What is the purpose of our existence? Why am I being tested?
Making sense of life’s difficulties:
~Tests: Their Purpose and Reality~
Understanding the purpose of the difficulties we all face in our lives is a major game changer. In the Quran, Allah (SWT) tells us that He created us to test us. Allah (SWT) says in Surah Mulk: “He who created life and death so that He may test you as to which of you is better in deeds.” (Al-Mulk: 2) Allah also mentions this concept in other places such as Surah An’aam (6:165), Surah Hud (11:7) and Surah Kahf (18:7). But before looking at the details of this test, let’s first understand why we’re tested.
During our lives we spend countless hours, day and night, studying for endless strings of tests and exams. Only then do we move ahead, progress, and are promoted. Nobody can ever put their child in school on the condition that he/she will not be tested. Thus, just like any valuable thing, Paradise too has a price. The Prophet (SAW) said, “Behold, Allah’s trade is an expensive trade. Behold, Allah’s trade is Jannah.” (Tirmidhi) When we can’t even get to the beach by merely wishing for it, then what about Paradise? If schools don’t take tests and exams we get worried, but if Allah tests us we begin to wonder, “Why me?” We all ask Allah for easy tests, but we must accept that as long as we’re in this world tests will come our way.
Tests are what differentiate between the levels of individuals. There was a Sahabi who was immensely tortured by the disbelievers when he accepted Islam. They would ask him, “Where is your Lord and why doesn’t He save you now?” But the Sahabi would respond by saying, “Even when you buy an earthen pot you knock on it to test it and see if it is any good or not. My Lord too is testing me to see whether I qualify for Jannah or not.”
Thus, the examiner for this test is Allah (SWT) and it is He who revealed the textbook for this exam, i.e. the Quran; one book with thirty chapters. No doubt, the recitation of the Quran carries reward but we must never forget that the Quran is a book of action. Only a conscious effort to understand and implement the Quran’s teachings in our lives is what will get us through the minefield of this life and the stages of the Hereafter.
The Messenger of Allah (SAW) is our teacher and guide. The Prophet (SAW) himself said, “Indeed, I have been sent as a teacher.” (Ibn Majah) That is why the Prophet (SAW) was an embodiment of the Quran (Bukhari). Loving and appreciating the Messenger of Allah (swt) is part of our faith. But until we emulate him and learn and benefit from his guidance in every walk of life our exam of life will not be helped. “And whatever the Messenger gives you, take it, and whatever he forbids you from, abstain from it.” (Al-Hashr: 7)
What is the test on? Houses and cars? Or grades and looks? No, rather: “Which of you is better in deeds.” (Al-Mulk: 2) Good deeds are the currency of the hereafter and it is for them that we should strive. “Strive, then, to excel in good deeds.” (Al-Maidah: 48)
When will the result come? The result will come in the hereafter. The Quran defines success for us as follows: “So whoever is drawn away from the fire and admitted into Paradise, he indeed is successful.” (Ali-Imran: 185) In the incident of Bir-e-Ma’unah, a person martyred the Sahabi Haram bin Milhan (RDA) by stabbing him in the back. When Haram (RDA) saw the point of the spear coming out of his chest he immediately exclaimed, “By the Lord of the Ka’bah, I have won!” (Bukhari) On hearing this the assassin was left wondering why his victim had said that he had won when he was dying. Then when he came to know that Islam’s concept of failure and success encompasses the vastness of the hereafter and isn’t confined to this limited world, he embraced Islam and submitted himself to the Lord of the Worlds.
This world is the examination hall, Allah (SWT) says: “Surely we have made what is on earth an adornment for it, so that we test them as to who among them is better in deeds.” (Kahf: 7) Once the test is over this world too will come to an end: “And surely, we are going to turn whatever is thereon into a barren land.” (Kahf: 8) Whereas everything present in this world is a means of testing and an exam for us. Our spouses, siblings, wealth, homes, education…: “Your wealth and your children are but a trial.” (At-Taghabun: 15) Our duty is to solve these tests as best as we can to achieve our ultimate goal: Allah’s pleasure and Jannah. They are only means through which we are tested, they are not our goals.
Also, if someone else is failing their test that doesn’t mean that we fail ours. While writing an exam if the student sitting next to me is doodling on her exam sheet what should I do? Should I protest that since she’s not working on her exam neither will I? Should I tear my exam up and storm out of the room? Nobody does that. Similarly, in real life when others wrong us they may be failing their tests but we can’t afford to fail ours too.
After every little while a new batch of students comes to take the same set of exams. Similarly, generation after generation comes and is tested. When the Messenger of Allah (SAW) passed away many tribes apostatized. One may wonder that the grief of the demise of the Prophet (SAW) was more than enough, then why so many more troubles and difficulties? The answer is that indeed the Sahabah had already earned high levels in Jannah with their sacrifices with the Prophet (SAW). But now there was a new generation of Muslims who too needed to be tested (while the Sahabah continued to rise to ever higher levels of Jannah).
Using past papers for exam preparations is a common practice. They help because questions are often repeated and also to get the feel of the exam. Similarly, the reason why Allah (SWT) mentions the stories of Prophet Ibraheem (AS) and Nimrud, Prophet Musa (AS) and Fir’aun in the Quran so many times is because similar characters exist in every age. The repetition of these stories informs us of the traits and fates of these different characters. We are strengthened from the good and take heed from the bad.
Those who spend their lives realizing that it is an exam are at a different level altogether. This single concept allows us to sail through the peaks and troughs of life. Even the situation of the Muslims today, if Allah willed He could fix it in no time at all. But all that’s happening around us is actually a test for us as much as it is a test for the sufferers; Allah is seeing which of us is playing their role and which of us is merely looking on as a bystander: “Had Allah willed, He would have made a single community of people, but (He did not), so that He may test you in what He has given to you.” (Al-Maidah: 48)
Once the test is over and we are well rewarded, the hard times are forgotten. A hadith in Sahih Muslim tells us that on the Day of Judgment, a person from amongst the people of Paradise will be brought who was one of the most miserable people in this world. He will be dipped in Jannah just once, then Allah will ask him, “O son of Adam, did you ever face any hardship? Did any distress ever befall you?” He will reply, “By Allah, I never experienced any distress or hardship.”
May Allah grant us all success. Ameen.
– Zainab Wasay
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(This article was first published in The Intellect, Volume 9, Issue 1)