Answered by Shaykh Yusuf Weltch
I’m trying to be a better Muslim but grappling with a question that’s weakening my faith, especially when going through hardships. I’d appreciate an answer (other than, “This is Shaytan’s whispers, you shouldn’t dwell on those questions.”)
If we are not accountable for the mistakes of Adam and Eve (Allah bless them both), why are we condemned to this world and its hardships?
Why does Allah Most High burden us with hardships commensurate to our faith? Isn’t this sadistic?
In the Name of Allah, the Most Merciful and Compassionate
May Allah bless you for your question.
To answer your question, we must first understand Islam’s beliefs regarding Adam and his coming to this world.
Allah’s Vicegerent on Earth
The story of Adam and Hawwa (Eve) is a crucial story to understand. Furthermore, we must understand this story through the lens of the Quran and not allow other traditions’ interpretations to confuse us.
The coming of Adam and Eve to the Earth was known and destined by Allah Most High. He professed this reality to the Angels before Adam even ate from the forbidden tree.
Allah Most High says, “˹Remember˺ when your Lord said to the angels, ‘I am going to place a (human) vicegerent on earth.’ They asked ˹Allah˺, ‘Will You place in it someone who will spread corruption there and shed blood while we glorify Your praises and proclaim Your holiness?’ Allah responded, ‘I know what you do not know.’” [Quran, 2:20]
Well before Allah’s creation of Adam and forbidding him to eat of the tree, Allah already destined Adam to be the vicegerent, successive leader of the world and to represent the will of God as a Messenger to the inhabitants of the world. This is an honor from Allah Most High.
Eating of the Tree
Although Adam’s eating of the tree was contrary to Allah’s instruction to him, the Sunni mainstream is in agreeance that this act is not considered a sin. There are many interpretations as to the reason for the distinction. One of them is clarified by Allah Most High in the Quran.
Allah Most High says, “And indeed, We once made a covenant with Adam, but he forgot, and ˹so˺ We did not find determination in him.” [Quran, 20:115]
That said, any of the mistakes of the Prophets (Allah bless them all) are generally either doing less than what was preferred (even if permissible), done forgetfully, or done due to interpretive permissibility they understood before doing the action. [Qurtubi. al-Jami‘ fi Ahkam al-Qur’an]
Sin is defined as a disobedient action done knowingly, intentionally, and without interpretation. [Ibid.] None of the mistakes of the Prophets were done in this description. Even if the linguistic word sin or disobedience is used in the Qur’an, these actions are not related to the legal term sin. [Ibid.]
Sent to the World as a Test
Adam (Allah’s peace be upon him) was sent to this world, not damned to this world. His placement in this world was a means of honoring, not a punishment.
Adam was the initiation of a Divine plan to test the creation regarding their covenant with Allah Most High. Despite the difficulty of a test, the purpose of any test is to
- challenge someone to be able to graduate to a higher rank and
- to sift and discern between those who are just claiming faith and those who are true in their claim.
Allah Most High says, “Alif-Lãm-Mĩm. Do people think once they say, ‘We believe,’ that they will be left without being put to the test? We certainly tested those before them. And ˹in this way˺ Allah will clearly distinguish between those who are truthful and those who are liars.” [Quran, 29:1-3]
The word for “test” here is fitna. Fitna is used by the Arabs for the process of distinguishing pure gold from impure gold by exposing it to fire. [Asbahani, Mufradat Alfaz al-Quran]
Is Testing Sadistic?
Allah Most High does not need us. We are in need of Allah Most High. Regardless of the quality of our life, we must still be grateful to Allah for existence itself. An existence with difficulty is better than non-existence.
Allah Most High testing us proves to us our own truthfulness of faith. This is already known to Allah. However, the test is proof. If a person were punished in the Hereafter, solely based on the fact that Allah knew that he would disbelieve, the person would argue on the Day of Judgment that this is not fair.
For example: If a school teacher knew that a particular student was guaranteed to fail the test because of her knowledge of the student, it would be unfair for him to fail the student without giving the test. He must give the test so the students can see for themselves that they failed.
Everything about our lives in this world is a part of this ultimate test. Both blessings and hardships.
Tranquility in Faith
To those of strong faith and conviction that this life is fleeting and that the next life is everlasting – the tests are seen as opportunities to achieve Divine pleasure and the lofty ranks of Paradise. It is for this reason that they are tested more as a blessing from Allah Most High to increase their reward.
It is narrated by the father of Mus‘ab bin ‘Umayr that he said, “O Messenger of Allah, which of the people is most intensely tested?” He replied, “The Prophets, then the righteous, then the foremost (after them), then the foremost on people (after them). A person is tested according to their religious practice. If there is strength in his religion, his test is increased. If there is frailty in his religion, his test is lightened. Tests continue to happen to a servant (of Allah) till he walks upon the face of the Earth not having any sin upon him.” [Ahmad]
The hardships of this world are constant reminders that we should not attach our hearts to its fleeting pleasures, for we will always be disappointed in the end if we do. Our hearts are meant for the love of Allah Most High and the pursuit of the eternal abode of His Divine pleasure.
Optimism: The Prophetic Viewpoint
Seeing tests and hardships as opportunities to draw nearer to Allah Most High and to achieve His good pleasure – is the viewpoint of the Prophet (may Allah bless him and give him peace) and all that followed him. None was tested as intensely as him.
Once one embraces this and dedicates their hearts to seeking Allah’s pleasure through mindfulness (taqwa) and obedience, they will be granted from Allah Most High, the Paradise of this world before the next.
Allah Most High says, “And whoever is in awe of standing before their Lord will have two Gardens (Janna, a.k.a. Paradise).” [Quran, 55:46]
The great jurist and sage of our time, Habib Ahmad al-Mashur bin Taha al-Haddad (Allah have mercy on him), declared that the two Gardens mentioned in the above verse refer to the Garden of this world and the next. The Garden of this world is a spiritual Paradise. The Bliss of the hearts.
Allah Most High refers to these realities throughout the Quran.
“Those who believe and whose hearts find comfort in the remembrance of Allah. Surely in the remembrance of Allah do hearts find comfort.” [Quran, 13:28]
“Whoever does good, whether male or female, and is a believer, We will surely bless them with a good life, and We will certainly reward them according to the best of their deeds.” [Quran, 16:97]
Your outlook on your relationship with Allah Most High will determine, in a very profound way, your spiritual and. mental state. The Messenger of Allah said, “Allah says: I am as My servant thinks of me. So let them think of Me as they wish.” [Tabarani] Whatever Allah Most High has decreed will come to pass.
Whether one is content or not with Allah’s decree, nothing outwardly will change. That said, the one who is content has unshakeable inward tranquility that no outward comfort can attain and no outward tribulation can disturb.
Hope this helps.
Allah knows best,
[Shaykh] Yusuf Weltch
Checked and Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani
Shaykh Faraz Rabbani spent ten years studying with some of the leading scholars of recent times, first in Damascus, and then in Amman, Jordan. His teachers include the foremost theologian of recent times in Damascus, the late Shaykh Adib al-Kallas (may Allah have mercy on him), as well as his student Shaykh Hassan al-Hindi, one of the leading Hanafi fuqaha of the present age. He returned to Canada in 2007, where he founded SeekersGuidance in order to meet the urgent need to spread Islamic knowledge–both online and on the ground–in a reliable, relevant, inspiring, and accessible manner. He is the author of: Absolute Essentials of Islam: Faith, Prayer, and the Path of Salvation According to the Hanafi School (White Thread Press, 2004.) Since 2011, Shaykh Faraz has been named one of the 500 most influential Muslims by the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Center.