Earthquakes in the Quran and Sunnah
7 Jun 2011
Zaghloul R. M. El-Naggar (An-Najjar)
In this undated episode of Islam and Science presented on Peace TV, Zaghloul An-Najjar [El-Naggar] discusses a Muslim moral framing for natural disasters, like earthquakes and hurricanes.
Examining verses 16:26 and 16:45-47 of the Qurʾān, An-Najjar claims that God causes natural disasters as a punishment for “ill-doers”, and that pious Muslims may be caught up in them if they are not careful. He suggests that these are like the disasters visited upon the people of Thamud, Lut, ʿAd, and other groups punished in the Qurʾān, although he provides no reference. He firmly suggests that natural disasters only take place because of some people’s ill deeds. He reminds his viewers that God is always watching and recording their deeds, and will punish them appropriately in the afterlife.
Most of An-Najjar’s discussions of iʿjāz ʿilmi use material from the Qurʾān to prove that it contains scientific facts unknown during the lifetime of the Prophet Muḥammad. Here An-Najjar instead touches on the mention of something like an earthquake to present a moral narrative. Although he calls this a presentation of iʿjāz in the video, it would be absurd to suggest that people alive in the seventh century had no knowledge of natural disasters, and An-Najjar makes no such claim. Earthquakes in particular were and are quite common in the Middle East. As such, this presentation is an unusual use of the term and framing.
An Najjar states that what he is presenting is “the Islamic perspective” of natural disasters. However, his presentation of natural disasters as“caused” by“ill-doers” runs counter to dominant contemporary and historical Muslim understanding that God strikes whomever He wills, and that humans may not understand it. This is seen in verses such as 13:13 and 24:42-43. Dominant Muslim understanding also suggests that everyone struggles against ill-doing in some way, suggesting that no community can be completely free of people who have sinned.
There is little science presented here. An-Najjar suggests that we know how disasters like earthquakes take place, but have no idea of where or when. While this is true to some extent, for other natural disasters, more is known. An-Najjar problematically lumps all the natural disasters together, some of which (hurricanes, for instance) are more predictable than others. Earthquakes are only poorly predicted by current science, in part because geologic time is huge compared to human lifespans, making precise prediction difficult.
The only historical mention here is An-Najjar stating that in the third century, presumably CE, there was an earthquake in China that killed 750,000 people. He may be referring to the two earthquakes that hit eastern China in 294 CE, one of which occurred in a heavily populated area. See Lee & Brillinger, “On Chinese Earthquake History: An Attempt to Model an Incomplete Data Set by Point Process Analysis,” Earthquake Prediction and Seismicity Patterns, ed. Max Wyss (Basel / Boston: Birkhäuser Verlag, 1979): Table 2.
About Zaghloul R. M. El-Naggar (An-Najjar)
Born in 1933 in Egypt, Zaghloul El-Naggar received a PhD in geology in 1963 from the University of Wales in the UK. The majority of his scholarship has focused on i’jāz, the idea that scientific facts may be found in the Qurʾān, proving its miraculous nature. A collection of his videos can be found on the Discovering Islam website.
He was considered a threat by earlier Egyptian governments; he now is the head of the Committee of Scientific Notions in the Qurʾān, Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs in Cairo.
El-Naggar believes that scientific interpretation may only be done with material that may be experienced, unlike references to the soul, jinn, etc, which should be approached with faith alone. However, he also suggests that the Qurʾān may “orient scientists in attaining new ‘cosmic truths’.” (Bigliardi, 103)
“Zaghloul El-Naggar” Wikipedia. Accessed 19 April 2015.
Bigliardi, S. (2014). Islam and the Quest for Modern Science: Conversations with Adnan Oktar, Mehdi Golshani, Mohammed Basil Altaie, Zaghloul El-Naggar, Bruno Guiderdoni and Nidhal Guessoum. Istanbul, Swedish Research Institute in Istanbul.
“Dr. Zaghloul Najjar.” Discovering Islam. Discovering Islam, n.d. Web. Accessed 18 June 2015.