Preface - Natural Hazards And Disasters!
The world is anything but serene and still. We are all vulnerable to natural threats, both internal and external. Meteor showers, asteroids are only a few of the factors likely to pose threats to the world from space. As for the seemingly solid earth, the planet's interior has an inner core of molten elements. It surely would not be an exaggeration to call this part of the earth, which remains invisible to our eyes, "a flaming core". There also exists an atmosphere surrounding the earth, which is a "shield" against external threats. Yet, no part of the earth is immune against the effects of atmospheric forces like thunderstorms, storms, or hurricanes.
Natural hazards may strike at any time. They can cause considerable loss of life and property. Generally referred to as "natural" disasters, earthquakes, lightning, flash floods, global wildfires, acid rain, and tidal waves have different intensities and effects. What is common to all these disasters is that in just moments they can reduce a city, with all its inhabitants, to ruin. What is most important, no human being has the power to combat or prevent any of these hazards.
Heavy destruction is the legacy of catastrophes all over the planet. Yet, a disaster always affects only a particular region of the earth, thanks to nature's delicate balance which is a creation of Allah. A significant protection exists on earth for all living things as well as for human beings. The possibility of a devastating natural disaster always lurks in spite of this protection. Allah creates these disasters to show us how insecure our habitation can sometimes be. These outbursts of nature are reminders to all mankind that we have no control whatsoever over the planet. Likewise, each disaster serves the purpose of reminding us of our inherent weakness. These are surely warnings to those that can contemplate the significance of such events and draw lessons from the experience of others.
What other lessons should man learn from natural disasters?
The world is specially created for man. The reason why man is created is evident as the verse suggests:
"He it is who created the heavens and the earth in six Days, and His Throne was over the waters, that He might try you, which of you is best in conduct." (Surah Hud: 7)
The "setting" for this "test" is quite elaborate, however, and each event is a component of this sophisticated setting. Furthermore, none of these natural phenomena occur randomly; all have a scientific explanation. For instance, the earth's gravitational force explains why we do not drift off into space; rain falls when water vapour reaches a certain level of saturation. The same kind of causation is also valid for death, accidents or disease. Numerous causes can be cited for why a man dies, becomes sick, or has an accident. Yet, what really matters is not the number of these reasons but the "reliability" of the system these causes and their consequences rest upon. One particular aspect of this system is important; each incident proceeds in a way such that the human mind can entirely understand it. Allah warns man by means of natural disasters. An earthquake, for instance, kills thousands of women, children and young people and leaves many more injured. Those who are heedless of the warnings of Allah are prone to explain such incidents as "natural" phenomena and little understand that Allah creates these for specific purposes. Let us think for a moment: what would happen if only those who are guilty before Allah died in an earthquake? In such a case, the appropriate basis for the "test" of humankind would not be established. That is why Allah creates each phenomenon in a "natural" setting. Only those who are aware of the existence of Allah and have a deep comprehension of His creation understand the divine rationale behind this "natural" appearance.
In the verse, "Every soul shall taste death: and We test you by evil and by good by way of trial. To Us must you return," (Surat al-Anbiya: 35), Allah states that He tests man through good as well as bad events.
That many people are affected by a disaster is the riddle of this test. One should always keep in mind that Allah is the All-Knowing Judge and "the Decision between them at judgment will be in perfect justice." (Surat az-Zumar: 75).
All events happening to a person in this life are a part of the test. Those who are truly believers comprehend the essence of this riddle. Whenever a misfortune befalls them, they turn to Allah alone and repent. They are servants of Allah and are aware of the promise of Allah:
Be sure We shall test you with something of fear and hunger, some loss in goods and lives and the fruits (of your toil), but give glad tidings to those who patiently persevere, who say, when afflicted with calamity: "To Allah we belong, and to Him is our return". They are those on whom (descend) blessings from Allah, and mercy, and they are the ones that receive guidance. (Surat al-Baqarah: 155- 157)
As is stated in the verse, all people, believers and disbelievers, are tested in many ways: sometimes by natural disaster, at other times by something happening in our daily lives, a disease or an accident that befalls us. Such misfortunes strike individuals as well as societies and cause material loss along with spiritual suffering. A wealthy man may become bankrupt, a girl with good looks may receive a severe injury on the face, or a city may be reduced to rubble by an earthquake. These incidents are all clear demonstrations of how, at any moment, events can alter our lives.
People should be able to draw lessons from these events. No doubt, Allah does not create anything without a purpose; each disaster is a reminder for human beings whose purpose is to save humans from the perversity they are in. In the Qur'an, Allah says that without His leave, nothing can occur on earth:
No kind of calamity can occur, except by the leave of Allah: and if anyone believes in Allah, (Allah) guides his heart (aright): for Allah knows all things. (Surat at-Taghabun: 11)
Nor can a soul die except by Allah's leave, the term being fixed as by writing. If any desires a reward in this life, We shall give it to him; and if any desires a reward in the hereafter, We shall give it to him. And swiftly shall We reward those that (serve Us with) gratitude. (Surah Ali-'Imran: 145)
Another lesson one draws from disasters is that man, assuming himself to be mighty on earth, realizes that he is simply weak and actually does not have the strength to cope with disasters, which happen in a moment by the will of Allah. Man can provide no help either to himself or to anyone else. Surely Allah is Omnipotent. This is stated in the following verse:
If Allah touches you with affliction, none can remove it but He; if He touch you with happiness, He has power over all things. (Surat al-An'am: 17)
In this chapter, a comprehensive account of types of disasters affecting the earth will be given. The purpose is to remind people that this world is not a place for which to feel blind affection. These incidents indicate how desperately we need Allah's guidance and help. This desperation is a clear statement that people are impotent before Allah. As is said in the verse; "and nor have you, besides Allah, any protector or helper." (Surat al-'Ankabut: 22)