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Summary of question
According to the Holy Quran, what are the ways through which mankind is put to test?
question
According to the Holy Quran, what are the ways through which mankind is put to test?
Concise answer

God says in the Holy Quran that Allah created death and life, that He may try which of you is best in deed. The concept of divine test is very different from the tests carried out by human beings in respect of one another. Our test is aimed at getting more understanding and knowledge and at removing our doubts and ignorance but divine test is not for such a purpose. In fact, a divine test is meant to educate and train mankind. That is to say, God puts man to test to help train him, mould his character and to enable him gain perfection.

God puts man to test through different ways. Every individual is tested according to his inherent capacity. Sometimes, he is made to suffer hardships and difficulties, sometimes he faces evils and miseries, other times he is given wealth, worldly blessings and child. All of these are means for divine test.

Detailed Answer

The concept of divine test:

What is called “test” in English is referred to by the Quran with different terms such as trial, tribulation, evil, mischief and ‘tamhis’ which literally means “scrutiny”. God says in the Holy Quran: “He Who created death and life, that He may try which of you is best in deed: and He is the Exalted in Might, Oft-Forgiving.”[1]

The concept of divine test is very different from the tests carried out by human beings in respect of one another. Our test is aimed at getting more understanding and knowledge and at removing our doubts and ignorance. However, divine test is not for such purpose; it is to educate and train mankind[2]. That is to say, God puts man to test to help train him, mould his character and to enable him gain perfection. For example, divine prophets such as Prophet Ibrahim (a.s.) attained high spiritual positions through difficult and unbearable hardship and tribulations.[3]

Cases of divine test:

It is God’s tradition and divine practice [sunnah] to put man to test. The Holy Quran says:

“Do men imagine that they will be left (at ease) because they say, We believe, and will not be tested with affliction? And certainly We tried those before them, so Allah will certainly know those who are true and He will certainly know the liars.”[4]

Sometimes the Quran speaks of a general test which is directed towards God’s servants. He says: “Do men imagine that they will be left (at ease) because they say, We believe, and will not be tested with affliction?”[5]

Sometimes the Quran unveils a series of special tests directed towards special individuals or people. There are stories in the Quran e.g. the stories of prophets and their tribes, which provide examples of such tests.

Verses dealing with general tests are too many to be mentioned here. However, we will mention a few instances of the divine tests that have been pointed out in the Quran:

1. Hardship and difficulties:

God, the Exalted, tests man by means of difficulties and hardship. The Quran says: “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.”[6]

Hardship and difficulties are like an oven that helps make a piece of iron harder to break. Man also becomes stronger, steadfast and capable of breaking barriers after he goes through afflictions and difficulties.  Hardship and pain train the individual and awaken society, they awaken those who are sleeping in ignorance and motivate them.  Hardships are like sandpaper that polishes iron and metal; the more they come in contact with an individual, the more he/she is polished and becomes sharper, because the property and characteristic of life is that one has to be ready and stand up and resist hardships.  Hardship is like an alchemy that transforms normal things into valuable ones, changing the individual for the better.  There are two elixirs of life; love and hardship, and these two cause one to be extraordinary and make shiny and glowing gems out of dull material.[7], [8]

2. Evil and good:

As the Holy Quran says, “Every soul shall have a taste of death: and We test you by evil and by good by way of trial” even the good can be a means for test and trial. For example, someone is given riches and wealth or a position which boosts his social status and respect but he does not properly exploit such an opportunity extended to him. Eventually, Shaitan misleads him from the right path.

3. Abundance of blessings:

Worldly blessings might be a means of comfort and prosperity for the individual, and can also be a means of sorrow and misery. At any rate, the blessings and divine bounties are a means with which man is tested.[9] The Holy Quran quotes Prophet Sulayman as such: “This is of the grace of my Lord that He may try me whether I am grateful or ungrateful; and whoever is grateful, he is grateful only for his own soul, and whoever is ungrateful, then surely my Lord is Self-sufficient, Honored.”[10]

The people who have all kinds of worldly blessings in their disposal are tested in this manner that they are given an opportunity to give thanks and to be grateful in the time of abundance and to help the poor. Such people may be grateful or may drown in negligence, pride, selfishness and autism.  

4. Child:

The Holy Quran says: “And know that your possessions and your children are a test, and that with Allah is immense reward.”[11]

5. Belief and disbelief:

The Holy Quran reminds about the guardians of hell and their numbers who are guarded by 19 angels. Then it says:

And We have set none but angels as Guardians of the Fire; and We have fixed their number only as a trial for Unbelievers,- in order that the People of the Book may arrive at certainty, and the Believers may increase in Faith,- and that no doubts may be left for the People of the Book and the Believers, and that those in whose hearts is a disease and the Unbelievers may say, "What symbol doth Allah intend by this?" Thus doth Allah leave to stray whom He pleaseth, and guide whom He pleaseth.”[12]

6. Ornaments and embellishments on the earth:

According to a verse in the Holy Quran, the entire things that are on the earth are means for test of human beings. The Quran says: “Lo! We have placed all that is on the earth as an ornament thereof that We may try them: which of them is best in conduct.”[13]

 


[1] - Al-Mulk, 2.

[2] - Makarem Shirazi, Naser, Tafsir Namunah, vol.1, pg. 527, Dar al-Kutub al-Islamiyah, 21st edition, 1365 (1986).

[3] - Al-Baqarah, 124:

"وَ إِذِ ابْتَلى‏ إِبْراهيمَ رَبُّهُ بِكَلِماتٍ فَأَتَمَّهُنَّ قالَ إِنِّي جاعِلُكَ لِلنَّاسِ إِماماً قالَ وَ مِنْ ذُرِّيَّتي‏ قالَ لا يَنالُ عَهْدِي الظَّالِمينَ".

And remember that Abraham was tried by his Lord with certain commands, which he fulfilled: He said: "I will make thee an Imam to the Nations." He pleaded: "And also (Imams) from my offspring!" He answered: "But My Promise is not within the reach of evil-doers."

[4] Al-Ankabut, 2 – 3.

[5] Al-Ankabut, 2.

[6] - Al-Baqarah, 155.

[7] - Mortedha Mutahhari, Adle Ilahi, pg. 181.

[8] - Extracted from index No. 2055 (site: en2117)

[9] - Tafsir Namunah, vol.1, pg. 533.

[10] - Al-Naml, 40.

[11] - Al-Anfal, 28.

[12] - Al-Muddather, 31.

[13] - Al-Kahf, 7.

 

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