God’s Existence and Natural Disasters

Hurricane Harvey

Hurricane Harvey

Source: The longest serving Muslim publication of North America: Muslim Sunrise Winter 2017 volume

November, 2017

Written and collected by Zia H Shah MD, Chief Editor of the Muslim Times

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.

References:

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/

2 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.

6 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spanish_Inquisition

7 https://themuslimtimes.info/2015/10/29/tolerance-cultural-side-of-islam-by-pickthall-the-first-british-muslim/

8 http://www.pewforum.org/2011/01/27/future-of-the-global-muslim-population-regional-europe/

9 http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/01/06/a-new-estimate-of-the-u-s-muslim-population/

10 The Holy Qur’an, (13:18)

11 The Holy Qur’an, (13:39-44)

6 replies

  1. I like what this article says about God’s progressive work, but I’m troubled by the idea that Western Culture might deserve destruction for its non-Muslim beliefs. Women’s rights and human rights, both promoted as necessary threads in the further development of Islam in this article, have come through the West and came to be due to the influence of Christian thought and teaching on the West. Having said that, in relation to the title, it is clear that God judges and will judge the nations, but that does not negate the responsibility we have to help those affected by catastrophe. I’m reminded in particulr of Jesus’ teaching about the tower of Siloam: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tower_of_Siloam

    Though I think some Islamic teachings crush the human spirit rather than free it, it also seems to me that to their immense credit, many Muslims through heeding the voices of their consciences have tempered these teachings and this has allowed for the creation of moderate Islamic culture and an understanding of Islam that stands in stark contrast to that held by those who see a global caliphate as the goal.

    The by-the-letter fundamentalists in the religion, whose arguments are not without Quranic support and who seek to impose their beliefs as law on the world, are working counter to the true nature of God and in violation of our God-given human conscience and a common-sense understanding of justice and mercy. But sadly, it seems that whenever a large enough community of Muslims forms, at least in the West, these voices begin to have more sway and the results have been clear to all.

    As a Christian, the primary difference I see between Islam & Christianity is the emphasis in Islam on behaviour and in Christianity on the need for a changed heart, i.e. a qualitative change to the human spirit which results in changed behaviour. In the first, a perfect society is achievable if people just follow the rules. In the second, a perfect society is not achievable (at this time in history) because of that need and the inadequacy of rules to change the inner state.

    This is why I find it hard to see Islam as part of God’s progressive revelation through the prophets; if God through Jesus showed the futility of the law as a means of change and salvation, why would God through Mohammed reinstate the law for that same purpose?

    (I know I’m giving my opinions on things on which I’m no expert, so if I’ve made some false presumptions, I apologise.)

  2. There are countless verses in the Quran linking actions and deeds to beliefs, ideas and intentions. So, in that sense there is no difference between Islam and Christianity.

    Both religions stress compassion and justice.

    The main difference is that dogma of Christianity are made up and not true. Like Jesus a man cannot be God at the same time as an apple cannot be a rock and a monkey at the same time.

    Just like grown ups know that Santa Claus is a made up concept for the children Trinity and Eucharist is made up.

    Please read a book by Prof. Bart Ehrman, How Jesus became God?

    Additionally, I do not believe that the Western civilization is going to be destroyed. It has always been changing and God willing will keep changing for the better.

    Peace and Love

  3. Thanks for your reply, Zia.

    I take your point on the connection between actions and beliefs. In the New Testament I suspect that would probably be summed up by the statement that ‘faith without corresponding action is dead’.

    I know that Islamic belief isn’t in harmony with the idea of Jesus as God or, at least, the creative power of God incarnate. I also know the concept of the trinity is not one that makes instant sense to anyone who lives within a 3D world as our understanding is shaped so much by how we perceive this world, but in quantum physics the idea that two apparently different and separate things can be one is established despite the trouble it gives our earthly brains.

    I know this is just my personal understanding and not a proof, but I compare this to how I see the sun. The sun exists. Its gravity holds the earth in its circuit and gives life to the planet. I can never directly experience the sun as its power would obliterate me in a moment, but by the light and heat that emanates from it, I can know it in some way. I see the light that flows from it. I feel the heat that radiates from it. And that light and heat that enters my eye and warms my face is not merely information about the sun, it is energy that has proceeded from it. By it I can experience the sun in a way that does not destroy me.

    On the specific issue of the trinity, I don’t agree that it’s made up. I think it’s been arrived at by logical deduction of the OT and NT scriptures starting with Genesis and “Let us make man in our image” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trinity). Actually, there may be more to it as the New Testament also speaks of the ‘seven-fold spirit of God’ in Revelation! I don’t claim to understand what it means, but I find it intriguing. I agree with you wholeheartedly on the issue of the Eucharist. For me it is symbolic and I guess the clearest argument for this is that when Jesus first made the comparison between his body and bread saying, “This is my body”, he held in his hands…a broken loaf of what was obviously bread! When he turned water into wine, everyone could see that’s what he’d done, but in this case, the bread remained bread. Similarly, when he said he was the bread from heaven, he didn’t turn into manna or become a loaf. As was so often the case, he spoke using symbolic language.

    I too hope that the West will continue to improve. I think it has primarily been a force in this world for good, but more and more now the forces of greed are holding sway; the poor are being forgotten, education is being downgraded, more and more worship money and power, reason is rejected to spare feelings. I could go on, but I’m sure you get my point!

    Thank you for the book recommendation. I have actually read up on Mr Ehrman quite recently after trying to understand some things about the NT. Are you aware he very much supports the historicity of the crucifixion? A couple of my Muslim friends have told me this too is a false dogma, but I’ve read that in early Islam the Quranic verses that refer to this event were not understood in the way they are now. I’ll go now and have another look at what he has to say…

    Peace and love to you too, Zia.

  4. Thank you Dennis. The Ahmadiyya Muslim community believes that Jesus was put on the cross but did not die on the cross. He was saved as he had been praying to God the Father in the garden to take this bitter cup away from him.

    65 Reasons to Believe Jesus Did Not Die on the Cross

    https://themuslimtimes.info/2012/04/14/65-reasons-to-believe-jesus-did-not-die-on-the-cross/

    What is common between Abrahamic faiths, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, is divinity of God the Father, living compassionately with justice and love and accountability in the Afterlife.

  5. Thank you again, ZIa.

    I’ve never heard of Ahmadiyya Muslims before. I will look up Ahmadiyya online and have a look at the link you’ve provided.

  6. Rightly Said “God is achieving His purpose and His design for the humanity,” He is All Knowing, All Powerful. The example of carpet other face is a nice example and also that it is woven with two threads. Nicely articulated, hope for believers
    “For every design, there is an appointed term. Allah effaces what He wills and establishes what He wills;”
    “Do they not see that We are approaching from the borders of the land,”
    What a relevant and pertinent conclusion about western societies:
    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.

    It appears miss spelling in ref. (3) Remember Qarun and Pharaoh and Haman: it should be “Remember Korah and Pharaoh and Haman:

    Allah bless you for your sincere efforts for enlightenment.

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