Earthquake and Sin: Theological Revision
By: Mohammad Moheq
Note: My brief post on Facebook about the connection between Turkey‘s earthquake and sin caused some readers to react harshly, with most of the reactions being nothing but curses. This raises the question of why those who pretend to be religious are often rude, gossiping, complex, and uneducated. This is a worrying sign for future generations. Some readers also provided reasons for criticizing my point of view due to ambiguities, so I felt it was important to address these matters.
I want to gain a better understanding of the relationship between cosmology and theology and how one affects the other. Many people are still stuck in the Ptolemaic cosmology which was developed thousands of years ago in Greece. This cosmology is similar to an onion, with the Earth at the center and nine heavens or seven skies surrounding it, like layers of an onion. There is a physical distance between the Earth and the first sky which can be crossed to reach the sky. Similarly, there are physical distances between the first sky and the seventh or the first heaven and the ninth, and if one were to travel through them, they would reach the throne of God, from where He watches and controls everything that happens on Earth. In the past, this myth was accepted because there were no tools or means to observe and measure the universe. Therefore, it quickly spread among other nations. Consequently, it was seen as a scientific and intellectual certainty and was accepted by the ancient Muslims as part of their beliefs.
Modern cosmology has rejected the idea that the range of human vision is all that exists, as powerful telescopes and tools are now available to analyze, reconstruct, and expand this range. It is now known that there are approximately 800 billion galaxies in the universe, and this number is subject to change as more discoveries are made. The smallest galaxies have around 100 billion stars, giant galaxies have hundreds of billions of stars, and the most massive galaxies have more than one trillion stars. Some stars are the same size as our sun, while others are a million times bigger. There is also the supermassive black hole, which swallows millions of stars the size of our sun. To learn more about this topic, one should refer to specialized sources, as there are many explosions, crashes, and transformations that occur in the universe.
If someone views the world through this perspective, their understanding of God will change, as the Ptolemaic and onion–like image of the world will become less prominent. This means that they will no longer believe in the concept of the first heaven, the seventh heaven, or the ninth sky. Consequently, they will not accept the myth of God sitting on a throne. Fortunately, even before the discoveries were made, some Muslim mystics and scientists had already understood the true meaning of the throne and the supernatural world, and did not accept such mythologies. They knew that such ideas implied that God had a physical location and form, which is not befitting of divine dignity. Therefore, they interpreted the throne and the seat as a spiritual level of existence, and were not led astray by these myths.
If one understands the world as it is today, they know that it is subject to laws that can be discovered through knowledge and research. This means that the idea of linking the world to God and His creation must be re–examined and redefined. It is no longer the small onion–shaped world in which God is pictured as a human being, managing and controlling every small and large event. According to the new cosmology, God has designed the world with fixed rules, but these rules are dynamic and the interactions between the elements of the world lead to new situations (new creations). Even though more than 13 billion years have passed since the Big Bang, these interactions are still occurring, and it is possible that other Big Bangs have happened or will happen in the future. Einstein referred to this as the “intelligent design of the world“. This type of theology states that the dynamic system of the world is the manifestation of God‘s will, a will that is expressed through cosmic laws. This means that God does not need to use a micromanagement approach like a dictator. This ideology is called “the divine tradition of creation“ and is rooted in the Quran. In Surah Fatir, verse 43, it is stated that God‘s Sunnah (or natural laws) will not change. This does not refer to what we understand today as Sunnah, but rather to a fixed procedure that is equivalent to natural laws, such as the law of gravity. This means that all natural laws that govern the world are manifestations of God‘s will and depict His providence. This view is based on two foundations: an epistemological foundation, which is compatible with science and reason, and a moral foundation, which considers justice fundamental in the universe. This view was established by Muslim rationalists such as Mu‘tazila and other Muslim philosophers and mystics, and it portrays God as being free from any cruelty or unwise actions.
The Ash‘ari theological school has become the dominant view among Muslims today, which states that God is like a dictator who does not adhere to justice and does not allow anyone or anything to have a role or will in the world. Even if a leaf falls from a tree, it is only because God has decided to let it fall. This means that no one or nothing in the world has independent will or agency. Ash‘ari himself realized that this ideology was unreasonable, so he proposed the theory of Kasb to resolve this contradiction by distinguishing between creation and adaptation. Yusuf Qaradawi has written that this theory resembles a puzzle known as the ‘Ash‘ari Puzzle‘, which removes responsibility from humans and creatures and links it all to prior destiny and the direct will of God.
The idea that God allows anything to be done in His name, even if it means killing innocent children, blurs the line between justice and injustice. This leads to complex philosophical debates about whether God, being absolute good, can allow evil to exist in the world. If He has the power to stop evil but does not, what does that say about His kindness? If He does not have the power to prevent evil, what does that say about His ability? Muslim mystics, Christian theologians, and Jewish theologians have all tried to answer these questions, but none have been able to resolve the conflicts. Human life is still plagued by evil and disaster, from the individual tragedies that occur every day to massive disasters like tsunamis and earthquakes. Ultimately, these questions come down to how we view God and the deterministic theory of Ash‘ari.
Those who view God and the world through the lens of Ash‘ari‘s framework are disregarding morality and rationality. They are speaking nothing but superstition and gossip, claiming that natural disasters such as earthquakes are caused by the sins of humans and the anger of God. They fail to consider the implications of such a belief, such as what the afterlife holds if people are already being punished in this world, or why God does not direct his anger towards professional criminals if He is omnipotent. In response, they claim that when punishment comes, it will affect both the guilty and the innocent alike.
They don‘t understand that it‘s not wise to burn both the good and the evil. When you tell them that this isn‘t how justice works, they say that innocent victims will be rewarded in the afterlife. They don‘t consider why God doesn‘t take action now to prevent such terrible events from happening. Is God less compassionate than the American robot that targeted Ayman Al Zawahiri on the balcony to protect his innocent family? Does that mean God is not as good as a computer chip in a robot?
If someone abandons Ash‘ari‘s school of thought and outlook, they will come to understand that this idea of God is not befitting of His dignity. Rather, it is the character of Genghis Khan, Hitler, and Mullah Omar. The ideal outlook is that God is free from such wickedness, and the grandeur of the universe reveals how compassionate He is. He has crafted the world perfectly, accompanied by many potentialities and consequences necessary for the dynamic, evolving, and expanding phenomenon, which can sometimes be damaging and destructive.
Why are natural disasters linked to human sins in the Quran and other holy books? If we look at the relationship between actions and their results on an individual basis, there is no problem because the proportionality of action and punishment is reasonable and can be seen as part of God‘s creative laws. Rumi said, “this world is a mountain, in which words are echoed back to you”, which refers to the individual states of actions and outcomes. Whether the results appear in this world or the other is not the point of our dispute. The controversy is the connection between natural disasters and innocent people and the question of God and evil. Many people have asked why natural disasters, such as flood narratives (as group punishments of the peoples for their sins), are presented in the Quran. This article will not address the theological debates on this topic. It is said that the language of religion is a reasonable interpretation, which is the language of preaching. This theory suggests that stories are interpreted in a way that is close to the meaning of the verses in order to frighten people. This means that the religious interpretation of the events is used as a moral reform for humans, regardless of whether the events actually happened or not. In other words, the language of religion does not focus on whether the incident occurred or not; it uses them to bring about moral reform because these stories are seen as facts in the folk culture of the people.
To gain a better understanding of Mu‘tazili‘s theory about the relationship between God and the world, I will use a simple example. We can compare the function of the world‘s dynamics to a computer game. Although the world is much more complex than can be explained through a computer game, it can still be used as an example. When someone designs a computer game, they consider the possibilities for the players to win and lose. While the players are responsible for winning or losing, both are subject to the rules that the game sets forth by the designer, and players cannot do anything outside these possibilities. Since all the players‘ activities are within the framework of the rules (invented by the designer), in some ways, these activities are in the will of the designer. However, this does not absolve the players of responsibility, as it is their choice which decides whether they win or lose. Therefore, if the players blame the designer for the outcome, their claims are not valid. According to Mu‘tazili, God is the designer of the world, but he has given human beings and other beings special abilities to make choices. That is, though they cannot change the natural rules, they are free to decide and avoid harmful or immoral acts.
According to Ash‘ari‘s view, God is both the creator and the only player in the game of life. He does not allow anyone else to enter the game, instead He moves all beings like chess pieces. This means that He always wins, and that humans have no control over their actions, as God controls everything. This leads to the paradoxical situation of God punishing humans for actions that they had no control over. The issue of predestination and free will has been discussed for thousands of years, but this reference can help us to understand it in a different and more reasonable way.
We should use science and its findings to gain a better understanding of the world, rather than relying on the ideas of Ptolemy and the ancient Greeks. We should also update our beliefs and religious understanding based on scientific evidence. The theology of the past was based on the level of knowledge and reason available at the time, but it is now in decline. If Muslims create a moral image of God, their lives will be more harmonious, and if not, morality will become separate from religion.