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SUMMER HEAT: A BLESSING OR PUNISHMENT?

July 29, 2022

الحمد لله، والصلاة والسلام على رسول الله، وبعد:

وَعَسَىٰٓ أَن تَكۡرَهُواْ شَيۡـًٔا وَهُوَ خَيۡرٌ لَّڪُمۡ‌ۖ وَعَسَىٰٓ أَن تُحِبُّواْ شَيۡـًٔا وَهُوَ شَرٌّ لَّكُمۡ‌ۗ وَٱللَّهُ يَعۡلَمُ وَأَنتُمۡ لَا تَعۡلَمُونَ

And it may be that you dislike a thing which is good for you, and that you like a thing which is bad for you. Allah knows but you do not know. (Quran 2:216)



Although the above ayah (verse) from Surat al-Baqarah is in the context of Jihad or striving/fighting in the path of Allah in particular, the message and lesson is general for other aspects of our existence too (this is true also for many parts of the Quran). The message is also relevant when we or others complain about the unbearable heat and humidity during the summer months or the intense cold of winter. Allah Almighty, in His infinite Wisdom and Mercy, and as a sign of His Greatness, has included in His creation many diverse aspects and recurring cycles. The alternation of the seasons, among other things, bear testimony to the Omnipotence and Glory of its Creator, and is in itself a gift from the One who is The Most Loving (ar-Rahman) and a huge blessing for His servants and all of His creation. This is true, even when we experience extreme weather conditions.



It is the Will of the Divine that Allah created two abodes, for reward and compensation in the Hereafter, wherein all people will eventually dwell forever. These we know as al-Jannah (Heaven) and Jahannam (Hell), the former a place of unending bliss and the latter a place of unimaginable torment. Allah (SWT) created, moreover, this world, and gave each one of us a limited lifespan to live by His Will, and He tests us with commands and prohibitions. In addition, He has obligated us with belief and faith (iman), that there is a reckoning after death and a consequence to our iman and a’maal (actions). To this end, Allah Almighty sent prophets and messengers and revealed books, and provided numerous signs that point to the reality of our existence and the ultimate destiny that awaits all of us.



This worldly, transient life, is dichotomous in many regards: it is filled with, among other things, beauty and ugliness, joy and suffering, and pleasure and pain - these and other aspects of Allah’s creation are continuous reminders of what He also created in the other world, the one after death. Among the signs that remind us of Heaven and Hell are those associated with specific times and places: The perfect weather and rebirth of the earth when spring arrives, or the coolness and peace of predawn; the breathtaking landscapes and stunning vistas around the globe, as well as the delicious foods and drinks and beautiful clothing of this world; these all point to the numerous bounties in Heaven. On the other hand, we are reminded of the different forms of punishment in Hell when we see or experience those parts of the earth that are barren or desolate, or afflicted by extreme conditions or calamities and disasters; and by the seasons of extreme cold or heat and humidity.


Abu Hurayrah ( رضي الله عنه ) reported that Rasulullah ( صلى الله عليه وسلم ) said:


اشْتَكَتِ النَّارُ إِلَى رَبِّهَا فَقَالَتْ: يَا رَبِّ أَكَلَ بَعْضِي بَعْضًا، فَأَذِنَ لَهَا بِنَفَسَيْنِ: نَفَسٍ فِي الشِّتَاءِ، وَنَفَسٍ فِي الصَّيْفِ، فَأَشَدُّ مَا تَجِدُونَ فِي الشِّتَاءِ مِنْ بَرْدِهَا، وَأَشَدُّ مَا تَجِدُونَ فِي الصَّيْفِ مِنْ حَرِّهَا

Hellfire complained to its Lord and said, “O Lord! Some parts of me devour other parts of me.” So He (Allah) permitted it to take two breaths: one breath in the winter and one breath in the summer. Thus, the most severe cold that you experience in the winter is from its cold [also called zamhareer/زمهرير ], and the most severe heat that you experience in the summer is from its heat. (Al-Bukhari and Muslim)



So the heat of the sun and the humidity that may be produced is partly from Hellfire and should remind us about it. When we stand or walk in the intense sun, we should think about the specter of the gathering before Allah for our reckoning, when the sun will be drawn closer and will hover over our heads and we will sweat profusely. The Prophet (SAW) told us that according to their bad deeds, the people on that day will be “drowning in their sweat. From among them, there will be those who will be in their sweat up to their ankles. For others it will be up to their knees. Some will be in sweat up to their waist, and others will be in sweat up to their mouths.” (Muslim)



These reminders are to motivate one to be patiently perseverant (perhaps even grateful for the reminder) and to be averse to disobeying Allah (SWT), for on that Day there is no might nor power except Allah’s, and no patience can avail in the face of His punishment. The great scholar, Qatadah (RA) used to say to the people: “Obeying Allah and His messenger (in this life) is easier than bearing that type of torment (on the Day of Judgment)”. In fact, with forbearance and anticipation of Allah’s compensation, we believe that the reward of good deeds are multiplied when conditions are more challenging.



Al-Imam ibn Rajab al-Hanbali (RA) tells us about those companions of Allah's Messenger (SAW) who preferred to keep optional fasts on extremely hot days and experience the intense thirst that goes with it, commonly known in some circles as “žama’ al-hawaajir” ( ظمأ الهواجر ). This list includes Abu Bakr, Umar and A’isha (RAA): Abu Bakr preferred it over fasting in winter, Umar upon his death advised his son to exhibit his faith by fasting in summer, and A’isha is reported to do so, desiring to [literally] have near death experiences to regulate her relationship with Allah. Abu Musa al-Ash’ari (RAA) would say: “Whoever experiences extreme thirst on a very hot day for the sake of Allah, then it is incumbent upon Almighty Allah to give them to drink on the Day of Resurrection”. One of the righteous predecessors, when asked why she frequently fasted on hot days, responded with: “When prices are cheap, everyone can afford to buy“, meaning that she wanted to do actions that very few people can do! Ibn Rajab adds that this is indeed having lofty aspirations ( علوّ الهمّة ).



The many types of “natural disasters” we experience are also reminders of the various forms of punishment in the Hereafter: hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, tornados, thunderbolts, etc., many of which are mentioned in the Quran too. These types of torment and calamities were decreed by Allah (SWT) as a worldly, initial punishment for the disbelievers of many prophets like Shu’ayb (AS) and Lut (AS), as a forerunner for what lies in store for them in Hell. Fever (known as the internal fire), furthermore, is another reminder of Hellfire for the believers, and according to the hadith, is an expiation of one’s sins like “the bellowing bellows of the blacksmith that expel impurities from iron”.



Some of the righteous predecessors would always compare the very hot air and water in the public baths (hammams) to Hell and would seek Allah’s protection from it. Abu Hurayrah (RAA) said; “What a wonderful place the hammam is, as it is where we remove (bodily) impurities, but also a place for seeking refuge from punishment”. Others said that entering a bathroom can, in this way, become an act of worship. Yet others would cry when hot water was poured over their heads, recalling Allah’s words: “These two opponents (believers and disbelievers) dispute with each other about their Lord; then as for those who disbelieve, garments of fire will be cut out for them and boiling water will be poured down over their heads”. (Quran 22:19)


هَـٰذَانِ خَصۡمَانِ ٱخۡتَصَمُواْ فِى رَبِّہِمۡ‌ۖ فَٱلَّذِينَ ڪَفَرُواْ قُطِّعَتۡ لَهُمۡ ثِيَابٌ مِّن نَّارٍ يُصَبُّ مِن فَوۡقِ رُءُوسِهِمُ ٱلۡحَمِيمُ


Allah Almighty, in His infinite wisdom, allows us, too, in this world to experience bliss and suffering. The greatest blessing He can bestow on his servants in this life (and in Heaven) is the inner peace and contentment in their hearts, and the comfort and joy they experience in worshiping Allah (SWT), as described by Hasan al-Basri (RA) and others. They say that this is the true interpretation of the words of Allah in the Quran (16:97): “Whoever does good, whether male or female, and is a believer, We will surely bless them with a good life”.


مَنۡ عَمِلَ صَـٰلِحًا مِّن ذَڪَرٍ أَوۡ أُنثَىٰ وَهُوَ مُؤۡمِنٌ فَلَنُحۡيِيَنَّهُ ۥ حَيَوٰةً طَيِّبَةً


As for those who disbelief, and disobey Allah and turn away from Him, He (SWT) gives them a taste of His punishment. It may come in the form of “constriction” in the heart and a “tightening in the chest'' (Quran 6:125), and other types of psychological and emotional pain, not to mention the spiritual torment and the anxiety and the anguish about the future. The scholars say that this constriction in the heart translates later into a narrow grave filled with punishment, followed by “a narrow place inside Hell”, exacerbated by them being “chained together” in tight spaces (Quran 25:13). Allah Almighty says:


وَمَنۡ أَعۡرَضَ عَن ذِڪۡرِى فَإِنَّ لَهُ ۥ مَعِيشَةً ضَنكًا

Whosoever turns away from My Reminder, indeed, for them is a life of hardship and misery. (Quran 20:124)



Last, but not least, the fire of this world is as Allah says, in addition to being “a provision” is also a “reminder (tadhkirah/ تذكرة )” of Hellfire (Quran 56:73). Many of the companions like Ibn Mas’ud (RAA) and their followers would go out to the blacksmiths and observe the fire and heated metal and draw lessons from it, often crying out loud or collapsing, and seeking Allah’s protection from disobedience and from Hellfire. Umar ibn al-Khattab (RAA) would sometimes put his hand close to an open flame and say to himself: “O, Son of Khattab, can you withstand this fire?”, implying that he could not afford to disobey Allah (SWT) and be cast into the fire of Hell, which is seventy times more intense than the fire of this earth, according to Prophet Muhammad (SAW). In addition, Abdullah ibn Umar (RAA) and others when drinking cold water would weep and reflect deeply on the situation in Hell when its inhabitants would be (literally) dying from thirst and “pleading to the inhabitants of Paradise for some water or any type of help”. The response will be that “Allah has forbidden both to the disbelievers”. (Quran 7:50).



And then there are the many marvelous aspects of Allah’s creation and the wondrous bounties He has bestowed upon us to remind us of Jannah, a place where there is no heat nor sweat, nor any thirst nor body odor, nor any discomfort or suffering. There we will find, God willing, only joy and pleasure - “what no eyes have seen, nor any ears have heard of, nor can be imagined by any mind” (Hadith). May Allah, ar-Rahman al-Raheem, grant us an abode in the highest levels of Jannat al-Firdaws, close to His throne and with His beloved Prophet (SAW), enjoying the bliss in the companionship of our family and friends, and the other prophets, the truthful, the martyrs and the righteous.



May Allah Almighty protect us and be pleased with us. May He reward us with the best in both worlds. All praises are due to Allah, Lord of the Creation. May His peace and blessings be upon our master Prophet Muhmmad (SAW), on his family and on his companions. And may peace be with you.