Muslims and Natural Disasters

How are we as Muslims, meant to think about hurricanes and other natural disasters? As punishment for sins, as warning signs for the Day of Judgment, or as Allah’s wrath upon disobedient people?

It is true that the Quran talks about societies and people who were destroyed for their arrogance or their bad deeds. Sometimes the destruction came in the form of natural disaster. It is possible that climate change is the result of humanity’s arrogance and willful destruction of natural resources that we have been provided with because of God’s generosity.

However, the Quran makes it clear that earthquakes and storms have a scientific component, even as they are meant to be taken as signs of God’s existence, strength, and dominion over all things on earth. We must not be superstitious about them; we must believe that they, too, are scientific phenomena that follow the rules of nature as God has ordained them.

Furthermore, the emphasis is on witnessing God, strengthening your belief in Him, and developing fear and humility of Him rather than gloating over those who have been afflicted. The same holds true for eclipses and any other kind of unusual natural events: you are meant to pray and do good deeds for the duration.

And, natural disasters are tests from God for humanity to do two things: use our knowledge of science and technology to predict disasters and prevent damage; and to use our resources, intelligence and compassion to help those who have been afflicted.

For further explanations and support, this is a great read by Mohsen Ghafory-Ashtiany, Distinguished Professor at the Risk Management Center of Excellence International Institute of Earthquake Engineering and Seismology (IIEES) in Tehran. It gives lots of Quranic verses and Hadith to support the point of view that it is not sins of the flesh, but sins of greed and lack of compassion that make people suffer the most in natural disasters.

For example, a greedy construction boss who uses substandard materials in building houses that then collapse during earthquakes causes the most suffering. Professor Ghafory-Ashtiany believes that it is the Islamic duty of Muslims to research ways in which we can live safely — not destroying the environment, building with integrity and the best materials possible — and not hide from the realities of climate change, natural disasters and so on.

TLDR: The worst thing as Muslims is to (a) gloat over the suffering of others; (b) ignore threats from natural disasters and climate change and (c) deliberately put people in harm’s way because of greed, incompetence, or indifference to the potential damage and loss of life of people who are poor or marginalized.

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