Earthquakes, floods, hurricanes,
tsunamis, etc., may cause terribly disastrous consequences for life--human,
animal and plant. They may also result into a large-scale destruction of
property and, more importantly, lifelong human distress due to medical and
The issue of natural calamities and
human sufferings is one of the most baffling subjects of science and religion as
well as of various other fields of study like psychology and social sciences,
etc. Every time a calamity occurs, it gives rise to questions of not only
immediate practical importance but also having epistemological and philosophical
significance. People, quite reasonably, want to know the real cause of the death
and destruction occurring due to natural calamities. What is the real cause of
the loss? Is it a result of God’s fury or man’s folly? Have the natural
calamities something to do with the moral behaviour of the victims? Or, they
are the outcome of administrative negligence on the part of the rulers. In this
article, the issue of the natural calamities has been briefly discussed,
focusing on some of the related questions. The doctrine of God’s wrath has been
examined from the Qur’anic point of view.
To understand and rationalize natural
(occurrences inflicting widespread destruction and distress) on the basis of
religion or any other system of knowledge, it is necessary to differentiate
between the disasters that occur due to natural events and the misfortunes that
are wrought by people themselves by acting contrary to Divine moral values.
Without having an appropriate classification, we will not be able to establish
correct cause with reference to a certain calamity. And, if the cause of an
effect is not correctly identified, there is a chance that any remedial action
taken will not produce desired results. The question is whether the incidents,
like earthquakes, causing destruction are caused by a physical process that
takes place in nature or are a consequence of immoral behaviour. On the basis of
their origin and causes, the calamities, thus, can be mainly divided into
natural, social and accidental .
calamities may further be divided into physical and biological calamities.
Earthquakes, floods, cyclones and hurricanes, etc., are examples of physical
phenomena which may cause devastation. Widespread diseases, epidemics and
pandemics, etc., are the examples of biological calamities.
Calamities are those which are caused by corruption, injustices, moral
disintegration, economic exploitation and political oppression, etc.
Calamities are caused by some accident, such as rail, road, sea and air mishaps.
Wrath of God
By one estimate, there are 19 major
world religions, which are subdivided into some 270 large groups .
Epistemologically, the exact religious response to natural calamities may vary
from religion to religion as each religion looks at these happenings with its
specific perspective. Therefore, a generalized picture cannot be presented.
However, many people, particularly a section of the religious clergy, from all
backgrounds, generally regard natural hazards as an expression of God’s
displeasure. They believe that earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, and floods,
etc., are indications of the ‘‘wrath of God’’, to borrow their words .
For the Muslims, Christians, and Jews it is also very
common to correlate physical disasters with calamities that befell the opponents
of the previous Prophets (sws) mentioned in the Qur’an and the Bible. They,
thus, regard these natural catastrophes as a chastisement or punishment for the
affected people from God.
The Qur’anic View
The Qur’an, however, does not seem to support the “wrath
of God” theory. A little reflection on the Qur’anic passages relating stories of
the past Prophets will show that God Almighty has never chastised a people
unless He had first sent a Messenger to them who would convey onto them the
message of truth, and has warned them of their evildoings. It is only after the
people had opposed and wilfully rejected their Prophet, Divine chastisement
befell them as a natural consequence of their doings and not as an arbitrary act
of God. The Qur’an has pointed out this Divine law of chastisement or
retribution at a number of places. For example:
would never chastise [any community for the wrong they may do] ere We have sent
an apostle [to them]. (17:15)
The law is further explained thus:
withal, your Sustainer would never destroy a community without having [first]
raised in its midst an apostle who would convey unto them Our messages; and
never would We destroy a community unless its people are wont to do wrong [to
one another]. (28:59)
The second aspect of the Divine law of chastisement is
that it has always differentiated between the believers and the opponents of
God’s Prophets. It has always befallen the opponents of the Prophets; and not a
single example from the Holy Qur’an can be quoted where a believer would have
fallen prey to such a chastisement. This fact has been described in the Qur’an
at a number of places. For example, in Surah H~ud, God Almighty, after narrating
the story of the Prophet Shu‘ayb (sws), declared:
when Our judgment came to pass, by Our grace We saved Shu‘ayb and those who
shared his faith, whereas the blast [of Our punishment] overtook those who had
been bent on evildoing: and then they lay lifeless, in their very homes, on the
Thus, according to the Qur’an, God’s chastisement befell a
people when they turned against their prophet, and wilfully rejected the message
of truth, and, secondly, it befell only the opponents of the prophet without
harming the believers.
On the basis of the Qur’an it is, thus, not correct to
regard ordinary natural disasters as the acts of chastisement or punishment from
According to the Qur’an, God has created the universe with
truth, purpose and meaning. All phenomena and changes are controlled and
governed by His absolute Will. However, God, being all-Powerful and all-Knowing,
does not take arbitrary decisions. He simply does not need to do so. To think of
Him behaving in an anthropomorphic manner is actually equivalent to demeaning
Him. The wrath of God theory presents Him as God of fear who acts like a
despotic monarch. This is against the Qur’anic concept of all-Merciful,
all-Wise, and all-Knowing Creator and Sustainer of the universe. His Will
operates in the universe through laws of nature that He has ingrained in it. The
laws of nature, according to the Qur’an, are the Divine laws--sunnah, or
methodology, of God in the words of the Qur’an.
Disasters and calamities, however, should definitely have
a lesson in them for every wise person. They must remind us of the temporariness
and fragility of our existence in this world. And every such incident should
certainly strengthen our faith in God, and remind us of our duty to our fellow
Nevertheless, we must also understand the real cause of
death and destruction at the occasion of natural cataclysms. We must know that
it is not the earthquakes, for instance, that cause loss of lives. The
earthquakes only shake the earth’s surface. They themselves are not a disaster,
calamity or catastrophe. They are but natural and physical phenomena caused by
natural geological process ingrained by God with a purpose. It is, for example,
this process that gives the earth’s crust its peculiar appearance, and makes and
shapes earth’s topography, the mountains, oceans, rivers, etc. However, when
people fail to fulfil the demands of the laws of nature, they may fall victim to
the otherwise positive and beneficial natural changes. For instance, if we
construct buildings in a region prone to earthquakes without following an
appropriate building code, an earthquake may cause fatalities. Therefore,
administrative negligence of the authorities may result in a calamity for
God Almighty has endowed human beings with free will
within a certain domain. In that domain, they are accountable for their deeds.
Substandard collective socio-politico-economic behaviour of a community may
cause what is here termed as social calamities. When a community stops living
according to Divine moral values like justice, equality, rule of law, truth,
love, care and sacrifice, and indulges in injustices, corruption, exploitation,
dishonesty, and indecency etc., backwardness in all spheres of human living, and
overspread of crimes, etc. will ultimately appear as a consequence. This is
explained in the Holy Qur’an at a number of places. In Surah Rum, it is said:
has appeared on land and in the sea as an outcome of what men’s hands have
wrought: and so He will let them taste [the evil of] some of their doings, so
that they might return [to the right path]. (30:41)
Here the word corruption, Qur’anic fasad, includes, as the
context shows, all types of social and environmental pollution.
The October 8 earthquake in Northern Pakistan was not
something that was unforeseen. The geologists already knew that the affected
region was prone to earthquakes of high magnitude. But, our ruling aristocracy
failed to do its duty. It failed to devise and strictly implement a building
code that ensured construction of earthquake-resistant buildings. It failed to
provide safety measures in the areas. Moreover, it failed to educate, organize,
and empower the people so that they could face the calamity in a better manner.
Had the government and its institutions been prepared technologically as well as
administratively to cope with such a catastrophe the degree of the devastation
would have been far less.