Cultural Implications of Natural Disasters: Historical Reports of the Volcano Eruption of July, 1256 CE
This paper surveys historical reports related to a volcanic eruption that took place in the year 654 AH/1256 CE, in the vicinity of the city of Medina in Arabia. The paper deconstructs those reports in order to reveal the social, political, and religious reactions that were generated by that disastrous eruption. Fully driven by textual considerations of reports written after the fact—although some lived contemporaneously—this article tries to sort myth from fact, the rhetorical from the literal, the religious from the political, and finally the theoretical juridical from the devotional and practical, when the first was deemed counterfactual. It concludes by highlighting the manner in which religious rituals—like communal prayers, congregating at a holy place, and reminding political authorities of their religious duties—could be manipulated during times of disasters to produce political change and improve the social conditions of the community afflicted by such disasters. This article also examines the extent to which such disasters were used as vivid images of the Day of Judgment, thereby urging individuals to higher compliance with religious observance.