Rana Rais Khan reflects on the aftermath of the catastrophe that struck the northern areas of Pakistan on October 8, 2005.
A true believer is like a bird flying with two wings. One constitutes fear and the other hope. Analyzing the optimistic side, concerning the colossal tragedy that struck Pakistan, one may find solace in Prophet’s (sa) Hadeeth narrated by Abu Huraira (rta): “The martyrs are of five kinds: One who dies of plague, one who dies of disease of his belly, the drowned, one who dies under the debris (of construction, etc.), and one who dies while fighting in the way of Allah.” (Bukhari and Muslim) This is the reward for all God fearing Momins.
The Prophet (sa) has also said: “There are three (kinds of people) whose actions are not recorded: a sleeper until he awakens, a boy (referring to children) until he reaches puberty, and a lunatic until he comes to reason.” (Abu Dawood) We can earnestly pray that all the innocent children, who were crushed to death, find the everlasting peace in Paradise, Insha’Allah.
Incidentally, in August 2005, I was up in the same mountains, relishing the beauty of North Pakistan that is beyond words. Had I not been there, I would probably have never felt this grief, guilt, and anger, which I feel today.
Even prior to the earthquake, these people had harsh lives with no electricity, gas, and other heating equipment, especially during winters that lasted nearly six months. Last year, they had 17&1/2 ft. of snow. Their survival depended on chopping down trees for firewood and sincere prayers to Allah (swt). Among the many monstrous glaciers that rolled down taking along everybody and everything on their way, stood adamantly one that was still intact even in the heat of August summer.
In remote areas, the roads were no better than they are today, in the aftermath of the earthquake. We were driving at 30 km per hour, which was ‘jet speed.’ Our mobile phones rested in peace due to no signals. We had travelled to another time zone. The medieval times these mountain dwellers lived in made me forget that Pakistan was actually created 58 years ago. For the poor, time had frozen at the top of the mountains, while life, growth, and investments moved forward in the metropolitan areas of the country.
Apparently the habitants prayed regularly, thanked Allah (swt) for His blessings, offered sincere hospitality, and refused any kind of monetary assistance feeling offended.
No mortal can decipher Allah’s (swt) plans however this earthquake could have meant different things for different people. For some it was purification from their sins, for some it was a punishment from Allah (swt) and for spectators such as us, it was a stern warning to quit transgressing and return to the path of Allah (swt).
Allah (swt) states: “Do you feel secure that He, Who is over the heaven (Allah), will not cause the earth to sink with you, and then it should quake? Or do you feel secure that He, Who is over the heaven (Allah), will not send against you a violent whirlwind? Then you shall know how (terrible) was My Warning.” (Al-Mulk 67:16-17)
Quran also states: “And whatever of misfortune befalls you, it is because of what your hands have earned…” (Ash-Shurah 42:30)
The killer earthquake swallowed one hundred thousand lives, rendered three hundred thousand homeless, and traumatically billed the government for a loss worth billions of US Dollars. The silver lining to the cloud was the eager spirit of community service that rose from the ashes. It felt good to see strangers going the extra mile to care for the injured and bury the dead. The nation united as one. It was Allah’s mercy that got instilled in our hearts of stone. It was Him, Who sent us relief. The Quran states: “Verily, along with every hardship is relief.” (Ash-Sharh 94:5)
However, the ground reality is still quite sticky. Major cities of Pakistan continue to be rocked every now and then, sending a chill down everyone’s spine. For the Friday (Jummah prayers) following the earthquake, the government announced an official nation wide day of repentance. In all Jummah prayers of that day, Muslims were to seek the forgiveness of Allah (swt). But I just wonder is a day’s repentance sufficient for a lifetime’s sins? Isn’t it about time that we mend our ways for good and start a new?
The International Red Cross released a World Disaster Report for 2005, stating that 360 natural disasters had been counted in 2004 in comparison with 239 in 1995. 901,177 people lost their lives in the last ten years, compared to 643,418 people in the previous decade. Their explanation for the rise in these figures is simply the growth of population.
The scientific and logical explanations to such phenomenon absolve people from their responsibilities and generate excuses, such as population density, poor infrastructure, etc. These are Satan’s devices to prevent people from a deeper introspection. We are so consumed by figuring out the scientific and superficial causes of these disasters that we forget we consist of not just bodies but also souls. Like it or not but every soul has to return to Allah (swt) eventually.
A dear friend of mine commented: “If everybody admits that this was a natural disaster, who is the Owner and the Creator of nature?” Do we not even want to think for a moment that this could have been the penalty of our wrongdoings? May Allah (swt) help us, if the rotting corpses don’t revive our faith and pull us out of this state of denial.
Allah (swt) destroyed all previous nations due to some highlighted sin of theirs, such as trade malpractices in the people of Madyan, arrogance among the followers of Firoun, etc. If today we were asked to conduct an individual self-appraisal, alarmingly, we would find multiple sins prevalent in our lives, for which entire generations were wiped out earlier.
For many of us who think Allah’s (swt) wrath is only for the heedless and we are ever so pious should consider the following Hadeeth narrated by Aisha (rta). Allah’s Messenger (sa) said: “An army will invade the Ka’ba and when the invaders reach Al-Baida’, all the ground will sink and swallow the whole army.” Aisha (rta) inquired: “O Allah’s Messenger! How will they sink into the ground while amongst them will be their markets (the people who worked in business and not invaders) and the people not belonging to them?” The Prophet (sa) replied: “All of those will sink but they will be resurrected and judged according to their intentions.” (Bukhari)
Religion is no personal matter for Pakistanis anymore. Its time for every responsible believer to enjoin good and forbid evil if he wants to salvage himself. History proves if a nation indulges too deep in sins, no one will be spared. We have to be mindful, however, that we can be the next ones bearing the brunt of another natural disaster, God forbid.