M. Fethullah Gulen
Were the times of death of those who die in a disaster destined to be simultaneous?
The appointed time of death is the end of the predetermined life-span of a living creature. This inevitable end-inevitable because every creature that has a beginning must have an end-has been determined before the creature’s appearance in the world.
All existence is in a stream through time and space. It is not possible to distinguish between the beginning and the end in this stream. Everything which drops into the stream of existence is certain to, one day, join the ‘sea’ towards which it flows. Every beginning promises an end. It is only the One who has no beginning that also has no end. It is this One without beginning or end who appointed a beginning and an end for everything else. As the bubbles on a river appearing and then disappearing demonstrate their transience and contrast the continuance of the sun which they reflect, the creatures likewise testify, through their ephemarility, to the existence, oneness and permanence of the One whose Names and Attributes they reflect (through their life). The purpose for the transient existence of all creatures is to he a mirror through which God reflects His attributes and Names. For example, through their limited sight and hearing, they demonstrate the existence of the One who sees everything and hears every sound and voice. Through their limited power and knowledge, they testify to His infinite power and knowledge, and through their transience they show His eternity.
When we travel-on a mental journey-through the universe, we see that nothing gets in the way of another. For example, the whole world, from tiny particles to huge mountains, from a single drop of water to vast oceans, and from flowers to huge gardens and fields, is illuminated by a single sun. The sun penetrates everything down to the last of the billions of seeds under the earth. It reflects itself through the eyes of every living creature, as well as in each and every molecule of water in the sea, without one hindering the others. Likewise, numerous similar things occur at the same moment without hindering one another. Each requires the manifestation or functioning of a single power, arrangement and knowledge. For example, countless seeds germinate under the soil: many babies come into the world: many new formations take place in space; many flowers burst open in spring and fade away in autumn. A single word goes into the ears of millions of people at the same moment, and innumerable sounds voices and images and pictures are transmitted through air all at the same instant and received by billions of people all over the world, without one obstructing the other. Do all of these demonstrate a universal, incredibly accurate and delicate design and planning, and point to a comprehensive, infinite knowledge and power? Now, is it reasonable to ask whether the One who has such knowledge and power, who has created the universe as a wonderful organism, as a cosmos, in which each individual thing is interlinked both with another individual thing and to everything at the same time, is able to make many people die at the same moment in a disaster?
Another relevant question sometimes asked concerns Azrail-the Angel of Death. How can one single entity take the souls of many people at the same instant?
Although the answer to this question can be found in the elucidations above, it may be useful to make further explanations. especially concerning the nature of angels.
The Arabic word for angel’ is ‘mal’ak’ Whether derived from ‘malk’, meaning ‘power, or ‘mal’ak’, meaning ‘messengership’, angels are powerful entities who transmit God’s commands throughout the universe. Before I elaborate further, it should be noted that God is absolutely able to administer the universe without angels-seeing that it is He who created angels and employs them in the administration of the universe. But since this life is one of tests, where God manifests Himself according to His Wisdom. He uses angels and natural causes or laws to veil His operation so that those unable to discern the Divine Wisdom and Grace behind everything and every event, may not commit destructive sins by accusing Him for events which they find unpleasant.
All happenings in the universe, from atoms to galaxies, all the formations and dissolutions, occur through the ‘messengership’ of angels, who transmit or convey the Knowledge and Power of God down to the minutest particles. As they control and supervise the ‘gravitation and repulsion’ between objects in macro- and micro-universes, as well as the most orderly movements of electrons around the nuclei in atoms, so too they convey God’s Commandments issuing from His Attribute of Speech to human beings, through prophets.
When we examine the creation carefully, we see that each thing whether universal or particular, has a collective identity but also performs a unique, universal function. As each flower displays a superlative design and symmetry and recites, with the tongue of its existence, the Names of the Creator, so the whole earth performs a universal duty of glorification as though it was a single flower. A single fruit glorifies God with order and regularity, and a tree does the same on a larger scale through the ‘words’ of its leaves, flowers, and fruits. Likewise, the vast ‘book’ of the heavens praises and glorifies the Majestic Maker through its suns, moons and stars, which are its ‘words’, and so on. Angels are the representatives of all such bodies and things in the world of the ‘inner’ dimensions of creation, and, in addition to supervising their life and movements, express their praises. Mikail, for example, supervises the growth of all kinds of corn and provisions upon the earth by the leave and power of God, and, if one may say so, is the head of all the angels that resemble farmers. There is another great angel who leads by God’s leave, command and power, the ‘incorporeal shepherds’ of all animals. Because of this, religious scholars call angels by the name of the kind of existence they are in charge of, such as ‘the angel of the mountains, the angel of the seas, the angel of the rain’, and so on. In the same way, there are many angels to control, supervise and protect men, and also to supervise their death.
Angels were created purely from light, so they, much more than the sun, have the ability to penetrate everything and everywhere, and to be present in numerous places at the same time. Consider that: if the son were a conscious living being, with its light being its soul and intellect, its heat its power, and its colours its other faculties, it could have conscious, free disposal at the same moment over all the creatures, animate or inanimate, which it penetrates. That being the case, angels, being the powerful and conscious servants of God that were created purely from light, can do numerous things at the same time.
We should, however, point out here that, as explained above, angels and natural causes are, in a way, conveyors and conductors of God’s commands and manifestations. So it is God Himself who causes living creatures to die. It is He who gives life to everything. Just as in addition to the previous examples, we see that millions of radio or television-sets receive at the same time the same message sent from a single station, God Almighty manifests Himself with His Name, al-Mumit (the One who causes things to die), He can make, if He wills, all the living creatures die at the same moment. The creatures come to life by the manifestation of His Name, al-Muhyi (the One who gives life), and continue their life in absolute dependence on His Name, al Qayyum (the All-Sustainer). There is nothing in the universe to prevent Him from manifesting in whatever way He wills, so He can cause to die at the same instant as many creatures as He wishes.
Although this is the ultimate truth in this respect, there are different opinions concerning taking the souls of creatures. They are as follows:
1. God Himself takes every soul and, therefore, what Azrail, the Angel of Death, does in this respect, is to watch this act of God in full admiration and glorify Him.
2. Azrail takes souls by God’s Will and Command.
3. As there are innumerable ‘assistants’ of each angel, Azrail, too has many helpers working under his command. These helpers are of different types. Some are charged with taking the souls of saintly persons, some of ordinary believers, and others are sent to the wicked people or hypocrites and unbelievers. Some verses of the Qur’an point to this fact:
If you saw, when the angels take the souls of the unbelievers, (how) they smite their faces and their backs, saying ‘taste the penalty of blazing fire because of the deeds which your own hands set forth. For God is never unjust for His servants’. (al-Anfal, 8.50-51)
By the (angels) who tear out (the souls of the wicked) with violence. By those who gently draw out (the souls of the blessed). (al-Naziat, 79.1-2)
And God knows the best.