How Unbelievers Act When Faced With Difficulty
Earlier, we showed that whatever internal conditions exist, there is no alteration in a Muslim's moral character. Those who have no belief or have a sickness in their heart cannot stand difficult times, for their endurance is limited and they have a low boiling point. For this reason, they become very tense when they encounter difficulties and frustrations. Sometimes the slightest thing can trigger this tension, which causes them to become furious, shout, start a fight, fling insults, become aggressive, and resort to violence. People who are usually joyful, smiling, and easy-going under normal circumstances undergo a real character change in times of difficulty. They turn into aggressive, joyless, contrary, and sullen people. While Muslims talk patiently about truth and beauty, unbelievers choose to go on the attack, thereby revealing their real face and character.
What reveals their real character may be their sudden unemployment, an illness, an accident, a disaster, or a misfortune. If they are homeless for two days or deprived of sleep, or if their accustomed comforts are removed, they become despondent. In the Qur'an, Allah describes the ungrateful character they display in times of difficulty:
As for humanity, when his Lord tests him by honoring him and favoring him, he says: "My Lord has honored me!" But when He tests him by restricting his provision, he says: "My Lord has humiliated me!" (Surat al-Fajr, 15-16)
Thus, Allah tests also unbelievers by bestowing and then removing blessings according to His will. In such a situation, Muslims retain their trust in Allah and remain thankful to Him, whereas unbelievers react immediately with ingratitude. Unaware that they are being tested, they lose both in this world and in the next.
Unbelievers also react to these tests by becoming depressed or going so far as to commit suicide or resort to alcohol or drugs. None of them consider the reason for their difficulties or care about the good that will come out of them. However, Allah presses unbelievers with difficulties "so that, hopefully, they would turn back" (Surat az-Zukhruf, 48). In other words, He sends hard times to them so that they will turn to the right path, repent, and acquire firm belief. But most of the time, these difficulties and frustrations only harden their hearts and increase their denial of Allah.
If only they had humbled themselves when Our violent force came upon them! However, their hearts were hard and Satan made what they were doing seem attractive to them. When they forgot what they had been reminded of, We opened up for them the doors to everything, until, when they were exulting in what they had been given, We suddenly seized them. At once, they were in despair. (Surat al-An`am, 43-44)
The Inner State of Those who Are Attached to This World
The Muslims' understanding of the secret of these trials gives them a happiness and a sense of well-being, while those who are attached to this world live in great frustration, pain, and moral degeneration. While Muslims enjoy the fruits of their patience, those who are attached to what they believe is a world in which they will live forever are unaware that they are being tested and thus experience the frustration and pain of impatience, distrust, selfishness, meanness, and worldly ambition. This pain shows itself in every moment of their lives. For example, there is a barrenness and joylessness in everything they do, as well as an inability to recognize what is good and to know the joy that a fine moral character brings.
They have neither honor nor moral character, and their lives are ruled by hypocrisy. Their greatest fault is that they think about themselves all the time. As a result, they think that being mean and selfish will benefit them and cannot see the harm that will result from such behavior. In fact, those who think in this way lose a great deal in both worlds, but are unaware of this fact. Unbelievers have lost the endless blessings of Paradise; but most importantly, they have lost Allah's good pleasure and mercy. As the Qur'an states, this is truly a great loss:
It is He Who made you successors on Earth. So whoever does not believe, his unbelief is against himself. In Allah's sight, the unbelief of the unbelievers only increases their loathsomeness; the unbelief of the unbelievers only increases their loss. (Surah Fatir, 39)
This state is very instructive for Muslims observing the unbelievers objectively from outside. For example, the spiritual corruption of a person who robs an orphan or seizes a poor person's possessions and uses then this forbidden money to buy clothes does not go unnoticed. In the Qur'an, Allah describes the state of such people as: "... That is how Allah defiles those who have no faith" (Surat al-An`am, 125). This corruption may not be outwardly visible, but its spiritual aspect can be noticed by those who fear and respect Allah. These people wear a spiritual corruption: They are mean even though they have money and possessions and do not feed the poor and the needy. Even if they do help, they leave the recipient with a sense of obligation. The Qur'an's description of such people (e.g., those who are immoral, eat forbidden food, amass money without giving alms, and spend money in forbidden ways) awakens a reaction in believers. Have you seen him who denies the religion? He is the one who harshly rebuffs the orphan and does not urge the feeding of the poor. (Surat al-Ma`un, 1-3)
We often see a portrait of these people, who became wealthy through illegal and immoral ways. They show signs that they earn their money by murder, bribery, corruption, and fraud; make unjust profits; rob orphans and give nothing to the poor and needy; and strip people of all their beauty and dignity. While they try to be beautiful, they are surrounded by spiritual corruption and a deep, ugly darkness. This is a sign of immorality, growing sinfulness, and dishonor. Allah uses the word "debasement" to describe this darkness and corruption, which is visible on such a person's face:
Those who do good will have the best and more! Neither dust nor debasement will darken their faces. They are the Companions of the Garden, remaining in it timelessly, forever. But as for those who have earned bad actions—a bad action will be repaid with one like it. Debasement will darken them. They will have no one to protect them from Allah. It is as if their faces were covered by dark patches of night. Those are the Companions of the Fire, remaining in it timelessly, forever. (Surah Yunus, 26-27)
As these verses reveal, the beauty of those with high morality increases while immorality covers the unbelievers' faces like the darkness of night. It is a necessity of this world of trials and testing that Allah reward all people according to what they have done. Those who have done good will receive good; those who have done evil will receive evil. Believers are repulsed by all of the unbelievers' behavior and attitudes.
For example, if a visitor goes to an unbelievers' home, the host's every action will make the guest uncomfortable. No matter how good the offered food may look, it does not appear so to a guest who knows his host's moral character and that his whole life is a violation of Allah's injunctions. Injustice done to orphans and the poor lie behind the food and drink offered. Believers will much prefer a stew made with legitimate money to a splendid meal paid for by money earned unlawfully. The guest may be invited to sit in an armchair. But if he knew how the money had been earned to buy that chair, he would never want to sit in it. He would realize that everything in the house was acquired through the unjust exploitation of poverty-stricken women, children, and elderly persons. Even if everything were outwardly clean, there would be a pervasive stench of spiritual corruption in the place that would make the guest uncomfortable. The Qur'an says that those who eat unlawful food and listen to liars will be humiliated in both worlds, and that other people will see their humiliation.
… If Allah desires misguidance for someone, you cannot help him against Allah in any way. Those are the people whose hearts Allah does not want to purify. They will have disgrace in this world, and in the Hereafter they will have a terrible punishment. They are people who listen to lies and consume ill-gotten gains. … (Surat al-Ma'ida, 41-42)
Indeed, these people are unhappy with themselves and others like them, because they see their own cruel and immoral behavior. Since they deliberately do things that Allah has forbidden, they appear shameless. Today, those who are the most obviously shameless are those who engage in prostitution and others who profit from it. Those who work in this amoral profession quickly distance themselves from humanity and eventually reach the point where they have no beauty or dignity left. Prostitution drives both men and women to importune others, and Allah plagues them with sickness, trouble, misfortune, deprivation, humiliation, and contempt. Their spiritual debasement is clear for all to see.
In the Qur'an, Allah describes these corrupt people's state in Hell to those who understand the secret of the world's trials and whose eyes are bright with the hope they have for the life to come. Encompassed in the Fire, all they can do is catch an uncomprehending glimpse of believers who have attained Allah's endless blessings. These individuals have suffered great loss and inflict that loss on all who are close to them. The Qur'an says:
You will see them as they are exposed to it, abject in their abasement, glancing around them furtively. Those who believe will say: "Truly, the losers are those who lose themselves and their families on the Day of Resurrection." The wrongdoers are in an everlasting punishment. (Surat ash-Shura, 45)