Monday, September 24, 2007

What Would You Call It?


Maryam Sakeenah

One stands the risk of being considered ignorant and unenlightened if one reads more than tectonic-plate dynamics into the quake. And this is where I feel the tragedy lies_ in our stubborn refusal to see this squarely for what it meant; in our unpreparedness to digest the message clear as day.

For, what would you call it when thriving cities are sucked into the earth in the wink of an eye; when a sudden, all-pervasive death seizes one in the act, the earth is rent asunder and mountains fly about in billowy bits? Would you call it tectonic-plate dynamics and go about your business? Would you call it another occurrence in the chaos of Darwin’s godless nature?

Zareen, a teenaged quake survivor relates the experience, remarking with bated breath how strongly she felt it was indeed the Last Hour. “Everything that happened was exactly like what I had heard about the coming of the Judgement Day. I literally saw mountains crumbling like sand, the earth giving way and landmarks disappearing in seconds. I was sure the world had finished.”

“The Great Disaster! What is the Great Disaster? And what do you know what the Great Disaster is? It is the Day when men shall be like scattered moths; And mountains like carded wool…” (Surah Al Qariah)

At 16, Zareen has understood the message, as she confides in me her firm resolve to pursue Quranic studies once she re-settles in life. I admire her.

It was a stark reminder, a warning, a wake-up call. This is the nature and reality of our lives. With all our arrogance and megalomania, our Enlightened Moderation, our alliance with the mighty U.S, our technology and development, stripped to nakedness we are weaklings. For, who can guarantee for himself the next moment? The complete failure of civil structure, communication and monitoring systems in the face of natural calamity makes a mockery of all the trappings of power man feels to have acquired with the steady march of time. We are, after all, as human and as mortal as we ever were.

“Wheresoever you may be, death will overtake you even if you are in fortresses built up strong and high.” (4:78)

Death, and the eventuality of the grave is an absolute, inevitable reality. There is no choice, no escape, no postponement of this eventuality. It is coming for you, for me, for the man there. In the long run, folks, we all end up dead. We don’t have a choice about it. We don’t have a choice about anything, for that matter, except that we can choose to be prepared, or unprepared. The analogy is that of a man being sent to a place on a mission, being told he has a time-bomb fixed to his chest that’s ticking away and you don’t know when it will explode. But you are tied to it, and it can go boom anytime. You can hear the beat in your chest, ticking away… The wise one carries the consciousness of is situation at the back of his head in everything he does. And so, he will work hard to give the world his best, for his life is his last chance. The unwise one forgets, spends his ‘heydays’ and is eventually defeated by the inevitable. Deluded, befooled. Choosing between the two ways is the freedom we have.

Some 'Tabieen (followers of Companions of the Prophet S.A.W) came to the house of A’isha and said, “O mother of the believers, tell us about earthquakes.” A’isha said, “Anytime zina (fornication) becomes widespread, & a lot of wine is drunk (consumed), & musical instruments becomes prevalent (singing girls), the earth rebels against the crimes that are being committed on top of her, so she shakes & causes buildings to tumble down & swallow the people up.” So the ‘Tabieen said, “How are we supposed to interpret this (i.e. natural disasters earthquakes)?” She said, A punishment for the disbelievers and a reminder to the believers.” (From the audio "Natural Disasters" by Shaikh Faisal Abdullah).

As Muslims, the fundamental principle of tauhid central to Islam must colour our vision of life. It means that everything that happens must be seen as a piece in the Divinely-laid scheme of things. Every occurrence fits into the mural of God’s Plan. In the Muslim’s worldview, there are no random accidents, no meaningless chaos or anarchy in nature. For, Nature is Allah’s manifestation, and its processes are by His Design. Justice is knitted into the essence of the panorama of creation and existence. It is written in the heart of the universe. It will be carried out. Nature does not let it be.

"For to Allah belong the Forces of the heavens and the earth." (48:7)

This is a pattern of history, and its lesson.

"Did We not destroy the ancients? So shall We make the later generations to follow them. Thus do We deal with the Mujrimoon (criminals, disbelievers, sinners.). Woe that Day to the deniers (of the Day of Resurrection)!" (77:16-19)

In the debris of Islamabad’s Margalla Towers were found in profusion bottles of alcoholic drinks. When the Towers went down in the seismic wave on the morning of 2nd Ramadan, screams and cries mixed with loud music played on cassette players was clearly audible. This is Death’s relentless seizure. This is how that Greater Power we turn so forgetful of, laughs at our frivolity play.

“Did you think that We had created you in play (without any purpose), and that you would not be brought back to Us?”(23:115)

Almost exactly four years ago on this date, the Government of Pakistan had unequivocally declared its all-out support to the U.S against Afghanistan, mobilizing its troops and establishing American military bases on its northern borders for the unholy crusade. Then came the dirty clandestine games in Waziristan. We strengthened the hand of the oppressor by choosing to remain the sleepwalking zombies that we are. Nature does not sit back and watch.

Interestingly, one major justification for this choice we had readily bought as a nation was that on choosing otherwise, we’d be left alone and our eastern neighbour could attack, threatening Azad Kashmir. Also, that choosing a wise alliance with the mighty West, we’d be led to economic boons. Did you hear that financial loss due to the quake amounted to U.S $ 12.5 billion? Did you hear about the ‘peanuts’ doled out as U.S aid for the quake-ravaged region? Do you remember how we had celebrated the safety for AJK and economic gain our government had so wisely and courageously ensured all those years back?

"Or do you feel secure that He, Who is over the Heaven, will not cause the earth to sink with you, then behold it shakes (as in an earthquake)? Or do you feel secure that He, Who is over the heaven, will not send against you a violent whirlwind? Then you shall know how (terrible) was My Warning." (67:16-17)

The lives lost are buried and forgotten, thrown in the ashbin of history. Public memory is very short, and forgetfulness can easily be imposed on nations by creating a State-sponsored valueless, frivolous culture of eat, drink and be merry that eventually becomes lifestyle. But the heart of the earth does not forget even when we do.

“We record that which they send before them, and their traces, and all things We have recorded with numbers (as record) in a Clear Book.” (36:12)

God’s mills grind slowly, but they grind very fine.

One shudders to think of the bestiality of man on coming across grotesque incidents of looting, mutilating corpses for gold, kidnapping and abuse of the vulnerable survivors in the immediate aftermath of the quake. Now that a year is done, the lives of those thousands still hang in the balance and shadows of gloom still lurk on the horizons. Things are far from normalcy. Rehabilitation efforts have fallen off the mark and the public is unaware of the use of the funds collected. Hardly a select few have been the beneficiaries. The rest still languish in the dark, still waiting for the Godot.

The Divine message has been loud and clear. We chose to thrust fingers in our ears. We fell very, very short. The despair and hopelessness in the eyes of the survivors speaks of the apathy shown to them. Corruption, pilferage, dishonesty, greed have dehumanized us. One wonders…what then can stop man? How human are we if a warning that big cannot stay the evil hand? Yet what stands tall above all the morass is that impregnable spirit of heroic stoicism and perseverance of the affectees. May Allah bless them and give them what we withheld, an eternal abode in the gardens of Paradise.

It is important to note that the first ones to rally to the call for help, the ones who tirelessly worked and made a tangible difference to alleviate the pain were those we have officially disowned. It was the Islamist organizations who rose to the occasion most admirably and played the Messiah without making loud claims for the limelight, accolades and acclaim. That is the beauty of faith nothing can ever measure up to. That a government that cannot even produce a transparent report of the use of quake funds slaps bans on these groups and restricts them to serve an alien interest is deeply ironical.

It has been a great test, a tremendous exposition. One still longs, however, to see the learning and maturing. Sadly, the media has not done much on this front to create that vital sense of realization to make the nation do a bit of soul-searching that this calamity necessitated.

Turning away from the clear lessons, or making slight of them is the greater tragedy, for it starkly exposes how deep our descent into slumber is_ that a blitz that great, that jarring cannot rouse us to the Reminder. It makes the tragedy manifold.

“Verily, We sent (Messengers) to many nations before you (O Muhammad) and We seized them with suffering and adversity that they might humble themselves. When Our torment reached them, why then did they not humble themselves (believe with humility)? But their hearts became hardened, and Satan made fair seeming to them that which they used to do.

So, when they forgot (the warning) with which they had been reminded, We opened for them the gates of every (pleasant) thing, until in the midst of their enjoyment in that which they were given, all of a sudden, We took them (in punishment), and lo! They were plunged into destruction with deep regrets and sorrows. So of the people who did wrong the last remnant was cut off. All praise be to Allah, the Lord of the Worlds.” (Surah al-An'aam verses 41-44)