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South Asia''s Earthquake...May it Shake the Superstitions! - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Last week, we were woken by the sad and painful news that a horrendous earthquake had overturned the earth in Pakistan. It centered on the Northern region of Kashmir and left tens of thousands wounded, dead or displaced people. The solemn General Pervez Musharaff delivered his speech with a broken voice that asked people to stand strong in the face of this calamity.

Before that, and in a different manner, another tragedy occurred in the shape of a hurricane called &#34Katrina,&#34 which afflicted the Southern American state of Arizona overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. It was centered on the city of New Orleans. In both cases, the disasters struck weak areas and link both societies of America and Pakistan together. In the United States, the most affected are the poor and the marginalized according to the recognition of president George W Bush. Others added that the main segments that were mostly harmed were the African American population. In Pakistan also, the earthquake hit the villagers and farmers; in both cases, those who suffered the most from these natural disasters are the classes that normally have no political influence and are subjects of politics rather than the makers of it.

In America, there remains a hidden racial hostility that is not always easily detected between the blacks and the whites. Such hostility comes to the fore only when a major public issue arises that involves a member or members of the Afro-American community, as apparent from the trial of the American Baseball player O.J Simpson, or the case against singer Michael Jackson accusing him of sexual harassment of children. Finally, the same feeling was evident during the days that Hurricane Katrina struck. The common factor in all three cases is that there exists the view that there is an intentional harm towards the Afro-American parties in terms of discrimination and condemnation due to the color of their skin (the cases of Simpson and Jackson).

Moving from this psychological background that frequently comes up in every public opinion case in the United States; we observe that the Afro-Americans are traditionally opposed to external American wars because as they perceive them, they are ways to fulfill the white man”s lust for domination and control. Somehow, this explains for example the attitudes of the black movement, the &#34Nation of Islam&#34 and the thoughts of its leader Louis Farrakhan, who frequently visits countries that are hostile to America.

Thus, according to all of the above, the irrationality and absurdity of explanations presented by some who want to obscure and distort the Arab conscience by claiming that the event of Arizona was a &#34Divine Punishment&#34 for the United States and its unjust war against Iraq becomes evident. Even though non-Arab and non-Muslim parties reiterate the same opinion, I am concerned here with the Arab context. How could the tornado be a &#34Divine Punishment&#34 to people who are against their country”s war in Iraq, or are active in protesting against it? According to the logic of this explanation, should the tornado not have hit the state of Texas, the birthplace of the American president and a state well known for its strong republican sentiments?

If we put aside the American example and refer to the recent South Asia crisis, how can we explain the destructive earthquake? Can we argue that the earthquake that killed and destroyed villagers and their houses was a response to a gay marriage ceremony? If that is case, why has the punishment not been specifically aimed at those who conducted and took part in this ceremony? Why was the punishment (assuming that this is what the earthquake was), comprehensive as it included even those who were praying or carrying out some form of worship during the holy month of Ramadan?

The Pakistani villagers who were killed and left homeless due to this natural disaster were Muslims. Therefore, the opinion that Hurricane Katrina was a divine punishment, an opinion reiterated by scientists and academics, is meaningless. One recalls the superstitious beliefs that circulated after the Tsunami hit South East Asia, which insisted that this natural disaster was divine punishment for the villagers because they allow the Western tourists to use their beaches.

Even sadder was the fact that some geologists put on their religious garbs to confidently assert that Tsunami was an expression of God”s wrath instead of turning to the scientific explanation for the great ocean wave. Punishment for whom and for what reason? Is there any real evidence to convince us? We know that God as Exalted and Capable as He is is much greater than how such misguided people try to depict Him with this vengeful image. His Mercy has engulfed every thing as He Himself tells us. In the Glorious Qur”an Surat Al Nahl, He says, &#34And if Allah were to punish men for their wrongdoing, He would not leave on the earth a living creature, but He gives them respite until an appointed time; and when their time has come, they cannot remain behind a single hour, nor can they go ahead of it.&#34

The meaning of this verse according to Ibn Kathir is that, &#34God informs us of His patience with His creatures despite their wrongdoing, and that if He chose to punish them according to their deeds, He would not have left a living animal or human on earth. Rather, He is patient and tolerant of their sins to the extent that He even hides them from the eyes of others.&#34 There is an intellectual chaos that mixes up scientific thinking with superstitious thought, which could also be referred to as wishful thinking. Wishful thinking means that we explain natural phenomena according to our own desires that are shaped by ethnic or religious influences. As the German scientist and Noble Prize winner in Physics, Max Blanc said, &#34The laws of nature are not subject to our will but were existent before the creation of life on earth, and will remain after that life becomes extinct.&#34 Therefore, since laws of nature are not subject to our wills, they are also not subject to the varied cultural perceptions that offer different interpretations and explanations to the phenomena that occur in nature.

Muslims are not unique in this respect. The primitive nations may explain a certain natural phenomenon with a multitude of explanations that are all derived from magic. The Senes tribes of Peru immediately engage in collective magic whenever an eclipse takes place. With these magic practices, they aim to re-light the sun. They shoot burning arrows towards the sun to help it drive away an imagined beast that fights it. The Chilcotin Indian tribe engages in another paranormal ritual when an eclipse of the sun takes place. They usually roll up their sleeves and walk in circles carrying canes and pretending to be carrying heavy weights. They continue this act until the eclipse finishes, as they believe that this strengthens the sun”s determination.

Tidal waves, earthquakes, volcanoes, floods, avalanches, droughts etc, are all natural phenomena that occur according to certain laws of nature that are completely independent of any cultural, political, or racial perceptions of people who may either benefit or suffer as a result of these phenomena. The question is why do these logical issues require argument and debate? The irony is that the debate takes place with people who presumably should be scientifically educating us about the scientific perspective that is free from any myths and lies. I still remember how the geology scholar Zaghloul Ragheb Al Najjar insisted that the Tsunami occurred as punishment from God. I would then like to ask Dr Al Najjar, was the earthquake of Pakistan that was centered on Kashmir that has a Muslim majority of victims also a punishment from God?

This absurdity should stop. The natural religious values, ideals and feelings should be protected from the blatant political employment. Those who carry those opinions out of ignorance are not the subject of my talk. Yet, unfortunately, the promoters of intellectual-psychological drugs are still among the most influential people.

Mshari Al-Zaydi

Mshari Al-Zaydi

Mshari Al-Zaydi is a Saudi journalist and expert on Islamic movements and Islamic fundamentalism, as well as on Saudi affairs. He is Asharq Al-Awsat’s opinion page editor. Mr. Zaydi has worked for the local Saudi press, and has been a guest on numerous news and current affairs programs as an expert on Islamic extremism.

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