Seeking Refuge

It is no doubt difficult for Muslims at times like these, to understand why Allah allows hardships of the type being visited upon the people of Palestine. A people who have suffered tremendous hardships as the victims of a foreign occupation that stripped them of their land, their rights and their dignity, and now their lives. The people of Bosnia, Kosovo, Chechnya, and Kashmir no doubt, along with others like the people of Rwanda, and the innocent Jews, and Gypsies, Jehovah’s witnesses, and all other victims of Hitler’s madness, as well as others who have survived, or who are the descendants of those who were victims or who survived acts of genocide, must ask God in their secret prayers the same question, “Why?” The answer must be one that is beyond our capacity to either understand or believe, since until now, no one has ! ventured to provide an explanation for the mass murders of human beings, who for the most part have been people who lacked political representation, or armies, and were among the weak and oppressed and those struggling either for political and religious freedom, or political representation. Super powers and sovereign states seldom in our era militarily confront one another, and so the brunt of the lusts for blood and flesh, which has come to characterize the powerful, has been directed towards those who have no advocates, no governments, no armies and no defenders to come to their aid. They have nothing to trade in exchange for their lives, no secrets, no oil, no influence, nothing to cause anyone to make a single sacrifice to save them.  They have no political definition, and so for the most part, they do not exist, neither do they have rights, nor are they subject to the same protection or consideration as the people of “states,”! or so some may believe.


Ironically this phenomenon, genocide, is not unique to modern man. There are various episodes of ancient crimes against humanity. The story of Moses and the Jews of ancient Israel is one such story.  In this story we see the tyranny of a state against a people who lacked a government, an army, or any protector except God, defended only by a man and his brother, one who stuttered and carried a stick, another who was more eloquent in speech, yet lacked any other significant distinction that would impress a powerful Pharaoh. The trials of the ancient Jews in slavery in Egypt have become legend, and their story is part of every Holy Book, it being so full of meaning and offering so much guidance to those who read them, seeking the truth about the nature of the human being, and the God! who created us and the relationship between the two. Perhaps one of the most poignant renditions of the legendary confrontation between Moses and Pharaoh is found in Chapter 10, verses 75-92 of the Qur’an.


According to the Qur’an, Moses went to Pharaoh and demanded that the people of Bani Israel be set free. He showed the Pharaoh numerous signs designed to verify his commission from God, as well as to demonstrate God’s power, but the Pharaoh resisted Moses demand, and laughed at the idea that God uses human beings as his agents on earth to encourage mankind toward righteousness, and to warn them of God’s impending punishment should they persist in their oppression of the weak. The Qur’an says:

We sent Moses and Aaron to Pharaoh and his chiefs. But they were arrogant: They were a people in sin. When the truth did come to them from us they said: “This is indeed evident sorcery!” Said Moses: “Say ye this about the truth when it hath actually reached you? Is sorcery like this? But sorcerers will never prosper. They said, “Hast thou come to us to turn us away from the ways we found our fathers following, in order that thou and thy brother may have greatness in the land? But not we shall believe in you. Said Pharaoh, bring me every sorcerer well versed. When the sorcerers came, Moses said to them: Throw you that which you wish to throw. When they had their throw, Moses said: “What ye have brought is sorcery: Allah will surely make it of no effect: for Allah prospers not the work of those who do mischief. And Allah by His words doth prove and establish the truth, however much the sinners may hate it.

After recounting the numerous confrontations between the Pharaoh and Moses, and after the nine signs had visited Egypt as a result of the Pharaoh’s insistence that he was in fact a god, and that he did not believe in any other God, nor felt obliged to yield to Moses’ demands for the freedom of the people of Bani Israel, some very important things took place that we might easily overlook. First Moses, under inspiration from God said to his people:

“Oh my people, if you do really believe in Allah, then in Him put your trust, if you submit your wills to Him. They said: “in Allah do we put our trust. Our Lord, make us not a trial for those who practice oppression. And deliver us by Thy Mercy from those who reject Thee.”

 Moses called the people to submit and put their trust in God, which means to accept that they have no prote! ctor or savior except Allah, (to put their hopes in God and not any human being or government) and to be obedient (submit) to Him. This is important, since following Moses’ command to the people to submit, and the people’s acceptance and prayer attesting to their willingness to now follow the commands of Moses, Allah sent Moses the command,

“Provide dwellings for thy people in Egypt, make their dwellings into places of worship, and establish regular prayer: And give Glad Tidings to those who believe.”

According to the tafsir of Qur’anic expert Abdullah Yusef Ali, found in his notes on this particular verse of the Qur’an, this reference to making homes, or dwellings into places of refuge wherein the people are to take refuge, and establish regular prayers in time of crisis, is a references to a Qibla for the righteous, or a way of distinguishing the righteous from the wicked ! on earth. It may also be considered the first indication that there would be places of refuge for those who were rejected by the world and oppressed by the tyrants of the earth.  The “Glad Tidings” extended by God to the believers through Moses was an indication that God was ready to intervene, and that Pharaoh’s period for repentance had ended, and God had set His Hand. We read in the following verse:

“Moses prayed, “Our Lord, thou has indeed bestowed on Pharaoh and his chiefs splendor and wealth in the life of the present, and so our Lord, they mislead men from thy path. Deface our Lord the features of their wealth, and send hardness to their hearts, so they will not believe until they see the grievous penalty.” Allah said “Accepted is thy prayer Oh Moses, so stand thou straight, and follow not the path of those who know not.”

There are other stories in the Qur’an where the believers sought refuge and God gave them sanctuary and protection from tyrants, which as mentioned before, may be references to the role that the mosques of the future would play in the lives of the righteous, as houses of worship and as sanctuaries and refuge. In the situation where Moses commanded the Bani Israel to make their homes into places of worship, it seems clear that he commanded them to pray in homes, since it was not safe for the people to flee, nor wise for them to surrender, nor to be in the streets, etc. Yusef Ali says on this issue in note #1468: “They were to make their houses into places of prayer (Qibla), as Pharaoh would not probably allow them to set up public places for prayer, and they were now to consider themselves only sojourner! s in Egypt,” meaning no longer the slaves of Pharaoh, but rather they would now consider themselves freemen and servants of the One true God who had freed them from Pharaoh the moment He gave them Glad Tidings after their prayer of submission, swearing that they would from there on, worship only God. Among other stories of the Qur’an that refer to refuge in times of crisis is the story of the Cave.

In Chapter 18, al-Khaf, verses 13-16 we read:

We relate to thee their story in truth, they were youths who believed in their Lord, and We advanced them in guidance. We gave strength to their hearts: behold they stood up and said: ” Our Lord is the Lord of the heavens and the earth: never shall we call upon any god other than Him, if we did, we would indeed have uttered an enormity!” These our people have taken for worship gods other than Him. Why do they not bring forward an authority clear and convincing for what they do? Who doth more wrong than such as invent lies against Allah? When you turn away from them and the things they worship other than Allah, betake yourself to the cave, your Lord will shower His mercies on you and dispose of your affair towards comfort and ease.

This idea, that God saves the weak and oppressed, who are believers, through a process that is identifiable and able to be duplicated by the believers of any era, or epoch in time, is bone out in many stories of the Qur’an. There appears to be three primary aspects of this pattern, which are 1). The people’s submission to God, and 2). The believers are commanded to take refuge in sanctuaries where they establish vigils of prayer 3). God frees them and rewards them for their patience and perseverance in prayer during times of trial, which is a demonstration of belief and trust. In the case of Noah, the sanctuary was an Ark, in the case of the prophet Abraham his hijrah, or separation was from the idol worshippers of his town, including his father, his journey taking him ultimately to Mekka where he raised the Holy House, or Kabaa, which is referred to in the Qur’an as a sanctuary,!

“The first house of worship appointed for men was that at Bakka, full of blessings and guidance for all kinds of beings. In it are signs manifest, (for example) the Station of Abraham, whoever enters into it attains security” (Chapter 3, verses 96-97).

In every story in the Qur’an where there are a people who seem to be at the mercy of a powerful tyrant, God carries out His salvation in this manner, He demands obedience and repentance from the people, thereby separating the believers from the wicked through covenant, and He physically separates the righteous by commanding the believers to seek sanctuary materially, as in hijrah, caves, houses, mosques etc., He commands the establishment of prayer, since Praise of God has many benefits, including protection, and ultimately He destroys the wicked for their persistence in sin. Again we look to the example of the Pharaoh in his attempts to destroy the Bani Israel.  In Chapter 26, verses 63-67, the final confrontation is retold.  The Qur’an says:

“Strike the sea with thy rod.” So it divided, and each separate part became like a huge firm mass of a mountain, and we made the other party approach, we delivered Moses and all who were with him, but we drowned the others.”

Upon reading this particular verse, I have often wondered if indeed God had not, even during the days of Moses sought to establish two separate lands for the two peoples in conflict in that region of the earth, and so His command to Moses. Water, it is said by some  religious scholars, symbolizes God’s Mercy, and so it might be possible that the Mercy of God would have manifest in this instance as a separation between these two peoples, the Mercy of God being there between them to provide for them as does the sea, yet since the Pharaoh sought,! rather than to turn back, and end his persecution, to pursue the defenseless people who tried to flee, God drowned him in the sea for his greed, and arrogance, and his unreasonable desire to destroy the people rather than to show them mercy, free them from enslavement, and either live as equals with them in one land, or separate the one land into two lands for two peoples.

Islamic scholars refer to what we call “seeking refuge” as isti’adhah, and their understanding of this concept is based on the verse of the Qur’an, which says,

“And when you recite the Qur’an take refuge from Satan. He has no authority over those who believe and on their Lord rely. His authority is only over those who befriend him and those who associate partners with Him (Allah),” (Chapter 16, verse 98-100), and Chapter 2, verse 257, ” Allah is the protector of those who have faith. From the depths of darkness He will lead them forth into light. Of those who reject faith their patrons are the evil ones; from light they will lead them forth to darkness.”

There are several verses of the Qur’an that explain the concept of refuge in greater detail, and the prophet Muhammad (sa) taught his followers to recite these verses often, and with sinc! erity, since if one recites without sincerity, it is said that refuge might be refused, since Allah has called man to submit to Him sincerely, meaning from ones heart. The two chapters of the Qur’an on this topic include Chapters 113, and 114. Looking back now to the story of Moses and Pharaoh, in consideration of the above mentioned verses of Qur’an, we come to see that it is through prayer and remembrance of God, such as Quranic recitation either in the prayer, or alone, by which we take refuge in the spiritual sense, and through hijrah, or the other mentioned means of obtaining safety, that one takes refuge in the material sense. Both are sought in the spirit of hope and sincerity commanded by God. The foundation of this is of course Tawhid, or the worship of God alone, expressed eloquently in Chapter 112, of the Qur’an which says:

“Say He is Allah, the One and Only. Allah, the eternal and absolute. He begets not, nor is He begotte! n, and there is none like unto Him.”

Even before the Qur’an was revealed, God had revealed His way of dealing with mankind. The prophet’s who preceded Muhammad (sa) and whose stories are found in both the Bible and Qur’an all traveled this path, as did the people who subsequently accepted faith due to their teachings. In the case of the people of Lot, God told Lot and his household to “march” and to leave the city of Sodom and Gomorrah and not look back in longing or pity for what God hated and would soon destroy. And as we know the hijrah of the prophet Muhammad, (sa) resulted in the establishment of the first Muslim state, and the inauguration of Shariah, or Islamic law as a guide for Muslims, or servants of God everywhere, in their daily lives.

It is not for anyone to say from their own thinking why God allows evil. What we do know is that evil is allowed sometimes to prevail, but only for a time. Like all things in life, its existence is temporary and governed by the will of God. Yet, those who find themselves confronted with the many trials of life should take heed that God does not forsake the righteous, and these examples from the Qur’an make it clear to us that the test we face are often a means by which God brings us back to the faith we had forsaken through the worship of false gods, among which are many, including ourselves. Yet God in His mercy has opened the doors of knowledge and taught us the way to safety through His Mercy and Grace, saying:

“Call upon Allah, or Call upon Rahman. By whatever name you call upon Him, it is well, for to Him belong the Most beautiful nameséSay: “Praise be to Allah, who begets no son, and! has no partner in His Dominion, nor needs He any to protect Him from humiliation. Yea magnify Him for His Greatness and Glory.”

The writer is the Founder and President of the National Association of Muslim American Women.