LESSONS FROM CALAMITIES

Ijtihad

With Mehol K. Sadain

These past two weeks, it is not uncommon to see faces of desperation on live TV. They come in different ages, status, shapes and impressions: pained, scared, angry, hopeful or just plain tired. And who would not? Coming from five successive typhoons, two of which were particularly devastating (Rolly on November 1 and Ulysses on November 11, both of which flooded and swept away trees, hills and structures in the Bicol and Quezon areas, before raging across Central Luzon, and in the case of Ulysses, rampaging in Metro Manila) the victims could not believe that a catastrophe can visit them twice in a matter of ten days. It just seemed like a wrathful God was not satisfied with the destruction He inflicted, and had to inflict another the soonest possible time. Or it also seemed there was no God to stop all these devastations.

The faithful (of any religion) cling to a Merciful Deity, and you can see the combined resignation and hopefulness in their eyes as they talk to members of media, grateful that in spite the loss, at least everyone is alive, or pleading for anticipated donations and giveaways.

In Islam, wind and rain are treated as carrying both blessings and evil; and Muslims are taught to pray for their blessings and to be spared from their harm, in this wise: “O God, I ask You for its goodness, the good within it, and the good it was sent with; and I take refuge with You from its evil, the evil within it, and the evil it was sent with.” More importantly, the prayer is an admission that it is God who sends the wind and the rain. This frame of mind helps in accepting the consequences of these calamities.

The lessons that come to mind in the midst of these natural devastations are ones of prevention and preparedness, and our concerned officials including members of mass media, never tire repeating these lessons like a mantra, whenever bad weather is predicted and expected. In short, these are lessons repeated time and time again, in a redundance of words that usually fall on deaf ears, as we once again relive the travails of past calamities.

One concrete example of this is the insistence of our people to continue living in risky areas, like riverbanks, seashores and mountain slopes, knowing well that when the wind and rain come, the rivers and creeks will overflow, the sea will spawn huge waves, and the mountainside will slide down in a deadly cascade of mud and trees. You’d think people will finally be scared to live in these areas after a disaster destroys lives and property, but you will be astonished because they will be back in the devastated areas. Perhaps this is called “romancing disaster” or “living dangerously” but it certainly does not have anything to do with the lessons of prevention and preparedness, nor of being resilient. It is simply stubbornness — the kind that kills.

Islam discourages this, and values life and the preservation of community and property. But if disasters happen, the Noble Qur’an teaches the believers to react with acceptance so they can quickly rebuild what is left of their lives and resources. 

In Surah 2, Verses 155 to 157, God says: “Be sure We shall test you of something of fear and hunger, some loss in goods, lives and the fruits (of your toil), but give glad tidings to those who patiently persevere, who say, when afflicted with calamity, ‘To Allah we belong, and to Him is our return.’ They are those on whom descend Blessings from their Lord, and Mercy. They are the ones that receive guidance.”

Calamities, disasters and accidents are occurrences, unforeseen but happening nonetheless. Hence, the verse says, “Be sure” and proceeds to tell us how to deal with these calamities: by patient perseverance, and an acknowledgment that all these, including ourselves, come from God and must eventually return to God. Those who are patient and acknowledge God in the midst of these tests of adversity are those who are eventually blessed and guided. That is the whole point of verses 155 to 157 in Surah Al-Baqarah of the Qur’an.

So next time we are in desperation, let our faces reflect the light of acceptance, patience and hopefulness. This is the lesson God teaches us in the midst of the calamities that befall us. It is not an easy way; but you can be sure it is a blessed way. (MKS)

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