Saturday, January 22, 2005

Making Sense of the Tsunami Disaster

When calamity afflicts people they often ask: why? When the Indian Ocean Tsunami disaster caused death and destruction, people asked why? "Why did you do this, God?" was the title of an article dispatched by Reuter on December 30, 2004.

"This is an expression of God's great ire with the world," said Israeli chief rabbi Shlomo Amar. "The world is being punished for wrongdoing -- be it people's needless hatred of each other, lack of charity, moral turpitude," was the answer of Pandit Harikrishna Shastri, a priest of New Delhi's Birla Hindu temple. Azizan Abdul Razak, a Muslim cleric and vice president of Malaysia's Islamic Party, said the disaster was a reminder from God that "he created the world and can destroy the world."

The "why" questions are the most difficult ones. Human intelligence does fairly well in answering the "how" and "what," questions, but often does poorly in answering the "why" and "when" questions.

The question of why does God allow much death to occur as a result of a natural event, is linked to the question of why death occur at all. Every day death is visited on hundreds of thousands of people of all nationalities, races, age groups, socio-economic groups, etc. Death does not distinguish between young and old, rich and poor, or strong and week.

Why does God cause people to die? Here is how the Qur'an answers this question: "He who created death and life, that He may try which of you is best in deed, and He is the exalted in Might, oft forgiving." (67:2)

Life is a trial, and we are tested every day: "Be sure we shall test you with something of fear and hunger, some loss in goods and lives, or the fruits (of your toil), but give glad tidings to those who patiently persevere, those who say, when afflicted with calamity: to God we belong, and to Him is our return." (2:155)

God has his reasons and timing, and it is futile to engage in second guessing divine knowledge that we have little capacity to comprehend in its completeness. The questions we should ask, and which are relevant to our knowledge and responsibility: Why there is too much poverty and disparity in the world? Why is it that much of the national wealth is used on building security systems rather than ensuring justice and equity, or providing education and empowerment to the less fortunate? Why the rich is getting richer and the poor poorer? These questions might appear less bold and less glamorous, but are certainly more open to comprehension and remedy.

The real questions confronting us today relate to how we should respond to the pain and suffering of humanity, to how we can ensure more equity in the world, and how we ought to bridge the gap between the rich and poor, and provide hope to the hopeless and help to the helpless.


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