Sunday, April 28, 2013

Why God Allow Suffering?

The human condition seems to be riddled with the mystery of unconscionable suffering. For, disasters are striking the world and the people are being caught up in the maelstrom everywhere - in the land, on the air or even at the sea! Almost on a daily basis, innumerable events are taking place- earthquakes, devastating floods, hurricanes, horrifying forest fires, building collapses, accidents of colossal magnitude, terror bombings, deliberate (racial, ethnic or genocidal) killings on a horrendous scale, fresh outbreak of long-forgotten/contained epidemics, etc. How does one look at and begin to explain the occurrence of these incidents that inflict much pain and loss on the humanity of our times? Are they mere natural disasters or do they belong to the grave category of divine punishments when occurred after clear warnings and exhortations from the Divine Messenger of the times? In his Friday Sermon of April 19, 2013 the Khalifatullah Hadhrat Munir Ahmad Azim Sahib (atba) of Mauritius discussed profoundly and provided illuminating insights on the subtle subject of ‘natural’ disasters in the times of a Divine Messenger.   

Read the Extracts from the Friday Sermon:

وَ لَوۡ اَنَّ  اَہۡلَ الۡقُرٰۤی اٰمَنُوۡا  وَ اتَّقَوۡا لَفَتَحۡنَا عَلَیۡہِمۡ بَرَکٰتٍ مِّنَ السَّمَآءِ وَ الۡاَرۡضِ وَ لٰکِنۡ  کَذَّبُوۡا فَاَخَذۡنٰہُمۡ بِمَا  کَانُوۡا  یَکۡسِبُوۡنَ ۝

“And if people of the towns had believed and feared Allah, then certainly, We would have opened for them the blessings of the heaven and the earth, but they disbelieved. So We seized them for what they used to earn.” (Al-Araf 7: 97)

Coming on the subject of my previous sermon (05 April 2013) on divine punishment and natural disasters, one may ask: “Why God allow suffering?” According to the verses of the Quran, each cause has its effect, action and reaction. We reap what we sow! Sincere repentance and undoing wrongs, be it to our own selves, our brethrens and nature, we assure for ourselves the pleasure of God. Nature revolves as we make of it. We preserve it by our noble acts, and we stay true to the Creator of it all, therefore we contribute to our own physical, moral and spiritual well-being by acting upon the commands of God. These commands enable us to keep balance of our own selves, and that of our environment. This brings us to the second distinctive feature of a divine punishment.

The second distinctive feature of a divine punishment is that disaster which is impendent on a nation or person’s head unless it/he changes his own condition, reforms himself, and in the case of a nation, it sticks to the divine message which its prophet has brought from Allah. In our times, we are in a worldwide nation, and the prophet comes for the world, as a sign of the universality of the message bestowed upon the Holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). The prophet in question warns of impending calamity, but then if mankind, or a specific people to whom the Messengers addresses listens and abides to the divine commandments, then the calamity is annulled. In other cases, due to the earnest prayers of His messenger, Allah postpones a punishment for another time, but then when the calamity strikes, then it shall be too late for these people.

Sometimes Allah tests His Messenger’s people so that their obeisance or disobedience may become manifest, and also so that their dirt become dirtier. An example is Thamud, the nation of the Prophet of Allah, Hazrat Salih (as). Allah tested them with the she-camel. The she-camel was a way to dig out their rebellious nature out in the open, and therefore, after this no one could blame Allah for having destroyed such a people, for they openly manifested their hatred against both Allah and His Prophet.

The punishment which they received was in form of a mighty earthquake (7: 79), which is also described as a mighty blast (54: 32). That terrifying blast, whether one calls it a volcanic eruption or an earthquake, finished them in no time. Allah used the forces of nature to destroy them, and this is no coincidence. They decided to rebel against the command of Allah and sent their so-called fearless man, the most evil-hearted to do the dirty work on their behalf. The disabling of the she-camel was therefore sacrilegious and they refused outright to take turns with a she-camel which they thought was only a so-called divinely-sent she-camel and refused to give her from their drinking water and they tormented her. Moreover, the she-camel was hamstrung. Therefore, Allah did not come down on earth to personally chastise them, but He manifested Himself through the forces of nature which surrounds man to finish him. When the people of Hazrat Salih (as) therefore became clearly a despised people, Allah used a mighty earthquake, from a mighty blast or unbearable sound-wave to finish them off. They in fact wrought that punishment from what their hands have sent forth, by tormenting and hamstringing the sign of Allah on earth, such a sign which Allah sent specifically for them to test them.

The third distinguishing sign separating divine punishments from natural disasters is that Allah does not allow the believers to incur the same fate as the disbelievers when His punishment strikes. The believers are ultimately saved and made to progress towards their goal along with the chosen messenger of Allah. They leave behind a cursed people and go elsewhere to spread the divine message. This applies for such prophecies or warnings which the prophet in question has already foretold that while the unbelievers shall be annihilated, but the believers shall be safe and sound from these catastrophes.

An example of this divine succour and help is found in the story of Prophet Lut (as).

“The people of Lot denied the warning. Indeed, We sent upon them a storm of stones (which destroyed them), except Lut’s household: them We delivered by early Dawn, as favour from us. Thus do We reward he who is grateful. And (Lut) did warn them of Our Punishment, but they disputed about the Warning.” (Al-Qamar 54: 34-37)

By Lut’s household, it does not mean only some of Lut’s own blood relations, but also all the people who believed in him. Sodom and Gomorrah was ultimately destroyed by being pelted with stones. This can also be a representation of a tornado which has carried in its wake stones to finish them off. In other places of the Quran, we find that from the household in the literal sense of the word, the wife of Lot disbelieved in her own husband and was thus among those who was left behind to die the death of the accursed ones.

It must be reminded that when a divine punishment strikes, it may be that some believers do suffer from them and this is clear from the Holy Quran. The path to Allah is paved with thorns. Only the forbearing and those of pure hearts, who despite the calamities think good of Allah and His Prophet; those are they who are fully rewarded for their patience in the dire situations they face. Like these Hadiths tells us:

Narrated Ibn ‘Umar: The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) said, “If Allah sends punishment upon a nation then it befalls upon the whole population indiscriminately and then they will be resurrected (and judged) according to their deeds.” (Bukhari & Muslim)

Narrated ‘Aisha (the wife of the Prophet): The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) said, “No calamity befalls a Muslim but that Allah expiates some of his sins because of it, even though it were the prick he receives from a thorn.” (Bukhari)

Therefore, Allah does as He pleases. If He promised by way of divine revelation to His Messenger, that warn such and such people, even his own people as a whole (and Islamic Messengers of Allah in a universal aspect) and tell the believers that nothing shall befall them, and they shall be rescued, then it shall be so. An example of it is the promise which Allah made to the Promised Messiah Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as) that no harm shall befall those who shall be within his home.

“I shall safeguard from the plague all who dwell in this house.”

Now, his home can literally means his household, and the people who come to seek shelter in it, and also all the sincere believers in the Messiah (as). They were saved. This is the way which Allah makes His Messengers understand the proper meaning of revelations. Sometimes revelations come in parable which is subject to interpretation by the prophets, and this is a Knowledge vouchsafed to them so that they may accomplish their missions in the best way.

The fourth sign which distinguishes a divine punishment from a natural calamity is that in the wake of the divine punishment, the philosophy or way of life of the rebellious people is annihilated or cause to disappear and Allah established a “New World”, a new way of life whereby the people live according to the divine instructions for a certain period of time, because as it is also a cycle, the future generations, later in time shall deteriorate also and divine punishment shall seize them.

We find mention of this in the Holy Quran:

“It was said, “O Noah, disembark in security from Us and blessings upon you and upon nations (descending) from those with you. But other nations (of them) We will grant enjoyment; then there will touch them from Us a painful punishment.” (Hud 11: 49)

That is why, we have first of all a golden era, where a Messenger of Allah is present among mankind and his mission is defined in that era as a golden mission, a golden era, then comes the time after him (his death) when his first true and sincere successors strive to spread his message to the ends of the world (for example, after the Holy Prophet Hazrat Muhammad (pbuh) there was the four righteous caliphs, and after the demise of the Promised Messiah Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as), there was his first pious successors, among whom there was his Promised Son with messianic qualities who came to continue the work of both his biological and spiritual father), then comes a bronze age where things starts to deteriorate and the promised people ceased to be what Allah expects of them, and they fall headlong into sin by introducing innovations into the religion of Allah, and this state persists and even become worst in the iron age where everything is spoiled, irreligion is spread everywhere. Then comes again a golden age with the presence of another chef Messenger of Allah (who is a true follower of the deceased chef Messenger of Allah) and the cycle continues till Judgement Day.

We find also mentioned in the Holy Quran how Allah annihilated some nations and cause the earth, sand and even water to cover or submerge them. Today, through archaeological researches, these nations are being retraced, but all this is food for thought for the people, as a sign for them not to follow the footsteps of these rebellious people lest they fall prey to the same fate as them.  Even the Holy Prophet Hazrat Muhammad (pbuh) used to avoid passing through the land of the accursed people, and if he and his companions had no option than to pass through these routes, then the Holy Prophet (pbuh) used to cover himself up and have teary eyes, and commanded his followers to do the same, because these were the places upon which Allah sent His punishments.

Moreover ‘Abdullah bin ‘Umar narrated that the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) said, “Do not enter (the places) of these people where Allah’s punishment had fallen unless you do so weeping. If you do not weep, do not enter (the places of these people) because Allah’s curse and punishment which fell upon them may fall upon you.” (Bukhari)

So we note that whenever Allah wants to exterminate a rebellious people, He sends beforehand His Warner to warn them and test them to uncover what is in their hearts. Even believers who say that they believe with their lips have to go through the test so that their interior may become manifest. If there is a diamond in the breast, then it shall shine on the face, but if there is a malady in the heart, then that malady shall become manifest. The past people underwent such trials, so: Oh those who seek to strive to have faith and believe sincerely in the Divine Manifestation of this age; do not think that the same tests shall not fall upon you. Allah will try you like He tried the people of yore. Indeed, now the punishments shall be more intense and the good rewards shall be sweeter just because of the universality of Islam, of its pure nature. This is the true way of life which Allah has safeguarded for His chosen servants, those who strive to offer themselves everyday for Allah, those who make the will of Allah become their will, and have no objections to the ways of Allah. They let themselves be guided, be used to Allah, just like an instrument for the accomplishment of the victory of Islam in the final days…