Sunday, May 28, 2006

What's the Islamic perspective on earthquakes?

Earthquakes in Islam

O mankind! Fear your Lord and be dutiful to Him! Verily, the earthquake of the Hour (of Judgement) is a terrible thing.
The Day ye shall see it, every mother giving suck shall forget her suckling-babe, and every pregnant female shall drop her load (unformed): thou shalt see mankind as in a drunken riot, yet not drunk: but dreadful will be the Wrath of Allah. (Al-hajj 22:1-2)

When Earth is shaken with her (final) earthquake. And Earth yieldeth up her burdens, And man says: What has befallen her? On that day she shall tell her news, Because your Lord had inspired her. (al-zilzaal, 99:1-5)

Do ye feel secure that He Who is in heaven will not cause you to be swallowed upby the earth when it shakes (as in an earthquake)? (al mulk 64.16)

The news of the last week has been dominated by discussions of earthquakes. This is understandable considering the high death toll following the earthquake that hit the Indian cub-continent.

Occurrences of this kind often push us, as humans, to think deeply about our predicament as human beings. That is, we are continually at the mercy of the elements. It is thought that the earth’s surface is physically built up of series tectonic plates that shift, collide and interact to release and retain the pressure that lies beneath, generated by the molten furnaces of the inners of this planet. Therefore living with seismic activity has always been an aspect of human existence.

It follows then that thinkers and observers have always passed comment on this phenomenon. The 1755 Lisbon earthquake compelled the French philosopher, Voltaire to question the nature of a god that would allow such an occurrence to happen. The priests of Lisbon however had few questions relating god’s attributes to the tragic event. It was clear to them that it was a punishment from god. Instead of turning their attentions to the 50,000 that died in the quake, they proceeded to salvage crucifixes and religious icons from the collapsing buildings. To them church paraphernalia was more important than the lives of “sinners”. They did this to ward off more catastrophes sent by a god made irate by the behaviour of people of Lisbon.

Immanuel Kant was so disturbed by the Lisbon earthquake that he wrote three separate treatise on the issue of earthquakes. Earthquakes feature commonly in the old Judaeo-Christian text as well as the writings of ancient Greece and Rome. Thus philosophies and religions have addressed the natural phenomenon of earthquakes.

All of these reams of text on the subject should come as no surprise as civilisations for millennia have experienced the deviation resulting from earthquakes. Seismic convulsions also have a particular prominence within the text of Islam. In the Quran there are also several references to earthquakes in various contexts.

Similarly the hadith of the Prophet refer to this phenomenon. Earthquakes have been addressed in relation to civilisations that have been destroyed previously, as well as in relation to the end of the world and the accountability that we will all face, and also in relation to the signs of the hour. Thus earthquakes are central to the general culture of Islam.There is a whole surat that bares the name, al-zilzala “the earthquake”. This is one of the most profound chapters in the Quran in that it describes in the most comprehensive way, but with in the simplest of terms exactly what the whole issue of the day of judgement is leading up to. That is, to see the results of our good and bad actions.

Abu Hurrayrah narrated that the Prophet recited “On that day she shall tell her news” (Al-Zizala, 99:4). Then he (Sallallahu alaihi wasallam) inquired, “Do you know what its ‘news’ are?” He was told “Allah and is Rasool know better.” He said, “Its news are that it shall bear witness against every slave man and woman concerning that which they did on its back. It will say ‘you did this and this on such and such day.’ These will be its news.” (tirmithi)

There are many other verses (see above) that address subject of the end of the world using the shaking of the earth to describe the horrors of that day. The quran also describes the narrative of how the communities had disobeyed Allah (Subhanahu wa ta’ala) command or rejected the message that was brought to them.

And to (the people of) Madyan (Midian), We sent their brother Shu'aib (Shuaib). He said: "O my people! Worship Allah, and hope for (the reward of good deeds by worshipping Allâh Alone, on) the last Day, and commit no mischief on the earth as Mufsidun (those who commit great crimes, oppressors, tyrants, mischief-makers, corrupts). And they belied him [Shu'aib (Shuaib)], so the earthquake seized them, and they lay (dead), prostrate in their dwellings. And 'Ad and Thamud (people)! And indeed (their destruction) is clearly apparent to you from their (ruined) dwellings. Shaitan (Satan) made their deeds fair-seeming to them, and turned them away from the (Right) Path, though they were intelligent. (al Ankabout 29: 36-38)

So they killed the she­camel and insolently defied the Commandment of their Lord, and said: "O Salih (Saleh)! Bring about your threats if you are indeed one of the Messengers (of Allah)." So the earthquake seized them, and they lay (dead), prostrate in their homes. Then he [Salih (Saleh)] turned from them, and said: "O my people! I have indeed conveyed to you the Message of my Lord, and have given you good advice but you like not good advisers." (al-araaf 7:77-79)

And in the Thamud (was another Sign): Behold, they were told, "Enjoy (your brief day) for a little while!" But they insolently defied the Command of their Lord: So the stunning noise (of an earthquake) seized them, even while they were looking on. Then they could not even stand (on their feet), nor could they help themselves. (Adh-Dhariyat 51:43-45)

The sayings of also made reference to the issue of earthquakes. Again these are in several contexts. One of which was in relation to the signs of the hour that is to come.

Narrated Ibn 'Umar: (The Prophet) said, "O Allah! Bless our Sham and our Yemen." People said, "Our Najd as well." The Prophet again said, "O Allah! Bless our Sham and Yemen." They said again, "Our Najd as well." On that the Prophet said, "There will appear earthquakes and afflictions, and from there will come out the side of the head of Satan." [bukari]

Narrated Abu Huraira: The Prophet said, "The Hour (Last Day) will not be established until (religious) knowledge will be taken away (by the death of religious learned men), earthquakes will be very frequent, time will pass quickly, afflictions will appear, murders will increase and money will overflow amongst you." (See Hadith No. 85 Vol 1). [bukhari]

In the light of the recent earthquakes, every human being should look to himself or herself and contemplate whether they are living their lives as they should.
As for the Muslim, all of these discussions of earthquakes should prompt us to think about out situation. Just as importantly all this discussion should urge us to look deeply into the aspects of Islam where earthquakes are referred. Most important of all, this topic should force us to contemplate on our preparation for the day of reckoning.

Source: Journal