Why are we tested?
This is a very common question from Muslims, people of other faiths, or no faith – so it’s important to reflect on it. Lack of answers can sometimes distance people from their faith – if a person doesn’t understand why trials happen they can start to feel life is unfair or even that God is being unfair. But Allah is Al-Adl, The Just, and He is Al-Rahman, The Most Merciful; He never wants ill for His servants, He only wants the best for us. There is a lot of evidence in the Qur’an and hadith that helps us answer this question of why we are tested.
1. We were created to worship Allah, and we all made a promise to do so before we were sent to earth. Tests are a means for us to fulfil this promise, in fact they are a ‘sunnah’ of Allah – i.e. tests are the means by which Allah distinguishes between us, because they help to expose faith and lack of faith. Allah states in the Qur’an:
‘Do the people think that they will be left to say, “We believe” and they will not be tried? But We have certainly tried those before them, and Allah will surely make evident those who are truthful, and He will surely make evident those who are false.’ (Surah 29: 2-3)
2. Allah tests us to purify us and wash away our sins. The Prophet (saw) said:
“No calamity befalls a Muslim but that Allah expiates some of his sins because of it, even if it were the prick of a thorn.” (Bukhari, Muslim). So instead of seeing tests as a punishment from Allah, this shows that in fact Allah wants to save us from punishment – i.e. the punishment of the hereafter which is much worse than any test faced in this dunya.
3. A test can sometimes replace a worse misfortune that might have befallen us. Or being deprived of something might in fact be saving us from something that is not good for us, even though we don’t have the knowledge to realise it at the time. Allah tells us: “Perhaps you dislike a thing and Allah makes therein much good.” (Surah 4: 19). Therefore the test which might seem so awful to you at the time is in fact a blessing.
4. Tests are given to us to strengthen our eeman (faith). The Prophet (saw) said:
“The people who face the most difficult tests are the prophets, then the righteous, then those following them in degree. A person is tried according to his religion. So if there is firmness in his religion, then the trial is increased, and if there is weakness, then it is lightened. Verily a trial remains with a servant until he walks the earth having no sin left upon him” (Bukhari).
Allah wants to refine us, out of His love and mercy, so that we can attain not just Paradise but the highest rank of the Prophets and the righteous. Tests expose our faults and weaknesses to ourselves – and that awareness enables us to be more focused and proactive in rectifying those aspects of our character.
5. Allah tests a person He loves. The Prophet (saw) said: “Whenever Allah wills good for a person, He subjects them to adversity”. (Bukhari). Why? Because if the servant reacts with Sabr (patience) and contentment with Allah’s decree, it brings them closer to Allah. And “Allah loves the Patient” (Surah 3: 146)
10 ways to deal with tests:
Ibn Al-Qayyim (rh) stated that when we are tested we are faced with 2 options:
(1) to be patient
(2) to not be patient!
So when we lack patience and get frustrated/ bitter/ lose hope/ panicky/ or blame Allah, this is actually a choice we make, and not a very good one. But those who choose option (1), as difficult as it is, benefit from their tests in this life and also gain in the next life, i.e. jannah.
So how can we choose to have more patience and contentment when tested? Thanks to the sisters who gave the following suggestions:
- Read/ listen to Qur’an (because dhikr gives contentment – see Surah Ra’d: 28).
- Make du’a for Allah’s help, strength, and relief from the test – just as Ya’qub (as), and Maryam (as) and the Prophet (saw) all did.
- Gratitude puts our tests in perspective and stops us from complaining; it is the greatest route towards Sabr.
- Remember what others are going through – remember the ummah, and people around you in your own communities; remind yourselves of the tests the Prophets went through – they provide us with good examples of perseverance. Bear in mind every single person is being tested in different ways.
- Remember nothing in this life lasts forever, so the test will have an end inshaAllah: “verily with every hardship comes ease” (94:5-6).
- Allah does not burden any soul beyond what it can bear (2:286); Allah has confidence in us, so we too need to have confidence in our ability to get through the test.
- Muhaasabah – use tests as an opportunity for self-assessment; are there things you can do better next time? Are there habits/ characteristics you need to change?
- Deal with your test one step at a time – i.e. if you have a task to complete, give yourself small goals. Or if you are facing a long-term test, try to have patience for that day, and start afresh with your goal of sabr the next day etc.
- Have trust in Allah (tawakkal), whatever the test is – because Allah is the best of Planners and teaches us the best lessons.
- Strengthen your salah: “Seek help in patience and prayer” (2: 153)
Finally, What if you are not being tested?
The following question was asked, and it comes up quite a lot – “what if someone doesn’t seem to be going through any major trials, and in fact they are being blessed with abundance. Does Allah love such a person less than someone He subjects to obvious harsh trials?” Tests can take many forms, they can be great or small, a one-off trial or something we face consistently.
They can come in the form of hardships… or, they can come in the form of blessings.
In fact these can be a greater pitfall than hardships because they are harder to identify as tests. Why is this the case? Because when we feel less needy of Allah’s help we turn to Him less. We tend to remember Allah less in times of ease. So ‘ease’ is no less of a test of our faith, especially when we remember that Iblis vowed to use ingratitude as a means to lead us astray (see Surah A’raf: 16-17).
The way to show patience with such a test is to always be grateful; to know Allah is the source of our blessings; to fight pride and ego; and to fight the temptation to show off. And if someone succeeds in that trial, they would be rewarded by Allah and be drawn closer to Allah, no different from someone who faced their hardships with sabr.
Having sabr with blessings is also shown by utilising the good things Allah gave us – if it is money, do we spend it freely in the way of Allah, or do we hold back? If it is knowledge, or free time, or good health, or youthfulness, how do we use these blessings? It is not always easy to be generous with those blessings, and to use them for Allah rather than the ego – that is a great test too.
Finally, it’s worth remembering there are examples of companions who were blessed with abundance – Khadijah, Abu Bakr, Uthman bin Affan, AbdurRahman bin Awf, may Allah be pleased with them all! They were blessed with wealth and status too, but they used that to serve Allah and the ummah. In fact they were among those promised paradise. So being tested with abundance does not necessarily mean that person is less beloved to Allah, they are just being tested differently. And Allah knows best.