If a calamity befalls a Muslim, how can we know whether it is a punishment for his sins or a test to raise him in status?.
Praise be to Allaah.
According to the Qur’an and Sunnah, there are two direct causes for calamities and trials, in addition to the wisdom of Allah, may He be exalted, in what He wills and decrees.
The first reason is:
Sins and acts of disobedience that the person has committed, whether they constitute kufr or are no more than regular sins or are major sins. Allah, may He be glorified and exalted, will test the one who committed them with calamity by way of requital and immediate punishment (i.e., in this world).
Allah, may He be glorified and exalted, says (interpretation of the meaning): “…but whatever of evil befalls you, is from yourself” [an-Nisa’ 4:79]. The commentators said: i.e., because of your sin.
And He, may He be glorified and exalted, says (interpretation of the meaning): “And whatever of misfortune befalls you, it is because of what your hands have earned. And He pardons much” [ash-Shoora 42:30].
End quote from Tafseer al-Qur’an al-‘Azeem, 2/363
It was narrated that Anas (may Allah be pleased with him) said: The Messenger of Allah (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him) said:
“If Allah wills good for His slave, He hastens his punishment in this world, and if He wills bad for His slave, He withholds from him (the punishment for) his sin, until He requites him for it on the Day of Resurrection.”
[Narrated and classed as hasan by at-Tirmidhi (2396); classed as saheeh by al-Albaani in Saheeh at-Tirmidhi.]
The second reason is:
That Allah, may He be exalted, wants to raise in status the patient believer, so He tests him with calamity so that he will bear it acceptance and patience, then He will be given the reward of those who are patient in the Hereafter, and will be recorded with Allah as one of the victorious. Calamities befell the Prophets and the righteous persistently, and Allah, may He be exalted, made it an honour for them by means of which they attained high status in Paradise. Hence it says in the saheeh hadeeth from the Prophet (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him): “If a certain status has previously been decreed by Allaah for a person, and he does not attain it by his deeds, Allaah afflicts him in his body or wealth or children.”
[Narrated by Abu Dawood, 3090; classed as saheeh by al-Albaani in as-Silsilah as-Saheehah, no. 2599.]
It was narrated from Anas ibn Maalik (may Allah be pleased with him) that the Prophet (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him) said: “Great reward comes with great trials. When Allah loves a people, He tests them, and whoever accepts it attains His pleasure, whereas whoever shows discontent with it incurs His wrath.”
[Narrated and classed as hasan by at-Tirmidhi (2396); classed as saheeh by al-Albaani in as-Silsilah as-Saheehah, no. 146]
The two reasons are mentioned together in the hadeeth of ‘Aa’ishah (may Allah be pleased with her), according to which the Prophet (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him) said: “Nothing befalls a believer, a (prick of a) thorn or more than that, but Allaah will raise him one degree in status thereby, or erase a bad deed.”
[Narrated by al-Bukhaari (5641) and Muslim (2573).]
Moreover, in most cases these two causes exist together rather than either of them occurring on its own.
Do you not see that if Allah tests a person with calamity because of his sin, and he bears it with patience and gratitude, Allah, may He be exalted, will forgive him his sin, raise him in status in Paradise and give him the reward of those who are patient and seek reward with Him?
When Allah tests a person with a calamity so that he will reach the lofty status that He has decreed for him in Paradise, his previous sins are expiated and it is regarded as requital for those sins in this world, so the requital will not be repeated for him in the Hereafter. This is what happened to some of the Messengers and Prophets, such as Adam (peace be upon him) and Yoonus (peace be upon him): Allah, may He be glorified and exalted, tested Adam with expulsion from Paradise, and He tested Yoonus ibn Matta with being swallowed into the belly of the fish. But by means of these tests, Allah raised them in status because of their patience and seeking reward with Him, may He be exalted. It was expiation for what each of them had done of going against His command (blessings and peace of Allah be upon both of them).
This proves that requital in this world is not separate from the requital in the Hereafter. These two reasons are mentioned together in many saheeh Prophetic hadeeths, such as that which was narrated by Sa‘d ibn Abi Waqqaas (may Allah be pleased with him) who said: I said: O Messenger of Allah, who among the people are most sorely tested? He said: “The Prophets, then the next best and the next best. A man will be tested according to his level of religious commitment. If his religious commitment is solid, his test will be more severe, but if there is any weakness in his religious commitment, he will be tested according to his level of religious commitment. And calamity will continue to befall a person until he walks on the earth with no sin on him.”
[Narrated by at-Tirmidhi (2398) who said: (It is) hasan saheeh. ]