The Qur’ān (29:2-3) says: “Do people think that once they say: ‘We are believers’, they will be left alone and will not be put to a test? We certainly tested those who lived before them; and so most certainly Allah knows those who speak the truth and most certainly He knows those who are liars.”
These ayat refer to the duties required by faith, which tests peoples’ true metal. To believe is not that simple. Rather it means steadfastness in the face of adversity, and the fulfilment of one’s duties. Whoever makes a claim to the Faith is made to pass through trials and tribulations.
Belief is not a mere word; it is a reality that imposes duties, a trust that carries requirements and a struggle that demands patience and perseverance. It is not enough that people should claim to believe. When we make this claim, we are subjected to tests so as to prove our sincerity and true metal, just as gold is tested in fire.
Such tests to prove people’s belief is a general and long-established rule. Allah certainly knows what people harbour in their hearts before any test, but the test reveals, in practice, what is known to Allah, yet hidden from human knowledge.
The knowledge Allah already possesses about the capabilities of people and about their conduct in the future is not enough to satisfy the requirements of justice until the people have manifested their potentialities in practical ways. Justice with Allah is not based on His knowledge that a person has tendency to steal and will commit theft, but on the knowledge that he has actually committed theft. Likewise, Allah does not bestow favours and rewards on the basis of His knowledge that a person has the potential and capability to become a great believer but on the basis of the knowledge that the person concerned has proved in letter and spirit that he is a sincere believer. Allah thus makes people accountable for what they actually do, not for what He knows of their reality. This, in one sense, is an act of grace, while in another, an act of justice.
Faith is the trust Allah has placed in this world. It is borne only by those who are worthy of it, have the strength to bear it and are totally devoted to it. They must prefer it to their own comfort, safety, security, and all temptation.
As part of the test, a believer is subjected to hardship. Believers often realise they have no one to support or defend them and that they lack the power with which to face tyranny. This is the immediate picture that comes to our mind when tests are mentioned, but it is certainly not the hardest type of test. There are many different types of testing, some far more trying and difficult.
There is, for example, the test presented by family and loved ones. A believer may fear that the sacrifices he is called upon to make could put his family in a risky situation, or that he cannot protect his loved ones. On their part, fearing for his life, his loved ones may call on him to compromise or to give up. They may appeal to him in the name of their close relation not to expose himself to destruction, or burden them with what they cannot bear. The surah refers to an aspect of such testing with parents, and this is very difficult to pass.
Another form of test is to see those who are deep in error and follow falsehood revelling in success, with the world at their feet, applauded by the masses, and with no obstacles in their way. Glory comes easy to them and everything in life is theirs to enjoy. Contrast this with the believer who finds himself ignored, unnoticed and undefended. Only a few people like him appreciate the value of the truth in which he believes, but none of these has any say in life.
Yet another form is to feel oneself alone in a strange environment. A believer looks around and finds everything and everyone swimming with the sweeping tide that runs contrary to the truth he knows, while he stands alone without support.
We see nowadays a different type of test in the form of communities and states where vice is widespread, yet they reflect a progressive society and civilized style of life. In such communities, people find good standards of care and protection. Moreover, despite their turning away from Allah’s path, such people are both strong and affluent.
There is, however, one test that is harder than all the rest. This comes from within, where the lure of desire, enjoyment and pleasure becomes very strong, or at least comfort and security appear too tempting. This makes following the line of faith difficult and the difficulty may be compounded by other obstacles which a believer may have to contend with in his community.
If time passes on under such conditions and Allah’s support seems slow in coming, the test becomes even more difficult and harder to endure. Only those strengthened by Allah will remain steadfast. These are the ones who prove the truth of faith and can be given the great trust that Allah in heaven wants to place on earth.
What we have to understand is that Allah, the Exalted, has no desire to put us to such hard tests or cause us much suffering. It is all part of our preparation to take up the trust and fulfil its requirements. We must go through special preparations that can only be achieved through enduring real difficulties, withstanding pain and overcoming desires while being truly certain of Allah’s support or His reward, long as the hardship may continue and severe as the suffering may be.
The human soul is tested with difficulties and hardships. It is thus purged of any vile influence. All its latent powers are thus mobilised and it acquires further strength and solidity. This is the effect of hardship on communities. Only the strongest remain steadfast. These are the ones who maintain the closest relation with Allah, and remain absolutely confident that the path of faith will inevitably lead them to one of the two goodly eventualities: victory or reward. To these the banner is eventually entrusted, and they are certainly worthy of it.
As for the eventual triumph of faith and truth, this is something Allah has promised. No one is keener than Allah to protect His faith and the people who adopt it sincerely. The believers who endure hardship should always bear in mind that it is sufficient for them to be the ones Allah has chosen to be entrusted with the truth. Indeed, Allah confirms that they have strong faith, for He has chosen them to be tested. An authentic hadith states: “The most severely tested are prophets, then the most pious people, then the ones closest to these, one degree after another. A man will be tested in accordance with his strength of faith. If he proves himself strong, the severity of his test is increased.”