Why does test exist according to the Quran and Hadiths?

The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

The Quran and hadiths are a test from beginning to end. From this point of view, it is not appropriate to limit test within certain borders. For, the life itself, its creation and its end with death are all tests:

“He Who created Death and Life, that He may try which of you is best in deed: and He is the Exalted in Might, Oft-Forgiving.” (al-Mulk, 67/2)

That is, everything that interests life in the world and the hereafter is a test and trial. 

However, there are words used directly in the sense of testing and trying. The most important two words among them are bala and fitnah. We will try to answer based on those two words. We advise you look at the interpretations of the verses in question and the explanations of the hadiths.

Bala, Ibtila

The word bala is used in the sense of “to wear off, to try, to test, grief, misfortune, hardship and trouble” in the Quran.

The horrible tortures Pharaoh inflicted upon Sons of Israel are described as 
- “tremendous trial” (balaun azim, al-Baqara 2/49; al-A‘raf 7/141; Ibrahim 14/6) and
- “manifest trial” (balaun mubin, ad-Dukhan 44/33).

Hz. Ibrahim’s attempt to sacrifice his son Ismail is also called “obviously a trial” (al-balaul-mubin) (as-Saaffat 37/106).

The success of the slave in this test in which Allah tried him is described as a “gracious trial” (balaun hasan). In this context, the Battle of Badr and the victory at the end of it is described as “balaun hasan”, that is, a successful test. (see al-Anfal 8/17)

The religious responsibilities are expressed with the word bala (ibtila) in verse 155 of the chapter of al-Baqara and in verse 31 of the chapter of Muhammad

Allah’s giving fear and hunger, decreasing goods, lives or fruits are also expressed as bala. (see al-Baqara 2/155)

In fact, the world is a place of bala (test) where who will do the best deeds will be seen; and death and life were created for this according to the Quran. (see al-Mulk 67/2)

The Prophet (pbuh) was sent to be tested and to test. (see Muslim, Jannah, 63)

Allah tests everybody, first and foremost, the prophets. According to a hadith the sufists lay emphasis on a lot, the people that are tried the hardest are the prophets and then those who resemble them. (see Tirmidhi, Zuhd, 56; Ibn Majah, Fitan, 23; Darimi, Raqaiq, 67; Bukhari, Marḍa, 3)

It is inevitable for man to confront problems and misfortunes. For, the real personality of man is revealed as a result of testing. As leather is tanned so is man tried; gold is tried by fire and man is tried by misfortunes.

Only great man can endure great tests. According to a hadith, the greatness of thawab to get depends on the greatness of the misfortunes. Therefore, Allah sends misfortunes to His beloved slaves. He who shows consent to it attains Allah’s consent. He who rebels is hit by Allah’s wrath. (Tirmidhi, Zuhd, 56; Ibn Majah, Fitan, 23)

Being hit by misfortunes causes a person to be purified of his sins and to be elevated spiritually. There are some sins that can be forgiven only when a person shows patience in the face of misfortunes. Hz. Aisha states that she has never seen anyone who suffered more severe pains than the Prophet (pbuh). (see Tirmidhi, Zuhd, 56)

The sins of a believer who suffers from an illness is forgiven.  (al-Muwattaʾ, ʿAyn, 8; Musnad, VI, 157)

The word bala is also used it the sense of afiyah, which means peace. According to a hadith, when the people who lived in peace in the world see the plenitude of the rewards given to the people who were tried (in the world) on the Day of Judgement, they will say, “we wish our skins had been cut off with scissors in the world”; and they will envy their state in the hereafter. (Tirmidhi, Zuhd, 58)

However, it is necessary to wish afiyah (health) from Allah. (Tirmidhi, Daʿawat, 91; Musnad, V, 231, 235)

Therefore, it is necessary to show mercy to those who are tried by misfortunes and it is necessary for those who are in peace to praise and thank Allah. (Muwattaʾ, Kalam, 8)

The Prophet (pbuh) said,
- “Do not be abased by exposing yourself to problems that you cannot cope with.” (Tirmidhi, Fitan, 67; Ibn Majah, Fitan, 31)
He always took refuge in Allah from unbearable misfortunes. (Bukhari, Daʿawat, 23)


The word fitnah is derived from fatn (futun), which lexically means “to melt precious metals like gold and silver in fire to determine their purity”.

The meaning of fitnah is given as follows in classical dictionaries: “testing, trying by material and spiritual problem, sorrow, hardship and misfortune”

A woman who places love of fire in man’s heart or prevents him from thinking logically is called fattan. The same word is also used for Satan, who confuses man, perverts him and causes him to be punished, and for a thief since he causes harm.

Gold and silver, which stimulate man’s ambition and causes him to commit sins, are called “two fattans”; Munkar and Nakir, who expose man to a hard test, are called  “two fattans of the grave”. (Raghib al-Isfahani, al-Mufradat, “ftn” item; Lisanul-ʿArab, “ftn” item; Tajul-ʿArus, “ftn” item; Musnad, II, 173; III, 346)

The use of the word fitan in the sense of “severe torture inflicted due to one’s faith” is also common. (for instance, see Jahiz, p. 29, 30, 32, 40)

Fitnah might not express a situation that always causes bad results especially when it is used in the last sense. It can be regarded as a way of positive test and trial that contributes to man’s or community’s religious and ethical development since it strengthens the will of believing, provides ethical purification, enables man to prove his resoluteness in his belief and meritorious lifestyle.

The word fitnah is mentioned in thirty-four verses and the words derived from it are mentioned in twenty-six verses in the Quran.

It is seen that the word fitnah is used in the following senses in the Quran when the resources, especially Tabari’s tafsir book called Jami’ul-Bayan, which is known as the most important resource related to determining the meanings of fitnah based on its usage in the Quran and which became the subject of some special research regarding the issue:   

- Test (ibtila), trial (ikhtibar) and examination (imtihan) (al-Baqara 2/102; Taha 20/40, 85, 90, 131);
- shirk (polytheism), kufr (unbelief), pressures applied by the polytheists aiming to force Muslims to return to polytheism (al-Baqara 2/191, 193, 217; an-Nisa 4/91);
- deviate, make deviate, lead into temptation (al-Maida 5/41, 49; as-Saaffat 37/162);
- penalty, torture, throwing into fire (al-Ankabut 29/10; adh-Dhariyat 51/13, 14; Buruj 85/10);
- attack of the enemy (an-Nisa 4/101);
- Allah’s giving different means to His slaves and revealing their intentions and attitudes toward one another (al-An‘am 6/53; al-Furqan 25/20; see Tabari, VII, 206-207; XVIII, 193-194);
- sin (at-Tawba 9/49);
- seduction and trap of Satan (al-A‘raf 7/27);
- suggestions thrown in by Satan to those in whose hearts is a disease (al-Hajj 22/53);
- temptation (al-Hadid 57/14; see Tabari, XXVII, 226);
- madness (al-Qalam 68/6)

Tabari reminds that the real meaning of fitnah in Arabic is “testing and trial” and points out that the other uses are basically related to this meaning.

Trial and testing can be related to the risky things that are regarded as boons like wealth, property, children and health as well as problems like poverty, illness, misfortune, attack of Satan or enemy. (Jamiʿul-Bayan, I, 461-462; XVI, 162, 196-197, 200, 235)

This issue is clearly stated in the following verse in particular: “…and We test you by evil and by good by way of trial…” (al-Anbiya 21/35).

“…If good befalls them, they are, therewith, well content; but if a trial comes to them, they turn on their faces…” (al-Hajj 22/11) It is seen that fitnah is used as the opposite of good in the verse above. According to Tabari, the word fitnah in the verse above expresses hardships like financial difficulty, misfortune and torture. (ibid, XVII, 122)

Various forms of testing and trial expressed by the concept fitnah are indicated in the Quran.

Fitnah can be a test applied by Allah on His slaves.

- Allah tests people by evil and by good so that they will prove their sincerity in belief and ethics. (al-Anbiya 21/35)

- People are tested through the splendor of the life of this world. (Taha 20/131)

- Possessions and children are a means of trial. (al-Anfal 8/28; at-Taghabun 64/15)

- Ample sustenance or boons in general are also a means of trial. (az-Zumar 39/49; al-Jinn 72/17)

- People are also tested through grief (Taha 20/40) and various troubles (at-Tawba 9/126; al-Hajj 22/11).

Fitnah can be in question related to the relationship between people.

The negative attitudes of deniers toward Muslims are also regarded as fitnah for Muslims because their patience and adherence to Islam are tested therewith. (al-Furqan 25/20)

On the other hand, any trouble to which Muslims are exposed can be a fitnah from which unbelievers will deduce wrong conclusions. As a matter of fact, tafsir scholars explained the verse “Our Lord! Make us not a (test and) trial for the Unbelievers…” (al Mumtahina 60/5) as follows: “Do not make us undergo a hardship and trouble through them or in another way; otherwise, unbelievers will say about us, ‘If they were on the right path, they would not undergo such hardships’; thus, they will have wrong thoughts about us.” (Shawkani, V, 246)

According to the Quran, man can be a fitnah for himself due to his wrong beliefs like denial and hypocrisy or due to his bad deeds. (al-Hadid 57/14; see Shawkani, V, 198)

Besides, things like the following are expressed by the word fitnah in the Quran:
- seduction and trap of Satan (al-A‘raf 7/27),
- suggestions thrown in by Satan to hearts (al-Hajj 22/53),
- Pharaoh’s torturing his nation in order to prevent them from entering the religion of Musa (Yunus 10/83),
- enemy’s attacking Muslims, killing or enslaving them (an-Nisa 4/101; see Tabari, V, 243),
- Jews Trying to beguile the Prophet from worshipping and making him accept their vain desires (al-Maida 5/49; see ibid, VI, 274).

The aim of those in whose hearts is perversity following the part of the Quran that is allegorical is to cause fitnah (Aal-i Imran 3/7), that is, to form doubts and hesitations in the minds of the believers (ibid, III, 180). The believers called “ashabul-uhdud” were tortured by the deniers by being thrown into fire and thus were exposed to fitnah. (al-Buruj 85/10)

In some verses, the subversive activities of the polytheists to make the Muslims give up their religion and return to polytheism and the different methods applied by the hypocrites to do the same thing (at-Tawba 9/47-48; see ibid, X, 145-147) are expressed with the concept fitnah. They even tried to expose the Messenger of Allah to a fitnah with the same purpose in Makkah. (al-Isra 17/73; see ibid, XV, 129-130)

Those activities of fitnah, which were applied with intense pressure in Makkah, continued after the Migration against the Muslim tribes outside in Madinah in particular; they caused some of them to return to polytheism. (an-Nisa 4/91; ibid, V, 201-202)

The meanings of some verses related to testing and trial:

al-Baqara, verse 155: Be sure we shall test you with something of fear and hunger, some loss in goods or lives or the fruits (of your toil), but give glad tidings to those who patiently persevere.

al-Baqara, verse 286: On no soul doth Allah Place a burden greater than it can bear. It gets every good that it earns, and it suffers every ill that it earns. (Pray:) "Our Lord! Condemn us not if we forget or fall into error; our Lord! Lay not on us a burden Like that which Thou didst lay on those before us; Our Lord! Lay not on us a burden greater than we have strength to bear. Blot out our sins, and grant us forgiveness. Have mercy on us. Thou art our Protector; Help us against those who stand against faith.."

al-Baqara, verse 214: Or do ye think that ye shall enter the Garden (of bliss) without such (trials) as came to those who passed away before you? they encountered suffering and adversity, and were so shaken in spirit that even the Messenger and those of faith who were with him cried: "When (will come) the help of Allah?" Ah! Verily, the help of Allah is (always) near!.

al-Baqara, verse 249: When Talut set forth with the armies, he said: "Allah will test you at the stream: if any drinks of its water, He goes not with my army: Only those who taste not of it go with me: A mere sip out of the hand is excused." but they all drank of it, except a few. When they crossed the river,- He and the faithful ones with him,- they said: "This day We cannot cope with Goliath and his forces." but those who were convinced that they must meet Allah, said: "How oft, by Allah´s will, Hath a small force vanquished a big one? Allah is with those who steadfastly persevere.."

al-Baqara, verse 49: And remember, We delivered you from the people of Pharaoh: They set you hard tasks and punishments, slaughtered your sons and let your women-folk live; therein was a tremendous trial from your Lord..

Aal-i Imran, verse 186: Ye shall certainly be tried and tested in your possessions and in your personal selves; and ye shall certainly Hear much that will grieve you, from those who received the Book before you and from those who worship many gods. But if ye persevere patiently, and guard against evil,-then that will be a determining factor in all affairs.

as-Saaffat, verse, 63: For We have truly made it (as) a trial for the wrong-doers.

as-Saaffat, verse, 106: For this was obviously a trial.

al-Hujurat, verse, 3: Those that lower their voices in the presence of Allah´s Messenger,- their hearts has Allah tested for piety: for them is Forgiveness and a great Reward.

al-Araf, verse, 141: " And remember We rescued you from Pharaoh´s people, who afflicted you with the worst of penalties, who slew your male children and saved alive your females: in that was a momentous trial from your Lord.."

al-Araf, verse, 163: Ask them concerning the town standing close by the sea. Behold! they transgressed in the matter of the Sabbath. For on the day of their Sabbath their fish did come to them, openly holding up their heads, but on the day they had no Sabbath, they came not: thus did We make a trial of them, for they were given to transgression.

al-Araf, verse, 168: We broke them up into sections on this earth. There are among them some that are the righteous, and some that are the opposite. We have tried them with both prosperity and adversity: In order that they might turn (to us).

Sad, verse, 24: (David) said: "He has undoubtedly wronged thee in demanding thy (single) ewe to be added to his (flock of) ewes: truly many are the partners (in business) who wrong each other: Not so do those who believe and work deeds of righteousness, and how few are they?"...and David gathered that We had tried him: he asked forgiveness of his Lord, fell down, bowing (in prostration), and turned (to Allah in repentance).

Sad, verse, 34: And We did try Solomon: We placed on his throne a body (without life); but he did turn (to Us in true devotion):.

al-Anbiya, verse 35: Every soul shall have a taste of death: and We test you by evil and by good by way of trial. to Us must ye return..

al-Anfal, verse 17: It is not ye who slew them; it was Allah: when thou threwest (a handful of dust), it was not thy act, but Allah´s: in order that He might test the Believers by a gracious trial from Himself: for Allah is He Who heareth and knoweth (all things)..

al-Anfal, verse 28: And know ye that your possessions and your progeny are but a trial; and that it is Allah with Whom lies your highest reward.

ad-Dukhan, verse 33: And granted them Signs in which there was a manifest trial.

al-Qamar, verse 27: For We will send the she-camel by way of trial for them. So watch them, (O Salih), and possess thyself in patience!.

an-Nahl, verse 92: And be not like a woman who breaks into untwisted strands the yarn which she has spun, after it has become strong. Nor take your oaths to practice deception between yourselves, lest one party should be more numerous than another: for Allah will test you by this; and on the Day of Judgment He will certainly make clear to you (the truth of) that wherein ye disagree..

al-Mumtahina, verse 10: O ye who believe! When there come to you believing women refugees, examine (and test) them: Allah knows best as to their Faith: if ye ascertain that they are Believers, then send them not back to the Unbelievers. They are not lawful (wives) for the Unbelievers, nor are the (Unbelievers) lawful (husbands) for them. But pay the Unbelievers what they have spent (on their dower), and there will be no blame on you if ye marry them on payment of their dower to them. But hold not to the guardianship of unbelieving women: ask for what ye have spent on their dowers, and let the (Unbelievers) ask for what they have spent (on the dowers of women who come over to you). Such is the command of Allah: He judges (with justice) between you. And Allah is Full of Knowledge and Wisdom.

Yunus, verse 30: There will every soul prove (the fruits of) the deeds it sent before: they will be brought back to Allah their rightful Lord, and their invented falsehoods will leave them in the lurch.

al-Kahf, verse 7: That which is on earth we have made but as a glittering show for the earth, in order that We may test them - as to which of them are best in conduct.

al-Anbiya, verse 35: Every soul shall have a taste of death: and We test you by evil and by good by way of trial. to Us must ye return.

al-Ankabut, verse 2: Do men think that they will be left alone on saying, "We believe", and that they will not be tested?

al-Ankabut, verse 3: We did test those before them, and Allah will certainly know those who are true from those who are false.

Muhammad, verse 31: And We shall try you until We test those among you who strive their utmost and persevere in patience; and We shall try your reported (mettle).

al-Mulk, verse 2: He Who created Death and Life, that He may try which of you is best in deed: and He is the Exalted in Might, Oft-Forgiving.

al-Insan, verse 2: Verily We created Man from a drop of mingled sperm, in order to try him: So We gave him (the gifts), of Hearing and Sight.

al-Insan, verse 3: We showed him the Way: whether he be grateful or ungrateful (rests on his will).

Some hadiths related to testing and trial:

“The greatest reward comes with the greatest trial. When Allah loves a community, He tests them. Whoever shows consent to it wins His pleasure, but whoever is discontent with it attracts His wrath.” (Ibn Majah, Fitan 23, hadith no: 4034)

“The example of a believer is that of a fresh green plant the leaves of which move in whatever direction the wind forces them to move and when the wind becomes still, it stands straight. Such is the similitude of the believer: He is disturbed by calamities (but is like the fresh plant he regains his normal state soon). And the example of a disbeliever is that of a pine tree which remains hard and straight till Allah cuts it down when He wills.” (Bukhari, Tawhid 32, hadith no: 92, Marda wat-Tibb 1, hadith no: 3, 4; Muslim, Sifatul-Munafiqin 14, hadith no: 58-62)

Hz. Sad (a Companion) narrates: “I asked, O Messenger of Allah! Which people are most severely tested?’ He said: ‘The Prophets and then believers based on their degrees. A man will be tested in accordance with his level of religious commitment. If his religious commitment is strong, he will be tested more severely; and if his religious commitment is weak, he will be tested in accordance with his religious commitment. Calamity will keep befalling a person until he walks on the earth with no sin on him.’” (Suyuti, Jamius-Saghir, 1/136)

“The people who are tested most severely are prophets, then, righteous people and then believers based on their degrees.” (Darimi, 2/320; Suyuti, Jamius-Saghir 1/1364)

“Strange are the ways of a believer for there is good in every affair of his and this is not the case with anyone else except in the case of a believer for if he has an occasion to feel delight, he thanks (Allah); thus, there is a good for him in it, and if he gets into trouble and shows resignation (and endures it patiently), there is a good for him in it.” (Muslim, Zuhd 64)

"Allah Almighty says, ‘If a believing slave praises Me when I give him an illness, he will get up from his bed purified from his sins as if he has just been born.’ Allah Almighty will say, ‘I have tied my slave and tested him. (O My angels! Record thawabs for him as if he is healthy though he is ill." (Ahmad bin Hanbal, Musnad 4/123)

“Indeed the world is green and sweet, and indeed Allah made you vicegerent on earth. However, He will check how you behave. So beware of the world, and beware of the women. For the first fitnah (mischief) of Sons of Israel was because of women.” (Muslim, Dhikr 26, hadith no: 99; Tirmidhi, Fitan 24, hadith no: 2286)

“When Allah loves a slave, He prevents him from the world just as one of you prevents a sick person from water.” (Tirmidhi, Tibb 1, hadith no: 2107)

“Do not wish to confront the enemy. Know that you are tested through your enemy. However, pray as follows: ‘O Allah! Protect us from them! Drive their harm away!” (Siratu Ibn Hisham, 2/33)

“Paradise is surrounded by hardships and the Hell is surrounded by temptations.” (Muslim, Jannah 1, Hadith no: 2822, 4/2174)

"Among the nations before you, a believing man would be put in a ditch that was dug for him, and a saw would be put over his head and he would be cut into two pieces. The body of another one would be combed with iron combs that would remove his flesh from the bones and nerves. They could not make them abandon their religion. By Allah, Allah will complete this religion. A traveler from Sana (in Yemen) will go to Hadramawt without fearing anyone but Allah; he will fear a wolf as regards his sheep, but you (people) are hasty." (Bukhari, Manaqibul-Ansar 29, Manaqib 25, Ikrah 1; Abu Dawud, Jihad 107, hadith no: 2649)

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