Tests in Life
by Ayesha Khan
‘For indeed, with hardship [will be] ease. Indeed, with hardship [will be] ease.’ [94:5-6]
You have all been having tests this week, some of you have tests to come, some are almost finished, so I wanted to talk about tests with an Islamic perspective today.
- You will have been feeling stressed this week, maybe grumpy
- You will be wondering what questions you will get, and hoping you remember everything you need to
- You will be wishing they are over
- You might also be wondering why you are put through them in the first place?
The Muslim view of life and its purpose is extremely simple. If you ask my 7 year old son what the purpose of life is, he will happily tell you that ‘life is a test’.
If you look at yourselves, your family and look back through history and lives of prophets, everyone experiences tests or difficulties or struggles.
This is so simple it takes the uncertainty out of the question, ‘Why was I created?’ What is the purpose of my life? While philosophers theorise over ultimate reality questions – Muslims look to the Quran for answers and this is what we are told:
‘We will try you with something of fear’. [2:155]
‘God tests what is in your hearts’ [3:154]
‘You will surely be tried in your possessions.’ [3:186]
‘He tests you in what He has given you: so strive as in a race in all virtues’ [5:51]
‘Believers, Gold will surely test you’ [5:97]
‘He may try some of you by means of others’ [47:4]
‘Blessed is He who created death and life that He may test you which of you is best in good deeds’ [67:2]
We are told plainly that over the course of our life our actions and intentions are being recorded. Just as with a CCTV camera or a reality TV show, you have been followed from birth and ultimately even the tiniest things that you do will be accounted for.
So the question arises, what form does the test take? Is it a multiple choice, or are there complex answers we have to work out?
Tests come in different shapes and sizes…
The Quran tells us that during our lifetime we will be tested in different ways –
One way is through loss, it could be of life, health, wealth.
At some point in our life we will probably:
- have to cope with difficult people in our lives.
- experience the suffering and death of someone in our family or from our friends,
- experience failure
- not get what we wanted
- or get what we wanted and be hugely successful, only to find that we lose everything we have built up over the years.
- question whether God exists at all.
These are all forms of tests.
People often assume that the person being tested is the one who is ‘doesn’t have’. Sometimes we can’t understand why some people have things or qualities (like being beautiful or intelligent) and others haven’t. Sometimes we might wonder why we didn’t get things that others have?
It is worth knowing that ‘having’ is a test as much ‘not having’, because a rich person will still have to account for how he used his wealth.
I want to share with you something that happened to my family. For years my brother-in-law had dreamt of a car. As a small child, when he went to the bathroom you could hear him outside making driving a car noises round a race track. One day he bought a car. It was a very fancy car. It was a black convertible Aston Martin – the James Bond car. It was a piece of art to those who appreciate cars. But soon after he bought it, he had to move abroad and he couldn’t take his car with him. So having come to close to realising his dream, it was just not in his destiny to have that car. It was a test for him.
he left it with us. Suddenly a beautiful car that we had never aspired to was standing and adorning our driveway. Everyone who saw it was greatly impressed. My husband would drive it to work and people always looked with awe at it. Then one day my brother-in-law decided to sell it, and within no time it was sold and gone. At that moment in time, although we felt sad that this lovely car was now gone, we had no reason to resent the fact that it was gone. It had never been ours. It had come to us, been ours to admire and enjoy and then it was gone out of the blue just as it had come. At that moment in time we felt grateful to my brother-in-law that he had loaned us this car.
In the same way, we should remain thankful to God for what we have, because he choose us to have it and could easily have given it to someone else.
So the important thing to remember in The Test, is to remain grateful in good times and to be patient when things aren’t going right.
In Surah Baqarah (chapter 2 of the Quran) we are told: ‘Give glad tidings to the patient ones, who when afflicted with a calamity say “Truly to Allah we belong and truly to Him we shall return.”‘ [2:155]
Because the important thing to remember as a Muslim is that, like the car, nothing belonged to us in the first place.
We were born with nothing at all. Not even clothes.
Everything we have gained in our lives has been given to us – including our life itself.
As we grow older and start to earn money we fall into the misconception that we are earning it and it is ours for keeps, but the reality is that it can be taken away at any time.
If at the point that thing is taken away we get bitter and say, life is so unfair… then we are not just being ungrateful but falling into the test of our faith.
So if know tests are coming, then how do prepare for them? And like the tests you have had, we already knew they were coming along. Being forewarned is forearmed.
What other tips are there?
Time: In an exam you wouldn’t waste time in the middle of it – you would be scribbling away like mad, to get as many marks as you can. If life if a test, then we don’t have the luxury of idling away our time either. We need to ensure that we get through the tough questions with the most marks first and then see how much time we have left over.
Because if we mistimed it, and didn’t tackle the tough questions, and our balance of good and bad is very close, it could be the tiniest bit of good that we did, that tips it the right way. Or it could be just a throw away snide comment that tips it the wrong way, so we need to be really careful what we say and do and how we spend our time.
Can’t cheat: There is a story of a man who was the new Imam of a mosque. He was in a taxi, and, as he arrived at his destination, the cab driver gave him change, but when he looked at the change he noticed that he had been given an extra £1 coin. For a split second he thought he could just slip it into his pocket and no one would know or care that he had done it. But a tiny prick of his conscience made him pause and hand it back to the cab driver. At that moment, the driver smiled and said, ‘I just wanted to see how honest you were’. The Imam was taken aback, he hadn’t realised that he was being tested and that at the moment his reputation had been at stake.
This makes us realise that not only will be caught out if we cheat, but that our tests can be very subtle – so subtle that we are practically not aware that we are being tested every day as we wake up and proceed through the day. But when you make a conscious effort to remind yourself every morning when you wake up that each day is another opportunity to earn good deeds and you can turn ordinary actions into golden actions by thinking for a moment why you are doing what you are doing. When you make the intention that you are coming to school to learn you will be rewarded for that, when you intend to be kind to your parents and greet them with a smile you are earning rewards, or when you share your snack at breaktime.
Suhba (company): It is important to hang out with the right crowd – who will help you pass your test and not distract you.
Prayer: We can ask the One who sets the test not to make our test so difficult we can’t bear it. And for help at every step of the way.
With every difficulty comes ease: And we are told that with every difficulty comes ease. At some point the crisis you face comes to end. The thing you were dreading finally ends. Just as you walk out of the exam room feeling lighter than when you walked in and you feel the burden float off your shoulders, you get a feeling of relief- the kind of relief you wouldn’t have felt if you hadn’t been through the test. And things that you took for granted, like going out at break-time, might suddenly feel even more special when you don’t have the anxiety of which test is coming next after it.
Why are we tested?
One of things that become apparent when we face difficulties is how strong our belief is. When we face loss do we lose our faith? Does hardship make us lose perspective and doubt the existence of God?
Just as a test separates out the best candidates from the average and the bad, tests in life reveal something about us a person.
When we come out of a test we are not the same person who went into the test. We have changed. We have grown as person. If we did well we feel confident we can get through it and we are sure of what we know. If we didn’t do well we feel lost and confused.
Test shape you as a person. You become aware of your own strengths, abilities and weaknesses.
Even the prophets (peace be upon them) were tested – their tests were very hard. We are given tests according to our ability. Some people seem to be tested in very difficult ways.
During our test – try to remain nice because it is easy to become irritable and unkind.
We should have empathy for others – everyone is going through their own struggles and they may be closer to God in their test.
Remember that all hardship passes. And with every difficulty comes ease.
Ultimately we have God and the comfort that we can try our best.
‘Our Lord! Punish us not if we forget or fall into error, our Lord! Lay not on us a burden like that which You did lay on those before us; our Lord! Put not on us a burden greater than we have strength to bear. Pardon us and grant us forgiveness. Have mercy on us. You are our Mawla (Patron, Supporter and Protector) and give us victory over the disbelieving people.’ [2: 285-6]
Written by Ayesha Khan in 2013