We have been witnessing over the past few days utter devastation in Bangladesh as a result of Cyclone Sidr. An estimated 2,000 people have been killed while innumerable people have been reported missing and presumed to be dead. Authorities in Bangladesh fear the death toll could ultimately rise to between 5,000 and 10,000 once the debris is cleared. Just as the world was breathing a sigh of relief, recent weather reports have said two massive tropical storms, one possibly a 'super typhoon', are bearing down on South Asia with tens of thousands of people bracing themselves for disasters. It is especially at such times of natural disasters that we often wonder, why do bad things happen?
Natural disasters, or the ones blamed on "Mother Nature", are a part of this world. But to be human and to believe in the existence of a loving God is to find the reasons behind such disasters. Are natural calamities punishments from Allah? Are they simply just neutral events that have no meaning? Or are they a way for Allah to test humans to see who will put their faith and trust in Him?
According to Islam, the answers to that question are as follows: Firstly, the Holy Quran does depict scenes where humans were punished for their sins with massive earthquakes, floods and other natural calamities that destroyed entire civilisations. The people had been repeatedly warned to change their wicked ways, but they continuously ignored whichever Prophet was sent to them at various points of time in history. So, yes, sometimes natural disasters are a punishment from Allah.
Secondly, humans with their imperfect thinking cannot see past the calamity to realise that perhaps the destruction can have benefits known only to Allah. The Holy Quran repeatedly tells us that this world is merely a testing ground with the real world being in the hereafter.
Allah Almighty says: "And certainly, We shall test you with something of fear, hunger, loss of wealth, lives and fruits, but give glad tidings to As-Saabiroon (the patient)" (2:155)
Everything we do or don't do in this life will determine our life hereafter. And all along the way there are obstacles that stand waiting to either trip us up or to help in making us strong so that we can walk right through them. Here's how we can draw some strength from disasters:
Feel a renewed sense of thankfulness to Allah for our lives and possessions
If a person is patient with the disaster, all of their past sins will be forgiven and there will be an immense reward waiting for them in Heaven.
Calamities keep us human and humble. They shake us to our very core and without them we would be so puffed up with arrogance regarding our superiority that we would never seek out the Creator in the first place.
Finding the goodness in it. For example, if a house in a suburban street collapses, say, killing a child inside, is there any goodness in this calamity? Perhaps. Only Allah knows what the child would have done when he had grown up. Maybe he would have done more evil than good and it was a mercy that Allah caused his death. Firstly, because children go directly to Heaven and secondly, for the benefit of society who may have suffered had he grown to adulthood.
Set your eyes on the prize. There is nothing like human tragedy and anguish to make us sick of this world. Those with faith in Allah will turn their sights to the Hereafter and will do their best to achieve success in the next life by using their time in this world to submit to the will of Allah through prayer, good deeds, and worship.
The saying, "Whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger", also applies to calamity. Anyone who has suffered immense loss ultimately finds strength, which helps them deal with future losses. This is a blessing in disguise, which helps humans cope with distress.
When bad things happen, humans tend to scream, beat themselves, scratch their faces and wail. These actions are forbidden in Islam and are actually punishable. With regard to such actions, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) has said:
"He is not one of us who strikes his cheeks, rends his garments and says things like the people of Jaahiliyyah say." (Saheeh)
Rather patience should be observed when dealing with the initial shock of a catastrophe. Humans should turn to Allah in repentance and seek relief from the distress from the only one who can relieve it.
Allah Almighty says: "Who, when afflicted with calamity, say: 'Truly, to Allaah we belong and truly, to Him we shall return. They are those on whom (Descend) blessings from Allah, and Mercy, and they are the ones that receive guidance." (2:156-157)
No matter whether you are rich or poor, disaster is always around the corner. Instead of being a victim, be prepared for it by trusting Allah. For this is the only way to be a true believer and to attain salvation. And remember patience is a noble virtue.Sumayyah Meehan is a Kuwait-based American writer who embraced Islam. She can be reached at email@example.com
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