By Fadi Itani
06 May, 2015
In difficult times, people turn to their faith for comfort and consolation. Research carried out in the United States in the 1800s found an increase in church attendance following earthquakes, and the same trend was noted in Christchurch, New Zealand, after the 2011 earthquake.
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, where Islamic Relief is currently distributing aid as a member agency of the Disasters Emergency Committee, 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 speak about them as meeting spaces, 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. There was serious damage, causing a sadness reflected 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 these people.
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 the 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.
Please support the Disaster Emergency Committee's Nepal Emergency Appeal at www.dec.org and check out the latest updates on Islamic Relief's work at www.islamic-relief.org.uk.