“Every hardship; every joy; every temptation is a challenge of the spirit; that the human soul may prove itself.”
Elias A. Ford
The kind of proving I believe we are called upon to do is not that performance type, but more in this meaning:
“to subject to a test, experiment, comparison, analysis, or the like, in order to determine quality, amount, acceptability, characteristics, and so on.”
Indeed God Most High tells us that He has created the heavens and earth and us within them in order to test us, as to which of us will be best in conduct. Tests, seen in this light, are conditions in which the best qualities in us have the chance to come to the surface and become manifested.
Traditionally, Muslims accepted tests with this understanding. The conduct they realized they were being tested for was the inner conduct first and foremost: the attitude. Not the raging against the circumstance, not the ‘why me?’ nor the questioning of God’s Decision and Wisdom. Rather, the inner stillness of acceptance and understanding. Acceptance is easier to come by if one can understand that God is there, and that what He sends is fair. Not fair in the sense of the test being a punishment for a past action of ours, not that kind of justice-oriented understanding of fairness, but the kind of fairness that Shakespeare refers to when he says: ‘all is fair in love…’ In this love relationship that God has with us, all His actions are beautiful, as one of the hymns we sing also states: ‘wa kullu f3alik jameel.’
Whether one is going through a sickness or a failure, a depression or a setback, the conduct one is being tested for primarily is the inner response to this situation: the hope one keeps in one’s heart, the trust one hangs onto, the ‘husn athann’ (good opinion of God) that one refuses to let go of no matter what – these things must be there for they are what God is looking for. Never should we fall into despair, or allow ourselves to become angry with Him.
Society today invites to be angry at our lot in life and at our hardships. It validates complaining, ranting, and challenging God’s Wisdom. You will even be told it’s okay to be mad at God. Where are these newfangled ideas coming from? If ever there was a bidaa (innovation) you should be worried about, it’s this pseudo psycho-spiritual babble.
Today, there are numerous ways to self-eulogize, to lament publicly about one’s state and woes and to parade one’s lack of acceptance of them. This is a waste of a hardship. All the energy that should have gone into the proving process – the distilling of one’s finest qualities and allowing them to be expressed, is dissipated in complaining to the world.
Increasingly, we live in a world that ignores what God has said to us about tests. People openly make statements about despising hardship and not seeing any benefit in it.
If we are to survive as devotees to our Lord, we must not fall into this trap. We must strive to accept that tests are gifts, golden opportunities to become the people we always aspired to be: to have the mettle of our inner selves proved and improved.
For those who are intelligent in this short life, hardship will be viewed as means to a greater end: crucibles in which to burn off the dross of false layers of foolishness and superficiality, and have the greater qualities that lie within us burnished to a brighter glow.