It is usually painful to watch the news. Recently, images of corpses swirling in the water and ravaged villages had not faded from our minds when China’s massive earthquake shook us once more. I struggled to control my tears as I watched people collapse with grief, desolate at the loss of their precious children. My mind swirls with fear and horror as I ask for Allah’s mercy and forgiveness. These are times when such disasters have become all too common. How does a person come to terms with such catastrophes? Is it simply the will of Allah, that has come to pass, or is it the wrath of Allah that has led to misery and destruction on a tremendous scale? Is it even worthwhile wondering?
Before we debate things among ourselves, Allah has some bigger questions to ask us. “Do you feel secure that He Who is in the Heaven will not make the earth to swallow you up? Then lo! It will shake. Or do you feel secure that He Who is in the Heaven will not send on you a violent wind? Then you shall know how truthful was My warning! And certainly those before them denied, then how (terrible) was My disapproval!” (67:16-18).
This is a crucial discussion because as we watch calamities around the world, we could very well be next. When we read the Quran, it becomes clear to us that in earlier times, towns were destroyed by storms, floods, volcanic eruptions and earthquakes when their people rejected the message and the messenger sent to them. The Quran clearly mentions the life history of Prophets so we may learn from them. The rule with Allah is that when people persist in transgressions, and cross the limits after having wasted one too many chances, a sudden severe punishment may overtake them. Clearly Allah warns us of similar punishments, otherwise there is no point in mentioning those facts of history. We are also told that whatever ill befalls us is due to ourselves and Allah does not wrong anyone. Isn’t it true that some of these disasters are not so natural’, having been precipitated by climate change and environmental destruction wrought by human hands?
It is also true that Allah afflicts his true followers with trials and tribulations to test their faith and to separate the firm from the shaky. Only Allah knows who those blessed ones are. Calamities would be perceived as trials by those who were already leading lives of submission to Allah. For the rest of mankind, it is a slap in the face, a sharp rebuke by a Benevolent, Loving God whom we so often forget.
Allah is always urging us to examine ourselves; He does not call us to judge others or decide matters that we have no right to decide. When a disaster strikes anywhere in the world, our job is to do the best we can to help. We should not waste time wondering if and why Allah was angry with those people. Our work is cut out for us. Our external jihad (striving) at that time is to help as much as we can, in whatever way we can. Our internal jihad (jihad) can be to pray for the deceased, the injured and the survivors and to examine our own lives and habits to see if we are living a life that is pleasing to Allah. If we are not, now is the time to change. Allah just gave us a huge wakeup call and now none of us has cause to remain ignorant or indifferent to the course our lives are taking.
In Al-Aaraf Allah says, “And if the people of the towns had believed and kept their duty, We would certainly have opened for them blessings from the heavens and the earth. But they rejected, so We seized them for what they earned. Are the people of the towns secure from Our punishment coming to them by night while they sleep? Or are the people of the towns secure from our punishment coming to them in the morning while they play? Are they secure from Allah’s plan? But none feels secure from Allah’s plan except the people who perish” (verses 96-99).
A vital point to remember about the alarming frequency of natural disasters occurring today is that these have all been foretold as signs of the end of times. Scriptures of all religions have similar prophecies about the Last Age. “For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in diverse places. All these are the beginnings of the sorrows” (Matt 24:7,8). All these prophecies speak of disasters on an unprecedented scale. The Quran speaks of similar events and the Hadith (sayings of the Prophet Muhammad) are explicit in describing the spiritual and physical hazards that will afflict people in the last age.
It is at the same time that the Quran tells us “At length when Gog and Magog are let loose, and they will sally forth from every point of eminence (21:96). Muslims and people of other faith need to open their eyes and recognize the signs that Allah has made clear to us. What is the Dajjal, the dreaded menace that our beloved Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah upon him) has warned us of? Are we followers of our true Prophet or have we shifted our allegiance to the Dajjal? These are all discussions that should be carried out in every household and public platform.
I join with others in grieving for the victims of all natural disasters. Most of us walk around with heavy hearts after watching the destruction unfold before our eyes. We go around our daily business while our thoughts and prayers are with the disaster striken. Allah is Merciful and Allah is Just. Allah is Beauty and Love. Allah is also the Qahhar, the Destroyer. May we never become targets of the wrath of Allah. Even if no storm came and the ground did not shake, the fear that Allah may be displeased with us should be enough to make us strive for greater understanding of our religion and lead lives of truthfulness.