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The Butterfly Effect

Around 4000 years ago, there was a man who built a small building for prayer. When he completed its construction, he raised his hands and made the following duʿā’:

رَبَّنَا تَقَبَّلْ مِنَّا إِنَّكَ أَنْتَ السَّمِيعُ الْعَلِيمُ

“Our Lord! Accept this from us. You are indeed the All-Hearing, All-Knowing.”[1]

The name of that structure is the Kaʿbah, and its builder was Prophet Ibrāhīm (ʿalayhi al-Salām). At this juncture, we must reflect on a few matters. This simple structure was constructed by two men – a father and son – in the middle of a desolate desert, during a very forlorn period in human history. Yet, this very building would later become the direction of prayer for humanity, a place inhabited by angels, and the home of blessings and abundance.It is the holiest site on earth, which was venerated by the prophets, and today is visited annually by millions of people. How did this simple structure become the most sacred and exalted in the entire world?

It is fascinating that despite its unimaginably humble origins, Allah has described this structure with the most noble of attributes, such as the following:

جَعَلَ اللَّهُ الْكَعْبَةَ الْبَيْتَ الْحَرَامَ قِيَامًا لِلنَّاسِ

“Allah has made the Kaʿbah – the Sacred House – a maintenance for all people.”[2]

We find even more vivid descriptors being used, such as the following:

مُبَارَكًا وَهُدًى لِلْعَالَمِينَ (96) فِيهِ آيَاتٌ بَيِّنَاتٌ مَقَامُ إِبْرَاهِيمَ وَمَنْ دَخَلَهُ كَانَ آمِنًا

“..it is a blessed place, and a source of guidance for all people. Within it are clear signs and the standing place of Ibrāhīm. Whoever enters it is secure..”[3]

How was it raised to this level of fame and universal acceptance, despite its modest origins? A reasonable answer to this query can be provided in many ways. However, I will draw your attention to just one explanatory model, which is often called the butterfly effect. The term was coined by Edward Lorenz, a meteorologist and mathematician who died in 2008. This concept makes up part of chaos theory, which is a well-known branch in the field of physics. In simple terms, the butterfly effect is the notion that minute causes will eventually have massive effects. It was initially illustrated by the idea of a butterfly flapping its wings in the Amazonian jungle, which subsequently causes a storm to ravage in Europe.

Below are a few examples of this notion in application:

The Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna rejecting Adolf Hitler’s application

Did you know that in the early 1900s, a young Adolf Hitler applied to study at an art school? It is believed that during this application process, he was rejected by a Jewish professor. By his own estimation, which is shared by many history scholars, this rejection ultimately shaped his metamorphosis from an aspiring bohemian artist to the embodiment of evil. We can only speculate how differently history might have unfolded and how tragedy could have been averted if Hitler had merely limited himself to water colours. What ultimately happened, however, is the wise Qadar of Allah, and this is the butterfly effect.

The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand

Did you know that both world wars were sparked off by the mere wrong turning of a car? On 28 June 1914, a teenage Bosnian-Serb named Gavrilo Princip went to Sarajevo with two other nationalists to assassinate the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the immediate heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The initial assassination attempt failed; a bomb exploded beneath the car behind the Archduke’s and wounded its occupants. Having believed that the plan had failed, the assassin made his way home and stopped off for a sandwich on Franz Joseph Street.

Meanwhile, the driver of the Archduke was supposed to redirect his vehicle to an expressway in order to facilitate a high speed escape. Somehow, however, this crucial message was not properly communicated, and the driver made the fatal mistake of turning onto Franz Joseph Street. The assassin, with a sandwich in his hand, realised that a golden opportunity stood before him. He rushed towards them, and at point blank range, killed both the Archduke and his wife. The assassination sparked a deep political crisis, and the superpowers of the world blamed one another. Within one week, World War 1 was underway

This bitter conflict lasted for four years, and resulted in the demise of around 15 million people. This paved the way for a humiliating peace treaty for Germany – The Treaty of Versailles – which included a guilt clause. This clause required “Germany [to] accept the responsibility of Germany and her allies for causing all the loss and damage” during the conflict. The Treaty required Germany to pay billions of dollars to the Allies. This humiliating defeat provoked the anger of Germans, and sparked a wave of nationalistic fervour in the country. These conditions were vital for enabling the rise of Hitler, whose expansionist ambitions paved the way for the Second World War. This latter conflict was far bloodier than its predecessor, and resulted in the loss of around 75 million people. The Second World War’s aftermath immediately led to the Cold War. During this time, there was a global division between East and West, with the United States and Soviet Union being the chief protagonists of the two sides. During this conflict, two different socio-economic systems found themselves engaged in conflict for almost half a century. The Soviet Union’s decline paved the way for America’s ascension as the sole superpower of the world, which had massive repercussions for countries in the Middle East. The policies implemented by the United States in the region continue to have effects until this day, all because of the wrong turning of a car. This, however, is the wise Qadar of Allah. Furthermore, it is a prime example of the butterfly effect.

A conspiracy to kill a child that saved a nation

Did you know that Egypt’s course of history changed because of a child who was picked up from a well? The Prophet Yūsuf (ʿalayhi al-Salām) suffered at the hands of his brothers, who conspired to  separate him from their father. This led to Yūsuf (ʿalayhi al-Salām) being cruelly thrown inside a well. The sequence of events that followed are remarkable; he was found by a passing business caravan, which led him to Egypt, where he became a slave of Egypt’s chief minister al-ʿAzīz. Yūsuf (ʿalayhi al-Salām) would face another great trial, when the influential wife of al-ʿAzīz attempted to seduce him. When her evil plots failed, she made false accusations against him, which led to his unjust imprisonment. This led to the discovery of Yusuf’s dream-interpreting intuition, which led to a meeting with Egypt’s ruler, who urgently needed the interpretation for a dream that he saw. By earning the king’s trust, Yūsuf (ʿalayhi al-Salām) became a powerful minister, and played a crucial role in rescuing Egypt from the devastating effects of a crippling famine, which allowed Yūsuf (ʿalayhi al-Salām) to reunite with his family and siblings in the land of Egypt. The fascinating fact is that this chain of events was activated by a group of jealous men who wanted to kill their younger brother in a park somewhere in Egypt.

After looking at these examples, it becomes evident of how fragile the world is. But at the same time, they allow us to realise that even small doings, over time can generate huge outcomes. In fact, well before the term butterfly effect was even coined, the concept was suggested in early English poetic verses penned during the 14th century, which state:

For want of a nail the horseshoe was lost,
For want of a horseshoe the horse was lost,
For want of a horse the rider was lost,
For want of a rider the battle was lost,
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost,
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

So, if the loss of a nail caused the loss of a kingdom, the wrong turning of a car caused two world wars, and the flapping of a butterfly’s wing causes a typhoon on the other side of the globe, what then of your potential when compared to these petty causes? After all, you are one of Allah’s greatest creation;

لَقَدْ خَلَقْنَا ٱلْإِنسَـٰنَ فِىٓ أَحْسَنِ تَقْوِيمٍ

“We created man in the finest state.”[4]

You were honoured by Allah over the rest of creation:

وَلَقَدْ كَرَّمْنَا بَنِي آدَمَ وَحَمَلْنَاهُمْ فِي الْبَرِّ وَالْبَحْرِ وَرَزَقْنَاهُمْ مِنَ الطَّيِّبَاتِ وَفَضَّلْنَاهُمْ عَلَى كَثِيرٍ مِمَّنْ خَلَقْنَا تَفْضِيلًا

“Indeed, We have dignified the children of Adam, carried them on land and sea, granted them good and lawful provisions, and privileged them far above many of Our creatures.”[5]

Furthermore, Allah also honoured you with the religion of Islam:

إِنَّ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَعَمِلُوا الصَّالِحَاتِ أُولَئِكَ هُمْ خَيْرُ الْبَرِيَّةِ

“Indeed, those who believe and do good are the best of all beings.”[6]

Imagine what your potential could be if you consciously attempted to set off many butterfly effects on a daily basis, whether at home, the workplace, online, or when spending time outside with friends.

To summarise this piece in just one sentence, we may say: mathematics, physics, history, human experiences, and most importantly the Qur’an are all decisive proofs that a little can be a lot, and that the smallest decisions in your life can have the biggest consequences.

Our Prophet Muhammad ﷺ had already communicated this message to us more than 1400 years ago when he said:

‏لا تحقرن من المعروف شيئاً، ولو أن تلقى أخاك بوجه طلق

“Do not belittle any good deed, even if it is just meeting your brother with a smiling face.”[7]

This is a ḥādīth which blows the spirit of life into the heart of every lazy being. It urges them to live with intentionality, purpose and drive to work good deeds, regardless of their size and regardless of the coverage, and then to expect the best outcomes. Indeed, how many times has it occurred where a smile or a passing word of encouragement affected a person and sparked a chain of events of growth till they reached unimaginable heights? Similarly, how many times has a bad experience, be it an insult or any moment of humiliation, sparked the degeneration of a person till, after the passage of many years, landed him at an abyss of loss and failure? The butterfly effect is real, and so “do not belittle any good deed, even if it is just meeting your brother with a smiling face.”

Every morning, let this be one of the very first questions that you pose to yourself: what butterfly effects am I going to trigger on this day to change the course of my future and that of my Ummah?

This question has already been answered by those who have set for themselves the regular target of memorising or teaching an āyah of the Qur’an on a daily basis. According to the butterfly effect, this simple action of theirs shall in shā’ Allāh unleash a wave of good deeds on a prospective date known to Allah. Likewise, this question is effectively answered by those who never give up on making duʿā’ to their Lord, for how many times have their quiet prayers in the depths of the night sparked a chain of events which ended up changing the topography of land and demographics of nations? Furthermore, it is a question that is answered by teachers who are unaffected by their small online viewership or the few attendees at their ḥalaqah sessions, regardless of whether they are held at home, in the masjid, or online, realising that their contributions will flourish in ways that no computer could predict or simulate. It is a question that is answered by the heroes of this nation, its mothers, who resist the sustained campaigns against them which seek to belittle their role, but instead realising that the cradle they rock at home with Allah in mind is to produce a progeny who shall rock the thrones of tyrants tomorrow.

Every small good deed which you perform and promote today will become part of a much bigger picture tomorrow. For Muslims, The Butterfly Effect serves as a message that every good deed is a catalyst which draws you nearer to legacy creation, and draws our Ummah nearer to its recovery; Every Islamic post which you first verify and then share is important. Every evening Halaqa which you deliver to your small family is reviving; Every visit to al-Aqsa you make brings us one step closer to its liberation.

“It used to be thought that the events that changed the world were things like big bombs, maniac politicians, huge earthquakes, or vast population movements, but it has now been realised that this is a very old-fashioned view held by people totally out of touch with modern thought. The things that change the world, according to Chaos theory, are the tiny things.”[8]

Do what Prophet Ibrāhīm (ʿalayhi al-Salām) did. He he put forward his good deed by building the simple structured Ka’ba, then he raised his hands in Du’aa, saying:

رَبَّنَا تَقَبَّلْ مِنَّا إِنَّكَ أَنْتَ السَّمِيعُ الْعَلِيمُ

“Our Lord! Accept this from us. You are indeed the All-Hearing, All-Knowing.”[9]

Then, realise that when Allah sees sincerity, He gives acceptance. If He gives acceptance, He sponsors a good deed. If He sponsors a good deed, He sends it to the four corners of the globe. That is the greatest manifestation of a butterfly effect. So till the day you die, make a daily effort in creating as many as you can.

Source: www.islam21c.com


[1] Al-Qur’ān, 2:127.

[2] Al-Qur’ān, 5:97.

[3] Al-Qur’ān, 3:96-97.

[4] Al-Qur’ān, 95:4.

[5] Al-Qur’ān, 17:70.

[6] Al-Qur’ān, 98:7.

[7] Muslim, on the authority of Abū Dharr.

[8] Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, Good Omens.

[9] Al-Qur’ān, 2:127.

About Shaikh Ali Hammuda

Shaikh Ali Ihsan Hammuda is a UK national of Palestinian origin. He gained bachelors and masters’ degrees in Architecture & Planning from the University of the West of England, before achieving a BA in Shari'ah from al-Azhar University in Egypt. He is currently based in Wales and is a visiting Imām at Al-Manar Centre in Cardiff, and also a senior researcher and lecturer for the Muslim Research & Development Foundation in London. Ustādh Ali is the author of several books including 'The Daily Revivals' and 'The Ten Lanterns", and continues to deliver sermons, lectures and regular classes across the country.


  1. Samuka Soloman

    Jazakha’Allah khairan. This is such an inspiring article

  2. Jazakallah Khair for this contribution, an inspiring and exhilarating read. May Allah SWT bless you in both worlds. Ameen

  3. Munira Shabir

    Jazakallah khair for a heart touching article. Ma sha Allah tabarakallah, may Allah reward you immensely, it is very very inspiring.

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