Years from now, while recording the 21st century, historians will undoubtedly label 2016 as a year of tragedies. When our great-grandchildren sit down in their history classes to study the past that we lived, they will come to know 2016 as we have come to know other years: 1941 for us was Pearl Harbor; 1968 was the tumultuous year that ended the Civil Rights Movement and took Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy; we see 1975 and we remember the tragedy that was Vietnam; and, 2001 will now forever be defined by 9/11.
In this same vein, future generations will learn about 2016 and commit to memory the losses that we suffered. For them, it will be nothing more than a few summarized pages in a history book, condensed to fit into a curriculum. They will meticulously fill in bubbles next to answers on exams and then they will go home and forget.
We don’t have that luxury.
For those who live and survive periods of tragedy, history is more than a record of events; it is a constant reminder that life is just a temporary and fleeting moment that can end at any given time.
Tragedy is not a new human experience. In fact, human beings are the consequence of a grave mistake made by God’s first creation. Tragedy, or at least what we understand to be misfortune, is our origin story. And, as with all things, both good and evil, we as Muslims should remember that there is a lesson in every event, regardless of what that occurrence may be.
In the daily goings-on of our lives, we experience countless blessings — ones we recognize and others that we might not realize we have. We become so caught up in these blessings that when tragedy strikes we are taken aback, unable to comprehend why or how such things can happen.
True, 2016 did not give us anything we have not seen before. It gave us war, and we have fought our fair share of wars. It showed us oppression and the shocking collapse of a nation, and we learned that the world continues to stand by and do nothing when others need it most. We’ve seen injustice take the helm and steer the free world off its course. It was a year that fell into the hands of terror — with bloodshed as far as Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Pakistan, Paris and Brussels — and as close to home as San Bernardino and Orlando.
We watched these atrocities on the news and prayed that they would end. But we forget that we have been created to endure hardship of any kind. We forget that our deen is the answer to all of our misgivings and fears, and that we need only turn to the Word of Allah (SWT) to find comfort in knowing that every single occurrence happens, and will happen, for a reason.
These reasons are unknown to us, for we do not possess the capacity to understand what Allah (SWT) wills, and so questioning why tragedy strikes us is both futile and dangerous. It should be enough for us to believe that retribution will come for those who deserve it. It is not our place to judge the wrongdoers, because indeed Allah (SWT) is the Most Just, and He knows best.
We are no strangers to tragedy. But, having lived through so many horrific events that seemed to follow one after the other like an unconstrained avalanche, it now seems to us as though 2016 was the worst of all years. Two weeks ago, I was convinced of this myself. I wanted to wipe all memories of the year from my mind and start anew. Before it was over, in my mind 2016 was already history. It had taken things from me that I valued. It took from me people I had not been prepared to part with, and so I knew that for me 2016 would always, at least in part, be associated with sorrow.
Then, three days before 2017 began, I visited Makkah for the first time in over a decade. I am not exaggerating when I say now that I had not known peace as I did when I stood with my right hand resting on the Ka’bah. I had not known true contentment as I did when I made du’a in the House of Allah (SWT). And as I prayed for my family and friends, as I prayed for the ummah of the Prophet (PBUH), and for Syria and the Middle East, I felt my deeply rooted contempt for last year gradually dissipate.
My anxiety and all the fears that had been the birth child of 2016 evaporated into thin air with each prayer I made, and I realized that there is no room for sadness in Makkah. It was the most powerful form of catharsis, matched only by the complete sense of comfort I felt only two days later when I prayed beside the grave of the Prophet (PBUH).
My ability to see Makkah and Madinah in the last few days of the year was a testament to Allah’s (SWT) love and mercy. It served as a reminder for me that there is wisdom in everything that comes to be in this world, and I found solace in putting my trust in Allah (SWT), as we all should. Tragedy will continue, for as long as we live. We will be tested in small ways and in ways that are alarmingly anything but small. In those times, I urge you to pray.
Pray, and seek Allah’s (SWT) guidance, for it is in these moments that we are tested the most. Pray for those who are less fortunate — pray for the oppressed and the victims of senseless wars. Pray for the children who die on cold streets without their mothers. Pray for their mothers. Pray for the leaders who have lost sight of leadership, and for those who commit inhumane crimes in the name of our religion. Pray for better years to come, and do not make the mistake of questioning Allah (SWT)’s decisions.
For Allah knows, and we do not know.