The Great Secret
Of course, it is easier to do these things when one is enjoying His blessings than when one is undergoing difficult times. But one of the main things that prove the strength of the Muslims' faith is their refusal to compromise their moral character. Muslims who patiently endure poverty, hunger, fear, personal and material loss, illness, threats from unbelievers, slander, and entrapment will receive a better reward for their moral excellence.
The Qur'an gives many examples of the entrapments and tyranny suffered by the Prophets and other devout Muslims. One example of this is the tyranny that Pharaoh exercised over his people. In the Qur'an, Allah says that this was a testing from Himself:
Remember when We rescued you from the people of Pharaoh. They were inflicting an evil punishment on you—slaughtering your sons and letting your women live. In that there was a terrible trial for you from your Lord. (Surat al-Baqara, 49)
As this verse says, everything that unbelievers do to prevent good is a test for believers. Their unwavering moral character, courage, and fortitude they display while enduring these trials will increase their reward and status in Paradise. The Qur'an tells us what kind of tests believers will undergo and the fine moral character they will display, as follows:
We will test you with a certain amount of fear and hunger, and loss of wealth, life, and fruits. But give good news to the steadfast. Those who, when disaster strikes them, say: "We belong to Allah, and to Him we will return." Those are the people who will have blessings and mercy from their Lord; they are the ones who are guided. (Surat al-Baqara, 155-57)
The trust and submission described in these verses is a good example for all Muslims. But unbelievers cannot understand this patient trust, for they think that believers are just like themselves and behave according to their own misguided criteria. Thus, they think that believers will respond to abundant wealth by getting caught up in it, and will allow difficulties and frustration to make them so afraid that they will abandon their belief.
But this is a grave error on their part, for Muslims who understand the secret of this world's trials know that one of the finest things to do in such circumstances is to be patient. For those Muslims who practice the Qur'an's morality and do their best to inculcate this fine morality in others, all such troubles are a sign that they are on the right path. As a result, they increase their eagerness, joy, and determination to continue following His path.
In the Qur'an, Allah speaks of laws that have remained unchanged throughout history. One of them is that believers will encounter difficulty and frustration and be subjected to oppression by unbelievers. However, the unbelievers will never succeed in their aims:
They were very near to scaring you from the land with the object of expelling you from it. But had they done so, they would only have remained there a short time after you. That was the pattern with those We sent before you as Our Messengers. You will not find any changing of Our pattern. (Surat al-Isra', 76-77)
This is one of the secrets of this world's trials. Allah has warned Muslims of the many things that they will face, and has revealed that they will be able to enter Paradise only if they face the same difficulties as the preceding believers did:
Or did you suppose that you would enter the Garden without facing the same as those who came before you? Poverty and illness afflicted them, and they were shaken to the point that the Messenger and those who believed with him asked: "When is Allah's help coming?" Be assured that Allah's help is very near. (Surat al-Baqara, 214)
Submission to Destiny
Another important secret is the reality of destiny. All Muslims know that Allah created everything with its own destiny and that everything happens only by His will, for He created all the varied components of human life. The Qur'an tells us that everything that occurs in the world, without exception, happens by His will:
The keys of the Unseen are in His possession. No one knows them but Him. He knows everything in the land and sea. No leaf falls without His knowing it. There is no seed in the darkness of the soil, and nothing moist or dry, that is not in a Clear Book. (Surat al-An`am, 59)
No person can know the future, because all people are bound by time and can assess events only from the standpoint of the moment in which they are currently living. As they cannot know the future, they may not always be aware of the long-term significance or usefulness of what they are facing. But Allah, Who created time, is and therefore sees all from "outside time." Here we come to the reality of destiny, defined as Allah's knowledge of all past and future events, as well as their results, in one moment. (For a detailed discussion of this topic, see Harun Yahya's Timelessness and the Reality of Fate [New Delhi: Goodword Publisher, 2001].)
Thus, Allah knows the beginning and the end of all human trials, the past and the future, as well as the present moment. In His sight, everything has already been accomplished. However, we learn about these events only when we experience them at the appropriate time.
Unbelievers cannot understand this "knowledge of destiny," and thus cannot be aware of it. It is this knowledge that allows Muslims to show patience in all of their difficulties and trials. As the Qur'an says: "No misfortune occurs except by Allah's permission. Whoever believes in Allah—He will guide his heart. Allah has knowledge of all things" (Surat at-Taghabun, 11), believers live in the comfort of knowing that whatever happens to them is the result of destiny.
As a mercy from Him, Allah has created various trials for believers and then made them easy to endure, provided that they remain faithful to Him and put themselves in His hands. Those Muslims who truly believe and sincerely submit to Him see a lesson in the constant change that appears to them, and they contemplate it eagerly and with thankfulness. Similar to someone who sits comfortably in a theater watching a movie, they follow with joyful trust the destiny prepared for them. Sometimes these scenes are full of activity or frightening; other times they may be pleasant and serene. But in their totality, however, there is the joy and eagerness of belief. Frightening scenes have been especially prepared and planned down to their slightest detail. But in the end, all of them are included in Allah's knowledge and under His control.
Those Muslims who understand the reality of destiny and grasp the secret of its trials see each instance of misfortune, hunger, or poverty as a good thing and take great pleasure in it, knowing that the fine moral character they display in the face of these trials is very precious in Allah's sight. This type of joy is unique to believers. When confronted by such difficulties, Muslims do not give way to melancholy, stress, pain, panic, or fear, because they know that Allah will change all of these things to their advantage. In the Qur'an, Allah says to believers: ... Allah will not give the unbelievers any way against the believers. (Surat an-Nisa', 141)
But we must understand one point here: Whatever Muslims experience in this world, whether difficulty or frustration, loss of possessions or physical strength, illness or injury, death or disability, these are not to be considered as "bad" experiences; rather, they are tests from Allah. If they are patient during their tests and so pass them, Allah will reward them greatly in this world and the next. And at the end of this short period of testing, they will receive the reward of endless life in Paradise.
Muslims who are aware of this reality become more eager when faced with difficulties. At the same time, this eagerness foils the unbelievers' traps and defeats all of their efforts. When unbelievers think that they have put believers in a difficult situation, but then see the believers' sincere joy and gladness, they understand that they can never hurt them. Moreover, the believers' words in times of difficulty demonstrate their submission and trust in Allah. The Qur'an reveals some of these words:
[Their Messengers said:] "And why, indeed, should we not put our trust in Allah, when He has guided us to our ways? We will be steadfast however much you harm us. Those who trust put their trust in Allah." Those who did not believe said to their Messengers: "We will drive you from our land unless you return to our religion." Their Lord revealed to them: "We will destroy those who do wrong. We will leave you the land to live in after them. That is the reward of those who fear My station and fear My threat." (Surah Ibrahim, 12-14)
Say: "Nothing can happen to us except what Allah has ordained for us. He is Our Master. It is in Allah that the believers should put their trust." (Surat at-Tawba, 51)
Such an attitude is the result of the believers' submission to the destiny that Allah created for them. Those who trust and rely on Allah will never experience fear or dejection, for the Qur'an proclaims:
Those who say: "Our Lord is Allah" and then go straight will feel no fear and will know no sorrow. (Surat al-Ahqaf, 13)
Not so! All who submit themselves completely to Allah and are good-doers will find their reward with their Lord. They will feel no fear and will know no sorrow. (Surat al-Baqara, 112)
Yes, the friends of Allah will feel no fear and will know no sorrow. Those who believe and have done their duty, there is good news for them in the life of this world and in the Hereafter. There is no changing the words of Allah. That is the great victory! (Surah Yunus, 62-64)
In other verses, Allah reveals that those of His servants who believe and submit to Him have taken hold of a reliable support:
Those who submit themselves completely to Allah and do good have grasped the Firmest Handhold. The end result of all affairs is with Allah. (Surah Luqman, 22)
There is no compulsion where religion is concerned. Right guidance has become distinct from error. Anyone who rejects false deities and believes in Allah has grasped the Firmest Handhold, which will never give way. Allah is All-Hearing, All-Knowing. (Surat al-Baqara, 256)
To Look at Events from the Vantage Point of the Future
When believers realize that they are being tested in this world, they can see events from the standpoint of the future. So, what does this mean?
No matter how great the difficulty or frustration, the situation is temporary. For example, people may be falsely accused of something and suffer unjustly for it. But the truth will ultimately be revealed. Even if the injustice does not end in this world, those who caused the injustice will be punished for what they did on the Day of Judgment. In the same way, those who suffered any injustice will look forward to that Day, upon which their patience will be rewarded. Time passes quickly, and, as with every earthly event, each difficulty will come to an end in the twinkling of an eye. Moreover, the Qur'an says that Allah has promised to send ease to each Muslim after each test has ended:
For truly, with hardship comes ease; truly, with hardship comes ease. (Surat al-Inshirah, 5-6)
So, believers trust in His endless justice, wait for this promised relief, and never lose hope. They remember that something good will come after the difficulty ends, either in this world or the next. This is what it means to view events from the standpoint of the future.
Muslims know that they are observers of their own destiny and that of others. Knowing this, they observe everything with patience, trust, and submission. In addition, they know that they cannot interfere with, prevent, or stop how an event will unfold. They keep the following words firmly in mind: "It may be that you hate something when it is good for you, and it may be that you love something when it is bad for you. Allah knows and you do not know" (Surat al-Baqara, 216). In other words, every bad thing that happens to believers will ultimately benefit them, provided that they remain faithful to Him and patient, for such tests enable them to train themselves, deepen their belief, improve their moral character, become more spiritually and intellectually mature, and raise their status in Paradise.
Only sincere believers who have submitted wholeheartedly to Allah will experience this spiritual state. But people who do not submit to destiny and reject religion will be overcome by hopelessness, fear, and agitation, thinking that they will not be able to find any escape. Given that they have no hope or expectation with regard to the Hereafter, they live in a state of constant spiritual unhappiness and frustration. The following verse describes this spiritual state:
When Allah desires to guide someone, He expands his breast to Islam. When He desires to misguide someone, He makes his breast narrow and constricted, as if he were climbing up into the sky. That is how Allah defiles those who have no belief. (Surat al-An`am, 125)
This spiritual state of frustration is caused by people's rejection of the destiny that Allah has created for them. It is an oppressive state that they have fashioned for themselves. The fact that Allah, with His endless power and intelligence, directs each person's destiny and rules over all things is a great blessing for the believers. But those with little or no belief do not know the value of this blessing and thus cannot submit to their destiny. As a result, they end up trapping themselves in frustration until they die. Actually, this state is a spiritual punishment given in this world in return for people's lack of trust in Allah. Moreover, they deliberately bring it upon themselves:
Allah does not wrong people in any way; rather, it is people who wrong themselves. (Surah Yunus, 44)