وَتِلْكَ الْأَيَّامُ نُدَاوِلُهَا بَيْنَ النَّاسِ
Wa-tilkal-ayyāmu nudāwiluhā baynan-nās
Such days of varying fortune We rotate between mankind
(Sūrat Āli Imrān, No. 3, Āyat 140)
The above verse reveals a natural law for this world. Each people will get their day. The word ‘day’ here does not mean a single twenty four hour day. According to Tafsīr al-Mīzān, ‘day’ means an era or a period of time in which an occurrence may have happened. The length of the period differs according to the occurrence. Victory, success, happiness, failure, frustrations . . . nothing lasts forever. The ups and downs of life affect all people in turns. Such is the wisdom of God.
This verse was revealed after the battle of ‘Uhud when the Muslims were not victorious. It was a disappointment for the Muslims, especially after their overwhelming success in the battle of Badr, a year before. Now the Quraysh of Makkah seemed to be getting the upper hand and some Muslims began to wonder why God had not granted them victory again. This verse (the above phrase is a part of the whole verse) explains that if you are hurt today, a people were hurt similarly before. Such days of varying fortunes rotate between people. Nobody has success and victory forever and no one will suffer defeat and afflictions forever.
The practice of ‘to each his day’ has many benefits for mankind. Think about the following:
1) Continued success and happiness creates a feeling of invincibility. Such people are then vulnerable to pride and egoism. A change in fortunes allows them to understand that they do not have power over all things.
2) Those who experience the frustration of defeat and weakness should have hope that one day it will be their turn to be at the top. Things keep changing and no-one’s state is permanent. Hope in this truth allows them to keep going.
3) People are sifted out through this constantly changing tapestry of the world. The pattern of success and defeat in turns allows for recognition of true potential which can get submerged otherwise. Amīrul Mu’minīn Imam Ali (a) says: Through change of circumstances the resolve of men is known (Nahjul Balāgha, Short Saying No. 217)
In another place, Imam Ali (a) talks about the changing circumstances of people in this world: Think about the condition of people from among the believers who passed before you. What distresses and trials they were in. . . . Till when Allah, the Glorified, noticed that they were enduring troubles in His love and bearing distresses out of fear for Him, He provided escape from the distress of trials. So, He changed their disgrace into honour and fear into safety. Consequently, they became ruling kings and conspicuous leaders. And Allah’s favours over them reached limits to which their own wishes had not reached . . . Thereafter, also see what happened to them towards the end when division overtook them . . . Then Allah took away from them the apparel of His honour and deprived them of the prosperity produced by His favours (Nahjul Balāgha, Sermon 192)
Use the verse above to remind you that all things pass. Let not success or failure delude you into thinking that it will last forever. Soon it will be another’s turn. Look around you and learn from the changing fortunes of others that transience of circumstances is the natural system that God has created. Only He is permanent.
Sources: Amīrul Mu’minīn, Nahjul Balāgha; Āyatullāh Nāsir Makārim Shirāzī (ed.), Tafsīr-e Namūne.