While describing the ordeal endured by Imam Malik in which he was severely beaten, to the extent that ‘his arm was wrenched out of its socket and a huge injustice had been perpetrated against him. Yet, by God, Malik didn’t cease to be held in high esteem,’1 Imam al-Dhahabi wrote the following:
‘This is the result of a praiseworthy trial which only serves to raise a person’s rank and esteem in the sight of believers. Whatever the case, it is what our own hands earn; yet God pardons much. “Whoever God intends to show goodness to, He tries him through ordeals.”2 The Prophet ﷺ also said: “Everything decreed for the believer is good for him.”3 God, exalted is He, said: We shall try you until We know those of you who strive and those who patiently persevere. [Q.47:31] The following words were revealed by God about the battle of Uhud: When disaster befell you after you had inflicted losses twice as heavy, you exclaimed: “How did this happen?” Say: “It was from yourselves.” [Q.3:165] God further said: Whatever misfortune befalls you, it is what your own hands have earned, and He pardons much. [Q.42:30]
‘Thus a believer, when he is tried, shows patient, takes admonition, seeks God’s forgiveness and does not busy himself in blaming the one who mistreated him. For God’s judgement is just. Instead, he should thank God that his faith remains intact, realising that worldly punishment is both lighter and better for him.’4
But patience amidst trials, adversity or suffering – without the heart becoming resentful, bitter or hard – exists only if there is a sense of proportion. Suffering is bearable only if it is understood; even when such understanding is vaguely formulated. The fact that I am grieving, does not mean the world is out of sync. The fact that I have been done injury to, does not mean that God is unjust. The fact that my life is now darkened by tragedy, does not mean that no sun shines upon creation.
The believer endures precisely because adversity and suffering are not seen as senseless or meaningless. Instead, he or as she sees such trails as invested with purpose. They know this worldly life is a preparation for what comes after. The believer views trials as being, not something negative, but part of life’s learning where the divine intent is to nurture our latent potential in order to bring out the best in us, or to refine and raise our rank with God, or prune and purify us from sins, or to simply humble us and bring home to us how powerless we are in the face of affliction and how in need we all are of God’s grace. Moreover, the believer is less concerned with why they face trials and ordeals – which he or she is content to leave to a Wisdom far greater than their own – than with the appropriate response we should offer God in such situations.
1. Siyar A‘lam al-Nubala (Beirut: Mu’assasah al-Risalah, 1998), 8:80-1.
2. Al-Bukhari, no.5645.
3. Muslim, no.2999.
4. Siyar A‘lam al-Nubala, 8:81.