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:
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"
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 judgement 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:
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, realises 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 touch 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:
Earthquakes are the most devastating natural forces on
earth. The worst loss of life occurs during earthquakes. Research
reveals that every two minutes somewhere the surface of the earth
cracks. According to statistics, the earth shakes millions of times
a year. On average, the intensity of three hundred thousand of these
earthquakes is minor; they are imperceptible tremors and cause no
destruction at all. Twenty of them, on the other hand, are powerful
earthquakes which convulse the land. Yet since they often do not
hit densely populated areas, they kill few people, if any, and cause
little economic loss. Only five of these earthquakes reduce buildings
to heaps of rubble.
This information shows that people do not frequently
encounter earthquakes. No doubt, this is Allah's special protection
against disasters for humankind.
In our day, only a city or a province becomes subject
to damaging earthquakes. Yet, by the will of Allah, an earthquake
affecting the whole planet could happen at any time. This type of
shaking of the ground could end life on earth. The structure of
the earth is quite vulnerable to quakes; a sudden movement or rupture
of large masses of rock within the earth's crust or upper mantle
would make catastrophe inescapable.
An earthquake has no relation with the type of soil that
amplifies the effects of seismic waves travelling through it. An
earthquake may still occur even when the natural conditions for
an earthquake do not exist. By the will of Allah, an earthquake
may happen at any time. Yet, Allah specially creates insecurity
and instability in some parts of the land. This is to remind people
that, at any time, an unexpected incident may place their lives
in jeopardy. In the Qur'an, Allah warns people against a possible
Do then those who devise evil (plots)
feel secure that Allah will not cause the earth to swallow them
up, or that the wrath will not seize them from directions they little
perceive? (Surat an-Nahl: 45-47)
These earthquakes shaking the earth for only seconds
can last for hours, even days. While recovering from a devastating
disaster, people can suffer another. This is surely easy for Allah.
However, by His mercy, Allah protects man and with such disasters
reminds him, now and then, that he has no control whatsoever over
At this point, it could be beneficial to remember a major
earthquake, which took place in the 20th century.
Technology Defeated: Kobe
Today's advanced level of science and technology inspires
man with the feeling that he has control over nature. Yet, those
who are overwhelmed by such a notion may soon feel disappointment.
Technology is a tool provided by Allah for the service of man and
is entirely under His control. Various events show that even the
most advanced technology is impotent to rule nature.
For instance, despite the "earthquake-resistant technology"
developed by Japanese scientists, Kobe fell victim to widespread
subsidence caused by twenty seconds of intense shock waves during
the 1995 quake. The world's most earthquake-resistant structures
built to withstand an intense jolt simply collapsed during a momentary
6.9 magnitude quake. During the previous three decades, the Japanese
government had invested 40 trillion dollars in academic research
to develop warning systems for earthquakes. Yet, these efforts yielded
no conclusive results at all. As the millennium draws to a close,
scientists are still unable to devise systems to issue warnings
that could reduce the destructive effects of dangerous seismic events.
Kobe was a recent example, among many others, demonstrating how
vulnerable to unexpected patterns of seismic hits a modern industrialised
The public was reassured that modern technology developed
to predict major earthquakes would save them from complete destruction.
Yet, after the disaster which reduced Kobe to heaps of rubble, it
became apparent that no technology had been available to alert people
to the danger. It also became apparent that the so-called "quake-resistant
structures" had no resistance at all to the earthquake whose epicentre
was 15 miles south-west of downtown Kobe.
||Kobe, Japan's second most densely populated
industrialised city and most important port after Tokyo. At
5:46 am on the 17th January 1995, twenty seconds of intense
shock waves caused appalling damage. Only twenty seconds and
everything people had toiled their whole lives to possess
The region affected by the earthquake included the populous
cities of Kobe and Osaka. That is why appalling damage occurred,
leaving 5,200 people dead and another 300,000 injured. The total
damage was put at 200 billion dollars.3
There are certainly lessons to be drawn from such a disaster.
City-dwellers, used to leading comfortable lives, were suddenly
confronted with many hardships after the disaster. In a state of
shock, they were unable to figure out what to do with their lives,-
let alone make plans for the future.
Typhoons, Hurricanes, Tornadoes...
Typhoons, hurricanes, and tornadoes are natural disasters
that people frequently experience. These disasters and their aftermaths
claim thousands of lives every year. These are very strong winds,
which can cause great damage to cities, killing and injuring residents,
hurling thousands of trees, huts, telephone poles, cars, and even
buildings miles away.
Great typhoons in particular can cause giant sea waves
to raise suddenly from the seabed. In this phenomenon, powerful
storms send waves speeding at hundreds of miles per hour across
the ocean against seacoasts. In such cases, water rises onto the
land and heavy rains cause serious floods in delta regions.
||In February 1988, a hurricane
caused extensive damage when it struck Florida. The hurricane
demolished buildings and hurled automobiles onto buildings.
Automobiles and households scattered by the hurricane.
A tornado big enough to sweep away homes and reduce a whole
city to rubble. In February 1988, after a hurricane's passing
in Florida, a heap of powerboats.
The transformation of winds that are generally experienced
as mild breezes into powerful storms capable of moving buildings
no doubt forces us to look for the great power making such events
happen. The same rationale discussed in the section on earthquakes
is also true for typhoons, hurricanes and tornadoes: if Allah willed
it so, man would very frequently be confronted by such natural disasters.
While recovering from disaster, human beings could suffer another.
In the Qur'an, Allah reminds man that winds are under His control:
Do you feel secure that He Who
is in heaven will not cause you to be swallowed up by the earth
when it shakes (as in an earthquake)?
However, Allah protects man against hazards. He
only occasionally sends against them violent storms. This is surely
to give man a warning. The intention is to remind people that their
ultimate purpose in life is to be servants of Allah, that they are
but impotent against Allah's might and that they will be judged on
the day of judgement.
Or do you feel secure that He Who is in heaven will not send against
you a violent tornado (with showers of stones), so that you shall
know how (terrible) was My warning? (Surat al-Mulk: 16-18)
As well as the vibration or shaking of the ground caused
by sudden movement or rupture of large masses of rock within the
earth's crust or upper mantle, volcanic eruptions are another spectacular
form of natural disaster. There are about 1,500 active volcanoes
around the world today; 5504 of them exist on land while the remainder
are under the oceans. These volcanoes can erupt at any time in extremely
destructive ways that no-one can anticipate in advance. When they
erupt, they can kill the residents of nearby cities in addition
to destroying crops and covering farmland with ash.
|| A volcano erupting.
The bus in the
middle of the sea
of lava reminds
one of the Pompeii disaster.
Some catastrophic eruptions that took place in this century
as well as earlier in history made indelible impressions on the
human mind. These eruptions wiped many cities off the map and killed
There are certainly lessons to be drawn from the volcanic
eruptions witnessed in history. Mount Vesuvius in Italy, for instance,
buried Pompeii, a city whose residents led a life of total
debauchery, under a storm of hot lava. It is striking that 20,000
inhabitants of this prosperous city were asphyxiated mostly by the
pyroclastic flows that swept through it on the 24th August 79 CE.
In our own day, however, the dormancy of volcanoes can
often end abruptly and they can explode at unexpected times shooting
steam and ash thousands of feet into the air. In the meantime, pyroclastic
flows sweep through areas causing irrecoverable damage to whatever
they encounter. Another adverse effect of eruptions is the harmful
clouds of gases and ash carried by winds into populated areas. These
terrifying winds, sometimes about 90 miles per hour, set everything
on fire and engulf cities like sun-extinguishing canopies.
One of history's worst disasters occurred in 1883 when
Krakatau, in the East Indies, erupted explosively, generating a
sound-wave heard 3,000 miles away and creating tsunamis up to 125
feet high. The waves razed 165 coastal villages and killed 36,000
Filling the entire horizon in June 1991,
searing clouds of ash-laden gas – a lethal pyroclastic surge
– spew from Mount Pinatubo in one of the 20th century's
most violently explosive eruptions.
Volcanoes are memorable not only for their tragically
high death tolls but also because they erupt in extremely destructive
ways that cannot be predicted. The eruption of Nevado Del Ruiz is
an example. This was an eruption of minor intensity. In comparison,
its intensity was only 3% of the eruption of Mount St Helens. After
being dormant for 150 years, Nevado Del Ruiz erupted in 1985 melting
the snow and ice on its summit. So devastating was the lahar, or
river of mud, that flowed down the volcano's slopes and into the
Lagunille River valley, that some 20,000 residents in Armero, Colombia
perished, entombed in hot mud as they slept. This event was the
worst volcanic disaster since Mount Pelee annihilated St Pierre
in 1902. Mount Pelee claimed 30,000 lives when it sent a nuee ardente,
or pyroclastic flow, into the town of St Pierre.6
Allah demonstrates how suddenly man can meet his death
by means of such disasters and thereby calls on him to ponder the
purpose of his existence on earth. These incidents send a "warning".
What is expected in return from man, who can conceive of his Almighty
Creator, is not to indulge distractedly in the affairs of a short
life of 50-60 years and neglect the eternal life, the hereafter.
We should keep in mind that death will come upon all men one day
and that everybody will be judged in the presence of Allah:
One day the earth will be changed
to a different earth, and so will be the heavens, and (men) will
be marshalled forth, before Allah, the One, the Irresistable. (Surah
Seismic sea waves or tidal waves are caused by a sudden
uplift or subsidence of the sea floor or by volcanic eruptions.
Some tsunamis can be as destructive as atom bombs.
| Great surges
of water (tsunamis) at times may ravage coastal cities.
Allah surely creates all these disasters as "warnings"
to mankind. He is exalted in power and He has power over all things.
Allah testifies to this in the verse: "He has power to send calamities
on you, from above and below." (Surat al-An'am: 65) That there are
so many serious physical threats around the world no doubt underlines
one important reality. With disasters, in only a matter of seconds
Allah may take back whatever He has granted man. Catastrophes may
strike anywhere at any time. This is a clear demonstration that
no place exists on earth that can guarantee man's security. Allah
says this in the following verse:
Do the people of the towns feel
secure against the coming of Our wrath by night while they are asleep?
Or else, do they feel secure against its coming in broad daylight
while they play about (carefree)? Do they then feel secure against
the plan of Allah But no-one can, (unwisely), feel secure from the
plan of Allah, except those (doomed) to ruin! (Surat al-A'raf: 97-99)
Water, granted to man as a favour, may in times
turn out a disaster by the will of Allah. It is incomprehensible that
man witnesses one or two floods every year and still disregards the
possibility of experiencing such a calamity himself.
Wildfires and fires caused by human neglect may cause major
A tornado big enough to sweep away homes and reduce a whole
city to rubble.
Ice falling at close to 100 miles an hour shattered automobile
windows in Tampa, Florida, during a 1992 thunderstorm that
cost some 25 million dollars in property damage. The roof
of a house damaged by hailstones.
In 1997-1998, "El-Niño" raged over many cities. The
total damage all over the world was put at 20 billion dollars.
A city affected by El-Niño Although water is of great
significance for life on earth, devastating floods remain
to be a threat.
A Lesson from History: The Titanic
History abounds with cases of people relying on technological
breakthroughs and totally disregarding the might of Allah. That
is exactly why many disasters have gone down in history as painful
lessons for everyone. Each one of these events is important in the
sense that it reminds man that neither wealth nor power, science
nor technology has any power to resist the will of Allah.
Numerous examples of such incidents can be given. The
best known is the famous Titanic, a huge ocean liner 55 meters in
height and 275 meters in length, which sank nearly ninety years
ago. The Titanic, intended to be an "assault on nature", was a grand
project that employed a team of engineers and as many as five thousand
people. Almost everybody was absolutely convinced that this ship
would never sink. The ocean liner was a masterpiece of technology
with many engineering advances that pushed back the limits of its
day. Yet those who relied on the technical prowess of the ship did
not take into consideration one important fact stated in the verse
"The command of Allah is a decree that is made absolute" (Surat
al-Ahzab 38) and that everyone will sooner or later meet his fate.
Eventually, a minor failure led to the sinking of the ship and advanced
technology could not save the Titanic from her bitter end.
From what the survivors of Titanic related, the majority
of her passengers gathered on the deck to pray when they realised
the ship was about to sink. In many sections of the Qur'an, this
tendency of human behaviour is repeated. In times of serious trouble
and danger, man sincerely prays and seeks the help of his Creator.
However, when delivered from danger, they immediately turn away
Your Lord is He that made the ship
go smoothly for you through the sea, in order that you may seek
of his bounty. For He is unto you most Merciful. When distress seizes
you at sea, those that you call upon – beside Him – leave you in
the lurch! But when He brings you back safe to land, you turn away
(from Him). Most ungrateful is man! Do you then feel secure that
He will not cause you to be swallowed up beneath the earth when
you are on land, or that He will not send against you a violent
tornado (with showers of stones) so that you shall find no-one to
carry out your affairs for you? Or do you feel secure that He will
not send you back a second time to sea and send against you a heavy
gale to drown you because of your ingratitude, so that you find
no helper therein against Us? (Surat al-Isra: 66- 69)
One might never have experienced such a disaster,
yet one should always remember that, at any time, one may find life
stripped to its fundamentals. Accordingly, man should always occupy
himself with the remembrance of Allah since "the power is wholly Allah's."
(Surat al-Baqarah: 165) On the other hand, once a catastrophe strikes,
one might not have the opportunity to change his ungrateful attitude
towards Allah and seek to repent to Him. Death may be very sudden:
Do they see nothing in the government of the heavens
and the earth and all that Allah has created? (Do they not see)
that it may well be that their terms are nigh drawing to an end?
In what message after this will they then believe? (Surat al-A'raf:
By the Mercy of Allah
Each one of them We seized for his crime: against
some of them We sent a violent tornado (with showers of stones);
some were caught by a (mighty) blast; some We caused the earth to
swallow up; and some We drowned (in the waters): It was not Allah
who injured (or oppressed) them; They injured (and oppressed) their
own souls. (Surat al-'Ankabut: 40)
What has been discussed so far is intended to remind
those who forget their purpose in creation of an important fact: everything
on earth owes its existence to Allah, the Creator who has created
the entire material universe. In other words, everything's existence
is consequent upon the exercise of the will of Allah. Therefore, nothing
has a being separate and apart from Allah. The Qur'an tells us that
nothing is beyond Allah's control: "Allah
has full power and control over His affair; but most of mankind know
it not." (Surah Yusuf: 21)
Nevertheless, as Allah makes clear in the second part
of the verse, the majority of people are not aware of this. They
assume, during the course of their lives, that no misfortune whatsoever
will befall them, never thinking that they too are vulnerable to
any of those devastating disasters. We feel that "others" experience
such terrifying incidents and that "we" will always live in safety.
News about disasters, accidents or epidemics surely makes us feel
sympathy for the sufferers. We indeed share their sorrow; however,
as disasters recede into memory, we become less concerned and such
an attitude proves to be a passing interest for us. Once we immerse
ourselves in the flow of daily life or face personal problems, we
quickly develop a sense of apathy and remain indifferent to those
who have been through disaster.
Nevertheless, the notion that every day of one's life
will be the same is a flawed one. This is evident from the warnings
of Allah. Certainly, those people who were exposed to various disasters
did not know that a natural hazard would throw their life into complete
disarray. They certainly started that day as an ordinary one, thinking
that it would be the same as the preceding ones. However, it turned
out to be totally different. Most probably, it never occurred to
them that, on that particular day there would be a drastic change
in their lives, which would transform life into a dangerous struggle.
On such occasions, lives are reduced to their simplest truths. Surely,
this is how Allah reminds man that security in this world is a sham.
A majority of people pay no heed to this, however. They
forget that life is short and temporary and disregard that they
will be judged in the presence of Allah. In this state of heedlessness,
they spend their lives in pursuit of vain desires instead of living
for the good pleasure of Allah.
Viewed from this standpoint, troubles are a mercy of
Allah. Allah demonstrates the true nature of this world and encourages
man to be prepared for the next life. That is why what is said to
be a misfortune is in fact an opportunity offered by Allah. These
misfortunes are given to people so that they may seek to repent
and amend their conduct. The lessons that should be drawn from disasters
are related in one of the verses:
See they not that they are tried
every year once or twice? Yet they turn not in repentance, and they
take no heed. (Surat at-Tawbah: 126)