by Abul 'Ala Morshed
"It is Allah who has created death and life so that he may test who among you is best in deed. And He is the All-Mighty, Oft-Forgiving". [al-Mulk 67:2]
The Prophet (saw) used to recite the whole surah before going to bed. He said about this surah: "This, containing thirty verses, intercedes for a person till his/her sins are forgiven" [Ahmad, Tirmidhi]. He has also said, "I love that it be in the heart of every believer" [Hakim]. This surah is also recited while putting down the dead in the grave.
Some explanations of this ayah suggest that this ayah means that our lives will be full of tests and trials till death (the final test). The rest of the surah talks about the consequences of failing or passing the tests and concepts that will help us ace those tests.
To benefit from this surah we need to understand the nature and characteristics of test and trials that Allah will put us through.
Nature of the tests
First of all, we should know that Allah does not only put non-believers through tests but also the believers. Otherwise the prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, would not have gone through numerous tests throughout his life. We will be no exception. Allah tests His beloved servants the most.
Secondly, we should know that Allah tests us through both hardship and ease. Allah tests us using things that we like to possess and also with things that we do not. Allah tests us using hardships like death, financial, physical, and academic difficulties. He tests us through luxury, good health, and academics successes.
When Allah tests us using hardships He wants to see if we ask Him alone for help and relief or do we turn to others beside Him. He tests us through ease to see if we thank Him for the blessings or do we claim that it was because of our own doing.
We should know that our eyes, hands, legs, strength, and beauty are all means to test who among us is good in deeds. If we use our eyes to look at nakedness, if we use our hands to touch things that we are not supposed to touch, if we use our feet to go to places that we are not supposed to go, if we use our strength to oppress others, if we use our beauty to lure others to commit sins then we surely have failed the test. But if we use our eyes to read the Qur'an, Hadith, and Islamic literature, if we use our hands to help others, if we use our feet to go to masajid, if we use our strength to work in the way of Allah like doing Da'wah, if we preserve our beauty by adorning the hijab and loose dresses and thank Allah for all his bounties on us, then we have aced the test and will be rewarded both in this world and the hereafter.
Thirdly, we should know that tests are not always direct i.e. they do not always affect us personally. For example, what is happening in places like Palestine, Chechnya, Kashmir, Turkey in fact in almost all of the Muslims lands like oppression, killing may not necessarily affect us Muslims who live in the luxuries of the West. But nonetheless what is happening to them is also a test for us. But most of the time we fail to realize that.
That is why we hear Muslims in the West making comments like "Those Palestinians deserve it, they have deviated from Islam", "They aren't good Muslims", etc. We fail to realize that the condition of our brothers and sisters in Palestine is like it is now because of the 50 years of oppressive occupation. And we are to blame for it. Just ask yourselves how much have you done to end the occupation so that they could focus on improving their understanding and practice of Islam.
Through these indirect tests Allah wants to test how much pain we feel for those brothers and sisters, how much we spend for them, how much have we done to end their miseries. He wants to see if we speak out in their support or not.
Most important of all Allah wants to test if we learn lessons from their situation or not. We need to learn lessons of sacrifice, patience, sincerity, and determination from them. We also need to learn from their mistakes so that we do not repeat them.
When we look at the struggles they go through, both young and old, we cannot say we're too young to work for Allah's cause. We cannot say we are too busy to spend time or too poor to spend money. Because if young children of Palestine can sacrifice their lives then what excuse do we have? If the poor people of Bangladesh can donate money for the cause of Islam then what excuse do we have?
Fourthly, we should know that tests are not always tangible. Tests can also be through mediums that we cannot touch like our knowledge, intellect, wisdom, and time. Allah gives those to some of us to see how well we use them, if we do at all. He wants to see if we use our knowledge to help improve the conditions of the Muslims or not. He wants to see if we use our wisdom and intellect to invite others to follow Islam completely or not. He wants to see if we spend time for His cause or not.
Those of us who possess any knowledge of Islam should propagate it to others. It is our responsibility. If we fail to do that then we have failed the test.
Lastly, we should keep in mind that we always have the opportunity to ask Allah's forgiveness if we fail any of those tests. That is what the last portion of the ayah points to that "Allah is the All-Mighty and Oft-Forgiving". Do not despair of Allah's Mercy. Indeed, Allah forgives sins abundantly.
After knowing the nature of the tests that Allah puts us through, we need to equip ourselves with the tools and methods that will enable us to ace those tests, insha-Allah:
The first and foremost beneficial tool is the Qur'an. We need to understand it as much as we can. We should study it every day because we face tests from Allah every day. The Qur'an is the textbook to prepare us for the tests.
The second tool is the history of the prophets, especially Muhammad, peace be upon him, since we have almost all of his life recorded and the history of Sahabas (companions) and the rightly-guided Muslims. Reading and pondering over their lives will give us ideas on how to deal with the tests that Allah puts us through. They are like past exams. They have been through the tests and have passed them.
The third tool is 'Ibaadah (worship) through Salah (prayers), Sawm (fasting), Hajj (pilgrimage),?i> Zakah (charity), etc. They are like homework to prepare us for the tests. They give us the moral strength to pass the tests Allah puts us through.
The fourth tool is our company of righteous people. They will comfort us when we face calamities and will remind us of our duties when we are relatively comfortable. It is very difficult to go through some tests alone. Like we do with academic tests, we need to be with those who remind us of Allah and of our responsibilities. Righteous companions are like study groups to help us pass the tests.
May Allah help us all to pass the tests He puts us through so that we may be successful in this world and in the hereafter.