September 15, 2017 Special Dispatch No. 7092

Arab Journalists Ridicule Claim That Hurricane Irma Is Divine Punishment, Call For Solidarity With The American People

September 15, 2017
Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia | Special Dispatch No. 7092

The extensive damage caused by Hurricane Irma in Florida has prompted many reactions on Arab social media, many of them expressing schadenfreude at the disaster and calling Irma divine punishment for the U.S. administration's policy vis-à-vis the Arab and Muslim countries.

For example, Lebanese imam Sheikh Mus'ad Najem tweeted: "America, with all its power, its people, its iron, all its institutions, and its capabilities, is helpless before a storm – as if Allah were avenging all those who lost their relatives."[1]

Muhammad Al-Sabi'i, of Saudi Arabia, tweeted: "Allah, make Hurricane Irma a punishment and a loss for all those who killed and expelled [people] and destroyed the Muslim lands of Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, and so on. You can do anything."[2]

These expressions of schadenfreude prompted criticism in the Arab world. In response to these and other, similar tweets and posts, Ahmad Al-Hasanat, secretary-general of Jordan's Fatwa Department, stated: "We must not rejoice at the misfortunes of others, because among [the people harmed by the storm] there are civilians, and perhaps also people who are not hostile to Islam and the Muslims, and those who are not involved in the [Western] countries' policy-making.[3] A more vehement response came from several Arab journalists who openly ridiculed the claim that Irma was divine punishment, supporting their position by noting natural disasters that had struck believing Muslims and the small number of deaths resulting from the hurricane. One of them, Muhammad 'Ali Farahat, columnist for the London-based Saudi Al-Hayat daily, said that now was the time for the Arabs and Muslims to show solidarity with the American people, who had helped many peoples across the world, including Muslims.

The following are translated excerpts from Arab journalists' reactions to expressions on Arab social media of rejoicing at Hurricane Irma:

Egyptian Journalist: Schadenfreude Is A Fascist, Inhuman Virus; Regimes, Not Allah, Are Responsible For How Many Are Harmed By Natural Disasters

Khaled Montasser, columnist for the Egyptian daily Al-Watan, spoke out against those who claim that Irma was a divine punishment, wondering how they explain how so few died during the hurricane, while other disasters, natural and otherwise, that struck the Muslim world had killed hundreds. He stressed that it is how a particular country's government cares for its citizens, not any divine power, that is responsible for how many deaths and how much damage is caused by natural disasters: "The scope of the schadenfreude expressed in our [Arab] responses on social media to the Florida hurricane surpassed the level of hysteria, and achieved the level of madness. We must analyze and examine the extremist Islamic mind, which has been infected with a fascist virus that has taken over the soul and stripped it of even minimal humanity, maddened the brain, and drowned the mind in superstition, a sense of inferiority, aggression, and infantilism that relies on miracles and has no belief in science."

Questioning the claim that Irma was some sort of divine punishment for the U.S., he said: "If the hurricane was divine retribution for the failed era of [President] Trump, then what about the 'year of the disaster'[4] and the plague of Emmaus[5] – were these divine retribution for the rule of 'Omar bin Al-Khattab?[6]...

"When the [2004] tsunami struck, [Egyptian preacher] Zaghloul Al-Naggar[7] called it divine punishment for women who wear bikinis. The question is, why did the storm pass over the bikini beaches and kill poverty-stricken women in hijabs in Indonesia while they were praying in their tumbledown shacks?!... Here's a touch question: Two years ago, 2,000 pilgrims [to Mecca] were injured and killed in the crush. In today's [storm] the Americans were organized, and only three people were killed. Do you still think it is divine punishment?

"My friend who rejoices at the hurricane and at the divine retribution, why have you gone as far as the Atlantic Ocean? Look closer [to home], and ask yourself why there has been no divine punishment of Israel? Have our curses, in every prayer and at every mosque, not yet reached it?...

"Instead of gloating over the hurricane in Florida, we should learn that it was the regime, not divine [intervention], that saved people from the hurricane, and made it so that [only] three people died. It is the regime's absence, not divine punishment, that killed over 1,000 in the crush of pilgrims [in Mecca] two years ago. If only we would learn [from this] and deal with the diseases of the Wahhabi perception that has taken up residence in our bones and in our souls."[8]

Cartoon in London-based Al-Quds Al-Arabi daily: Irma as "nature's wrath" at U.S.", September 14, 2017

Jordanian Journalist: The U.S. Administration Kept The Damage To A Minimum – And Not By Relying On Prayers

Liberal Jordanian journalist Basel Rafayeh also mocked those who claimed that Irma was divine punishment and wished destruction and death upon America, and praised the American administration's handling of the catastrophe. He wrote on his Facebook page:

"Allah did not answer the wishes for death in Hurricane Irma... As you know, the American government has climate and storm scientists... It knows what to do in order to evacuate six million people and to ensure their safety. It knows that this is a natural disaster, and not the rage of Allah. And it is [actually] dealing with it. It is not calling on cardinals and priests to pray in the churches... It is true that the material damage exceeds $60 billion, and that the biggest economy in the world must absorb this. But what is important is that people were saved, and we can [only] imagine how many victims there might have been had such a hurricane struck an Islamic country."[9]

UAE Journalist: Our Hatred Of The West Is Acquired In Our Schools And Mosques; We Need A Scientific Approach To Natural Phenomena

Dr. Yousuf Al-Sharif, columnist for the UAE daily Al-Bayan, called the writers who referred to Irma as divine punishment "ignoramuses" and "simple folk whose perceptions and how they live their lives are tainted with deep resentment of the Western countries." Accusing the mosque preachers, schools, and universities in the Arab countries of instilling this culture in the people, he wrote:

"This is what they learn in the schools, and this is what the preachers at the mosque say as they lift their hands heavenwards and call, 'Allah, disperse them to all corners of the earth; separate them; destroy their houses, change their situation, bring their end near, end their lives...' And the audience says 'Amen,' without understanding that such behavior, over time, creates resentment in the hearts..."

Al-Sharif went on to say that this is even taught at the universities in the Arab countries, and presented as an example a tweet by a university lecturer on the subject of Islam who called the hurricane a divine punishment. He noted: "This doctor, who is responsible for the education of the future generations, is not much better than the ignoramuses who rejoice at human disasters and at the fear of innocent women and children... How numerous are those in the Arab world who espouse this immoral and inhuman perception, that has turned Islam from a religion of tolerance, love, and peace into one of hatred and schadenfreude..."

He stressed: "We urgently need to reexamine our Islamic heritage with humane eyes... far from the negative and aggressive perceptions vis-a-vis the other nations and religions, and far from political, geopolitical, religious and ethnic disputes..." He then called for accepting scientific explanations for natural phenomena instead of seeing them as divine punishment.[10]

Al-Hayat Journalist: Expressing Solidarity With The American People Will Show The Arabs' Humanity

In his column in the London-based Saudi daily Al-Hayat, Lebanese columnist Muhammad Ali Farahat called on the entire world, and on the Arabs in particular, to express solidarity with the American people. He wrote: "We have seen the reactions of Arabs who rejoice at the [catastrophe] that struck the simple American citizen. Much exaggeration regarding the scope of the damage can be seen, as well as protests because not enough attention was paid to similar disasters in India, Pakistan, and China. This is premeditated aggression against the American people, which brings politics into a non-political matter. This idiocy, which is accompanied by a lack of human feeling, reminds us of the slogan 'Death to America' chanted at demonstrations in Iran and among [Iran's] supportersslogans that spark perpetual struggle among the peoples...

"The [entire] world must express solidarity with the U.S., whose government and civilian institutions do not refrain from offering economic aid to the poor peoples and help develop [their countries]. We have seen no expression of solidarity from the people in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and the Albanians in Kosovo, whom the U.S. was the first to protect in the war of annihilation against them following the collapse of Yugoslavia. We are not talking about monetary or material aid, but about expressions of solidarity for the ordinary American citizen, who belongs to a society that for many years has accepted immigrants, some of whom quickly become leaders in the fields of science, literature, and politics...

"I maintain that we must express solidarity with the American people when it is in trouble, and that this must be by means of announcements on behalf of our governments and civil society institutions, and even regional bodies such as the Arab League... so that the American people will know, this time, Arabs who are fellow members of the human race, outside of wars and fanaticism that generates more and more wars."[11]


[1], September 10, 2017.

[2], September 7, 2017.

[3], September 10, 2017.

[4] A reference to 640 CE, when a severe drought struck Medina.

[5] The plague, which broke out in 639 CE in the city of Emmaus (aka Nicopolis) in Judea shortly after it was conquered by Muslim forces, killed many thousands of Muslim soldiers as well as local residents.

[6] The second Caliph (634-644), considered to be the founder of the Islamic Empire.

[7] For excerpts from a televised interview in which Zaghloul called the tsunami a divine punishment, see MEMRI TV Clip No. 1881, Egyptian Cleric Zaghloul Al-Naggar Predicts the Annihilation of America and Calls on Nations to Adopt Islamic Economy, October 8, 2008.

[8] Al-Watan (Egypt), September 12, 2017.

[9], September 13, 2017.

[10] Al-Bayan (UAE), September 12, 2017.

[11] Al-Hayat (London), September 12, 2017.

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