Islamic Voice
Jamadi Ul Akhir 1422
September 2001
Volume 15-09 No:177

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A Cycle of Fortune and Misfortune

A Cycle of Fortune and Misfortune

In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful

Do not be faint of heart, and do not grieve; for you shall gain the upper hand if you are truly believers. If misfortune befalls you, a similar misfortune has befallen other people as well. Such days (of fortune and misfortune) We deal out in turn among men. Allah wants to mark out those who truly believe and choose from among you such as (with their lives) bear witness to the truth. Allah does not love the wrongdoers. (The House of Imran, "Aal Imran": 3: 139-140)

Commentary by Sayyid Qutb
Translation: A. A. Salahi and S. A. Shamsi

We began our commentary last month on a long passage in this surah, the third longest in the Qur’an, which comments on the events of the battle of Uhud, in which the Muslims suffered a defeat, after having been very close to victory. The passage opened with starting a principle that there are patterns, which apply to all people and all communities, and govern human life. Therefore, Muslims must make sure of doing what is necessary to achieve their desired objectives. The passage then consoles the believers: Do not be faint of heart. And do not grieve; for you shall gain the upper hand if you are truly believers.

True Believers are Superior

Believers should not allow grief to overtake them because of what may happen to them. They shall gain the upper hand, because of their superior faith. Believers prostrate themselves only to Allah, while other people prostrate before one or some of His creatures. The surah makes it plain to the believers that they are indeed superior and far more exalted than other people. It tells them: You have a superior way of life, because you follow a method established by Allah, while the methods followed by other groups have been devised by creatures. Moreover, your role is superior, because you have been selected for a position of trust to convey Allah’s guidance to all mankind. Other people are unaware of this guidance. Your place on earth is superior, because Allah has promised by to inherit the earth, while they will sink into oblivion. If you are truly believers, then you are superior. Therefore, you have to demonstrate the strength of your faith by not losing heart. The rules determined by Allah make it possible that you may score a victory or suffer a defeat, but the ultimate end after enduring the test and striving hard for Allah’s cause, will be in your favour.

Allah tests the true believers with prosperity and hardships, victory and defeats.

Laws of Nature

If misfortune befalls you, a similar misfortune has befallen other people as well. The misfortune suffered by the Muslims and the fact that a similar one has befallen those who rejected the truth may be a reference to the battle of Badr, in which the polytheists suffered a heavy defeat and the Muslims came out victorious. On the other hand, it may be a reference to the battle of Uhud in which the Muslims were at first close to victory. The polytheists began to retreat and were chased by the Muslims. The banner of the polytheists fell to the ground and none of them was able to lift it up until a woman picked it up from the ground and they gathered around her. Later, the polytheists were able to regain their composure and hold on to their position, before they managed to achieve victory. All that happened when the Muslim rearguard disobeyed the Prophet’s express orders and disagreed among themselves. What the Muslims suffered at the end was fair reward for their disagreement. Moreover, it is an aspect of how the rules of nature established by Allah never fail. The disagreement among the rearguard of the Muslim army was the result of their greed and keenness to have a share of the spoils of war. In any campaign of jihad, Allah grants victory to those who strive for His cause looking up to nothing of the petty gains of this world. Another rule of nature, which came into operation in this instance, is that of dealing out days of fortune and misfortune among people according to their actions and intentions. In this way, true believers are distinguished from hypocrites. Mistakes are identified and the way ahead becomes very clear.

“If misfortune befalls you, a similar misfortune has befallen other people as well. Such days (of fortune and misfortune) We deal out in turn among men. Allah wants to mark out those who truly believe.” When hardship is followed by prosperity and the latter is followed by another hardship, people’s true selves become apparent. They reveal how clear is their vision, how much they panic and how patient in adversity they can be, as well as how great their trust in Allah is and how submissive to His will they are. Thus true believers are distinguished from those who are hypocrites. Their true hearts become apparent to all. The Muslim camp is strengthened by the fact that those who do not truly belong to it are identified and excluded.

A Good Test

Allah knows all hearts’ secrets and is aware of those who are true believers and those who are not. But the alternation of days of fortune and misfortune does not merely reveal secrets; it also translates faith into action and compels hypocrisy to express itself in the adoption of practical attitudes. Hence, it is action that merits reward. Allah does not hold people to account for what He knows of their position, but He counts their actions for or against them. The cycle of hardship and prosperity is as good a test as hardship. Some people may withstand hardship but become complacent when they are tested with prosperity. A true believer is one who remains steadfast in adversity and is not lured away by prosperity. He attributes whatever befalls him to Allah.

In the process of preparing the maiden Muslim community for its role of leadership of mankind, Allah has tested it with hardship after prosperity, and with a bitter defeat after a spectacular victory. Both have happened according to the laws of nature. That is because Allah wants the Muslim community to learn what brings in victory or defeat. Thus, it becomes better aware of the true nature of its constitution and way of life and what their implementation requires of it.


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