On 24 September 2015, more than 700 people were confirmed killed during Hajj due to a stampede at Mina, near the Islamic holy city of Mecca. An inquiry is still underway to ascertain its cause and apportion blame. Earlier, during the same Hajj on 11 September, a Crane-Collapse at the Grand Mosque had already claimed more than 100 lives, making this one of the deadliest Hajj in recent history.
Death – for the benefit of people who are unfamiliar with Islamic history – has always been a part of Hajj i.e. a pilgrimage to the heart of Mecca in KSA, which is the fifth pillar of Islam. Until recent times that made Air travel safe and possible, the journey necessitated for this pilgrimage was excruciating and life-threatening, often claiming lives of pilgrims not tough enough, to endure the rigors entailed; or simply unlucky. Therefore, it was a common practice that pilgrims used to dictate their wills to their families before they departed, their return not being ‘very imminent’. Individual Muslims, therefore, are not as shocked at the news of the death of their loved ones during Hajj, as the uninitiated. This is because it is one of the somewhat possible outcomes that they have been conditioned to expect over a span of several generations. The only thing that modern times have done is replace the rigors of the journey as the prime threat with over-crowdedness at the destination; thereby vindicating these ‘hereditary’ expectations. Over-crowdedness in its extreme form that is: millions of people from different ethnicities, languages, educational levels that covers pretty much the entire respective spectrums there could possibly be, crammed into constricted spaces.
That is not to say in the least that the KSA authorities can be absolved of their inadequacies or criminal negligence. There’s a very simple solution to this ‘insoluble’ puzzle, of course. And that is, ONLY LET AS MANY PEOPLE IN AS CAN BE SAFELY CATERED FOR! But as we all know, KSA is probably one of the most opaque system of governments in the world, and thus persuading them is a difficult task, to say the least.
While some deaths are expected, catastrophes are not. And while individual loss of life is a traumatic experience for the bereaved families and their relatives, catastrophes like the Mina stampede have a devastating effect on all Muslims. A collective sadness and melancholy, along with anger at the administrators, can be seen gripping even those Muslims worldwide that did not experience any personal loss in the tragedy.
For any human, such incidents mark a time for sharing grief of their fellow humans and try everything in their power to comfort and empathize with the distressed. Even sworn enemies have the sense to put a moratorium on their feuds and offer compassion and solace to the ‘other’ in such times. But for some people, as if unfamiliar with these universal manners, such calamities have become the opportune time for settling their score or ridiculing the beliefs of others. Incidentally, with regards to the Mina stampede, it was some self-professed atheists who deemed it necessary to exhibit this insensitive behavior towards Muslims on social networking sites; yet I doubt their atheism had anything to do with it; probably, only short on manners!
Although the timing of these few uncouth atheists was very bad and their inconsiderate attitude was deplorable, the logic underpinning their comments/punchlines was something that resonates with almost all atheists. While this ‘logic’ has a general appeal, its verity became unmissable when certain decent and well-meaning atheists jumped in the back and forth taking place between some Muslims shaming the few uncouth atheists on their bad timing and inhuman demeanor on Twitter. Because even they, while conceding the lack of decorum displayed by their compatriots, endorsed their logic. Their ‘logic’ can be skimmed from these tweets:
For the sake of easy comprehension of the readers, let me explain the pivotal argument here; i.e. A loving God cannot allow infelicitous incidents like suffering, death and destruction etc., much less infelicity to those fulfilling most difficult acts of worship prescribed by Him, hence, the God being worshipped is either impotent or evil. Another most obvious and oft-drawn result that is not explicitly spelt out here, but begging to be drawn from the line of reasoning is that OR He doesn’t exist. So Impotent, Evil or Doesn’t Exist.
I have only quoted this feed as a specimen, because I think it sums up the ‘logic’ quite succinctly. Otherwise, this same logic can be seen reverberating across the internet whenever any ‘infelicitous’ incident happens anywhere in the world. Opponents spring up and pounce on such God-given opportunities, like a moth to a flame, mocking the ‘religious fantasies’ of ‘believers’, almost like clock-work.
Muslims, like myself, usually ignore such comments, because well, belief by its very nature has always invited such punchlines. A great many are there in our scripture and quoted by God Himself, no less. In fact, some are quite amusing: snide and classy. For instance, one is ‘So when is the day of judgment gonna anchor at the dockyard?’: a snark remark by a contemporary of Muhammad (pbuh) in the form of a question asking very ‘sincerely’ from him, that “sir! ok let’s say we believe you (o prophet!) that we all will be made answerable on a day that is most scary and cutthroat. It is just that it has been so many years since we have been denying and ridiculing you while you have been scaring us that that day is nigh. So can we humbly inquire that perhaps that day is coming on a ship and that’s why it has run late. Can we know how much longer do we have to wait for that ship to arrive and anchor please?” Or another: “Why doesn’t God smite us down? He’s seeing that we are denying Him day after day. What’s stopping Him?” Or so many others that crack me up every time I read the Quran.
So there’s just no fending off such ridicules by people like us who believe in something that cannot be proven scientifically. Hence, such insults do not invoke any rancor in us Muslims, except perhaps some fleeting bitterness.
My interest in these insults however, is in their logic. The logic that leads them from infelicity straightaway to impotent, evil or non-existent God. While any logical person can attest to the fact that there could be a gazillion results other than these three most frequently brought out by atheists, that could logically be drawn from infelicity, I always wonder, why isn’t ‘a test’ acceptable to them as a sequitur result. I mean, I say to myself, surely, there must be something grossly illogical in the religious premise believed by Muslims that compels these otherwise sane, logical and well-meaning people to mock that premise.
Thus what I am going to do here is syllable out the relevant portions of the premise believed by Muslims that makes them consider calamities and death and destruction, and all other infelicities as consistent with a loving (and punishing, by the way) God. Here it is:
“God created Homo Spiritus (let’s call it so) by embedding a special entity in the Homo Sapiens that enables him(/her/xer) to tell right from wrong, and learn and control things he could not have learned and controlled without it. But that entity comes with a cost. Such exceptional power can only be granted to those who are cognizant of the responsibilities that come attached to it, and act accordingly. Thus, God decided to first test the subjects for eligibility, in a self-sustained and imperfect environment. Self-sustained: because unless God hides Himself, subjects cannot be tested fairly. Imperfect: well, because the controlled nature of the environment itself has to be made deniable for the test to pan out. Thus according to God, the power of this special entity is so much that whoever is bestowed with it has the ability to discover the reality of all things: the test domain included. This entity can make him know things with utmost certainty that are only accessible through reasoning: i.e. by connecting the dots. Hence, God is going to test the subjects, under the influence of that entity, in whether they keep pointing North amidst trials, tribulations and self-interests; or is turbulence, temptations or conflicting interests enough to break his compass.”
This is the gist of the premise. One can of course expand it for clarity, but this is the basic premise one can skim from the Quran. Now, as a corollary of the above that anyone can note, subjects (i.e. humans) have to be left at the mercy of other subjects. It is a direct consequence of the self-sustained and imperfect nature of the test domain. Hence, when any infelicity happens: due to actions of other subjects; lack of required actions by other subjects; or good old natural disasters – they are all an unavoidable consequence of these two aspects of the test domain. Since we know and understand it, these infelicities do not and cannot drive us towards impotency, evil or non-existence of God – coz it is part and parcel of this test domain we have recognized and accepted.
If anybody wishes to have a debate with us on the evidentiary basis of the premise, it would be, and always has been, a legitimate debate. But unless this basic premise is targeted, no magnitude of infelicity could logically mess with the premise. In the presence of this premise, linking infelicity with God’s negativity is therefore, illogical to us.
Food for thought for those opponents waiting for the next recurrence of infelicity…