God’s Existence and Natural Disasters
Source: The longest serving Muslim publication of North America: Muslim Sunrise Winter 2017 volume
Hurricane season in the USA does not end until November 30, but four major hurricanes — category three or greater — have already churned through the Atlantic, at the time of this writing in 2017. The meteorologists say more are likely on the way. Which hurricane seasons caused the most damage in the USA? Hurricanes Harvey and Irma are expected to cost the U.S. between $150 and $200 billion in combined property damage, according to Moody’s Analytics.1 The higher figure would make this season the second costliest to date, just behind 2005, when Hurricanes Katrina, Dennis, and Cindy left behind $211 billion in damage, according to the National Hurricane Center.(2)
Are these punishments of God to the USA for racism within its borders and aggressive foreign policy outside its borders? Or are these merely a result of climate change without any hidden message or strategy?
Some of us are focused on the question of suffering and worry how a Loving God could allow natural disasters that lead to the death of innocent humans including young children?
Others focus on the other side of the coin and question how a Loving God could allow repressive regimes to survive, who cause thousands if not millions of innocent people to die and suffer from air raids and other military interventions and dirty politics to serve their parochial agenda?
Allah had taken to task nations of the prophets like Noah, Moses, Lot, Shuaib and Salih (May peace be on them all) for denying and ridiculing the messengers of God and destroyed and annihilated them. The Qur’an is replete with mention of how God destroyed prior nations for their corruption through natural disasters.
To the people of Midian, We sent their brother Shu’ayb. He said, ‘My people, serve God and think ahead to the Last Day. Do not commit evil and spread corruption in the land.’ They rejected him, and so the earthquake overtook them. When morning came, they were lying dead in their homes. Remember the tribes of ‘Ad and Thamud: their history is made clear to you by what is left of their dwelling places. Satan made their foul deeds seem alluring to them and barred them from the right way, though they were capable of seeing. Remember Qarun and Pharaoh and Haman: Moses brought them clear signs, but they behaved arrogantly on earth. They could not escape Us, and We punished each one of them for their sins: some We struck with a violent storm; some were overcome by a sudden blast; some We made the earth swallow, and some We drowned. It was not God who wronged them; they wronged themselves.(3)
Why is not God destroying the Western civilization for not believing in Islam or the holy prophet Muhammad (May peace and blessings of Allah be upon him)? Was he not meant for Europe and USA also?
The natural disasters, these days, seem to be less destructive at least as far as fatalities are concerned, at least in the Western countries than in the past. To date, the deadliest natural disaster in U.S. history is also a hurricane. In 1900, inaccurate predictions, combined with poor warning systems, left Galveston, Texas vulnerable to a hurricane that killed between 6,000 and 12,000 people. Twenty-eight years later, an estimated 2,500 people drowned when a Category 4 hurricane caused Lake Okeechobee in Florida to overflow, deluging the surrounding area with 10-to-15-foot floods. 4 The hurricanes in 2017 in the USA have caused much less loss of life. Perhaps human planning and efforts help and point towards our free will.
So, is God still active in human history as He was in the past eras as mentioned in the Holy Qur’an?
The prophet Muhammad (May peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) came for the whole world and even after 1,400 years more than 4 billion of different faiths appear to be prospering, even though all of them deny him and some among them even ridicule him and his religion. Islamophobia is on the rise, and the Muslims are on the receiving end rather than the non-Muslims. Is there a God, Who promised the victory of Islam?
Hundreds of thousands if not millions of innocent Iraqis and Syrians, both Muslims and non-Muslims, have died due to the bombing, by one entity or the other after the USA and European allies invaded Iraq under the pretense of weapons of mass destruction. Is there a God, Who will help and save the Muslims?
In World Wars I and II millions died in Europe, but at the end of these wars, USA, with more than 95% of its population Christian, came on the top and not any Muslim nation! Ottoman Empire was destroyed, and the British Empire got to draw the maps in the Middle East along with the creation of Israel, for the European Jewish population. Is the God of Islam alive?
In 1492 in the year when Christopher Columbus allegedly discovered America, while people were already living here, every Muslim in Europe was either killed, banished or converted by force to Christianity. 5 6 7 Where was the God of the Muslims?
But remember, there were hardly any Muslims in Europe or America in the 18th or the 19th century. Now there are some 44 million Muslims in Europe according to the Pew Research Center estimates,(8) and they estimate that there were about 3.3 million Muslims of all ages living in the United States in 2015.(9)
The world is changing in favor of Islam, ever so gradually, even though it is not immediately apparent!
Notwithstanding several vulnerabilities of the Western civilization, the West has certainly been the creator of the industrial and the information age, and it will be a great human loss if the West were to implode like the Roman Empire in the fourth and the fifth centuries. Here we are not only reassured by the human efforts in the broad spread of science and technology in our global village but by the very word of God; the Holy Qur’an promises that whatever is useful for humanity is given permanence in the world. The same God, who revealed the above verses about the destruction of the people of Median, ‘Ad and Thamud, Pharaoh and other deniers of the prophets of God also revealed:
He sends down water from the sky so that valleys flow according to their measure, and the flood bears on its surface swelling foam. And from that which they heat in the fire, seeking to make ornaments or utensils, comes out a foam similar to it. Thus does Allah illustrate truth and falsehood. Now, as to the foam, it goes away as rubbish, but as to that which benefits men, it stays on the earth. Thus does Allah set forth parables.(10)
Whatever is frivolous in the Western civilization will fade away over time, but the useful and essential will be preserved as the sun of Islamic teachings will rise from the West, in the 21st and the 22nd century.
If we emphasize the literal reading of one set of verses or the other, we may get a limited understanding of the message given in the Qur’an, on the other hand meditating on all the verses impinging on the issue under discussion in unison leads to an enlightened world-view.
One of the attributes of God is Al-Lateef or the Subtle. God created human beings through the process of evolution spread over some 3.5 billion years, and His plan to improve our humanity and our theology is not rushed, it is ever so subtle and gradual.
The hurricanes Harvey and Irma and others serve different purposes on different axes. These are reminders of global warming on the one hand but also have a purpose on the spiritual axis. They are there to humble us to remind us of our utter dependence on the Almighty Allah, and in the larger scheme of affairs, they will gradually move humanity to a better understanding of religion and theology, more consistent with Islam than Christianity, and human compassion and coexistence. The Qur’an says to the Holy Prophet of Islam, Muhammad (May peace and blessings of Allah be upon him):
We did indeed send Messengers before thee, and We made for them wives and children. It is not possible for a Messenger to bring a Sign except by the command of Allah. For every design, there is an appointed term. Allah effaces what He wills and establishes what He wills; with Him is the source of all commandments. Whether We bring to pass during thy lifetime some of that which We have designed for them, or whether We cause thee to die, it will all be fulfilled. Thy part is to convey the Message; it is for Us to make the reckoning. Do they not see that We are approaching from the borders of the land, reducing it as We proceed? Allah judges; no one has the power to reverse His judgment.
He is Swift in the reckoning. Those who were before them also devised plans, but they came to naught. All planning belongs to Allah. He knows what everyone does. The disbelievers will soon know to whom belongs the true recompense of the ultimate resort. Those who disbelieve say: ‘Thou art not a Messenger of Allah. Say to them: Sufficient is Allah as a Witness between you and me, and so also is he who possesses knowledge of the Book.’(11)
If we look at the back side of a carpet or any tapestry, we see knots and a mumble jumble of threads going across and no pattern or beauty is apparent. Human life is very similar to this tapestry, our small triumphs, sufferings, the natural disasters, and the world affairs seem, as we look at them without the benefit of omniscience or long-term view of history, only a mumble jumble of events. But, turn the carpet and tapestry around, and you see a beautiful pattern. The two sides of the carpet are the best metaphor to understand God’s plan for humanity. Two threads are used to weave a carpet, one of them is the human effort and free will, and the other is the Providence and sometimes the punishment of God through natural disasters. The pattern is not visible immediately to the untrained human eye, which is always looking at the rough side of the carpet, on our daily timescale. But to those gifted with wisdom and understanding of history, the finished side of the tapestry or the carpet is very visible, and they are all the more thankful to God, for their world-view.
God is achieving His purpose and His design for the humanity, just like a beautifully woven tapestry or a carpet. He is leading us to a better theology, even accepting the contributions by atheists, and a better coexistence and a better understanding of human compassion, human rights, and women rights. In centuries to come, as we keep progressing, some will call it a victory of Islam over other religions and others will call it just a better and a more rational world.
1 Is This the Worst Hurricane Season Ever? Here’s How it Compares. By David Johnson for September 24, 2017 volume of Time magazine. http://time.com/4952628/hurricane-season-harvey-irma-jose-maria/
3 The Holy Qur’an, (29:37-41)
4 Is This the Worst Hurricane Season Ever? Here’s How it Compares. By David Johnson for September 24, 2017 volume of Time magazine. http://time.com/4952628/hurricane-season-harvey-irma-jose-maria/
5 Hans-Jürgen Prien (21 November 2012). Christianity in Latin America: Revised and Expanded Edition. BRILL. p. 11. ISBN 90-04-22262-6.