Pearls from the Quran

Growing in Faith through Life’s Trials

How Hardship in Life Leads to a Stronger Relationship with God

We all face periods of anxiety, hardship, and letdowns. At its worst points, it feels as though the entire world has been setup specifically to make sure that you aren’t happy.

As Muslims, how are we to view these moments of our lives? From one perspective, we could understand hardship as punishment for not being good enough. We haven’t fulfilled everything that we are supposed to or are not as strong in our faith as we should be.

This is incorrect. Historically, those who have suffered the most in their lives were the Prophets. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) himself faced inhuman periods of hunger during the Makkan trade boycott against the Muslims.

Even after fleeing the city, establishing a home in Madinah, and wining battles against the Makkan non-believers, the lives of the Prophet and the Muslims were filled with anxiety, insecurity, and their very existence threatened on a regular basis.

Instead of focusing on hardship as punishment, we can use the verses of the Quran to develop a different perspective: that hardship is God’s method through which we are tested in our faith and given the opportunity to grow.

No Faith without Trial

From the outset that sounds like a pretty intense – not to mention slightly sadistic – way to look at hardship. Does a loving God really want His worshipers to go through stress and pain? Absolutely, but for a good reason:

Do the people think that they will be left to say, ‘We believe’ and that they will not be tried? But We have certainly tried those before them; and Allah will surely make evident those who are truthful, and He will surely make evident the liars. (Quran 29:2-3)

Simply having faith in God and Islam is not sufficient. When you take lessons on Theology (Aqidah) 101, the standard definition you are given is that faith is “belief with the heart, and outward performance of actions with the body.” One cannot go without the other, and faith needs action to support it.

Additionally, that faith must always be tested as, through these tests, the “liars” in the verse – those who simply state that they are strong in their faith but really aren’t – are sorted out from those who are “truthful.”

At times it can be harsh but no one, not even the Prophets, were able to pass along their messages and encourage others to follow God without having their faith tested at every turn.

Your Test is Tailor-Made

Don’t feel like going through the hardship faced by the Prophets? Don’t worry, as God has got you covered:

Allah does not charge a soul except [with that within] its capacity. It will have [the consequence of] what [good] it has gained, and it will bear [the consequence of] what [evil] it has earned… (Quran 2:286)

Every test and hardship, therefore, is exactly what you need in order to grow in faith. Nothing more, nothing less. And if, after hearing this first part of the verse, you are worried about the suffering of even your own portion will be, then this verse is coupled with one of the strongest supplications in the whole Quran:

…Our Lord, do not impose blame upon us if we have forgotten or erred. Our Lord, and lay not upon us a burden like that which You laid upon those before us… (2:286)

Solution: Get Out There, Persevere, and Rely Upon God

Now that we know that our faith will be tested, tailor-made to fit our particular situation and designed to help us grow stronger in our relationship with God, how are we to face it? From the Quran we learn that there is one important thing that you can’t change: your allotted sustenance (rizq).

…And whoever fears Allah – He will make for him a way out and will provide for him from where he does not expect. And whoever relies upon Allah – then He is sufficient for him. Indeed, Allah will accomplish His purpose. Allah has already set for everything a [decreed] extent. (65:2-3)

Whether you will live rich or poor, successful in life or a failure, has already been chosen. Let’s just sit back and watch it happen right? No. In fact, God openly encouraged us to go out into the world and try, no matter how hard it might seem:

And when the prayers has been concluded, disperse within the land and seek from the bounty of Allah, and remember Allah often that you may succeed. (62:10)

Although this verse is specifically about stopping commerce during Friday prayers, it has the wider implication of encouraging Muslims, when not fulfilling their required prayers, to work as hard as possible to make the world a better place. When everything doesn’t go as planned, the Quran calls us to be patient:

And be patient, for indeed, Allah does not allow to be lost the reward of those who do good. (11:115)
And seek help through patience and prayer, and indeed, it is difficult except for the humbly submissive [to Allah] (2:45)

Finally, no matter what we do, we must understand that all that is in the universe comes directly from God; it is to Him that we return. In all our endeavors, failures, and hardships, we must use these moments as opportunities to grow in our faith, placing our trust entirely in God:

And you will remember what I [now] say to you, and I entrust my affair to Allah. Indeed, Allah is Seeing of [His] servants. (Quran 40:44)
About Brian Wright
Brian Wright is a PhD candidate at the Institute of Islamic Studies, McGill University. His dissertation is on the development of Islamic criminal law in Egypt, India, and Ottoman Turkey during the 19th century. He has studied fiqh with a number of traditional scholars in Egypt and India.