4. Why does Allah (s.w.t.) test people?
The topic of Divine trial is an issue of great debate and discussion. The first question that comes to mind is: Are trials not for understanding matters which are obscure, hence eliminating our ignorance? If so, why does Allah (s.w.t.), Who possesses knowledge of the hidden and the manifest of everything within the heavens and the earth, have to examine and test (the people)? Does there exist something, which is concealed from Him and which may become manifest for Him by means of examination?
The answer lies in the fact that the concept of examination with respect to Allah (s.w.t.) is vastly different from that, with respect to us.
Our examinations are that which has been stated above, i.e. for a better comprehension and for clearing away ambiguity and ignorance, whilst the Divine trials are, in reality, development and training.
In the Noble Qur’an there are more than twenty instances of examinations that have been attributed to Allah (s.w.t.). This is a general law (of conduct) of Allah (s.w.t.), implemented by Him for the development of man’s hidden abilities (and bringing them from potentiality into actuality), thereby enabling him to progress. Just as iron, for acquiring greater strength, is put into a furnace to make it tempered, similarly man is also nurtured within the furnace of adversities in order that he becomes steadfast.
In reality, the examination of Allah (s.w.t.) resembles the work of an experienced gardener, who sows the seeds in a fertile soil. These seeds, benefiting from the natural bounties, begin to grow gradually – combating adversities, battling unfavourable conditions and enduring violent storms – until they end up in the form of a spray or a copious gargantuan tree, capable of continuing their existence in the face of hardships.
For the purpose of making soldiers tough, militarily, they are made to participate in numerous different exercises and war games, wherein they are subjected to various hardships such as hunger, thirst, heat, chillness, adverse conditions and severe obstacles, in order that they develop into accomplished, conditioned and proficient soldiers.
And this is the secret of Divine examinations.
The Noble Qur’an has asserted this reality, when it says:
وَ لِيَبْـتَلِيَ اللٌّهُ مَا فِي صُدُورِكُمْ وَ لِيُمَحِّصَ مَا فِي قُلُوبِكُمْ وَ اللٌّهُ عَلِيمٌ بِذَاتِ الصُّدُورِ
“And that Allah (s.w.t.) might test what was in your chests and that He might purge what was in your hearts; and Allah (s.w.t.) knows what is in the hearts.”1
The Commander of the Faithful (a.s.), in a statement very profound in meaning regarding the philosophy of Divine trials, says:
وَ إِنْ كَانَ سُبْحَانَهُ أَعْلَمَ بِهِمْ مِنْ أَنْـفُسِهِمْ وَ لٌكِنْ لِتَظْهَرَ الأََفْعَالُ الَّتِي بِهَا يُسْتَحَقُّ الثَّوَابُ وَ الْعِقَابُ.
“Although Allah (s.w.t.) s more aware of their souls than they themselves are, He tries them so that their deeds, which necessitate reward and punishment, become manifest.”2
Accordingly, the internal attributes of man can only be a measure for reward or chastisement when they manifest themselves in man’s actions. Allah (s.w.t.) tries man to enable that which he possesses in the interior to become manifest in deed and, his talents and abilities emerge from potentiality into actuality.
In the absence of Divine examination, these talents and abilities would have never flourished, and consequently the fruits of deeds would have never manifested themselves upon the branches of the tree of human existence; and this is the philosophy of Divine trials from the Islamic perspective.3
1. Surat Ale ‘Imran (3), Verse 154
2. Nahjul Balagha, Short Saying 93
3. Tafsir-e-Namuna, vol. 1, pg. 526
5. Is the ‘prosperity’ or ‘wretchedness’ of mankind, inherent?
In verse 105 of Surat Hud, we read:
يَوْمَ يَأْتِ لاَ تَکَلَّمَ نَفْسٌ إِلاَّ بِإِذْنِهِ فَمِنْهُمْ شَقِيٌّ وَ سَعِيدٌ
“On the day when it shall come, no soul shall speak except with His permission, then (some) of them shall be unhappy and (others) happy.”
The question which arises is: Does this verse indicate that man’s prosperity and wretchedness is inherent?
There are several points that need to be taken into consideration:
1. It as we had mentioned earlier, there are some who, on the basis of such verses, have sought to prove that man’s prosperity and wretchedness is inherent. However, not only do they fail to prove this point, but they clearly prove that wretchedness and prosperity are states which are acquired. This is because the verse says:
أَمَّا الَّذِينَ شَقَوْا…
“As for those who will be wretched…”
أَمَّا الَّذِينَ سُعِدُوا…
“As for those who are fortunate…”
indeed, if prosperity and wretchedness were inherent, the verse should have said:
أَمَّا الأَشْقِيَاءُ ءِ وَ أَمَّا السُّعَدَاءُءِ…
‘As for the wretched ones’ and ‘as for the fortunate ones’,
or something similar to this.
Accordingly, it becomes evident that what Fakhr Razi has said in his commentary, when he says – In these verses, Allah (s.w.t.) has already ruled that on the Day of Judgment a group shall be fortunate and blessed whilst another group shall be wretched; and it is impossible for those, regarding whom Allah (s.w.t.) has passed this ruling and about whom, He knows whether they shall be fortunate or wretched, to bring a change within themselves. This is because, should such a thing ever take place, it would mean that the words of Allah (s.w.t.) were lies and His knowledge was (in fact) ignorance – and this is impossible!! – is totally baseless.
This is the popular ‘knowledge of Allah’ objection, which is propounded in connection with the issue of jabr (compulsion) and ikhtiyar (choice). The answer to this claim is as follows:
If we desist from imposing our pre-conceived opinions upon the verse, then its meaning is clear, for it says: On that Day, a group shall be fortunate as a result of their deeds, while a group shall become wretched due to their deeds, and Allah (s.w.t.) is aware of those, who shall traverse the path to prosperity out of their own free will, and those, who shall advance towards wretchedness, out of their own will and choice.
Thus, contrary to what Fakhr Razi has said, if the people were compelled to select a path, His knowledge would in reality be His ignorance since He had known that all the people would opt for the blessed and wretched path of out of their own will and choice.
A proof to what has been stated above is the fact that the above verses are mentioned pursuant to the narratives of the previous nations, a large number of whom, as a result of deviation from the path of truth and opposition to the divine leaders, were seized by a painful chastisement in this world. And the Qur’an, with the objective of guiding us by distinguishing the paths leading towards prosperity and wretchedness, has recounted these narratives for us.
Essentially, as Fakhr Razi and other like-minded individuals imagine, if we were to possess inherent fortunateness and wretchedness, and if it were to be drawn towards good and evil deeds without any choice, all the teaching and training would be vain and futile. The coming of the prophets, the revelation of the Divine books, the advices, admonitions, encouragements, censures, rebukes, criticisms, remonstrations, Reckoning and finally, rewards and punishments – all of them – would be looked upon as either useless, or tyrannical!
Even those, who regard man as being compelled with respect to performing good or evil acts – irrespective of whether they consider this compulsion to be Divine compulsion, natural compulsion, economic compulsion or circumstantial compulsion, only advocate this theory when speaking or studying; however, when it comes to real life actions, even they do not profess this opinion.
And it is for this reason that when their rights are trampled they regard the transgressor as deserving rebuke and punishment, never willing to condone him on the basis that he had been ‘compelled’ into performing this act (on the part of Allah (s.w.t.) ) or regard punishing him as being unjust, or say: he could not refrain himself from committing the act, for Allah (s.w.t.) or nature or the environment forced him into it. This is another proof of the inherent nature of ikhtiyar (choice).
Furthermore, we do not observe any of those who follow the belief of jabr (compulsion), adhering to this belief in the course of their daily activities; rather, in their interaction with the people, they always look upon them as individuals, who possess freedom and choice.
All the world’s inhabitants, by setting up judicial systems for meting out punishments to the offenders, have practically acknowledged man’s freedom of will.
All the educative institutions of the world too have implicitly accepted the opinion that man performs actions by means of his own will and inclination, and it is possible, by means of education, to distance him from errors, lapses and deviated thinking.
2. Interestingly, in the above verses, the word (شقوا) is in the active voice whereas the word (سُعِدُوا) is in the passive. This difference in expression could be a subtle allusion to the point that man advances upon the path of wretchedness by his own self, yet in order to advance upon the path of prosperity, he requires Divine assistance, in the absence of which he shall never be successful.
Undoubtedly, only those who have stepped out in this direction out of their own choice and will, and have developed within themselves the worthiness to benefit from such support, shall come to receive it.1
1. Tafsir-e-Namuna, vol. 9, pg. 236