When I was a child one of my favourite authors was Enid Blyton. My 8 year old is currently exploring many of my favourite old books, and I am getting the opportunity to see her stories from an adults view point. A common thread throughout all her stories is that everyone gets what they deserve. The boy who steals sweets gets sick from eating them, and around every corner, in lieu of a responsible adult (noticeably absent from her stories) is an elf, gnome, or other magical creature waiting to teach the children a lesson.
In one story, there are two men, one rich, and one poor. The rich man has a horrible nagging wife, but the poor man has a lovely sweet wife who is always grateful. Both men go to town to buy their wives a birthday present. The rich man would like to buy his wife a cabbage, but knows she would be cross, so buys her an expensive box of chocolates. The poor man would love to buy his wife chocolates, but can only afford a cabbage, so he buys that for this wife to make soup with.
The men sit down on a bench together and wait for their bus, but when the bus comes, they accidentally swap bags. When the rich man hands over what he thinks is expensive chocolates, his wife is enraged to pull out a cabbage. When the poor man gives his wife her present, she is delighted to discover the chocolates. Each wife got what they truly deserved.
In reality, the dunya is not like this. The boy who steals sweets may become a world leader. The poor yet patient wife may never receive any luxuries. A common lament of people with and without a religious faith is, ‘how could God let this happen?’, ‘if there was a God, there would be no war’, ‘why do bad things happen to good people?’.
This is an expression of the human need for justice and balance, which seems to be hard wired into us. A criminal who is caught is given a sentence to reflect the nature and severity of the crime, and if the public feel they got off lightly, they will object. Even simply in the way we see the world around us, we desire balance and symmetry.
Maybe that is why we find our tests so hard, especially those in which we see no relief. Allah in His Mercy sometimes reveals the balance to us in this life. A blessing in disguise describes something we felt was bad for us, but was ultimately good, or had goodness hidden within it. The job we didn’t get, when a better one was around the corner, the illness that knocked us off our feet, but ultimately made us reassess our lives for the better.
But what of those tests that seem to have no end? The chronic illness that blights us, the difficult family member, poverty or instability that we can’t get out of, a loss that our heart can never recover from?
In order to cope with these kind of trials we need utter certainty, and to remember that ‘in every difficulty is ease’ (Quran. 94:5). Islam provides those of us going through such trials many sources of comfort. We are told that Allah tests those whom He loves, and purifies us through our tests. Most profoundly, the things we find difficult help us to refine our faith and our character:
“Wondrous is the affair of the believer for there is good for him in every matter and this is not the case with anyone except the believer. If he is happy, then he thanks Allah and thus there is good for him. If he is harmed, then he shows patience and thus there is good for him.” (Sahih Muslim Hadith).
Crucially, if we only look at this world, we only see part of the picture. At the beginning of our experience in the next world will be the scales … finally, we will get what we deserve. The charity given in secret, the burden we shouldered without complaint, will be weighed. As will the things we took from others, with our hands and our words. Our experience of eternity will complete the balance of our existence, and the reward for patience is great:
“Those will be rewarded with the highest place (in Paradise) because of their patience. Therein they shall be met with greetings and the word of peace and respect.” (Quran, 25:75)
Those with sincere faith show patience with the most severe of trials, with certainty of Allah’s wisdom. Many of us may have seen a video clip of a man involved in the New Zealand mosque attack, whose wife was killed while trying to find him. Just a few days after this experience he spoke with great calmness and dignity about forgiving the perpetrator of this crime. This can only have come from certainty in the wisdom of Allah. May Allah provide us all with such certainty, Ameen.
About the author:
Fatima-Minna lives and works in the UK. She has two lively little boys who keep her very busy, and strives to increase in nearness to Allah.