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Trials of Humankind (1)

Translation from Farsi by Muhammad Rashad

God breathed His spirit into humans during creation, then granted them the choice to grow and attain perfection through the paths of life, the choice between good and evil, service and betrayal, God and Satan. However, making the right choice requires contemplation, effort, and endurance, as enduring hardship is necessary for attaining treasures.

In the eyes of people, experiments are a means to gain knowledge about the outcome of tests concerning humans, objects, and intellectual matters. But why would God, who is knowledgeable about our outward and inward aspects, need to experiment when the Quran speaks extensively about testing humans?

It seems that the interpretation of divine testing in our religious culture is not entirely compatible with the philosophy of testing as understood from the text of the verses and the meanings of the related words. Therefore, it is appropriate to take a comprehensive look at the field of semantics of «testing» in Quranic knowledge and reflect on the words used in it.

These words include:

  • امتحان (Imtehaan) - pronounced as «im-teh-haan»
  • اختبار (Ikhtibaar) - pronounced as «ikh-ti-baar»
  • تمحيص (Tamhees) - pronounced as «tam-hees»
  • تمخيض (Tamkheed) - pronounced as «tam-kheed»
  • ابتلاء (Ibtela) - pronounced as «ib-te-la»
  • فتنه (Fitnah) - pronounced as «fit-nah»

each word is translated as examination, trial, purification, discernment, affliction, and sedition respectively. We strive to understand their primary meanings and differences from each other.


The term imtehan is derived from the root «m-h-n» from the infinitive «mihnat,» which refers to a task accompanied by difficulty and hardship. It means that to achieve the desired result, one must prepare oneself for difficulties and overcome them. In dictionaries, this term is defined in the following contexts: Purifying silver by melting it in a furnace to achieve purity, extracting soil and dirt from a well to obtain water, pulling leather to make it soft and pliable, disciplining and training. In addition to the concept of «hardship,» the notion of continuity and perseverance is also present in the word examination. For example, working or walking all day, walking a camel until it gets tired, wearing clothes for a long time until they decay. By considering these applications, we find that the concept of examination is not about finding out the outcome of a test, but rather about enduring hardship to achieve the desired goal. This word is mentioned only twice in the Quran, as you can see below:

[Quran 49:3] (Regarding the Muslims who managed to overcome the tribal and ignorant culture of the time, which addressed each other loudly from a distance) «...Those are the ones whom God has tested (Imtehana) their hearts for righteousness...

[Quran 60:10] - (Regarding the migrant women who abandoned their polytheist husbands and migrated to Medina, and the sensitive conditions of the time required them to be accurately identified, lest another motive, personal or political, would have caused it).» «O you who believe, test the believing women when they come to you as fugitives. God knows best about their faith. If you are sure of their belief, do not send them back to the disbelievers, they are neither lawful for them, nor are they lawful for them. But give the disbelievers whatever bride-gifts they have paid. There is no blame upon you if you marry them once you have paid the bride-gifts. Do not hold on to marriage bonds with disbelieving women, but ask for repayment of the bride-gifts you have paid and let them ask for what they have spent. This is God’s judgment. He judges between you. God is All-Knowing and Wise.»


The subject of testing can be approached from various angles; accepting hardship and difficulty is one aspect of the issue that is manifested in the word «Imtihaan or examination,» while purification and refinement, which are the result of enduring these hardships, are another aspect observed in the word «tahmees». Tahmees (which according to the Arabic grammar rules is in form of Taf'eel) is derived from the root «m-h-n,» which somewhat indicates cleansing and purifying from impurities and dirt. Instances mentioned in dictionaries regarding the usage of this word in various contexts include: purifying gold and separating its impurities (an application also seen in the words «examination or imtihaan» and «sedition or fitnah»), recovery from illness, overcoming adversity and difficulty, cleansing meat from excess fat and veins, unveiling the sun from the veil of clouds and the gloom of the sky, polishing a mirror, refining and purifying beverage, divine forgiveness that purifies the servant from selfishness. This word is mentioned twice in the Quran. Both times in Surah Aal-e-Imran regarding the purpose and philosophy of defensive warfare in Islam:

[Quran 3:140-143] «If a wound afflicts you [in battle], [know] that people have suffered a wound like it [at Badr]. We alternate these days [of defeat or victory] among humanity [so] that God may make evident those who have faith [in the field of action] and take from [among] you exemplars - God does not love the wrongdoers - That God might cleanse (Yummahis) those who believe [of their faults and deficiencies when challenged] and [gradually] ruin the disbelievers. Or do you think that you will enter paradise before God first proving those who strive among you and those of you who are steadfast [while their character remains unknown in the field of action]? You hoped for death [as martyrs] before you met it. Then, when you saw it, you looked on [it as if you were dumfounded].»

[Quran 3:154] «...They say: «If we had had any say in the matter [we would have remained in the city] and would not have been killed here.» Say: «Even if you had remained in your homes, those for whom being killed was written would have left [their homes], gone forth to their [final] resting places, and hastened to the field [of battle].» [God willed this] that He might try that which is in your chests and purify(Yummahis) that which is in your hearts. God knows well what is hidden in the hearts.»


This word, which only appears once in the Quran meaning «the pangs of childbirth,» signifies the utmost pain and suffering inherent in every birth. The particular verse describing the conditions of the birth of the pure and chaste servant of God, Jesus, son of Mary, after a severe and painful ordeal in isolation and exile, subtly alludes to the depth of meaning in this word (childbirth pain+ worrying from what people might say):

“[Quran 19:22-23] «But she [Mary] conceived him [Jesus], and she withdrew with him to a remote place. And the pains(Makhaad) of childbirth drove her to the trunk of a palm tree. She said, 'Oh, I wish I had died before this and was in oblivion, forgotten.'»

Thus, Mary, who is exceptionally praised for her purity in the Quran, finally brought forth a word into the world that is referred to in the Quran as «the word of God» (Aal-e-Imran 39, 45; An-Nisa 171), after a lifetime of striving towards spiritual purity.

The root meaning of the word «mukhadh» in Arabic is to rise and fall, like the turbulent waves of the sea, the rising and falling of clouds during a storm, and the agitation used to extract butter from milk in villages, and the ascent and descent of the fetus preparing for birth in the mother's womb. There is a well-known saying that «the essence of a person's being is known through the vicissitudes of time». Thus, the difficulties that unsettle us internally carry within them a blessing that shapes us.

Clouds, if they do not rise and fall with the wind, do not accumulate and do not rain. Likewise, the butter, through its rising and falling in the churn, separates itself from the buttermilk. Similarly, the fetus, through movement and change of position, finds its way out into the new world.

Good people and messengers were a people oppressed and subjugated, whom God tested with hunger, striving, terrifying conditions, calamities, and hardships of life. So one shouldn't consider wealth and children as a sign of God's pleasure or wrath, for such judgment is indicative of ignorance regarding divine trials(Tamkheed) in both ample and tight circumstances.


Ikhtibaar (is in the form of ifte'aal) is derived from the root «khabar» and is another word in the field of semantics that refers to the news resulting from the test, as well as its outcome and product. The following verses illustrate the meaning of this word:

[Quran 47:31] «And We will surely try you until We make evident those who strive among you [for the cause of God] and the patient, and We will try your affairs.»

[Quran 9:94] (Regarding the hypocrites avoiding participation in jihad) «They will [then] make excuses to you when you have returned to them. Say, 'Do not make excuses - we will never believe you. GOD has already informed us of your news'».