The word ‘Fitnah’ has many connotations in the Quran and Sunnah. The most common meaning of this word is ‘trial’ that is, any situation or object that makes it difficult for a Muslim to obey the command of Allah (swt), abstain from sin or safeguard his faith. A Fitnah is a distraction that deflects a believer’s attention from Allah’s (swt) worship.
Ibn Al-Arabi summed up the meanings of Fitnah when he said: “Fitnah means testing, Fitnah means trial, Fitnah means wealth, Fitnah means children, Fitnah means Kufr, Fitnah means differences of opinion among people, Fitnah means burning with fire.” (Lisan Al-Arab by Ibn Manzoor)
Satan uses diverse Fitnahs to make Muslims deviate from the path of righteousness. It is easy for him to lead most of the mankind astray. For the more devout and knowledgeable Muslims, however, his plots are more subtle.
“Your wealth and your children are only a Fitnah (trial), whereas Allah! With Him is a great reward (Paradise).” (Al-Taghabun 64:15)
Having wealth in any form – money, land, or possessions – gives a person the ability to do impermissible things, which they could not have done in poverty. They can afford more means of enjoyment and worldly pleasures. They also acquire friendship of the society’s influential elite, which leaves them little time for worship or remembrance of Allah (swt).
Even if he’s pious and devout, a rich person finds it difficult to restrain himself from what is Haram, and if he is able to do that, then he occasionally slips, by being extravagant in what is Halal. Calculating his yearly Zakah and keeping track of expenses becomes a tedious task. He is also consumed by thinking of ways to sustain his wealth and status.
Spouses and Offspring
Children are one of Allah (swt)’s greatest blessings. However, if one gets so involved with their children that the latter cause them to deviate from their duties towards Allah (swt), they become a Fitnah for them. Nowadays, Muslims are obsessed with providing the highest standard of living for their children. Luxuries become necessities, and parents allow extravagance under the guise of ‘love’: exorbitantly-priced food outlets, entertainment, designer couture and private-school tuition. I was flabbergasted when I recently read about a Pakistani lady’s 15-year-old son arguing with her to let him go on a skiing vacation to Europe!
Whenever Muslim couples are advised to hasten in performing Hajj or to serve their own aging parents instead of living away from them in foreign countries, or to be more active in Dawah activities, they answer: “First, we have to think of our children’s future.”
Disputes and Divisions in the Ummah
The Prophet (sa) said: “Those of you, who will live after me, will see many differences. Then you must cling to my Sunnah and the Sunnah of the rightly-guided Caliphs. Hold fast to it and stick to it.” (Abu Dawood)
Whether it’s a group of bearded ‘Alims’ interrupting each other in heated debates on TV or scholars issuing Fatwas against religious organizations over trivial differences, dissensions among Muslims have increased so much that the Ummah cannot even unite on starting Ramadan fasting or celebrating the Eid together!
Consequently, when people are invited towards Islam, they respond by saying: “How can I know which school of Fiqh is right? If I become religious, I’ll be forever confused about whom to follow. No, thanks; I’m fine the way I am.”
Women – the Greatest Fitnah for Men
“My brother recently said that he might have an accident while driving,” commented a friend of mine, “he keeps getting distracted by the pictures of women on billboards.”
The Prophet (sa) said: “I have left behind no Fitnah more harmful to men than women.” (Bukhari and Muslim)
A young woman’s body and her engaging conversation is the greatest Fitnah for men. Men can ably fight battles, but have no protective armor against the charms of a woman. Even the sway of a woman’s gait, the softness of her voice or the look in her eye can make them falter from grace. The women of one’s family can engage a man so thoroughly that he might neglect his religious duties or acquiesce to earn money unlawfully to fulfill their desires.
Prophet Muhammad (sa) said: “I have not seen any one of deficient intellect and Deen, who is more destructive to the intelligence of a cautious man than you, women.” (Bukhari)
Obscenity, Nudity and Adultery
Uncovered thighs, midriffs and arms; tantalizing eyes and mouths pouring out from advertisement hoardings; explicit and life-sized intimate acts visible at the click of a mouse or a flick of the TV remote. Fahsha (obscenity), which was physically restricted a few decades ago, is just the press of a button away now. On cell phones, computers, television or even fruit-vendors’ push-carts, marketers use carnal imagery to promote any product, be it a deodorant or biscuit. As a result, illicit relationships and adultery are on the rise – one of Satan’s most destructive Fitnahs that gnaws at society’s family structure.
According to Abu Hurairah (rta), the Prophet (sa) said: “The Hour will not come until 30 Dajjals appear, each of them claiming to be a messenger from Allah, wealth increases, tribulations appear and Al-Harj increases.” Someone asked: “What is Al-Harj?” He said: “Killing, killing.” (Ahmad)
Suicide bombings, ‘terrorist’ attacks and civilian air strikes have reduced the value of human blood to nothing, particularly in the Muslim-majority countries of the world.
Abu Hurairah (rta) has narrated that the Prophet (sa) said: “There will be Fitnah (civil strife), which will render people deaf, dumb and blind regarding what is right. Those, who contemplate it, will be drawn by it, and giving rein to the tongue during it will be like smiting with the sword.” (Abu Dawood)
The only defense a Muslim has against Satan’s modern-day Fitnahs outlined above is to adhere fast to the Book of Allah (swt) and the Sunnah of His Messenger (sa); to guard his tongue; to abstain from voicing his views; and to neither take sides nor point fingers when killing takes place and to safeguard his religion by even fleeing to the mountains, if the need for doing so arises.
Narrated Abu Said Al-Khudri (rta): The Messenger of Allah (sa) said: “A Muslim’s best property will soon be sheep, which he takes to the top of mountains and the places where the rain falls, fleeing with his religion from Fitnah (civil strife).” (Abu Dawood)
Essentially this means that Muslims will ultimately need to isolate themselves from the mainstream life by taking to the mountains (as rural life is more private and slow). Rain and sheep are mentioned to indicate that these would be the source of their livelihood in the mountains, where there is not much other civic life.
The need to take such a measure would be to enable the Muslims to safeguard themselves from the prevalence of rampant Fitnahs in the mainstream city life. These include dissensions and divisions among Muslims, among others, which would result in the Haqq becoming obscurely mixed with Batil, so that involvement in the Fitnah might make a person lose sight of what is right and what is wrong, and eventually, his Iman.