown into a well, sold as a slave, and then thrown back into a prison? Did Job not face severest of trials one after another, and was eventually left out by all except his wife? In fact, the Qur’an tells us that many prophets were brutally killed by the unbelievers.

These examples should establish the fact that trials and tribulations are not a sign of Allah’s displeasure on someone. Quite the contrary, it is rather a sign of Allah’s love on someone. The Prophet (p) said:

When Allah who is Great and Glorious loves people He afflicts them [with trials]. (Tirmidhi)

Anyone for whom Allah intends good, He makes him suffer from some affliction. (Bukhari)

When Allah intends good for His slave, He punishes him in this world, but when He intends an evil for His slave, He does not hasten to take him to task but calls him to account on the Day of Resurrection. (Tirmidhi)

The punishment in the Hereafter is much severe – in fact unimaginable from our worldly perspective – than any affliction one can face in this world. Therefore, when Allah (swt) loves someone and intends for him or her to go to Paradise, He wipes out his sins and mistakes and rewards him highly by putting him to afflictions in this world.

It is the righteous believers who are tested with calamities

Though calamities may hit a believer as a surprise, the reality is that by virtue of being a believer one is supposed to suffer. If a believer understands the Islamic philosophy that this life is a testing ground, then he should realize that this philosophy will be implemented for him in practice while he lives in this testing ground, and not after he dies. Tests are not just limited to see whether one performs the rituals or not. His belief and commitments to Allah (swt), and his focus in the Hereafter will be fully and thoroughly tested with calamities and afflictions to gauge the depth of his faith in his heart. Achieving Paradise will not be easy. It will come only with unshakable faith and trust in Allah (swt).

Allah, may He be glorified, says:

Ye shall certainly be tried and tested in your possessions and in your personal selves. (3:186)

Do men think that they will be left alone on saying “We believe” and that they will not be tested? (29:2)

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)

Ah! To how many believers these verses come out as relief and solace! How many hearts of believers, with wild storms and waves in there, have calm down when remembering these verses! Day in and day out, these verses have brought the believers to tranquility and provided them with strength. Their souls then speak out: “Yea, we are tested because we are righteous believers.”

To have that feeling of being a righteous believer is very comforting indeed. Do our eyes not always witness the fact that it is the righteous people who always suffer with pain, loss, and calamities one after another while the unrighteous always seem to prosper?

Goodness is From Allah, Evil is from ourselves

A believer must have firm conviction that any good that happens to us comes from Allah (swt) and any calamity that befalls us is the result of our own making:

Whatever misfortune happens to you is because of the things your hands have wrought and for many (of them) He grants forgiveness. (42:30) 

No affliction great or small afflicts a man but for a sin, but there are more which Allah forgives. (Tirmidhi) 

This does not mean that one will suffer, in the form of calamities in this world, the consequences of every sin or mistake he commits. As the Prophet (p) said, Allah (swt) forgives much more sins than the ones from which one suffers or will suffer in the Hereafter. But the important point to understand is that Allah (swt) does not cause injustice to anyone by putting him or her to undue suffering.

Our own experience and observations often point to this fact. When an individuals sits down and reflects upon his difficulties and makes an objective analysis of the events and actions leading to his situations, he will almost always identify some things he did that he should not have done or he did not that he should have done, which led to that situation. For example, for parents who suffer from their rebellious and disobedient teenaged child, it will be found, almost without exception, that they did not arrange his proper Islamic education and a good environment, and did not give it an enough priority to engage themselves with his upbringing. Indifference or inaction can be as serious as committing a sin or making a bad decision, which can lead to grave consequences. If a man, for another example, lives in an oppressive land where he suffers and cannot practice Islam, then he should be proactive and migrate from that place. Staying passive and continuing to suffer there will be considered acts of injustice that he commits against his own self, which can even lead him to Hell. Allah (swt) says about such persons:

When angels take the souls of those who die in sin against their souls they say: “In what (plight) were ye?” They reply: “Weak and oppressed were we in the earth.” They say: “Was not the earth of Allah spacious enough for you to move yourselves away (from evil)?” Such men will find their abode in Hell – what an evil refuge! (4:97) 

Now, a god-fearing and righteous believer who has been afflicted with a terrible calamity or injustice may wonder: “What have I done for which I have to suffer as such?” This is a question that probably comes to the minds of many believers afflicted with suffering and distress.

First and foremost, let us be reminded about the fundamental lesson learned from the story of Moses above, which is: there is a reality behind the apparent which can be far different, if not the opposite, from what we observe on the surface. How many times, in our human condition, have we suffered an obstacle or calamity which turned out to be a blessing days, months, or years later? Perhaps we then find ourselves a bit ashamed in front of Allah (swt) for not being patient and thus loosing the opportunity of earning Allah’s good pleasure. Indeed, that is the test from Allah (swt), which some fail, some pass, and a few come out with superb success.

Secondly, even when a righteous believer finds no apparent reason for his calamity, self-scrutiny and objective analysis can point out some mistakes or some incorrect decisions made in the past leading to the situation. If, for example, a righteous and pious person with a very high moral character and conduct marries a person without looking for proper Islamic character and conduct in him or her, and subsequently suffers from a bad marriage and from the actions of that unrighteous spouse, than who else should be blamed other than that pious individual himself/herself? Life is a trust from Allah (swt) which must be utilized to the fullest possible use by every believer and cannot be wasted. Therefore, a righteous believer must be patient until he/she finds a righteous person to marry. Allah (swt) says in the Qur’an:

Women impure are for men impure and men impure are for women impure; and women of purity are for men of purity, and men of purity are for women of purity. (24:26)

Allah(SWT) is Fully Aware of All Events

Allah (SWT) is in Full Control of the Universe and Fully Aware of All Events

Nothing happens in this world except through the leave of Allah (swt). Therefore, a person who has been suffering from distress should know that Allah (swt) is fully aware of all that has happened or been happening to him. It is not a chaotic world where pain and suffering happens at random, nor is it a lawless universe without a ruler and watcher where the strong – be that a person or a nation – can do whatever it wishes to the weak without a consequence. The believer should know that Allah (swt) is aware of every little details of everything that happens, so much so that not even a leaf falls from a tree without Allah (swt) being aware of it:

He knoweth whatever there is on the earth and in the sea. Not a leaf doth fall but with His knowledge: there is not a grain in the darkness (or depths) of the earth nor anything fresh or dry (green or withered) but is (inscribed) in a Record Clear (to those who can read). (6:59)  

No misfortune can happen on earth or in your souls but is recorded in a decree before We bring it into existence: that is truly easy for Allah: in order that ye may not despair over matters that pass you by … (57:22-23)  

Therefore, the believer should take relief and comfort from the fact that Allah (swt) is fully and intimately aware of his situations. Any harm or injustice that he has been subjected to by anyone, will not go without a consequence. Or if he is suffering from distress and difficulties, then his suffering is constantly being watched by One who is the Most Kind, the Most Merciful. 

Copyright(c) 2004 Mushfiqur Rahman