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What does the crash of an Egypt Air plane in 1999 have to do with Is­lam?

After an Egypt Air flight crashed in 1999 at JFK airport, the US investigators stiffened on the last words of the flight officer: “tawakkaltu ala Allah”

Last updated: September 16, 2022

Egypt-Air flight 990 was a flight from Los Angeles to Cairo with a stop at JFK airport in New York. On October 31, 1999, the airplane – a Boeing 767-366ER named Tuthmosis III – crashed into the Atlantic Ocean, about 100 km (60 mi) south of Nantucket Island, Massachu­setts. All 217 people on board died.

According to the voice recorder [1]Full transcript: https://abcnews.go.com/US/story?id=96190&page=1, the cap­tain excused himself to go to the lavatory. Thirty seconds later the first officer said in Egyptian Arabic: “I put my trust in Allah” (تَوَكَّلْتُ عَلَى اللّهِ).

A minute later, the autopi­lot was turned-off and immediately after that, both engines were reduced to idle.

The first of­ficer repeated: “I put my trust in Allah” ten more times before the captain (who had returned) shouted re­peatedly: “What’s happening, what’s happen­ing?” (Notice: This was before 9/11 when it was possible to enter the cockpit from outside.)

The last words of the captain according to the voice recorder are: “What is this? What is this? Did you shut the engine(s)? Pull! Pull with me! Pull with me! Pull with me!”

The reason for the crash is still unclear.

The US investigators claimed that the expression “I put my trust in Allah” (“I rely on Allah”) indic­ated that the first officer wanted to commit sui­cide (!) and may have intentionally caused the crash. US officials concluded that the “prob­able cause” for the crash was deliberate action by the first officer.

The Egyptians offered several control failure scenarios. Some Egyptians claimed that the flight data recorder was manipu­lated to help the US company Boeing to cover technical failures. Others said that the Israeli Secret Service (Mossad) took down the plane because there were 33 Egyptian army of­ficers on board.

To date, the cause of the accident has not been determined. Knowing the Arab-Islamic culture, the American version seems a bit far-fetched. However, one cannot rule out the U.S. version.

So let’s take a closer look at the sentence the pilot said.

Tawakkaltu ‘ala Allah – what does it mean?

The phrase “Tawakkaltu ‘ala Allah” (تَوَكَّلْتُ عَلَى اللّهِ) – “I put my trust in Allah” or “I rely on Allah” – is very common in the Muslim world. Bumper stickers on cars bear the phrase, es­pecially on the rear win­dows of taxis or pick-ups. Egyptian soldiers in the 1973 war against Israel uttered this phrase while they crossed the Suez-Canal.

The Arabic root w-k-l (و-ك-ل) means to entrust, to put in charge. The Arabic V-verb tawakkala (تَوَكَّلَ) means to place one’s confidence in. For example, I put my trust in Allah (تَوَكَّلْتُ عَلَى اللّهِ). The verb is normally used in the past tense, but it denotes the meaning of the present or even future tense.

There are Hadiths that mention this prayer. ’Anas ibn Mālik (أَنَس بن مالِك) narrated that the Prophet said: “When a man goes out of his house and says: ‘In the name of Allah, I trust in Allah; there is no might and no power but in Allah’, the following will be said to him at that time: ‘You are guided, defended, and protected.’ The devils will go far from him and another devil will say: ‘How can you deal with a man who has been guided, defended and protected?'”

أَنَّ النَّبِيَّ قَالَ: “إِذَا خَرَجَ الرَّجُلُ مِنْ بَيْتِهِ فَقَالَ بِسْمِ اللَّهِ تَوَكَّلْتُ عَلَى اللَّهِ لاَ حَوْلَ وَلاَ قُوَّةَ إِلاَّ بِاللَّهِ.”‏ قَالَ: “يُقَالُ حِينَئِذٍ هُدِيتَ وَكُفِيتَ وَوُقِيتَ فَتَتَنَحَّى لَهُ الشَّيَاطِينُ فَيَقُولُ لَهُ شَيْطَانٌ آخَرُ كَيْفَ لَكَ بِرَجُلٍ قَدْ هُدِيَ وَكُفِيَ وَوُقِيَ.” Sunan ’Abī Dāwūd 5095

References

References
1 Full transcript: https://abcnews.go.com/US/story?id=96190&page=1
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