Despite the fact that earth scientists understand the mechanism by which earthquakes can take place, they are losing faith in their ability to predict such disasters.
Glorious Qur'an emphasizes the fact that nothing happens in the universe without the knowledge, will and wisdom of the Creator. Earthquakes - like many other natural disasters - are part and parcel of the Divine plan for punishing the ill - doers trying the pious ones, and teaching the saved individuals the lesson of their lives. Unless taken in this context, human beings will never learn from their own mistakes or even from the mistakes of others. Understanding the mechanisms by which earthquakes take place and measuring both their intensities and magnitudes cannot help in their prediction. The only way of avoiding this and other disasters is heeding the Creator and living according to His guidance.
The word "earthquake" is mentioned twice in the Glorious Qur'an, indicating "The Last Hour Quake" which is much more devastating than all the earthquakes that have affected and will affect our plant throughout its long history. The Glorious Qur'an reads:
"O mankind! Fear your Lord and be dutiful to Him! Verily, the earthquake of the Hour (of Judgment) is a terrible thing. The Day you see it, every nursing mother will forget her nursling, and every pregnant one will drop her load, and you shall see mankind as in a drunken state, yet they will not be drunken, but severe will be the Torment of Allah." (Surat Al-Hajj (The Pilgrimage):1-2)
In the same context, the Glorious Qur'an also reads:
"When the earth is shaken with its (final) earthquake. And when the earth throws out its burdens. And man will say: "What is the matter with it?" That Day it will declare its information (about all that happened over it of good or evil). Because your Lord will inspire it. That Day mankind will proceed in scattered groups that they may be shown their deeds. So whosoever does good equal to the weight of an atom (or a small ant) shall see it. And whosoever does evil equal to the weight of an atom (or a small ant) shall see it." (Surat Az-Zalzalah (The Earthquake):1-8)
Present-day earthquakes are mentioned in the Glorious Qur'an as forces that destroy foundations of buildings and hence cause their destruction, or cause rifting of the earth and swallowing the rifted part with its inhabitants. The Qur'an reads:
"Those before them indeed plotted, but Allah struck at the foundation of their building, and then the roof fell down upon them, from above them, and the torment overtook them from directions they did not perceive." (Surat An-Nahl (The Bees):26)
I can not find a more precise description for earthquakes than the above mentioned verse, which outlines the reason behind it simply as plotting and contriving against the will and the way of the Creator.
And in the same chapter we read an emphasis on this conclusion as the Qur'an reads:
"Do then those who devise evil plots feel secure that Allah will not sink them into the earth, or that the torment will not seize them from directions they perceive not?" (Surat An-Nahl (The Bees):45)
From the previous two verses we can see clearly that the main reason behind punishment with earthquakes is plotting against the way of Allah and devising evil deeds against individuals or against humanity at large. The Glorious Qur'an repeatedly emphasizes the fact that earthquakes, rifting, tsunamis, Hurricanes, (or Typhoons), Cyclones Tropical Storms, Tropical Depressions and other natural disasters were and still are ways of expressing the wrath of the Creator against ill-doers of His creation. If innocent individuals are caught in the middle of this way of punishment, Allah will resurrect them according to their intentions and will reward them amply. The Inimitable Qur'an reads:
"Do you then feel secure that He will not cause a side of the land to swallow you up, or that He will not send against you a violent sand-storm? Then, you shall find no Wakil (guardian - one to guard you from the torment)." (Surat Al-Isra (The Journey by Nights):68)
The Qur'an emphasizes the fact that earthquakes were among other forms of punishment of previous deviators and ill-doers by saying:
"So We punished each (of them) for his sins; of them were some on whom We sent Hasib (a violent wind with shower of stones) (as the people of Lut (Lot)), and of them were some who were overtaken by As-Saihah (torment - awful cry. (as Thamud or Shu'aib's people)), and of them were some whom We caused the earth to swallow (as Qar'an (Korah)), and of them were some whom We drowned (as the people of Nuh (Noah), or Fir'aun (Pharaoh) and his people). It was not Allah Who wronged them, but they wronged themselves." (Surat Al-'Ankabut (The Spider):40)
The Glorious Qur'an also makes earthquakes together with other natural disasters a constant threat to those who commit evil deeds and persistently violate the Divine guidance by saying:
"Or do you feel secure that He, Who is over the heaven (Allah), will not send against you a violent whirlwind? Then you shall know how (terrible) has been My Warning? And indeed those before them belied (the Messengers of Allah), then how terrible was My denial (punishment)? ". (Surat Al-Mulk (Dominion):17-18)
Geologically speaking, rifting is a process by which a long, narrow continental through that is bounded by normal faults is formed. It is a grabbed of regional extent, and marks a zone of the Earth's surface along which the entire thickness of the lithosphere has ruptured under extension.
Indeed, the attempt to understand the mechanisms by which an earthquake takes place and the different types of seismic waves accompanying them, to classify earthquakes and to produce schemes for measuring both their intensities and magnitudes is a wonderful exercise. And what is more wonderful are the procedures of trying to predict earthquakes, and the necessary precautions taken during and after the earthquake in order to avoid or minimize its dangers wherever possible. Studies towards reinforcing buildings, bridges, expressways, utility lines and other disasters engineering related projects are highly valued.
Nevertheless, this does not defy the fact that nothing happens in the universe without the knowledge, will and wisdom of the Creator. Hence, if we want to avoid earthquakes we have to follow His guidance and avoid His displeasure as much as possible.
STANDING THE MECHANISM OF EARTHQUEKES DOES NOT DEFY ITS BEING PART OF THE DIVINE PLAN:
The earth as a planet is annually subjected to about one million earthquakes (with an average of about 2738 earthquakes per day). Most of these earthquakes are gentle to moderate ones that cannot be felt by man, but are recorded by seismographs.
A hundred to hundred and fifty of these earthquakes are moderate to destructive in populated areas, (20) twenty of which are of total destructive capacity, and every 5-10 years comes one that reaches or exceeds the peak of mass destruction, although this average has been lately accelerated.
Most earthquakes occur in certain belts or earthquakes-prone zones. These are concentrated where two tectonic plates collide, diverge or slip past each other (plate-margin earthquakes). However, not a single spot on the Earth's surface can be excluded from the possibility of being subjected to earthquakes (The Intra-plate earthquakes). The type of plate contact can determine both the magnitude intensity and depth of the earthquake. During the movement of lithospheric plates continent-size slabs of the earth's lithosphere are shifted and intense forces overcome the friction between them. However, if the plates are "locked together", forces build-up and eventually must give way, with the plates lurching into new position and creating an earthquake.
Other earthquakes form in association with volcanic activity, where the build-up of heat and pressure often triggers smaller tremors and localized earthquakes. The earth is subjected to about 20 volcanic eruptions every fifty years, with an average of one volcanic eruption every 2.5 years. The focal point (center) of the earthquake is the point under the earth's surface where the earthquake energy is released. The point on the surface of the earth just above the focus (center) is called the epicenter. Most earthquake centers occur at a depth of about 100 Km. below the earth's surface, while some have much shallower and others have much deeper Foci, but none is deeper than 700 Km. below the earth's surface.
Shallow earthquakes occur at depths of 5-70 Km., intermediate ones occur at depths between 70 and 300 Km. and deep-seated earthquakes have their Foci between 300 and 700 Km. below the surface of the earth. The shallower the earthquake center the more destructive it is.
Seismic waves travel out from the focus of an earthquake in all directions. Primary waves (P-waves) move in a back and forth direction and are the fastest seismic waves. These reach the far side of the globe in 20 minutes, traversing the Earth's molten outer core. Secondary waves (S-waves) move sideways (in a side-to-side direction), being slower than the P-waves and can move only through solids, stopping at the Earth's molten outer core. Love and Raleigh waves (both called L-waves) travel along the earth's surface, moving up, down and sideways, causing much of the structural damage associated with earthquake.
Magnitude of Earthquakes
A logarithmic scale to measure the magnitude of earthquakes was suggested by Charles Richter in 1935, the scale ranges between 1 and 9, with each successive whole number representing a 10-fold increase in power. Each magnitude value represents the maximum amplitude of a seismic wave at a distance of 100 miles (161 Km) from the epicenter. The difference in time between the first and second (primary and secondary) waves is measured, and an empirical factor is added (which takes into account the fact that the waves become weaker as they travel away from the focus) to determine the magnitude of the quake. This magnitude can reach up to the equivalent of 5,643,000 –metric tons of TNT as energy released at the Richter number (8). Even knowing this does not take the earthquake out of the Divine plan.
Prediction is not prevention
While seismologists have long been skeptical about the ability to foretell earthquakes, Japan was busy for more than 3 decades to develop its earthquake prediction system, and has allocated annual budget of US$ 180 million for earthquake prediction research. However, the 1995 Kobe earthquake represent a blow to the assumption that with the proper technology in place, earthquakes ultimately are predicable. This quake of 7.2 magnitude look everybody by surprise, leaving in its wake nearly 6.400 dead, 35.000 injured and 400.000 homeless.
Optimism about forecasting earthquakes died out quickly as these natural disasters are sudden, non-linear phenomena. Consequently, policy-makers are shifting from forecasting to disaster prevention through redesigning and reinforcing buildings, bridges, expressways as well as utility lines and facilities. Disaster-prevention technologies and related topics are currently replacing forecasting technologies in an attempt to minimize damage in the case of an earthquake.
Forecasting, using sophisticated meters and gauges to detect potential precursors, like tremors, fault strains, changes in earth's crust (such as tilting, uplifting or depressing, changes in water level in wells, lakes, etc.), detection of radon and other peculiar gases and sudden group migration of animals, etc. should be used wherever possible. However, reliance on heeding the Creator, following His guidance, ordering what is good and forbidding what is bad is the only security against natural disasters.
Since 1965, Japan has invested about US$ 1.4 billion in prediction research and technologies that have been torn to pieces by the 20 seconds duration of the Kobe earthquake.
Similarly, the Indonesian 8.9 magnitude tsunami of 26/12/2004 which devastated 12 countries in South Asia (including Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Mianmar, Srilanka, India, the Maldeve Islands, etc.) could not be predicted. The toll losses included about 300.000 dead, one million injured and more than 5 million homeless in addition to material losses of several tens of billion US$. Again, the 8/10/2005 Kashmir Major earthquake of 7.6 Richter was also not predicted. This shallow earthquake (26 Km. below the earth's surface) took a toll of > 100.000 deaths, 69.000 to 100.000 injuries about 4 million homeless and material losses in a 20.000 Km2 area of at least 5 billion US$. It was a real tragedy that affected each of Kashmir, Pakistan, India and Afghanistan and was mainly centered around Muzaffarabad.
The record of earthquakes proves the sudden, non–linear nature of these disasters that took the lives of millions of individuals throughout history, injured several other millions, made billions of people homeless and caused material losses of endless values. These tragedies cannot be the work of the mechanical processes of the earth, but need a designer, and the designer is the Creator Himself. And they must have a purpose, and the purpose is punishment for the transgressors and the aggressors, trial for the pious and honest ones that are caught in the middle and a reminder for the survivors. Unless taken with this regard, humanity will never learn.