From the Journal of Umm Zakiyyah:
“How do I know if it’s a test or a punishment?” This is a question I wondered about for years, and every chance I got, I asked an Islamic teacher or read whatever I could on the issue. Till today, the answer that stays with me is this: You don’t.
Ultimately, only Allah knows why He’s putting believers through certain trials. Also, a test and a punishment are not mutually exclusive. Both could be happening at once.
All of life is a test for the human being, so everything we experience is meant to direct us back to our purpose: worshipping and serving our Creator. Whether we are experiencing ease or hardship, enjoying the worldly fruit of honest hard work, or suffering the bitter consequences of arrogantly disobeying Allah; we have in each circumstance the opportunity to seek Allah’s pleasure, beg His forgiveness, and attain Paradise when we die.
In other words, even if the worst is true—we’re being punished for our sins—this in itself isn’t “the end of the world.” Often, believers experience pain, trials, and punishment on earth so that they are spared from torment for their sins in the Hereafter.
And if the worldly trial—or punishment—is encouraging us to turn to Allah, repent, and improve our spiritual lives; what practical benefit do we gain from obsessing over whether or not Allah is angry with us?
Unless we are arrogantly seeking to continue disobeying Allah and need a serious reality check, fixating on this question can become a distraction from spiritual growth itself. No matter what is or is not happening in our life (and why), we should be worshipping Allah and seeking His guidance and forgiveness anyway.
And would—or should—knowing whether you are facing a trial or a punishment change this noble focus for you?
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