The law of alternation. What goes up must come down

The law of alternation. What goes up must come down

Anas (may Allah be pleased with him) narrated that the Prophet (peace be upon him) had a she-camel, whose name was al ‘Adba, who never lost a race. He said:

عَنْ أَنَسٍ ـ رضى الله عنه ـ قَالَ كَانَ لِلنَّبِيِّ صلى الله عليه وسلم نَاقَةٌ تُسَمَّى الْعَضْبَاءَ لاَ تُسْبَقُ ـ  أَوْ لاَ تَكَادُ تُسْبَقُ ـ فَجَاءَ أَعْرَابِيٌّ عَلَى قَعُودٍ فَسَبَقَهَا، فَشَقَّ ذَلِكَ عَلَى الْمُسْلِمِينَ، حَتَّى عَرَفَهُ فَقَالَ ‏ “‏ حَقٌّ عَلَى اللَّهِ أَنْ لاَ يَرْتَفِعَ شَىْءٌ مِنَ الدُّنْيَا إِلاَّ وَضَعَهُ ‏”‏‏.‏. ‏(‏‏(‏رواه البخاري‏)‏‏).

The Prophet (ﷺ) had a she camel called Al Adba which could not be excelled in a race. Once a Bedouin came riding a camel below six years of age which surpassed it (i.e. Al-`Adba’) in the race. The Muslims felt it so much that the Prophet (ﷺ) noticed their distress. He then said, “It is Allah’s Law that He brings down whatever rises high in the world.” [Bukhari]

It was common for Arabs to give names to everything, not just their children, but even their animals, especially their camels (which were like their cars), as well as their swords and spears. The Prophet (peace be upon him) owned a camel, the best camel at the time, the equivalent of a formula one car. No one could defeat her until one day a Bedouin brought a young camel, which was about 4 years old, to race against her. It was the sport of that time, and people would come to watch the races, as people go to watch football in our time. The Prophet (peace be upon him) would take part in these races. It was their entertainment, and it is halal, as long as there is no betting or gambling involved.

During this race with this young, unknown camel, Al ‘Adba was defeated and the companions of the Prophet (peace be upon him) were stunned and shocked, and they felt sad. The Prophet (peace be upon him) would always seize the opportunity to deliver a lesson when something happened, so he said to them that it is the rule of Allah, that everything that goes up will eventually come down. Nothing can continue rising without hitting its peak. Nothing can go up and up and up without hitting the ceiling. In the animal world as well as the human world, decline or defeat is inevitable, whether it is leaders who rise to power or individuals who become celebrities or nations and civilisations. The exception is people of taqwa (obedience) to Allah as they are elevated to Jannah.

It is a very important law. Although it was entertainment for them to watch the race, the Prophet (peace be upon him) delivered an important lesson through it, while consoling the Companions that they should not be so disheartened or sad, because this is part of life. Nothing stays as it is. Everything changes except Allah.

This universe follows this law of change. Our lives also keep changing. Our bodies, though relatively imperceptibly, are constantly changing. As our heart pumps blood around the body and our lungs absorb oxygen, we are in continuous motion. Just as day turns to night and seasons cycle through their phases, we too experience growth and decay and remain in a perpetual state of flux.

Ibn Khaldun (may Allah be pleased with him) who is widely considered the father of sociology, wrote the “Muqaddimah” in the 8th Islamic century, (779 AH / 1377 AD) as a preface to “Kitab al-ibar, wa diwan al-mobtadae wa al-khabar”, his great historical work. It is regarded as the earliest and most significant contribution to the philosophy of history and sociology. In his introduction, he mentioned that every nation has an expiry date. Any city or civilisation or leader is ultimately replaced by others, it is the law of replacement (sunnat al-istibdaal). It is linked to the law of change (sunnat at-taghyeer) and the law of alternation (sunnat at-tadawul).

The law of alternation

Just as the camel of the Prophet (peace be upon him) was on top one day and then defeated, Allah commented on the defeat of the believers at the Battle of Uhud, though they had experienced victory at Badr, that success will always fluctuate. This is the sunnat of tadawul. He said:

إِن یَمۡسَسۡكُمۡ قَرۡحࣱ فَقَدۡ مَسَّ ٱلۡقَوۡمَ قَرۡحࣱ مِّثۡلُهُۥۚ وَتِلۡكَ ٱلۡأَیَّامُ نُدَاوِلُهَا بَیۡنَ ٱلنَّاسِ وَلِیَعۡلَمَ ٱللَّهُ ٱلَّذِینَ ءَامَنُوا۟ وَیَتَّخِذَ مِنكُمۡ شُهَدَاۤءَۗ وَٱللَّهُ لَا یُحِبُّ ٱلظَّـٰلِمِینَ

If you have suffered injuries ˹at Uḥud˺, they suffered similarly ˹at Badr˺. We alternate these days ˹of victory and defeat˺ among people so that Allah may reveal the ˹true˺ believers, choose martyrs from among you—and Allah does not like the wrongdoers.

[Āli-ʿImrān, 3:140]

The lessons which we learn from Uhud are explained in over 60 verses (which is almost a quarter of the surah). They are far more numerous than the lessons which we learn from Badr. Allah shows us how to pick ourselves up after defeat – psychologically, physically and spiritually.  

There is no button you can press to pause this law or make it hibernate – it is ongoing. Some days you will experience success; and others you will face defeat. Firaun committed so many crimes and claimed he was the highest lord, but Allah drowned him in the sea and made the sea throw his body back on shore, so it would be preserved and kept on display. This confirms the sunnah of tadawul.

No one country can be in a position of domination forever. No one can pause the passage of time – every day we get older. However there are conditions, as mentioned in the Quran, that keep you on top, such as being just and fair. However if you do not fulfil these conditions, you cannot stay on top. Those who are pretending they are the protectors of human rights and international law and children, unless you have been tested it is all mere claims. In the Arabic proverb, they say ‘the camel can climb the tree’, meaning unless you prove it, it is hot air.

Where are human rights when it comes to Palestine? Where are children’s rights and international rights in Gaza? They lecture us about human rights, children’s’ rights, or international rights, when they do not respect them. They should stop lecturing us further about morality, as they have shown a distinct lack of morality.

We are not saying get rid of these laws, we need to have protection for children and human life and we need laws that deliver justice and fairness. We are saying do not make a mockery of them.

The fact there is only silence is the sign that it is only a matter of time, before those in power will be replaced. The moment you overstep the limits of justice and fairness, it is the beginning of your decline and dismissal. This is good news of a new start. Just as there is no delivery without labour pains, the birth of new justice is also being preceded by the acute pain we are experiencing now.

Instead of double standards, with one rule for the West and one rule for the Middle East, we should have one standard for all. Every human life is to be valued and respected. Each life is equal. When Allah said, ‘We have ennobled the children of Adam,’ [17:70], He declared it without discrimination.

We pray that it is a time of change, the beginning of a new dawn, when everyone will be treated with fairness and justice. Ameen

Based on the khutbah of Shaykh Haytham Tamim 24th May 2024


Shaykh Haytham Tamim is the founder and main teacher of the Utrujj Foundation. He has provided a leading vision for Islamic learning in the UK, which has influenced the way Islamic knowledge is disseminated. He has orchestrated the design and delivery of over 200 unique courses since Utrujj started in 2001. His extensive expertise spans over 30 years across the main Islamic jurisprudence schools of thought. He has studied with some of the foremost scholars in their expertise; he holds some of the highest Ijazahs (certificates) in Quran, Hadith (the Prophetic traditions) and Fiqh (Islamic rulings). His own gift for teaching was evident when he gave his first sermon to a large audience at the age of 17 and went on to serve as a senior lecturer of Islamic transactions and comparative jurisprudence at the Islamic University of Beirut (Shariah College). He has continued to teach; travelling around the UK, Europe and wider afield, and won the 2015 BISCA award (British Imams & Scholars Contributions & Achievements Awards) for Outstanding Contribution to Education and Teaching.