For The Transcript

Religious extremists waste no time declaring natural disasters to be God's punishment. The divine motivations they cite are different, but they invariably reflect personal religious or political agendas.

On different occasions, these extremists of different faiths said Hurricane Katrina was America's punishment for pressuring Israel to leave Gaza, for the invasion of Iraq or for domestic "immorality."

Such zealots invoke God's name to reinforce their own demands, without that God is not their personal lobbyist. A just God, and Muslims know one of God's 99 Names is "The Just," does not punish thousands of innocent human beings for the acts, good, bad or indifferent, of a few.

God is not a terrorist.

Any person of faith will strive to reconcile the death and destruction caused by natural disasters like Katrina, or the recent earthquake that devastated parts of South Asia, with God's justice and love for humanity.

Islam, like other faiths, provides answers based on hope and inspiration, not anger and vengeance.

The Quran, Islam's revealed text, describes God's ultimate justice on Judgment Day, when everyone will be shown their past deeds. "Then, whoever has done an atom's weight of good shall see it, and whoever has done an atom's weight of evil shall (also) see it there." (99:6-8)

Few watching the riveting television images of Americans being pulled from rooftops in New Orleans, or Pakistanis sifting through the rubble of a devastated village, could help but think of our common humanity and the petty nature of our differences.

How is a Pakistani mother's agony over her lost child different from that of a Katrina survivor suffering the same terrible loss? The two women may dress differently, but their faces show the same grief. One speaks Urdu and the other English, but they weep in the same language.

These two natural disasters broke through more than just levees and layers of earth; they ripped through layers of politics and culture that distort our perception of each other.

Wonders can happen when we focus on our similarities, not our differences.

Muslims worldwide raised more than a billion dollars for victims of Hurricane Katrina. In the Middle East, there was an outpouring of sympathy and prayers for those who had been killed, injured or displaced on the Gulf Coast.

Across the United States, churches and other houses of worship joined with mosques to raise funds and rush aid to the earthquake zone. In both parts of the world, people who viewed each other with suspicion were moved to reciprocate prayers and generosity, demonstrating that the so-called "clash of civilizations" is not inevitable or necessary.

Such is the hidden blessing in the horror that is a natural disaster.

Sometimes, it takes the earth literally shaking under our feet to remind us of our common humanity. Let us all work to make sure there is a long-lasting positive response to recent suffering.

As God states in the Quran: "Whenever affliction touches a man, he prays to Us. But as soon as We relieve his affliction he walks away as if he had never prayed." (10:12)

We must never walk away from one another's humanity and should always heed the advice of the Prophet Muhammad, who reprimanded a follower who said: "O God! Bestow Your Mercy on me and Muhammad only, and do not bestow it on anyone else." The Prophet told him: "You have limited a very vast thing (God's Mercy)."

Ahmed Rehab is communications director for the Chicago office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation's largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy group. He may be reached at:

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