Since the time we were children, we have learned the difference between good and bad. The formula is simple. When something good happens, we are happy. When something bad happens, we are sad.

And the criterion is clear. Good is about acquiring, and we work to see results that can be weighed and measured.

For example, someone who wins a million dollars is considered lucky. Someone who loses everything they own is unlucky.

Many years ago, there were a people who thought just the same way. Qarun was a very wealthy man who lived at the time of Prophet Moses (peace be upon him). Qarun was given so many treasures that the very keys to those treasures “would have been a burden to a body of strong men.” (Qur’an, 28:76) The Qur’an tells us his story, and the story of those around him:

“So he came out before his people in his adornment. Those who desired the worldly life said, ‘Oh, would that we had like what was given to Qarun. Indeed, he is one of great fortune.’ But those who had been given knowledge said, ‘Woe to you! The reward of Allah is better for he who believes and does righteousness. And none are granted it except the patient.’” (Al-Qasas, 28:79-80)

But soon the reality of Qarun’s situation became clear, and those people who had once envied his position came to realize who the lucky ones really were:

“And We caused the earth to swallow him and his home. And there was for him no company to aid him other than Allah, nor was he of those who [could] defend themselves. And those who had wished for his position the previous day began to say, “Oh, how Allah extends provision to whom He wills of His servants and restricts it! If not that Allah had conferred favor on us, He would have caused it to swallow us. Oh, how the disbelievers do not succeed!”” (Al-Qasas, 28:81-82)

As it was for the people of Qarun, the common criterion of good and bad is simple enough. But it is also completely wrong. According to this criterion, prosperity is defined largely by how much we own, while poverty is defined as the loss or lack of that which can be owned. And yet the true definition of prosperity – given to us by our Creator – is quite different:

“Every soul will taste death, and you will only be given your [full] compensation on the Day of Resurrection. So he who is drawn away from the Fire and admitted to Paradise has attained [his desire]. And what is the life of this world except the enjoyment of delusion.” (Al-Imran, 3:185)

So we may live in this world, and have all the goods and possessions of deception that anyone could dream of, but have completely failed at the object of our existence. And if the object of our existence is, as Allah tells us, only to serve Him (51:56), then it would follow that only that which brought us closer to that end, would be a blessing, while that which took us away from that end would be the greatest calamity – no matter what those things were.

And so it may be that the loss of everything dear to us is in fact the greatest blessing from Allah. If that loss brings us closer to the very purpose of our creation, what greater blessing could there be?

It is for this reason that Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) said,

“If Allah wants to do good to someone, He afflicts him with trials.” (Sahih Bukhari)

And Allah says in the Qur’an:

“And We sent to no city a prophet [who was denied] except that We seized its people with poverty and hardship that they might humble themselves [to Allah].” (Al-A’raf, 7:94)

It is, in fact, out of Allah’s mercy for those people that he does so. Because, what would be the greater tragedy? Afflicting a people with adversity and trials, until they became humble, or providing them with all the wealth and ease, until they became arrogant?

Correcting our criterion is a challenge, but is absolutely necessary. Only when we can break through the deceptive definitions that surround us, can we correctly orient ourselves, prepare for the real test, and ever hope to reach true prosperity in this life and the next.

By Yasmin Mogahed