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The Only Promise

In the Name of Allâh, the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful

As Salamu Alaykum,

Unfair treatment is a part of life.

Whether you experience it yourself or watch it befall others, the visceral reaction to someone being done wrong is only amplified if there's nothing you can do to immediately stop it. Whatever wrongs you observe locally on a daily basis, and whatever some of us have been subjected to in prison, are only diminutions of seeing a Gazan child starving to death on a hospital gurney, or his home & family blown to bits by a missile. In all cases, we can't help but think: 'How is it that this can just happen?'

Such thoughts haunted the Sahabah in the dismal early years in Makkah, when Khabbab bin al-Aratt pleaded with the Prophet (sallallahu alaihi wasallam): "Won't you seek aid for us? Won't you call upon Allah for us?" It was in this same period that Allah revealed the story of a previous group of believers who'd been subjected to a brutality that even the Sahabah couldn't yet comprehend: those who'd been burned alive in ditches.

Humans - and even animals - are generally averse to seeing someone done wrong. And we like seeing wrongs righted. This desire for justice stems directly from our fitrah. For us, the ultimate satisfaction of that desire is Hell (may Allah protect us from it), especially if the injustice playing out before our eyes is one we have no way of immediately stopping. This is because Hell is the only prison in existence that's 100% just. We can rest assured that it's the place for those who get away with wronging others in this life, that those who end up there truly had it coming, and that their punishment will be exactly what they deserve.

The only solace Allah offered in Surat al-Buruj was that while the believers who burned in those pits would win by going to Heaven, those who did this to them would burn in Hell. He specifically described that {"for them will be the torment of the burning Fire."} (85:10) This (and He knows best) was to emphasize the theme of justice, that what goes around comes around, and that the same burning torment they inflicted on others would in turn be inflicted on them. It's irrelevant how far down the road this occurs, because Hell is so real that our doctrine as Ahl as-Sunnah is that it already exists, just waiting to be filled.

In fact, nothing else in this context was promised at all anywhere in the Makkan revelation. Even when addressing the Prophet, Allah made no promises that he'd live long enough to personally witness the exacting of justice: {"And whether We take you away, We will indeed exact retribution upon them; or We show you what We have promised them, We are indeed Able."} (43:41-42)

The only promise made in this context during the Makkan revelation - in the face of the insults, the blockades, the forced expulsions, the physical assaults, and the killings meted out by the enemy - was that in the next life, there will be a complete reversal of fortune. You will go to Heaven, and your enemies will go to Hell. As Sayyid Qutb noted, "and this was the only thing that the Prophet promised those who offered him their bay'ah while putting their wealth and lives on the line."

He went on to explain that this was because "the Qur'an was developing hearts and preparing them to carry the trust. These hearts had to be firm, strong, and focused enough that - even as they gave everything and withstood everything - they wouldn't have an eye on anything in this world, and would solely be seeking the next. They wouldn't seek anything but Allah's pleasure. Their hearts would be willing to travel to the ends of the Earth through exhaustion, misery, deprivation, torture, sacrifice, and withstanding. They had to do all of this while expecting no immediate reward in this world - even if the reward was in the form of victory for Islam and the Muslims."

So what about the promise of this life?

He continued, writing that "only when such hearts emerged that knew they had no choice during their earthly journey but to give without expecting to take, and to expect reward and settling of the score between truth and falsehood only in the next life; only when such hearts emerged that Allah saw were true to their oaths; only then did victory come to them in this life."

- Tariq Mehanna


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