A COMMON belief among many Muslims is that disasters are a manifestation of the wrath of God due to our wayward ways and negligence of religious duties.
These could be natural or manmade disasters: earthquakes; floods; heatwaves, drought and extreme cold, wars etc. Such a belief is entrenched within our psyche, ahadith are quoted to support it. We often fail to recognise our own hand in the making of these disasters and their impacts. Our fatalistic tendencies are reinforced and we end up blaming society and various groups for their misdeeds for such events.
The Quran says: “...nor would We visit with Our Wrath until We had sent a messenger (to give warning)” (17:15). Throughout humankind’s history, messengers have been sent to their specific communities to warn people and guide them to the right path, whenever they strayed towards evil acts and persisted with the latter.
After years of calling them to return to put their belief in one God and the Hereafter and adopt an honest and compassionate lifestyle, God decided whether or not the time had come to separate the deniers of truth from the believers. This was the stage of conclusive arguments and clarification (Itemam al Hujja).
We often fail to recognise our own hand in the making of disasters.
Once this was done, God sent His punishment, either in the form of natural events, as in the case of Hazrat Lut’s people, upon whom was sent a storm of stones like baked clay; Hazrat Shuaib, whose people were all destroyed by a terrible earthquake, and Hazrat Nuh, who had preached for several hundred years, but to no avail. His people were destroyed by a flood after he had sailed away in an ark built by him. In the case of Hazrat Musa, Pharaoh and his army were destroyed when they drowned at sea. In each of these and other examples, God had separated the good people and saved them, while the rest were wiped off from the face of the earth.
In the case of Hazrat Muhammad (PBUH), God separated all disbelievers after a very long process of giving time and allowance to the Quraish and the wrongdoers among the Jews and Christians of that time. They were then killed in wars at the hands of the Muslims. This action was only meant for that time, when a prophet was present among the people and he had made all efforts to guide his people to the right path.
Itemam al Hujja and subsequent actions were relevant only for the times of the prophets. Since Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) is the last messenger and no one shall come after him, this process of God’s collective punishment in this world has come to an end. An individual may still believe that a disaster that has befallen one in life might be a consequence of something he or she may have done to displease God, but that is his or her personal belief and he or she must try and atone for this through penance and compensating for the wrong that has been done.
However, this is not a universal fact and is not valid for children and innocent people. It would, therefore, be completely wrong on someone’s part to witness another’s misfortune and consider it as a sign of displeasure of God.
Disasters occur in this world due to natural, scientific reasons; most often, they are a result of man’s activities. The melting of glaciers, floods, landslides, the impact of tsunamis and earthquakes and wars are all consequences of either global warming or lack of appropriate preventive or corrective measures by humans.
According to Javed Ahmad Ghamidi, God allows these disasters to occur to remind human beings of the truth of collective death and the end of the world. Death occurs everywhere all the time, but it is only mass destruction that helps those who are living to realise that they all must leave the world some time and that they, too, are in line and can go anytime. They should try and do some good while they are alive and have the ability to act, lest it becomes too late.
This does not negate the fact that people must pray, individually and collectively, for those who have suffered and for the safety of those whose lives and property was saved.
Disasters that cause collective harm are also challenges from God, to take appropriate action and to also express regrets. In compassion and concern, the heart calls out to the Creator with sincerity and He has promised to listen. At the same time, rationality should not become a casualty and all measures should be taken at individual, community and national levels for the prevention of and protection against disasters.
For example, it is good to pray for deliverance from disasters. It is also important to ensure the protection of trees to avoid soil erosion; harvest rainwater when it does rain and take steps for disaster risk reduction and management.
The writer is a freelance contributor with an interest in religion.
Published in Dawn, November 15th, 2019