By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com
Every part of you must be exercised in order to grow stronger. Those who memorize Quran, study for advanced degrees, or perform other difficult mental tasks know that it becomes easier with time. The brain responds by building neural connections that, essentially, make you smarter.
With the body it’s obvious, right? A weightlifter lifts 100 pounds one week, his muscles get stronger, and the next week he can lift 105. As long as he keeps challenging himself, his muscles continue growing, to the limits of his genetic capacity. If he quits working out, his muscles shrink.
As for the soul, it is exercised through hardship. There’s no getting around this. Our spiritual muscles are developed by confronting pain and loss.
“And We will surely test you with something of fear and hunger and a loss of wealth and lives and fruits…” – Quran, Al-Baqarah, 2:155-157
My friend Bilal Mustapha comments on this verse,
“God has to test us with lost of life, property, love ones, health, money, beauty, power, influence, prestige, ego, relationships, knowledge…etc. to prove that we are who we say we are or claim to be, and there’s no shortcut or easy way around it. True Believers have to be separated from the Fake Ones. With that said, LET’S GET READY TO RUMMMMMBLLLLLE!!! (in my Michael Buffer voice)”
(Yes, Bilal is much more interesting than I am).
This is why the Prophet Muhammad (sws) said, “When Allah desires good for someone, He tries him with hardships.” (Al-Bukhari)
A bodybuilder must lift huge weights in order to challenge himself. A believer is tested more severely than the average person because he’s already powerful. A lesser test would be no test at all. It’s got to hit hard, it’s got to be heavy.
Then why bother? Wouldn’t it be easier to be a weak, apathetic non-believer and not be afflicted with tests?
Let’s read the rest of the ayah quoted above:
“And We will surely test you with something of fear and hunger and a loss of wealth and lives and fruits, but give good tidings to the patient, who, when disaster strikes them, say, “Indeed we belong to Allah , and indeed to Him we will return. Those are the ones upon whom are blessings from their Lord and mercy. And it is those who are the [rightly] guided.” – Quran 2:155-157
Those tests bring blessings and mercy from Allah, in ways we see and don’t see. They help us lead lives of meaning, and if we are patient then the results accrue for us in Jannah. From the moment we die, we see the results of all the tests we suffered. We see light, and ease, and comfort. I know this because I have been told so in the Quran and by the Messenger of Allah (sws), and I believe it. It makes sense to me, and it’s confirmed by countless anecdotal near-death experiences from cultures all over the world.
Don’t be jealous when you see that those who commit evil on earth are living in luxury. The tyrants of the world who steal billions, or the capitalists who build wealth on the suffering of others, or any who gain coin through haram means; and even those whose work is halal but who hold their money back from the needy :- that wealth is an anvil around their necks. It is their test, and most of them are failing miserably.
Don’t fear hardship. When the time comes to exercise your spiritual muscles, stay firm in faith. This is how we grow into our potential, how we prove ourselves. In the words of Helen Keller, who was blind and deaf from childhood and yet became an author and women’s rights advocate, “We could never learn to be brave & patient, if there were only joys in the world.”
This is Allah’s manhaj, His way, His methodology of life. It makes perfect sense because it’s rooted in the way things really work. So let’s welcome the opportunity to use our spiritual muscles.
This is not all theoretical for me. The day I wrote this article, I was treated badly by someone close to me, I was stressed about the future, and I was berating myself for not being as good a father as I would like. Strangely enough it was also the day of the Eid picnic, and amid the crowd of Muslim families I found myself feeling very alone.
So I wrote this piece for all of you and as a reminder to myself, because I do know the solution: Pray, meditate, contemplate Allah’s love and care for you. Enjoy what you have. Appreciate the small things in life. Be brave. Dare to dream, and then make those dreams happen. Lift that weight, move that rock, and forge ahead with a straight back and clear sight.