When the “Generous” appears with the name “Avenger”

This is a 10-point summary of al-Syaikh Abdal-Hakim Murad’s reflection on the 1999 Turkish earthquake. Written on the same year, it provides an eloquently elaborated viewpoint for the cause of natural disasters: the disregard for the sunnah.

1. “In surat al-Furqan, Allah tells us: ‘The Messenger said: My Lord, my people have taken this Qur’an as something abandoned.’” [25:30]

Perhaps this could be the epitaph of the traditional Islamic world. Many Muslims still adhere to aspects of the Qur’anic message; but there seem to be whole sections of the revelation which we read, formally, but fail to digest.

2. “And when the A little later in the same sura we come to one of these forgotten Qur’anic themes.”

The text reads:

‘And We gave Musa the book, and appointed with him his brother Harun as a supporter. Then We said: Go together unto the people who have denied Our signs. Then We destroyed them, with a destruction that was complete.’

‘And Nuh’s people, when they denied the Messengers; We drowned them, and made of them a sign for mankind. We have prepared a painful punishment for those who work injustice.’

‘And the tribes of Ad, and Thamud, and the dwellers of al-Rass, and many generations in between.’

‘To each of them We coined parables; and each of them We destroyed without a trace.’ [25:35-39]

Also quoted is a reminder from an early Muslim:

“Know that when one of Allah’s servants sins against Him, He deals with him leniently. Should he sin again, He conceals this for him. But should he don its garments, then Allah conceives against him such wrath as the very heavens and the earth could not compass, neither the mountains, the trees, nor the animals; what man could then withstand such wrath?’

One of the purposes of the Qur’an is to explain to us the risks involved in rejecting the will of Allah. If we obey our Creator, and respect His attributes, and emulate those attributes to the extent and in the way that is appropriate for us, we become like Adam and Hawwa, upon them be peace. We are restored to the fitra, to the primordial norm of our species. And we gain our designed place as Allah’s khalifas over the natural order.”

3. “Instead, we prostrate ourselves before our own whims, our own desires, our own all-too-fallible judgements.”

A-ra’ayta man ittakhada ilahahu hawah, says the Qur’an:

‘Have you seen the one who takes his own passions to be his god?’ [25:43]

Violating the normality of our kind is a crime against the one who designed that normality, and a denial of His wisdom and artistry. And this violation can also render us vulnerable to the inherently rigorous forces of nature.

4. “A number of hadiths indicate ways in which specific forms of the rejection of Allah’s providence can make us vulnerable to breakdowns in the system of protection which Allah has built into the cosmos.”

One of these, whose applicability has become painfully obvious in the last two decades, is narrated by Imam Malik, and refers to the consequences of the rejection of normal, Sunna practices of marriage and reproduction:

‘Never does sexual immorality appear among a people, to the extent that they make it public, without there appearing amongst them plagues and agonies unknown to their forefathers.’

5. “…The Sunna is a protection for our kind, which preserves us from breakdowns.”

…To the extent that we deny the Sunna, we unbalance that system, and catastrophe follows.

Individual human beings can open themselves up to tragedy in this way. Sometimes, when misfortune strikes, it is not easy to see whether it is a trial from Allah, or a chastisement, or simply the consequence of violating the natural way which is the Sunna. Sometimes it is a combination of these things. But it is not only individuals to whom calamities may come. Whole human collectivities are also at risk.

6. On the Ottoman Empire and its demise: “Much of the recent history of the Umma can be understood as the simple consequence of ghafla – of heedlessness of Allah ta‘ala.”

The Ottoman empire, for instance, is a good example. By Allah’s decree and permission, this state continued for an astonishing six hundred years or more, from 1280 until 1924. In fact, the Ottoman sultans were the longest-reigning of any significant dynasty in world history. No family, in China, India, Europe or anywhere else, ruled for so long.

…It is not difficult to see why Allah should have given the Ottoman state such success. The sultans always respected the ulema and the shuyukh: Sultan Mehmed, who liberated Constantinople from the Byzantine oppression, was the disciple of Ak Shamsuddin, himself of the lineage of Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani, radiya’Llahu anhu. With such men to pray for them, the early sultans could hardly be defeated in battle.

…The Ottoman demise resulted not from the adoption of a narrow definition of Islam that set Muslim against Muslim, but from a thoughtless Westernisation among the ruling classes. Adopting the materialism of Western Europe, the Ottoman nobility and middle classes began to abandon the Sunna. The turban began to disappear, followed by the remainder of Muslim dress. Houses began to be designed to bring the sexes together, rather than to separate them. The mosques in rich sections of town emptied, except on Fridays.

7. “The principle which underlies all this is not controversial among Muslims. If we forget Allah, He will forget us.”

‘Forget us’ in the sense of not protecting us from misfortune. The world, where it is not held in order by the hand of Allah, is pure chaos; and in such chaos human beings cannot survive for an instant. They are suddenly overwhelmed by plagues, like the plagues of Egypt, or by poisonous winds, or floods.

8. On global warming:

The current crisis in the world’s environment is, of course, only to be understood religiously. Global warming, depletion of the rainforests, the failure of the monsoon… can be easily explained, from our perspective as Muslims, as the consequences of not paying the rent. We are taking more from the world than ever before, greedily digging up its most inaccessible resources… Yet the more we gobble it up, the less we thank the source of these resources. When an oil well is finally depleted, humanity does not burp, and say, ‘Al-hamdu li’llah.’

We are not paying the rent, and so the Landlord, subhanahu wa-ta‘ala, sees no reason to maintain the property. Why should He? Out of His astonishing mercy, he keeps oxygen in the air, and fresh water in the rivers, so that the earth supports six billion people, and comparatively few starve. But as we guzzle more, and reflect less, this generosity cannot go on forever. The signs of decay in the world’s environment are already giving concern to the materialistic superpowers: not because they deeply care about being good gardeners in God’s creation, but because the only thing they really care about – the economy – may in the longer term be at risk.

9. On the 1999 earthquake in Turkey and secularism:

Secular explanations are of course easily at hand. Northwest Turkey has always been an earthquake zone. However, secularists, who in Turkey are many and virulent, have to acknowledge one thing. In Ottoman times, earthquakes claimed comparatively few lives. This was for a very simple reason. The Ottomans belonged to the land: they knew it, including its occasional tendency to thrash about, and they built for it.

…The Turks knew how to build: for a reason. They came from a country prone to earthquakes. Their buildings are incredibly strong. During the 1961 earthquake which flattened the Macedonian capital of Skopje, killing 20,000 people, observers watched with astonishment as the minarets, seemingly the flimsiest buildings in the world, danced and undulated like snakes, and then settled down again, pointing to the heavens, while the rest of the city, built under Tito, collapsed with a roar.

In Turkey itself, today, the newest structures have proved the most flimsy. The ancient buildings are generally safe and sound. The Orhan Ghazi mosque in Izmid, dating from the early fourteenth century, is apparently largely unscathed. The traditional wooden houses are virtually all safe, and those who lived in them are still alive.

There is, then, a secular culprit. Or rather, a class of them. They are those Turkish city planners who, following the destruction of the Ottoman caliphate, insisted on changing the face of Turkey. Just as it was a criminal offence in Ataturk’s Turkey to wear a turban, so also the state insisted on the abandonment of traditional Turkish building methods. They had to be replaced by European, specifically German norms. Hence those rows of dismal, grey buildings in modern Turkish cities which have nothing to do with Turkey. Their spiritual and engineering roots are in Germany: and Germany is not in an earthquake zone.

The Ottomans, a proud Islamic people who believed in their own traditions, insisted on architecture which could survive an earthquake which might not come for a hundred years. The modern secular Turk, however, thinks only for the moment. Not only does he not give a thought to the eternity which is beyond death: he fails to think about the world his descendents might inhabit, or the safety of his own children. He thinks of image: of the pathetic delight of making his cities look more European, and he thinks of profit. No longer do most Turks live in extended houses, with gardens, in the delightful surroundings which so impressed nineteenth-century visitors to Turkey. They are cramped together in grey, gardenless flats. And they are no longer even safe.

10. “The earthquake was a test, no doubt. But it was also a fearsome expression of the Divine name al-Muntaqim, the Avenger. The same name under which the divine action confronted Fir‘awn, and the peoples of Ad, Thamud, Madyan and ar-Rass.”

Let me repeat what I have been saying. It is too crude a view to regard a tragedy such as this earthquake as a straightforward divine punishment. The Islamic view is more subtle. We believe that the overwhelming forces of nature are only kept in check by Allah. Without His providence, our pathetic bodies would survive not for one instant amid the titanic powers of the universe.

But when we forget His providence, we become vulnerable. We are, as the people of Izmit discovered, on shaky ground.

Abu Hurayra radiya’Llahu anhu said:

The Prophet, salla’Llahu alayhi wa-sallam said: ‘The Hour shall not come until knowledge is taken away, and earthquakes become common, and time is always too short, and trials appear, and killing is widespread, and until wealth becomes so abundant that it is superfluous.’ (Bukhari)

We are all vulnerable. Particularly in these times.


Modernity serves only the idol of money: it does not serve human beings. We have turned away from the unitive Source, towards the rubble at the edges of existence: and we are sad. We are hungry. We know that we need what all human beings have always needed: the remembrance of Allah. And yet the modern world tells us that that is nowhere on the list of priorities.

We have forgotten, so we have been forgotten. The modern world is fast asleep, troubled by dreams of material pleasures that somehow are not really pleasurable.

When we forget who we are, so radically, the protection begins to be withdrawn, and we are at the mercy of the material world, which we now trust and love more than we trust and love God.

In Surat al-Mulk we are told, patiently:

‘Are you confident that He who is in heaven will not cause the earth to cave in beneath you and to be swallowed up by it as it shakes?

Or are you confident that He who is in heaven will not loose against you a whirlwind? You will before long known how was My warning.’ [67:16-17]

So the conclusion is inescapable. We who are not paying the rent for our planet are now paying heavy fines instead.

“The Landlord is merciful”

Through the signs which He sets up in creation: eclipses, earthquakes, tornadoes, blue skies: He reminds us patiently of His glory. And of our origin and return.

Allah subhanahu wa ta‘ala is qabil al-tawb: the acceptor of penitence. Innahu kana bi’l-awwabina ghafura: He is ever Forgiving of those who turn to Him. Faced with the evidence of His overpowering might, and of His power to remove His protection from the violence of nature, our hearts tremble. And in this there lies our hope. Allah himself says, in a Hadith Qudsi:  ‘Son of Adam! So long as you call upon Me and ask of Me, I shall forgive you for what you have done, and I shall not mind. Son of Adam! were your sins to reach the clouds of the sky and were you then to ask forgiveness of Me, I would forgive you. Son of Adam! Were you to come to Me with sins nearly as great as the earth and were you then to face Me, ascribing no partner to Me, I would bring you forgiveness like unto it.’ [Tirmidhi] The divine name al-Hafiz, the Protector, is the one we seek refuge in against the name al-Muntaqim, the Avenger. This is the meaning of the Prophetic du‘a – A‘udhu bika mink: ‘I seek Your protection from You.’

A man once came to Ibn Mas‘ud, radiya’Llahu anh, and asked him: I have repeatedly committed a major sin – can there be any repentance for me? Ibn Mas‘ud turned away, and the man saw that his eyes had filled with tears. He said: ‘Paradise has eight gates, and each one of them is sometimes open and sometimes shut. With the exception of the Gate of Repentance, which is held open eternally by an angel who never leaves that place. So do not despair!’

We need to find shelter in the Divine protection. And the road back to that place is called tawba… We need to repent of our frenzied enthusiasm for the mechanical pleasures of today’s world. Watching the disgusting exhibitions of human egos on television while our neighbours are lonely is not the way of Muslims.

A truly inspiring read. Worth every word. This decrepit summary doesn’t do any justice. Really.


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