When the Earth Shook

CHILE-EARHTQUAKEIt was a lazy April afternoon when people had just finished their lunch. Some lied down to rest. Those at work returned to their desks. Around 3 pm, the ground began shaking. People got out of their rooms, looked at one another and had one question on their tongues: “Did you feel it?” Television set was switched on, quickly selecting the news channels and then flipping between several to get the clearest and most detailed report. It was confirmed. A major earthquake had struck Pakistan.

The family looked at each other. What should we do? I peeped out of the window. I saw people gathering up in open space. I recalled the earthquake of 2005, when disaster management teams advised to stay at one place, until tremors settled. I suggested we take cover under wooden structures and frames. We sat back at our places, tongues moving swiftly in Dhikr (words of remembrance). Horrified, people made intense Duas to the All-Powerful to make the tremors stop. Objects nearby were shaking and thus increasing our fear. We were certain Allah (swt) will not punish us. In our hearts, we knew we didn’t deserve His mercy after all that we have done. We hoped for another chance. Just one more chance. Like we always do.

The ground kept shaking. Text messages were pouring in, asking if we were alright. We wondered if it was time to say our final goodbyes. We were hanging between life and death. Seeing death so near, we hastily made Duas for our forgiveness.

Everything around us – the sun, the moon, the trees, the birds, the earth that we walk upon – haughtily will testify either for or against us. What will it say about me?

I had recently completed the Tafsir (exegesis) of Surah Az-Zalzalah (the Earthquake). Its words echoed in my head: “When the earth is shaken with its (final) earthquake. And when the earth throws out of its burdens. And man will say: What is the matter with it?” (Az-Zalzalah 99:1-3)

And here we were sitting. Staring at the ground below us, wondering what was the matter with it. Why does it not stop?

The Most Merciful then did His thing. His Rahmah (mercy) took over, and He commanded the earth to stop shaking. Life returned to our hearts.

I returned my attention to Surah Az-Zalzalah and the Day of Resurrection. The Day, when the earth is stretched forth (Quran 84:3) and is ground to powder (Quran 89:21). That Day the earth will declare its information (about all that happened over it of good or evil). (Quran 99:4)

I shuddered. I was not prepared to die. I did not want the earth to reveal my information.

Yet, it will. Everything around us – the sun, the moon, the trees, the birds, the earth that we walk upon – haughtily will testify either for or against us. What will it say about me?

I had a swift flashback. I had done nothing that I could say would save me from the terrors of that Day. On that overwhelming Day, some faces will be humiliated and some joyful (Quran 88:2, 8). How will my face be? The Day, when all secrets will be examined (Quran 86:9), and man will be handed his record. There will be those, who will be given their records in their right hands. They will receive their records and rush to their families sharing their joy with them (Quran 84:7). Others will be given their records behind their backs (Quran 84:10), because it contains nothing to be joyful about. In which hand will I receive my record?

As I looked back at the television screen, the reporter was giving details of the earthquake. It was a 7.8 magnitude quake. Analysts feared had it continued for a few more seconds, everything in Karachi would have perished. In another window, the channel showed clips of LIVE scenes: people leaving their offices to stand in the open space.

And I was struck again.

Where was it? Where was the feeling that we just felt?

People were happily chatting. They were exiting the elevators with cheerful faces. It seemed, as if we did not just feel Allah’s power followed by His Rahmah but an ‘adventure.’

It seemed, as if we did not just feel Allah’s power followed by His Rahmah but an ‘adventure.’

It was time for the Asr (late afternoon) prayer. Parents still had to raise their voice reminding to pray. The practicing ones were reminding their colleagues to rush for the congregational prayer. The mosques were still half empty.

I was ashamed. Who were we? When the calamity was off our heads, we returned to our usual state? Even an earthquake that was certain to perish us could not fix us?

It is as Allah (swt) says:“Then after that you turned away. Had it not been for the Grace and Mercy of Allah upon you, indeed you would have been among the losers.” (Quran 2:64)

“O man! Verily, you are returning towards your Lord – with your deeds and actions (good or bad), — a sure returning, and you will meet (the results of your deeds which you did).” (Quran 84:6)