I am writing this article from my home in Florida with the wind and rain of hurricane Irma pounding on our windows and doors. The existence of natural disasters might lead one to ask why God would allow such things to happen. While there is no single direct answer, I do know that God is All-Wise and All-Knowing. The fact that we may not know the wisdom behind something does not mean that wisdom does not exist. One might likewise ask why God allows rain to kill ants, the tiger to eat the antelope, or humans to eat chickens. These are not evil acts, but part of the nature of this world.
These natural disasters certainly lead to much destruction, loss of life, and difficulties for those afflicted. Muslims understand this life to be a place of testing. God tests people with good and bad to see how they react. We often look at the destruction that comes along with the hurricanes, and rightly so, but they also result in some good. At the physical level there are environmental benefits, for instance one of the main purposes of hurricanes is a temperature balance between the poles and the equator, replenish barrier islands, and bring rainfall to areas that need it.1
These natural disasters also serve as a reminder of our weakness as human beings. We spend so much time building and maintaining our homes and in a matter of minutes God can destroy all of it with some water and wind. This should lead us to repent and seek God’s forgiveness. The fear of not knowing what will happen creates a sense of desperation and humbleness before God. It is like the feeling one has while in an airplane and experiences turbulence. At that moment one feels that all they have is God.
Natural disasters and hardships demonstrate people’s true nature. I have witnessed the many communal benefits this hurricane brought with it. It gave us all the opportunity to work together as a community. As I was filling sandbags to bring home, I saw an elder lady trying to fill and carry heavy sandbags on her own. I immediately stopped filling my own bags and rushed to help her and there were many others who were helping women and elderly. As I got home, my neighbor approached me and told me that he has a generator and in the case that electricity is lost he would happily allow us to share his generator. There was also a man who gave up his generator to a woman whose father needed it for his oxygen.2 This man did not speak English well, but he understood the language of humanity. He saw a lady in tears and willingly put her before himself. At a time when our politicians are dividing our country and demonizing immigrants and refugees, we could witness that at the end of the day we are all humans.
These disasters also remind us of our blessings. Electricity allows us to power our lights, air-conditions, phones, and refrigerators. In preparation for this storm we have purchased candles, filled our bathtubs with water, and filled our cars with gas. These are blessings that are readily available in our everyday life yet we often take them for granted. Disasters are certainly difficult, scary, and difficult to comprehend. However, just like every other difficulty in life we can choose how we react. We can reflect on our blessings, life, family, and neighbors. We can observe the beauty of humanity when strangers open their homes for those who are suffering and people putting the needs of strangers before themselves. Natural disasters will eventually pass, but these are bonds and memories of human goodness that will remain forever.