The devastation caused by Hurricane “Sandy” across the US has reached Arab shores in the form of waves of controversy and debate. On one hand, there are those who rejoiced at the disaster and took pleasure in the rising death toll, mass flooding and destroyed hones. For them, the US remains the root of all evil and therefore all Americans deserve the ordeals and catastrophes they suffer, for they must reap what they sow. On the other hand, there are those who consider Hurricane “Sandy” to be a humanitarian disaster that has befallen innocent people; people who are distanced from politics in the same manner that America is distanced geographically from the Islamic world. Yet no religion, sense of ethics or humanity would allow one to rejoice at the misfortune of others, regardless of their religion, race or country of origin.
This debate essentially focuses on how we react to ordinary people who have suffered great harm. We would not have paid much attention to the extremist viewpoints were they based on personal convictions, but they actually stem from interpretations of the Sharia. As such, there is a dire need to clarify Sharia concepts with regards to dealing with the misfortune of others, and apply them practically on the ground. This is especially important in view of the fact that natural disasters are a universal norm that will continue to befall everyone. We must seek assistance from specialists with a moderate, comprehensive view, to put forth an explanation that functions as a frame of reference for the majority, not the minority, of the general public.
Without a doubt, the reason for the debate over this particular issue is that each sect, by taking matters to extremes, has failed to scrutinize the details, hence confusing right with wrong. What we find is that people resort to Sharia texts on some occasions yet abandon them at other times, as was the case with the tsunami that did great harm in Indonesia. At that time, some people went too far in their interpretations and even falsified fixed texts governing the relationship between calamities and sins, whilst others maintained that the tsunami disaster had befallen them because revealing swimwear was being sold in Indonesian shops.
Some have moved on from the stage of urging misfortune upon peaceful non-Muslims and rejoicing in it, to the extent that they now say that declining to do so is itself a disavowal of Al Wala’ Wal Bara’ doctrine. Such people would be better off shedding light on the merciful nature of Islamic Sharia and its moral treasures. Sharia stipulates that a Muslim may interact with a non-Muslim in a humane and ethical frame of reference even in the midst of a battle, let alone at times of peace or during a natural disaster. When the Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) was asked to pray against the polytheists, he replied “I was not sent to curse; I was sent only as a mercy”. The Sharia only permits us to pray for the misfortune of others under specific circumstances, such as during a war, where the enemy might even be another Muslim. For example, given the massacres committed against the Syrian people, we can invoke God against the regime of Bashar al-Assad, his troops, media, thugs and whoever defends the atrocities he commits.