Allah’s Power and Torment
In ayaat 63 and 64, we learnt that Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala alone can remove us from distress and whoever calls on Him while in difficulty shall find His help. While the previous ayaat talked about His Rahmah [mercy] in the present ayaat we study His punishments.
Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala says,
Identified here are three kinds of Divine punishment:
- That which comes from above,
- that which comes from beneath, and
- that which spreads out from within.
And there could be different sub-divisions and forms within these three kinds. We see examples of these punishments in the past communities.
Punishments from Above:
The people of Prophet Nuh [Noah] `alayhi salaam were punished with rain storm. The people of `Ad were punished with a wind storm. The people of Prophet Lut [Lot] `alayhi salaam were punished with the raining of stones. The Bani Isra`eel [Children of Israel] were punished with rain of blood and frogs. And Abraha [the Christian ruler of Yemen] and his army was pelted with pebbles by flights of birds reducing them to chaff chewed out.
Punishments from Below:
The people of Prophet Nuh who were already caught up in a punishment from above in the form of rain storm were punished from beneath as well. The ground under their feet expelled water from inside whereby they were gripped by two punishments at the same time. The people of Fir`awn [Pharaoh] were drowned in the punishment from beneath their feet. Qaroon [Korah] was swallowed by the earth along with his legendary treasures.
Commenting on the ayah `Abdullah ibn `Abbas and Mujahid said that the punishment from above means that cruel rulers and merciless officials come to rule over a people while the punishment from beneath means that one’s own subordinates and servants turn into traitors, idlers and thieves.
Some other examples of punishment from above and below are earthquakes, landslides, snowstorm, hurricane, tornados, cyclones, volcanic eruptions, soil erosion and flooding.
The third type of punishment stated in the ayah is “confusion so that we become divided into groups” as denoted by the word yalbisakum shiya`an [يَلْبِسَكُمْ شِيَعاً] . The word yalbisakum is from the root letters lam-ba-seen [labasa] which means “to mix something such that it becomes jumbled up and cannot be separated”. The word shiya`an is the plural of Shia and literally it means “a group of people or a sect”.
This means that it is part of Allah’s punishment that He confuses two groups of people and creates differences between them. Sometimes we see this in the same family. One family cannot sit together and joyfully spend a day like Eid. We see a tug of war between siblings and spouses. When we are divided and in a state of confusion we should do astaghfar and pray to Him in the following way: “Allahumma aranee al-haqqu haqqan wa arzuqnee itiba’ahu, wa aranee al-baatilu baatilan wa arzuqnee ijtinaaba [O Allah, show me the truth as the truth, and enable me to follow it. O Allah, show me show me falsehood as falsehood and enable me to stay away from it and do not let it confuse me, so that I become misguided].
Further explaining the third type of punishment Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala says, “…and make you taste the violence of one another…” meaning that in the state of confusion and division people reach such a stage of animosity and hatred where they become violent towards one another. We can see this in our daily lives. People slandering and abusing one another; eating up others’ rights; one religious group throws bombs in another’s masjid; the other group kills the people of first group and so on. While people go on asserting it’s a conspiracy against them, in the light of this ayah they should understand that it is not a conspiracy against us but a “punishment” from Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala.
Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala ends the ayah by saying that this is how He diversifies meaning clarifies His ayaat so that we may understand.
Imam Ahmad recorded that Sa`d bin Abi Waqqas said, We accompanied the Messenger of Allah sallAllahu `alayhi wa sallam and passed by the Masjid of Bani Mu`awiyah. The Prophet went in and offered a two Rak`ah prayer, and we prayed behind him. He supplicated to his Lord for a long time and then said,
سَأَلْتُ رَبِّي ثَلَاثًا: سَأَلْتُهُ أَنْ لَا يُهْلِكَ أُمَّتِي بِالْغَرَقِ فَأَعْطَانِيهَا، وَسَأَلْتُهُ أَنْ لَا يُهْلِكَ أُمَّتِي بِالسَّنَةِ فَأَعْطَانِيهَا، وَسَأَلْتُهُ أَنْ لَا يَجْعَلَ بَأْسَهُمْ بَيْنَهُمْ فَمَنَعَنِيهَا
“I asked my Lord for three: I asked Him not to destroy my Ummah (Muslims) by drowning and He gave that to me. I asked Him not to destroy my Ummah by famine and He gave that to me. And I asked Him not to make them taste the violence of one another, but He did not give that to me.” [Saheeh Muslim, the Book of Trials]
– After a calamity passes away we should not think now we will never be afflicted again. Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala can afflict us any time. Therefore, we should remain humble at all times and seek His forgiveness.
– Allah’s punishment can be tangible as well as intangible. Tangible punishment is any physical punishment that we’re harmed with. In the intangible sense it can be someone who is above us and oppresses us or is unkind to us.
– Disunity in the family where the husband says something else and the wife says the opposite; where the children are disrespectful to their parents or where the parents are negligent towards their children; where we work under a tyrant boss or where our subordinates cheat us; where the society or the Ummah is divided between various sects and groups leaving one confused which path to follow is a form of punishment of Allah. All of this might be a consequence of our own deeds therefore we should seek His refuge.
– When people don’t get along they should increase in their astaghfar: La ilaha illa Anta, Subhanaka, innee kuntu mina th-thalimeen [There is no deity except You; exalted are You. Indeed, I have been of the wrongdoers.] [21:87]
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