|Kitab-ul-Taqdeer (Book of Destiny)|
TRAGEDIES and AFFLICTIONS
You must have come across routine events like the following:
i) When a patient recovers, it is credited to the perseverance and skillsof physicians; but failure of treatment is attributed to destiny, pre-determined by Allah.
ii) Success in an academic examination is credited to the diligence of the candidate whereas failure is attributed to Allah.
iii) A favorable verdict in a legal case is attributed to the brilliant skills of the counsel but Allah is blamed in case of the contrary result.
iv) A male offspring is cause enough for celebrations in the family but a baby-girl draws sympathetic consoling remarks like: “What could you do? Allah wanted it so!”
Success due to oneself, failure due to Allah
Thus, Man considers himself helpless and bound in case of failure but deems himself free of will in case of success. This mental attitude is the remnant of mankind’s early days when, finding themselves helpless against certain natural phenomena, they began thinking of a super-natural power. Traditional Religion has fed such ideas to this day through so-called ‘sacred’ evidences such as "عرفت الله بفسخ العزائم " (I know Allah (exists) because of failure of my plans). (1)
(1) This saying is attributed to Ali (the Prophet’s cousin and the fourth Caliph), but it appears erroneous. In my opinion, it has come from one of the ‘Sufis’ (mystics).
Oriental poetry, thriving on grief, affliction and despair, has painted the picture more bleak by verses such as :
Mysticism finally stamped this notion into a firm, established religious belief. Let us try to see the stance of Allah’s ‘Din’ in this regard.
What is ‘museeba’? (1)
The Arabic word ‘museeba’ stems from the three-letter root ص و ب , which carries the basic and intrinsic meaning of something descending to come to its resting place. Thus each and every occurrence or event may be termed as ‘museeba’. The Quran uses ‘museeba’ in contrast to ‘hasana’ (9/50) meaning something pleasant. Hence the popular use of ‘museeba’ for an unpleasant event.
The point to ponder is whether ‘musaaeb’ (tragedies and afflictions) are caused by Allah or by Man (individually or collectively). The Quran presents an elaborate reply.
‘Musaaeb’ are caused by Man’s actions
Sura Shura says: “There is no tragedy which befalls you but as result of your own handiwork” (42/30). Sura Aale-Imran states that when they (people) are struck by an affliction, they wonder where it came from (أنى هـذا) - ‘ Tell them: “it is of your own doing” (3/164). Sura Nahal also says the same: “Their own wrongdoing brought tragedy to them” (16/34).
(1) Commonly translated in Urdu as affliction or grief.
Allah’s established procedure for wrong / bad actions is that their consequences are not readily observable initially and take some time in materializing. This time gap is the grace period of reprieve. In Sura Az-Zumr, it is stated that people who chose to go gleefully away from Allah’s way, defying and ridiculing His laws but in a little while “what wrong they have done will bear result and that (Divine Law ) which they are ridiculing now will surround them” (39/48).
The Quran uses a very meaningful expression for this grace period of reprieve between an action and the subsequent result of it. It likens it to someone sending (this result) on before he starts his own journey. Reaching the destination, one finds that result already waiting (for the sender). The Quran uses the expression (بما قَدّمَت أيديهم) - ‘whatever their hands send on before’. Sura Aal-e-Imran talks about Allah recording all the crimes committed which will bear results as life goes on and they will be told: “This is what your hands sent on before” (3/181-182). These results have also been referred to by the expression (ما اسلفت) - i.e. “those which have passed (this path) before” (10/30). Sure Al-Hajj also uses the same expression in (22/9-10). Sura Al-Qasas states about the children of Israel (Jews) that when they are faced with a bad situation, which they have themselves sent on before, they start moaning and complaining (28/47); also: 4/62. Sura Rome talks about people’s attitude of crediting success to themselves boastfully, but getting depressed and frustrated over tragedies which they have already sent on themselves before (30/36). It is repeated in 42/49. Sura Al-Fajr states that faced with the ultimate destruction, Man will call out in despair, “only if I had sent something on for my life!” (89/24).
This applies to tragedies and afflictions as well as bounties and benefits. Sura Muzammel says: “Whatever good you send on for yourselves will be ready with Allah” (73/20).
The same phenomenon is also referred to as “whatever their selves send on for them” (5/80). The Quran holds Man’s personality (self) responsible for his actions since it is the seat of his power of choice and free will. That is why it says: “Self (the human personality) should keep an eye on what it sends on for tomorrow (the future)” (59/18). About realization of results it says: “Self will come to know what it sent on or left behind” (82/5) because “We write down what they send on and what they leave behind” (36/12) and that “Everything is registered in a clear book which is (always walking) ahead of them” (36/12).
Thus, all tragedies and afflictions are brought upon Man by himself (individually or collectively). Sura Baqara talks about the calamities befalling the children of Israel saying: “Their tragedy was of their own doing” (2/79) because “they were unfair and law-breakers” (2/59) - also: 2/61; 3/111.
Ignominy and Disgrace
In fact, Allah’s universal law (that ignominy and disgrace are results of Man’s own actions) applies to anyone and all. When a nation chooses to ignore even a part of Allah’s law, they are ‘disgraced in this world and subject to severe punishment on the Day of Judgment” (2/85) - also: 2/114; 22/9-10. Sura Al-Fajr states the same in a different way: “When Man is disgraced, he says “O my God! You disgraced me for nothing!” (89/9-16). Allah replies that it is not true. “Allah doesn’t disgrace anyone. You have been disgraced by our own wrongdoing -- you used to abandon the helpless of your society; you had all the vices of a capitalistic economy -- such actions brought ignominy to you, not Allah!”, also 92/4-10.
Allah is not unfair
The fact that Allah doesn’t disgrace anyone without due cause (one’s own wrongdoing), as this is unfair, has been illustrated many times over in the Quran. Sura Aal-e-Imran talks about the tyrants of society being eventually destroyed, and -- “Allah is not unfair to them but they are unfair to themselves” (3/116). Sura Tauba, after speaking of destruction of the nations of the past, says: “Allah did not treat them cruelly, but they brought it upon them themselves” (9/70). Also in 11/101; 16/33 and 29/40. Sura Younis states: “Allah is not unfair to people in the slightest, but they do it to themselves” (10/44). Allah is omnipotent and Man is His (weak and vulnerable) creation. Allah’s being cruel and unfair to Man is inconceivable. People bring tragedies to themselves by their own hands (ذلك بما قدمت يدك) “Allah is not cruel to His creatures” (22/10). In fact, “Allah doesn’t (even) intend to be cruel to His people” (40/31). He argues: “Why will Allah torture you if you accept (the validity of His laws) and (show that you) are convinced ( of their practical value)?” (4/147).
Allah is not a sadist. In His domain “every decision is based upon the Truth” and “everyone gets the result of one’s actions” and “no one is wronged” (39/69-70). About the time of Man’s actions bearing results, it says: “that day everyone will get what he worked for and no one will be wronged” (40/17). Also: “Decisions will be taken justly and fairly and no one will be wronged” (10/47) - also: (10/54).
Two verses from An-Nisa
In this regard, two ‘verses’ from Sura An-Nisa are quite significant. Talking about the ‘reverse’ mentality of a certain group of the Prophet’s era, the Quran says: “when they are in a pleasant situation, they attribute it to Allah, but blame the Prophet for their troubles. Tell them “everything is from Allah” (‘s law) 4/78. Further, it says: “What is (wrong) with them? They don’t try to understand. Remember, the pleasantness you get is from Allah and your troubles are from you yourselves” (4/79).
There is an apparent contradiction here. One verse says the good and the bad all come from Allah, whereas the other verse appears to say the good is from Allah but the bad is from Man. The apparent contradiction can actually be resolved thus:
i) All events- good or bad - occur according to natural (Allah’s) laws
(كل من عند الله).
ii) Allah’s Law - if followed - shall bring good to you -
ما اصابك من حسنة فمن الله
iii) If you follow the path of your own choice (other than Allah’s), the natural result will be trouble. ما اصابك من سيئة فمن نفسك
Simply put, then, all events (actions) bear results pre-determined by Allah’s law. If one follows the natural (Allah’s suggested) course, one benefits. Otherwise (when one defies the divine law) the natural consequence is tragedy.
Therefore, all good is from Allah whereas evil is brought upon Man by himself. This point shall be elaborated later in the book under a separate heading of ‘Good and Evil’.
We can conclude, therefore, that (i) to attribute a tragedy to Allah is not only erroneous factually but is blaming Allah wrongfully. When people try to philosophize a tragedy by utterances like: “Man proposes and God disposes, ‘His is all powerful. He can do whatever, whenever He wants’, ‘Only He knows why He does what He does’, etc. they project an image of a lawless, irregular and unreasonable Allah, and (ii) all Man’s efforts and endeavors are furtile and all events occur because of (a whimsical Allah). This reduces Man to a bound, will-less creature. (I shall deal with this point in some detail later in the book).
It is true that:
i) Occasionally, an event has to be attributed to ‘chance’ as we cannot explain it, and
ii) an individual is sometimes beset with tragedy not directly attributable to the person concerned. Sometimes, Allah’s law appears to be working in the opposite direction (producing evil instead of good), as in the case of an honest official who suffers in a dishonest society.
As to ‘chance’ in (I) above, there can never be an ‘effect’ without a ‘cause’ in the universe. But, the cause has to be discovered by Man. During the early period of its history, mankind used to attribute, due to lack of knowledge, almost every phenomenon to chance. That has been changing through Man’s march of civilization. Even today, certain uncivilized tribes in various parts of the world attribute certain phenomena to gods and goddesses. It is not so any longer when scientific discoveries unravel the mysteries of Nature. This situation improves with every generation. This ignorant state of affairs may be observed in certain sections of society even in the civilized world. As Man moves forward in the realm of science, ‘chance’ will give way completely to factual knowledge attained by mankind. Man has the potential to discover the entire Universe (2/31).
‘Chance’ is nothing but lack of knowledge!.
Individuals in an Unfair Society
As to (ii) above, an individual is a part / member of a society and, as such, is affected by it anyway. For example, a good harvest benefits even those not connected with farming at all. On the other hand, a bursting dam extends its damage even to those who have nothing at all to do with its construction or maintenance. This is why the Quran say: “Try to protect your society against a danger which is not restricted to the people responsible for it” (8/25).
Man behaves oddly in a society. Benefiting from the good - facilities, benefits etc. - one never refuses them on the grounds that one is not directly responsible for them. On the other hand, however, one is always complaining about the badness of society for which, again, one is not directly responsible. This attitude is referred to in the Quran: “When Man is enjoying Our bounties, he turns away (arrogantly from Allah’s law), but when evil comes to him, he raises hue and cry” (17/83). It goes on to say: “Say, everyone works according to one’s tether”, therefore is directly or indirectly responsible for what happens in society. The Quran gives a graphic illustration of this in Sura Sabaa (the leaders and the led quarreling about, and blaming one another for, society’s ills): “If you just imagine the time when the transgressors will be in Alllah’s presence blaming one another for their mistakes. The led will say to the leaders, ‘but for your misleading leadership we would have followed Allah’s laws’. The leaders will say, ‘Why blame us? We didn’t stop you from following the right path. you wronged of your own choice. You blame us wrongly!’ The led will say, ‘ You crafted a society which kept us away from the right path. How can you escape responsibility?” (34/31-33). But, excuses of both will be rejected and punishment will come to them equally: (37/33) - The leaders for their wrongdoing and the led for being their power base.
This then, is the Quran’s view of an individual and society. A society is nothing but a collection of individuals who have the potential of enforcing change. Please note that the Quran does not accept as valid the excuse of being helpless from free-willed Man. This very excuse brought upon Iblees the eternal punishment of being banished from benefits. It is perfectly possible, though, that individuals fail in their initial attempt(s) to bring about change in their society. But this is very different from presenting helplessness as an excuse for inaction. People who try are commended by Allah (2/157), others will naturally go to hell (4/97).
Early Muslim History
This, therefore, is the Quran’s position on social tragedies. Social life (collective existence) will be dealt with in more detail later in this book under ‘Rise & Fall of Nations’). As long as Muslims kept in view this Quranic position, they faced problems logically, factually and on the basis of cause & effect. The public would point out any flaws in administration and the officials would attend to them. Any difficulties on the social level were dealt with by improving the people’s own individual (or collective) behavior. No one would blame problems on Allah or pre-determined taqdeer (destiny)!
Later, the rulers grew more and more oppressive which resulted in ever-increasing social ills, problems and tragedies. To avoid any public uprising against them, the rulers collaborated with the clergy - no Pharaoh can claim to be the supreme provider (أنا ربكم الأعلى) without help from Haman (the clergy) - who began propagating the view that the rulers, their oppression and power, all social problems and individual tragedies etc. occur by the pre-determined will of Allah and thus is unavoidable and is to be patiently accepted as fate. Any dissent - even a mere thought of it - is going against the will of Allah is apostasy!
This propaganda through the years established as an article of the faith (anti-Quranic) belief of (pre-destined) calamities as the will of Allah.
Please remember, the Quran announces: “There is no calamity but brought upon you by your own hands” (42/30) - be it individual, like touching a flame, or collective as a dam giving way or the righteous suffering in a wrong society!.
This last point needs a little more elaboration. Sura Maida says: “O the convinced people! Keep a watch over your selves. If you keep to the right path, the wrongdoers will not be able to bring any harm to you” (5/105). This verse reveals great truths.
It says one will be safe from wrongdoers if one is on the right path. But our experience is in contradiction of this. A righteous, honest person is conspired against, wronged, and harmed by the devious. How, then, the Quran can claim what it does? This requires some deliberation.
As stated previously, Man has two levels of life. One is physical, subject to natural physical laws. On this level, there is no distinction between the good and the bad people. A flame burns anyone - believer or non-believer alike, poison kills both. Tilling land according to sound agricultural knowledge brings good harvest to everyone.
Sura Beni Israel Says:
“Our law is that whoever desires the worldly benefits and strives for them according to our deliberately established natural laws, gets them. But, the future for such a person is bled and hellish.
Contrarily, whoever desires benefits of both worlds - present & future - and strives for them accordingly, convinced of permanent values, gets good results in the present as well as the future.
Thus, both categories keep moving forward in life. Your Provider does not deprive either of the two categories of the due result of their efforts. (17/18-26).
That means the physical laws work equally for both Muslims and non-Muslims.
This is repeated in (42/20). This, therefore is Allah’s law on the physical level.
The other level of life - the human - is higher than the physical and is governed by permanent moral values. Living according to these values sustains and nourishes the human personality. Defiance of these values results in stalling the growth of the human personality. This is known as the future or the hereafter. But, importantly, at this level both the physical and the human lives co-exist. In a righteous (Islamic) social situation both levels of life are duly looked after without any mutual clashes. Not so in a wrong (un-Islamic) social set-up. These are clashes between the righteous people (convinced of the permanent values) and the wrongdoers (the unconvinced). In such situations, the righteous do not like to give up permanent values in favor of the worldly benefits. That is why the righteous sometimes suffer on the physical-life level. But their personalities (أنفسكم) remain protected (5/105), and the benefit and damage to the human personality can only be judged when weighed in Allah’s balance of the Law of Returns (5/105).
Importance of Material Benefits
The Quran does not ignore the material side of physical life, but considers it very important. It says of a ‘momin’s’ (the convinced, righteous person) life, “good in the world and good in the hereafter” (2/210). The question to consider is: How to strike a balance between the two levels of life? That is the whole point of the Quranic program. The clash between a righteous and a materialistic person is termed as the clash between the Right and the Wrong. When the righteous lose this battle, it is because they, in a wrongful society, exist as individuals whereas the materialists gang up. The Quran suggests the righteous get together and form an alliance against the wrongdoers. This is not easy, though.
Clash of Right & Wrong
It is a continual fight termed as ‘jehad: Sura Baqara says: “Do you hope to enter Paradise effortlessly? You also, just as the righteous of yester- years, have to go through crushing struggle. They used to fight on and on under grueling circumstances, occasionally wondering when their efforts would bear fruit. It was only then (after a long, sustained, crushing battle) that they would be successful with Allah’s help. Remember, you have to do likewise!” (2/214).
As an example, the Quran speaks of the Battle of Ahzaab: “During that awful time, you were surrounded by the enemy forces, you were frightened blind with your hearts pounding wildly and (the not-so-convinced among) you were beginning to doubt the validity of Allah’s promises. Under such awesome circumstances, the convinced displayed their steadfastness in the face of problems! (33/10-11). Such are the situations when the righteous face (physical damage and loss:
“You will face war and killing, shortage of food, loss of life and property, damage to crops and orchards. But eventually, good news will come to the steadfast who constantly keep in view their target of replacing the wrong evil system with the right good one. They say” “We are devoted to this cause. Regardless of problems and difficulties, we will keep striving to achieve that goal by moving towards that target” (2/155-156).
Obviously, one needs, along with steadfastness, material equipment. That is why it says: “Be ready to defend your borders” (8/60). On a battlefield, the righteous suffer from a technical mistake just as any other fighting force. One very illustrative example from Muslim history is the Battle of Ohud where the Muslims were defeated incurring heavy losses and the Prophet, after being injured, had to be rescued.
For such occasions, the Quran comforts the righteous: “Why worry over your problems? Your opponents also face them” (4/104). “These universal laws apply to all mankind” (3/139).
If the righteous come out victorious, they establish a just society in which (5/105) becomes practically operative, and so does 2/210.
Those who die before the establishment of such as a social system suffer in this world and life but their life in the hereafter is enviable. They are called ‘Killed in Allah’s path’ and they are to be considered alive and shall live for ever (2/154).
This success, however, comes with Man’s own effort which bears fruit in a collective (social) form of life of a nation.
I shall deal with this point in the next chapter.