Peace and Blessings Be With You,
Thank you for sending us this timely question.
First and foremost, let me say that my thoughts and prayers are with all those affected by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, as well as new ones developing currently.
I personally encourage all who are able to donate money or supplies to those in need, both within the United States and in other nations.
Borders may divide us, but we are all brothers and sisters in creation.
Are natural disasters a test?
If there is any test in them, it is for those of us unaffected: a test to see whether we are going to lend a helping hand to our neighbors in need.
Will those of us who are able to give, give? Or will we only make du`aa’ and say nice words?
It is common rhetoric among some religious leaders in the United States that natural disasters are God’s way of punishing us for our sins.
They often cite the story of Lot from the Bible, which describes how the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed due to the wickedness of the inhabitants.
The story is similarly related in the Quran, with the important distinction that all righteous inhabitants of the cities were saved from Allah’s punishment.
This distinction is important, as it exemplifies an important concept in Islam: that no one is responsible for any sins except his own.
In Surah An`am, Allah said:
…no soul earns (evil) but against itself, and no bearer of burden shall bear the burden of another; then to your Lord is your return, so He will inform you of that in which you differed. (Quran 6:164)
Hurricanes and other natural disasters cannot possibly be punishment for sin, because if they were they would only affect those who deserve punishment.
All humans sin, yes, but in Islam, sin is an action – not a state of being.
Humans Are Causing Climate Change
There is boundless evidence in the Quran and in Hadith that the laws of science and nature are of Allah’s creation.
This may seem self-evident, but it important to draw attention to this point because we Muslims must remember that science and Islam are not mutually exclusive.
Allah created us with the capacity for scientific exploration.
This is important to examine in the context of natural disasters because, according to climate scientists, human activity has been linked to a large number of natural disasters.
We are experiencing disasters of greater magnitude and frequency than in recent human history. Therefore we must examine what we, as humans, are doing to cause this.
Why Doesn’t Allah Intervene?
Certainly, a Muslim might ask: if Allah is All-Powerful can He not stop these disasters?
The answer is, of course He could. And he likely does every moment of every day. How can we know what sort of disasters Allah has intervened to protect us from?
On this topic, Prophet Muhammad was reported to have told his companions:
There is no Muslim who calls upon his Lord with a dua in which there is no sin or severing of family ties, but Allah will give him one of three things: Either He will answer his prayer quickly, or He will store (the reward for) it in the Hereafter, or He will divert an equivalent evil away from him… (At-Tirmidhi)
He has created the universe to follow sets of laws. These are the laws of physics, the laws of nature, and various other scientific laws.
What we see now in regards to climate change and natural disasters is simply a manifestation of the laws of the universe. The change in climate of the earth has consequences – and we are seeing those now.
Allah is in control of everything in the universe, but He has also given us free will and we must face the consequences of the choices we make.
We humans need to make better choices regarding the care and keeping of the planet Earth: the home that Allah has given to us.
In making better choices, we may be able to stop climate change before it worsens and we see more disasters like those we are seeing now.
I hope this answers your question.