Would You destroy us for the deeds of the foolish ones among us?” (A‘rāf, 7:155)
A person’s life moves in a course between fear and hope. It is necessary for a believer to maintain a balance between fear and hope through his or her entire life. For at the one extreme of fear there is despair, and at the opposite extreme is over-confidence and certainty. For this reason, being certain of Allah’s forgiveness or abandoning hope of His generosity is forbidden in Islam. A perfect believer is one who maintains a balance between these two stances, as described in the Qur’an:
They forsake their beds and give up sleep, while they call on their Lord, in fear and hope; and they spend (in charity) out of the sustenance which We have bestowed on them. (Sajda, 32:16)
Absolute despair or abandoning hope in Allah’s compassion is a denial of His mercy, and ultimately means the denial of Allah’s generosity, omnipotence and magnificence. However, the opposite attitude – absolute confidence in Allah’s generosity – results in denial of Allah as al‑Qahhār (the Subduer), and to a disregard of His recompense.
In short, a person must keep a balance without fearing Allah to the point of despair, but also without being hopeful to the point of neglecting one’s duties. Extraordinary events, like the earthquake we recently experienced in Turkey (1999 earthquake which killed thousands of people), may make maintaining this balance very difficult at times.
A believer should be in such a state of mind that whenever he or she is told, “Only one person will be able to enter Paradise!” that person should ask themselves “Will it be me?” or whenever he or she is told “There is only one person that will enter Hell!” he or she should wonder “Will I be that person?”
Allah the Almighty warns people and teaches them through heavenly or earthly disasters to inculcate consciousness of the divine in their hearts, and to protect them from following their own desires. It is sheer folly to believe that these calamities happen by accident or at random. The death and injury of thousands of people and the resulting destitution and homelessness that these disasters cause are not meaningless or pointless. If this were the case, it would be impossible to understand the logical points of life, death and the divine program, and to explain them plausibly. These disasters are the manifestations of divine greatness, and the Creator’s omnipotence. Rūmī said on this matter:
The world we live in is limited and mortal. The essential thing is the eternal and infinite world. Think so deeply that you will not curtain your heart from the eternal world with the pale miniatures, perishable shapes and dissolving fashions of this world! Although this world seems very important and vast to your eyes, think that it is not even a molecule in comparison to divine power. Watch out and look around at how an earthquake, a cyclone, or a flood devastates the world! (Mathnawī, Vol. I, 425)
We continuously watch how earthquakes and floods kill thousands of people all over the world every other day. Here are mass deaths that our Prophet (upon him blessings and peace) mentioned as a sign of the doomsday! In all these events there are countless lessons for us. Therefore, this disaster (1999 earthquake in Turkey that killed thousands of people) should be analyzed from a metaphysical perspective rather than be attributed to purely external causes. We should not fall into error when looking at the disaster from the point of a materialistic world philosophy instead of Islamic criteria. We should try to read the divine will behind all these disasters.
The universe – from the microscopic to the cosmos and the eternal world beyond – is programmed in detail according to a divine order. From the motion of the sun and other masses in space to that of the smallest parts of the atom and mysterious invisible rays, everything is moving in a course beyond our perception and imagination. Everything falls within this divine program. Even an unbeliever would not imagine that the speed of the sun quickens or slows down, or that a day on Earth lasts more than or less than twenty-four hours. Their hearts recognize and secretly admit the ultimate power of the divine will. However, caving to their desires, they interpret the basic laws of the divine order as “the laws of nature,” assuming them a source of active power. Yet these laws and principles are the divine rules and practices (‘ādāt Allāh) which govern the universe.
This world is a world of causes. Allah, as the Causator of all causes (musabbib al-asbāb), has tied everything to a certain cause. If the divine will manifested Itself without a cause, no one would endure the spiritul weight of this manifestation; also, there would be no justification for testing mankind’s actions if the causation principle were not respected. Hence the people of divine knowledge look at the Creator of causes and do not stop at the cause itself. Those who have no clue of the divine presence wander around ordinary causes, idly latching on purely physical explanations, such as blaming tectonic faults for earthquakes.
In order to discipline the unbelievers and the unjust, Allah turns “natural” incidents into material and moral torment. He turns the positive characteristics of natural elements like fire, water and wind into devastating powers. It is a kind of spiritual blindness not to see the divine will in the basis of events occurring in nature. Rūmī warns:
Do not forget that this world is like a piece of straw before the divine power. The divine will elevates it sometimes and lowers it at others, either leaving it strong or breaking it, bringing it to the right or to the left. It is sometimes rendered into a rose garden and sometimes into a bush.
Allah wanted this world to be a testing ground. He shows His majesty (jalāl) alongside His beauty (jamāl) as two complementary things. The manifestation of Allah’s kindness and beauty is realised through sincere prayers, alms, and pious deeds. But the manifestation of the wrath of Allah is brought about through forbidden practices and oppression. Apart from such causes, however, it also occurs in order to test people’s patience and their submission to the divine will. Thus, Allah tests His servants in different ways. This is stated in the Qur’an: “Be sure We shall test you with something of fear and hunger, some loss in goods, lives and the fruits of your toil, but give glad tidings to those who patiently persevere” (Baqara, 2:155).
Even prophets, despite their innocence, have suffered severe ordeals and trials. The Prophet Job’s (upon him blessings and peace) test was a very interesting one. Allah tested this prophet by first taking his property away from him. His sheep were destroyed in a flood and his crops laid waste with a strong wind. Then his children were all killed in an earthquake. After all of these trials, Allah sent a terrible disease to Job (upon him blessings and peace) who stayed steady and calm in complete trust in Allah. He did not complain about his disease, but submitted himself to Allah.
As a result of his great patience and submission, Allah the Almighty removed all of his diseases and troubles, and returned his family to him and a life that was even better than what it had been previously.
This example indicates that in some disasters innocent children may die, sincere and devout people may die; but through this disaster their sins may be forgiven. The Prophet Muhammad (upon him blessings and peace) said in this regard: “When Allah predestined a rank for a servant in His sight, and the person cannot reach this rank through his own deeds, Allah will send some trials and tribulations. Then He bestows patience upon His servant so that He can attain that rank!” “At the side of Allah, the servant has a rank that he or she cannot reach through worship alone. Until this position is reached, Allah sends to the servant things which he or she does not desire (calamities or troubles).” (MusnadAbū Ya‘lā, Sahih Ibn Hibbān)
Moses (upon him blessings and peace) met a person on his way to Mount Sinai. The person said to Moses, upon him blessings and peace:
“O Kalīm Allāh! (he who speaks to Allah) I have a request: please pray for me on Mount Sinai!”
Moses (upon him blessings and peace) asked:
“What is your request? Tell me, so that I can ask it of Allah.”
“O Messenger of Allah! This is a secret between Allah and me.”
Then Moses (upon him blessings and peace) reached Sinai. He talked to Allah and beseeched Allah to grant that person his wish, and then Allah told him that his prayer had already been answered. On his return, Moses (upon him blessings and peace) stopped where he had met the man in order to tell him the good news, but he saw that wild animals had killed him. He was confused by what had happened, and he said:
“O my Lord! What secret is this? How did You accept his request?”
Allah said to him:
“O Moses! This servant asked of Me a spiritual rank to which he could not reach by his own efforts and deeds. So I gave him this affliction. Thus, I elevated him to the position he asked of Me.”
Once the Prophet (upon him blessings and peace) stated: “Whenever Allah gives trouble to His servant, He either gives it in order to forgive his sin or to elevate him to an upper rank.” (Musnad Ahmad)
Therefore the manifestation of Allah’s enormous power should not lead to a sense of hopelessness; nor should Allah’s kindness lead to an absolute confidence in one’s goodness.
The divine natural laws (sunnat Allāh) and events such as earthquakes, fires, wars, plagues, droughts, and, on the other hand, Allah’s mercy and blessings, are formed according to the servants’ spiritual states. If most of the servants are on the right path, rain comes down as a mercy and a blessing, and happiness follows. However, if most of the community are inclined to their earthly desires, then floods, droughts or earthquakes become inevitable. These sad events occur because of sins or rebelliousness committed by people. In other words, natural disasters happen only after spiritual quakes already took place due to corrupt hearts. Allah states in the Qur’an: “Verily never will Allah change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves.” (Ra‘d, 13:11)
Surely Allah is not an oppressor. It is a fact that these disasters occurred because of people’s rebelliousness and oppression. It is inevitable that those who oppose the divine order and sacred principles will activate the divine revenge. Allah states in Quran: “…Not a leaf does fall but with His knowledge. There is not a grain in the darkness (or depths) of the earth, nor anything fresh or dry (green or withered), but is (inscribed) in a record clear (to those who can read).” (An‘ām, 6:59) It would not be plausible to accept that the whole country has been shaken by itself when even a leaf does not fall without Allah’s knowledge.
It cannot be denied that a disaster happens due to some physical reasons such as unstable foundations in buildings, inadequate rescue operations and so on. Likewise, it cannot be denied that people’s spiritual states and their actions – good or evil – play a role in the triggering or the deflection of earthquakes. It is a great mistake to see only one side of the coin. Unfortunately, it is very disappointing to see some heedless people increase their rebellion against God rather than feeling remorse for their mistakes at the time of disasters. Rūmī says of this kind of people:
What a pity for those who instead of benefiting from the divine warnings as a remedy for their troubles make it a poison for themselves! It is because of this that Allah’s wrath increases the darkness in their eyes. They cannot see the hell waiting to destroy them! Woe betides them!
It is, of course, necessary to take every measure in preparation against possible future disasters. Then, after taking the necessary steps people should resign themselves to Allah. Once ‘Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) was passing quickly by a shaky wall which was about to collapse. His friends said, “O Commander of the Muslims! Are you trying to evade what Allah has ordained?” ‘Umar replied,“I take refuge from one destiny of Allah to another destiny of Allah.”
Materialistic people exaggerate the power of taking such physical measures and think that “If buildings were strong enough, this earthquake would not have killed so many people.” But when things are dependent on the divine will, the real cause overcomes all kinds of precautions and the divine will manifests itself at all costs. For example, an earthquake would occur at, say, 11.4 on the Richter scale instead of 7.4, or there could be another strong cause. The earthquake in Kobe is a very good example of this. There, houses were built with greater durance against earthquakes. Yet, unfortunately, at the time the earthquake struck, the gas pipes blew up and a sudden fire erupted; ultimately, six thousand people were killed in the ensuing blaze. A twenty-second earthquake was enough to destroy the wealth of all the people, which had taken years to accumulate.
Since we are the servants of Allah, we are obliged to take the necessary steps to prepare against future disasters. But it should be known that such measures are not a guarantee against our destiny. Measures give positive results only as far as they are in line with the divine destiny. The opposite behavior is the kind of behavior the tribe of Thamūd showed toward the people of ‘Ād.
The tribe of Thamūd had unwarily attributed the destruction of ‘Ād to reasons other than Allah’s wrath, which was due to their rebelliousness against Allah. They said: “The tribe of ‘Ād was destroyed because they did not construct strong buildings, instead they built their houses on soft ground. We have built our houses on rocks, and so we will not suffer from any natural disaster.” Indeed they had built very strong houses on high places by carving the rocks.
Nevertheless, the people of Thamūd were destroyed because they had gone astray. A terrible noise came from under the ground and destroyed them. Allah stated this in following verse: “The (mighty) blast overtook the wrong-doers, and they lay prostrate in their homes before the morning, as if they had never dwelt and flourished there. Behold! Thamūd rejected their Lord and Cherisher! Away with Thamūd!” (Hûd, 11:67-68)
It is evident that constructing strong buildings is not in itself a sufficient protection from natural disasters. All behavior that attracts Allah’s anger such as dissension, ingratitude, rebellion and sin, leads to Allah’s punishment. When the moral order in the land and the sea is violated, disasters occur one after another. This reality is stated in the Qur’an: “Mischief has appeared on the land and the sea because of what the hands of men have earned, so that Allah may give them a taste of some of their deeds, in order that they may turn back from evil.” (Rūm, 30:41)
The punishment in the foregoing verse is described as only partial. It is implied that the main punishment will be in the thereafter. It is also stated that this punishment is only a warning. Therefore, one should take refuge in Allah more than before and ask forgiveness from Him. For Allah states: “Allah is not going to send them a chastisement while you were among them; nor was He going to send it while they asked for pardon” (Anfāl, 8:33).
Besides asking forgiveness and praying two rak‘ahs (units of prayer), we should seek refuge in Allah’s mercy and compassion as Allah states: “O you who believe! Seek help with patient perseverance and prayer; for Allah is with those who patiently persevere.” (Baqara, 2:153)
Once the Prophet (upon him blessings and peace) said: “If anyone aids and consoles any victim of a disaster, Allah will reward him twice” (Rāmūz al-Ahādīth). We must remember that we could have been in that situation instead of them, and they could have been in our situation. Therefore, we should be charitable to them as a way of being grateful to Allah. We should reach out to help the destitute, injured, and saddened people living in a disaster area, and remedy their grief and pain as soon as we can.
We should also take the opportunity to increase our good deeds, as Rūmī said:“In such a case implore Allah! Cry unto Allah and praise Him, and increase your good deeds!”
We, in some sense, live a life which has been given back to us as a gift. In the wake of a terrible disaster which killed and injured thousands of people, we are the lucky people who were returned to this world once again and given extra time to increase our good deeds. As such, it will no longer be a valid excuse to say, “O our Lord! Send us back into the world so that we can devote our lives worshipping to You.” Such a terrible event should therefore awaken us. Taking advantage of this opportunity, we should reorganise our lives by frequently reflecting upon death in the spirit of the saying “Die before death comes to you.” We should train our hearts with patience, resignation, steadfastness and prayers in the tranquil state of submission to Allah.
The following Qur’anic verse, which discusses when the Prophet Moses (upon him blessings and peace) sought refuge in Allah when Mount Sinai was shaken by an earthquake, contains an important lesson for us:
And Moses chose seventy of his people for our place of meeting; when they were seized with violent quaking, he prayed, “O my Lord! If it had been Your will, You could have destroyed, long before, both them and me; would You destroy us for the deeds of the foolish ones among us? This is no more than Your trial: by it You cause whom You will to stray, and You lead whom You will into the right path. You are our protector; so forgive us and give us Your mercy; for You are the best of those who forgive. (A‘rāf, 7:155)
Thus, we have seen that even prophets were not free from being tested; their hearts were tested with terrible calamities for their submission, appreciation, fear and love of Allah. In the end, they always maintained a state of fear and hope, and were the leaders of selected people who attained Allah’s approval. All of us must live in accordance with Allah’s sanction, maintaining a balance of fear and hope both in safety and hardship.
O Lord! Protect the Muslim community from calamity and suffering, and from Your wrath! Place us among those fortunate people who have attained Your divine favors by showing patience in a state of fear (from Your wrath) and hope (in Your mercy), in safety and in hardship! Bestow tranquillity and calmness upon our hearts! Transform these dark days of torment and trouble into blessed and happy mornings!