For Muslims, now is a time of turmoil. Sometimes, it’s difficult not to feel despair. Everywhere we turn, we see Muslims suffering, struggling all over the world. Many of us are wondering, why is this happening to us?
While all these thoughts are natural, we need to look beyond them. We need to look through the illusion for a moment, into the Reality that stands behind it. We must refocus our sight, if we are to see the Truth beyond this hologram.
That truth is one of the most oft-repeated lessons in the Qur’an and prophetic teachings. That fundamental truth is this:
Everything in this life is a test.
Allah says in the Qur’an: “It is He who created death and life in order to test you, which of you are best in deeds. And He is the Exalted in Might, Oft-Forgiving.” (67:2)
Here we are told that the very purpose for which life and death were created: to test us. Think for a moment about an emergency siren. What is its purpose? The siren is an indication and a warning that something harmful is coming. If we hear it, we naturally panic. But what happens when they need to test the siren? What happens when it’s just a drill to see how we will react? The test siren sounds exactly the same, but it is “only a test.” Although it looks, sounds, and feels real, it is not. It is only a test. And we’re reminded of that again and again throughout the test.
This is exactly what Allah tells us about this life. It is going to look, sound, and feel very, very real. At times it’s going to scare us. At times it’s going to make us cry. At times it’s going to make us flee, instead of standing firm—even more firm—in our places. But this life and everything in it is only a test. It is not actually real. And like that test of the emergency broadcast system, it is training us for what is real. It is training us for the Reality beyond the test siren.
Now, what would happen if the coming of that test siren was not even a surprise? What if each and every household were given notification that the test was coming? Consider for a moment the notification of Allah (swt) to us (exalted is He):
“The present world is only an illusory pleasure: you are sure to be tested through your possessions and persons; you are sure to hear much that is hurtful from those who were given the Scripture before you and from those who associate others with God. If you are steadfast and mindful of God that is the best course.” (Qur’an, 3:186)
Now imagine that in addition to these notifications, we were given knowledge of countless other communities who were similarly tested. Allah says:
“Do you suppose that you will enter the Garden without encountering what those before you encountered? They were afflicted by misfortune and hardship, and they were so shaken that even [their] messenger and the believers with him cried, ‘When will God’s help arrive?’ Truly, God’s help is near.” (Qur’an, 2:214)
So not only was the siren predicted – it was not new. Suppose our community was told that we are not unique. So after all of that, how then would we react once the test siren came? Well, if it’s a drill, there’s no shock or disbelief. We don’t panic. We don’t even become distressed.
But we do act.
And here’s the crucial part. Who are we acting for? Who is testing us? Who is watching, really? CNN, C-Span, the American public? No. They’re all a part of the illusion; all a part of the test. They’re all just a creation of the test. We act for one judge and one judge alone. We act for the only true Reality (al-Haqq). We act because we know He is watching, and He is the only One who will judge this test.
Once we realize this fundamental truth, something dramatic happens. As soon as we internalize that it is only a test, our questions drastically change. Instead of asking: “How could this be happening?” “Why is it so unfair?” our questions become: “How should I react?” “How should I pass this test?” “What am I meant to learn?” “How should I see through this illusion, to the creator of the one who’s hurting me, the one who’s oppressing me, and the test itself?” “How can we as a community use this test to bring us closer to our final destination, God?” and “How can we use this test to fulfill the purpose for which it was created - a tool to bring us nearer to Him?” Allahu akbar (God is Great).
The beauty of the tests of Allah (swt) is that after notifying us that they’re coming, He gives us the exact recipe for succeeding in them: Sabr (patience) and Taqwa (God-consciousness).
Allah (swt) says: “The present world is only an illusory pleasure: you are sure to be tested through your possessions and persons; you are sure to hear much that is hurtful from those who were given the Scripture before you and from those who associate others with God. If you are steadfast (have sabr) and mindful of God (have taqwa), that is the best course.” (3:185-186)
In another verse, Allah (swt) emphasizes these same two necessary components for averting any harm as a result of the schemes against us:
“They grieve at any good that befalls you [believers] and rejoice at your misfortunes. But if you are steadfast and conscious of God, their scheming will not harm you in the least: God encircles everything they do.” (3:120)
As part of our manual for success in these trials, Allah (swt) also tells us how those before us reacted when they were tested:
“Men said to them: ‘A great army is gathering against you, so fear them: But it (only) increased them in Faith and they said: ‘God is enough for us, and He is the best protector.’ And they returned with Grace and bounty from Allah. No harm ever touched them: For they followed the good pleasure of God. And God’s favor is great indeed. It is only the Evil one who urges you to fear his followers; do not fear them, but fear Me, if you are true believers.” (3:173-175)
In another passage Allah (swt) tells us:
“Many prophets have fought, with large bands of godly men alongside them who, in the face of their suﬀerings for God’s cause, did not lose heart or weaken or surrender: God loves those who are steadfast (have sabr). All they said was, ‘Our Lord, forgive us our sins and our excesses. Make our feet ﬁrm, and give us help against the disbelievers,’ and so God gave them both the rewards of this world and the excellent rewards of the Hereafter: God loves those who do good. You who believe, if you obey the disbelievers, they will make you revert to your old ways and you will turn into losers. No indeed! It is God who is your protector: He is the best of helpers.” (3:146-150)
Allah (swt) conveys these stories to us, so that we can learn from the response of those who passed before us. And their response was this: “God is enough for us, and He is the best of protectors.’ Their response was: ‘Our Lord, forgive us our sins and our excesses. Make our feet ﬁrm, and give us help against the disbelievers.” Their response was not to look at the test. Their response was to look through it. They looked through the illusion and focused on the One behind it: God. They realized that, not only was Allah (swt) the giver of the test, He was the only one who could save them from it. And so they beseeched Him for His help through repentance, sabr, and perfecting their moral character (taqwa).
But most reassuring of all, Allah (swt) Himself comforts the believers and promises them success:
“Do not lose heart, nor fall into despair—you have the upper hand, if you are true believers. If a wound hath touched you, be sure a similar wound hath touched the others. Such days (of varying fortunes) We give to men and men by turns: that Allah may know those that believe, and that He may take to Himself from your ranks Martyr-witnesses (to Truth). And Allah loves not those that do wrong. Allah’s object also is to purify those that are true in Faith and to deprive of blessing those that resist Faith. Did you think that you would enter Heaven without Allah testing those of you who fought hard (In His Cause) and remained steadfast?” (3:139-142)
Once we change our lens with which we see our lives, our internal and external response drastically changes. When the righteous before us were tested, it only increased them in faith and obedience. The Qur’an recounts: “When the Believers saw the Confederate forces, they said: “This is what Allah and his Messenger had promised us, and Allah and His Messenger told us what was true.” And it only added to their faith and their zeal in obedience.” (33:22)
But until we change that lens, we will never move beyond “how could this happen to us” to realize the true purpose of the test itself: a created tool to purify, strengthen and bring us closer to the Creator of you, me and all of Congress.