Reflections on the Icelandic Volcano
(Summary of an Arabic article by Shaykh Muhammad Salih)
All Praise is due Allah, Lord of the worlds, and may the peace and blessings be upon the Messenger of Allah.
From a small, remote island nation located in the North Atlantic Ocean, a small, sub-glacial volcano erupted, sending plumes of ash thousands of feet into the air. It drove the entire European continent into panic and caused the disruption of international flights around the world.
Airplanes discontinued flying, airports shut down, and air traffic was suspended. One-hundred thirteen European airports closed their airspaces in the face of international navigation. More than 63,000 flights were cancelled. The airline industry faced losses of up to $250 million per day. Over seven million travelers were stranded. Airport lounges turned into dormitories, and passengers were provided with blankets and other necessities. In addition, importers and exporters were confronted with deficits.
Europe was nearly isolated from the world when it met the biggest disruption of air transportation in its history.
1. So take warning, O people of vision (59:2):
One cloud of volcanic ash sent an entire continent into panic and fear and paralyzes air travel. What would happen if several volcanoes erupted? Indeed, it is an event that calls upon us to think, reflect, and contemplate. It is not fit for such great happenings to surpass a Muslim without a deep, thoughtful pause that comes about from his/her faith in Allah, with full certainty, that whatever good happens in this universe is from the grace and mercy of Allah and whatever evil happens in it is with His knowledge.
ذَٰلِكَ تَقْدِيرُ الْعَزِيزِ الْعَلِيمِ"That is the determination of the Exalted in Might, the Knowing." (Ya-Seen 36:38)
Allah has wisdom behind everything He wills and decrees.
لَا يُسْأَلُ عَمَّا يَفْعَلُ وَهُمْ يُسْأَلُونَ"He is not questioned about what He does, but they will be questioned." (Al-Anbiyaa 21:23)
2. And We send not the signs except as a warning (17:59):
Volcanoes and the like are soldiers of Allah; He sends them upon whom He wishes of His servants, in the time He wishes, in the manner He wishes. They are a warning, a trial, and a punishment.
وَمَا يَعْلَمُ جُنُودَ رَبِّكَ إِلَّا هُوَ ۚ وَمَا هِيَ إِلَّا ذِكْرَىٰ لِلْبَشَر"And none knows the soldiers of your Lord except Him. And mention of the Fire is not but a reminder to humanity." (Al-Muddaththir 74:31)
Among the soldiers of Allah is the volcanic ash, composed of small particles of glass and pulverized rock. The ash poses great danger to aircraft engines and instruments and thus hinders planes' movement. Moreover, it may pose serious health hazards if inhaled.
To simply say that such incidents are "natural" occurrences due only to standard universal laws illustrates one's heedlessness of the Creator and the Controller of this universe. For who runs and manages this universe in such an orderly fashion and gives it power to strike its inhabitants?
هُوَ الَّذِي يُرِيكُمُ الْبَرْقَ خَوْفًا وَطَمَعًا وَيُنشِئُ السَّحَابَ الثِّقَال * َوَيُسَبِّحُ الرَّعْدُ بِحَمْدِهِ وَالْمَلَائِكَةُ مِنْ خِيفَتِهِ وَيُرْسِلُ الصَّوَاعِقَ فَيُصِيبُ بِهَا مَن يَشَاءُ وَهُمْ يُجَادِلُونَ فِي اللَّهِ وَهُوَ شَدِيدُ الْمِحَالِ"It is He who shows you lightening, [causing] fear and aspiration, and generates the heavy clouds. And the thunder exalts [Allah] with praise of Him – and the angels [as well] from fear of Him – and He sends thunderbolts and strikes therewith whom He wills while they dispute about Allah; and He is severe in assault." (Ar-Ra'd 13:12-13)
3. And this is nothing else than a reminder to mankind (74:31).
The volcanic ash cloud is a sign among the signs of Allah. It was sent to His slaves as an admonition and reminder to the Believers, and a way to warn and frighten those who turned away from Him. The believing heart will take heed and turn to its Lord in repentance, while the oblivious heart that has forgotten its Lord will only worry about economic losses and the latest updates.
لَهُمْ قُلُوبٌ لَّا يَفْقَهُونَ بِهَا وَلَهُمْ أَعْيُنٌ لَّا يُبْصِرُونَ بِهَا وَلَهُمْ آذَانٌ لَّا يَسْمَعُونَ بِهَا ۚ أُولَٰئِكَ كَالْأَنْعَامِ بَلْ هُمْ أَضَلُّ ۚ أُولَٰئِكَ هُمُ الْغَافِلُونَ"They have hearts with which they do not understand, they have eyes with which they do not see, and they have ears with which they do not hear. Those are like livestock; rather, they are more astray. It is they who are the heedless." (Al-'Araf 7:179)
It is from the hardness of the heart that one hears of such adversities and yet fails to detach themselves from sin and transgression and continues to follow their desires.
Aisha (may Allah be pleased with her) describes the state of the Messenger of Allah (salallahu alayhe wa sallam) when he saw a cloud, "If the Prophet saw a cloud in the sky, he would walk to and fro in agitation, go out and come in, and the color of his face would change, and if it rained, he would feel relaxed." When she inquired about his reaction, he replied, "I don't know (am afraid), it may be similar to what happened to some people referred to in the Holy Quran in the following Verse:
فَلَمَّا رَأَوْهُ عَارِضًا مُّسْتَقْبِلَ أَوْدِيَتِهِمْ قَالُوا هَٰذَا عَارِضٌ مُّمْطِرُنَا ۚ بَلْ هُوَ مَا اسْتَعْجَلْتُم بِهِ ۖ رِيحٌ فِيهَا عَذَابٌ أَلِيمٌ'And when they saw it as a cloud approaching their valleys, they said, 'This is a cloud bringing us rain!'" Rather, it is that for which you were impatient: a wind, within it a painful punishment." (Al-Ahqaaf 46:24)
Similarly, during the solar eclipse he experienced (salallahu alayhe wa sallam), he came out in a restless state thinking the Hour had begun. This is indicative of the degree to which he feared the Hour and kept it in his mind.
What should our state be when we witness an ash cloud shooting up 10km into the air?
4. They have not appraised Allah with true appraisal. Indeed, Allah is Powerful and Exalted in Might. (22:74)
What hit Europe and affected the entire world is a great indicator of the power and strength of Allah, glorified be His Majesty. His decree outstrips all other commands and His might leaves all other helpless.
Whatever Allah wills happens and whatever He does not will does not happen, and He is over all things competent.
اللَّهُ الَّذِي خَلَقَ سَبْعَ سَمَاوَاتٍ وَمِنَ الْأَرْضِ مِثْلَهُنَّ يَتَنَزَّلُ الْأَمْرُ بَيْنَهُنَّ لِتَعْلَمُوا أَنَّ اللَّهَ عَلَىٰ كُلِّ شَيْءٍ قَدِيرٌ وَأَنَّ اللَّهَ قَدْ أَحَاطَ بِكُلِّ شَيْءٍ عِلْمًا"It is Allah who has created seven heavens and of the earth, the like of them. [His] command descends among them so you may know that Allah is over all things competent and that Allah has encompassed all things in knowledge." (At-Talaaq 65:12)
5. Man is weak.
When man becomes arrogant, transgresses, claims perfection and self-sufficiency, Allah sends signs that remind man of his weakness and need of his Creator (the Exalted).
يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ أَنتُمُ الْفُقَرَاءُ إِلَى اللَّهِ ۖ وَاللَّهُ هُوَ الْغَنِيُّ الْحَمِيدُ"O mankind, you are those in need of Allah, while Allah is the Free of need, the Praiseworthy." (Fatir 35:15)
It was a matter of minutes before security turned into fear and profit into deficit. Did the power, technology, money, research, and innovations of these "First World" countries benefit them in the face of one of the soldiers of Allah? They helplessly watched and gazed as the order of Allah moved before their very eyes.
أَمَّنْ هَٰذَا الَّذِي هُوَ جُندٌ لَّكُمْ يَنصُرُكُم مِّن دُونِ الرَّحْمَٰنِ ۚ إِنِ الْكَافِرُونَ إِلَّا فِي غُرُورٍ"Or who is it that could be an army for you to aid you other than the Most Merciful? The disbelievers are not but in delusion." (Al-Mulk 67:20)
6. There is no refuge from Allah except in Him (9:118).
No matter how influential or intelligent man is, there is no way out of such catastrophes except by turning to his Lord in sincere du'aa and worship. For this reason, we are commanded to rush to salah during solar and lunar eclipses. "They are two signs amongst the signs of Allah. When you see them stand up and pray." (Bukhari)
7. A fire that reminds of a greater Fire.
The lava discharged from the volcano reached a temperature of 1,000°C (1,800°F) and melted about 10% of its icecap. This is the fire of this world which serves a as a reminder of the Fire of the Hereafter. The Prophet (salallahu alayhe wa sallam) said, "This fire of yours which is lit by the sons of Adam is one seventieth part of the fire of Hell." (Muslim)
8. And no soul perceives what it will earn tomorrow (31:34).
Conferences organized, meetings arranged, appointments set, reservations confirmed, hotels booked, and holidays planned; but no person knows what he will earn tomorrow. It was one eruption and many cancellations. Travelers were fighting over seats to get back home.
وَلَوْ كُنتُ أَعْلَمُ الْغَيْبَ لَاسْتَكْثَرْتُ مِنَ الْخَيْرِ وَمَا مَسَّنِيَ السُّوءُ"And if I knew the unseen, I could have acquired much wealth, and no harm would have touched me." (Al-Araf 7:188)
9. And whatever strikes you of disaster – it is for what your hands have earned; but He pardons much (42:30).
This is the way of Allah; He decrees calamities to scare His slaves. When sins, oppression, killings, and indecency multiply, so do volcanoes, hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, droughts, diseases, wars, and losses of life and wealth.
ظَهَرَ الْفَسَادُ فِي الْبَرِّ وَالْبَحْرِ بِمَا كَسَبَتْ أَيْدِي النَّاسِ لِيُذِيقَهُم بَعْضَ الَّذِي عَمِلُوا لَعَلَّهُمْ يَرْجِعُونَ"Corruption has appeared throughout the land and sea by [reason of] what the hands of people have earned so He may let them taste part of [the consequence of] what they have done that perhaps they will return [to righteousness]." (Ar-Rum 30:41)
And such misfortunes will not be the last for those who violate the laws of Allah, as He (the Exalted) says:
وَلَا يَزَالُ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا تُصِيبُهُم بِمَا صَنَعُوا قَارِعَةٌ أَوْ تَحُلُّ قَرِيبًا مِّن دَارِهِمْ حَتَّىٰ يَأْتِيَ وَعْدُ اللَّهِ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ لَا يُخْلِفُ الْمِيعَادَ"And those who disbelieve do not cease to be struck, for what they have done, by calamity – or it will descend near their home – until there comes the promise of Allah. Indeed, Allah does not fail in [His] promise." (Ar-Ra'd 13:31)
10. An adversity for some and prosperity for others:
While airline businesses faced shortfall, transportation services by train, bus, and ferry were thriving as passengers looked for alternatives. In addition, there was a high demand for hotel rooms.
All praise is due to the One who allocates provision to whom He wills! Some people suffer bitter losses and other people celebrate unexpected gains!
11. Remembering the countless blessings of Allah upon us:
Observing exhausted travelers sleeping on uncomfortable chairs, impatiently waiting days and nights, should lead us to acknowledge the great and innumerable blessings Allah has bestowed on us. The blessings of security, peaceful nights, and tranquil days ought to fill our hearts with the praise of Allah and our tongues with thankfulness to Allah.
Moreover, this particular incident reveals to us our reliance on airplanes and the blessing of arriving at far distances in a short span of time.
12. Remembering the Last Day:
The likes of such a phenomenon should remind us of a much terrible one yet to occur: the earthquake of the Hour. Sunlight was blocked by the ash cloud, and something similar will happen on the Last Day:
إِذَا الشَّمْسُ كُوِّرَتْ"When the sun is wrapped up [in darkness]" (At-Takwir 81:1)
Just as airplanes were deserted and neglected, on the Last Day:
وَإِذَا الْعِشَارُ عُطِّلَت"And when full-term she-camels are neglected" (At-Takwir 81:4)
Allah mentions she-camels in the Quran because they were prized wealth to the Arabs just as airplanes are valued to us today.
The ash cloud that travelled thousands of feet into the air serves as a reminder to a cloud of smoke Allah will send prior to the Last Day:
فَارْتَقِبْ يَوْمَ تَأْتِي السَّمَاءُ بِدُخَانٍ مُّبِينٍ يَغْشَى النَّاسَ ۖ هَٰذَا عَذَابٌ أَلِيمٌ"Then watch for the Day when the sky will bring a visible smoke. Covering the people, this is a painful torment." (Ad-Dukhan 44:10-11)
We ask Allah subhana wa ta'ala to have mercy on us, forgive us our sins, and through these signs, guide those who have gone astray to the Straight Path. Indeed, Allah is Subtle and Acquainted.