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Calamities Scientific Explanation

 by Ibrahim B. Syed, Ph. D. 
Islamic Research Foundation International, Inc.
7102 W. Shefford Lane
Louisville, KY 40242-6462, USA



Mankind faces misery and suffering through natural disasters, such as, earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, volcanic eruptions, avalanches, floods, epidemics, famines, pest infestations, etc. People of faith believe that these are a consequence of God's wrath or anger at humans who committed sins. Sometimes this type of reasoning is not valid because many times innocent and pious people also get killed or suffer. Only God (Allah) knows the true reason. Allah (SWT) has explained the reasons for human suffering and calamities in many verses in the Qur'an.  The reader is encouraged to read the Noble Qur'an and understand the message of Allah (AWT) and the mysteries of life and the world. 

The cyclone that hit Bangladesh in April 1991 killed over a quarter million people and destroyed property in billions of dollars.  A Bangladeshi wrote, "Now, I consider such natural calamities a direct reproach from Allah.  Our false and harsh religious zeal is the principal cause of this curse from the Almighty.  We need to build hospitals, schools, roads bridges, an effective communication system, dams and dykes and also buy helicopters of our own, instead of only spending hours and hours in multiple namaz (Salaat) and month long fastings. What good has that done to us? Let our people become men first and Muslims later. There is no great honor in being a Muslim!" This shows how frustrated and angry this Bangladeshi brother is and without understanding the cause of the calamity and Islam, he is despising Islam and being a Muslim. Every human being including Prophets has faced difficulties and calamities in life.  A popular example is that of Prophet Ayub or Job (in the Bible).


Scientific Explanation 

A Hurricane is an area of low pressure that forms over oceans in tropical regions in either the North Atlantic Ocean or eastern North Pacific Ocean. When such a storm is developed in the western Pacific Ocean, then it is called a Typhoon. The Indian subcontinent including Bangladesh is devastated by storms developed in the Indian Ocean, which are known as Cyclones. 

North Americans are familiar with hurricanes. Hurricane is a powerful, whirling storm that measures 320 o 480 kilometers or 200 to 300 miles in diameter.  The winds near the center of a hurricane blow at speeds of 119km or 74 miles per hour or more. North Americans have witnessed widespread death and destruction caused by many hurricanes. 

Hurricanes develop from Easterly Waves.  These long, narrow regions of low pressure occur in ocean winds called Trade Winds. Easterly Waves will be converted into a tropical depression, with winds up to 50 km per hour or 31 miles per hour; then into a tropical storm with winds of up to 119km or 74 miles per hour; and finally, into a hurricane. The center of the hurricane is called an Eye, which is a calm area. Hurricane winds swirl around the Eye. The eye of a hurricane measures about 32km or 20 miles in diameter and has few winds or clouds. Storm clouds called Wall Clouds surround the eye. The strongest winds and heaviest rain of a hurricane occur within its wall clouds. 

In the United States, most hurricanes affect areas near the Atlantic Ocean or the Gulf of Mexico. Hurricanes develop in the North Atlantic and North Pacific oceans from June to November, peaking in September, as Americans witnessed in the September of 1989 with Hurricane Hugo. Usual estimates are about six to eight hurricanes occur in the North Atlantic or North Pacific each year. However, as many- as 15 have occurred in the Atlantic in a single year.


Power of Destruction 

 Winds in the wall cloud area of the hurricane blow at speeds of 210 to 240km per hour or 130 to 150 miles per hour. The winds and rain, combined with the force of the ocean, produce huge waves. These waves are called Storm Surge and they rise several feet above normal and cause floods. When a storm surge occurs at high tide it will be especially destructive. Also, tornadoes are often present in hurricane clouds.  When a hurricane moves over land, strong winds and heavy rain will hit the land area for several hours. When the eye of the hurricane reaches the land area, the rain stops and the air becomes calm. Less than an hour later, the eye of the hurricane passes and the rain and wind return. The hurricane loses its destructive power as it moves over land because it needs the warm ocean to supply energy by evaporation. The rougher land surface produces friction and thereby slows the winds. In the case of Bangladesh, the coastal areas do not have any rough land surfaces to produce friction and thereby to slow down the winds. Although the wind's power is decreased the heavy rain continues. 

In Galveston, Texas, a hurricane and storm surge killed 6,000 people in 1900. In 1974, 8,000 people were killed by Hurricane Fifi, which struck Honduras and resulted in one billion-dollar damage.


Scientific Explanation of Earthquake 

 According to the Plate Tectonics theory the earth's surface or crust is broken into seven large rigid plates and about as many smaller ones that move or slide about three centimeters a year on the rolling mantle underneath. This movement squeezes and stretches rocks at the plates' edges. If the force becomes too strong, the rocks crack (break) and shift, causing an Earthquake. Most of these cracks, or Faults, lie beneath the surface of the earth. The exception is the San Andreas Fault in California, which is visible. 

In an earthquake the energy released travels away from the fault in the form of waves called Seismic Waves. The area where the rupture begins is called Focus.

Near the Focus the vibrations of the seismic waves can be destructive. The seismic waves in turn consist of compressional waves, shear waves and surface waves. Compressional waves   (longitudinal) waves shake the buildings horizontally, whereas shear waves shake the building vertically. The compressional waves are sound waves, which travel at 8km per second or 5 miles per second. Shear waves travel about half as fast as the compressional waves.  Surface waves travel slightly slower than shear waves, and they are confined to the earth's surface like the ocean waves which is confined to the surface of the sea. 

The focus of most earthquakes occurs less than 40km or 25 miles beneath the surface of the earth. Some take place at the earth's surface. And some may occur at depths greater than 640km or 400 miles. (Calamity: An Earthquake measuring 7.1 on the Richter Scale destroys buildings thereby causing destruction of life and property.)


Where Earthquakes Occur 

 Almost all the world's major earthquakes occur in two great belts. The first one is called the Circum-Pacific belt and the other one is called the Alpide belt. The Circum-Pacific belt sometimes called the Ring of Fire, accounts for more than 75 percent of the world's earthquakes. This belt runs on the West Coast of North and South Americas, the east coasts of Japan and China, Indonesia and other islands in the South Pacific. Most of the other earthquakes occur in the Alpide belt, which cuts across Europe and Asia from Burma (Myanmar) to the southern Europe and North Africa.   Other active earthquake areas include the midoceanic ridges that form undersea mountain chains. In contrast, the flat parts of the continents and sea floor are stable regions that have few quakes. 

Scientists are trying t predict earthquakes t measuring the speed (the seismic waves produced by small quakes or explosive charges.      However more research and experimentation are required before anyone can predict exactly when and where an earthquake will occur. 

In history the greatest devastation due to earthquakes occurred in Central China in the year 1556, when 830,000 people died. The second highest toll took place in Calcutta, India in the year 1737, when 300,000 lives were lost. 

Earthquakes have affected Muslim countries in the Soviet Union, Iran Union, Turkey, etc. Recently a huge earthquake hit Iran where thousands of lives were lost.

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