Deep TafsirsSoul Cleansers

Excellent Hardships

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When a writer slips in an adjective, take notice. Adjectives refine nouns. They are like the autofocus to your camera, the emoji to your text message, the caption to your Instagram post. They add a splash of clarity to an otherwise elusive, incomplete note. So take notice: “And you threw not, [O Muḥammad], when you threw, but it was Allah who threw; that He might test the believers with an excellent test. Indeed, Allah is Hearing and Knowing.”

وليبلى المؤمنين منه بلاءً حسناً إن الله سميع عليم

In surat al-`Anfāl, while wedged in the wake of a battle narrative, we stumble upon the most intriguing adjective-noun pairing: balā`an ḥasanā. Like any other oxymoron, this pairing grates coarsely against our understanding of hardship. “Excellent hardship?” As in, an anxiety-inducing, stress-producing, cry-fest event that is… excellent?? Hold up. Wait. Something is off. We seldom regard hardships as beautiful or excellent. We deem them as demons on our backs, dragging us downward toward depression. Illness. The death of a loved one. Familial fighting and sibling rivalry. For the ṣaḥāba, their “excellent hardship” was facing death on the Badr battlefield, beneath clashing swords and flying arrows and spilled blood. They faced death but left victorious, so Allah describes the event: “that He may test the believers with an excellent test.”

Where is the excellence when you witness a friend tremble and fall from injury? When you are a small army, fighting one-to-three, and the man holding a sword toward your Nabi ﷺ is your father, enlisted as “enemy?” Where is the excellence?

I’ll tell you. The wisdom unfolds in the verse’s closing, “Indeed, He is Hearing and Knowing.” He ﷻ knows what thoughts of God form in the milieu of our minds, the good and the doubtful. As for our struggle, He ﷻ has no need, just as He ﷻ had no need for their feet marching and swords clashing. All He needs is our heart’s testimony, its willingness to submit, ego humbled, truckled to His decree. That is all. So we move patiently through our own anxiety-inducing scenes because something excellent awaits us on the other side: not an ego boost or a dose of self-confidence, but a victory. A victory of the heart-—over our hedonistic impulses and material attachments-—a victory of the heart.

So make your every test and hardship an excellent one.

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