5. The Disaster Of PompeiiFor historians the remains of Pompeii are striking testimony to the debauchery that once prevailed there. Even the streets of Pompeii, a symbol of the degeneration of the Roman Empire, evoke the enjoyment and pleasure indulged in by this city: the once busy streets lined with taverns, night-clubs, and brothels, still provide glimpses that the disaster left of the daily life.
Here, on soil now enriched with volcanic ash, were once prosperous farms, lush vineyards and luxurious summerhouses. Situated between the slopes of Vesuvius and the sea, Pompeii was the favorite summer resort of wealthy Romans who had escaped the sweltering capital. Yet, Pompeii witnessed one of the most fearsome volcanic eruptions in history, obliterating the town from the face of the earth. Today, the remains of the inhabitants of this city – asphyxiated by the poisonous vapors of Vesuvius as they were going about their daily lives as usual – vividly portray details pertaining to the Roman way of life. The disaster struck Pompeii, together with the neighboring city Herculaneum, on a summer day, just at a time when the region was crowded with wealthy Romans spending the season in their glorious villas.
The date was the 24th August 79CE. Investigations at the site reveal that the eruption progressed in discrete stages. Before the eruption, the region was shaken several times. Distant, high-pitched rumblings, deep and terrible, coming from the volcano, accompanied these quakes. At first, Vesuvius ejected a column of steam and ash. "Then this roiling cloud rose high into the atmosphere carrying pieces of old rock torn from the volcano's conduit and millions of tons of fresh, glassy pumice. Prevailing winds carried the ash cloud toward Pompeii, where 'small stones' began to fall. As the sun-extinguishing canopy extended over the city, pumice and ash rained down on Pompeii, accumulating at the rate of six inches an hour."
Herculaneumwas closer to Vesuvius; most of its residents fled the city terrified by the fast-moving pyroclastic surge that roared towards them. Those who did not leave the city immediately, did not live long to regret their delay. The pyroclastic surge on reaching Herculaneum killed these tarries while a slower-moving pyroclastic flow engulfed the town, burying it. Excavations at Pompeii, on the other hand, reveal that a majority of its inhabitants were reluctant to leave the city. They thought they were not in danger because Pompeii was not very close to the crater. For this reason, most wealthy Pompeiians did not abandon their homes and instead took refuge in their houses and shops, hoping the tempest would soon blow over. They all perished before they had time to realize that it was too late. In just one day, Pompeii and Herculaneum along with six nearby villages were wiped off the map. The Qur'an declares that events such as these are a reminder to all:
These are some of the stories of communities that We relate to you: of them, some are standing, and some have been mown down (by the sickle of time). (Surah Hud: 100)
Unraveling the secrets of Pompeii was not possible until centuries later. Rather than mere clues however, the excavations of the ancient city yielded up vivid representations of its people's daily lives. The shapes of many of the agonized victims were preserved intact. The related verse follows:
Such is the chastisement of your Lord when He chastises communities in the midst of their wrong: grievous, indeed, and severe is His chastisement. (Surah Hud: 102)
Today, vast ruins are humbling evidence of complex civilizations that once flourished hundreds, even thousand of years ago. Many of the builders of the great metropolises from different epochs of history are now nameless. Their wealth, technology or works of art did not save them from a bitter end. It was not them but succeeding generations who took advantage of their rich heritage. With few clues to guide us, the origins and fates of these ancient civilizations are mysteries to this day. Yet two things are evident: they assumed they would never die and they indulged in worldly pleasures. They left behind great monuments believing that thereby they would achieve immortality. No less than these ancient civilizations, many groups of people today also have such a mindset. In expectation of immortalizing their names, a majority of the members of modern societies devote themselves entirely to accumulating more wealth or to creating works to leave behind. Moreover, it is more than likely that they revel in more extravagance than did earlier generations and remain heedless of Allah's revelations. There are many lessons to be drawn from the social attitudes and experiences of ancient communities. None of those early communities survived. The works of art and monuments they left behind may have helped them be remembered by succeeding generations but they did not save them from divine punishment or prevent their corpses from decaying. Their remains stand there only as a reminder and warning of Allah's wrath on those who are rebellious and ungrateful for the riches bestowed by Him.
Undoubtedly the lessons to be drawn from such historical events should eventually lead to wisdom. Only then can one comprehend that what befell early societies was not purposeless. One may further realize that only Almighty Allah has the power to create any disaster at any moment. The world is a place where man is being tested. Those who submit to Allah will attain salvation. Those who are satisfied with this world, on the other hand, will be deprived of a blessed eternity. No doubt, their ends will match their deeds and they will be judged in accordance with their deeds. Surely, Allah is the Best of Judges.