By Imam Mustafa Omar
This chapter begins by concluding the story of Prophet Shu’ayb who was sent to the people of Madian. He ordered his people to only worship Allah and no one else and to stop stealing, ripping people off, and causing problems in society. This instruction encompasses what Islam stands for:
a) to correct man’s relationship with the Creator and
b) to correct man’s relationship with the created.
Each has rights that must be fulfilled.
Allah tells us, “Whenever We sent a prophet to a town We afflicted its [disbelieving] people with suffering and hardships, so that they might humble themselves…” One of the reasons for the presence of so called “evil” in the world is clear. It is there to humble us. Allah is telling people that these calamities are actually for their own good. Rather complaining, “why did this have to happen” or “what kind of God would do such things,” we must remember that there is benefit in tribulation, no matter how difficult or “bad” it may seem at the time.
To verify this just think of how many people changed their lives due to some calamity. How many people gave up their wicked ways and accepted the straight path after some catastrophic event? It is a fact that the strongest catalyst to affect the world view of any individual is tribulation. Why? So that we might humble ourselves. Man, by his unique limited free-will and ability for cognition, begins to think that he is in control. He begins to forget that his abilities are limited just like his lifespan. A calamity is the medicine he needs to return to the healthy state of reality. However, many people who might humble themselves temporarily often return to their deluded state soon after the calamity is gone. How many times do we need to be bitten from the same hole in order to learn our lesson?
The story of Moses and Pharaoh follows, reminding us of the blessings the Children of Israel were given and what little thanks they gave. They were miraculously saved from the wrath of Pharaoh and his goons and, in return, when they came across a people worshipping idols they expressed their foolish desire to do the same. Moses was appointed 40 nights to get a guidebook and in return his people start worshipping a golden statue of a calf. Water gushed out of a large rock, clouds sheltered them, they were given manna and quails as food and in return they changed the word of Allah that had been given to them.
We learn than we must be thankful for the blessings that Allah has given us the same way that we must try to benefit from the tribulations that we encounter. This brings to mind a statement of the Prophet, “The situation of a believer is truly amazing. Everything that happens is good for him and this is only true for a believer and no one else. If something good happens he is thankful and that is good for him. However, if something bad afflicts him he is patient and that is also good for him.”
As Muslims in America we must ask ourselves: have we been thankful for the blessings? Relative to the rest of the world we have the ability to openly practice and propagate Islam. What did we do with this blessing? Run after comfort and luxury. We have been placed in a society begging to be taught Islam. They are children of people who possess a divine book, still have a desire to believe in and worship God, and are critical of their own doctrines due to its inability to conform to reason and science. They are fairly open-minded and willing to listen. Could there be any group of people better setup to receive the message of Islam? How did we utilize this blessing?
Then, when a calamity afflicted us and we became stereotyped and became targets of misleading propaganda, we got scared. We hid but did we humble ourselves? Did we realize that this is a wakeup call? Either utilize the comfortable situation you have been given or you will be replaced with a group of people who will.
One of the biggest lessons that we can take from this surah is to look at the people to whom all these prophets were sent and how they reacted. Then, we can compare those people with the people to whom we have been sent. Compare the steadfastness of the prophets to our steadfastness and the hostility of those people to the hostility of our people towards us. Cry, and then get out there and do your job.