Quranic Reflection No 631. Āyat 27:40 – Different types of tests

A useful summer gift for your children. Read below.

قَالَ هَـٰذَا مِن فَضْلِ رَبِّى لِيَبْلُوَنِىٓ ءَأَشْكُرُ أَمْ أَكْفُرُ ۖ 

He said, ‘This is by the grace of my Lord, to test me if I will give thanks or be ungrateful’.

(Sūrat al-Naml, No.27, Āyat 40)

When Prophet Sulaymān ‘alayhis-salām invited Queen Bilqīs and her people to submit to God’s religion, he asked the members of his court: Who among you can bring the majestic throne of Sheba before its people arrive? The one who had some knowledge of the Book – who, as our hadith tell us, was a man by the name of Āsif bin Barkhiya –   vizier and successor of Nabī Sulaymān, presents the throne in front of the Prophet within the blink of an eye, prompting him to exclaim the powerful words mentioned above.

Within the speech of this great prophet of Allah ‘azza wajall are hidden some beautiful lessons on how to approach both the blessings and the difficulties that are an unavoidable part of this worldly life. There are two elements to this part of his speech from which we can derive these lessons.

This is by the grace of my Lord. The Prophet’s immediate response to the miracle before him is to attribute it to Allah subhānahu wata‘ālā. Truly, it is only by the grace (fadhl) of Allah that all blessings, whether big or small, come to us. Every single existence, every single movement from the beat of our heart and every thought in our mind to the interchanging of day and night is due to His grace. Even the most mundane and commonplace being becomes miraculous and lofty when seen as the manifestation of His bounty. Subhānallāh!

But what is the purpose of all these blessings? The verse continues: to test me if I will give thanks or be ungrateful. As we read in many verses of the Quran, Allah (swt) created humans as a test to see which of us are best in deeds. As an example, the second verse of Sūrat al-Mulk states: He who created death and life that He may test you [to see] which of you is best in conduct. When faced with such verses, our preliminary understanding is that life’s hardships are a test; but have we ever considered that it is not only the difficulties we are faced with that are meant to test us, but rather also the blessings He showers upon us?

Everything He grants us is a test, but this is not a test meant to confuse or cull the weak from the strong. Rather, it is a means granted to us, through which it will become clear whether we use this blessing to ascend towards Him or whether we, like the ungrateful, are deceived by this world, becoming arrogant and forgetting our higher purpose. The Prophet’s response to being faced with one of Allah’s most incredible blessings is not arrogance or entitlement, but rather a remembrance of the reality of this world. And this is the true meaning of gratitude: to know that whatever we are given is for the purpose of turning to Him, of ascending towards Him, not a means for us to become complacent and satisfied with this lowly life.

It follows, then, that if blessings are taken away – in short, if we find ourselves in times of hardship – we do not lose hope or become ungrateful (unlike what is mentioned in Sūrat Hūd, verse 9). Rather, we see the act of taking away the blessing as an extension of the same test. Just as His giving is a test, so too is His taking away. And the true servant is grateful to the Almighty in all situations.   The Holy Prophet sallal-lāhu ‘alayhi wa-ālihi wasallam, when he thanked God for what he was pleased with, said: Praise be to Allah for this blessing. And when something happened that distressed him, he would say: Praise be to Allah in every situation (Al-Kāfī, v 2, p 97).

This verse teaches us that a real believer is one who actively recognize all blessings are from Him and that they are tests from Allah. Both ease and difficulty are tests. The point of both is to see the response of the human being and let it increase his faith and trust in Allah, through gratitude and patience.

Sources: Allāmah Muhammad Husayn Tabātabā’ī, Tafsīr al-Mīzān; Āyatullāh Nāsir Makārim Shirāzī (Ed), Tafsīr-e Namūneh; Agha Muhsin Qarā’atī, Tafsīr Nūr.

A useful summer gift for your children.

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