Quranic Reflection No. 541. Ayat 23:106 – The Excuse of the Misfortune in Life

قَالُوا رَبَّنَا غَلَبَتْ عَلَيْنَا شِقْوَتُنَا وَكُنَّا قَوْمًا ضَالِّينَ

Qālū rabbanā ghalabat ‘alaynā shiqwatunā wakunna qawman dāllīn

They will say, ‘Our Lord! Our wretchedness overcame us, and we were an astray lot.

(Sūrat al-Mu’minūn, No 23, Āyat 106)

On the Day of Judgment, people will give many excuses for the wrong they did in this world. They will blame the Shaytān, people, their geographical location, and other circumstances that they believe prevented them from following the right path. It will be a futile attempt to ward off the consequences of their deeds. Their excuses will, of course, not be accepted.

One such excuse will be shifting the responsibility of personal actions to an inner wretchedness or misfortune, mentioned in the verse above as ‘shiqwah’. These people acknowledge that they were astray but refuse to admit their guilt. They place the blame on their wretchedness, or an inner state of misfortune. Shiqwah (which can also be translated as misfortune) is the opposite of ‘sa‘ādah’ (good fortune). Shiqwah refers to a situation which leads to negative consequences, to problems and hardship. Sa‘ādah, on the other hand, is when causes for positive occurrences in life fall into place. It may seem that both sa‘ādah and shiqwah are outside the control of the human being himself. Some people believe it is something the person is born with. But that is a false assumption. It goes against all that the Prophets have taught about free will and human responsibility.

According to Allāmah Tabātabā’ī, sa‘ādah is the good that happens to a human being and shiqwah is the absence of that good. He says that since the people attribute the wretchedness to themselves (our wretchedness in the verse above), it is a sign that they realize they had a role to play in their own misfortune. It was a result of wrong choices they had made. But they also believe they were overcome by their misfortune, as though their souls were like white pieces of paper which could take on the colour of good fortune or the colour of misfortune. They claim that misfortune made its way to them and took over a place in their lives. But actually, the misfortune found its way to them because of the wrong they committed. Their admission that it overcame them is an admission that it was not part of them, or within them. It came from outside. They invited it to themselves through their actions.

Sa‘ādah and shiqwa are nothing more than the result of the human being’s thoughts, words, and deeds. When Amīrul Mu’minīn Imam Ali ‘alayhis-salām wrote the letter to Mālik al-Ashtar, the governor he was sending to Egypt, he said in the beginning of the letter: This is what Allah’s servant `Ali, Amirul Mu’minīn, has ordered Mālik ibn al-Hārith al-Ashtar in his instrument (of appointment) for him when he made him Governor of Egypt for the collection of its revenues, fighting against its enemies, seeking the good of its people and making its cities prosperous. He has ordered him to fear Allah, to prefer obedience to Him, and to follow what He has commanded in His Book (Quran) out of His obligatory and elective commands. No one can achieve good fortune (yas‘adu) without following them, nor does anyone become unfortunate (yashqā) except by opposing and ignoring them. (Letter 53, Nahjul Balāgha).

The foundation of good fortune or misfortune lies in a person’s attitude towards Allah ‘azza wajall. In Du‘ā ‘Arafah, Imam al-Husayn (a) says O Allah, make me fear You as if I can see You. Make me fortunate through taqwā and do not make me unfortunate through my disobedience to You. There may be some factors in life which increase the chances of misfortune, such as genes, upbringing, certain types of people in life, etc. But the human being has been given the will power to overcome those and ward off the misfortune. This is a challenge and a test, but it does not determine the eventual outcome.

Let this verse remind us that no one and nothing can take the blame for our misdeeds. Wretchedness and misfortune are dependent on our deeds and with the right actions and tawfīq from Allah, we can prevent it from leading us astray.

Sources: Āyatullāh Nāsir Makārim Shirāzī (Ed.), Tafsīr-e Namūneh; Allāmah Muhammad Husayn Tabātabā’ī, Tafsīr al-Mīzān; https://hawzah.net/fa/Article/View/96699/