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The Quandary of Disbelief

Shaykh Farid Dingle gives advice to a person who is struggling with the problem of disbelief, why Allah is as He is, and how one justifies this to oneself.

Question:

Assalam alaykum wa rahmat Allah wa barakatuh.

I’ve spent most of my life following Islamic principles with a devoted love toward Allah and often myself able to find answers to many of the perplexing questions about faith that many people have, except for one. No matter how much ways I’ve attempted to look at this question through theology, philosophy, or simple common sense, the math doesn’t seem to add up, and I’m hoping for a helping hand in getting through this hard question that’s starting to shake my soul in recent months.

I don’t see any logical reason for suffering or disobedience or evil, except for one consideration: Allah willed to be known (Hadith Qudsi), so He created us. He created evil (pain) so that we’d know what existence would be without Him, since knowing is not the same as wisdom, which is experience. It would be like trying to describe what an orange tastes like to someone who never tried it and the way we exist as creation is through our senses, so we’d have to actually eat an orange to understand it.

But that still doesn’t explain the reason for creating people He already knew would end up in Hell, because that would be essentially creating them to belong in Hell, and it doesn’t fit with the conceptualization that a Just, Compassionate, and Wise Lord would create something just to torture it for eternity. That’s sadism.

Why would Allah create those He knew, in His Eternal Knowledge, would disobey Him and even disbelieve in Him, thereby condemning them to Hell forever before they are even brought into existence?

Is there any guidance for me through this?

Jazak Allah khayr.

Answer:

Wa alaykum assalam wa rahmat Allah wa barakatuh.

Dear questioner, the mind is a tool to help us understand what Allah wants us to do, not necessarily to understand what He is or why He does things.

The key issue that I can see in your question is that Allah’s creating people who are destined to the Hell-Fire necessitates sadism. This is not true. Allah has a wisdom in doing what he does, and that is enough: “He is not asked about what He does, but they will be asked.” (Sura al-Anbiya 21:23)

We should use our mind to eliminate foolish beliefs from our mind, and foolish actions. That is the limit of the mind.

Rather than trying to find a justification for what Allah does, we should focus on ourselves. We should think about our deeds and our ultimate end, and think about what we have to say for ourselves when we stand before Allah on Judgment Day.

My advice to you would be to work on the quality of your prayer by thanking Allah when you say, “Alhamdulillahi rabbil alamin,” and in your prostration. Thank him for your existence, your faith, your well-being, safety and wealth. Try to feel the verse of the Quran, the words that will be said when all is done and dusted on Judgment Day, “And the last thing they will say is, ‘All praise and thanks be to Allah, Cherishing Lord of all beings.’” (Sura Yunus 10:10)

I pray this helps.

Farid

Checked and approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani.


Should I Avoid Places Where a Divine Punishment Has Descended? What About Places Affected by a Tsunami?

Answered by Shaykh Jamir Meah

Question: Assalamu alaykum

I have learned that we should avoid places where a Divine punishment has struck before. For modern day, would that include not visiting places where the Tsunami had devastated the region? What would be avoid areas now?

Answer: In the Name of God, the Merciful and Compassionate

Thank you for your question. May Allah grant you the best of states and guide you to what is pleasing to Him.

VISITING PLACES WHERE DIVINE PUNISHMENT HAS DESCENDED

It is narrated from Abdullah bin Umar that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) and his Companions were once passing by the place of the Thamud people. He (peace and blessings be upon him) said, ‘Do not enter upon these people who are being punished, unless you are weeping. If you are not weeping then do not enter upon them, lest there befall you the like of what befell them. [al Bukhari, Muslim].

Al Haafiz Ibn Hajar further clarifies that, ‘This includes the dwellings of Thamud and others who were like them, even though the hadith refers specifically to the dwellings of Thamud. [Fath al-Baari]
It is easy for us today to not fully comprehend this warning. After all, the world has changed much, and these were ancient people, long gone from our memories and relegated to the annals of history and religious literature. But this is a mistake. We cannot afford to take the Prophet’s words lightly, the threat remains a reality; for we do not know in what way, or when, the affliction may befall us, if God willed it.

For these reasons, Muslims should not visit places where it is known that the Divine Punishment has descended purely for leisure and tourism purposes.

PLACES OF UNCERTAINTY

There are some places which are commonly believed to be a site where the Divine Punishment descended, but there is not absolute certainty that it is. An example of this is the Dead Sea, overwhelmingly held by scholars and Lay-Muslims alike, as the site where God’s punishment descended on Prophet Lut’s people (Sodom and Gomorrah in the Bible). Indeed, the classic books of Tafsir do not specifically mention the Dead Sea as the place of destruction, though modern books of Tafsir do.

There is, however, strong reason to believe that the Dead Sea is directly connected to the destruction of Lut’s people, if not the exact site, and therefore one should avoid visiting it for leisure and tourism purposes. At best, it would be disliked to do so.

EXCEPTION TO THE RULE

Allah Most High tells us in the Qur’an, when informing us of the punishment that befell the people of Prophet Lut (peace and blessings be upon him), ‘And We have certainly left of it a sign as clear evidence for a people who use reason.’ [29.35]. Therefore, these places have been left as a sign for us to reflect upon and take heed. Imam Nawawi states, ‘Anyone passing by such places should be cautious, have fear, weep, and take admonition from them and their destruction, and should seek refuge in Allah from that.’ [Sharh Sahih Muslim]

Based on the above discussions, scholars have stated that if one visits such places with the intention of increasing one’s fear of God, to reflect, weep, take admonition from the destruction that befell transgressors and tyrants, and to turn to God in remembrance and humility, then this would be permissible.

PRODUCTS MADE FROM PLACES WHERE THE DIVINE PUNISHMENT HAS DESCENDED

Abdullah bin Umar (may Allah be pleased with them) narrated that the Companions stopped at al-Hijr, the land of Thamud, with the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) and they drew water from its wells and made dough with it. The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) told them to throw away the water they had drawn from its wells. [al Bukhari]

It is clear from the hadith that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) did not allow his companions to drink the well water due to the water source being from a place where Divine Punishment had descended. For this reason, products made from such places should not be purchased or used.

As for places where there is uncertainty, such as the Dead Sea, then as mentioned above, one should also not buy or use products sourced from it, and at the least, it would be disliked to do so.

NATURAL DISASTERS vs DIVINE PUNISHMENT

When natural disasters happen, it is not possible to know the reason behind their occurrence. Repeated sinners can be liable to punishment through afflictions, for Allah Most High tells us, ‘Whatever misfortune happens to you, is because on the things your hands have wrought’ [42.30]. While at same time, the most pious servants are often afflicted with misfortunes also. When asked which people are tested more severely, The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) answered that, ‘They are the Prophets, then the next best, then the next best.’ [al Tirmidhi].

On a very general level, we may look to the state of the person, or community, to get an idea of what is happening. The continual disobedience, heedlessness, and transgression of an individual or a people, or alternatively, the piety, god-fearing states, and good works of an individual or people, can be broad indicators to why certain calamities occur.

However, and most importantly, unless stated in the Qur’an, hadith, or verified by the census of the Muslim scholars, we should not pass any verdict or claim that a specific event is a Divine Punishment, or that specific people are being punished, for only Allah the Exalted knows the true nature of such matters. At worst, it is talking about what one does not have any knowledge of, and at best, it is passing judgement and insensitive to the suffering of others.

Instead, Muslims should provide both the faces, and places, of solace during times of calamity. In a world that is increasingly cold and filled with anger and hate, it is imperative that we, the Muslims, become the emblems of human empathy, care, and guidance, regardless of the reasons why things happen.

Therefore, the only beneficial things we can do, and indeed, the only factors we can be certain of during times of catastrophes is:

1. Know that they occur only through the permission of God, as Allah Most High tells us, ‘Misfortunes can only happen with God’s permission. [64.11]

2. Understand that adversities, punishment or not, natural disasters or man-made, are all a test from Allah and a chance to turn to Him and set things right. Depending on the scale and intensity, natural disasters that affect many people are a test and a lesson that requires groups, whole nations, or perhaps the whole of mankind to take heed and reflect.

3. Come to the aid of those who are suffering, if possible. The very least being making supplication for them, and this is possible for everyone. Tests or punishments are not just sent as a test for those directly affected by the misfortune, but actually a test for all of us who know about it. How do we react? What do we do to help? How concerned are we?

Lastly, we should also not overlook the fact that calamities come in various forms for different individuals and different nations. We are shocked by freak and violent extremes of nature as it overflows and destroys towns and cities, but we forget the continual affliction and suffering many endure in the form of disease, droughts, starvation, and wars.

VISITING AREAS WHERE NATURAL DISASTERS HAVE TAKEN PLACE

As for visiting areas where natural disasters have taken place, such as the areas where recent tsunamis or earthquakes have hit, these are not categorised in the same group of places we know, or strongly believe, to be sites of Divine Punishment.

As such, there is no dislike in visiting them. However, if one visited them with the intention of reflecting upon the Greatness of Allah, the unexpectedness of death, and to supplicate for those who suffered and died, then this would be praiseworthy.

AREAS TO AVOID TODAY

The areas to avoid today are no different to the areas that are well known as being sites on which the Divine Punishment befell people, such as Petra, Al Hijr, the Dead Sea etc.

Warmest salams,
[Shaykh] Jamir Meah

Shaykh Jamir Meah grew up in Hampstead, London. In 2007, he traveled to Tarim, Yemen, where he spent nine years studying the Islamic sciences on a one-to-one basis under the foremost scholars of the Ribaat, Tarim, with a main specialization and focus on Shafi’i fiqh. In early 2016, he moved to Amman, Jordan, where he continues advanced studies in a range of Islamic sciences, as well as teaching. Jamir is a qualified homeopath.

The Ark of Nuh (Allah bless him): Understanding Miracles & The Divine Punishment

Answered by Ustadh Faraz A. Khan

Question: Regarding the ark of Prophet Nuh, there are so many thousands of species of animals in the world that the ark would have to have been impossibly large to accommodate them. How were these species stored in the ark? Also, I do not understand how Allah, who is Most Merciful, would kill all of his Creation simply because mankind had failed. Why would he kill millions of creatures because of man’s mistakes?

Answer: Assalamu alaikum wa rahmatullah,

I pray this reaches you in the best of health and faith.

Your question is a very interesting one; perhaps the answer lies in understanding the nature of prophetic miracles.

Miracles

The Arabic word for a prophetic miracle is mu`jiza, which literally means “that which incapacitates” or “that which renders others incapable of producing the like thereof.” The basic idea is that the miracle breaks the standard norm in a way that cannot be replicated, so as to prove without a doubt that the prophet at whose hands it occurs is in fact a true prophet sent from Allah and not an impostor. The miracle, therefore, is akin to Allah Himself saying, “My servant is truthful in what he conveys from Me.” [Bajuri, Tuhfat al-Murid]

If we reflect on prophetic miracles, then, we can appreciate that their very basis is to break what we know to be the laws of nature, such that we are rendered incapable of not only producing the like, but even of understanding their modality, that is, “how” they occur. The principles of natural science that govern our day-to-day lives, as humans and as societies, will often prove useless in explaining the miracle. For example, how can a staff striking a sea cause the huge body of water to literally split in two parts, seemingly as if walls of water are erected on each side of the newly-formed pathway? Or how can a staff actually transform into a serpent? How can water spring forth from human fingers?

The answer, then, is simply as the Qur’an states, “This is the creation of Allah” (31:11). The only explanation our minds can access is that Allah creates certain miracles as such, and we affirm all that has been transmitted of them in the Qur’an and the Prophetic Sunna.

Understanding Sweeping Punishment

With regards to the second part of your question, our Mother Aisha (Allah be well pleased with her) asked our Beloved Messenger (peace and blessings be upon him) a very similar question when he once informed her of an event that would occur in the future. He told her that an army would one day set out for Mecca, yet on the way the earth would swallow the entire army up, from their first to last. She asked, “How will the entire group be swallowed, when among them were merchants and others who were not fighting? [i.e., non-combatants with no intent on attacking Mecca]” Our Messenger (peace and blessings be upon him) responded, “The entire group, from their first to last, will be swallowed; however, they will be resurrected based on their intentions.” [Bukhari, Muslim]

The Sunna of Allah, i.e., the way He deals with creation, was that with respect to disobedient peoples of past prophets, He would send sweeping punishments that would destroy the entire populace, which would often include innocent people and believers in the prophets. However, we know that life does not end in this world, but rather there is an everlasting afterlife in which intentions, hearts and actions will be taken to account. We cannot understand the wisdom of Allah’s punishment in this world, but we know wholeheartedly that He does nothing in vain, and that everything will be set aright on the Day of Resurrection.

The Qur’an specifically acknowledges this Divine sunna when it warns us to “Fear a punishment that will not afflict solely the oppressors among you” (8:25). As some exegetes mention, one of the lessons believers can take from this verse is that they must be ever-vigilant in opposing oppression, as slackness therein could result in a sweeping punishment that does not single out the oppressors. [Tafsir Abu Su`ud]

Difference of Opinion

On a final note, it is worth mentioning that there is difference of opinion among scholars with respect to both issues you bring up regarding the flood. Imam Alusi, the eminent Iraqi exegete of the 19th century, inclined towards the opinion that the flood was localized and restricted to just the people of Nuh [peace and blessings be upon him] rather than worldwide. He was also of the opinion that not all animals were taken on the ark, yet only those creatures that would be needed by the believers upon being saved from the flood. He does acknowledge, nevertheless, that if the flood was worldwide, then it is not beyond Allah’s limitless power to allow for all types of animals on board the ark, or to create again the like of those animals that drowned after the flood. [Alusi, Ruh al-Ma`ani]
We ask Allah Most High for complete well-being and safety in both this life and the next, and that He make us among those who strive against all forms of oppression, beginning with our own selves. Amin.

And Allah alone gives success.

wassalam
Faraz A. Khan

Checked & Approved by Faraz Rabbani

Faraz A. Khan has lived in Amman, Jordan, for several years studying and teaching traditional Islamic sciences, with a focus on Hanafi jurisprudence, hadith studies, theology, logic, and Arabic grammar. He translated and annotated the classical Hanafi primer “Ascent to Felicity” (Maraqi ‘l-Sa`adat) by Imam Shurunbulali, recently published by White Thread Press.