We normally hear that Allah tests His pious servants. The question begs as to what it means by “testing His pious servants?” One only tests someone who claims to be one’s friend because one is not sure about his sincerity. If one is confident and knows that he is sincere then one trusts and relies on him for his support whenever the need arises. But that cannot be said about Allah. Allah’s knowledge is infinite. He knows everything hidden inside human hearts:
إِنَّا نَعْلَمُ مَا يُسِرُّونَ وَمَا يُعْلِنُونَ
(36:76) – Verily, We know all that they keep secret as well as all that they bring into the open. [Asad]
Therefore, Allah doesn’t need to test humans to find out the hidden realities inside their hearts. There are so many hidden powers, qualities, and faculties in every human in potential form that most of us are not even aware of. These can only be realized by struggle, confrontation and friction. Whether it is the fire hidden in a flint or the music concealed in a string – it requires friction or jerk to realize these hidden qualities. The purpose of human life according to the Quran is to practically actualize these hidden qualities. For this, the word is “self-actualization” or “self-realization.” One can also call it realization of humanity. It is only through the realization of these hidden human qualities that humanity gradually advances forward. These powers do not come from outside but reside inside humans, as if they were hidden in their DNAs – and they require some jolt and exertion to be realized.
In fact, Allah provides opportunities so that humans can test themselves; so that they can find out for themselves how much power they have within themselves to overcome the challenges of life; so that they do not remain under the illusion of having those qualities that when they are confronted with challenge they buckle under pressure. Likewise, those who have the abilities but are suffering from inferiority complex, these opportunities provide them to become confident about their abilities. That is why confrontation is so critical in bringing out the truth of those qualities; that is why it is so important to test one’s own self to expose self-delusion or to confirm self-affirmation.
It is important that we test our strength and not remain under self-delusion. Self-examination is a great thing. That is why we need confrontation; we need to be jolted; we need to be pushed and pressed, and passed through challenging situations to test ourselves. Then only will we know what our real strength is. This is the secret of success and the essence of dignified life. If there are no opposing confrontational forces requiring human struggle and challenge, the latent human potentials will never be realized.
أَمْ حَسِبْتُمْ أَن تَدْخُلُوا الْجَنَّةَ وَلَمَّا يَأْتِكُم مَّثَلُ الَّذِينَ خَلَوْا مِن قَبْلِكُم ۖ مَّسَّتْهُمُ الْبَأْسَاءُ وَالضَّرَّاءُ وَزُلْزِلُوا حَتَّىٰ يَقُولَ الرَّسُولُ وَالَّذِينَ آمَنُوا مَعَهُ مَتَىٰ نَصْرُ اللَّـهِ ۗ أَلَا إِنَّ نَصْرَ اللَّـهِ قَرِيبٌ
(2:214) – [But] do you think that you could enter paradise without having suffered like those [believers] who passed away before you? Misfortune and hardship befell them, and so shaken were they that the apostle, and the believers with him, would exclaim, "When will God's succor come?" Oh, verily, God's succor is [always] near! [Asad]
أَمْ حَسِبْتُمْ أَن تَدْخُلُوا الْجَنَّةَ وَلَمَّا يَعْلَمِ اللَّـهُ الَّذِينَ جَاهَدُوا مِنكُمْ وَيَعْلَمَ الصَّابِرِينَ
(3:142) – Do you think that you could enter paradise unless God takes cognizance of your having striven hard [in His cause], and takes cognizance of your having been patient in adversity? [Asad]
Striving hard in the cause of Allah
Striving hard in the cause of Allah requires confrontation between THE TRUTH (Al-Haq - الحق) and FALSEHOOD (Baatil - باطل). This is a comprehensive term of the Quran. Within THE TRUTH (Al-Haq - الحق) is contained the entire Islam, the entire Deen. Opposed to this is FALSEHOOD (Baatil - باطل) consisting of all other powers. These are only two words – THE TRUTH (Al-Haq - الحق) and FALSEHOOD (Baatil - باطل) – but their account is spread throughout the entire Quran. The Quran sums up the entire edifice of THE TRUTH (Al-Haq - الحق) and FALSEHOOD (Baatil - باطل) and delineates the crux of this matter by its opening and closing statements concerning nourishment and sustenance of all humankind:
الْحَمْدُ للّهِ رَبِّ الْعَالَمِينَ (1:1)
قُلْ أَعُوذُ بِرَبِّ النَّاسِ (114:1).
The Quran starts and ends with this universal goal: Nourishment and development of all humankind.
This is the heart of the Quran’s message. Nowadays, everyone is worried about one’s own benefit. And the society thinks one is clever who always thinks of his own benefit, not of others. And the circle of benefits from the individual keeps on expanding to one’s family, to one’s tribe, to one’s nation. That is where humanity stands today – focused on the concept of one’s own circle of benefits not of others', resulting in collective hell.
The present situation in the world is the creation of the mindset of – me, my family, my tribe, my nation. This is FALSEHOOD (Baatil - باطل). What is THE TRUTH (Al-Haq - الحق) then? It is universal benefit, a policy of welfare for all humankind. What is the starting point for this? We should think of benefiting the person standing next to us when we think of our own benefit; we should think of other family’s or other tribe’s or other nation’s benefits when we think of our own family’s benefit, our own tribe’s benefit, or our own nation’s benefit. This way by enlarging the circle further and further the circle of benefit encompasses the entire humankind. Thus the benefit becomes universal in character and scope by breaking all local, regional, and national boundaries. These boundaries only exist as along as the distinction of “I and You” is there. When this distinction disappears then the question of “us vs. them” disappears as well. The Quran simply wants to enlarge the concept of family to a universal family because Quran’s Allah is Sustainer of all the worlds and He is the Provider and the Nurturer of all humankind– (Rabbil Aalameen) رَبِّ الْعَالَمِينَ; and (Rabbil Naas) بِرَبِّ النَّاسِ. The Quran advocates universal sustenance for all humans without any distinction of any kind. This is the only way the benefits will remain forever for all humankind everywhere on earth. This is the only way to avoid human hell on earth. The Quran says:
وَأَمَّا مَا يَنفَعُ النَّاسَ فَيَمْكُثُ فِي الأَرْضِ
(13:17) – that which is of benefit to humankind abides on earth [Asad].
Selfish intellect vs. the Cosmic intellect
The root of confrontation of all human problems on earth is selfish intellect. Renowned poet Allama Iqbal has put this beautifully: the intellect that looks for only its own benefits is unaware of the benefit of others. The reason Iqbal gives for this is that: selfish-intellect and cosmic-intellect are two different things. Iqbal does not go after intellect as religious scholars do to denigrate and condemn it. He accepts intellect as a great power; but says that intellect is of two types: 1) selfish intellect and 2) cosmic intellect. The universal sustenance does not happen by extinguishing the light of intellect but by using it at the cosmic level – the intellect that works under the guiding light of Allah’s revelation. Then it becomes cosmic-intellect, holistic-intellect, or higher-intellect. When this happens the selfish-intellect submerges into cosmic-intellect as their benefits then get synchronized with each other. This is the essence of the Quranic message – human intellect is essential but it must work under guiding light of the revelation. Allama Iqbal illustrates this in his own God-given style:
Selfish-intellect is not aware of anyone else’s benefit;
It sees only its own, doesn’t care about other’s benefit.
But Allah’s revelation realizes all of humankind’s benefit;
Its eye perceives the welfare of all humankind and benefit.
This is Deen. This is Islam. This is THE TRUTH (Al-Haq - الحق). End of the matter. Confrontations that happened with all the Prophets (PBUT) were essentially about this: humankind benefit vs. individual benefit. This is really the bottom line. When the curtain lifts in the very first scene of this confrontation, what do we see? We see the confrontation between THE TRUTH (Al-Haq - الحق) and FALSEHOOD (Baatil - باطل).
David vs Goliath
Looking at the very first recorded period of human history, that of Prophet Noah (PBUH), what do we see? We see a society where the rich and powerful class rules and controls the rest of the people; where the upper class elites do not even want to sit with those whom we now call the working class people. The elite class complained to Noah (PBUH) that you are giving importance to workers and treating them with dignity. This cannot happen. First, you have to get rid of these people before we would listen to you. This was the confrontation that Noah (PBUH) faced. And this was the case with every prophet in every period. This confrontation had reached its apex during out Prophet’s (PBUH) time. Tribe, race, predatory capitalism, priesthood – all these evils based on extreme selfishness were simultaneously present in the society. And the confrontation with Prophet (PBUH) kept on steadily increasing in intensity during his 23 years of life as Prophet (PBUH). Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH) life story is the story of this confrontation. So is the story of all the previous Prophets (PBUT). This is the history of humankind.
Today, it is the same old confrontation going on in every department of life. Everyone tries to trample on others for the sake of his own benefit. Everyone thinks of how to advance oneself by putting roadblocks in the path of others. This has become a systemic problem. As a result, nothing works according to rules and regulations. Corruption has taken over the society like a cancer. If things worked smoothly without any hindrance then people wouldn’t behave so desperately. This is what happens when roadblocks and hindrances are erected in the path of everyday life.
To move forward in the path of THE TRUTH (Al-Haq - الحق) by overcoming all the barriers and hindrances is the Deen. As Allama Iqbal says:
Shying away from the tang of action leads to captor’s way;
Once one folds one’s hands, he becomes the hunter’s prey.
And that is the reason the Quran has used the word جحیم (Jaheem) for hell.
جحیم (Jaheem) means getting stuck at one place and not being able to move forward. The Quran says about the people of heaven:
(56:10) – But the foremost shall be (they who in life were) the foremost (in faith and good works) [Asad].
They have also been referred to as:
(9:100) – And the first to lead the way [Pickthall]
(56:11) – they who were (always) drawn close unto God! [Asad].
To move forward in the path of THE TRUTH (Al-Haq - الحق) to improve the human condition, to advance humanity to higher and higher levels, to make universal sustenance available to all: – this is Islam; this is Deen; where the mission is always to move forward, always to move ahead. This is the law of evolution; this is the law of requital; this is the law of nature; this is the law of the Universe. To put barriers and hindrances in this path – this is FALSEHOOD (Baatil - باطل). And when these barriers and hindrances become part of a society then that society becomes hell.
This is جحیم (Jaheem) where people are not able to move forward in the path of humanity; where all real programs for real human improvement are blocked. People cry in pain and suffering but no one listens to them. As a consequence, depression and hopelessness set in. We know that in the Quran the devil is called Satan – the hinderer. But he is also called Iblis – the purveyor of hopelessness, depression, and despondency. When so many roadblocks are put in our path and we are not able to remove them; when we do not know what to do – then we become hopeless and depressed. Satan and Iblis are two sides of the same coin. So many barriers; so many devils working hard for their own short term benefits unconcerned with the rest of the suffering masses so much so that the entire society becomes enflamed in lawlessness on one side and engulfed in gloom and doom on the other. Internecine iniquitous hell pervades the entire society.
The initial period of the Prophet’s life
Let us focus on the Prophet’s early life. This was the life of Makkah full of confrontation and struggle to the extent that the Prophet (PBUH) was forced to migrate to Medina. Even then the Makkahns did not leave him there in peace. They waged full scale wars against him in Medina. For seven years until the end of Prophet’s life these wars and battles continued. The Prophet (PBUH) and his companions (R) confronted their enemies head-on and did not buckle under the enemy’s higher number and superior resources. These confrontations, one after the other, were instrumental in bringing out the hidden potential and latent powers within the companions (R) with even higher intensity than before:
أَشِدَّاء عَلَى الْكُفَّارِ
(48:29) – they are firm and unyielding towards all deniers of the truth [Asad].
This means that at every confrontation their latent and hidden strength increased with even more intensity than before until the last stage was set in this confrontation that resulted in the final decisive victory of THE TRUTH (Al-Haq - الحق) over the forces of FALSEHOOD (Baatil - باطل) in Mecca. The Quran declares emphatically:
وَقُلْ جَاء الْحَقُّ وَزَهَقَ الْبَاطِلُ إِنَّ الْبَاطِلَ كَانَ زَهُوقًا
(17:81) – And say: "The truth has now come [to light], and falsehood has withered away: for, behold, all falsehood is bound to wither away!"
Striving hard in the struggle between THE TRUTH (Al-Haq - الحق) and FALSEHOOD (Baatil - باطل) for the cause of Allah and being firm in this conviction is a blessing from Allah which He bestows on those who wish to follow the goal set by Allah: ذَٰلِكَ فَضْلُ اللَّـهِ يُؤْتِيهِ مَن يَشَاءُ (5:54).