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Tsunami Survivors Turn to God for Answers

As the tsunami washed ashore, scientists searched for causes based on geological data. But others looked to their faith for answers. VOA’s Carol Pearson explains.

To explain the suffering of those affected by the tsunami, many people invoke the name of God or Allah.

Some view the tsunami as a punishment for wrongdoing. Some Muslim leaders call the devastation a warning to adhere more strictly to their faith.

But Zahid Bukhari, director of the American Muslims Studies Program at Georgetown University in Washington, DC, says the Koran states that believers will be tested. "They will be tested by fear, by hunger, by losses of their lives, their wealth, losses of everything," he said.

Professor Bukhari says this test of faith and compassion is not just for Muslims. "This type of big incident, big calamity in Islam is basically a test for everybody. For example, those who are there, definitely they are being tested by their faith. And also those who are not there are also being tested in how much they care about them (the tsunami victims)," said Professor Bukhari.

Professor Bukhari says that all people, not only Muslims, need to review their behavior, repent, and make a greater effort to eradicate corruption and oppression.

That said, he says the world's response of concern, compassion and assistance is very positive.

Professor Ariel Glucklich also works at Georgetown University where he teaches Hinduism. He says Hindus have many beliefs about the tsunami. "The major one is there's some kind of inter-linking karma at work. The victims were not sinners, but somehow the collective miscalculation of people has produced this. It's not sin, in the Christian sense, it's just doing wrong by the world."

He says the tragedy may have happened because people are less in touch with nature and did not know to run when the ocean pulled back.

Professor Glucklich says funeral rituals are central to helping Hindus recover from the tragedy. "At that point you forget the tsunami. You start to think in terms of healing, in terms of turning a disaster into something positive and you start drawing on the resources of the priests and what can you do now to make things better from a religious point of view," said Professor Glucklich.

Buddhists also believe in karma.

"We believe that whatever happens to us, we are responsible," said Bhante Dhammasiri the President of the Buddhist Vihara in Washington DC. Mr. Dhammasiri is a native of Sri Lanka.

He says the poor people of his country intensified the magnitude of the tragedy when they destroyed the coral reef off the Sri Lankan coast for profit. It left the waves with no barrier.

Bhante Dhammasiri also says there may be more to this disaster than can be explained by karma. "It is part of nature. That is what we believe."

In other words, a seasonal tragedy or one produced by extraordinary natural events, like traffic accidents during a snowstorm.

The tsunami disaster drew responses from people of all faiths. Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Washington, DC, visited Sri Lanka after the tsunami to see the damage firsthand with representatives of Catholic Relief Services.

Cardinal McCarrick said, "You've got to do something. You've got to try to show people that they are loved, that our country is filled with people who worry about them and care about them and that our Catholic Church is the same way."

Christians believe God is directly involved in their lives.

"God has made it clear to us, even in the Hebrew Scriptures that His will is for our welfare and not for our ill. He does not want anything for us that would be bad. God in His goodness loves us so much that He only wants us to be happy," said the cardinal.

Cardinal McCarrick says we cannot fully know God's will or why such a disaster has happened and we will never know the reason during our life on earth, but he says God has a plan for all of us that will only be fully revealed when we are with God in heaven.

Whatever the religious interpretation of the tsunami, scientists at a recent UN conference on natural disasters learned that the number of people affected by floods, hurricanes, and earthquakes has increased in the past ten years by 60 percent over the preceding decade. And the continent most affected by these disasters is Asia.