In our everyday lives, we observe immense personal and global tragedies. They shake our core, urging us to ask the agonizing question: “Why? Why is this happening? Why now? Why are people suffering? Why can’t we live in peace? Why must he/she go?” And the list goes on. Most of these questions cannot be answered, so we remain unsatisfied. This leads to the next set of questions: “Is there an answer? Will there ever be one?” For a two-eyed being, there is an answer, because Allah (swt) did not leave any ambiguity in the life of a Momin – the Quran, the Book of all answers, clearly states:
“This is the Book (the Quran), whereof there is no doubt, a guidance to those who are Al-Muttaqun [the pious and righteous persons who fear Allah much (abstain from all kinds of sins and evil deeds which He has forbidden) and love Allah much (perform all kinds of good deeds which He has ordained)].” (Al-Baqarah 2:2)
To answer the question of why tragedies are happening in our lives, a twenty-two Ayats long story of Prophet Musa (as) and Khidr was revealed in Surah Al-Kahf (18:60-82). Further explanation of this event is given in Sahih Al-Bukhari, chapter 44, Hadeeth 122.
The story began with someone asking Musa (as) about who was the most learned man amongst the people, to which he answered that he was. Technically stating, he was right, because prophets were endowed with the highest knowledge amongst all the humankind; however, it is better to attribute absolute knowledge to Allah (swt). To admonish Musa (as), Allah (swt) guided him to a man named Khidr, who was more learned than Musa (as). Musa (as) was so determined to seek him that he would not rest until he found him.
Finally, Musa (as) met Khidr at a junction of two rivers meeting. Khidr was endowed with two special abilities: special mercy and special knowledge. Musa (as) took permission by asking: “May I follow you so that you teach me something of that knowledge (guidance and true path) which you have been taught (by Allah)?” (18:66) This humble request shows that Musa (as) was eager to turn from a teacher to a student, which renders a valuable lesson: if one does have maximum knowledge, there is always room to learn.
What was the lesson to be given to Musa (as)? He (Khidr) said: “Verily! You will not be able to have patience with me. And how can you have patience about a thing which you know not?” (18:67-68) The lesson was patience, but Musa (as) did have patience. After all he was a prophet, which shows that this is referring to the highest level of patience, especially when there is a lack of understanding, as humans by nature become uneasy when kept in a state of ambiguity.
Thus, Musa (as) and Khidr embark on a journey with the following condition: “Musa said: ‘If Allah wills, you will find me patient, and I will not disobey you in aught.’ He (Khidr) said: ‘Then, if you follow me, ask me not about anything, till I myself mention it to you.’” (18:69-70) The reason for no interruption during this journey was to maintain the flow of observation in order to grasp a complete perception of the situation.
They embarked on a ship with the permission of the crew. While sailing, a sparrow came and stood on the edge of the boat and dipped its beak once or twice in the sea. Khidr said: “O Musa! My knowledge and your knowledge have not decreased Allah’s (swt) knowledge, except like the amount of water taken by this sparrow from the sea with its beak.’” (Bukhari) This comment gives us the ratio of a human’s knowledge against Allah’s (swt) knowledge – a drop of water against the sea. There are ambiguous phenomena in the world, which we can never find answers to because we do not possess the capacity to grasp the holistic perspective. This is why we give it to the One Who knows it all, by saying “Allahu Alam”.
Khidr went to one of the planks of the boat and plucked it out, to which Musa (as) reacted, as any human being naturally would: “Have you scuttled it in order to drown its people? Verily, you have committed a dreadful thing.” He (Khidr) said: “Did I not tell you, that you would not be able to have patience with me?” (18:71-72) Musa (as) requested to excuse his actions, as he had forgotten.
“Then they both proceeded, till they met a boy, he (Khidr) killed him. Musa said: ‘Have you killed an innocent person who had killed none? Verily, you have committed a dreadful thing! (Khidr) said: ‘Did I not tell you that you can have no patience with me?’” (Al-Kahf 18:74) It is mentioned in the Hadeeth (Bukhari) that the boy was playing with the other children, and the father loved him dearly because of his cuteness and innocence. However, Khidr said: “Did I not tell you that you can have no patience with me?” (18:75) Musa (as) said, out of mortification: “If I ask you anything after this, keep me not in your company, you have received an excuse from me.” (18:76)
When they came to the people of a town, they asked them for food, but the people refused to entertain them. There they found a wall on the point of collapsing. Khidr repaired it with his own hands. Musa (as) said: “If you had wished, surely, you could have taken wages for it!” (18:77) At this point, Khidr ended the lesson and revealed the real interpretation of those situations which were not apparent to Prophet Musa (as).
“As for the ship, it belonged to Masakin (poor people) working in the sea. So, I wished to make a defective damage in it, as there was a king after them, who seized every ship by force” (18:79) The poor had struggled to build a ship and use it to their advantage for earning their daily living, but there was a tyrant king at sea who would forcefully take away ships. A defect would prevent him from taking it. The lesson learnt is that in order to prevent a larger fault from taking place, it is better to have a smaller fault.
“And as for the boy, his parents were believers, and we feared lest he should oppress them by rebellion and disbelief. So, we intended that their Lord should change him for them for one better in righteousness and near to mercy.” (18:80-81) As the father loved his child dearly, there was a high possibility that the parents would have lost their faith, and nothing is more damaging than losing Iman as it is the question of their survival in the Hereafter. This incident is emotionally a great assistance to parents, who lose their child at any age, because Allah (swt) is All-Knowing, All-Wise, which informs us that He is aware of what is best for His slaves and compensates something better for their loss.
“And as for the wall, it belonged to two orphan boys in the town; and there was under it a treasure belonging to them; and their father was a righteous man, and your Lord intended that they should attain their age of full strength and take out their treasure as a mercy from your Lord” (18:82) Here, the message is that righteousness will always be compensated in this life and/or the next. In the process of attaining righteousness, we should not fear about the lives of our loved ones, as Allah (swt) is the Nurturer and will always protect those who have obeyed Him. Therefore, we should trust Him and this, in and of itself, is a Mercy. The orphans had no father to care for them, but Allah(swt) was watching and always took the responsibility in protecting the children’s resources.
“And I (Khidr) did it not of my own accord. That is the interpretation of those (things), over which you could not hold patience.” (18:82) Meaning that it was Allah’s (swt) will, which was taking place throughout these incidents. The concluding remarks indicate that since Musa (as) was unable to grasp the holistic interpretation of the situation, he became impatient.
One point about the reason for impatience needs to be understood. When there is knowledge, but no experience based on it, then judgements are passed and thus there is less restraint. Musa (as) had knowledge, but he was not experienced about the unseen reality. He was unable to encircle Khidr’s point of view whilst reacting.
How does this help the Muslims of the twenty-first century? We are all going through personal and global battles. In this age of confusion, everyone is questioning the validity of Islam based on certain conflicts taking place, which result in comments throughout the news and social media. People nowadays easily pass judgements based on their limited knowledge and experience.
In such a test, Muslims often get confused, as to what to believe and how to respond. However, based on Musa’s (as) story, a two-eyed Muslim will understand that Allah’s (swt) grand plan is being executed, which they can never fully encompass, as our knowledge is equivalent to a drop of water in a sparrow’s beak. Allah (swt) must take this world to a certain place in time through geo-political social changes, and the history of humans is a proof in itself. We would not be in the age of technology, if it were not for some major events in human history that have already occurred.
When we ask ‘why?’, our intention is not to find a logical answer. In truth, we do not accept the changes taking place and therefore through this question we look for someone to blame, which unfortunately ends with Allah (swt). Thus, we get frustrated and doubt our religion, because there is no trust upon the All-Knowing, the All-Wise.
The irony is we believe that blaming someone and pouring our anger upon them will give us closure, which is far from the truth, because the events have already happened. There is no undoing. We are trapped in this cycle of frustration, until it consumes us. For a two-eyed person, the question is not ‘why?’ but ‘what now?’. As there is a lack of knowledge and experience in how Allah (swt) governs the world, a two-eyed person investigates the facts of the incident to know the truth, accepts it with no judgements, and becomes proactive, with the help of Allah (swt), to get through the challenges. Such a person implores guidance from Allah (swt) in every positive and negative event on what to do next and how to handle it. All this is mercy from Allah (swt) that He responds to those who seek good in their lives.
However, some may say that corruption may be justifiable as it may contribute towards a better outcome. No, wrongdoing will never be given credence, because it will lead towards destruction. Some offenses may need to be carried out for the greater good, for example, there is a saying: “At times decisions are made between two wrongs, so you have to choose which one is less wrong.” Still the outcome must be good and non-destructive, because humans use this as an excuse to commit sins. Since a two-eyed person is aware of their lack of understanding at every step of the way, they ask Allah (swt) for help, are patient, and have no doubts about His decision – after all, He is the Creator and King of the Alameen (humankind, jinn and all that exists).