Natural disasters: Are they punishment or "ghazab" ?

Q405 :Can we say that frequent occurrences of natural disasters such as floods and cyclones are manifestations of Allah's anger with some people and He punishes them with these disasters? As it is understood from the Qur'an, when Allah chooses to inflict a collective punishment on some people, there is a definite purpose to be served by that punishment. Can we determine such a purpose in what happens these days? If not, can we still consider such disasters as the working of Allah's wrath, or "ghazab" ?

A405 : Allah mentions in the Qur'an that He has caused a Pharaoh and his people to suffer a number of natural disasters, including floods and attacks by waves of locusts and other insects. He described those events as clear and detailed signs of His power, but the Pharaoh and his people continued to be arrogant and maintained their criminal practices. It is noteworthy that these events are described in the Qur'an as "clear and detailed signs." A sign is sent to a people in order to remind them of Allah's existence and power so that they may come to believe in Him. We cannot equate such a sign with what you have termed "ghazab" or collective punishment visited on some people. A sign is sent in order to make people respond positively. Therefore, the positive response is the one sought for. A collective punishment is bound to defeat that purpose, particularly if it leaves a community in total ruin. It is also mentioned in the Qur'an that Allah had destroyed complete nations with natural disasters or some other form of punishment because they arrogantly refused to follow the prophets and the messengers sent to them. The people of Noah, for example, were destroyed with the flood, while the people of Aad were destroyed by winds, and the people of Thamud by an earthquake accompanied by a heart piercing sound. The fact that Allah mentions these punishments to us serves as a reminder that He is able to inflict similar punishments on us if we defy His orders and continue to do so unrepentantly. We should always be in fear of Allah and try our best to please Him. Exerting such effort is certain to spare us the collective punishment. Having said that, I should explain that volcanoes, cyclones, floods and other forms of natural disasters take place as a result of natural laws which Allah has set in operation. They may be caused when the fine balance Allah has set in the universe as a whole is upset. However, when a cyclone hits certain areas, we cannot say that the people of that area have earned such a punishment by Allah. How can we tell? After all, cyclones regularly hit parts of Bangladesh when the people there are certainly better than those who live in other parts of the world. Allah is the most just of judges. If He punishes some people, His punishment is just. It does not follow that those were the only people who deserved punishment. Allah may choose to delay the punishment of others until the Day of Judgment. No one who disobeys Allah may escape punishment, unless He chooses to forgive him or her. Therefore, we should always be in fear of incurring Allah's anger, lest His punishment takes us unawares. The Prophet used to appeal to Allah for protection against natural disasters. For example, when the Prophet heard thunder or a thunderbolt, he used to say: "My Lord, do not kill us with Your wrath and do not send us to perdition by inflicting suffering on us. Spare us all that, our Lord." In short, we should always maintain a balance between realization that Allah controls all natural laws and He can easily inflict on us any type of punishment He may choose. His punishment is always just. On the other hand, we do not feel happy to see any community smitten by a natural disaster, even though it is an unbelieving community. As Muslims, we would much better have that community respond to Allah's call than to see it smitten by His anger. What we should guard against is to appoint ourselves as judges of others, claiming that a particular community deserves punishment by Allah while another community has not reached that stage. Allah alone judges people in accordance with what He knows of their situation and their intentions.

Our Dialogue ( Source : Arab News - Jeddah )