I started writing this article before the tragedy of the earthquake in southern Turkiye and northern Syria. After learning the extent of suffering that the people underwent and continue to experience, I felt compelled to finish this article to attempt to express the imprint that the people and place leave on one’s mind and heart.
Far from the most visited sites in Istanbul, Sanliurfa is a city in southeast Turkiye that is known as “The City of Prophets.” The culinary feats and the astounding beauty synonymous with Turkiye are not what define this city. Instead, Sanliurfa is notable for its history that weaves through thousands of years encompassing diverse civilizations, and along with the other cities of Turkiye form the most beautiful Turkish tapestry.
Sanliurfa (“Glorious Urfa”) known as Urfa is a small city with not many tourists. The notable places can be seen in about an hour. However, the knowledge of this city’s most pious and devoted servants of Allah (Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala (SWT), Glorified and Exalted is He (Allah)) leaves indelible impressions on the mind and heart.
How many of history’s greatest dignitaries were born in the most opulent palaces? However, transcending all dignitaries in world history for tirelessly teaching monotheism, Prophet Ibrahim (Alaihi Wasallam (AS), Peace be upon him) is considered to have been born in the great discomfort of a small, cold cave in Urfa. Near to this cold cave, Prophet Ibrahim (AS) is considered to have courageously challenged King Nimrod who had him literally catapulted into fire with Prophet Ibrahim’s (AS) own father staunchly leading the community against his son. If abandonment and antagonism by community including family and horrifying execution by fire are not the lowest depths and greatest states of discomfort of dunya (the worldly life), I don’t know what is.
The most severe trials of dunya only strengthened Prophet Ibrahim’s (AS) resolve, his complete contentment and submission to Allah’s (SWT) will, and his devotion to Allah (SWT). For His devoted servant, Allah (SWT) changed the nature of fire’s heat into coolness and in doing so, transformed the most severe environment of discomfort into the most comfortable environment. After this horrifying experience by the standards of dunya, Prophet Ibrahim (AS) only continued his steep trajectory of complete submission and devotion to Allah (SWT).
Though Prophet Ibrahim (AS) grew up in a difficult environment, his submission and devotion to Allah (SWT) provided the best environment to raise his nephew Prophet Lut (AS). Prophet Lut’s (AS) principled upbringing considered to have been in Urfa, no doubt, helped to establish his resolve to adhere to Allah’s (SWT) command during the trials of family and society that awaited him.
The antagonism of community including family and persecution by a ruler were only two of the trials patiently faced and successfully overcome in this city. Prophet Ayyub (AS) is considered to have patiently bore painful sores that covered his body for years in another small, cold cave in Urfa. Just the thought of painful sores covering one’s body for one day is enough to make one nauseous. However, Prophet Ayyub (AS) additionally lost his family and wealth. Shaytan (the devil) unsuccessfully tried to utilize Prophet Ayyub (AS)’s difficult trials as an opportunity to weaken Prophet Ayyub’s (AS) resolve. Prophet Ayyub (AS)’s unwavering submission and devotion to Allah (SWT)’s will while facing loss of health, wealth, and family are an unforgettable reminder and example for humanity. And Allah (SWT) restored health, wealth, and family to Prophet Ayyub (AS) who always only cared to seek Allah’s (SWT) pleasure. The most successful people are not those salivating for and collecting the trinkets of dunya, but those who when faced with tragedy react only with trust in Allah (SWT) and never despair. Their goal is to please Allah (SWT) and in doing so, ultimately work for their Akhirah (the Hereafter) as Allah (SWT) commanded instead of the fleeting dunya.
While walking along the cobbled narrow streets, I thought about Prophet Yaqub (Jacob) (AS) who is also considered, at some point, to have lived here. In addition, the Prophets Al-Yasa’ (Elisha) (AS), Shoaib (AS), Noah (AS), and Musa (AS) are considered to have spent time either in or near the city. I can’t imagine a person living in a city and persisting in disbelief and disobedience at a time when a prophet lived humbly nearby. Then again, we have the Quran and Sunnah as the ultimate guidance which is an ongoing blessing and intended to much more than suffice; and yet, people continue to persist in disbelief and disobedience.
After being accustomed to traveling to experience the sites, food, and shopping of cities, it was insightful to travel in an area that was associated with the most pious people chosen by Allah (SWT). The quote attributed to the great explorer Ibn Battuta, “Who lives sees, but who travels sees more” succinctly expresses this sentiment. Furthermore, Prophet Muhammad (Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam (SAW), Peace and Blessings be upon him) had the ultimate journey of Isra Mi’raj. After all, it was a journey that Allah (SWT) decided and meeting with Him (SWT) as the ultimate destination. Not only did Prophet Muhammad (SAW) visit sacred sites and lead all the prophets in prayer, but he (SAW) journeyed through the heavens and past where no being is allowed to meet with Allah (SWT). In addition, this journey established Salah (prayer) that is described as the human being’s conversation with his Creator as Allah (SWT) decided. Allah (SWT) has stated regarding Prophet Muhammad (SAW), “He certainly saw of the Greatest of Signs of His Lord.” (53:18).
In contrast to the public’s infatuation with various people in media including social media, prophets are the actual people chosen by Allah (SWT) to influence humanity to live righteously in every aspect of their lives and particularly in their dealings with others. While experiencing the severe trials of the world, prophets never longed for a desired outcome, including relief, other than Allah’s (SWT) pleasure.
In the midst of the ongoing tragedy of the earthquake, we have seen the best of humanity. Regardless of their circumstances, people all over the world are trying to help. People are even risking their lives to help. Countries all over the world are trying to provide aid. Why can’t we always try to get along and help each other? Does a tragedy have to occur to do so? Why not make people’s lives easier while they are alive and not in a state of suffering? There are no national borders for humanity and for upholding principles. And that is the consistent, ongoing legacy of the prophets to be carried on regardless of time or place. Failing to do so is having dire and anything but subtle consequences.
Dr. Sarah Syed is an Internal Medicine Physician in Tampa, Florida.