The criminal will wish that he could be ransomed from the punishment of that Day by his children. And his wife and his brother, And his extended family who took care of him, and everyone on earth altogether, just to save themselves. [al Ma’arij 11-14]
This person would rather throw their closest people in this world in order to save themselves. This describes an extremely reactionary response to the shock of Judgement Day.
Then Allah(SWT) transitions by stating that mankind has been created reactionary in the first instance.
Indeed, humankind was created impatient: distressed when touched with evil, and withholding when touched with good – except for those who have 5 characteristics which we’ll go on to discuss later.
We overreact and we’re quick to react. Just like a knee-jerk response to a pain, even in our minds and our hearts, when something happens our thoughts and emotions are sometimes out of control. This is termed as haloo’a in this aayah. Ibn Aashoor explains this as the tendency of people to not be able to hold themselves back. When something that bothers you, upsets you, depresses you, makes you sad or angry, something negative happens – you’re not able to control your reaction to it. Someone says something offensive to you or about something you care about, some people will say “Shut up”, others will humiliated them online. Its like a kettle boiling and the lid is just about to blow. And it’s the same when something good happens that we care about – we party at the first goal and cry on the final score.
Allah(SWT) says we have very little control over that as He(SWT) programmed us like this. So if you don’t work on it, you’re going to be reactionary. Patience and forbearance needs to be developed. Children throw a tantrum at the first instance – that’s our original state.
Our physical body is also very weak and reactionary. But like with any trained discipline – martial arts or long distance running, as you train, your resistance for pain or uncomfortable situations goes up. The human body is capable to achieve acts of amazing endurance but only if trained gradually. Benoit Lecomte swam the Atlantic ocean for 73 days covering 3.716 miles of deep sea. German diver Tom Sietas submerged himself underwater for 17 minutes and 19 seconds. Just this Ramadan, Luton Lions accompanied Br Afroz Miah who ran 15km every day to complete 313 km from Oldham to London while fasting during Ramadan to raise £109k for those in need in 8 countries globally.
You cant go on the treadmill one time and then expect to run a marathon – it doesn’t work like that. The same exact exercise programme Allah(SWT) created for our minds and hearts. Your speech not being restrained is an overflow from whats in the heart.
The most appropriate interpretation of human weakness in this verse is to understand it in general terms, so that it will include all aspects of weakness: psychological, physical, intellectual, emotional and structural. Man is weak in nature because he is influenced by the good and bad inclinations that are created in him, as well as the waswaas (whispers of the Shaytaan) and whims and desires to which he is also subject. Man is also physically weak because of what he is exposed to of problems and sickness, in comparison to many other creatures that are great in size and strong in build. He is intellectually weak because of his limited capabilities that allow him some measure of success and innovative thinking, but only within the boundary of the visible limits of the universe, and within that which may be subject to a framework of science. He is also weak in terms of emotions and feelings, so he is readily influenced by that which may make him weep, feel joy, feel cowardly, become miserly, be encouraged, or become afraid.
The scholars of Qur’an explain that the symptoms of this haloo’a is shown in:
- Greed: signing up for benefits even if we’re able to work or trying to avoid paying taxes, dishonest banks who let people borrow more than they can reasonably afford to pay back, pyramid schemes, eating all the cake ourselves.
- Irritability – to get easily agitated. Like a child in the car complaining that someones looking at them. Some people say “that persons face or voice bothers me” We cant even take the salaam of someone we don’t like. Or when frustrated from a long day of studies or work, we come home and our family says “How was your day” and we respond “I had a long day, please stop”
- Stinginess: You don’t want others to get some good. If you go to one of our weddings after waiting extremely long for it to start, and its now buffet style rather than being served. The guy in front of you is loading his plate so high with chicken pieces and rice, like he’s worried about his grandchildren going hungry. This is done just in case he comes back for seconds and there’s nothing left. The majority will go in the bin but the eyes are bigger than the stomach. Like a child who has hundreds of toys but when another child comes to play, this is the only toy they want to play with, and then as soon as they leave, they throw it over their shoulder. Stinginess in case I may miss out on something – modern day FOMO.
- Extremely hungry even if you’re not in need of something. Even if you’ve got a car, you need an upgrade. And the house is never big enough so extensions and renovations are the craze. And soon after we do it, the kids move out.
- Cowardice: something bad happens and we buckle under the first sign of pressure. “I’m done” and you fall into depression, saying that there’s no hope. Things are only going to get worse and worse.
And, Allah(SWT) specifically describes two of these symptoms – “distressed when touched with evil” when some discomfort comes our way, we lose it. Whether through foul language, crying, breaking down. Some people face a bad situation and then say “I don’t want to pray any more” or drugs, alcohol and wrong saying I was going through a hard time. Allah(SWT) acknowledges that we have that tendency.
And then Allah(SWT) mentions the other extreme tendency “and withholding when touched with good”. When some good comes their way, they make sure nobody else gets it. When a new guy starts at work, even a graduate, the expert still feels expert as they cant see anyone else come up.
Allah(SWT) has lightened our burden
Because of all these kinds of weakness and helplessness, Allah, may He be glorified and exalted, has prescribed for us that which is suited to us, and He has lightened the burden for us. So He has not imposed upon us more than we can bear. Thus our sharee‘ah is a system of lightness and ease.
Al-‘Allaamah as-Sa‘di (may Allah have mercy on him) said in relation to
“Allah wishes to lighten (the burden) for you” [an-Nisa’ 4:28] – that is because of His perfect mercy and all-encompassing kindness, and because of His wisdom and knowledge of man’s weakness in all aspects, weakness in physical structure, weakness of will, weakness of resolve, weakness of faith, and weakness and lack of patience. So it is appropriate that Allah should lighten the burden for man with regard to that which he is too weak to deal with and that is beyond his faith, patience and strength.
This view, which was favoured by al-‘Allaamah at-Taahir ibn ‘Ashoor (may Allah have mercy on him) concerning the interpretation of weakness in this verse as referring to all kinds of human weakness, is the strongest view and most appropriate interpretation. However Ibn al-Jawzi (may Allah have mercy on him) mentioned three views concerning the verse, as he said:
With regard to what is meant by human weakness, there are three views:
- That it refers (in general terms) to man’s inherent weakness. Al-Hasan said: It (refers to the fact that) he was created from semen of worthless water (32:8).
- That he is weak and lacks patience in the face of the temptation of women. This was the view of Tawoos and Muqaatil.
- That he is weak in resolve when overwhelmed by emotions and desires. This is the view of az-Zajjaaj and Ibn Keesaan.
Ibn ‘Ashoor (rh) went on to explain the advantage of this deen and system of law – sharee’a – is valid for every time and place and most suited to the psychological, intellectual and physical makeup of man, and that one of its main qualities is that it is in harmony with “human nature” that is inherently weak and vulnerable.
Are we are set up to fail?
Some may ask the question, if I’ve been created weak, that disadvantages me in the tests of life. However, the question is not why we’re created weak as we can never understand the Wisdom of Allah(SWT). Rather the question is why do we choose to remain weak when God has given us all the neccessary tools to become extraordinary beings. As Nelson Mandela said “our greatest fear is not that we are inadequate, our greatest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure “. Fear of failure holds us back – look how motivated we are when we’re passionate about something. We will find the money, the time and make the effort to travel to watch a football game on the other side of the country or even fly to Dubai for a boxing match.
To ask how we pass the test is like a school kid asking how he will pass his GCSE’s on his very first day of school. He is given all the tools, support and learning over a number of years to get through, though he may consider himself weak and incapable at the start.
With Allah(SWT), he even gives us the answer paper. So the question isn’t how we pass, but how on earth do we fail? And the pass mark isnt even that high, a sincere apology can get you to paradise. But you may need to roll up your sleeves if you want to be top of your class.
Also our life is one beautiful story. A great story will always have challenges and overcoming of difficulties. We have to become heroes, no hero was ever born a hero.
And finally we must make the journey to know God. If we know him then these questions become irrelevant. God’s love is far greater than a mother’s love, He has our back if only we allow him to be a part of our lives. And if you love him in return… well just ask a man in love about weakness and impatient, those words don’t even exist in their vocabulary.
The training programme
Allah(SWT) tells us anyone can become like this and may not recognise it. So, whats the training to make us strong and resistant to this impulse? The training programme is mentioned in the following aayaat
1) Those who pray, consistently performing their prayers. Salaah isn’t just a cardiovascular exercise or ritual, this is a private meeting with Allah(SWT). If you had the opportunity to meet your most respected person – meeting Ronaldo, Elon Musk or Khabib – would you be thinking about anyone or anything else?
2) Who give the rightful share of their wealth to the beggar and the poor: we need to be reminded that there are people in much worse situations. By thinking of them and giving to them, we develop gratitude and patience on our challenge which is minor in comparison to theirs.
3) Who ˹firmly˺ believe in the Day of Judgment;
4) Who fear the punishment of their Lord, ˹knowing that˺ none should feel secure from their Lord’s punishment
5) Those who guard their chastity.
The Khaleefa Walid ibn Abdul Malik received a delegation amongst whom was a blind man so the the ruler asked him how he lost his eyesight. He responded saying “I was the wealthiest person in my tribe and had a large family. We were on a journey once and there was excessive rain and the subsequent waters caused major damage and separated us. I lost my entire family and wealth, except for my young infant and a camel.
Later the camel became uneasy and ran off. I pursued it leaving my child behind, and shortly thereafter heard him crying so rushed it back but it was too late – a wolf had devoured the infant. In frustration, I decided to at least capture my camel and tracked it down but on finding it, it kicked me in the face and I lost my eyesight. In one swoop, I lost my entire family, my wealth and my eyesight.”
On hearing the story, Walid ordered him to be taken to the illustrious taabi’ee Urwah ibn Zubayr (rh), the son of Zubayr ibn al-Awwam(RA) and Asmā’ bint Abu Bakr(Ra), so he could learn of a person who had been through a more difficult trial than himself.
Urwah(rh) had been on a visit to Walid when he too had lost his son, Muhammad, was was kicked to death by one of Walids horses and Urwah was seriously injured. Soon thereafter, Urwah(rh) had to have his leg amputated because of the wound he sustained and he returned reciting the verse in Surah al Kahf (18:62) laqad laqeena min safarinaa haadha nasabaa Surely, we have suffered much fatigue in this journey of ours.
He would then say “Allah(SWT) granted me 4 sons and has taken back only one. He grant me 4 limbs – 2 hands and 2 feet – and has only taken 1. All praise be to Allah(SWT) for granting me 3 sons and 3 limbs out of 4.
Remember, Allah(SWT) uncaps the reward for a few deeds and of them is Innama yuwaffa saabiroona bi ghayri hisaab.
May Allah(SWT) grant us the strength to remain patient in accordance with His Pleasure.