I used to believe tragedy could be ranked, like an illness.
First, there was low-level tragedy: the parting of ways, the end of an era. We experience and witness this all the time. As far as most of us are concerned, this is life. Most of us function at a base-level of displeasure permanently.
Then there was more serious, chronic misfortune. The illness that persists. The financial woes. We have periods of this – we slide between the first two states frequently. When we’re not fearing our situation will worsen, we’re unhappily waiting for it to improve.
Then there’s acute loss. The death of a loved one. Material ruin. The loss of everything. These are the moments when the illusions we live under fall, and we feel the fragility of our existence, as palpable as a cold wind.
For a brief moment, we know – deeply, completely – that we will leave this life. Our deaths are on the horizon like a tsunami wave, and for a second we feel its approach.
2004’s Boxing Day tsunami was a horrific natural disaster, killing hundreds of thousands and injuring many more. Remember that for every person who dies or gets hurt in such an event, there are also many unseen victims: grieving parents, orphaned children, exhausted and traumatised aid workers.
But as Muslims – as human beings, comprised as we are of both physical and spiritual aspects – we need to develop a different view of tragedy. We need to see tragedy from the perspective of people who know that this world and all its trials are temporary; first and foremost, we should be concerned by the spiritual tragedies that surround us.
Say, [O Muhammad], “Shall we [believers] inform you of the greatest losers as to [their] deeds? [They are] those whose effort is lost in worldly life, while they think that they are doing well in work.”
– Translation of the Quran, 18:103 – 104
The man who attends Jumuah prayer just to get it out of the way; the girl secretly hates hijab but wears it because her parents want her to; the faster in Ramadan who experiences only hunger and nothing of spiritual elation.
We all personally know examples of this; we may have experienced such tragedies our selves. They are spiritual disasters that go unseen, un-helped and unmentioned. They are walking around us, they are in us, but we do not offer or ask for aid.
And We will surely test you with something of fear and hunger and a loss of wealth and lives and fruits, but give good tidings to the patient, who, when disaster strikes them, say, “Indeed we belong to Allah , and indeed to Him we will return.”
– Translation of the Quran, 2:155-156
As Muslims we should all be familiar with the above verse. This is what we are meant to recite when faced by a calamity – a tragedy, be it worldly or otherwise.
Ina lillahi wa ina ilahi raji’oon. To Allah we belong, and to Him we return.
I didn’t used to understand this ayah. I thought it was just to get our mind off the calamity. But when i analysed it, i realised otherwise: it doesn’t work to suppress, it works to re-define.
It places us in a position in which we view calamities, tragedies, mishaps and difficulties the way a Muslim should: as trials that are temporary. It reminds of the most important state: the spiritual. The one that we will meet Allah in.
This ayah reminds us to see all difficulties in perspective. We are servants of Allah, His property, and it is to Him we are heading. This world and all its tragedies will be separated from us when we die; but if we return to Allah with hearts that are enmeshed in sin, hearts that love others the way only Allah should be loved, then we are setting ourselves up for the greatest of tragedies. And this is a tragedy that is everlasting.
Understanding the above completely changed my view on the supposed hierarchy of tragedy. If this is how a Muslim responds to any calamity, be it “big” or “small”, then what does that tell us about the so-called ‘calamities’ themselves?
It tells us that a calamity is only that if it harms our spiritual state. If it leads us away from Allah and His pleasure. If it sets us up for tragedy in the Hereafter, then and only then is it truly a tragedy.
Every situation we are ever faced with in this dunya can be a means to attaining closeness to our Creator. Every upset, a way back to peace.
O you who have believed, seek help through patience and prayer. Indeed, Allah is with the patient.
– Translation of the Quran, 2:153
So as we look around us today, at the trials our siblings in humanity are facing everywhere – from South America to North Sudan – let our hearts not only cry for other’s physical state. Let us pray for their spiritual states too.
May Allah protect us all from tragedy, in this world and in the next.