Quranic Reflection No. 516. Ayat 57:22 Pre-determined Afflictions

مَا أَصَابَ مِن مُّصِيبَةٍ فِي الْأَرْضِ وَلَا فِي أَنفُسِكُمْ إِلَّا فِي كِتَابٍ مِّن قَبْلِ أَن نَّبْرَأَهَا
Mā asāba min musībatin fil-ardhi walā fī anfusikum illā fī kitābin min qabli an-nabra’ahā
No disaster strikes upon the earth or among yourselves except that it is in a book before We bring it into being.
(Sūrat al-Hadīd, No 57, Āyat 22)

This verse talks about disasters that afflict human beings on earth. The word ‘musība’ actually means any event that impacts someone, or something. It is used for an arrow that hits the target. It could refer to an event that impacts positively or one that impacts negatively. But the negative impact was the common usage for the word and the word became associated with an event that was difficult to bear. The word in this verse is with that meaning in mind. Events that negatively impact the earth could include earthquakes, famines, floods, etc. and the events with negative impact on human beings include sickness, death, pain, etc.

The book in which these events are recorded is the Lawh al-Mahfūz or the preserved tablet mentioned many times in the Quran. In it is preserved all that was, is, and will happen till the Day of Judgement. Lawh al-Mahfūz is a reference to the knowledge of Allah ‘azza wajall, which encompasses all things. It includes the happenings, as well as the cause-and-effect system that has been put into place by Allah. It is His knowledge of what He decrees and what human beings will choose to do with the free will He has given them.

An important point to note is that the afflictions mentioned in this verse are those from which there is no escape. They have been pre-determined and are not contingent on human action. In another verse Allah talks about a different type of afflictions: And whatever strikes you of disaster – it is for what your hands have earned; but He pardons much (Q 42:30). When these two verses are taken together, they give a more comprehensive picture of the type of afflictions that befall the human being. There are two main types: one that is the result of the actions of the human being, and one that is pre-determined by Almighty Allah. The former is a consequence as well as a penalty for the actions committed.  Sometimes the actions of some can afflict many. The latter is one that has been decreed by Allah subhānahu wata‘ālā  and is unavoidable. This type of afflictions has its own philosophy and reason behind it. Many of those who are beloved to Allah (swt) go through such afflictions.

This verse has been used to show the hand of Allah ‘azza wajall behind the afflictions people face, to feel comforted by the fact that Allah has decreed that they would face the difficulty, or the oppression from people for a reason. It also reassured those around them and affirmed the fact that it was not necessarily a punishment for what they have done.

In the court of Yazīd bin Mu‘āwiyah, Imam Ali Zaynul ‘Ābidīn ‘alayhis-salām was brought in chains and made to stand in front of the tyrant. The cursed Yazīd taunted him by reciting the verse: And whatever strikes you of disaster – it is for what your hands have earned; but He pardons much (Q 42:30). Imam replied that that was not the verse revealed about the type of affliction they had faced. He then invoked the above verse: No disaster strikes upon the earth or among yourselves except that it is in a book before We bring it into being (Q 57:22).

Another example of the verse being used by those who were familiar with the correct teachings of Islam is from the life of Sa‘īd bin Jubayr – a companion of Imam Zaynul Ābidīn (a). He was brought to the court of Hajjaj, the despotic governor of Kūfa, who issued the order to execute Ibn Jubayr. Some people in the court started weeping. These were the companions of Sa‘īd who loved him. He looked at them and reassured them, saying that what would befall him was written in the book. Sa‘īd (may Allah be pleased with his soul) then recited the above verse.

Let this verse help us understand that Allah (swt) sends afflictions which are part of His decree for some of us. There is reward for bearing it and growth that occurs through it. It is part of His plan for His servants.

Sources:  Allāmah Muhammad Husayn Tabātabā’ī, Tafsīr al-Mīzān; Āyatullāh Nāsir Makārim Shirāzī (Ed.), Tafsīr-e Namūneh