The Qur’an describes life as a test, because God sent us to Earth to challenge our own perceived limitations and to help us unveil our vast array of capabilities. Life is not just about Heaven and Hell, it is also about unveiling who God created you to be, so that you can come to know who God is. The path to God begins with witnessing and experiencing your human qualities, because you cannot actualise what you have not acknowledged. When we shift our perspective from what God is doing to us, to what God is doing for us, we are able to see that although God may not always give us what we want, He will always give us exactly what we need. As the Qur’an says, “It may be that you hate something and it is good for you and it may be that you love something and it is bad for you” (2:216).
God knows what soil your seedling soul needs to blossom. He gives you people to love you, to leave you, to inspire you, to doubt you, and to believe in you. Out of His love, God lets the world hurt you and break you, not because He wants to destroy you, but because He wants to show you your hidden strengths that can only be manifested in the cocoon of trials. This is one of the reasons the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم says, “If Allah wants to do good to somebody He afflicts him with trials.” God takes us into the cave of difficulty and pain when there are gems for us to find there. God pushes us to the edge of the cliff when He wants us to learn how to fly. The difficulties we face can act as catalysts for self-discovery and growth.
The core Islamic teaching that “verily with difficulty comes ease” (94:5) is beautifully shown through the popular teaching story of a boy and a butterfly. A young boy spent hours watching a butterfly struggle to get out of a hole in its cocoon. Seeking to be of help, the boy grabbed a pair of scissors and carefully slit the cocoon open to help the butterfly out. To the boy’s surprise, the butterfly came out with shrivelled wings and spent the rest of its life bound to the ground. The boy did not know that the butterfly’s struggle of digging its way out of its cocoon is nature’s way of strengthening its wings enough for it to be able to fly. The butterfly does not fly despite its struggle out of the cocoon, but rather because of it. In the same way, our spirit’s struggle against the unconscious ego is ultimately what strengthens its muscles.
As Rumi says, “If you are irritated by every rub, how will your mirror be polished?” When we face trials, we are being prepared to manifest our greatest potential, which is hidden beneath the shell of our comfort and conditioning. We are like photographs; our faith is developed in the darkroom of the trials we face. In Arabic, the word fitna, meaning “hardship,” stems from the word fatanah, which means “to test gold, burn with fire.” Just as gold is heated to extract valuable elements from the useless surrounding material, it is through the fire of our trials that our golden essence is unearthed. When fitna first arrives, it makes little sense; it feels unjust and unfair. For the one who doesn’t understand the stages of growth, a seed becoming a tree looks like destruction. When the soil squeezes the shell until it shatters, it looks like punishment, like undeserved pain. But the seed does not curse the sun and rain for breaking it open, because it knows that its potential is far greater than the limit of its shell.
A loving and merciful God recreates you by breaking you out of the cocoons and cages of the past. It is only with patience and prayer that we come to see that heat and pressure help to create the conditions necessary to transform dark coal into a luminous diamond. As the Qur’an says, “God will find a way out for those who are mindful of Him, And He will provide him from (sources) he never could imagine. And whosoever puts his trust in Allah, then He will suffice him. God will accomplish His purpose. God has appointed a measure for everything” (65:2-3). Everything on this Earth was created for you to lovingly worship God while experiencing the holiness that resides at the core of all existence. When you are truly aligned with the purpose of being human, the trial and blessing become one. Every experience, every feeling, and every thought is a way that Allah speaks to you and calls to you to return back to His loving embrace. As the Qur’an says, “We tested them with good times and bad, that perhaps they would return” (7:168). It is a blessing to know that both in our moments of ease and in our moments of difficulty, God is equally present and constantly calling us back to Him.
Excerpt is from 'Secrets of Divine Love' by A.Helwa