Q. What is the wisdom behind the calamities that befall people?
A. Praise be to Allah.
Yes, there is great wisdom behind calamities, including the following:
1. Attaining True Submission and Servitude (‘Uboodiyyah) to Allah
Many people are slaves to their whims and desires and are not true slaves of Allah. They say that they are slaves of Allah, but when they are tested they turn on their heels and lose out in this world and in the Hereafter, and that is an evident loss. Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala says,
“And of the people is he who worships Allah on an edge. If he is touched by good, he is reassured by it; but if he is struck by trial, he turns on his face [to the other direction]. He has lost [this] world and the Hereafter. That is what is the manifest loss.” [Qur’an 22:11]
2. Preparation to Prevail on Earth
It was said to Imam al-Shaafa’i (may Allaah have mercy on him), “Which is better, patience or tests or prevailing?” He said, “Prevailing is the level attained by the Prophets, and there can be no prevailing except after trials. If a person is tried he will become patient, and if he remains patient he will prevail.”
3. Expiation of Sins
Abu Huraira radhiAllahu `anhu said the Prophet sallAllahu `alayhi wa sallam said, “Trials will continue to befall the believing man or woman in himself, his child and his wealth until he meets Allah with no sin on him.” [Narrated by al-Tirmidhi (2399), classed as saheeh by al-Albaani in al-Silsilah al-Saheehah, 2280]
It was narrated that Anas radhiAllahu `anhu said the Messenger of Allah sallAllahu `alayhi wa sallam said, “When Allah wills good for His slave, He hastens the punishment for him in this world, and when Allah wills ill for His slave, he withholds the punishment for his sins from him his sin until he comes with all his sins on the Day of Resurrection.” [Narrated by al-Tirmidhi (2396); classed as saheeh by al-Albaani in al-Silsilah al-Saheehah (1220)]
4. Attainment of Reward and a Rise in Status
‘Aa’ishah radhiAllahu `anha said the Messenger of Allah sallAllahu `alayhi wa sallam said, “The believer is not harmed by a thorn or anything greater, but Allah will raise him in status thereby, or erase a sin thereby.” [Saheeh Muslim 2572]
Calamities provide an opportunity to think about one’s faults and shortcomings and past mistakes. Because if it is a punishment, what was the sin?
6. A Lesson in Tawheed, Faith and Trust in Allah
It shows us in a practical sense what we really are, we you will realize that we are a weak slave, and we have no strength and no power except with our Lord, then we will put our trust in Him in a true sense, and will turn to Him in a true sense, and put aside our position, pride, arrogance, self-admiration and heedlessness, and we will understand that we are poor and in need of our Lord, and we are weak and need to turn to the Most Strong, the Almighty, may He be glorified.
Ibn al-Qayyim said,
“Were it not that Allah treats His slaves with the remedy of trials and calamities, they would transgress and overstep the mark. When Allah wills good for His slaves, He gives him the medicine of calamities and trials according to his situation, so as to cure him from all fatal illnesses and diseases, until He purifies and cleanses him, and then makes him qualified for the most honorable position in this world, which is that of being a true slave of Allah (‘uboodiyyah), and for the greatest reward in the Hereafter, which is that of seeing Him and being close to Him.” [Zaad al-Ma’aad, 4/195]
7. Driving Out Self-Admiration and Getting Closer to Allah
Ibn Hajr said Yoonus ibn Bukayr narrated in Ziyaadaat al-Maghaazi that al-Rabee’ ibn Anas said: A man said on the day of Hunayn: “We will never be defeated today for lack of numbers.” That upset the Prophet sallAllahu `alayhi wa sallam and then they were defeated.
Ibn al-Qayyim said in Zaad al-Ma’aad (3/477), “In His wisdom, Allah decreed that the Muslims should first taste the bitterness of defeat, despite their great numbers and adequate equipment and strength, so as to humble some people who felt proud as a result of the conquest of Makkah and who had not entered His land and His sanctuary as the Messenger of Allah sallAllahu `alayhi wa sallam had entered it, bending his head whilst riding his horse to the extent that his chin almost touched the saddle, out of humbleness before his Lord.”
Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala says,
“And that Allah may purify the believers [through trials] and destroy the disbelievers.” [Qur’an 3:141]
al-Qaasimi (4/239) said, “…i.e., to cleanse them and purify them of sin and of pride and arrogance. He also cleanses them of the hypocrites, and make them stand out distinct from them… then He mentions another reason, which is “to destroy the disbelievers”, for if they prevail they will transgress and overstep the mark, which will be the cause of their downfall and destruction. The laws of Allah dictate that when He wants to destroy His enemies and erase them, he makes available to them the means which will lead to their doom and eradication, among the greatest of which, after their kufr, is their transgression and tyranny in persecuting, opposing and fighting His close friends… Allah destroyed those who waged war against the Messenger of Allah sallAllahu `alayhi wa sallam on the day of Uhud and persisted in kufr.”
8. Demonstrating the True Nature of People
There are people whose virtue is unknown until calamity strikes.
al-Fudayl ibn ‘Iyaad said,
“As long as people are doing fine, their true nature is concealed, but when calamity strikes, their true natures are revealed, so the believer resorts to his faith and the hypocrite resorts to his hypocrisy.”
Al-Bayhaqi narrated in al-Dalaa’il that Abu Salamah said: Many people were confused – i.e., after the Isra’ – and some people came to Abu Bakr and told him. He said, “I bear witness that he is telling the truth.” They said, “Do you believe that he went to Syria in one night then came back to Makkah?” He said, “Yes, and I believe him in more than that, I believe what he says of the Revelation that comes to him from heaven.” And because of that he was named al-Siddeeq.
9. Strengthening People’s Resolve
Allah chose for His Prophet sallAllahu `alayhi wa sallam a hard life filled with all kinds of hardship from a young age, in order to prepare him for the great mission that awaited him, which none could bear but the strongest of men, who have gone through hardship and who are tested with calamities and bear them with patience.
The Prophet sallAllahu `alayhi wa sallam was born an orphan, then it was not long before his mother died too. Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala reminded the Prophet sallAllahu `aalyhi wa sallam of that when He said,
“Did He not find you an orphan and give [you] refuge?” [Qur’an 93:6]
It is as if Allah wanted to prepare the Prophet sallAllahu `alayhi wa sallam to bear responsibility and endure hardship from an early age.
10. True Friends and Friends are Distinguished
Another reason behind calamities and hardship is that a person becomes able to distinguish between true friends and friends who only have their own interests at heart.
11. A Reminder of Sins
Calamities remind us of our sins so that we can repent from them.
Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala says,
“What comes to you of good is from Allah, but what comes to you of evil, [O man], is from yourself.” [Qur’an 4:79]
“And whatever strikes you of disaster – it is for what your hands have earned; but He pardons much.” [Qur’an 42:30]
Calamities offer an opportunity to repent before the greater punishment comes on the Day of Resurrection. Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala says,
“And we will surely let them taste the nearer punishment (i.e. the torment in the life of this world, such as disasters, calamities) short of the greater punishment (the Hereafter) that perhaps they will repent.” [Qur’an 32:21]
The “nearer punishment” is hardship in this world and bad things that happen to a person.
If life continues to be easy, a person may become conceited and arrogant, and think that he has no need of Allah, so by His mercy He tests people so that they may return to Him.
12. Revelation of the True Nature of this World
Calamities show us the true nature of this world and its transience, and that it is temporary conveniences, and shows us that true life is that which is beyond this world, in a life in which there is no sickness or exhaustion.
“And indeed, the home of the Hereafter – that is the [eternal] life, if only they knew.” [Qur’an 29:64]
But this life is just hardship and exhaustion.
13. Reminder of Blessings
Calamities remind us of the great blessings of good health and ease. They show us in the clearest way the meaning of health and ease that we enjoyed for many years, but did not taste their sweetness or appreciate them fully.
Calamities remind us of blessings and the One Who bestows them, and cause us to thank and praise Allah for His blessings.
14. Longing for Paradise
We will never long for Paradise until we taste the bitterness of this world. How can we long for Paradise when we are content with this world?
This is some of the wisdom behind calamities, and the interests attained by them, and the wisdom of Allah is great indeed.
And Allah knows best.
– Published with slight modifications from Islam Q&A