The Final Exam

Posted on June 15, 2011

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The students trudge slowly into the exam room. Some faces are weary from sleepless nights, while others are full of dread. They take out their pens and brace for the papers to be handed out. Some make silent prayers while others bargain with God, “Please let it be easy. If You make me do well in this I will pray two extra rakat for three months. Please God!” They receive their papers and get to work. The tension in the room is palpable; silence prevails as everyone focuses on completing the task in front of them.  As they glance over their papers some sigh in frustration for not having worked harder, while others sigh in relief because they realize their hard work is about to pay off and the exam is going to be a breeze. Each of them keeps a watchful eye on the clock that mercilessly ticks away the precious minutes. They are keenly aware of the teacher who is monitoring every furtive glance they make. This was a familiar scenario in the lives of many as the school year wrapped up and summer started.

Many of us are deluded into believing that graduation brings an end to the testing while in reality this earth is an exam room and the clock is silently ticking away on our lives. Allah (swt) in His infinite mercy did not give us a pop quiz but informed us clearly the reason why we have been sent.

 [He] who created death and life to test you [as to] which of you is best in deed – and He is the Exalted in Might, the Forgiving (67:2)

For each person the test has been uniquely crafted to be commensurate with their ability. Allah’s promise is that:

Allah does not charge a soul except [with that within] its capacity…(2:286)

Allah (swt) gives us a preview of the test and the kind of questions that will be on it. The study sheet is available in the Quran for those that are motivated to succeed in this life and the next.

In Surah Baqarah Allah (swt) tells us what we shall be tested with:

 And We will surely test you with something of fear and hunger and a loss of wealth and lives and fruits, but give good tidings to the patient, (2:155)

Each individual walking on this planet is being tested in one form or another. We fear for the physical safety of our families and seek to prevent the mental corruption of our children. We are plagued with regrets about the past and apprehensions about the future. Sometimes the grief from the past casts an impenetrable shadow on the present and even the future seems bleak. Hunger is a major problem faced by millions of people in this world today. In the month of Ramadan we get a taste of that hunger for a few days. We choose to be hungry for the pleasure of Allah but there are those that have no choice in the matter. Our financial status is constantly in flux and the condition of our relationships varies on a daily basis.  The loss of lives could be the demise of someone close to you or a natural disaster that wipes out entire cities. Or, it could be the loss of someone’s affection and though they are physically still with you, they no longer have a place for you in their hearts. It could be a parent’s loss of memory that leaves them stranded two decades from reality. The husband may decide to get a second wife or the daughter walks out in the name of freedom and the right that society claims she has  to injure those that have cared for her all her life. The variety of questions on our test is infinite and there is not a single waking moment that we are not tested. We can circle one of the following choices but only the first two will ensure a good score: patience, gratitude, despair, complaint, regret, anger, and blame.

In recent years, math tests are preceded with not just instructions but also with a sheet that has a list of formulas on it. So those of us that have a hard time remembering can refer to it and still do well on the test.  Before Allah (swt) told us about the tests He gives us certain generic formulas that must be applied in order to simplify the problems of this life.

  • In several verses Allah (swt) reiterates that we must turn towards the Kaaba in prayer. The verses have a deeper meaning that we must orient our lives totally to his obedience.(2:150)
  • He also sent to us Prophet Muhammad (saws) so that we could follow his example and ace the test. “Just as We have sent among you a messenger from yourselves reciting to you Our verses and purifying you and teaching you the Book and wisdom and teaching you that which you did not know. (2:151)
  • “…so fear them not but fear Me…” (2:150)
  • “So remember Me; I will remember you. And be grateful to Me and never be ungrateful to Me.” (2:152)
  • And if you are really overwhelmed and desperately need Allah’s help than use the two tools that never fail. “O you who have believed, seek help through patience and prayer. Indeed, Allah is with the patient. (2:153)

Despite the simplicity of these commands we find ourselves constantly faltering as we seek help from people and ideologies that are not going to save us. The main reason why we are unable to cope with our problems is because we think the tests are already over. We are dressed to celebrate and have already put on the graduation gowns and received the certificates to Paradise. The music is playing, the flower bouquets have been handed to us and as we breathe in their deceptive fragrance we wonder why our hearts are uneasy, and why the emptiness in our souls cries out for the company of the Creator. Totally oblivious to the fact that the time is slipping away and every glance is being written down by the angels moderating our test, we turn the music louder and let the premature celebrations continue. Or we spend hours watching others party. We crowd our consciousness and waste our emotions by vicariously living the make-belief trials of the characters on the screen and celebrate their neatly packaged hourly triumphs.

Meanwhile the questions on our test keep piling up and there is no feeling of fulfillment in life. The challenges of life do not just disappear if you ignore them. We do not even attempt to solve them through the remembrance of Allah, through patience and prayer. Who has time to do good? Who has time to read the Quran and study the life of the Messenger? Procrastination is reserved for Allah and His Message while everything else in life is completed in a timely manner. Once the celebrations, real and scripted are over, we will begin to turn the pages of our voluminous test but then it might be too late and the angel of death might already have called, “Time is up!”

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