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Trials of Humankind (3)

The word «فِـتنه» (Fitna) is repeated 30 times (60 times with derivatives) among all the words used in the subject of «Human Test» in the Quran. The origin of the word «fitna» is derived from putting gold or silver in the fire for purification from impurities and dross. In fact, the primary use of this word was in the refining industry of precious metals in the testing furnace, and then metaphorically it has been used for life's problems that, like a furnace, refines the human. In the human structure, there is a gem more precious than gold and silver, which only in the face of difficulties its dirt and impurity(polytheism) turn into purity and monotheism.

This analogy and symbolism are not exclusive to the Quran, although the Quran has detailed it, it has also been used once in the Gospel, and Christians often mention it as a verbal revelation and miracle. Look:

«He will act like a refiner and purifier of silver. He will purify Levi’s sons and refine them like Gold and Silver. Then they will bring acceptable offerings to the Lord.» Malachi 3:3. God words (Bible) translation 1995

In some translations of the Gospel, instead of the phrase «He will act like...,» the phrase: «He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver» has been used. Commentators of the Gospel have explained that like a silversmith who must keep an eye on the process of melting impurities of silver and consider his work complete when he sees its image in pure and refined silver, God also does not take His eyes off His servant and with kindness watches over his conditions so that with the refinement of impurities, his image of purity is seen in his heart! The one who knows that in the furnace of life's trials he is in the process of refining and joining purity, he endures the pain of the burns.

The words used in the Quran about human testing form a system that each describes a single phenomenon from a specific angle:

  • In the word «فتنه» (Fitna): It means to be put to the test in fire.

  • In the word «امتحان» (Imtehan): It means to fall into distress and hardship.

  • In the word «اختبار» (Ekhtibar): It means to manifest one's nature.

  • In the word «ابتلاء» (Ibtila'): It means to actualize potential abilities in difficulties.

  • In the word «تمحيص» (Tamhees): It means the process of purification and refining.

  • In the word «تمخيض» (Tamkhiz): It means to be tested and experiencing the pain of childbirth (a new birth).

  • In the word «تعبد» (Ta'bbud): It means to smooth and level one's existence in struggles.

The existence of this number of similar words may confuse the reader a bit and leave him puzzled in understanding the philosophy of «human testing». In this regard, to simplify the matter, we use the example of a «school».

The purpose of establishing a school is nothing but educating and training young people to actualize and manifest their potential intelligence and abilities (the concept of Ibtila'). Such a thing cannot be achieved except with continuous and hard effort and sacrificing the comfort and ease of childhood, colloquially known as «burning the midnight oil»! And immersing oneself in the fire and water of learning and acquiring knowledge (the meaning of Fitna).

Embracing such a trial is certainly difficult, but it has benefits and gradually brings the student from the softness and pampering of childhood to order and discipline, psychological education, and personal refinement (the meaning of Tahmees). The peak of this effort is when one must prepare oneself for the final year exam (Imtehan) and like a pregnant woman, deliver what has been nurtured within oneself (Tamkhiz). After the exam, the result and the «news» of what one has studied and strived for become clear (Ekhtibar).

On the first day of entering school, young people become nostalgic and lonely due to separation from the cradle of home and the warmth of mother, but gradually, in the challenge with hardships, their existence is forged and smoothed in the path of growth and perfection (the meaning of ta'bbud).

As you can see, a school can be defined negatively from each of the angles described; the calamity of childhood joy (Ibtila'), the fire that destroys comfort (Fitna), the difficult duties of teachers (Tahmees), the hardship and distress of exams (Imtehan), the exhaustive effort of final exams (Tamkhiz). Constructing oneself for entry into a life full of hardship and competition (Ta'bbud).

Although the above definitions are entirely true, comprehensive, and indicative of the philosophy of establishing schools, each of them has not looked at the issue from one angle, which is a fact. A school is not established for anything other than educating and training and serving the offspring of humanity. But apart from this path, one cannot achieve such a purpose.The meaning of «فتنه» (fitna) in the Quran is the same as the intended purpose of establishing a school. However, unfortunately, in our culture, the word «فتنه» (fitna), «ابتلاء» (ibtila'), and «امتحان» (imtehan) are always understood in the negative conventional sense, indicating either hardship or a test to distinguish between good and bad people. Unaware that God is neither inclined to severity towards His servants nor ignorant of their condition to need testing!!

Understanding the difference between these words for us who have distanced ourselves from the culture of the Quran and understanding the subtleties of its words is indeed problematic. With some wonderment in the works of our great mystics and literati, who are a source of national pride, the meaning inferred from the word «فتنه» (fitna) and expressed in verse and prose differs completely from the deep concept of this word in the Quran, which implies a continuous challenge on the path of human growth and education. When our language and literature teachers have focused on side effects and secondary meanings instead of the main theme, what expectations can we have from the masses!? And this itself is a sign of the neglect of many Quranic concepts and their integration with Eastern mysticism and other cultures.

Among our great mystics the framework of love (real or metaphorical towards God) has become an expression of the concept of fitna. And among the literati fitna has been portrayed in the realm of destiny and faithlessness, the vicissitudes of time, and unpleasant events. Even in the works of later poets, Rumi has seen the concept of fitna in the world of politics and the ruin of the kingdom and nation and has rebuked the despots. In short, this pen in the works of our national luminaries who have sometimes adorned this writing, I have not found a mention of divine will for the trial of servants with fitna and the philosophy of these challenges in their poems. I hope if this statement is incorrect, the reformers and guides will correct it.

(For more information on the use of fitna in the works of literati and mystics, examples from each are provided at the end of this writing.)

We have examined most of the words in previous sections. In this section, we will examine the meaning of «فتنه» (Fitna) and look at its various contexts in the Quran.

1) Fitna of Wealth and Children

The most common form of fitna, from which no one is exempt, is wealth and children, which constitute the broadest laboratory for human testing and the most important platform for the formation of one's character. Fitna, mistakenly perceived as a negative and reprehensible matter in our mindset, is here attributed to two beloved matters, namely wealth and children, which excessive attachment and affection to them may lead to neglect of truth and injustice, as well as family disputes and financial issues due to stinginess and lack of self-control (piety):

[8:28 and 64:15] «And know that your possessions and your children are but a trial and that God has with Him a great reward.»

Imam Ali said in consoling one of his companions who had lost his son:

«Your son (at the time of birth) caused your happiness, while he was a source of trial for you, and (at the time of death) he caused your grief, while (if you endure and bear it with steadfastness) he will be a source of reward and mercy.»

In another instance, he said:

«Never say, 'O God, I seek refuge in You from fitna (trial)!' because there is no one who is not somehow involved in a fitna (trial). But if someone seeks refuge in God, they must seek refuge in God from the misguided fitna (trials), for the Lord has said: 'Know that your possessions and your children are a trial (means of testing) for you'.»

2) Good and Evil

As mentioned earlier, contrary to common belief, matters of good are also considered fitna because they serve as means of testing, growth, and perfection for us:

[29:35] «Every soul will taste death, and We test you with evil and with good as trial; and to Us you will be returned.»

3) Prophets Subjected to Fitna

The common notion is that only impure and evil individuals are subjected to fitna and trials to become pure and refined, but because purity and ascent towards divine perfections are relative and have no limit, the trial of fitna also includes prophets:

[20:40] «...and you killed(by mistake)a person, but We saved you from distress, and We tried you with severe trial. Then you remained (some) years among the people of Madyan. Then you came (here) at the calculated time, O Moses!»

[38:24] «And certainly, We tried Solomon, and We placed on his throne a body, then he turned (to God in repentance).»

4) Comfort, Wealth, Knowledge

Fitna encompasses these highly desired aspects, which must be shared and treated with holiness:

[20:131] «And do not extend your eyes toward that by which We have given enjoyment to (certain) categories of them, (the splendor of) the worldly life, to test them thereby. And the provision of your Lord is better and more enduring.»

5) Life's Challenges and Hardships

Every hardship in life that robs us of peace and comfort and causes harm and loss is a test for human perseverance, although we often wrongly perceive them as neglect by God:

[29:2-3] «Do the people think that they will be left to say, 'We believe' and they will not be tried? But We have certainly tried those before them, and God will surely make evident those who are truthful, and He will surely make evident the liars.»

[22:11] «And among the people is he who worships God on an edge. If he is touched by good, he is reassured by it; but if he is struck by trial, he turns on his face [to the other direction]. He has lost [this] world and the Hereafter. That is what is the manifest loss.»

[39:49] «When adversity touches man, he calls upon Us, but when We bestow favor upon him, he says, 'I have only been given it because of [my] knowledge.' Rather, it is a trial, but most of them do not know.»

6) War and External Aggression

The most severe and apparent trial, which jeopardizes life, property, honor, land, home, and all aspects of life, is external attacks and the necessity of defending against invaders:

[2:191] «Kill them [the invaders] wherever you find them (thaqiftumū-hum), and expel them from where they expelled you. (fitnah here=persecution and polytheism) is more severe than killing. Do not fight them in the vicinity of the Sacred Mosque unless they fight you there. If they fight you then kill them, for such is the requital of the disbelievers (kāfirūn).»

[2:193] «Fight them until fitnah is no more and religion is for God [no one will be harmed on account of their beliefs or creed]. Then if they desist there shall be no hostility, except toward the wrongdoers..»

[2:217] «...they ask you about fighting in the holy month. Say, «It is outrageous [and violates its sanctity] to fight in it; however, keeping [people] from God’s way, being unfaithful [and ungrateful] to Him, [preventing Muslims from entering] the Holy Mosque, and expelling its people [Makkah’s Muslims] from it are more outrageous in God’s eyes.» Persecuting(fitnah) [denying true religious freedom] is graver than killing. They will not stop fighting you until they turn you away from your religion...»

[8:39] «And fight them until there is no fitnah (persecution because of religious beliefs) and the religion, all of it, is for God(complete freedom of religion). But if they cease, then there is to be no aggression except against the oppressors.»

[8:73] «And those who disbelieved [denied the right to choose religion and forcibly retained people from it; they are also] allies [supporters and confederates] of one another. If you do not [obey the command to support the oppressed], there will be great turmoil and disorder in the land [Mecca and other regions with the expulsion and displacement of Muslims].»

[9:126] «Do they not see that they are tried every year once or twice but then they do not repent nor do they remember?»

7) Internal Disputes of the nations, Conflicts, and Loss of Social Freedom and Security

In addition to external enemies, internal enemies of a nation arising from power competition in the political arena are considered a trial, and the Quran has warned about this type of trial more than any other:

[8:25] «And fear a trial which will not strike those who have wronged among you exclusively, and know that God is severe in penalty(retribution)»

(Reading verses 23 to 29 of Surah Al-Anfal is recommended)

These verses also address the hypocrites within society: Surah An-Nisa (4:91), Surah At-Tawbah (9:47-49), Surah Al-Isra (17:60), Surah An-Nur (24:63), and Surah Al-Ahzab (33:14).

8) Trials of Nations with Prophets (accepting or rejecting) Miracles and Clear Signs!

[44:17] «And We had already tried before them the people of Pharaoh, and there came to them a noble messenger.»

[54:27] «Indeed, We have sent upon them the she-camel as a visible trial, so watch them and be patient.»

Also: [2:102], [5:71], [7:155], [20:85] and [20:90], [21:111], [27:47].

9) Trial in the sense of harassing and tormenting others, inflicting punishment and throwing others into torment

[85:10] «Surely, as for those who persecuted(fatanu) the believing men and women and never repented, [they] will suffer the torment of Hell and the torment of burning.»

[16:110] «So indeed your Master [is forgiving] to those who migrated and tried hard(Jihad) and persevered after they were persecuted(futinu), indeed your Master is forgiving and merciful after that.»

[10:83] «But no one believed Moses, except [some] descendants among his people, for fear of Pharaoh and his establishment that they would persecute them. And indeed, Pharaoh was haughty within the land, and indeed, he was of the transgressors.»

10) Trial in the sense of deceiving others

[5:49] «[Another commandment is to] judge between them by what God has sent down, as opposed to their opinions and theories. Beware of them, lest they should lead you astray (yaftinuka) from part of what God has sent down to you...»

[17:73] «And indeed, they were about to tempt you away from that which We revealed to you in order to [make] you invent about Us something else; and then they would have taken you as a friend.»

(Also: [3:7], [37:162] and [68:6])

11) Trial in the sense of being subjected to someone's injustice and oppression

[10:85] «But they said, 'Upon God we have relied. Our Lord, make us not [objects of] trial for the wrongdoing people.»

[29:10] «And of the people is he who says, 'We have believed in God,' but when he is harmed [harrased while doing his duty for] God, he considers the trial of the people as [if it were] the punishment of God. But if victory comes from your Lord, they say, 'Indeed, we were with you.' Is not God most knowing of what is within the breasts of all creatures?»

[60:5] «Our Lord, make us not [objects of] trial for the disbelievers and forgive us, our Lord. Indeed, it is You who is the Exalted in Might, the Wise.»

12) Human trials in relations with one another

[6:53] «And thus We have tried some of them through others that the disbelievers might say, 'Is it these whom God has favored among us?' Is not God most knowing of those who are grateful?»

[25:20] «And We did not send before you, [O Muhammad], any of the messengers except that they ate food and walked in the markets. And We have made some of you [people] as trial for others - will you have patience? And ever is your Lord, Seeing.»

13) Trial in the sense of Satan's deception

[7:27] «O children of Adam, do not let Satan tempt you as he tempted your parents [and] expelled them from Paradise(ease); [Satan] strips them of their garment [of self-control] [entirely through his instigations] to reveal [actualize the potential] ugliness [in their nature, he and his tribe. Indeed, they [Satan and his followers] see you from where you do not see them. Indeed, We have made the devils allies [friends / guardians] for those who do not believe.»

[22:53] «So that He makes whatever Satan throws a test for those who have a disease in their hearts and their hearts are hardened, and indeed the wrongdoers are in extreme opposition [to the truth].»

14) Hellfire Punishment

[37:63] «Indeed, We have made it a fitnah for the wrongdoers.»

[51:12-14] «They ask, 'When is the Day of Recompense?' It is the Day they will be tried (yuftanun) over the Fire. [And will be told], 'Taste your trial (punishment - fitnatakum). This is that for which you were impatient.'»


15) Fitnah in the general sense of meaning trial

[5:41] «...They distort the word after they have understood it and say, «If you are given this, take it; but if you are not given it, then beware.» And whoever God intends to put in Fitnah - you will never possess [power to do] for him a thing against God. Those are the ones for whom God does not intend to purify their hearts. For them in this world is disgrace, and for them in the Hereafter is a great punishment.»

[6:23] «But their Fitnah(excuse) is not except that they say, «By God, our Lord, we were not mushrikeen (polytheists).»

[74:31] «And We have not made the keepers of the Fire except angels. And We have not made their number except as a trial for those who disbelieve...»

16) Fitnah to mean Self-Deception

[57:14] «They will call them, «Were we not with you?» They will say, «Yes, but you afflicted yourselves and awaited [misfortune for us] and doubted, and wishful thinking deluded you until there came the command of God. And the Deceiver deceived you concerning God.»

Perspectives of Mystics and Literati on Fitnah

Rumi (Divan-e Shams)

In Rumi's Divan-e Shams, the word «fitnah» is mostly used metaphorically with words like intoxication, beloved, beauty, cupbearer, wine, allure, heart, temptation, love, etc. It is employed in a figurative sense in connection with love and ecstasy:

«In your love, when I took a breath, a hundred trials arose in my non-existence. You poured wine into the cup, you ignited a fitnah. What key do you have to the tavern of ruin? Tell me, you've drunk my blood, you've taken away my patience and peace of this nightwalker heart, I've been hidden from the trial of your day like face.»


«I have an eye that sheds blood from the hand of that eyebrow's bow. The world will witness many trials from that eye and from that eyebrow.»


«What hearts you've taken, O cupbearer, with your tempting wine. Alas! A few kisses on your enticing cheeks, captivating hearts.»

Abu-Saeed Abu al-Khair)

«Love came and poured fitnah onto my soul. My reason vanished, my senses fled, my knowledge escaped. How long will I advise you not to look, O heart, at fitnah in the path of tribulation?»


«When truth found its rise, Fitnah of love and passion arose. The sky is bewildered by the intoxication of love; the world is full of trials from the commotion of love.»

In the works of other famous poets such as Attar, Shabestari, Amir Khosrow Dehlavi, etc., you will find the word «fitnah» predominantly used in the context of love and passion (metaphorically, often in relation to God), or in its conventional negative sense indicating events and disturbances of the era.

Though Hafez uses the word «love» less frequently than one-eleventh of what Rumi employs in his poems, as seen from the examples above, he mainly uses it in a figurative manner, portraying it in the context of love, intoxication, and ecstasy, which doesn't necessarily align with the Quranic definition of the term.

Similarly, Saadi, known for his teachings on moral virtues, while using the word «fitnah» in some instances to denote general unrest and conflict, portrays it mostly in the context of love and passion, aligning with the cultural and literary milieu of his time.

Even though the word «fitnah» is scarcely found in Ferdowsi's work, and hardly found in Khayyam's works except for a couplet that indirectly refers to it in a negative light, poets like Attar, Shabestari, and Amir Khosrow Dehlavi, if searched, mainly use «fitnah» in the context of love and passion (often metaphorically in connection with God), or in its conventional negative sense indicating events and disturbances of the era.

In the works of lesser-known poets such as Parvin E'tesami, the word «fitnah» appears frequently in the context of life's bitterness and adversities, reflecting the poet's distressed and tormented life.

At the end of this writing, it is worthwhile to mention when politics cast its shadow over everything there's no attention given in writings of even good poets to the positive concept of «fitnah,» which is the school of human growth through facing challenges and hardships.