My answer uses references of explanation from famous contemporary sunni scholars who have addressed this issue. Those include Shaykh Al-Allaamah Muqbil Ibn Haadee Al-Waadi’ee and Shaykh Al-Allaamah Abdul-Aziz ibn `Abdullah ibn Baz, May Allah have mercy on them.
Shaykh Muqbil had written a book with regards to this matter: ‘Asbaabu Zilzaal’ (The Reasons for Earthquakes) and similar calamities.
The shaykh mentions Surah Al-'A`raf 94:99 where Allah says:
And We sent to no city a prophet [who was denied] except that We
seized its people with poverty and hardship that they might humble
themselves [to Allah ].
Then We exchanged in place of the bad [condition], good, until they
increased [and prospered] and said, "Our fathers [also] were touched
with hardship and ease." So We seized them suddenly while they did not
And if only the people of the cities had believed and feared Allah ,
We would have opened upon them blessings from the heaven and the
earth; but they denied [the messengers], so We seized them for what
they were earning."
Then, did the people of the cities feel secure from Our punishment
coming to them at night while they were asleep?
Or did the people of the cities feel secure from Our punishment coming
to them in the morning while they were at play?
Then did they feel secure from the plan of Allah ? But no one feels
secure from the plan of Allah except the losing people.
If you pay attention to these Ayah, you see that from the reasons for destruction and from the reasons for these calamities that have takes place, is disobedience to the Messengers of Allaah.
The people go about as Allaah mentions, in the day and in the night
and some of them go to sleep in disobedience to Allaah. Not having any
awareness and not being aware of that which Allaah has in plan for
them in punishment and in seizing them.Or those who go about in the
forenoon playing and going about their normal business in the day and
not concerning themselves with that which they have done from
disobedience, until Allaah takes and sends a tremendous punishment and
calamity upon them and calls them to account for that which they had
done. So clearly we see, and do not be mistaken, that which we have
seen from destruction, and that which we have seen from death, is from
the punishment of Allaah; for those who have belied the Messengers,
and those who have disbelieved in the Messengers, and for those who
have disobeyed the Messengers of Allaah.
Then the Shaykh mentions Surah Al-Isra 17:58-59 where Allah says:
And there is no city but that We will destroy it before the Day of
Resurrection or punish it with a severe punishment. That has ever been
in the Register inscribed.
And nothing has prevented Us from sending signs except that the former
peoples denied them. And We gave Thamud the she-camel as a visible
sign, but they wronged her. And We send not the signs except as a
So Allaah sent many signs to the people of the earth, past and
present.He has sent them Messengers with revelations to their people
to call them to that which is correct, and to that which is good, and
to Tawheed, and to obedience to Allah. But these people belied the
Messengers, and they denied the signs of Allaah, and therefore Allaah
took them, as we mentioned, with terrible punishment.
I do not want to narrate the whole article but you can read it here.
Shaykh Ibn Baaz said with reference to same ayah in his advice regarding the earthquakes:
He predestines them (earthquakes) to make His servants fear Him,
reminds them of what they have to do and warn them against Shirk
(associating others with Allah in His Divinity or worship), disobeying
His commands and violating His prohibitions.
Then he mentions some ayah and a hadith with which I will wind up my answer:
Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He) also says:
We will show them Our Signs in the universe, and in their own selves,
until it becomes manifest to them that this (the Qur’ân) is the truth.
Is it not sufficient in regard to your Lord that He is a Witness over
all things? [Surah Fussilat : 53]
Allah (Exalted be He) also says:
Say: "He has power to send torment on you from above or from under
your feet, or to cover you with confusion in party strife, and make
you to taste the violence of one another." [Surah Al-'Anam :65]
There is a hadith with regard to above ayah:
Al-Bukhari narrated in his Sahih on the authority of Jabir Ibn
`Abdullah (may Allah be pleased with him) that the Prophet (peace be
upon him) said when Allah's saying was revealed:
Say: "He has power to send torment on you from above
the Prophet (peace be upon him) said:
"I seek refuge in You."
Allah (Exalted be He) says:
...or from under your feet
the Prophet (peace be upon him) said:
"I seek refuge in You." [Al-Bukhari , Book on Tafsir, no.4262]
Then he quotes from Abu Al-Shaykh Al-Ashahany, his interpretation of the ayah
Abu Al-Shaykh Al-Asbahany reported from Mujahid in the interpretation
of Allah's saying: Say: "He has power to send torment on you from
above he said that it means an awful cry or a stone. ...or from under
your feet he said: "It means an earthquake and causing the earth to
Then he says:
There is no doubt that what happens these days of
earthquakes in many countries are of these portents that Allah
(Exalted be He) brings to make His servant fear Him. All the
earthquakes that happen in this world and other things that cause harm
to people are because of Shirk and evil deeds.
Read the complete treatise here.