A true journey of iman is dotted with trials and obstacles, all designed to test our sincerity and belief in Allah. Many of us think that ease will be granted to us by angels on a silver platter, but the Qur'an repeatedly warns us that those who profess to believe in Allah will be tested to check the veracity of that declaration:
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. (Al Qur’an 29:2 -3)
For many, because of the lack of understanding in how the sequence works, we lose heart at the first calamity. Our faith in Allah is brittle and snaps at the first resistance, and many abandon the journey and make a U turn. We are unable to accept the destiny of Allah and are so afraid of letting the material world slip through our fingers.
In our short sightedness, we therefore broker a terrible deal for ourselves – we chase after the instant gratification of the material world for our security and stability, instead of developing the qualities that Allah wants of us. Whereas, the obstacles, calamities and challenges are merely to reveal whether we are truly made of gold, or whether our faith is like cheap gold plating that conceals the falseness and hollowness within.
There is a reason that the Prophets and Messengers were mostly poor. If we look at the role model of mankind, Muhammad SAW: his father died before he was born, he lost his mother at a tender age, neither parents left him an inheritance. He led a simple life, tending to sheep when he was young. He was poor and illiterate, and yet was given all the qualities of nobility in Allah's Kingdom. In comparison, what do we have to complain about? What impediment do we have against pursuing our journey of iman?
No Prophet's financial downfall was greater than Ayyoub's AS. From a man who owned valleys of livestock, he was reduced to owning nothing. All his children died, one after another. He suffered an excruciating disease that made his flesh decompose and fall from his bones. He bore this affliction for 18 years, but not once did he stop thanking Allah.
Now, think of how hysterical we become if we buy a brand new car and a vandal scratches it. Think of how our lives turn upside down and all the sleepless nights when our child has a common cold. We lose some money in the stock market and feel as if all our plans have crashed in around us. We have a stormy marriage and feel as if life is not worth living.
We attach so much value to the insignificant. We cannot handle even a fraction of the hardships that Ayyoub AS had undergone!
Ultimate victory comes with it a cycle of trials. Most of us will stumble along the way. Yet, as a Muslim, it is our duty to ourselves to rise up and continue. We should not be like the majority, who will not pick themselves up and will instead turn back to the position or situation he came from.
Why are the trials never-ending? It is in order to check our sincerity to Allah, as a means of sifting between us for consistency in reaction, regardless of whether the circumstances are good or bad. Only the one who consistently belongs to Allah will eventually pass the trials. Victory is never absolute or permanent for as long as we are alive. Hardship alternates with ease, and victory and openings are substituted by additional trials and additional victories. The cycle of up and down keeps recurring in different stages.
When obstacles present themselves, we should still continue. Many of us get discouraged and give up on the journey at the first obstacle. The people of Talut, who were initially fired up for battle, quit halfway. They were tried with a very basic necessity – water – and were commanded by Allah to refrain from drinking more than a handful from the river. Many of them failed this simple test, succumbing to their thirst instead of listening to the command of their Creator. These were supposed to be the believers, yet they could not clear the first hurdle of faith – to trust Allah. Today, we use our minds too much. One handful of water will never sustain us! The sunnah of Allah is to trial us with things our minds can never comprehend. Yet today, many of us use our minds and we neglect faith.
All the stories of Qur’an demonstrate that faith is the opposite of intellect, because Allah can change the conditions once we believe. When we worry about our lack of means or an uncertain future, we should draw inspiration from the stories contained in the Qur'an.
For example, when Musa AS fled from Egypt to Sinai, he had no possessions on him. He had no income, savings account or job to rely on. He did not even have the necessary credentials for employment!
Yet, Allah ordained for him to get married and become a shepherd, even when he had nothing of the material comforts to offer his new wife. This was a time when he faced isolation from his people, undergoing trial after trial as a purification and elevation process before he was ready to meet Pharaoh and invite him to Islam. Even upon his return to Egypt, he faced severe trials: persecution from Pharaoh's regime and stubbornness from his own people.
A flood destroys our homes, a disease claims someone we love or the fairy tale marriage is tainted by an overbearing mother in law. We disintegrate when Allah gives us a situation that we do not like and cannot cushion ourselves against. Yet, we do not know what is the best for us, and therefore like and dislike things that we can see with our own eyes, rather than what Allah has decided for us in His infinite wisdom. We struggle, reject and try to escape our destinies, not realising that it is like swimming against the current – futile and exhausting. We wish to turn back the time, or unravel our decisions, without realising that the only way to deal with the situation is to accept it and move on.