Allah says: “Whatever of good befalls you, it is from Allah; and whatever of ill befalls you, it is from yourself.” [Sûrah al-Nisâ’: 79]

This verse above and others like it outline for us an attitude that we should adopt, and that will make us better at coping with good fortune and adversity in our lives.

Some people misunderstand these verses and refer all the weal and woe of their lives to Allah being either pleased or displeased with them. Worldly prosperity is seen as a sign of Allah’s pleasure, while misfortune and loss are seen as evidence of Allah’s anger. Those who adopt this view are prone to confusion and susceptible to misguidance.

There are indeed many verses in the Qur’ân that establish a cause and effect relationship between virtue and vice on the one hand, and prosperity and ruin on the other. The following verses are representative:

“Whosoever does right, whether male or female, and is a believer, verily we shall give them a good life, and We shall pay them a recompense in proportion to the best of what they used to do.” [Sûrah al-Nahl: 97]

“What! when a misfortune befell you, and you had certainly afflicted (them) with twice as much, you began to say: Whence is this? Say: It is from yourselves. Surely Allah has power over all things.” [Sûrah Al `Imrân: 165]

“But those who have earned evil will have a reward of like evil: ignominy shall overtake them.” [Sûrah Yûnus: 27]

These verses show us that those who engage in righteous deeds are recompensed by having their hearts grow stronger, by receiving sustenance by means that they cannot have anticipated, and by receiving great blessings in the little that they have.

By contrast, those who engage in evil deeds are punished by becoming hard-hearted, preoccupied with worries, and by various misfortunes.

However, this must be understood in the most general of terms. It cannot be used to analyze specific circumstances and situations. Health, affluence, and a happy family life cannot be used as an indicator that Allah is pleased with a particular person, or that the person is being rewarded for his or her good deeds. These circumstances might be given to the person as a test. They might even be given to give the person trespass in his iniquity.

In some cases, they may even be a form of punishment. Allah says: “Let not their wealth nor their children dazzle you: in reality Allah’s plan is to punish them with these things in this life, and that their souls may perish in their (very) denial of Allah.” [Sûrah al-Tawbah: 55]

The same can be said for poverty. It is not necessarily a punishment from Allah. It may actually be a mercy. There is a hadîth where it is related that the Prophet (peace be upon him) quotes Allah as saying: “Indeed, among of my servants are those whose faith cannot endure except in poverty. If I were to enrich them, they would fall into disbelief.” [Târîkh Baghdâd (6/15) – However, the hadîth is weak, as discussed by al-Albânî in al-Silsilah al-Da`îfah (1774)]

Sickness is no different. We should consider the supplication the Prophet (peace be upon him) taught us to make on behalf of a sick person: “May it be a purification, Allah willing.”

This supplication shows us that we should adopt an optimistic outlook about sickness and other misfortunes. At the same time, the fact that the Prophet (peace be upon him) has us say “Allah willing” shows us that we should not express certainty about the sickness being a purification. It might, alternatively, be a means of raising the sick person’s station in the Hereafter. It might possibly be a punishment for some sins.

Allah says: “Every soul must taste of death, and We try you with evil and with good, for ordeal. And unto Us you will be returned.” [Sûrah al-Anbiyâ’: 35]

We should look at having children in the same way. A person may wait years to have children, or might even be sterile. This is not necessarily a punishment. It would be wrong to even assume that it is a misfortune. It could very well be due to Allah’s mercy and His being pleased with the person. Maybe, it is a tribulation by which Allah raises the person’s status in the Hereafter. There may be a great wisdom behind Allah not granting someone children that the person will never come to know.

We should consider the incident when Khidr, while traveling with Moses (peace be upon him) , killed the young boy. Allah tells us : “So the two of them journeyed on until, when they met a lad, he slew him. (Moses) said: “What! Have you slain an innocent soul who has slain no man? Verily you have done a horrid thing’.” [Sûrah al-Kahf: 74]

There can be no doubt that the child’s parents must have thought the death of their son to be a great tragedy and misfortune. However, Khidr explains his action to Moses (peace be upon him) as follows: “And as for the lad, his parents were believers and we feared lest he should oppress them by rebellion and disbelief. And we intended that their Lord should change him for them for one better in purity and nearer to mercy.” [Sûrah al-Kahf: 80-81]

How often do we regard something that befalls us to be a great misfortune, when in fact it is really Allah showing His mercy to us. The opposite is equally true. Allah says: “Perhaps you hate a thing that is best for you, and you love a thing that is bad for you. Allah knows, while you know not.” [Sûrah al-Baqarah: 216]

Allah’s decree in the world is known to Him alone. Therefore, it is wrong for us to take the general texts that show a cause and effect relationship between virtue and worldly consequences and try to apply them to specific people and circumstances. We should certainly not make decisive judgments about ourselves or others on such a basis, saying things like “Allah is punishing that person” or “Allah is pleased with him”.

The Prophets and the righteous people of the past were all tried with serious hardships. We cannot say that they suffered because Allah was punishing them. We can also see that Allah has granted certain sinners and unbelievers with considerable prosperity in this world. We cannot say that this shows Allah is pleased with them.

The attitude that a believer should take is to live between hope and fear. He should at all times be equally self-accusatory and conscious of Allah’s mercy and grace. The believer’s feelings of self-accusation and his awareness of his sins should be more acute when he is in health and prosperity. At times of sickness and hardship, he should grow more conscious of Allah’s mercy and His pleasure with our good deeds.

A Muslim should always be patient in adversity, thankful in prosperity. To be sure to achieve this state of mind, he should be conscious of Allah’s wisdom in testing us with every blessing and hardship. Such a Muslim will then show fortitude in sorrow and when his means are straitened. He will not regard his misfortune as Allah disgracing him. He will, instead, accuse himself, saying: “This is on account of my sins.” He will do so in order to better himself an inculcate humility in his heart, recalling Allah’s words: “Whatever of good befalls you, it is from Allah; and whatever of ill befalls you, it is from yourself.” [Sûrah al-Nisâ’: 79]

This is why we see that `Abbâs used to say “No misfortune ever befell except on account of sin.”

Others from among the Pious Predecessors used to say: “By Allah! If I committed any sin, I would see its consequences on my family and my steed.”

A Muslim who is conscious of Allah’s wisdom in testing us with every blessing and hardship will likewise show gratitude in prosperity. He will say: “This is from the grace and generosity of my Lord.” He will regard it as a test upon him.

We see Solomon (peace be upon him) saying: “This is from the bounty of my Lord, that He may try me whether I will give thanks or be ungrateful.” [Sûrah al-Naml: 40]

In this way, the Muslim will be sure to give thanks for Allah’s blessings, and he will avoid attributing those blessings to his own efforts. A believer should never bestow upon himself unmitigated praise or credit.

Allah warns us against such haughtiness in the Qur’ân: “As for man, whenever his Lord tries him by honoring him, and is gracious unto him, he says: My Lord has honored me. But whenever He tries him by straitening his means of life, he says: My Lord despises me. Nay! (this is not the case.)” [Sûrah al-Fajr: 15-17]

This verse shows us that we should not gauge our affairs in this way. Allah does not give us the good that He blesses us with because we are deserving of it. He does so from His grace and bounty. He does not disgrace us when He withholds from us. Rather what He withholds from us is on account of His infinite wisdom.