During the month of Ramadan, Mahdi Youth Society was privileged with the opportunity to hold an essay competition for the youths of the community. The competition was titled, “In Search of the Silver Linings of Hardship”. This theme was chosen in order to encourage the youth to explore and contextualize the significance of maintaining hope in difficult times. The following text is the winning entry from Age Group #2 consisting of youths aged 19 – 23. We hope you are able to benefit from these insights!
Tribulations: A Divine Promise
By: Husain Modjtahedi (19 years old)
From the first breath to the last one, this finite and ephemeral life is replete with struggles and hardships. The fact that the life of this world is full of struggles is an inevitable reality that was very clearly and with much emphasis promised in the Holy Quran: “And We will surely test you with something of fear and hunger and a loss of wealth and lives and fruits” (Quran – 2:155). Elsewhere, the Holy Quran states, “We have certainly created man into hardship” (Quran – 90:4). Evidently, tests are a Divine promise that cannot be escaped. However, what needs to be analyzed further in this regard is the reality of tests and struggles, why they are needed, and in what way should they be perceived. In the age of violence and viruses, it is expected that many may begin to lose sight of that which can be gained in the supposed darkness of trials. Perhaps the light can be seen more clearly if one’s understanding of that darkness is altered.
Firstly, what is the reality of hardship? Are hardships not inherently evil? Hardships can be understood through two approaches: material and immaterial. From a material approach, one can take the example of natural disasters such as hurricanes and examine the many benefits that mankind enjoys as a result of those “disasters”. For example, “fresh nutrients and sediment brought in by hurricanes can spawn growth spurts in new plant life, which can later lead to upticks in animal life” (Belles 2017). If one was to zoom out of the pixel image of natural disasters and view the entire picture instead, one would be able to recognize that these occurrences are part of the necessary and natural order of the universe and that their holistic reality is good and beneficial as opposed to evil and destructive. Furthermore, felicity can be found in the belly of afflictions and calamities. Allah says on multiple occasion in the Holy Quran, “He causes the night to enter the day, and He causes the day to enter the night” (Quran – 35:13). There is a definite mutual link between bearing troubles and attaining felicity. In the way that the world enters into the day after passing through the night, man enters into ease after having experienced discomfort. Next, the second approach to understanding hardships is an immaterial approach. The reality of hardships can be understood as being Divine tests mandated to ensure our growth. Struggles can be categorized into 3 types. The first consists of those struggles from Allah. This type has 3 offshoot categories; punishment, cleansing, and elevation. The second type of struggle is that struggle which is the result of the work of man i.e. wastage of resources, oppression and injustices meted out to human beings by other human beings. Finally, the last type of struggle is that struggle which is the effect of the bad choices and decisions that each individual makes in their own lives. With regards to the last two, one can dismiss these types of struggles and blame man for their own mistakes and the appetite of man’s carnal self and thus, these two types are beyond the scope of this discussion. The discussion at hand is with regard to the first type of struggles which mankind receives from Allah. With this understanding of the reality of Divine tests and struggles, one can conclude that there is a purpose behind each calamity that a human being faces. At times, one is merely suffering the consequences of one’s own actions or the actions of another. However, other calamities are put in place in order for man to reach higher stations and acquire proximity to Allah. Therefore, this world is full of struggles that are either the result of cause and effect or are tests issued in order to spark elevation and spiritual evolution.
Secondly, it can be understood that hardships in this world are definite and that man is many a times being tested by Allah via those hardships; however, what is the need for such a method of elevation? Why must human beings undergo trials in order to ascend towards Allah? Undoubtedly, Allah does not allow misfortunes to befall mankind for His own “amusement”. Allah only desires the perfection of man and likewise, man innately desires to achieve that same perfection. However, the natural method for an individual to scale the ranks and propel himself from a preliminary stage to an advanced stage is by being tested. One cannot enter a higher grade in school or achieve a higher ranking in professional sports until that individual passes some form of a test that proves his skills and capabilities. For example, a bodybuilder does not buy his muscles from the gym; he puts in effort, time and definitely struggles a lot to achieve his goals. Similarly, one cannot reach a higher level of proximity to Allah till he is tested by Allah. The Almighty says in Sura Ankabut, “Do the people think that they will be left to say, “We believe” and they will not be tested?” (29:2). Since trials are a means for development and since man cannot reach perfection and higher stations without being tested, Allah has placed various trials on the path of each individual in order to allow them to soar. Moreover, the principle of passing tests and enduring hardships in order to elevate to a higher level and to unlock a higher potential is a principle that applies to all of existence. For instance, in a letter that the commander of the faithful addressed to his governor in Basra, Uthman bin Hunayf, he makes mention of a biological law that states that comfort and ease leads to weakness whereas living in difficult conditions makes a person strong. For some context, Uthman bin Hunayf accepted an invitation to a dinner only meant for the wealthy class and which had no room for the destitute and needy. Imam Ali heard of this incident and wrote a letter to reprimand him. In said letter, he said, “Remember that the tree of the forest is the best for timber, while green twigs have soft bark” (Razi 2013). In addition, he explains how desert trees that are deprived of regular observation and care from a gardener have stronger wood and durability when compared to a garden tree that is constantly cared for. Therefore, the difficult conditions and the struggles faced by plants allow them to become stronger and more useful. Likewise, in the case of man, when one perseveres through adverse conditions and afflictions, they will come out of those trials even stronger. Finally, perhaps one may challenge the need for tests by saying that human beings possess intellect and should be assessed based on how much they understand. This is similar to the example of one who sits on the bench and only but reads about swimming techniques. Till that individual is thrown into the water and is faced with the possibility of drowning, that individual’s potential will never be actualized and the inner reality of that “swimmer” will never manifest itself. Thus, tests are necessary in order to manifest one’s true being and potential.
Thirdly, since trials are Divine promises meant to cause mankind to develop and ascend, they cannot be viewed as being evil nor should they lead human beings towards anxiety and hopelessness. No affliction can touch anybody unless that individual has the capability of enduring it as has been mentioned in Sura Baqarah in the following manner: “Allah does not place a burden on a soul except [with that within] its capacity” (2:286). Furthermore, in Sura Tawba, Allah has said, “Say, “Never will we be struck except by what Allah has decreed for us; He is our protector” (9:51). From the aforementioned two Quranic verses it can be concluded that Allah does not allow any affliction to befall an individual except that which he can bear. Since Allah is the all-Wise and is the Planner behind all plans, it is impossible to suggest that any human being can suffer from an ailment or hardship that he cannot overcome. With this mindset, one can look every difficulty in the eyes and not back down knowing that Allah is the Guardian and it is He who has allowed this hardship to occur and no hardship occurs except that which can be overcome by that individual. This is only but the first conclusion that can be drawn from this discussion. In addition, hardships are not just tolerable but are in fact sources of blessings. There is a narration recorded in Usul al-Kafi by Imam Baqir where he states, “Verily God seeks out the believer with affliction as a man seeks out his near ones with gifts when he is away from them” (Kulayni 1986). Certainly, the affliction is the gift. In the same way that the bond between a husband and wife increases when he gifts her with a present upon his arrival from a long journey, the love between the Master and the servant too increases when He gifts His subjects with an opportunity to ascend towards Him in the form of a trial. To illustrate this, one can look at the Quranic example of Nabi Ayyub and his many afflictions such as being robbed, the collapse of his roof leading to the death of many of his family members, skin disease and ugly looking ulcers on his face and worst of all, his fake friends attributed his calamities to his ‘sins’. After suffering so much loss and ridicule, he calls out to Allah saying, “‘Indeed, adversity has touched me, and you are the Most Merciful of the merciful’” (21:83). Throughout all those hardships, he remained patient and thanked Allah for more opportunities to become a worthier and nobler servant of His. Moreover, it is narrated in Usul al-Kafi from the sixth Imam that, “The prophets undergo the severest of trials, and after them [those who follow them]” (Kulayni 1986). Clearly, the prophets are from amongst the best of creation and the most honourable of Allah’s servants and representatives. Surely if they are tested more and if tribulations visit them more often, these tests cannot be perceived as punishments or burdens but rather as exclusive gifts meant to draw closer those whom Allah loves most. Thus, one should not even perceive struggles to be struggles at all but rather to be Divine blessings. If one is patient and thankful and views each test as another chance to soar towards the peak, then there will be no hardship for one to ‘tolerate’ or ‘endure’ but it will be a field of opportunity wherein one can thrive. The very first verse that was mentioned above promised that each human being will necessarily undergo struggles. However, in the next verse, Allah goes on to say, “So give glad tidings to the patient” (2:156). Truly the believers and those who rely on Allah and recognize that He only intends to push His servants so that they may sprint towards Him know that each tribulation is a blessing and a Divine opportunity. Therefore, the perception of a believer with regards to struggles is that he is being tested and that his responsibility is to be patient and persevere with good faith and reliance.
To conclude, while new tribulations seemingly arise for mankind on a daily basis, it is imperative that believers view these struggles with a correct lens. When one understands that the one who suffers from afflictions is the recipient of Allah’s Grace, then such an individual will never feel as though they are afflicted with any tribulations at all; each hardship will be received with open arms as an opportunity to unlock a higher level on one’s journey towards the peak. It is with such a worldview Sayyida Zainab was able to boldly stand her ground after witnessing the most gruesome of massacres in history and reply to the tyrant of her time saying, “I did not see anything but beauty” (Majlisi, 2007). Finally, tribulations cause Allah’s true servants to “remember God on account of these adversities and tribulations and to pray and lament in front of His Sacred Essence. This makes them accustomed to remember Him and keep their thoughts busy with Him” (Khomeini, 2003). Therefore, during times of severe hardships a believer must recognize that hardships greet believers more often and that one ought to be thankful for receiving such a Divine gift. This Divine gift calls for patience and reliance so that through one’s patience and correct perception of such tests, one may be able to reach lofty heights.