Question: There are so many different factors that put people to the test. What are the most dangerous of such factors, particularly for the devoted souls of today?
Answer: Divine Justice puts people to various kinds of tests throughout their lives. As an acid test separates gold from stone and dust, God Almighty, Who already knows our real worth, makes people see it for themselves. By these tests, He makes us see what we can endure until when, what kind of an attitude we adopt before misfortunes, and whether we will be steadfast or complain, which implies covert criticism of Divine Destiny. Worldly tests batter people, apply different filters to them, and put them into melting pots. The saintly dervish Yunus Emre voiced this truth as follows:
This road is long,
Many ranges along…
Not even a gate,
Deep waters ahead.
Difficulty of the Test is Proportional with the Ideals Targeted
God Almighty states that He will test people in different ways and then He gives glad tidings for those who endure:
“We will certainly test you with something of fear and hunger and loss of wealth, and lives, and fruits (earnings); but give glad tidings to the persevering and patient” (al-Baqarah 2:155).
Accordingly, as worship increases a person’s spiritual rank, tests and trials of this life—considered as negative form of worship—purify one from sins if patience is not given up; they take the individual to the highest levels. In addition to enduring consecutive tests patiently, what befalls a believer is taking those tests as opportunities to face oneself, ponder upon one’s deeds by calling one’s self to account, and evaluate one’s own performance.
Given that difficulties increase in accordance with the greatness of the consequent reward, then intensity of tests increases proportionally with the value of the ideals sought. For example, becoming a martyr while serving humanity and ascending to a different level of life is an important attainment. However, having this honor depends on serving in the way of God and taking due pains; there must be utter self-sacrifice. It is for this reason that people devoted to a lofty ideal who try to fulfill its requirements must bear any trouble or misfortune that befalls them. They must show due patience and continue their life in spite of themselves.
You can remember the statements of Bediüzzaman concerning the issue: “In my life of more than eighty years, I did not enjoy anything as worldly pleasures; my life always passed in battlegrounds, prison houses, and different places of exile and suffering. There is no torment I haven’t been subjected to. I was brought to court-martials and treated like a murderer. I was sent from one exile to another like a vagabond. I was banned from communicating with people for months in the prisons of my country. I was poisoned many times over. I underwent various kinds of insult. There were times when I had gladly preferred death to life. If my religion had not prevented me from suicide, this Said would have become dust long ago.” Because the tests he went through were so hard, God Almighty took him to the peak of human progress. You never know, maybe due to the troubles he went through enduringly, by the grace of God, he was rendered a guide for those who remain behind.
And There Are People Who Remain Halfway
The life of this world is a chain of tests from beginning to end, but these are not only comprised of troubles and misfortunes. Material and spiritual achievements and bestowals serve as a means of testing as well. People will pass such stages and stations in their lives that some places will make them dizzy; some positions and titles—God forbid—will make them slip, and some germs on the places they pass will infect their spiritual life. In short, individuals will pass through tests sometimes by ease and comfort, and sometimes by glory, fame, status, and applause. Imam Ghazzali gives the following example about the tests people face in this world: A man sets off determined to go to a beautiful Garden of Paradise, having heard much about the beauties of his destination. However, he sees an inviting place with babbling rivers, singing birds, and pleasant tree shades, all of which seems so inviting. The man forgets about his destination and decides to settle there. He builds a hut for himself and begins to live there.
Actually, this parable summarizes the life of this world in a striking and pithy fashion. You may picture different versions of the factors that make one forget the true destination. One may be held by many different factors along the way in addition to comfort. However, it is not possible to attain Paradise and good pleasure of God without leaving those places behind.
Greed for Fortune
One of the most important examples of the tests one faces in life is the desire for money and worldly possessions. It can even be said that it is the greatest weakness for most people. The Messenger of God refers to this fact in one of his sayings. Accordingly, if the son of Adam possesses one valley of gold, he would like to have two. And nothing fills his (greedy) mouth but soil. However, God accepts the repentance of the one who repents.1
Thus, asking for more with an insatiable greed, trying to possess bigger companies and firms, and the desire for taking control of everything are the weaknesses of most. Indeed, such a competition for personal interests and benefits underlies so many fights and clashes in society.
When Muhyiddin ibn Arabi was under pressure in Damascus, he stamped his foot on the ground and said, “The deity you worship is under my feet.” Some take these words as a denial of faith. However, he had the opinion that the love of money had seized the hearts of the people he addressed to the degree of worshipping it. As for their deity being under his feet, it turned out centuries later that he had indeed referred to a great treasure of gold buried under the very spot where he stood.
Unfortunately, so many people are virtually dying for it. They begin with, “Let me have a house,” and continue with, “Let me have one for my son and one for my daughter” and “There should also be a villa for my grandchild…” You can see so many worldly ones living with these considerations. You may even meet people who set forth to serve humanity for the sake of God but then begin to run after such desires as if they worship money, to the extent that some of those people do not suffice with the payment that they receive, and with the intention of earning more, they abandon services of vital importance for people and faith. Thus, they stray from the path of righteousness to the path of worldliness.
Lusts of the Flesh
Lustful passions constitute one of the most difficult tests in our contemporary age. It has always been a difficult test all throughout history, but it has assumed a much more dangerous form today.
Rumi tells a story about weakness of lust in his Mathnawi. Satan speaks with God Almighty, or rather he uses an insolent language towards his Lord. The Qur’an and the sayings of God’s Messenger relate insolent expressions Satan used demagogically. However, Rumi’s parable is different: Satan complains to God that He made him disgraced and suffer deprivation. And then he asks some things he can use for deviating and tempting people. God Almighty grants him factors like wealth, status, and fame. But Satan does not feel happy with any of them. In the end, God gives him the chance to use men and women against one another; Satan feels greatly pleased and begins dancing out of joy.
Even though this parable is not mentioned in essential sources of religion, what really matters here is the truth that it conveys. Particularly for certain character types, lust is the greatest factor of testing in this world. We can take it into consideration together with the following hadith: “The Hell is surrounded with lust. And Paradise is surrounded with difficulties and things unpleasant to the carnal soul.2 There are long roads, many stopovers, forbidding waters, and other obstacles on the path to Paradise, while things pleasing to the carnal soul, such as indulging in food and drinking, lying lazily, and running after carnal desires, are on the way to Hell. A person who gives in to these will keep sinking gradually toward the lowliest levels unawares.
Love of Fame
Running after respect, status, authority, and expecting appreciation are among the tests most people lose. Bediüzzaman refers to love of status among the six routes of (Satan’s) assault in his “Twenty-ninth Letter” and to fame as poisonous honey in his Al-Mathnawi Al-Nuri. They are among the greatest weaknesses of some, and it should never be forgotten that one who has become a fool for fame will do anything for this sake. May God save us from falling into these deadly pitfalls and make us pass to the next world with a visa of faith and consciousness of ihsan (perfect goodness; living carefully as if one were able to see God, or at least living with a consciousness of being seen by Him).
1. Sahih al-Bukhari, Riqaq, 10
2. Sahih al-Bukhari, Riqaq, 8
This text is the translation of “İmtihan Çeşitleri“