Natural Disasters between Divine Testing and Punishment
Author : Mufti AbdulAziz Anaqreh
Date Added : 29-01-2024

Natural Disasters between Divine Testing and Punishment


All perfect praise be to Allah the Lord of the Worlds. May His peace and blessings be upon our Prophet Mohammad and upon all his family and companions.


From time to time, Allah the Almighty wills, in His complete wisdom, that certain natural disasters and cosmic phenomena occur in various regions of the Earth. As a result, a series of debates and discussions arise regarding the religious aspect that touches upon the belief of a Muslim. These discussions revolve around the issue of why Allah has decreed these natural disasters and what is the wisdom behind them? Are they merely natural disasters willed by Allah, or are they a punishment from Allah for the sins of some of His servants? Or, are they a trial and test? These are important and challenging questions for the public, and some skeptics and atheists may use them to cast doubt and sow confusion among believers. On the other hand, some advocates for religious preaching may misuse the religious texts on this topic in an inappropriate manner, causing aversion to the faith and belief. In such cases, both parties contribute to undermining the structure of a Muslim's faith. In this article, a sincere attempt is made to answer these questions with a sound Sharia foundation that aligns with the correct Sunni creed, which Allah and His Messenger have accepted for us. This approach aims to soothe the heart, reassure the soul, and restore firmness and stability to faith. And all success is from Allah alone.


First: The Meaning of Test or Trial, Punishment, Calamity, and the Relationship between these Terms.


The calamity is associated with evil or adversity. In the context of the hadith: (Anyone for whom God intends good is made to suffer some affliction from Him)[1], and this adversity is a disliked matter that befalls a person ([2]). Moreover, the Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) said: (Strange are the ways of a believer for there is good in every affair of his and this is not the case with anyone else except in the case of a believer for if he has an occasion to feel delight, he thanks (God), thus there is a good for him in it, and if he gets into trouble and shows resignation (and endures it patiently), there is a good for him in it. )([3]). In this context, adversity refers to experiencing distress without the accompanying experience of prosperity. On the other hand, trial and testing involve being tested by God, and this may include facing both good and adverse situations. God tests His servants with good and bad experiences, and it is through these tests that believers are examined. God may subject a person to trials, whether good or bad ([4]). Allah the Almighty says {what means}: " Every soul shall have a taste of death: and We test you by evil and by good by way of trial. to Us must ye return." {al-Anbiya`, 35}.

As for punishment, it is derived from a root word meaning to delay something and bring it later. It is named as such because it comes after the sin and serves as a consequence [5]. It is associated with the concept of penalty and retribution. God may test His servants with trials, and the consequences, whether positive or negative, are part of the divine plan. The Qur'an emphasizes that every soul will taste death and be tested with both good and evil ([6]).


Second: Causes of Natural Disasters


The Muslim knows with certainty that natural disasters and cosmic phenomena occur only by the decree of Allah, His will, and His power. However, one cannot definitively assert the specific reason for which Allah has decreed their occurrence, such as claiming that these disasters are a punishment from Allah for the sins of His servants, without a valid and authentic religious text, whether from the Quran or the Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). The religious texts collectively emphasize a connection between the sins of nations or individuals and natural disasters. For instance, Allah says in the Quran: " Whenever We sent a prophet to a town, We took up its people in suffering and adversity, in order that they might learn humility. Then We changed their suffering into prosperity, until they grew and multiplied, and began to say: "Our fathers (too) were touched by suffering and affluence" ... Behold! We called them to account of a sudden, while they realised not (their peril). If the people of the towns had but believed and feared God, We should indeed have opened out to them (All kinds of) blessings from heaven and earth; but they rejected (the truth), and We brought them to book for their misdeeds. Did the people of the towns feel secure against the coming of Our wrath by night while they were asleep? Or else did they feel secure against its coming in broad daylight while they played about (care-free)? Did they then feel secure against the plan of God?- but no one can feel secure from the Plan of God, except those (doomed) to ruin! To those who inherit the earth in succession to its (previous) possessors, is it not a guiding, (lesson) that, if We so willed, We could punish them (too) for their sins, and seal up their hearts so that they could not hear?" {Al-`Araf, 94-100}. Imam Al-Fakhr al-Razi, may Allah have mercy on him, said: "Know that when Allah mentioned in the first verse that those who disobeyed and transgressed were suddenly seized by Him, He mentioned in this verse that had they obeyed, Allah would have opened the doors of goodness for them. As for His statement 'But they denied,' it means they denied the messengers. So, we seized them for their sins of disbelief and disobedience with drought and famine, in retribution for what they were earning. Then Allah, the Exalted, repeated the warning of the punishment of extermination and said: 'So, do the people of the cities feel secure from Our punishment coming to them at night while they are asleep?' This is a rhetorical question indicating denial for them, and the intended meaning is that Allah instills fear in them of the descent of that punishment upon them at a time when they are in utmost heedlessness, which is during the night sleep and daytime heedlessness, as these are the times when people are preoccupied with worldly pleasures."([7]). One example of this is that Allah the Almighty says {What means}:" Nor would thy Lord be the One to destroy communities for a single wrong- doing, if its members were likely to mend." {Hud, 117}. In his commentary, Imam Al-Razi stated: "The meaning is that Allah does not destroy the people of the towns merely because they are polytheists, as long as they are just in their dealings with each other. The result is that the punishment of extermination does not descend merely because the people are adherents of polytheism and disbelief. Rather, this punishment descends when they engage in wrongdoing in their interactions and actively pursue harm and injustice. Therefore, jurists have stated that the rights of Allah are based on forgiveness and leniency, while the rights of the people are based on strictness and withholding. It is said in a narration: 'Dominion remains with disbelief but does not remain with injustice.'"([8]). Regarding the hadiths, there is the saying of the Prophet: "Indeed, Allah does not punish the general masses for the actions of a specific group until they witness the reprehensible acts among them, and despite having the ability to condemn it, they do not. When they do so, Allah will punish both the specific group and the general masses"([9]). Another hadith is narrated by Umm Al-Mu'minin Zainab bint Jahsh, who asked the Prophet (PBUH): "Will we be destroyed while there are righteous people among us?" The Prophet replied: "(Yes), when evil becomes widespread."([10]) [narrated by Al-Bukhari]. Similarly, there is the hadith where Abu Bakr As-Siddiq, when addressing the people, said: "O people, you recite this verse but misplace it: "Upon yourselves is your souls. It will not harm you those who have gone astray if you are guided" [Al-Ma'idah: 105]. We heard the Prophet say: 'If people witness an oppressor and do not prevent him, Allah is likely to encompass them all with His punishment'([11]). Thus, it is established from the authentic words of Allah and His Messenger that there is a connection between sins and natural disasters, with no logical contradiction in terms of possibility.


With the considerations mentioned above, the mere occurrence of natural disasters does not necessitate that Allah intends to punish those affected by them. These disasters may be a trial for the people, a means of expiation for their sins, and a way to elevate their ranks. Allah says:" Every soul shall have a taste of death: and We test you by evil and by good by way of trial. to Us must ye return." {Al-Anbiya`, 35}. Allah the Almighty also says {What means}: "We broke them up into sections on this earth. There are among them some that are the righteous, and some that are the opposite. We have tried them with both prosperity and adversity: In order that they might turn (to us)." {Al`Araf, 168}. In addition, Mus'ab bin Sa'd narrated from his father that a man said: "O Messenger of Allah(s.a.w)! Which of the people is tried most severely?" He said: "The Prophets, then those nearest to them, then those nearest to them. A man is tried according to his religion; if he is firm in his religion, then his trials are more severe, and if he is frail in his religion, then he is tried according to the strength of his religion. The servant shall continue to be tried until he is left walking upon the earth without any sins."[12]. These disasters may indeed be a consequence of people's sins, as previously mentioned. However, they could also be neither a punishment nor a direct result of specific actions. Instead, they are afflictions determined by Allah Almighty. For those affected, they may seem harmful, but within them lies potential goodness for the individuals and others. The Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, said:"How wonderful is the case of a believer; there is good for him in everything, and this applies only to a believer. If prosperity attends him, he expresses gratitude to Allah, and that is good for him, and if adversity befalls him, he endures it patiently, and that is better for him."[13]. {Reported by Ahmad}. The cosmic disaster itself may serve as a trial and test for some individuals, while for others; it might be a punishment for a sin or an elevation in ranks and status with Allah. For those who are not accountable, it could be a calamity. They are not subject to legal responsibility until Allah tests them and purifies them or inflicts punishment on them in this world for a particular sin. Harm may befall creatures in this world without them having committed any offense because the world is not a place of retribution; it is not a place of justice like the Hereafter. Instead, it is a realm of trials, tests, struggles, toil, hardship, and people dealing with each other.


Third: How should the Imam (Muslim Preacher) Deal with Natural Disasters?


The preacher and religious guide, whether in his lessons and sermons or in his tweets on social media, must be aware and conscious of the consequences of his words in the religion of Allah. When a natural disaster occurs in a Muslim country, he should refrain from making his sermon explicitly or implicitly accuse the people of that country of sins and wrongdoing. He should not assert that what happened is a punishment for their sins or a result of their distance from the religion. Instead, the preacher in this situation should encourage people to empathize with them, pray for them, and ask for mercy and relief from calamities. The Prophet, peace be upon him, said: "The example of the believers in their affection, mercy, and compassion for each other is like that of a body. When one limb aches, the rest of the body reacts with sleeplessness and fever." ([14]). Afterward, he should remind them of the manifestations of Allah's tremendous power in His great creations, such as earthquakes, lightning, thunder, and strong winds. Allah, the Almighty, instills fear in His servants in many verses. For example, He says: " Say: "He hath power to send calamities on you, from above and below, or to cover you with confusion in party strife, giving you a taste of mutual vengeance - each from the other." See how We explain the signs by various (symbols); that they may understand. "[Al-Anam, 65] And He also says: " Do ye feel secure that He Who is in heaven will not cause you to be swallowed up by the earth when it shakes (as in an earthquake)? Or do ye feel secure that He Who is in Heaven will not send against you a violent tornado (with showers of stones), so that ye shall know how (terrible) was My warning?" [Al-Mulk, 16-17]. ‘A’ishah, wife of the prophet (May peace be upon him), said : I never saw the Messenger of Allah (May peace be upon him) laugh fully to such an extent that I could see his uvula. He would only smile, and when he saw clouds or wind, his face showed signs (of fear). I asked him: Messenger of Allah! When the people see the cloud, they rejoice, hoping for that it may contain rain, and I notice that when you see it, (the signs of) abomination on your face. He replied: ‘A’ishah! What gives me safety from the fact that it might contain punishment? A people were punished by the wind. When those people saw the punishment, they said: this is a cloud which would give us rain.[15]. This reminder must be delivered without offending our Muslim brothers anywhere. This is part of good manners and etiquette in presenting admonitions. The preacher must address people with reason, wisdom, good understanding, and a proper interpretation of the texts of Islamic law. He should emulate the Imams of the Sunnah, whom Allah has accepted and placed their acceptance among the people. Allah says, "Invite to the way of your Lord with wisdom and good instruction, and argue with them in a way that is best. Indeed, your Lord is most knowing of who has strayed from His way, and He is most knowing of who is [rightly] guided." [Quran 16:125]. The matter revolves around this, or else the preacher will corrupt rather than reform. And Allah is the Helper, and He is the Highest and the Most Knowledgeable.



 ([1]) Al-Bukhari, Muhammad ibn Ismail, Sahih Al-Bukhari, Dar Tawq al-Najah, 1st edition, 1422 AH, edited by Muhammad Zuhair, Hadith number (5645).

([2]) Ibn Manzur, Jamal al-Din, Lisan al-Arab, Dar Sader - Beirut, 3rd edition, 1414 AH, (1/535).

([3]) Al-Nawawi, Muslim ibn Al-Hajjaj, Sahih Muslim, Dar Ihya al-Turath al-Arabi - Beirut, edited by Muhammad Fuad Abdul-Baqi, Hadith number (2999).

([4]) Ibn Farris, Ahmad, Muqayyis al-Lughah, Dar al-Fikr, 1399 AH - 1979 CE, (1/293).

([5]) Ibn Farris, Ahmad, Muqayyis al-Lughah, (4/78).

([6]) Al-Raghib Al-Isfahani, Al-Husayn ibn Muhammad, Mufadat Alfaz Al-Quran Al-Karim, Dar al-Qalam - Beirut, 1st edition, 1412 AH, (p. 575).

([7]) Al-Fakhr Al-Razi, Muhammad ibn Umar, Tafsir Al-Kabir, known as Mafatih Al-Ghayb, Dar Ihya al-Turath al-Arabi - Beirut, 3rd edition, 1420 AH, (14/321).

([8]) Al-Fakhr Al-Razi, Tafsir Al-Kabir, known as Mafatih Al-Ghayb, (18/410).

([9]) Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Musnad Ahmad, Dar al-Risalah, 1st edition, 1421 AH - 2001 CE, edited by Shu'ayb al-Arnaut, Hadith number (17720).

([10]) Al-Bukhari, Sahih Al-Bukhari, Hadith number (3346).

([11]) Abu Dawood, Sulaiman ibn al-Ash'ath, Sunan Abu Dawood, Al-Maktaba Al-Asriyya - Beirut, edited by Muhammad Muhyiddin Abdul-Hamid, Hadith number (4338).

([12]) Al-Tirmidhi, Muhammad ibn Isa, Sunan Al-Tirmidhi, Mustafa al-Babi al-Halabi Library - Egypt, 2nd edition, 1395 AH - 1975 CE, Hadith number (2398).

([13]) Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Musnad Ahmad, Hadith number (23930).

([14]) Al-Nawawi, Muslim ibn Al-Hajjaj, Sahih Muslim, Hadith number (2586).

([15]) Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Musnad Ahmad, Hadith number (24369).

















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Summarized Fatawaa

A man married a woman at the Islamic Centre in Brussels through a regular marriage contract. However, the husband left her for two years now and never provided her with financial support. Currently, she is staying in Amman, Jordan, and wants to remarry. Is her first marriage considered void and what should she do to remarry lawfully?

All perfect praise be to Allah, the Lord of the Worlds; may His blessings and peace be upon our Prophet Mohammad and upon all his family and companions.
This issue is within the jurisdiction of the Islamic courts and they have the final say regarding the dissolution of the first marriage contract if there is valid ground for that. Therefore, her first marriage remains valid unless a court decision says otherwise. And Allah The Almighty Knows Best.

Is it permissible for the woman who is observing Iddah* after her husband`s death to sit with her daughter`s suitor, although their marriage contract hasn`t been concluded yet?

All perfect praise be to Allah the Lord of The Worlds. May His blessings and peace be upon our Prophet Mohammad and upon all his family and companions.
A suitor who hasn`t concluded the marriage contract isn`t a Mahram*, so he must be treated as such. And Allah the Almighty knows best.
* The period a woman must observe after the death of her husband or after a divorce, during which she may not marry another man.
* In Islam, a mahram is a member of one's family with whom marriage would be considered haram, concealment purdah, or concealment of the body with hijab, is not obligatory; and with whom, if he is an adult male, she may be escorted during a journey, although an escort may not be obligatory.

How should I be kind to my atheist father?

Allah, The Exalted, has decreed that we be kind to our parents, even if they are polytheists, by honoring and obeying them in all that isn`t sinful, so that they might love Islam and embrace it as a result.

I can`t afford to get married, what should I do to curb my sexual drives?

You should offer a lot of voluntary fasting, keep busy with useful and permissible acts and make supplication to Allah, The Exalted.