Fadi Itani, on the ground in Nepal following the earthquake, takes time to visit the cultural and historical sites that have been lost, and speak to the people whose place of comfort is now a pile of dust and rubble.
“Allah will make a way when there is no way”
In difficult times, people turn to their faith for comfort and consolation. Research carried out in the States in the 1800s found an increase in church attendance following earthquakes*, the same trend was noted in Christchurch, New Zealand, after the 2011 earthquake**, while a paper published in 2008 found 53 per cent of Sri Lankans affected by the 2004 tsunami turned to religion to help with the trauma***.
So, what happens then when religious sites are affected by natural disasters?
In Nepal, some cultural, historical and religious buildings have been destroyed. Talking to locals about the temples, it’s clear how central to community life these sites have been. Many spoke about them as meeting space, spots where they played as children, places they visited every day to pray.
Darbar Square or Dag Darbar hosts the oldest temple in Nepal and is a World Heritage Site. Its monuments did not go unharmed. Serious damage was caused and is matched by the sadness on people’s faces. The area that used to be bustling with tourists and religious worshippers is now full of search and rescue workers, and the smell of death and dust is unavoidable.
Many local people welcomed us when they heard we were from a Muslim-based NGO. Two of them studied the logo on our shirts. They found it strange that Muslims were coming to help them. But why would we not come to help?
I paused to take in the scene, a group of girls forming a human chain to move bricks from a destroyed temple, a large crack splintering a once beautiful structure, and I listened to songs from the birds around. They offered what comfort they could.
The scene left me emotional and I wished I could do still more to help and care for my fellow humans.
Walking down across the alleys I came across a young man wearing a T-shirt with a powerful statement on it, “Allah will make way when there is no way.” I thought he was a Muslim wearing such a shirt but he told me he was Hindu. I asked him why he was wearing it and he said he liked the message. His name was Umesh and he was just 23. He told me he had lost his parents three years ago and lived with his older sisters.
“I was very frightened when earthquake struck,” he said.
“For many hours, I couldn’t find my sisters and I thought they are under the rubble of our house. Then we found each other outside the park.”
The people of Nepal do not just want food and shelter, they need moral and spiritual support to overcome the size of this disaster.
In times like this, we need to come together to help and support each other irrespective of faith, nationality or ethnicity.
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*Bentzen, 2013. Origins of Religiousness: The Role of Natural Disasters
**Sibley & Bulbulia, 2012. Faith after an earthquake: a longitudinal study of religion and perceived health before and after the 2011 Christchurch New Zealand earthquake.
***Hollifield, Hewage, Gunawardena, Kodituwakku, Bopagoda & Weerarathnege. 2008. Symptoms and coping in Sri Lanka 20-21 months after the 2004 tsunami