The Unavoidable Obstacle
In ‘Madarij as-Salikin’ (1/218-222), Ibn al-Qayyim has a section about the obstacles that Satan puts into the path of the one who chooses to live his life for Allah. He mentions the six commonly known obstacles in the order that they will be thrown into the path of the believer, such that whoever passes through one obstacle is then faced with the next (disbelief, followed by innovation in religion, followed by major sins, followed by minor sins, followed by permissible acts that distract one from acts of obedience, followed by acts of obedience that are of lower reward than others).
However, he mentions a seventh and final obstacle for the one who passes through the above six successfully:
“…So, if he successfully passes through these, there remains only one obstacle from which the enemy (Satan) calls him from, and this is an obstacle that he must face. If anyone were to be saved from this obstacle, it would have been the Messengers and Prophets of Allah, and the noblest of His Creation.
This is the obstacle of Satan unleashing his troops upon the believer with various types of harm: by way of the hand, the tongue, and the heart. This occurs in accordance with the degree of goodness that exists within the believer. So, the higher he is in degree, the more the enemy unleashes his troops and helps them against him, and overwhelms him with his followers and allies in various ways.
There is no way he can overcome this obstacle, because the firmer he is when calling to Allah and fulfilling His commands, the more the enemy becomes intent upon tempting him with foolish people. So, he has essentially put on his body armor in facing this obstacle, and has taken it upon himself to confront the enemy (Satan) for Allah’s sake and in His Name, and his worship in doing so is the worship of the best of those who know Allah…and none are aware of this except those with complete and perfect insight.”
Ibn al-Qayyim’s words here are worthy of reflection (as always). Notice here how, as opposed to the other six obstacles, this particular obstacle is something that the believer has no control over. If one is a kafir, it is in his hands to abandon kufr for faith. If one is upon bid’ah, it is in his hands to abandon bid’ah for the Sunnah. If one is indulged in major or minor sins, it is in that person’s hands to abandon those sins and instead indulge in acts of worship and goodness, and so on and so forth. This is because each of these actions emanate from the person himself, and he thus has the ability to cease from and repel these actions and traits whenever he chooses.
As for the harm that others seek to inflict upon the person due to his faith, there is no way to avoid this obstacle. Why not? Because if one has passed through all of the other obstacles successfully, there is no other way for Allah to test and distinguish him. This is the ultimate test, the test of a lifetime, the test that only the strongest can pass – and this is why this was the test reserved for the Prophets, Messengers, and their true followers.
When it is said that the obstacle is unavoidable, what is meant is its occurrence, not the possibility of reducing and easing the hardship related to that obstacle. So, one is not to sit with his hands on his knees and abandon supplication to Allah, seeking permissible means of help from others, etc. in addition to the other means available to deal with this obstacle. Yes, the Prophet said: “Know that if the entire world were to gather to do you some harm, they would be unable to harm you except with something that Allah has Decreed for you,” but he also said: “Be keen in doing that which will benefit you.” In fact, part of the test of this final obstacle is for you to display your dependence and trust in Allah by calling upon Him, perfecting your worship, strengthening your resolve, making your connection and dedication to Him stronger than it ever was before, and remaining in such a state until the end. This is how you pass the test, overcome the obstacle, and become part of that blessed group that Ibn al-Qayyim described as being “the best of those who know Allah” and “those with complete and perfect insight.”