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Trials of Humankind (2)

IBTILLA (A challenge in the cycle of evolution/growth)

Among the words used in the Quran to express the trial of humanity, «ابتلاء» (Ibtillā') shares the same root as «بلاء» (Balā'), which, in the context of verb formation, indicates a type of acceptance, embracing, and readiness for adversity. So, «ابتلاء» refers to encountering something, entering into confrontation and challenge with it, and being ready and willing to engage with it.

While each word in the Quran has a unified meaning and root, some words have diverse dimensions and, depending on the context of the surah (chapter) in which they are used, emphasize a particular aspect. For example, the word «بلاء» (Balâ) originally conveys the idea of wearing out and becoming worn out, but wearing out and becoming worn out have different meanings in every context. Surely, the wearing out of clothing is not the same as the wearing out of humans in difficulties, sorrows, and grief. And indeed, the purpose of tribulation is not to wear out, although it may have such effects. Ignoring the dimensions of meaning of a word leads us to misunderstand the meaning of some verses. (In the Quran, it is mentioned that Satan tempted Adam and his spouse with the «شجرة الخلد» (Shajarat al-Khuld) and «ملك لا يبلى» (Mulk la yabla). Translators have translated «شجرة الخلد» as the tree of eternity and «ملك لا يبلى» as an everlasting, imperishable dominion, which seems somewhat inaccurate. However, considering the meaning of tribulation, which is to enter into the field and confrontation with difficulties, it can be said that such dominion is not as impervious to confiscation, appropriation, and competition as worldly possessions.)

The definitions provided by dictionaries for this word are unfortunately not comprehensive and all-encompassing, and from some perspectives, they confuse the searcher. Some assume that the purpose of tribulation, like a school exam, is to discern the faith and deeds of servants! Whereas God, the Omniscient, like schoolteachers, does not need an exam to assess our capabilities! In such cases, instead of the word «discernment,» it is better to use the word «realization,» which is more expressive. Meaning, divine tribulation is not for discernment, but for actualizing our potential talents and bringing them into fruition.

Some consider it as «بلاء» (Balā') for wrongdoers meaning to punish wrongdoers and portray God in a position of revenge! While from a higher perspective, «بلاء» (Balaă) is considered a means of benevolence for human growth. Some also, as mentioned, refer to the root meaning of this word, which implies wearing out and becoming worn out, and consider tribulation as the cause of human exhaustion!

These differences indicate that we must understand the meaning of each word according to its usage throughout the Quran. That is, we must first grasp its general meaning and then, based on its comprehensive meaning, receive the specific meaning in each case :

Tribulation, Ground and Platform for Growth

The word «ابتلاء» (Ibtillā') has been repeated 38 times in various derivatives in the Quran, indicating the breadth of this word's usage in the text of this book. With a comprehensive look at these instances, a general definition of it can be presented, and then, based on specific cases, a particular meaning can be understood. In this comprehensive view, we inevitably resort to providing interpretation and understanding of the word «ابتلاء» (ibtilla) through the following example:

A child who is newly sent to school has nothing but potential talents. To actualize their hidden talents and bring them into fruition, there is no solution other than accepting the pain and hardship of studying. Therefore, the parents and educators place him in the «tribulation» of rigorous education and upbringing and compel him to endure exhausting efforts. Like a garment that wears out, he spends the capital of his life in this path and, metaphorically, becomes «worn out» (the root meaning of «بلاء») with the expenditure of youthful energy, burns the midnight oil to attain knowledge and wisdom. On the other hand, in the context of this test, which is a severe trial, «بلا» (tribulation) is created. (Among the mistakes that some translators or interpreters have made in interpreting the concept of tribulation, verse 6 of Surah An-Nisa about orphan girls is mentioned, where they have interpreted the meaning of «ابتلاء» as a test and examination based on general inference, while in this case, the meaning indicates nurturing and providing a gradual ground for the realization of their potential until they reach maturity.

If they demonstrate such capabilities, which must be provided by their guardians, their possessions can be entrusted to them.)

Sports exercises can also be included in this example; our muscles in their normal state have potential strength that they acquire through physical exercises and become trained and strengthened. In fact, sports fields can be considered as «physical tribulations» and «grounds of bodily tribulations» for us.

In the above examples, it is clear that exhaustion and wearing out are just one aspect of the issue, and a perspective from the physical angle. While the purpose of tribulation is the blossoming of other human talents in the challenge of life's difficulties.

Life is also a larger school in which we must be educated and bring forth the talents bestowed by God, which the Lord has breathed into our souls, into manifestation and fruition. Our existence is actually nothing but these grounds for growth and perfection, which must be realized through the gift of «choice"; creation itself has been for this purpose. Look:

[Quran 76:2-3] «Truly, We (innā) created humanity from a drop of mingled fluid to test him; We gave him hearing (samī‘) and sight (basīr); Truly, We guided him to the right path, whether he be grateful (shākir) or ungrateful (kāfir).»

We created man from a drip of mingled fluid (with complexities and various potentials). We continually test him (to bring his potential abilities into realization and action, we throw him into the arena and field of life's tribulations). For this reason, we have made him hearing and seeing (we have given him the tools of cognition to be equipped and armed in the face of difficulties), and we have also shown him the way (to confront difficulties so that he does not go astray). Now, (with the choice and freedom of choice given to him), he either becomes grateful (accepting and benefiting from the blessing) or ungrateful (denying and wasting it).

In essence, the purpose of creation of the heavens and the earth is nothing but this, and that in the process of evolution, man, as a complex phenomenon, steps into the arena of existence to be adorned with the most beautiful actions in the field of trials and responsibilities: :

[Quran 11:7] «It is He who created the heavens and the earth in six stages and His Throne had been upon water, that He might test you as to which of you does better work / is best in deed...»

He who created the heavens and the earth in six periods while His throne was on the water (or the molten mass). For this purpose, to try you (in the arena of trials and in the process of evolution from birth to death), as to which of you is best in deed (In the bed of life's trials and in the face of difficult tests, the best behavior serves as a guide and leads to success, crystallizing and manifesting the essence of your existence.).

The concept of «realization,» «attainment,» and «coming into actuality» can also be understood from other verses of the Quran, including the Day of Judgment being called «يوم تبلى السرائر» (the Day when secrets will be put to test) (Surah Al-Inshiqaq 9), as it reveals and actualizes our performance that seemed hidden and brings it to fruition. Similar examples:

[Quran 10:30] «That Day, every soul will be put to test for what it did previously, and they will be returned to God, their master, the truth; and lost from them is what they used to invent.»

On that Day (the Day of Resurrection), everyone will be afflicted with (the reflection of) what they did in the past (the result of their realization will be revealed).

Bala, a Blessing for Humanity!!

The word «bala» (tribulation) carries a negative connotation in the minds of most people, associating it with calamity and hardship, while God, at times, tests with love and kindness, aiming for gratitude and humility. It's through moments of adversity that one's appreciation and thankfulness are truly tested due to the heedlessness and arrogance that can sometimes arise, requiring even greater patience in enduring hardship! An example of this is the triumph of the believers in the Battle of Badr with divine assistance:

[Quran 8:17] «You did not kill them, but it was God who killed them. And you threw not, [O Muhammad], when you threw, but it was God who threw that He might test the believers with a good test. Indeed, God is Hearing and Knowing.»

Of course, there is also the 'unpleasant tribulation', such as the tribulation of Pharaoh and his oppressive regime upon the Children of Israel, which the Quran repeatedly mentions as a great tribulation from your Lord. Indeed, the killing of their sons and the sparing of their daughters was a very painful tribulation for the people of Moses, but these hardships molded a nation enslaved and oppressed for centuries by the Pharaohs in such a way that they endured with patience and steadfastness, ultimately overthrowing the tyrannical regime. The Quran refers to the abundant miracles presented by Moses as tribulations, tribulations in the sense of tests of various signs of knowledge (such as the staff and the white hand) that challenge the conscience of people to believe, deny, and choose the right path:

[Quran 44:33] «And We certainly gave them of signs that in which there was a clear trial.»

In this way, all divine trials, both gentle and harsh, are entirely acts of mercy and kindness. If only we know and understand their philosophy:

«I am in love with the One who is both the conqueror and the benevolent. It's amazing that I am in love with these two opposites.
Every moment delights me; your judgment is life to me, as I surrender my life.
I do not look at anyone, and yet I am in His sight.
The lover that God makes(through trials)/God's acts is in ecstasy; the lover of creation is an unbeliever.
I am a lover, sacrificed for the beloved. My soul is not mine anymore; it's the turn of the drum of tribulation»

General Areas of Challenge with Obstacles to Growth!

A) Fear (war), hunger, reduction of wealth, people, and the products of work and life.:

[Quran 2:155] «And We will surely test you with something of fear and hunger and a loss of wealth and lives and fruits, but give good tidings to the steadfast.»

B) The test of wealth, selves, and the harassment of enemies.:

[Quran 3:186] «You will surely be tested in your possessions and in yourselves. And you will surely hear from those who were given the Scripture before you(Christians and Jews) and from those who associate others with God much abuse. But if you are steadfast and control yourselves - indeed, that is of the matters [worthy] of determination.»

C) All the beauties on earth are means of our examination and trial.

[Quran 18:7] «Indeed, We have made that which is on the earth adornment for it that We may test them [as to] which of them is best in deed.»

In whatever we have given (from religion and law), we are tested.

Special Areas of Trial and Building!

A) In interactions with followers of other scriptures/paths:

[Quran 5:48] «...For each of you (Jews, Christians, and Muslims), we have ordained a law and a clear way. And if God had willed, He could have made you all one nation, but He intends to test you in what He has given you (to see how you develop with the resources that are appropriate to your culture). So compete with each other in good deeds. To God is the return of all of you, and He will inform you of the matters over which you differ (so focus today only on what you have in common).»

B) In the competition for power and leadership in the field of politics:

[Quran 16:92] «Do not be like the woman who untwisted her spun thread after it was strong (by) breaking your oaths as [means of] deceit between you (how?) you have made the activities that you have done in the way of God (faith = divine covenants) as a capital for betrayal and deception to be more powerful than other groups in political competition. It's not that you are exposed to divine trials, and certainly, on the Day of Resurrection, He will clarify for you the differences between you.»

C) In the crucible of war(self-defense) and jihad (great struggle in every form and what is able):

This question has always arisen for many believers throughout history, at the peak of enemy invasions, why the revealer of the book and sender of messengers does not defend his religion and school against enemies himself! And leaves the believers at the mercy of the enemy's flood?

Even the defeated Muslims in the Battle of Uhud nurtured this historical question within themselves and received such an answer:

[Quran 3:154] «... (The philosophy and necessity of defensive warfare is this) so that God may test thoughts that are in your hearts (in the mental field of question and answer, your conscience becomes sharp and clear) and purify what you have in your hearts; for God is the pure and purifying. Thus, he wants to test you in your interactions with each other and life challenges (to purify you and make you).»

[Quran 47:4] «And if God had willed, He could have taken vengeance upon them [Himself], but [He ordered armed struggle] to test some of you by means of others. And those who are killed in the cause of God - never will He waste their deeds.»

Also the following verses:

[Quran 8:17] «You did not kill them, but God killed them, and you did not shoot when you shot, but God shot. he tests the believers with a good test from Himself. God hears all and know all.» [Quran 47:31] «And We will surely test you until We make evident those who strive among you [for the cause of God] and the patient, and We will test your affairs.»

[Quran 33:11] «Here are the believers tested and shaken with a severe shaking.»

Trials in ease!?

Sometimes even the easy benefits and risk-free bribes and rents become available to a person, which are very tempting, but in reality, it's a trap of affliction and trial to strengthen the soul and willpower. Among these cases is an indication that the Quran has referred to hunting that is accessible during the state of Ihram (sacred state) in the pilgrimage:

[Quran 5:94] «O believers, surely God tests you (during the sacred state) with hunting that is accessible and within your reach, so that He may know who fears Him in unseen (and thus their purity is strengthened in this exercise)...»

Trials are not always accompanied by difficulties and deprivations; ease of work and the availability of resources, although they lead many people towards comfort and indulgence, if we show gratitude (employ our blessings in correct way in God's way), it blossoms talents: the following examples are mentioned in the Quran:

[Quran 21:35] «Every soul will taste the flavor of death, and We (until the last breath) make you undergo trial with good and evil (in the path of growth and transformation) and (in this process) you will return to Us.»

[Quran 7:168] «...And We made them undergo trial with good and bad (with bitter and sweet experiences of life) so that perhaps they would return [to obedience] (and learn lessons from the consequences).»

[Quran 89:15-16] «But man, when his Lord tries him by being generous to him and bestowing favors upon him, he says, «My Lord has honored me»; and when He tries him by restricting his provision, he says, «My Lord has humiliated me.»

Trials of Prophets!?

Most people assume that affliction and trials are meant for the wicked, and that prophets and righteous individuals should live in comfort and ease! Such a misconception about affliction arises from the misunderstanding of its divine purpose as punishment for wrongdoers. However, if we recognize affliction as a school and a field for growth and perfection, then the chosen ones among humanity will be more exposed to it. A prominent example is the Prophet Abraham, who, by enduring various trials and tests, became worthy of being an «Imam» = a role model for humanity:

[Quran, 2:124] «When his Lord tested Abraham with certain words, and he fulfilled them, He said, 'I will make you a leader of humanity.' Abraham asked, 'And will You make leaders from my descendants too?' God answered, 'My pledge does not hold for those who do wrong.'»

He engaged in a logical battle against the superstitious beliefs of the people and did not yield to their prejudice and instigations. He confronted the fire of Nimrod's persecution and emerged unscathed. He migrated from his home and settled in the barren wilderness of Mecca, devoid of greenery and signs of life, all for the sake of God. And ultimately, he willingly prepared to sacrifice what was most dear to him, his beloved son:

[Quran, 37:103-109] «So, when they had both submitted(son and father) and he put him down upon his forehead, We called out to him, 'O Abraham! You have fulfilled the vision!' Indeed, We thus reward the doers of good. Indeed, this was the clear trial. And We ransomed him with a great sacrifice. And We left for him favorable mention among later generations: 'Peace upon Abraham!'»

The trials of Abraham were among the most severe trials that a prophet has faced. Although hardships are a shared aspect of trials, what is even more difficult than that is ease. Contrary to common belief, although comforts may seem sweet and pleasant, gratitude for them is much harder to maintain in the face of factors that foster negligence. God placed Solomon in the furnace of trial to test his resistance against the intoxication of power, wealth, and status. Solomon, too, expressed gratitude for the blessings bestowed upon him and found growth and perfection amidst these tempting circumstances:

[Quran, 27:40] «He said, 'This is from the favor of my Lord to test me whether I will be grateful or ungrateful.'»

Historical Trials of Nations and Communities

The arenas of human trial encompass various individual and social dimensions that vary according to the circumstances of time and place. Below are some examples of social trials that have occurred in the history of nations: Regarding the struggles of Prophet Noah to guide his people, the story involves denial, mockery, and threats, culminating in the drowning of his people and the salvation of the believers:

[Quran, 23:30] «Indeed in that is a sign, but most of them were not to be believers.»

The trial of the soldiers thirsty under Saul (Talut) for drinking water, intended to strengthen their resolve in enduring thirst before facing the enemy, demonstrates facing the hardships of war:

[Quran, 2:249] «So when Saul went forth with the soldiers, he said, 'Indeed, God will be testing you with a river. So whoever drinks from it is not of me, and whoever does not taste it is indeed of me...'»

The trial of a community from the Children of Israel who used to earn their livelihood by fishing at sea. The waves striking on Saturday, which tempted them to fish abundantly, was a significant trial against their religious prohibition of engaging in worldly work on Saturday, aiming to challenge their conscience and intellect:

[Quran, 7:163] «And ask them about the town that was by the sea - when they transgressed in [the matter of] the Sabbath - when their fish came to them openly on their Sabbath day, and the day they had no Sabbath they did not come to them...»

The trial of the wealthy farmers who decided to harvest their fruits very early in the morning before people woke up, so they wouldn't have to share any of it with the needy and hungry. This was a test to guide them from their selfishness and stinginess towards generosity and open-handedness:

[Quran, 68:17] «Indeed, We have tried them as We tried the companions of the garden, when they swore to cut its fruit in the [early] morning.»

These historical trials illustrate the complexities of human morality and the tests faced by various communities throughout history.