One of the central concepts in Islam is that this life is a test. This means that human beings should expect to face trials and tribulations, and that they should endure them with patience and perseverance. This point is repeated throughout the Qur’an and the hadith. In fact, patience and perseverance in the face of difficulty are traits that believers strive to embody.
For Muslims, this world is not the ultimate goal; rather, it is the afterlife that is the real goal. This doesn’t mean that Muslims are discouraged from enjoying this world or from working hard to achieve success, but that they should always keep in mind when faced with a difficulty, challenge, or obstacle that it is all part of a test. In other words, the Qur’an and the hadith tell Muslims that God tests believers and that difficulties are a fact of this world. This is illustrated in verse 155-157 in chapter 2:
Be sure We shall test you with something of fear and hunger, some loss in goods, lives, and the fruits of your toil. But give glad tidings to those who patiently persevere. Those who say, when afflicted with calamity, ‘To Allah we belong, and to Him is our return.’ They are those on whom descend blessings from their Lord, and mercy. They are the ones who receive guidance.
In Islamic belief, everyone is tested, including the prophets. In the Qur’an, all the prophets who are mentioned faced challenges and thus are often cited as examples for how they endured very difficult trials. For example, Jacob’s test, mentioned in the chapter on Joseph, is that he had to endure the loss of a son when Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery and lied to Jacob saying that Joseph was eaten by a wolf. Jacob’s response in verse 18 in chapter 12 demonstrates this concept of patience:
They stained his shirt with false blood. He said: “Nay but your minds have made up a tale (that may pass) with you. (For me) patience is most fitting: against that which ye assert, it is Allah (alone) whose help can be sought.”
The idea is that when you are challenged and respond with patience, your faith and character become stronger. Your faith becomes stronger because ideally it would lead you to engage in more worship, asking for God’s assistance. And your character becomes stronger because you are then able to handle struggles in life.
This willingness to accept and endure does not mean that Muslims should be defeatists and refuse to work towards alleviating problems. But they should accept the test, call on God for assistance in being patient, and move forward. Thus, when Muslims have difficult circumstances, it is not unusual for them to respond by simply saying alhamdulillah or Praise be to God. This phrase embodies both the acceptance of the test but also the will to persevere through it.
Do you think that the concepts of patience and perseverance are important to the Islamic worldview? Why? What are other verses or hadith that illustrate the importance of patience? Are these concepts important in other faith traditions? How so? Please share your comments below.