Echo of Grief

We live in a universe of cause and effect, the consequence of which are inescapable. Fire burns, diseases infect, time ages, germs destroy, water drowns ... these facts have moral and social implications, all of these are realities with which we have to contend; and each of these challenge our existence, our instincts and our very humanity, writes Sadullah Khan.

A sea of destruction
Indonesia, Banda Aceh

Largest Natural Tragedy

We recently witnessed the largest natural tragedy to strike the human race in modern times. A 9.0-magnitude quake struck 6 miles beneath the ocean and ruptured a 600-mile stretch of fault running north and south off the coast of Sumatra setting off a train of massive waves known as tsunamis (which can accelerate to 500 mph and stretch up to 100 miles long). Within hours, the tsunami resulted in over 150 000 deaths, over 10 million displaced, over 2 million injured, thousands missing; leaving up to five million people across 12 countries (from the Malay Archipelago to the east coast of Africa) without access to the basic requirements for life - water, food and sanitation.

Disturbing Images

An Indian woman sits in anguish among the wreckage caused by the Tsunami

We witnessed devastation of biblical proportions, suffering unprecedented in contemporary times, death and destruction beyond belief; affecting among the poorest and most heavily populated areas of the world. The images of the aftermath of the tsunami and earthquake are at once shocking and heart-rendering. By comparison with past disasters, this one has not been confined to just one country or region, neither in terms of devastating impact nor in terms of the humanitarian response it generated. This is the first cataclysmic tragedy in which a large area like the entire Indian Ocean region is a shocked spectator (with the rest of the world), but also a direct victim. In the aftermath, entire villages have been wiped out, groups of bodies were buried in mass graves, hundreds of parents lost their children and thousands of children have been orphaned. Scenes of little children sitting on the sea shore, waiting for the sea to bring their parents back brings tears to the most hardened soul.

What We Realize

From all this we learn that the world is anything but serene, all too vulnerable to natural threats; both earthly (earthquakes, cyclones, tsunamis...) and celestial (meteors...). Any of these hazards may strike at any time and can cause considerable loss to life and property. What is common to all these threats is that in just moments they can reduce a city, with all its inhabitants, to ruin.

  • These outbursts of nature are reminders to all humanity that we have no control over the planet we inhabit. Each disaster serves the purpose of reminding humankind of its inherent weaknesses, reminds us of our enduring vulnerability in the face of nature; making us realize that neither wealth nor authority, neither science nor technology has any power to resist the forces greater than ourselves.

  • Suddenly we know the frailty of our place in the universe, just like millions of people all over the world for whom frailty is all-too-familiar. The hope is that our newfound sense of vulnerability will lead to a kind of international empathy and solidarity, which could be the cornerstone of a new spirit of global cooperation --- a cooperation that provides a way to ensure a better world.

  • We have the challenge to frame the traumatic events into a new crucible of meaning. Witnessing the devastation caused by earthquakes and tsunami does not imply that nature is primarily destructive; the fact that God allows nature to take its course does not imply a lack of compassion. Rather, all this is a challenge to us; the greatest of which is, how we respond in the face of such challenges. We therefore have to respond to Allah's call for helping the distressed rather than debating about Allah's judgment as to why these disasters are allowed to happen.

  • Allah did not make this world a permanent place. This is a temporary world and everything here is finite and all things have a time limit. Neither are the good things of this world forever nor are the bad things eternal.

My Resolutions for the New Year

In reflecting on the tragedy, my resolutions into this new year are that ...

  • I will not go to bed another night without reflecting on the advice of our beloved Prophet who said; "When going to sleep do not assume you will live to see the dawn, when waking up do not assume you will live to see the sunset; take precaution from your health against sickness, take from your life what will benefit you in death."

  • I must find more ways to help in sharing the burden of others and to make humanity better. I must learn to forgive any hurt or injuries that come my way and treat others as I wish to be treated in every encounter. I must be more cognizant of the fact that my smile, my words, my expression, my support; each can make the difference to someone somewhere who is wrestling with a misfortune of life.

  • I have no alternative but to commit myself to do all the good I can, by all means I can, in all the ways I can, to all the creation I can, wherever I can, whenever I can, as long as I can, and as best I can.

A scene of the devastation in front of the Baiturrahman mosque in Banda Aceh, Indonesia. The tsunami has caused over 100,000 deaths in the province of Aceh.

What Really Matters

I realize more than ever that all life will come to an end someday, that every day I live is a day further from my birth and every breath I breathe is a breath closer to death. As certain as we are about the occurrence of death, so uncertain are we about its timing and we are therefore instructed, act as if every act could be your last. I recall the admonition of the Prophet who said; Live as you please, but you will die some day; love what you have may, but someday you will be separated.

What I have is only temporary; my life must end and all my possessions will eventually pass on to others. My hopes and my plans will fade with my abilities and my days. Eventually neither my color, nor my gender, neither my language nor my position will matter. What will matter is not what I studied but what I learnt; not who I knew but for what I was known; not what I memorized but for what I will be remembered; not what I said but what I meant; not by how I traveled but where I went; not how much I had but for what it was spent; not what I aspired to but what I attained; not what I thought but what I did, not what I got but what I gave; not what I professed but how I lived, and not how long I lived but what good I did.

To help the victims of this tragedy you can Donate Here

Sadullah Khan was the Director of Islamic Center of Irvine. He has presented lectures on Islamic Civilization at California State University at Dominguez Hills. He is a frequent lecturer for the Academy of Judaic, Christian and Islamic Studies at UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles). He was also an advisor to the Chancellor's Committee on Religion Ethics and Values at UCLA and served as Director of Muslim Affairs at USC (University of Southern California).

You can watch his lectures on Empowerment at IslamiTV

Dimensions of the Qur'an
The lucid and clear reflections of Sa'dullah Khan, his smooth sailing in the oceans of Qur'anic wisdom and beauty is most encouraging and pleasantly inviting the English reader of the Qur'an to plunge again into the ultimate source of enlightenment and empowerment that we have. 

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Older Comments:
As Salaam Alaikum,
As the year approaches since this catastrophic tragedy I revisited the article to once again be brought to tears for the sheer magnitude of it all. I save some Islamicity articles because they are so timely and well thought or felt that they continue to prompt reflection and hopefully action because of the visual and touching picture they pull to mind. These particular words are a reminder, Dhikr, of the purpose of our temporal existence and what is required to manifest a worthy life consideration. Thank You Sadullah Khan, for a touching experience which brought me to the approach of the Tsunami.

it is a terrible thing that happened. i love the Quotes from Muhammed in the article. i agree that we shouldnt just assume we will live to see another day.
I think Quotes like that can make you want to be more spirtual everday. It will make you remeber what is really important.

Im just glad to see so many different religion work together for the good of the injured people.

A British fellow, Jonathan Watts, a builder by trade dropped everything and went to Thailand to help out the unfortunate affected by the Tsunami. My hats off to this gentleman. His compassion, honesty and selfless labour for others should be applauded. His experience appearing as an article titled, 'the Builders Tale' in the Guardian can be read via the link below. Most interesting is what Jonathan said about the Americans "helping" out:

"The only real irritation has been the American Christian volunteers. They go on about God all the time and give really horrible looks when I say "Jesus!" or "Christ!". And they seem to think that they are the world's landlords. The other day, I was doing some painting when one of them asked me how long I planned to stay. I told him that I hadn't yet decided. "Oh, I guess you'll be around until George Bush stops paying for the paint," he said. At times like that, I have to bite my tongue. ",15671,1390243,00.html

Hopely Tsunami disaster makes every humanbeings on earth realise how tiny and helpless we are compare to ALLAH Almighty, Allahuakhbar!!!Allahuakhbar!!! Allahuakhbar!!! Beware!! those who thinks that they are superpower...

As muslims we never forget rasulillah SAW's great words in which he said the affair of the believer is always good i.e whether he enjoys good or is inflictrd by evil, he says alhamdulillah. This disaster just reminds us about the truth of this world; that every soul shall definitely taste death though we do not know when or how. May Allah Azza wa Jal help us to make preparations for this inevitable journey, amin.

today i ask myself what is life today we are here tomorrow we are gone, we all here for a purpose some take they whole life to search for that purpose but the answer is in front of us. take the tsunami for example allah send it so we can open our eyes, he sends down upon us signs for us to understand, the signs come down in many forms so we can repent for our sins an plan for the aakirah. today people dont care if they fellow human being has shelter or food but is more intrested in finging ways that will make they bank accounts grow. we dont take even one minute to sit an think if our needy people have even had a morsel to eat. we are ignorant and dont bother to think of what we really should. peolpe i urge u to start thinking of the value of life aand the basic steps we can take to help our fellow brother and sisters instead of thinking of what sholuld we where tomorrow. remember whatever allah plans for us will happen and only dua can change that. inner peace contentment and the love of allah and his creation will bring us closer to him and inturn ur reward will be jannah, free your heart of hatred, hipocracy, jealousy, pride and greed and u will be the richest person even if u had no wealth because in the eyes of allah u a noble servant and what more do we need than , remember people that real success is only in the hereafter this world is nothing but a past time a test to see if we are worthy to be in pure place called jannah... rememeber us all in ur duas and never give up on the mercy of allah because he is everywhere and waiting for u to ask, his mercy has no bounds follow the example of our beloved prophet(saw) and the quran to help us pass this test. may allah allow us to pass this test may he protect us and help us all. aameen
the pass is the pass, we have no garantee of the future so live i the present and make each moment count

the picture of the masjid amused me alot, I think it is a miracle. Its a miracle because out of all buildings the masjid Allah's house was the only one standing. doesnt that amase you too. this shows kudrat illah {subhanahu wa taalaa}

Asaalamalikum!Excellent article. As it is shown in this article the Baiturrahaman mosque standing intact in front of the devastation caused by tsunami has taught a lesson as author mentions "neither money nor auothority and neither science and nor technology has any power over God's power.These are the perfect and very strong lines of the article which I liked the best.

Assalamou Alaykoum!

Excellent, eloquent, moving, honest, poetic and spiritual
assessment of who we are and what we are here for.

Hopefully, for lack of better word, I pray, that the tsunami was
indeed, only a freak of nature, and not a top secret US
governmet, CIA, sanctioned affiar, via HAARP, in Alaska, in order
to re-gain a military foothold at their old air base in that region,
since they;d been kicked out, and under the pretext of the
military delivering humanitarian aid to the region, and to protect
the (secret US governmnet sanctioned (opium) drug traffiking
route from Afghanistan via the Indian Ocean, to Europe and the
US, via the Indian Ocean, to protect a US 700B a year business...

Excellent article.The words direct us to reflection,awe and pity.We must maintain this awe daily in our lives.We must "service" regularly our attitude to life and we must take account of ourselves on a DAILY basis. This self correction will divert us from the sickness of materialism,competition and the many vanities that attarct us.

We are heading towards our grave; it will be a grave mistake if we remain focussed on worldly desires and neglect our spiritual development.

It's a very good article that tries to awaken the soul, the good in you. It could have been better if some more Hadith quoting the temporariness of this world and the infinty, that the Hereafter holds for us could have been added.

This was a moving article and so true to the reality of this life all we really can do is hold on to each other and help each other,for life is so short and some peoples difficulties seem immense may God give them strenght to get through it all Amin.

a beautiful article which makes one start thinking how fragile and unpredictable life is and also its value.good job!

Assalamu alaikum,

Alhamdulillah, this was the attitude muslim had been lacking. This is the attitude we lost when we were the rulers. In the pomp of the world we forgot the lessons allah taught us.

But it is coming back, now muslims are serious, all they seek is pleasure in sight of ALLAh. The same though process has been earlier in a blog. I will give the reference below.

THat shows change and welcome change indeed.

Ya allah, guide the ummah and educate them the ways to please you.