Looking to the Qur’an in an Age of Climate Disaster

Natural disasters are occurring nearly five times as often now as they were in the 1970s, according to a 2014 report by the World Meteorological Organization. Both developed and developing countries are bearing the burden of repeated floods, droughts, and temperature extremes.

Are we, humanity, innocent in all of this? In the Qur’an, God says: “Evil has appeared on land and sea because of what the hands of men have earned, that He [God] may make them taste a part of that which they have done, in order that they may return” (30:41).

This passage from the Qur’an points toward a truth that scientists have been articulating as well: 97 percent of climate scientists agree that climate warming trends over the past century are very likely (scientific language for “quite certainly”) due to human activities, and most of the leading scientific organizations worldwide have issued public statements endorsing this position. And yet, mired in denial, we are continuing to move in the wrong direction.

Mosaic tomb ceiling decoration.

Credit: Creative Commons/Pentocelo (Tomb of Hafez).

Natural disasters alone have cost the world 3.8 trillion dollars since 1980, according to the World Bank’s 2014 World Development Report. It is depressing to think about the thousands of people suffering the personal costs of these increasingly frequent disasters, all of whom are someone’s mother, father, friend, daughter, son, husband, or wife. How can one have hope?

However, as the Qur’an suggests, the road is not doomed: we may “return” if we reflect on what we are doing and change our behaviour. The Quran urges us many times to reflect. Consider, for example, this passage from Yunus (or Jonas) 10:31:

Say: “Who is it that sustains you (in life) from the sky and from the earth? Or who is it that has power over hearing and sight? And who is it that brings out the living from the dead and the dead from the living? And who is it that rules and regulates all affairs?” They will soon say: “God.” Say: “Will you not then show piety (to God)?”

By urging us to reflect on God as the source of our sustenance, this passage reminds us to see the world around us as a sacred domain rather than to use it wastefully for our own purposes—indeed, “squanderers” are described as brothers of the devil in the Qur’an (17:27). This idea reappears in a story told by Aishah, the wife of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), who says that when the Prophet lived in his house, he used to repair his own shoes, sew his own clothes, and carry out all such household chores without complaint or want for more. The idea behind this story was to show Muslims that “menial” tasks were not degrading for God’s Prophet.

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