Friday Sermon: Trials are a Precursor to Success
by Majeed Ali
20 October 1989 (Ahmadiyya Anjuman Ishaat-e-Islam Lahore UK)
لَاۤ اُقۡسِمُ بِہٰذَا الۡبَلَدِ ۙ﴿۱﴾ وَ اَنۡتَ حِلٌّۢ بِہٰذَا الۡبَلَدِ ۙ﴿۲﴾ وَ وَالِدٍ وَّ مَا وَلَدَ ۙ﴿۳﴾ لَقَدۡ خَلَقۡنَا الۡاِنۡسَانَ فِیۡ کَبَدٍ ؕ﴿۴﴾
“No, I call to witness this City! And you will be made free from obligation in this City — And the father and the offspring whom he produced! We have certainly created man to face difficulties” (The Holy Quran, 90:1–4).
God has called to witness “this City”. “This City” here means Makkah [Mecca].
Another witness in this context is the begotten and he whom he begot — Abraham and his son, Ishmael. [Note by the Webmaster: The translation of Chapter 90, verse 3, in the 1951 edition of the ‘English Translation and Commentary of the Holy Quran by Maulana Muhammad Ali is as follows: ‘And the begetter and he whom he begot!’]
The substantive proposition is that man has been created to face difficulties.
وَ اَنۡتَ حِلٌّۢ بِہٰذَا الۡبَلَدِ ۙ﴿۲﴾
“And you will be made free from obligation in this City” (The Holy Quran, 90:2)
are parenthetical words.
Abraham, the Patriarch of two great races, the Ishmaelites and the Israelites, lived some 2300 years BC. His first son, Ishmael, was born when Abraham was eighty-six years old (Genesis, 16:16). Under Divine orders, Hagar, Abraham’s wife, and her infant baby, Ishmael, were taken by Abraham to a place where now the city of Makkah stands, and he prayed:
رَبَّنَاۤ اِنِّیۡۤ اَسۡکَنۡتُ مِنۡ ذُرِّیَّتِیۡ بِوَادٍ غَیۡرِ ذِیۡ زَرۡعٍ عِنۡدَ بَیۡتِکَ الۡمُحَرَّمِ ۙ رَبَّنَا لِیُـقِیۡمُوا الصَّلٰوۃَ فَاجۡعَلۡ اَفۡئِدَۃً مِّنَ النَّاسِ تَہۡوِیۡۤ اِلَیۡہِمۡ وَارۡ زُقۡہُمۡ مِّنَ الثَّمَرٰتِ لَعَلَّہُمۡ یَشۡکُرُوۡنَ ﴿۳۷﴾
“Our Lord, I have settled a part of my offspring in a valley unproductive of fruit near Your Sacred House, our Lord, that they may keep up prayer; so make the hearts of some people yearn towards them, and provide them with fruits; perhaps they may be grateful” (The Holy Quran, 14:37).
Bread is not the only means of sustenance. More important than that is the spiritual food without which man turns beast.
For the guidance of those who were to inhabit that land, Abraham further prayed:
رَبَّنَا وَ ابۡعَثۡ فِیۡہِمۡ رَسُوۡلًا مِّنۡہُمۡ یَتۡلُوۡا عَلَیۡہِمۡ اٰیٰتِکَ وَ یُعَلِّمُہُمُ الۡکِتٰبَ وَ الۡحِکۡمَۃَ وَ یُزَکِّیۡہِمۡ ؕ اِنَّکَ اَنۡتَ الۡعَزِیۡزُ الۡحَکِیۡمُ ﴿۱۲۹﴾٪
“Our Lord, and raise up in them a Messenger from among them who shall recite to them Your messages and teach them the Book and the Wisdom, and purify them. Surely You are the Mighty, the Wise” (The Holy Quran, 2:129).
It was a great trial for Abraham and no less great for Hagar. When the baby and his mother were being abandoned by Abraham in the desert, Hagar asked:
“Are you leaving us here of your own will, or is it the will of God?”
“I do it under Divine order.”
Hagar then said:
“Alright then. The One Who ordered you will be our Protector and Sustainer.”
When Ishmael was in his teens, Abraham, under Divine instruction, goes to see his sprouting son again. Another trial comes: Abraham is asked to slay his son. When both were ready, Abraham was stopped from applying his knife to his son’s throat.
After about three thousand years, the prayer of Abraham [see above: The Holy Quran, 2:129] bears fruit. In his progeny, the Holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was raised in the City of Makkah, a city where that prophet had every right to live in peace and to preach the Book and the Wisdom to purify the dwellers and all mankind. But he was opposed and oppressed and subjected to inhuman treatment along with his followers.
Almighty God consoled the Holy Prophet by saying:
وَ اَنۡتَ حِلٌّۢ بِہٰذَا الۡبَلَدِ ۙ﴿۲﴾
“And you will be made free from obligation in this City” (The Holy Quran, 90:2),
but draws the Holy Prophet’s attention to a universal truth that man has been created to face difficulties.
Moral and spiritual advancement could be achieved only through hardships and tribulations. There was no shortcut to greatness, whether spiritual or temporal, without undergoing trials and sufferings. In order to bring about a spiritual awakening in the world, the Holy Prophet was made to suffer untold hardships, which Abraham and Ishmael had also tasted.
While repeating in the Holy Quran the stories faced by the earlier prophets such as Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, and Jesus, it has been categorically stated:
کَتَبَ اللّٰہُ لَاَغۡلِبَنَّ اَنَا وَ رُسُلِیۡ ؕ اِنَّ اللّٰہَ قَوِیٌّ عَزِیۡزٌ ﴿۲۱﴾
“Allah has written down: I shall certainly prevail, I and My messengers. Surely Allah is Strong, Mighty” (The Holy Quran, 58:21).
All of the messengers suffered, but triumphed ultimately, to prove that the hidden hand of God had all along their sufferings and trials been working to make their success possible.
Prophets are, after all, human beings. Their capacity to bear afflictions is naturally limited. In spite of all the promises made by God, they are enjoined to have patience. Even the Holy Prophet had been asked:
فَاصۡبِرۡ کَمَا صَبَرَ اُولُوا الۡعَزۡمِ مِنَ الرُّسُلِ وَ لَا تَسۡتَعۡجِلۡ لَّہُمۡ ؕ
“So have patience (O Prophet), as men of resolution, the messengers, had patience, and do not seek to hasten on for them (their doom)” (The Holy Quran, 46:35).
Our Christian friends believe that Jesus died on the cross to atone for the sins of all mankind. If it is taken to be true, then the affliction of the Cross would have been a cause of rejoicing to Jesus. But we find that even the idea of death in this way was unbearable to Jesus, and he most humbly requested God in these touching words:
“Abba, Father, everything is possible for You. Take this cup from me” (Mark, 14:36–37).
And before this prayer, he expressed himself in unambiguous terms:
“My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death” (Mark, 14:34).
And finally, while on the Cross, he cried out:
“My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” (Matthew, 27:46).
God does not forsake prophets, but it is necessary that for setting an example before their people that prophets should also undergo hardships. In the verses recited at the beginning [The Holy Quran, 90:1–4], God reminds us that man has been created to face difficulties, and the promise of the Holy Prophet moving in the city of Makkah free of any obligation was fulfilled, but he had first passed through an avalanche of trials and troubles for a long period of at least twenty years.
We want that Islam should triumph over other faiths. We long to see the flag of Islam fluttering over all the heights, but we easily forget the words of God:
لَقَدۡ خَلَقۡنَا الۡاِنۡسَانَ فِیۡ کَبَدٍ ؕ﴿۴﴾
“We have certainly created man to face difficulties” (The Holy Quran, 90:4).
We shall first have to exert hard to remove impurities from our inner selves, and then to plant purities in our hearts and illumine ourselves with all that is virtuous. Only then can we carry the torch of Islam to others. Otherwise, not!
بَارَکَ اللّٰهُ لَنَا وَلَکُمْ فِي الْقُرْآنِ الْعَظِیْم، وَنَفَعَنَا وَاِیَّاکُمْ بِالْآیَاتِ وَالذِّکْرِ الْحَکِیْم۔ اِنَّہٗ تَعَالیٰ جَوَادٌ کَرِیْمٌ مَلِکٌ بَرَّ رَوُوفُ رَّحَیْمٌ۔
“May Allah bless us all in the glorious Quran and may He let us benefit by His signs and wise remembrance. Verily Allah the Almighty is Generous, Affectionate, King, Most Kind, Compassionate and Merciful.”