Disasters and Wake-up Calls: The Sunnah of God on Earth

The most precious moments in history happened in the silence of solitude — where the world ceased to speak but the heart found its voice. 

The most precious moments in history happened in the silence of solitude — where the world ceased to speak but the heart found its voice. 

What no war could accomplish, a submicroscopic infectious being did. Perhaps it’s time to ponder. 

We are told to live everyday as though it’s our last. It begs the question, what wonders would we be capable of if we knew our time was limited? Sometimes it takes an essay deadline to remind us of that, and other times it takes a global pandemic. 

The reality we must face is that humans were created in struggle, grow and learn through struggle, achieve proximity to God in times of struggle, and navigate the journey called life with struggle. It’s never been any other way. 

لَقَدْ خَلَقْنَا الْإِنسَانَ فِي كَبَدٍ

“Verily We have created man into toil and hardship” (Quran, 90:4). 

Disasters bring out the inner depths of human nature that are otherwise hidden behind daily distractions, personal habits, and the relentless pursuit of comfort and convenience. Our routines change in the face of unexpected occurrences that challenge our very existence, moments that go against the plan. And somehow in the chaos of the unknown, they give rise to the best in us. We remove the barriers we’ve created for ourselves and explore our world with full consciousness. We think, we reason, and we ponder. 

Who am I, what am I here for, and where am I headed? 

Before we know it, we pick up that book, write that journal entry, make that new recipe, get that exercise in, spend that quality family time, pick up that Quran and blow the dust off, and think about that last time we connected with something…more. 

There’s one word that explains what we’re searching for in this newfound energy: purpose. Something worth living for. An avenue to reconnect with what really matters. A silver lining. 

The most precious moments in history happened in the silence of solitude — where the world ceased to speak but the heart found its voice. 

Prophet Yunus pleads to God in the solitude of the whale’s belly, seeking refuge in His mercy. The Quran recalls that moment: “And [mention] the man of the fish, when he went off in anger and thought that We would not decree [anything] upon him. And he called out within the darknesses, ‘There is no deity except You; exalted are You. Indeed, I have been of the wrongdoers.’ So We responded to him and saved him from the distress. And thus do We save the believers” (21:87-88). 

Prophet Musa spoke to God through the fire near Mount Tur and was given the status of Prophethood in the silence of the night. “So when he came to it, a voice was uttered: O Musa — Indeed I am your Lord, therefore remove your shoes; surely you are in the sacred valley of Tuwa. And I have chosen you, so listen to what is revealed: Indeed I am Allah, there is no deity but I, so worship Me and establish prayer for My remembrance” (20:11-14). 

The Holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) received his first revelation in the solitude of his supplications with God in the Cave of Hira and was appointed to Prophethood there. “Recite in the name of your Lord who created – Created man from a clinging substance. Recite and your Lord is the most Generous – Who taught by the pen – Taught man that which he knew not” (96: 1-5). 

And arguably one of the most precious links we have to God are the conversations Imam Sajjad (AS) had in the intimate solitude of His presence. Sahifa Sajjadiyya is a collection of the Imam’s supplications and whispered prayers, a testament to the unmatched beauty found in the silent company of God. 

“Though heedlessness has put to sleep my readiness to meet You, knowledge has awakened me to Your generosity. Though excessive disobedience and rebellion have estranged me from You, the glad tidings of forgiveness and good pleasure have made me feel intimate with You. I ask You by the splendors of Your face and the lights of Your holiness, and I implore You by the tenderness of Your mercy and the gentleness of Your goodness, to verify my opinion in expecting Your great generosity and Your beautiful favor, through nearness to You, proximity with You, and enjoyment of gazing upon You” — Sahifa Sajjadiyya, the Whispered Prayer of the Beseechers (مناجاة الراغبين). 

It was always from darkness that came the light. 

Perhaps these moments of trial are a gifted opportunity to revisit parts of our identity we are yet to explore. As paradoxical as it sounds, we don’t know who we are. While we define ourselves through our interests and personality types, we are so much more than that. And we have the potential to become so much more than that. 

“Everything in the universe is within you. Ask all from yourself” Rumi. 

Deadlines remind us of the inevitable end to a blissful state of distraction. Disasters remind us of the same, except this time it’s the end to a life we have not fully lived. Ask yourself today, and perhaps everyday starting from today, where you are headed and how close you are to that destination. If you left for another world today, would you be satisfied? And most importantly, would God be satisfied? 

We’re not here for a life of blissful ignorance. The notion of an uninterrupted sequence of days with no obstacles to rock our boat sounds mysteriously pleasing, even enticing. With just a little thought, however, we’ll feel repulsed by the prospect of it. We were created to find purpose in moments that defy our plans, challenge our perceptions, and send us in search of a life truly worth living. It’s quite the journey, and it comes with questions, doubts, and fears. 

But in the midst of the hardship, you will find ease.