Jumuah lecture on Friday 27 March 2020 (2 Shabaan 1441)

Mowlana Syed Aftab Haider

Ahlul Bait (a.s) Masjid, Ottery, Cape Town

Humanity as a whole is facing a very serious test. Our responsible attitude and behaviour is crucial in order to successfully pass through this testing period. We pray to Almighty Allah (SWT) to shower His mercy and compassion upon us and our country, our continent and the world at large, during this very difficult time and may we emerge successfully Insha Allah.

I would like to take this opportunity to draw your attention to one of those very important discussions explored in the Holy Quran. It requires a great deal of attention from us who follow this divine message. 

Verses 22 of Surah Hadid (chapter 57 of the Holy Quran) speak about misfortunes, calamities, disasters and afflictions in the following manner:

مَا أَصَابَ مِنْ مُصِيبَةٍ فِي الْأَرْضِ وَلَا فِي أَنْفُسِكُمْ إِلَّا فِي كِتَابٍ مِنْ قَبْلِ أَنْ نَبْرَأَهَا ۚ إِنَّ ذَٰلِكَ عَلَى اللَّهِ يَسِيرٌ

“No evil befalls on the earth nor in your own souls, but it is in a book before We bring it into existence; surely that is easy to Allah.”

Almighty Allah (SWT) explains in this verse that this calamity and affliction has already been inscribed before it manifests itself on earth. It is indeed very easy for Almighty Allah (SWT) to do. 

So, these verses speak about the reality of disasters which befall the earth (and us). Similarly, Almighty Allah (SWT) also speaks about calamities and misfortunes in verse 30 of Surah Shura (chapter 42 of the Holy Quran):

وَمَا أَصَابَكُمْ مِنْ مُصِيبَةٍ فَبِمَا كَسَبَتْ أَيْدِيكُمْ وَيَعْفُو عَنْ كَثِيرٍ

“And whatever affliction befalls you, it is on account of what your hands have wrought, and (yet) He pardons most (of your faults).”


Now, when we reflect on these verses cited from the Holy Quran, especially in light of the teachings of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) and his purified Ahlul Bait (a.s), it becomes clear that afflictions, mishaps, misfortunes, disasters, hardships are firstly, part and parcel of this worldly life. We already discussed this previously, that there is no way for us to escape this reality. Life is always with hardships and difficulties. 

The second point from these verses is to understand what is the philosophy and reason behind these afflictions befalling on us and on the earth. We draw the understanding that there are 2 types of afflictions and calamities which befall us. 

Firstly, those which are the result of our own actions. Indeed, there is absolutely no doubt, that our bad actions and sins, disobedience to Almighty Allah (SWT), our arrogance, our forgetfulness, our negligence naturally results in hardships and tests. Verse 30 from Surah Shura referenced above clearly draws reference to this.

On the other hand, verse 22 of Surah Hadid referenced earlier speaks about a different philosophy behind misfortunes and difficulties. Here, Almighty Allah (SWT) is saying that calamities and afflictions are not ALWAYS the result of our bad actions. This verse is explaining that they are part and parcel of this divine system which Almighty Allah (SWT) created. 

Let me point out that some commentators of the Holy Quran do not agree with this interpretation and instead take the position explained in verse 30 of Surah Shura (chapter 42 of the Holy Quran) as absolute, meaning that all the hardships and tests are only as a result of our own bad actions. 

We do not necessarily agree with this approach. The 2 verses mentioned, from Surah Shura and Surah Hadid establish general principles, but they restrict each other. This is how we understand the Holy Quran and the Ahlul Bait (a.s) have taught us to understand the Quran with the help of the Quran in that some verses interpret other verses. 


In light of this, we understand and comprehend this philosophy that there are certain afflictions which overcome us as a result of a higher divine philosophy and hidden secrets are involved in understanding these phenomena. Verse 22 of Surah Hadid referenced earlier is referring to those calamities. 

Therefore, we read in a Hadith narration that when the 4th Imam of Ahlul Bait (a.s), Imam Zainul Abideen (a.s), was brought into the court of the despotic, oppressive dictator Yazid, as a prisoner of war, chained in a humiliating manner, Yazid looked at Imam Zainul Abideen (a.s) and read verse 30 from Surah Shura noted earlier. Meaning, Yazid was taunting Imam Zainul Abideen (a.s) that what they are going through in the aftermath of Karbala is self-inflicted and the result of their actions. 

Imam Zainul Abideen (a.s) challenged Yazid by rejecting his claim, saying that this verse 30 from Surah Shura was certainly not revealed in reference to the Ahlul Bait (a.s). Instead, Imam Zainul Abideen (a.s) referred to verse 22 of Surah Hadid as being the applicable verse for them Ahlul Bait (a.s). 

This example shows very clearly that there are two different philosophies underpinning why we get tested with calamities. They are resulting from our actions, as noted in verse 30 of Surah Shura, or they are the result of the divine system, as noted in verse 22 of Surah Hadid, which we will now elaborate upon in light of the Holy Quran. 


The question that naturally arises is whether there is any way for us to understand which type of calamity or affliction we are facing. Is it the first type (from our bad actions) or the second type (it has already been decided for us)? Honestly speaking, we do not have a way of finding out and knowing exactly. 

Therefore, in our response to these calamities, we should evaluate ourselves on both types. Of course, the Ahlul Bait (a.s), such as Imam Zainul Abideen (a.s) and other pious people of Almighty Allah (SWT) were certain about the affliction they were facing not being from their own actions and therefore he could categorically reject this claim from Yazid. 

We need to understand why does Almighty Allah (SWT) send afflictions upon us, without our bad actions? Honestly speaking, this is the critical point to understand, which is very clearly answered in verse 23 of Surah Hadid:

لِكَيْلَا تَأْسَوْا عَلَىٰ مَا فَاتَكُمْ وَلَا تَفْرَحُوا بِمَا آتَاكُمْ ۗ وَاللَّهُ لَا يُحِبُّ كُلَّ مُخْتَالٍ فَخُورٍ

“So that you may not grieve for what has escaped you, nor be exultant at what He has given you; and Allah does not love any arrogant boaster.”

This short verse defines one of the biggest secrets in the philosophy of creation! This is one of the crucial verses which we should remember at all times, especially during these difficult days.

The question that naturally comes in our minds is that Almighty Allah (SWT) is most generous, most merciful, most compassionate and caring, and who has all the love for us (more than a mother’s love). So then, what is the philosophy underpinning all these hardships, calamities and disasters which overcome us. This verse is an unequivocal reminder that they come for one reason, and that is we should not be deceived by loving this world with its material attractions and temptations. We should not be fooled by it.


We need to understand, that the philosophy of hardships is exactly this ie. to realize that this world is nothing more than a bridge which we cross from one end to the other. We should not be fooled into dedicating our infatuation and obsession towards this transit lounge/bridge.

When we start reflecting on this world with the approach of completely surrendering to it, thinking that there is no success to strive for other than in this world, then this is the point where we lose our focus and purpose and ultimately get lost in this world. There is no other way to bring humanity to realize that this world is a temporary abode. 

We tend to forget the reality that this world is not an everlasting stay. We are so proud of our might and power, our progress and achievements on different levels. We develop arrogance as a result, thinking that nobody can touch us. Now we see with our own eyes, that all the technology, power, progress and achievements, human excellence at a material level, cannot do anything even in the face of a material challenge!


What we are facing today with COVID-19 did not pop out of nowhere! It is a challenge from within material nature. It is a challenge in our ecosystem, in the same material system from which we derive great pride with our exploration and advancement to extraordinary heights. We develop the illusion that everything is under our control since we are able to reach the galaxies and travel to Mars! This is what happens when we believe that there is nothing beyond this world!

Now, this calamity, through such a small enemy in the same nature, which we cannot even see with our naked eye, threatens us in such an aggressive manner that we are caught feeling helpless and defeated. This is the philosophy of these calamities!

Amir al-Mu’mineen, Imam Ali ibn abi Talib (a.s) has such a beautiful statement, recorded in Nahjul Balagha, where he says that to shun this material world, instead of drowning yourself in devotion and complete dependence on it, will result in us not grieving for what we have lost, nor will we be excited by what Allah (SWT) has given us. Imam Ali (a.s) continues by saying that whoever does not become sad and desperate on what has past, nor get excited and overwhelmed by what is about to come in the near future has shunned this world (zuhd) from both sides. 

This is the way that people who understand this philosophy reflect on calamities with deeper meaning. 


Sa’id ibn Jubayr was a great companion and commentator of the Holy Quran. He was executed by the despotic Umayyad ruler, Hajjaj ibn Yusuf. In the process of his execution, someone was crying at witnessing this horrific scene. Sa’id ibn Jubayr turned back and said to this emotional person to not cry, and then he recited the following verse 23 of Surah Hadid, saying that these are reminders from Almighty Allah (SWT). 

لِكَيْلَا تَأْسَوْا عَلَىٰ مَا فَاتَكُمْ وَلَا تَفْرَحُوا بِمَا آتَاكُمْ ۗ وَاللَّهُ لَا يُحِبُّ كُلَّ مُخْتَالٍ فَخُورٍ

“So that you may not grieve for what has escaped you, nor be exultant at what He has given you; and Allah does not love any arrogant boaster.”

Qutaybah ibn Sa’eed was one of the narrators of Hadith reported from Malik ibn Anas. He said that one day, when he entered a village, he saw a desert full of camels, but they were all dead!  There were too many to count, but they were all dead. He then says that he saw an old lady and asked her who the owner of these camels is. She pointed out an old man in the distance, sitting on the hill, saying that he is the owner of all these camels.

Ibn Sa’eed approached this old man, enquiring how did they all die. The old man did not go into specifics, but simply answered that the one who gave him the camels took them back. Ibn Sa’eed narrates that he asked this old man how he felt upon experiencing this setback. 

In Arab culture, people would express their feelings in the form of poetry when they are going through an emotional dilemma. So, ibn Sa’eed asked the old man whether he expressed his feelings and the old man then relayed what he uttered at becoming aware of his camels all having died. 

His words were as follows:

“I am one of the servants among His creation and human beings are subject to difficulties and tests in this world. If my camels were alive and well in their place, I would not be happy, and now that they are dead, I am not sad, because that is what my Lord (SWT) decided for me”.

This story gives us perspective on verse 23 of Surah Hadid noted earlier:

لِكَيْلَا تَأْسَوْا عَلَىٰ مَا فَاتَكُمْ وَلَا تَفْرَحُوا بِمَا آتَاكُمْ ۗ وَاللَّهُ لَا يُحِبُّ كُلَّ مُخْتَالٍ فَخُورٍ

“So that you may not grieve for what has escaped you, nor be exultant at what He has given you; and Allah does not love any arrogant boaster.”


Almighty Allah (SWT) very beautifully expresses various points in this verse for us to reflect upon. He mentions us losing what HE gave ie. a reminder that all provisions come from HIM. And then the verse ends with Allah (SWT) repeating His strong dislike for the arrogant people, because they are deceived by the supposed excellence of this world. For the arrogant people, this world is everything and is the final destination. 

Of course, Islam and the Holy Quran commands us to achieve progress and excellence in this world. Indeed, we are supposed to achieve the best results in this world. The problem is when we reflect on this world with the eye of eternity. The problem is when we are fooled into believing the temptations of this world is the final destination and we practically believe that there is nothing beyond this world. As a result, we devote no time for Akhirah (Hereafter).


This time in isolation offers us more time to reflect upon these verses of the Holy Quran and other verses, to gain perspective on these tests we are facing. It is a time to reflect that in our own practical life on a day-to-day basis, how much value do we actually give to the Akhirah ie. to that eternal world where we will be stationed eternally. 

This material world is filled with optical illusions. We exercise very tight control on what Almighty Allah (SWT) has gifted us, thinking that we will never lose it. But then when we lose it, we feel very upset and are filled with grief. 

Based on this, the key question is, how much value do we give to this material world, which is nothing but a transit lounge, a temporary abode which we all have to leave at some time for the next life which is eternal. It is the most opportune time for us to reflect on our daily timetable, our commitments and more importantly, our priorities, and how much time are we dedicating to the everlasting world we will move to when we depart this world. It is the perfect time to sanitize our priorities from the current state of confusion in the daily rat race!

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