“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 the liars. Or do those who do evil deeds think they can outrun Us? Evil is what they judge.” Al-Qur’aan suurah Al-‘Ankabut 29:2-4
Belief is not a mere word we say; 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 they make this claim they are not left alone. They are subjected to tests so as to prove their sincerity and true metal, just as gold is tested with fire so as to separate it from any cheap elements. The Arabic word used here for test derives from the root fitnah, which imparts exactly this sense of being subjected to a test with all that this implies.
Such tests to prove people’s belief is a general and long established rule: “But We have certainly tried those before them, and Allah will surely make evident those who are truthful, and He will surely make evident the liars.” (Verse 3) God certainly knows what people harbour in their hearts before any test, but the test reveals, in
practice, what is known to God, yet hidden from human knowledge. He thus makes people accountable for what they actually do, not for what He knows of their reality. This is, in one sense, an act of grace, while in another, it is an act of justice. At the same time, it sets an edifying example for people so that they do not hold anyone accountable for anything other than what is clearly apparent of their deeds and what such deeds entail. They should remember that they cannot know what is in another’s heart; only God knows that.
Let us now discuss the general rule that God has set in operation, one whereby believers are subjected to a test so as to distinguish those who are truthful from those who lie. Faith is the trust God has placed in this world of ours. 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. This trust entails being in charge of the earth, leading mankind along the way God has chosen for them, implementing His word in life. Hence, this trust is both noble and heavy. It is part of God’s command, and as such, it needs a certain type of person to patiently endure adversity.
As part of the test, a believer is subjected to hardship by others. Believers often realize 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 our minds see 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 perilous 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 sūrah 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 God’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 marches on under such conditions and God’s support seems slow in coming, the test becomes even more difficult and harder to endure. Only those strengthened by God will remain steadfast. These are the ones who prove the truth of faith and can be given the great trust that God in heaven wants to place on earth.
What we have to understand is that God has no desire to put believers to such hard tests or cause them much suffering. It is all part of their preparation to take up the trust and fulfil its requirements. They must go through special preparations that can only be achieved through enduring real difficulties, withstanding pain and overcoming desires while being truly certain of God’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 mobilized 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 God, 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.
The trust they receive is very dear to them, particularly because of the high price they have had to give for it, enduring pain and suffering, and sacrificing much in its service. A person who gives much of himself and his comforts, who endures hardship and adversity will definitely hold dear the trust for which he has withstood so much. He will not abandon it easily.
As for the eventual triumph of faith and truth, this is something God has promised. No believer entertains any doubt that what God promises will certainly come true. If it is felt to be slow in coming, this must be for a particular purpose which will most certainly benefit faith and the faithful. No one is keener than God to protect His faith and the people who adopt it sincerely. Those believers who endure hardship should always bear in mind that it is sufficient for them to be the ones God has chosen to be entrusted with the truth. Indeed, God confirms that they have strong faith, for He has chosen them to be tested. Mus’ab bin Sa’d narrated from his father that a man said:”O Messenger of Allah(s.a.w)! Which of the people is tried most severely?” He said: “The Prophets, then those nearest to them, then those nearest to them. A man is tried according to his religion; if he is firm in his religion, then his trials are more severe, and if he is frail in his religion, then he is tried according to the strength of his religion. The servant shall continue to be tried until he is left walking upon the earth without any sins.” (Ibn Majah , At-Tirmizi )
Those who subject the believers to hardship and act wickedly will not escape God’s punishment, even though they may appear strong and victorious. This is again a true promise made by God: “Or do those who do evil deeds think they can outrun Us? Evil is what they judge.” (Verse 4) No wicked or evil person should think that he can escape. If he does then his judgement is absolutely erroneous. God, who has made tests a general rule to distinguish true believers from false claimants, is the One who has also made punishment of the perpetrators of evil a general rule that never fails. This is the second strong note at the opening of the sūrah, one that balances the first.
Taken from In The Shade of The Qur’aan vol.13 page 228-231