Salaam Alaikum wa Rahmatullah
After news of yet another devastating earthquake, this time in the eastern part of Turkey, we are left wondering how many more of these disasters are going to follow in quick succession. Just here in the United States, we have endured, in various parts of our country, floods, wildfires, drought, hurricanes, and tornadoes. In my own area, we experienced a rare moderate earthquake. Anyone living in a quake-prone area might poo-poo our shock and amazement at the relatively modest temblor, but it shook a lot of us up, literally and figuratively. When the usually solid ground moves under you, it changes your understanding of the world, makes you re-evaluate what “rock solid” means. We rush to the Qur’an and open to Chapter 99, “Al Zalzalah”, “The Earthquake”. There it is, in uncompromising words for all to read:
“When the earth is shaken with its (final) earthquake.
And when the earth throws out its burdens,
And man will say: “What is the matter with it?”
That Day it will declare its information (about all what happened over it of good or evil).
Because your Lord has inspired it.
That Day mankind will proceed in scattered groups that they may be shown their deeds.
So whosoever does good equal to the weight of an atom (or a small ant), shall see it.
And whosoever does evil equal to the weight of an atom (or a small ant), shall see it. ”
This chapter tells us of “The Big One”, the earthquake to end all earthquakes, the one that makes the country-splitting quakes portrayed on made-for-TV movies feel like no more than the mild rumble of a passing truck. We will wish for only an 8.0 or even a 9.0 quake. This one will be off the scale, render the scale meaningless, and will usher in the Day of Judgment. On that day, the very earth will testify. She will speak of our good deeds and our bad deeds. Nothing will be hidden, and nothing will be forgotten. Is that not enough to make us pause and reflect?
We see this revealing of secrets on a small and very concrete scale as we witness the devastation in Turkey. As buildings have collapsed and have split asunder, their contents pour out into the streets, giving away the private lives of those who lived there. We see their furniture and their clothing, the contents of their kitchens. Will there be liquor bottles, porn collections, address books with the names of lovers, stashes of illicit drugs? Or will there be prayer rugs and tattered Qur’ans, well worn even before the quake due to constant handling, tapes of Islamic lectures and beads of broken tasbihs? If your house came down today, what secrets would it reveal? If your soul were opened up today, what secrets would it reveal?
I remind myself before I remind anyone else. This world is short. It is a test. It is pass / fail. When we hear of major disasters, or even a single death, it should serve to remind us of our mortality. It should be a kick in the pants to move us to repentence and action. So often, though, we watch the TV coverage or read the news story or follow the twitter feed, and then we go on about our lives as if we had all the time in the world to get right with God. We have this fantasy thinking that what happens over there can’t happen to us over here. We tut tut when we hear that the neighbor’s husband died suddenly of a heart attack, while shoveling potato chips with sour cream dip into our faces. We sagely pronounce the flood or the fire or the earthquake as Allah’s judgment on those people and forget that we all share the same planet and the next storm might bear down on us. When that happens, will we shake our fist at the sky and blame Allah, or humbly accept the chastening and say “This is a recompense for the wrong I have done to myself”? We need to start listening to the lesson before the final exam comes. We need to open the Book and study. We need to learn and then live what we learn. We need to support one another and reach out to like-minded people who understand that this life is only a temporary abode and a place of trial and tribulation. We need to wake up.