When going through a difficulty in life, it’s natural for many people to wonder whether God is punishing them. They think it must be due to a sin that they committed in the past, which they haven’t been forgiven for yet, that they are suffering. But according to Islam, we are taught something else entirely:
The Messenger of Allah (saws) was asked, “Which people are tested most severely?” He responded (saws), “They are the prophets, then the next best, then the next best. A man is tried according to his religion. If he is firm in his religion, then his trials will be more severe. If he is weak in his religion, then he is tried according to his strength in religion. The servant will continue to be tried until he is left walking upon the earth without any sin.” [Tirmidhi]
This life is a trial, in and of itself; it’s not Jannah. And we are told that when Allah (swt) loves someone and wants good for them, He tests them [Sahih Bukhari]. The best proof of that is in the hadith above, which states that the prophets (peace be upon them all) went through the most difficult tests of all, even though they were the best human beings to walk the earth.
This life is a trial, in and of itself; it’s not Jannah. And we are told that when Allah (swt) loves someone and wants good for them, He tests them [Sahih Bukhari].
This doesn’t mean that they were all tested with severe hardships, since tests come in the forms of both adversity and prosperity (Qur’an 21:35). For example, Prophet Sulaiman (pbuh) was a King with a lot of wealth and power. So how he used that wealth and power was his test. On the other hand, Prophet Ayyub (pbuh) lost his family, wealth, assets, and health. His patience and strength of faith are what proved that he “passed” the test, since he didn’t question God’s will or goodness.
But what about when it seems like something bad is happening as a direct result of one’s wrong actions? Couldn’t this be considered a punishment from Allah? Adam and Hawwa (pbut) are often thought to have been “punished” in such a way, for eating from the forbidden tree. Many people believe that this is why they were sent to Earth, instead of being allowed to remain in Jannah. But the Qur’an says otherwise:
“And (mention) when your Lord said to the angels, ‘Indeed, I will make upon the Earth a successive authority.’ They said, ‘Will You place upon it one who causes corruption therein and spills blood, while we declare Your praise and sanctify You?’ Allah said, ‘Indeed, I know that which you don’t know.'” (2:30)
Adam (pbuh) was already destined to go to Earth, before he was even created. That was Allah’s plan for him — not a punishment. And He alone knows the reason for this. This shows that sometimes, there’s just something that’s been written in our fate which may seem bad to us, but we need to keep in mind that Divine wisdom is greater than our limited understanding.
Every difficulty that we go through is an opportunity for us to remember our place and recognize our dependence on God and our need for Him. It’s not necessarily because we’ve done something wrong. Allah is testing our loyalty to Him, and our trust in Him.
There’s also the example of Yunus (pbuh). This seems like it’s a clear-cut example of a wrong action leading to misery as a punishment. After all, he left his people out of impatience and got swallowed by a whale. But from deep in the belly of the whale, there came a cry… “There is nothing worthy of worship (or unconditional obedience) except You. How perfect are You! I, no doubt, am the one that is from the wrongdoers.” (21:87)
Allah says, “Then We responded to him, and we rescued him from the dark sadness. And that’s how We rescue believers”(21:88). As believers, we are not “punished” through misery in this life. If we were truly being punished, our sins would not be erased through hardships — they would be saved up for punishment in the Afterlife. Every difficulty that we go through is an opportunity for us to remember our place and recognize our dependence on God and our need for Him. It’s not necessarily because we’ve done something wrong. Allah is testing our loyalty to Him, and our trust in Him.
We should seize this opportunity and realize that Allah is the only one that can really save us from any difficulty that we may be in. And then keep this in mind once the hardship passes, as well — that’s actually the hard part.
Yes, sometimes bad things happen due to our own mistakes too. But if Allah actually wanted to punish us, He would leave us alone and allow us to continue doing wrong actions, so that we would suffer in the next life (and obviously, nobody is sinless). Instead, He corners us and forces us to face Him before it’s too late. We should seize this opportunity and realize that Allah is the only one that can really save us from any difficulty that we may be in. And then keep this in mind once the hardship passes, as well — that’s actually the hard part.
“When harm touches the human being, he calls on Us, either lying on his side, or sitting, or standing. Then when We alleviate the problem for him, he walks around as if he wasn’t calling on Us in the time of difficulty that touched him. That is how We beautify, for those who cross limits, the things that they do.” (10:12)
May Allah (swt) make us from those who pass our trials (of difficulty and ease) with patience and belief in Him, and always turn to Him whether we’re going through a tough time or not. Ameen.