Perspective on Turkish Earthquake
Natural Disasters: Test, Punishment, or Blessing?
Within the space of a few seconds in August an entire city was demolished and an entire
country was badly shaken. The earthquake in Turkey that left an estimated 200,000 people
homeless and that killed and wounded about 50,000 people has been called the
disaster of the century. Quite naturally, Muslims the world over have felt the
pain and sufferings of their brothers and sisters in Turkey.
No one can predict or prevent an earthquake. But even if we were able to predict their
occurrence, as we can such natural disasters as hurricanes or floods, they would remain a
reminder of how fragile we really are. Our ability to harness the forces of nature can
give us the illusion that we are the masters of the universe. But this ability is granted
by God and only to the extent that He Wills. The power of the most arrogant and
"mighty" kings, presidents, military generals, or armies of all sorts combined
together is nothing compared to the Power of God as manifested by a small earthquake.
As a result of the earthquake even some of the fanatically anti-Islamic generals of
Turkey suddenly, though temporarily, remembered Allah. Such flashes of faith are common.
The most die-hard atheist or skeptic may suddenly find God when faced with an extreme
suffering or danger. It is a testimony to the belief in God that has been built into our
nature by the Creator. But as soon as the danger subsides, many go back to their old ways.
Then they begin to rationalize the reactions they had during the moment of truth. They
start suggesting that natural disasters are just random events that show the power and
fury of a blind nature that scientists hope to tame completely one day.
To the non-believers it seems like that. They point out that an earthquake --- or any
natural disaster for that matter --- hits the sinners and saints alike. It makes no
distinction between a believer and a non-believer. Further, they say it makes no sense,
because we cannot make any sense out of it.
We should know the hollowness of these assertions. To say that something has no logic
because we cannot understand its logic is to show arrogance not wisdom. It is not true
that these events have the same impact on the believers as the non-believers. For the fact
is that the two groups of people do not look at events in life, including disasters, the
same way, they do not draw the same conclusions from them , and do not end up in the same
place with respect to them. While the shaking of the ground may shake the world of the
non-believer, it strengthens the faith of the believer who knows that not a leaf can fall
on the ground without the Will of Allah. It is because of our very limited knowledge and
understanding that many events appear to us to be random and devoid of purpose. In reality
all events in this universe happen only by leave of the All-Knowing, All-Wise,
All-Powerful God. There is a purpose behind all of this and understanding that purpose
enables us to cope with them.
Why do sufferings happen in this life? There are two answers.
- For the believers they are a test of patience and submission to the Will of God.
"Be sure We shall test you with something of fear and hunger, some loss of goods,
lives, and the fruits (of your toil), but give glad tidings to those who patiently
persevere. Who say, when afflicted with a calamity: To Allah we belong, and to Him
is our return." [Al-Baqarah, 2:155]. All hardships in life --- over which we
have no control --- thus become an opportunity for gaining rewards in the hereafter by
exercising patience. Islam, as we know very well, means submission to Allah. It means
submission to the Command of Allah in areas within our control. It means submission
to the Will of Allah in areas beyond our control.
- For the sinners they are a punishment. "And indeed We will make them taste of the
lighter chastisement before the greater chastisement in order that they may repent and
return." [As-Sajdah, 32:21]. But even this punishment will turn out to be a mercy for
those who heed the wake-up call and mend their ways; it will spare them the much greater
punishment in the hereafter.
According to clear Islamic teachings in both the Quran and the Hadith, every
hardship in life --- sickness, accidents, monetary losses, natural disasters, difficulties
of all kinds --- can be either a punishment or a blessing in disguise. There is no
difference in the apparent manifestation of the two. The plague killed thousands of the
Companions of the Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, during the time of Syedna Umar,
Radi-Allahu unhu, as it did thousands of non-believers in other parts of the world. But
who can say that these were the same incidents, with the same consequences?
How do we, then, know whether a particular suffering is a punishment or a blessing for
us? The answer given by scholars is: By examining our own feelings. If the suffering
brings us close to Allah; if we find ourselves turning to Him in prayers and repentance;
if we feel the pain yet do not complain about the injustice of nature to us;
if we submit and patiently persevere, then the suffering is indeed a blessing in disguise
that will bring tremendous rewards in the hereafter. On the other hand if as a result of
the hardship we turn away from Allah; if we complain and ask why me?; if our
focus is only on apparent causes and remedies and not on the Creator who Creates and
Controls the causes themselves, then these are the signs that, God forbid, the suffering
is a punishment and a greater punishment awaits us in the hereafter!
The earthquake in Turkey has no doubt entailed massive human suffering. But the greater
tragedy will be if we fail to learn from the disaster of the century, and
remain stubborn about our crooked ways of disobedience to Allah and defiance of His
Shariah. The earthquake that will take place on the Day of Judgment will be much more
stronger; on that day the whole earth will be shaken. And there will be no end to the
sufferings it will cause to those who refuse to learn from the much smaller earthquake