The massive earthquake that rocked part of Muslim regions was so devastating as it made some people to ask: is earthquake Allah’s punishment or a universal phenomenon (Sunan Kaoniyyah)? How can it be a punishment when its victims are Muslims and especially if the regions that are afflicted by it are already in other trials and tribulations? Why is it that it did not affect the non-Muslim nations while Muslims are spared since it is a punishment from Allah?

Before answering the question of whether earthquake is a punishment or a universal law, there is a need to understand what an earthquake means, and why it happens.

Earthquake is a form of disaster. Disasters are dangerous turbulence in the activities of a society which exceed a limit that such a society can handle with its resources. Disasters occur due to natural dangers, technological dangers, and human factors, aside from other numerous factors that influence weakness of the society and expose it to dangers.

Forms of Disasters:

Disasters are of different forms, the most important of which are: earthquake, volcanic eruptions, landslides, Tsunami, avalanches, heat waves, cold waves, forest fires, droughts, hurricanes, epidemics, pandemics, technological and biological threats, and hailstorms.

As for the earthquake, it is a sudden and quick vibration of the earth because of the quaking of a layer of rocks underneath the earth, or due to volcanic or smelting activity. The earthquake occurs suddenly without prior notification as it can happen at any time. It often causes deaths, injuries, damages to properties, loss of shelters, and economic means as it puts an end to activities of the main structures. Usually, the primary effect of earthquake is the collapse of buildings. It could however be the cause of other secondary effects such as fire outbreaks, tsunami, floods, landslides, and the release of chemicals or poisonous substances. Earthquakes could be the cause of high sea waves called tsunami.

Earthquake occurs at the edge of the earth’s crust which is known as the “tectonic plates” which move very slowly for a long period of time. These tectonic plates form mountain ranges such as the Himalayas and Andes.

Is Earthquake a Sign of Allah’s Anger?

It is a very common thing among people including scholars to hear that earthquake is a sign of Allah’s anger on those afflicted by it. This type of assertion is far from the truth in general despite some narrations that were reported on its justification. It is not necessary that earthquakes are signs of Allah’s anger. It could be Allah’s punishment for some people, and a test or trial destined for others. It is truly one of the signs of Allah for His creations in this world. It is just similar to other signs of Allah; for instance, water could be a blessing from Allah as it revives the earth after its death, and it could also be a punishment for some people. Therefore, there is the need to see earthquake as a universal sign of Allah which also has scientific causes. Those causes and signs are parts of Allah’s plans that cannot be influenced by any human. In other words, the effects of earthquakes cannot increase due to human behaviors or deeds.

Earthquake Through Ages:

Earthquake is one of the many signs of Allah which occurred in different forms over years. Some of these earthquakes are severe like the one we are experiencing now, while some are moderate. In the Pacific Ocean, hundreds of earthquakes occur but we do not feel them. In fact, the strong waves that occur in the river sides and oceans are caused by earthquakes. Scientists affirm that since 1900, seventeen (17) earthquake occur every year and it ranges from less than magnitude seven (7) to more than magnitude eight (8).

Furthermore, earthquake is one of Allah’s signs which occurs in this earth, irrespective of whether it is occupied by Muslims or disbelievers. Scientists have observed that since the birth of Jesus Christ, 179 powerful earthquakes had occurred; fifteen (15) of which were extremely severe. In between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries, (3804) shakes occurred a hundred of which were very severe. Also in the nineteenth century, (3204) quakes occurred. In fact, the scientists mentioned that the city of Italy sank as it turned into a lake in the year 1480 before the birth of Jesus Christ.

In the sixth century of the birth, which was the year 551AC, a severe earthquake engulfed river sides of Syria and Lebanon as it was so intense in Lebanon. In the year 1139AC, earthquakes destroyed the city of Aleppo in Syria and reached the border of Iran, and caused the death of hundreds of thousands of persons.

The deadliest earthquakes in this era was recorded and that was in 1960AC. This occurred in Chile and was measured (9.6) magnitude. So also, the earthquake that occurred in US state of Alaska in the United State of America in 1964, 4 years after the Chile earthquake. It was measured (9.2) magnitude.

Interpretation of Earthquake Between Science and Religion:

Of the scientific indicators of earthquake in the Qur’an is Allah’s saying: “Do they not see that We are advancing in the land, diminishing it by its borders” (al-Ra’d: 41). Of the scientific meanings in the verse is the reduction of the size of the earth. On this verse, Dr. Zuglul an-Najjar – May Allah preserve him- said: “Indeed, reduction of the earth could be a reference to the ocean bottoms rushing under the continents and their melting, due to the movement of the earth’s lithosphere plates. From 65 km to 120 km, and the number of large plates of the lithosphere is 12 plates, and there are a number of relatively small plates, and with the rotation of the Earth, collision occurs between these plates, so they overlap or diverge, causing earthquakes and volcanoes.”

The Scientists Observe the Benefits of the Earthquake:

While people see earthquakes as evils and misfortune, scientists have noted a number of benefits that result from the earthquake, the most important of which are: that an earthquake shapes the earth’s surface and that raises the mountains. It also brings out precious minerals from the ground. In fact, some scientists opined that earthquake helps reforms the mountains such as the mountains in Caucasus, Europe, North, and Latin America. The mountains also help in the rapid growth of plants and an increase in forest coverage on the earth which is helpful in the process of animal production.

Earthquake is also considered a security valve to the earth simply because the earth’s crust is too soft compared to the diameter of the earth, and this crust is simply a group of floating panels on the second hot layer, and under the ground the rocks are denser and hotter and its pressure is higher under the ground. Hence, the pressure under the earth is huge.

Earthquake is a Sign of Allah and Universal Law:

It is known that earthquake is one of the signs of the Last Day for what Imam al-Bukhari and others related that the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) 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.” 

All the earthquakes that are witnessed are minor compare to the major earthquake of the Hereafter, which Allah speaks about as thus: “And when the earth is stretched taut, and casts out what is in it” (al-Inshiqaq: 3-4)                                                                                                                                                                     

So, Allah’s universal signs keep happening to the Muslims, the disbeliever, and those living on this earth. Hence, it has no connection with a doctrine, faith or a group. The rationale behind Allah’s signs is to make His servant fear Allah and to call them to repentance. Allah says: “We never send Our Signs except to cause people to fear” (al-Isra’: 59)

Furthermore, when it is obvious that earthquakes are parts of Allah’s trials, Allah’s wisdom behind trials are applicable. They include expiation of wrong doing or increasing rewards. Thus, it is not necessary that an earthquake is Allah’s punishment which is inflicted on the wrong doers, for Allah grants His servants respite. Had Allah Wills to punish His servant in this world for their wrong doing, everyone on this earth would have perished. Allah says: “Were Allah to take people to task for their wrong-doing, He would not have spared even a single living creature on the face of the earth. But He grants them respite until an appointed term. And when that term arrives, they have no power to delay it by a single moment, nor to hasten it” (An-Nahl:61)

In addition, the benefit of this trial includes calling people to return to their God for it is useful to the faith of servants. Also, during trial, people become more devotional as they increase their supplications. It also ensures societal solidarity, helping the victims, and Muslim unity. It also kindles level of submissiveness to Allah as it shows the weakness of human beings and make them realize that no matter how knowledgeable they are, they are weak before Allah’s power and authority.