I read a lot, probably way too many news websites. I read articles about major disasters such as floods, fires, plane crashes, and other mayhem. Oftentimes, there is one person who survived, and the media makes the most of it. The survival is labeled “a miracle” and people are in wonderment that one has been spared.
Then I think about the flip side. If the survival of one person in a plane crash that kills one hundred is a “miracle”, then what do you call the status of the other ninety-nine? An anti-miracle? A fluke? Were the families of the deceased less deserving of a miracle than those whose single relative survived? Why is it that we perceive the outcome this way? We could be like the atheists and cynics and say “Plane crash: God spares only one, allows ninety-nine others to perish”. Put this way, there’s not so much room for an uplifting story.
Perhaps I’m just too logical, but I don’t see a miracle when someone defeats the odds and isn’t killed in a crash, or doesn’t succumb to cancer, or fails to drown when a ship goes down. I look at it and see Qadr, Allah’s Divine Decree. It is a simple fact (for me, being a believing Muslim), that it simply was not written for that person to die on that day at that place. That persons fate allowed him to survive, not some angelic hand scooping him out of the water and depositing him safely on the shore.
Wow, how cold, how unsympathetic, you might say. No, not at all. I cried when I saw the people being rescued from the plane that ditched on the Hudson River; I no doubt will bawl like a baby if they are able to complete the rescue of the trapped miners in Chile; I remember years ago standing next to my father in Sears at the mall watching on five TVs as little Jessica was brought up from the well. I am, like it or not, a softy, soft as a mushy marshmallow and prone to tears at the sight of an adorable kitten or an ad showing a polar bear hugging a hybrid-driving businessman. But that does not make me think of such rescues, emotional as they are, as miracles. They simply are situations that came about in the only way they could:
Abu al-‘Abbas ‘Abdullah bin ‘Abbas, radiyallahu anhuma, reported: One day I was behind the Prophet, sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam, and he said to me:
“O young man, I shall teach you some words [of advice] : Be mindful of Allah, and Allah will protect you. Be mindful of Allah, and you will find Him in front of you. If you (have need to) ask, ask of Allah; and if you seek help, seek help from Allah. Know that even if the Nation (or the whole community) were to gather together to benefit you with something, they would not benefit you with anything except that which Allah has already recorded for you, and that if they gather together to harm you with something, they would not be able to harm you with anything except that which Allah has already recorded against you. The pens have been lifted and the pages have dried.”
[Al-Tirmidhi relates this and says: It is a good, genuine Hadith]
The pens have been lifted. My life, the length of it, the manner of it, and whether I will be in Jannah, inshAllah, or in Jahannum, naouthoobillah, was written before I was even conceived, before humankind ever existed. Same for my parents, same for my kids, for you, your family, all of humankind, and your pet cat, too.
If you really, really take this knowledge to heart, it can be incredibly liberating. Of course, this is not a license to live dangerously; I wouldn’t advise that you go skydiving without a parachute because your Qadr might come up and bite you in the butt. But it can help you to make tough decisions in your life. If you trust in Allah and you believe in Qadr, which is actually one of the fundamental tenets of Islam, then you can live your life not shackled by fear. You can start to deal with the quality of your life and not worry about its quantity, since that is out of your hands. That way, if your life ends precipitously, you may have a much longer ledger of good deeds than someone who lived to the ripe old age of ninety. And since this world is only a testing ground for the eternity of the afterlife, why should we worry so much about how long we live, anyway?
Of course, being normal human beings, we probably want to live to a nice respectable ripe old age, long enough to marry, have kids, bounce a few grandkids on our knees, and quietly slip away as old people, painlessly with our loving family at our sides. For many of us, that just doesn’t happen. People die, die young, die badly, die in horrible ways that we can’t even imagine. People leave grieving loved ones behind; mass-casualty deaths leave a scar on an entire community, country, or even the world, especially today when news travels across the globe in the blink of an eye. Perhaps the reality of death is what makes us grasp at that one life spared, that one person who apparently cheated death. For some reason it’s a comfort to those of us who are not directly involved. It gives us the feeling that we too can “cheat death” if we’re ever in a dangerous situation. It’s not rational, but it’s very human.
I’ve been sick; I’ve suffered pregnancy losses and a cancer scare and have been to a few funerals. I’ve sat in the emergency room with an injured child and held the hand of an ailing father-in-law. I’ve seen the way life happens. A person who has no faith puts everything down to luck, good or bad. A person of weak faith does okay as long as things are going good, but one bump in the road and he’s all “Why me?”, ungrateful of the breaths he’s been able to take up until that time. A person of true faith sees the world as it is. It is a testing ground, and everything that happens, good or bad, is a test from Allah. It’s not easy to remember that when your child has a fever or your mom has a heart attack or you’re getting divorced or you have a stillbirth. These are the hardest times of our lives, the times when our souls are most at risk. We can remain grateful to Allah for what He has given us, or spurn Him in the time when we should be seeking to be closer to Him. This is the true test from Allah; not the event, but our reaction to it.
We don’t get to wrestle with angels to prove our worth. We don’t get to walk through fire or battle demons or show our faith in mystical, mythical ways. We show our faith by living it, first of all, by trying to obey Allah and His Messenger, may Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him, and we show our faith by enduring with patience all that the world throws at us, be that a sick child, a job lost, a government that imprisons its citizens, the death of a loved one. We do everything we can to improve our situation and to help others, but if we are not able to, we endure. And we keep trying. And tomorrow, if it hasn’t been our Qadr to die in the night, we get up and do it all over again. And we don’t do it beaten down with sorrow. We do it with optimism and faith and love and laughter and learn not to take ourselves too seriously, because we are Muslims and we know that Allah will hear our du’as and He will reward us either in this world or the next, so what happens today is not really that big a deal, in the great scheme of things.