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Friday Sermon: Bridge over Troubled Waters 2

By Babatunde Jose

“Or you think that you will enter Paradise without such (trials) as came to those who passed away before you? They were afflicted with severe poverty, ailments and were so shaken that even the Messenger and those who had faith with him said, ‘When will the Help of Allah come?’ Yes! Indeed Allah’s help is close!” (Qur’an 2:214)

Natural disasters around the world are occurring at an alarming rate. We are witnessing earthquakes that demolish whole cities, wildfires that burn thousands of acres, and cyclones that cause mass flooding and property damage. In the wake of these disasters, people grieve the losses of loved ones and destroyed property while anticipating the long road back to personal and communal recovery. Whether they’re raging wild fires, deluges of violent rain, or forceful movements in the earth’s crusts, the impact of natural disasters is merciless and immeasurable. High death tolls and property damage leave people devastated. The scope of these events inevitably causes political, social, and economic turmoil, amplifying the tragedy and creating a vulnerable climate.

Historically, some natural disasters have almost ended the world. Such as the Tunguska event, the largest impact event on Earth in recorded history: On 30 June 1908 in Podkamennaya Tunguska River in Siberia, Russian. It is estimated that the Tunguska explosion, represents energy about 1,000 times greater than that of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan. It knocked down some 80 million trees over an area of 2,150 sq km. Cause: Probable air burst of small asteroid or comet or as some others conjectured, due to extra-terrestrials; Allah knows best.

Because these are forces we are yet to master the technology to prevent. The time has come for all men to seek divine protection from the vagaries of natural disasters. We cannot stop the wind from developing into gale or preventing it from transforming into a hurricane or typhoon. No matter the dykes we build and the seawalls we erect, we cannot prevent the tide from flowing and the ocean from surging and eroding our land. We are helpless against torrential rains that refuse to stop and create monumental floods. We cannot stop the Arctic ice from melting nor can we stop the volcanoes from eruption. We can also not prevent the earth from quaking: Science has not invented the ways to prevent tectonic movements.  America, with all its technology could not prevent Hurricane Andrew, neither were they able to prevent the equally devastating Michael with its attendant cost in human misery.

Violent natural disasters have been a fact of human life since the beginning of the species, but the death counts of the most ancient of these disasters are lost to history.

The Minoan eruption of Thera, dated around 1500BC was one of the largest volcanic events on Earth in recorded history. It devastated the island of Thera (now called Santorini). Environmental effects were felt across the globe, as far away as China and perhaps even North America and Antarctica. The legend of Atlantis and the story of the Biblical plagues and subsequent exodus from Egypt have also been connected to the epic catastrophe.

There is no first-person accounts of what happened that day, but scientists can compare it to the detailed records available from the famous eruption of Krakatoa, Indonesia, in 1883. That fiery explosion killed upwards of 40,000 people in just a few hours, produced colossal tsunamis 40 feet tall, spewed volcanic ash across Asia, and caused a drop in global temperatures and created strangely colored sunsets for three years. The blast was heard 3,000 miles away.

Thera’s eruption was four or five times more powerful than Krakatoa, geologists believe, exploding with the energy of several hundred atomic bombs in a fraction of a second. A drop in temperatures caused by the massive amounts of sulphurdioxide spouted into the atmosphere then led to several years of cold, wet summers in the region, ruining harvests.

The eruption has also been loosely linked with the Biblical story of Moses and the exodus from Egypt. The effects of Thera’s eruption could have explained many of the plagues described in the Old Testament, including the days of darkness and polluting of the rivers, according to some theories.  Scientists believe that most of the twelve plagues occurred as a consequence of the volcanic activity. The mention of darkness in the Bible may be without doubt ascribed to the molten ash and pumice on the surface. Even the stormy winds were blowing to the southeasterly direction where Egypt was located. Furthermore, according to renowned archaeologist Charles Pellegrino, high velocity dust storms were supposed to have rained down in Egypt from the dust clouds, thereby turning days into nights. The Exodus story also mentions about plague and devastating fire upon Egypt. The plagues occurred due to the volcanic eruption and attracted hordes of locusts and there were evidence of erratic animal activity due largely to the alteration of air pressure and weather conditions. After the complete devastation of Egypt the Jews were able to get away in spite of the Pharaoh’s soldiers in hot pursuit. In the Exodus, we read: By day in a pillar of cloud, to lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light (Exodus 13:21). This state of biblical affairs can easily be related to the volcanic eruption. Dr Daniel Stanley, an oceanographer has found volcanic shards in Egypt that he believes are linked to the explosion,

On Friday September 28 a 7.5-magnitude earthquake hit near Sulawesi, Indonesia. Shortly after, a tsunami with waves of up to 18 feet (5.5 meters) hit the coast, leaving at least 1,200 people dead and dozens missing.

The earthquake that occurred in Japan on 11 March 2011 was measured at magnitude 9.0 by the US Geological Survey and was one of the most powerful ever recorded. The tsunami that hit north-eastern Japan following the earthquake was 15 metres high in some areas and it travelled 10 km inland. Moving at high speed it washed away everything in its path including people and property. It also devastated the nuclear power plant at Fukushima. As a result of this natural disaster the number of people dead or missing is put at around 30,000 and the Japanese economy suffered a major blow.

Hurricane Katrina struck the states of Louisiana and Mississippi in August 2008, 1,836 people died and overall damage was estimated as exceeding $100 billion. Although this was America’s costliest natural disaster, the deadliest natural disaster in US history was the Galveston Hurricane of 1900 that killed between 6,000 and 12,000 people in Galveston. Recently, Hurricane Michael on October 10, 2018 affected Florida Panhandle, Gulf Coast with winds up to 155 miles per hour, causing immediate flooding and severe damage along the shore. Because residents were warned about the potential damage from the storm it recorded fewer deaths than the previous Hurricane.

However, victims of volcanic eruption and earthquakes are not usually as lucky. But the cost in terms of damage to corporate and private property including essential services are usually huge.

Natural disasters are happening here too and they bring untold hardship to our people. Here we are, uninsured, insecure and unprotected against natural disasters. Our farms are game for flash floods to destroy, leading to increased food insecurity in a clime where food is not enough. Landslides and gully erosion are daily threatening the lives of people in certain parts of the East, without any succor or hope on the horizon. The National Emergency Management Agency NEMA has declared National Disaster in the nine states of Adamawa, Taraba, Rivers, Kebbi, Bayelsa, Niger, Kogi, Anambra and Delta following devastating floods that ravaged the states.

Also a few weeks ago there was earth tremor in Abuja; a sign that it could also happen here. Are we ready for such natural disasters?

Life is full of twists and turns. We will all experience many highs and moments of great happiness, but there will inevitably be periods when we experience pain, sadness and tougher times. Disasters may be explosions, earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, tornados, or fires. In a disaster, you face the danger of death or physical injury. You may also lose your home, possessions, and community. Such stressors place you at risk for emotional and physical health problems. At such times man we should realize:  To God do belong the unseen (secrets) of the heavens and the earth, and to Him goeth back every affair (for decision): then worship Him, and put thy trust in Him: and thy Lord is not unmindful of aught that ye do. (Quran 11:123)

There is no doubt however, prayers, good deeds and meditation can be comforting and inspiring, but human exacerbated  problems such as famine, plague and war can only be solved through human efforts. May Allah give us the fortitude to face our challenges.

Barka Juma’at and a happy weekend

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