Overcoming Hardships Prophet Muhammad Spiritual Purification With the Divine

Is the Path to God Filled with Hardships?

pathDifficulty or Ease Series: Part I | Part II | Part III Part IV | Part V | Part VI

By AbdelRahman Mussa

This small series of articles aims to explore the following questions:

  • Does Islam promote ease or difficulty?
  • Does Islam state that the path to Allah is that of difficulty?

Previously we discussed:

  • With Hardship There is Ease
  • Wondrous are the Believers’ Affairs
  • Seek Help Through Patience
  • He Always Chose the Easiest of Two Matters
  • Allah Wants Ease for You
  • Allah Wants to Alleviate The Burden

In this article we will discuss 3 other pieces of evidence that seem to promote difficulty.

We Shall Test You With Something of Fear

Doesn’t Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) mention testing us with fear, hunger, loss of wealth and other things? Yes, He does, and we have to look at these verses before we come to a conclusion about anything.

“And certainly, We shall test you with something of fear, hunger, loss of wealth, lives and fruits, but give glad tidings to the patient ones” (Qur’an, 2: 155).

Wow. This seems to totally contradict the verses about Allah wanting for us ease. We also know that Allah is testing us to see if we will succeed or fail, and based upon that either we go to heaven or hell. So, this implies that tests of difficulty are the path to heaven. Huge contradictions it would seem… how can we understand both verses without nullifying or negating either?

Firstly Allah doesn’t say: “We shall test you with fear…” Instead, He says: “something of,” meaning a small portion of. Also, Allah doesn’t say: We shall test you with fear…” He says: “of fear” – which actually means “from fear.” The Arabic term “min” is used, which means “a small part of from.”

So it’s like saying: We shall test you with a bit of a portion of fear, [with a bit of a portion of] hunger, [with a bit of a portion of] loss of wealth, [with a bit of a portion of] lives and [with a bit of a portion of] fruits, but give glad tidings to the patient ones.

Do you see how different that is to just saying, “We shall test you with fear, hunger, loss of wealth, lives and fruits, but give glad tidings to the patient ones?” It’s a huge difference. You are tested with part of a part of something, instead of the whole thing or even a part of something!

So, from afar or at first glance, yes it does seem that this verse supports difficulty as a path to Allah, but at closer inspection it’s clear that it doesn’t. All the verse is saying is that you’ll be afflicted with small amounts of something of difficulty.

Hell is Surrounded by Worldly Desire

“Hell is surrounded by worldly desire, while Heaven is surrounded by difficulty and hardship” (Bukhari and Muslim).

In another version of this narration the Prophet ﷺ (peace be upon him) says:

“Heaven is camouflaged by hardships and that hell is camouflaged by ease”

This hadith (saying of the Prophet ﷺ) seems to suggest that the path to heaven is hardship and the path to hell is ease. Is that true? So, now we’re looking into the question of what we should aim to attain. Let’s explore the matter of prayer with relevance to difficulty or ease. We all know that salah (prayer) is a necessary act to attain Paradise. Many people find prayer difficult. This would seem to support the (above) understanding of the above hadith – that difficulty is the path to Heaven.

But we also know that the Prophet ﷺ, used to say to Bilal (radi Allahu `anhu – may God be pleased with him):

‘Arihna bihaa yaa Bilal!

O Bilal, give us rest with it (i.e. prayer! (Abu Dawud)

The Prophet ﷺ is saying that prayer is ease, it gives us rest, and it soothes us.

There seems to be a contradiction here. The hadith mentions that heaven is surrounded by difficulty yet prayer, which is a necessary act to attain heaven, brings (some people) ease.

When is the Help of Allah Due?

So up till now, the evidence has swayed away from the theory that difficulty is the path to Allah. But the following verse can change everything:

“Or think you that you will enter Paradise without the example of those who passed away before you? They were afflicted with severe poverty and ailments and were so shaken that even the Messenger and those who believed along with him said: “When is the Help of Allah due?” Indeed, definitely, the Help of Allah is near!” (Qur’an, 2:214).

So I won’t enter paradise until I’ve been shaken to the core like those before me; that’s petrifying! This verse doesn’t facilitate for us a change of understanding about the previous evidences, but alone it seems to point quite strongly away from ease, to say the least!

Question: Is Allah mentioning this verse to say that every single believer will not enter heaven except that they are shaken to their core?

This can’t be true because we know this doesn’t happen, not to every single believer. Also, “The messenger and those who believed with him said”… but our Messenger Muhammad ﷺ didn’t say this nor did Mussa (Moses), nor are we told that Isa (Jesus) said this, nor Abraham etc. Nor did the companions of the Prophet ﷺ, say words of a similar tone, except very few like Ammar ibn Yassir when he was being tortured and his mother had been killed with a spear in between her legs. Only a few were shaken to their core the way that the verse explains it.

So this verse isn’t a condition for the entry of each and every Muslim into heaven. Rather it is a poetic way of saying that the higher your goal, the more the stairs and the effort that is required to reach that goal. We know this to be true. Getting a doctorate is not the same as watching a movie; the loftier the goal, the greater the price. That’s normal and to be expected. So, we will be tested, not because hardship is the path to Allah, but because the goal is lofty.

The Prophet ﷺ says that,

“Indeed the commodity of Allah is expensive, indeed the commodity of Allah is jannah (paradise)” (Tirmidhi).

So, it’s not that the path to Allah is the path of difficulty. No, the path to Allah is the path to Allah. On the way, you will be afflicted with difficulty, but you’ll also be afflicted with ease.

Remember the hadith I presented before, “if ease befalls him… if hardship befalls him.”

It’s not that either of them is a path or goal that we choose; rather they befall us on our paths, on our way to our goal(s).

The next article will discuss:

  • Allah Tests What Is In Your Breasts
  • So That They Might Return To Allah
  • The Misunderstood Hadith

AbdelRahman Mussa, a graduate of sharia and a therapist, is the founder of ipersonalenrichment.com, a site specializing in practical tazkiyah (purification of the heart). To receive his free newsletter about tazkiyah, please visit the ipersonalenrichment.com website.

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