Reflections: After Tsunami
Dr. Maher Hathout, January 7, 2005

We praise Allah. We humbly ask him to grant us the best in this life and in the life here after. And we ask him to shower his peace and blessings on the last of his messengers, his gift to the humanity, Muhammad (PBUH). We bear witness that there is no deity, save Allah and we bear witness that Muhammad (PBUH) is the servant and messenger of Allah.

Brothers and Sisters in Islam, just few days ago we as well as the whole world witnessed the natural disaster that inflicted humanity in Southeast Asia. And we with our own eyes on the silver screens and whatever media, we saw how hundreds of thousands of people just in a moment, completely vanished as living human beings on this planet, and guided to be in the hands of their creator. So many, some of them are old, some are young, some might be good, some might me bad, some must have been believers and some must have not, lots of them should have had dreams, concerns, issues, disputes, arguments, ambitions, greeds, needs like all of us here. And all of a sudden with the tremble of earth and a wall of water dumped on them they disappeared. This is a mind boggling and had and should have a huge impact on those who are not victimized, whether in the area or people like us who are here witnessing a very humbling experience that shows how vulnerable, how weak, how temporary, how insignificant, how trivial we really are when it comes to powers that are larger than us. And this disaster left people like us with two questions.

The answer to the first question would decide our state of faith and the other one will decide the way of behavior.

It is important for us to reflect and think because what happened there and can happen here to anybody in any form, from a car accident to a bite of an insect to a tsunami. So it is important to ponder and reflect those two questions that are very important.


Why did God do that?

The first question came to everybody's mind and at least to my mind.

Why did God do that to those people? I know we don't like to talk about these things but I think Muslims should be opened and confident enough to clear their own doubts and questions. How come a merciful and compassionate God cause that to happen and some people would say...there is nobody to answer that question because anybody answering to this question is claiming that he/she is reading the mind of God. If I tell you that He did this because of 1, 2, 3,.. to answer your question, I am claiming something that is horrible that I can read the mind of God. And who am I. We just say how trivial we are.

For us Muslims, not the answer that is a problem, it is the question. In the Quran, God says “He cannot be questioned as to what He does, while they will be questioned.” (al-Anbiya’ 23). You can ask question to your wife, son, peer, your boss or to your father, but you cannot ask God, why did you do that. The moment you do this you become the God and you are reducing Him to something, astagfirullah (May Allah save us) less than what He is. He out of his mercy allowed us to ask this question. But in reality and this is what I say decides the state of faith. We are not to volunteer for such question and instead we need to acknowledge that we don't have the right to question because you question only those people who are equivalent to you and less than you.

Unfortunately, I saw in the internet and in some statements that it is because there is so much corruption, God is punishing the human beings. Who told you that? How dare you? How dare you rub it into the victims. It is so cruel to say this is punishment of God. Some say on some web page that the God is punishing the Muslims because they don't believe in Jesus (PBUH) or whatever. It doesn't matter whether who say is a Muslim or non-Muslim. It is cruel. What kind of sensitivity is this? We come to a huge size of victimization like this and say this is the punishment of God.

Brothers ands sisters, I can tell you based on the Quran that this is NOT a punishment of God. “If Allah were to punish people according to what they deserve, He would not leave on the back of the (earth) a single living creature: but He gives them respite for a stated Term: when their Term expires, verily Allah has in His sight all His servants." (Fatir:45). For each there is an appointed time and when the time is over it is over, it can't happen earlier and it can not happen later. This is what Quran says.

God said if I'll punish for what you do, you will not exist. He didn't say there will be no human being, he said there won't be any living creature. Because of so many things that we do, Allah decided that this is not the place to settle the accounts. the place to settle the accounts whether to punish or reward happens in what we call as Al-Akhira, i.e. after this is over.

So then how did it happen:? Someone will come and ask, I am sure I expect it, that you want to say that God does not and he did not punish the people of Lut, Noah and others. Yes, but those are specific cases after specific warnings. God says in the Quran "… We never punish until We have sent a messenger." (al-Isra: 15). No people will be punished this way except after messenger comes to them, explains to them and he warns them, he tells them and they disobey him and in some cases appointed by God punishment happens. And this by all means is not the rule. The rule is what Quran said that Allah will not take us to task in this life because of what we do.

We have to understand that Allah (s.w.t). has created us within a physical environment. You know brothers and sisters, we live, just imagine it on a melting metal boiling ball covered with a thin crust, 3/4th is water and it is rotating across another ball of fire called the sun. We live in a physical environment that carries with it the natural disasters, volcanoes, earthquakes, tsunamis etc. because this system is not created to punish or reward and this system is created to test. God says “And certainly, We shall test you with something of fear, hunger, loss of wealth, lives and fruits, but give glad tidings to the patient.” (al-Baqarah: 155). So this is s testing system and NOT a system to achieve or accomplish punishment and reward within this system.


The appropriate question

This will lead us then to the second question. Rather than asking Alla h s.w.t. an inappropriate question, ask the appropriate question. The question should not be directed to Almighty but the question should be directed to us. Based on the answer to this question it would help us to decide the way of behavior.

This happened, we escaped it, we are still delayed for our appointed time, so what is expected from us. And the expectations again are in the Quran.

The first lesson is to learn the lessons from the calamities that happened. We human beings are to be humble, we need to very aware of our place in this universe and don't become so arrogant because human being becomes so arrogant and aggressor when he/she thinks that they are quite established and quite secure. This is the nature and when something like that happens it is good for us to be humbled and to remember our vulnerability and our weakness and our need for the mercy of Allah s.w.t.

The second lesson is, really it is not worth it. The whole amount of disputes, arguments, and fighting and should really be reduced to necessities because after all we are all together, human beings on a very precarious situation, something can happen that would definitely need each other, And I don't think that in Sri Lanka they go around to see whether he is a Tamil or not , in Thailand whether he is a Muslim or not, we are all human beings, we all need help and we all need each other and it should bring closer and not separate us apart. We need to learn at least these obvious lessons. The more you think the more lessons you discover to learn especially on the individual level. We hear individual stories and there is a lot to learn and a lot to discover.

Isn't it amazing that not a single animal is killed because the animals are equipped to expect it and they ran away and the arrogant human being, who thinks he knows everything had sun bath and died. We should really be humbled. We shouldn't be that arrogant. All animals were saved and about 200,000 people died. A mother had to chose which child should she let go because she couldn't hold both her children. Can you imagine such a test. And people are arguing what kind of car I should have or the father dies and the children are in arms fighting for whatever is left behind. This is a different level of discovering reality and so on and so forth.

After learning these lessons we need to go out of our ways to extend hand to the needy. Not only to give but to organize sustained giving, because with calamities of that magnitude, just helping the check and walking it in the mail doesn't finish your duty. It is how to organize the sustained consistent supply of help that human beings need now. And as the Quran says, "The one who denies the religion is the one who is harsh to the orphans and encourages not the feeding or mobilizing of the indigent." (al-Maun:1-3).

And hopefully if we learn the lessons and we reflect and we offer the giving hand in each calamity and if we pass the test successfully usually the individuals as well as the world will become a better place.


Excerpts from the Friday Sermon addressed by Dr Maher Hathout at the Islamic Center of So. Calif, Los Angeles on January 7, 2005. To listen to the audio, click on the khutba titled "After Disaster" at http://islamctr.org/JUMAS.ASP