Reflections on the Turkish earthquake, 1999
[Text from a lecture given at the “From Mekka to Madina” Conference, London, 28th August 1999]
In Surat al-Furqan, Allah tells us:
‘The Messenger said: My Lord, my people have taken this Qur’an as something abandoned.’
Perhaps this could be the epitaph of the traditional Islamic world. Many Muslims still adhere to aspects of the Qur’anic message; but there seem to be whole sections of the revelation which we read, formally, but fail to digest.
A little later in the same sura we come to one of these forgotten Qur’anic themes. The text reads:
‘And We gave Musa the book, and appointed with him his brother Harun as a supporter. Then We said: Go together unto the people who have denied Our signs. Then We destroyed them, with a destruction that was complete.’
‘And Nuh’s people, when they denied the Messengers; We drowned them, and made of them a sign for mankind. We have prepared a painful punishment for those who work injustice.’
‘And the tribes of Ad, and Thamud, and the dwellers of al-Rass, and many generations in between.’
‘To each of them We coined parables; and each of them We destroyed without a trace.’
We have read these verses many times. And we know that they were addressed, the first time they were heard on earth, to the heathen of Quraysh, as a warning. Earlier nations who had denied God’s signs were swept away by His punishment. If they persisted in denying sayyidina Muhammad (s) they were opening themselves up to the same possibility.
Allah has names of Beauty: the Compassionate, the Merciful, the Gentle, and many others. But He also has Names of Rigour: the Overwhelming, the Just, the Avenger. The world in which we live exists as the interaction and the manifestation of all of the divine attributes. Hence it is a place of ease and of hardship, of joy and of sorrow. It has to be this way: a world in which there was only ease could not be a place in which we can discover ourselves to be true human beings. It is only by experiencing hardship, and loss, and bereavement, and disease, that we rise above our egos, and show that we can live for others, and for principles, rather than only for ourselves.
A feature of this world, this dunya, is therefore the existence of catastrophe. Sometimes this catastrophe takes the form of a test: in which case it may be a gift. At other times, however, it may take the form of a punishment. The dunya is, as the athar states, ‘the prison of the believer, and the paradise of the kafir.’ But sometimes Allah’s anger at the repeated and scornful denial of His signs can lead to a sudden snatching away of the delights of this world.
One of the early Muslims said:
‘Know that when one of Allah’s servants sins against Him, He deals with him leniently. Should he sin again, He conceals this for him. But should he don its garments, then Allah conceives against him such wrath as the very heavens and the earth could not compass, neither the mountains, the trees, nor the animals; what man could then withstand such wrath?’ One of the purposes of the Qur’an is to explain to us the risks involved in rejecting the will of Allah. If we obey our Creator, and respect His attributes, and emulate those attributes to the extent and in the way that is appropriate for us, we become like Adam and Hawwa, upon them be peace. We are restored to the fitra, to the primordial norm of our species. And we gain our designed place as Allah’s khalifas over the natural order.
However, if we turn our backs on the source of our being, if we face the blackness of space rather than the sun, if we reject infinite unity and prefer infinite multiplicity, we have become anti-khalifas; or rather, we have become the khalifas of Iblis, not of Allah. We acquire the attributes of Iblis: so that like him we become deceivers, liars, cowards, lovers of dirt and impurity, cynical advocates of empty pleasures.
To reject our God-given status as khulafa of our Maker, and to accept a position as khulafa of Iblis, alayhi’l-la‘na, is hence to deny our own humanity. We share in his primordial sin: like him, we refuse to acknowledge Adam, that luminous saint before whom even the angels must bow down. Instead, we prostrate ourselves before our own whims, our own desires, our own all-too-fallible judgements. A-ra’ayta man ittakhada ilahahu hawah, says the Qur’an:
‘have you seen the one who takes his own passions to be his god?’
Violating the normality of our kind is a crime against the one who designed that normality, and a denial of His wisdom and artistry. And this violation can also render us vulnerable to the inherently rigorous forces of nature.
It is of God’s mercy, and a proof of His providence, that any life can exist at all. Were our planet to be a little further from the sun, or a little closer, it would be uninhabitable. Were the sun’s rays to be of a slightly different composition, they would be lethal. Were our planet a little bit smaller, it could not retain the atmosphere necessary to preserve life. If it were bigger, the force of gravity would ensure that the atmosphere would include not only oxygen, carbon dioxide and nitrogen, but also heavier, poisonous gases, like ammonia. The small size of the planet allows these gases to escape.
The laws of physics themselves disclose what scientists can only refer to as fine-tuning. One astrophysicist, Paul Davies, has calculated that so finely balanced is the force of gravity against electromagnetic energy that an adjustment of only one part in 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 would ‘spell catastrophe for stars like the sun.’ Reflecting on the relative strengths of physical forces in the cosmos, Stephen Hawking, perhaps the most famous physicist of our time, has pointed out ‘the remarkable fact that the values of these numbers seem to have been very finely adjusted to make possible the development of life.’
In fact, the Qur’an tell us that ‘in the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the succession of night and day, are signs for those who possess an inner core.’ We gaped in astonishment recently at just one of these signs: the total eclipse of the sun that was visible in Cornwall. Few secular commentators remarked upon the inherent strangeness of the eclipse phenomenon: on only one planet in our solar system can one see the sun and the moon – or a moon – as being of exactly equal size. And that planet is our own. Clearly, as the hadith indicate, an eclipse is a tremendous sign of God, which appeals to our intuition, to tell us that the universe itself exists to provide us with signs – reminders – of the Creator’s glory, which awaken our spirits from distraction.
The marvellous constancy of this creation, however, which makes human life possible, exists on a condition. The house is well-maintained by the landlord on condition that the tenant pays the rent. And the only rent that our own, generous, Landlord asks for is that we acknowledge and thank Him. And He only asks us for this for our own benefit. He is al-Nafi‘ and al-Darr, the source of benefit and of harm; we can neither benefit nor harm Him. He is al-Ghani: the Independent.
It’s a good deal; and how could one expect anything else from the Lord of the Worlds? All we have to do is to thank Him; and in our own, Islamic covenant, we have a formal way of doing this five times a day. When we fail to do this, our hearts are dirtied, we are in a state of imbalance, and we open ourselves up to calamity.
A number of hadiths indicate ways in which specific forms of the rejection of Allah’s providence can make us vulnerable to breakdowns in the system of protection which Allah has built into the cosmos. One of these, whose applicability has become painfully obvious in the last two decades, is narrated by Imam Malik, and refers to the consequences of the rejection of normal, Sunna practices of marriage and reproduction:
‘Never does sexual immorality appear among a people, to the extent that they make it public, without there appearing amongst them plagues and agonies unknown to their forefathers.’
With perhaps a hundred thousand people in the United Kingdom carrying the HIV virus, an infection with particularly hideous consequences, the warning could not be more clear. It is not that AIDS is a punishment for consuming drugs or for sex outside marriage: that is too crude a view. Instead, the hadith indicates that the Sunna is a protection for our kind, which preserves us from breakdowns in the body’s defence systems. And any student of medicine will be aware of the extraordinary complexity of the human immune system: the titanic battles fought between pathogens and antibodies throughout our lives, in every cell of our bodies. To the extent that we deny the Sunna, we unbalance that system, and catastrophe follows.
Individual human beings can open themselves up to tragedy in this way. Sometimes, when misfortune strikes, it is not easy to see whether it is a trial from Allah, or a chastisement, or simply the consequence of violating the natural way which is the Sunna. Sometimes it is a combination of these things. But it is not only individuals to whom calamities may come. Whole human collectivities are also at risk.
Much of the recent history of the Umma can be understood as the simple consequence of ghafla – of heedlessness of Allah ta‘ala. The Ottoman empire, for instance, is a good example. By Allah’s decree and permission, this state continued for an astonishing six hundred years or more, from 1280 until 1924. In fact, the Ottoman sultans were the longest-reigning of any significant dynasty in world history. No family, in China, India, Europe or anywhere else, ruled for so long. And the achievement is the more remarkable when we look at the size and the diversity of the empire. Many races, religions and languages were present; there was no obvious unifying criterion for all the sultan’s subjects; and yet the empire endured.
It is not difficult to see why Allah should have given the Ottoman state such success. The sultans always respected the ulema and the shuyukh: Sultan Mehmed, who liberated Constantinople from the Byzantine oppression, was the disciple of Ak Shamsuddin, himself of the lineage of Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani, radiya’Llahu anhu. With such men to pray for them, the early sultans could hardly be defeated in battle. Another factor in Ottoman success was the insistence of the Ottoman ulema on tolerating differences of opinions among Muslims. All classical writers on Muslim political theory have taken to heart Imam al-Ghazali’s insistence that the Muslims are never served by attempts to impose one narrow definition of the faith on everyone else. That kind of totalitarian approach results only in hatred and civil war, bringing misery and weakness to the Muslim community.
The Ottoman demise resulted not from the adoption of a narrow definition of Islam that set Muslim against Muslim, but from a thoughtless Westernisation among the ruling classes. Adopting the materialism of Western Europe, the Ottoman nobility and middle classes began to abandon the Sunna. The turban began to disappear, followed by the remainder of Muslim dress. Houses began to be designed to bring the sexes together, rather than to separate them. The mosques in rich sections of town emptied, except on Fridays. And the high men of the state, with some exceptions, were increasingly reluctant to ask the great ulema for their prayers.
The Ottoman empire ended, effectively, with the First World War. Sultan Abd al-Hamid had been overthrown by a Westernising clique which then decided to bring the empire into the war which ended in its dismemberment. If the Ottomans had remained loyal to the Sunna, and hence avoided injustice, bribery, and weakness on the field of battle, the Ottoman state would in all probability be in existence today, and its model of an Islam which tolerates diversity would still prevail, instead of the nervous, intolerant little groups which fill the Islamic scene today.
The principle which underlies all this is not controversial among Muslims. If we forget Allah, He will forget us: ‘forget us’ in the sense of not protecting us from misfortune. The world, where it is not held in order by the hand of Allah, is pure chaos; and in such chaos human beings cannot survive for an instant. They are suddenly overwhelmed by plagues, like the plagues of Egypt, or by poisonous winds, or floods.
On 16 September 1999, Dr Klaus Topfer, head of the UN Environment Programme, announced that ‘indications are that it is too late to prevent global warming.’ The steady increase in hurricanes, in particular, is a sign that the international protocols on greenhouse gas emission are not adequate, even where they are obeyed. Topfer’s gloomy predictions are now generally shared: the world environment is ruined, and will deteriorate further even in the unlikely event that Californians stop driving cars, or China closes its power stations.
The current crisis in the world’s environment is, of course, only to be understood religiously. Global warming, depletion of the rainforests, the failure of the monsoon, hormone pollution, male sterility, acid rain, BSE, desertification, and a myriad of other planet-threatening calamities can be easily explained, from our perspective as Muslims, as the consequences of not paying the rent. We are taking more from the world than ever before, greedily digging up its most inaccessible resources, sucking up oil from under the North Sea and the Alaskan tundra, mining uranium from deserts in Namibia, squeezing iron ore from inaccessible corners of Mauretania: the sheer quantity of Allah’s bounty should astonish us. And yet the more we gobble it up, the less we thank the source of these resources. When an oil well is finally depleted, humanity does not burp, and say, ‘Al-hamdu li’llah.’
We are not paying the rent, and so the Landlord, subhanahu wa-ta‘ala, sees no reason to maintain the property. Why should He? Out of His astonishing mercy, he keeps oxygen in the air, and fresh water in the rivers, so that the earth supports six billion people, and comparatively few starve. But as we guzzle more, and reflect less, this generosity cannot go on forever. The signs of decay in the world’s environment are already giving concern to the materialistic superpowers: not because they deeply care about being good gardeners in God’s creation, but because the only thing they really care about – the economy – may in the longer term be at risk.
From what I have said, it should be clear that Allah’s rahma does not exclude the possibility of calamities on earth. As the Qur’an says,kataba ala nafsihi ’r-Rahma: He has prescribed rahma upon Himself. However, although the Rahman is in a sense first among the divine qualities, there are others; and one of these is al-Adl, the Just, while another is al-Muntaqim, the Avenger.
Recently in Turkey we witnessed a calamity which we have to regard as a manifestation of this divine name. Perhaps forty thousand died. Others may still die, as the secular Turkish state struggles pathetically to provide shelter and medical care for two hundred thousand homeless who are now at risk from cholera and typhoid, thanks to the strange, unseasonable rain and miserable weather which have followed the quake.
It is a terrible thing. Imam Musa Memis, one of the heroes of the relief work, is an imam from the afflicted region. He estimates that he and his team of imams have buried over twenty thousand people. And still the trucks come rumbling in, filled with mangled remains chiselled from the ruins by the rescue teams.
If you drive now from the southern suburbs of Istanbul, towards Adapazari and Izmit, seventy miles away, you will not see a single modern house or block of flats left standing. The hand of God has swept all away.
Secular explanations are of course easily at hand. Northwest Turkey has always been an earthquake zone. However, secularists, who in Turkey are many and virulent, have to acknowledge one thing. In Ottoman times, earthquakes claimed comparatively few lives. This was for a very simple reason. The Ottomans belonged to the land: they knew it, including its occasional tendency to thrash about, and they built for it.
Those who have visited Sarajevo, or Mostar, or the other cities of Bosnia tortured by months of bombardment, may have noticed a remarkable thing. Modern buildings made of prestressed concrete need only a tap with a mortar shell to bring them down like a pack of cards. But the Ottoman buildings are astoundingly resilient. A large-calibre artillery shell can go through a dome, or clean through one of those pencil-thin minarets, and the structure remains absolutely sound. So the Serbs poured more than 150,000 shells on Sarajevo, and almost all of the mosques of the old city are still serviceable. But walk out of the old town and into the modern quarter, and there is absolute devastation, stretching like a concrete sea in all directions. No-one lives there now, except the rats.
The Turks knew how to build: for a reason. They came from a country prone to earthquakes. Their buildings are incredibly strong. During the 1961 earthquake which flattened the Macedonian capital of Skopje, killing 20,000 people, observers watched with astonishment as the minarets, seemingly the flimsiest buildings in the world, danced and undulated like snakes, and then settled down again, pointing to the heavens, while the rest of the city, built under Tito, collapsed with a roar.
In 1878, when the Russian army occupied the cities of Bulgaria, they experienced enormous difficulties in demolishing the mosques. In Sofia, the capital, they had to wait until there was a midnight thunderstorm, and then they detonated giant charges of dynamite in the mosques to bring them down. The local people mistook the sound for thunder, and did not come out to defend their mosques until, for the first time in five centuries, they failed to hear the adhan for fajr.
In Turkey itself, today, the newest structures have proved the most flimsy. The ancient buildings are generally safe and sound. The Orhan Ghazi mosque in Izmid, dating from the early fourteenth century, is apparently largely unscathed. The traditional wooden houses are virtually all safe, and those who lived in them are still alive. I was once myself in an earthquake in Turkey, just thirty miles from Izmit. But I was in an old Ottoman house: the house groaned and squeaked for a minute, but it was quite unharmed.
There is, then, a secular culprit. Or rather, a class of them. They are those Turkish city planners who, following the destruction of the Ottoman caliphate, insisted on changing the face of Turkey. Just as it was a criminal offence in Ataturk’s Turkey to wear a turban, so also the state insisted on the abandonment of traditional Turkish building methods. They had to be replaced by European, specifically German norms. Hence those rows of dismal, grey buildings in modern Turkish cities which have nothing to do with Turkey. Their spiritual and engineering roots are in Germany: and Germany is not in an earthquake zone.
The Ottomans, a proud Islamic people who believed in their own traditions, insisted on architecture which could survive an earthquake which might not come for a hundred years. The modern secular Turk, however, thinks only for the moment. Not only does he not give a thought to the eternity which is beyond death: he fails to think about the world his descendents might inhabit, or the safety of his own children. He thinks of image: of the pathetic delight of making his cities look more European, and he thinks of profit. No longer do most Turks live in extended houses, with gardens, in the delightful surroundings which so impressed nineteenth-century visitors to Turkey. They are cramped together in grey, gardenless flats. And they are no longer even safe.
So we can say that there is human responsibility here. The rulers of the region in a sense brought this down on their own people’s heads. Their greed for profit, and their silly desire to ape the West, massively worsened the impact of this tragedy.
Yet as Muslims we would insist that there is something deeper at work. Nothing occurs in the world, not even a leaf dropping from a tree, that Allah is not fully aware of, and that He has not decreed. And His decrees have meaning.
What was it that that man of the Salaf said?
‘Know that when one of Allah’s servants sins against Him, He deals with him leniently. Should he sin again, He conceals this for him. But should he don its garments, then Allah conceives against him such wrath as the very heavens and the earth could not compass, neither the mountains, the trees, nor the animals; what man could then withstand such wrath?’
The earthquake was a test, no doubt. But it was also a fearsome expression of the Divine name al-Muntaqim, the Avenger. The same name under which the divine action confronted Fir‘awn, and the peoples of Ad, Thamud, Madyan and ar-Rass.
The people of that corner of Turkey had, as the athar puts it, donned the garments of sin. Izmit, forty years ago a beautiful, sleepy town of believers, had become a grimy, greedy industrial city where the beer consumption was higher than almost anywhere in Europe. The lottery, the piyango, is a curse upon Turkish society, encouraging the idea that one can get rich without work. But in that corner of the country it was more popular than anywhere else. Pornography was rife. I was once on a bus outside Yalova, the now totally destroyed coastal city, and the bus driver seemed to spend the entire journey watching the video player, which had been located specifically to enable to driver to watch. And what was being shown was hard-core pornography! To a busfull of normal travellers, including women and children. I saw one man look rather amused by it, but no-one seemed shocked.
The coastline was filled with casinos, bars, and discos, where one could spend one’s entire life, and several fortunes, in total self-indulgence. Formerly one could swim, in predictably mixed beaches, but few now dare since the sea of Marmara has become one of the most lethally polluted bodies of water in the world. The mosques are empty, except for Jum‘a prayers. Most of the population, in short, is in a frenzy for the dunya. The sense of serenity and hospitality, and sheer simple happiness, which was once normal among Muslim Turks, has almost vanished. Greed, selfishness, and misery are the norm.
In the mosques around that fault line there was nobody on his knees praying for protection. But in the larger society there was also much that was rotten, and that openly defied Allah subhanahu wa-ta‘ala.
Last year the military sacked a duly-elected Islamic government. The Western media, of course, supposedly so loud in its defence of democracy, hardly raised a squeak of protest. More recently, the excellent schools and humanitarian organisations of the scholar Fethullah Gülen have been subject to intolerable official pressure. Laws against the wearing of hijab in universities and government offices are being strictly enforced. Throughout the country, Islam, however moderate and gentle, is being subjected to what we can only describe as persecution. The country is turned viciously against itself: it is committing cultural suicide.
Even secular Turks acknowledge that the Islamic groups are the only remaining repository of honesty left in the country. Municipalities controlled by the Muslims, such as Konya, Urfa and Istanbul itself, have been cleansed of bribery, sleaze, and laziness. In Turkey, the Islamic political experiment, which seeks, after all, no more than the revival of the country’s indigenous values, has been morally vindicated in every area in which it has been allowed to operate. But the response of the secular elite has been predictably crude: arrests, suppression of newspapers, the banning of political parties.
We may speculate that the long-term consequence will be the emergence of extremism. Turkish Islam at present is not extreme. In Turkey, it is secularity that is extreme. Just take the example of the Kurds. Under the Islamic order, the Kurds were peacefully tolerated as fellow-Muslims. Under the Turkish nationalist order, the Kurds find their position unbearable.
So to advocate Islamisation in Turkey is to oppose extremism. It is also to oppose levels of corruption that now stink unbearably.
In any case, it is to my mind no coincidence that the earthquake struck when and where it did. It wiped out Turkey’s secular heartland. And it took place following monstrous, demonic moves for the further persecution of religion and the denial of basic Muslim rights.
Let me repeat what I have been saying. It is too crude a view to regard a tragedy such as this earthquake as a straightforward divine punishment. The Islamic view is more subtle. We believe that the overwhelming forces of nature are only kept in check by Allah. Without His providence, our pathetic bodies would survive not for one instant amid the titanic powers of the universe.
But when we forget His providence, we become vulnerable. We are, as the people of Izmit discovered, on shaky ground.
Abu Hurayra radiya’Llahu anhu said:
The Prophet, salla’Llahu alayhi wa-sallam said: ‘The Hour shall not come until knowledge is taken away, and earthquakes become common, and time is always too short, and trials appear, and killing is widespread, and until wealth becomes so abundant that it is superfluous.’ (Bukhari)
We are all vulnerable. Particularly in these times. This is an age of forgetfulness and sadness, and we need remembrance and joy. Wa-man a‘rada an dhikri fa-inna lahu ma‘ishatan danka , the Qur’an says: ‘whoever turns aside from remembering Me, he shall have a miserable life’. The modern world claims to progress: but people have longer faces than ever before. Antidepressant drugs have never been more widely prescribed. 17 percent of British women attempt suicide by the age of 25. We work longer hours than ever before; and our home lives and our marriages have never been under such pressure.
Modernity serves only the idol of money: it does not serve human beings. We have turned away from the unitive Source, towards the rubble at the edges of existence: and we are sad. We are hungry. We know that we need what all human beings have always needed: the remembrance of Allah. And yet the modern world tells us that that is nowhere on the list of priorities.
We have forgotten, so we have been forgotten. The modern world is fast asleep, troubled by dreams of material pleasures that somehow are not really pleasurable.
When we forget who we are, so radically, the protection begins to be withdrawn, and we are at the mercy of the material world, which we now trust and love more than we trust and love God. And the people of Turkey have learnt how much the material world, the earth, can help us, when we forget to acknowledge its divine source. And when we forget to give thanks for it.
In Surat al-Mulk we are told, patiently:
‘Are you confident that He who is in heaven will not cause the earth to cave in beneath you and to be swallowed up by it as it shakes?
Or are you confident that He who is in heaven will not loose against you a whirlwind? You will before long known how was My warning.’
So the conclusion is inescapable. We who are not paying the rent for our planet are now paying heavy fines instead.
But the Landlord is merciful.
His mercy is expressed, despite our waywardness, in so many ways. There is the hadith, for instance, that states that whoever dies tahta al-radm, under fallen masonry, is a shaheed, a martyr. So those who have died so horribly in Turkey can be considered shuhada. Many ulema there have confirmed this judgement.
Another expression of His mercy is that in the next life, those who acknowledged Him shall know no more earthquakes. A hadith in Abu Daud says:
‘This my Umma is an Umma which receives mercy: for it has no punishment in the akhira. Its punishment is in this dunya: strife, earthquakes, and killing.’
The Landlord is merciful. Through the signs which He sets up in creation: eclipses, earthquakes, tornadoes, blue skies: He reminds us patiently of His glory. And of our origin and return.
Allah subhanahu wa ta‘ala is qabil al-tawb: the acceptor of penitence. Innahu kana bi’l-awwabina ghafura: He is ever Forgiving of those who turn to Him. Faced with the evidence of His overpowering might, and of His power to remove His protection from the violence of nature, our hearts tremble. And in this there lies our hope. Allah himself says, in a Hadith Qudsi: ‘Son of Adam! So long as you call upon Me and ask of Me, I shall forgive you for what you have done, and I shall not mind. Son of Adam! were your sins to reach the clouds of the sky and were you then to ask forgiveness of Me, I would forgive you. Son of Adam! Were you to come to Me with sins nearly as great as the earth and were you then to face Me, ascribing no partner to Me, I would bring you forgiveness like unto it.’ [Tirmidhi] The divine name al-Hafiz, the Protector, is the one we seek refuge in against the name al-Muntaqim, the Avenger. This is the meaning of the Prophetic du‘a –A‘udhu bika mink: ‘I seek Your protection from You.’
A man once came to Ibn Mas‘ud, radiya’Llahu anh, and asked him: I have repeatedly committed a major sin – can there be any repentance for me? Ibn Mas‘ud turned away, and the man saw that his eyes had filled with tears. He said: ‘Paradise has eight gates, and each one of them is sometimes open and sometimes shut. With the exception of the Gate of Repentance, which is held open eternally by an angel who never leaves that place. So do not despair!’
One of the early Muslims used to say that ‘Repentance is like becoming a Muslim again.’
We need to find shelter in the Divine protection. And the road back to that place is called tawba. For the surviving people of Turkey, and for the world. We need to repent of our frenzied enthusiasm for the mechanical pleasures of today’s world. Watching the disgusting exhibitions of human egos on television while our neighbours are lonely is not the way of Muslims. A hadith tells us that the Muslim is not he who sleeps well-fed while his neighbour is hungry.
Life today, in places like secular Turkey no less than here, has become a kind of amble from one pleasure to the next. One collects pleasurable experiences, and then muses over them in retirement. And life is nothing else. This state of ghafla, of forgetfulness, is the source of every sin. And the first step in overcoming it has to be muhasaba.
Muhasaba is a term in the Sunna:
‘Call yourselves to account before you yourselves are called to account.’
And the ulema say that the first step in tawba is muhasaba. We need, as individuals and as societies, to stop gobbling for a moment, and to think about how we have recently spent our time. At the end of each day, to take a minute looking back, to see what we would rather forget. And when we see those things, the desire for tawba begins.
We ask Allah subhanahu ta‘ala to grant us the gift of tawba, for us here, and for all Muslims.
May He forgive us our weaknesses and our secret faults, and our laziness in serving Him.
May He grant us love and brotherhood for one another, and give us the blessing of common action against what threatens us all.
May He empty our hearts of suspicion and pride, and of the love of dispute, and unite us in the service of Islam and the Muslims.