Lessons from Sura Ankabut - Lesson 1: You will be tried

blog quran & spirituality Jul 15, 2014



Lesson I: You will be tried, so prepare for it:


One of the central themes of Sura Ankabut is that of fatana, or trials.


In Ayat 2 and 3, Allah says:


أَحَسِبَ النَّاسُ أَن يُتْرَكُوا أَن يَقُولُوا آمَنَّا وَهُمْ لَا يُفْتَنُونَ

[29:2] Do men think that they will be left alone on saying, We believe, and not be tried?


وَلَقَدْ فَتَنَّا الَّذِينَ مِن قَبْلِهِمْ فَلَيَعْلَمَنَّ اللَّهُ الَّذِينَ صَدَقُوا وَلَيَعْلَمَنَّ الْكَاذِبِينَ

[29:3] And certainly We tried those before them, so Allah will certainly know those who are true and He will certainly know the liars.


1) What is fitna?


Fitna is derived from the verb fatana, which amongst other things, means to prove.


Fitna also means “to melt gold in order to separate its impure parts” and since the real essence of man is recognized in difficulties and calamities from the false mottoes, such trials and tests are called fitna.

In faith, everyone can profess strong belief but it is only in terms of trial that the level of faith comes up.


Hadith from Imam: You will be tried like gold is tried in a furnace and you will be purified like gold is purified under the pressure of fire.

Imam Has­san (as), defined fitna as that which proves man's reality, his divine origin, by what appears to be affliction, turmoil and trouble. Divine mercy puts man through processes that appear to be undesirable and troublesome, showing man that he has no power over anything.

2) Why test? What is the purpose of testing believers?

  1. The test is a part of His justice

Reward and punishment has no meaning unless the inner intentions and esoteric qualities are practically seen in men’s actions. It is part of His justice that He does not punish based on intentions but only after those intentions come out in the form of actions. So the fitna serves as a sieve to sieve out those who just profess faith and those who actually posses it.

For example, let us consider a man who is bakheel (miserly) and one who is saqi (generous). If there are no beggars where they live, it would be difficult for them to see this quality within themselves or to judge where they stand in relation to charity and generosity. Both can say we are generous. It is only after they are exposed to those who need support that they will have the opportunity to test their own generosity and to be shown that His justice is certain.

  1. For us to know

His knowledge and our knowledge: Allama Tabatabi says if someone is in house and there is a caravan passing by, if we look at the camel through the keyhole we will see only a very small part – maybe only an eye or the neck – cannot see the whole caravan. But if someone is on the roof or the balcony, He can see everything, no past, present and future. So although we only experience time as it is happening, Allah swt is beyond time and all of time is simultaneously accessible to Him.

So this test is not for Him to know what I am – He knows full well my past present and future. It is for us to know since we often are not aware of exactly what are potential is until we are tested. When we take a test, for example, we may not even know that we had all that information stored somewhere inside our brains. We often do not know what we are capable of until we are put in a situation which requires the requisite skills.

  1. To give us the opportunity for scholarship, to increase our daraja, to build character and to realize our potential

At the beginning of our existence, we are pure potential, with all the abilities and capabilities given to us to become a good human being. Gradually, depending upon our environment and what we are exposed to, some of these potentialities become actualized. For example, if I have the gift of playing tennis, or of writing poetry, that gift may never come out if I have no opportunity to explore or use these gifts. In other words, these potentialities within me need to be stimulated before they can be actualized. I need to see and hold a racket to discover that I have great hand/eye coordination. I need to at least be literate in order to indulge my gift for writing poetry. Similarly, when we our tried in our work places and for job interviews, the tests that we write are designed so that all the hidden abilities with us would come to the surface. The test also allows hidden talents to come forth and for the world to know, and more importantly, the person to know for themselves where they stand in a particular area.

Trials and tests provided by Allah in a sense bring out the spiritual gifts that we have, the capacity for tawakkul, for sabr, for shukr. Many people who go through a very difficult situation in life, such as an illness report that it made them stretch and grow spiritually in ways that they could not have imagined. Although they would not have chosen the test, they say, they know that are better for it.

And by Him Who sent him (the Prophet (S)) with the Truth, you shall indeed be mixed and intermingled and then separated in the sieve (of Divine trial and tribulation)

So the test itself strengthens us. Our reality is not fixed, we are building ourselves with test and trials. When things are very easy for us, there is no real opportunity for growth. Let us take the tennis example again, if you really want to improve your game, you need to keep playing with people who are better than yourself. You need to play outside your comfort zone. If you are not challenged during practice, when you play a tournament, you will realize that you were suffering from a false sense of security.

Similarly, tests and trials given by Him educate, challenge us and make us stronger. They move us forward on our spiritual journey. Just as the pressure coal undergoes results in the formation of a diamond, so too, the facets of human strength and beauty are refined under pressure of trials.

  1. Detachment from the world and purification

Everything that we do, leaves a kind of impression on the self. This is true of both good and evil deeds (whose impression upon the soul is mentioned in traditions as the appearance of a white dot' or ablack dot' respectively) Similarly, every experience of pleasure, derived either from food, drink or something else, leaves an impression upon the soul and creates or increases the love and attachment for that kind of, pleasure in the soul. The more that one plunges into such pleasures and lusts, the greater becomes the self's love and attachment for this world and its reliance upon it. The more you shop, the more you want to shop. That is why the love of dunya has been likened to drinking salt water. The more one drinks, the more the thirst increases. Thus the self is nourished with the love of the world and trained in accordance with it. The greater the sensual pleasures that it derives, the stronger become the roots of this attachment to this world.

It follows that the more attached we are to this dunya, the more negligent we become towards its transience. The less attention we pay to our real home, the next world. Instead of using this dunya as the launch pad or the runway that it is meant to be, we attach residence in it and get attached to the runway, never wanting to take off to our real destination.

However, if we have a painful or unpleasant experience here, our heart longs to return to the Source, to Peace. Just as we do not want to linger in a place of travel which is not pleasant or comfortable and long to return home, similarly if we long to return to our ultimate destination.

It is for this reason that it is said that when He notices our hearts becoming attached, He sends a trial as an act of love.

Al-'Imam al-Baqir (A) said "Verily, God Almighty treats the believer with tribulations in the same way as a man treats his family with gifts after an absence (upon a journey), and He restrains him from the world in the same way as the physician prescribes restraints for the sick man."

  1. Remembrance of God

We all know that it is much easier to remember Allah when things are not so comfortable. When we are going through troubles and afflictions, we call Him night and day and make all sorts of promises to ourselves to change our ways if only the affliction was to go away. In this Sura, Allah refers to this very tendency:


فَإِذَا رَكِبُوا فِي الْفُلْكِ دَعَوُا اللَّهَ مُخْلِصِينَ لَهُ الدِّينَ فَلَمَّا نَجَّاهُمْ إِلَى الْبَرِّ إِذَا هُمْ يُشْرِكُونَ

[29:65] So when they ride in the ships they call upon Allah, being sincerely obedient to Him, but when He brings them safe to the land, lo! they associate others (with Him);

"So when they ride in the ships they call upon Allah." Whenever man is disturbed, he instinctively calls the Creator, the Ultimate Helper. When safety returns, however, lower-self arises again and he forgets the promises he made whilst in trouble.

Thus the believers are guaranteed that they will be tested in this world. In fact, we could say that this world is one big exam hall. The choice is not whether or not one want to take the test. The decision is only whether to be conscious of the test and prepare to do well or to be caught unawares and then resist the inevitable.


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