Throughout history, a single question has plagued humanity since the beginning. An item that has been asked many times. An issue that all Abrahamic religions face. The question that if an All-Powerful God, who is All-Knowing, All-Seeing, All-Hearing, All-Loving, All-Merciful, and All-Just, is in control of All things and matters, does exist, then why do people experience evil, pain, and suffering in this World? Why must we contend with sickness, natural disasters, starvation, war, calamities, corruption, and killings? If God is indeed All-Merciful, All-Loving, All-Good, and All-Just, why does He allow such things to happen?
This very concept is known as the problem of evil. Many have come to the wrong conclusion that because of the existence of evil, God could not possibly exist–or that he is a cruel, unjust God who enjoys seeing people suffer and in pain. A God that is not worth worshipping, who is unaware, uncaring and incapable of removing and controlling elements of evil. The existence of evil ranks amongst the top reasons as to why people reject the concept of religion or the belief in a Higher Power.
People that reject God because they cannot grapple with the problem of evil do not have nor claim to have an understanding of or a solution to the conditions of darkness and pain. The decision to disbelieve the existence of God only adds more confusion to the situation; leading to the emergence of questions as to why we were created, where we are destined to go, etc. They choose to reject God because of their lack of understanding. To understand the problem of evil and as well as many other life concepts, one must have faith—the very belief system which provides wisdom.
The question of evil was asked by the Angels themselves when God the Almighty announced that He was creating a new form of beings called humans.
“And [mention, O Muhammad], when your Lord said to the angels, ‘Indeed, I will make upon the Earth a successive authority” (Quran 2:30)
The Angels responded with a question:
“…They said, ‘Will You place upon it one who causes corruption therein and sheds blood, while we declare Your praise and You?” (Quran 2:30)
“…Indeed, I know that which you do not know” (Quran 2:20)
Although God did not explain nor rationalize the answer to their question, the Angels were completely satisfied with this response; this is owing to their complete humility before, trust in, and faith in God’s Wisdom and Knowledge, recognizing His Wisdom as Perfect and without flaw. The Angels did not assume God’s Wisdom was incorrect simply because they could not understand nor comprehend that Wisdom. We humans never will fully understand the reason behind the World’s pain and suffering, as our limited, finite minds cannot comprehend the logic of God. However, the fact that our intellectual capacity cannot understand and evaluate the Wisdom behind pain and suffering in full does not nullify that Wisdom. How can we judge the situation or God Himself without all the information needed to do so? God states in the Quran:
“…And mankind has not been given of knowledge except a little” (Quran 17:85)
We as humans only can understand the Wisdom behind pain and suffering on a general level. We have no right to question our Creator—as everything belongs to Allah, the Glorious including us, and to Him we will return.
Whereas hardship, pain, and suffering do exist in this World, these incidents are the exception and not the rule. Muslims disbelieve the concept of pure evil. All things that God has created are either purely good or possesses a balance of good and evil. Nothing is purely evil with no goodness inherent. Whereas evil can dominate more than the good in some instances, everything holds an element of some good.
Every evil is good in at least some aspects; for instance, while sickness may harm the body temporally from one angle, that same sickness also strengthens the immune system and teaches one patience with the healing process. Similarly, whereas Volcanos can harm, they rejuvenate the ecosystem that facilitates life in the first place. Without Volcanos, we would not be able to grow food; this is because Volcanos spew out minerals resulting in rich fertile soil. Whatever God Wills, the good will always eventually outweigh the bad. Additionally, one person’s calamity can be another person’s blessing; for instance, when one person loses a job, another person finds a new occupation.
Good and evil need each other to exist. How can a person be generous if no charitable beneficiaries are available? Poor and hungry people need to exist for charity and generosity to occur. How can forgiveness happen when there is no offense to forgive? How can one learn patience without the perception of evil and calamities? Similarly, following natural disasters, humanity tends to show generosity and support by sending medical assistance, food, donations, etc., to those affected. Consequently, a negative occurrence enables positive results to be manifested. God loves the good that is generated from the perception of evil. Pain and suffering are blessings in disguise.
Also, we need the existence of evil to recognize and appreciate good. It’s when we are deprived of something valuable that we feel the appreciation and blessings of God. One needs to experience hardship to value the better times. Sometimes one needs to experience illness to appreciate good health, or poverty to appreciate substance. It’s only in the darkness that one recognizes and appreciates the light. The perception of evil, pain, and suffering is not a punishment. Allah states in the Quran:
“What would Allah gain from your punishment if you are grateful and believe? And ever is Allah Appreciative and Knowing” (Quran 4:147)
God does not love evil. Amongst the many pearls of Wisdom behind pain and suffering, and probably the most important, is the idea that trials and tribulations lead people back to God. Sometimes it’s through tough times that people return and reconnect to their Lord in desperation, and with the utmost sincere prayers and supplications. Any calamity that brings one back to his Lord is not a true disaster; instead, a blessing in disguise. It is in times of tragedy that one increases his expressions of repentance, humility, and supplication, recognizing he needs the Almighty.
“And when affliction touches man, he calls upon Us, whether lying on his side or sitting or standing; but when We remove from him his affliction, he continues [in disobedience] as if he had never called upon Us to [remove] an affliction that touched him. Thus, is made pleasing to the transgressors that which they have been doing” (Quran 10:12)
Amongst the essential reasons behind perceived evil is the idea that life is a test for humanity, filled with many trials and tribulations.
“[He] who created death and life to test you [as to] which of you is best in deed – and He is the Exalted in Might, the Forgiving” (Quran 67:2)
Through these tests, a person’s faith in and loyalty to God is revealed. God states:
“Do the people think that they will be left to say, ‘We believe’ and they will not be tried? But We have certainly tried those before them, and Allah will surely make evident those who are truthful, and He will surely make evident the liars” (Quran 29:2-3)
In another verse, God states:
“Or do you think that you will enter Paradise while such [trial] has not yet come to you as came to those who passed on before you? They were touched by poverty and hardship and were shaken until [even their] messenger, and those who believed with him said, ‘When is the help of Allah?’ Unquestionably, the help of Allah is near” (Quran 2:214)
In another Verse, God states:
“And We will surely test you with something of fear and hunger and a loss of wealth and lives and fruits, but give good tidings to the patient” (Quran 2:155)
God can create any World He desires, including a World with no evil and suffering. However, God, the Glorious, chose to give humanity the freedom of choice and free will. If He did not allow harm to occur, He would be depriving mankind of freedom and free will. Since life is a test, this test would be meaningless without a degree of free will being given to humanity. Sometimes humanity chooses to act in evil ways. God is not the direct cause of these acts of evil. Instead, He is the One who Allows and Wills it to happen for the greater good–and for reasons we may or may not understand.
According to the Holy Quran, evil deeds performed by mankind also result in punishments on this Earth. Every suffering in this World is a fraction of a bit of what mankind has afflicted on this Earth.
“Corruption has appeared throughout the land and sea by [reason of] what the hands of people have earned so He may let them taste part of [the consequence of] what they have done that perhaps they will return [to righteousness]” (Quran 30:41)
God references the fact that many past nations have been destroyed due to their evil actions and disobedience.
“So, We took retribution from them, and We drowned them in the sea because they denied Our signs and were heedless of them” (Quran 7:136)
Amongst the many wisdoms inherent in the perception of evil is the fact, God loves to forgive–as He is the All-Merciful, the All-Forgiving. But for forgiveness to take place, there must exist sins and sinners to forgive.
The protestation of human pain, suffering, misfortune, and hardship faced by innocent people, and the claim that ‘life is unfair,’ are legitimate complaints; but only if belief in the Hereafter is denied and neglected. Indeed, we all must face an afterlife; a Judgment day in which justice will be served and everyone will be compensated for their life actions. The evildoers will be punished for their sins, and the oppressed will be compensated and rewarded for their patience.
“And never think that Allah is unaware of what the wrongdoers do. He only delays them for a Day when eyes will stare [in horror]” (Quran 14:42)
Indeed, with great trials and patience come great rewards. If one were to measure the suffering of this World against the blessings of the Hereafter, what is 20, 40, 60 years of suffering against an eternity of bliss?
“And this worldly life is not but diversion and amusement. And indeed, the home of the Hereafter – that is the [eternal] life, if only they knew” (Quran 29:64)
This World was never meant to be a perfect place devoid of hardship. Muslims believe that an ideal life without pain and suffering awaits them in the next World, not this World. This World is a stepping stone to the afterlife, that will lead you either to Paradise or the Hellfire.
It’s through the passing of test trials and tribulations that God raises one’s rankings. It is for this very reason that God tests those He Loves. Additionally, when any calamity befalls a Muslim, God expiates some of his sins. When a patient person sees his misfortunes on the Day of Judgment and receives the reward he derived from his patience, he would wish that a more major calamity had struck him.
The Holy Qur’an offers different remedies of coping with hardship, such as faith, prayer, patience, trust, and reliance, which God will give in the hopes of guaranteeing contentment and surety. It’s essential that one recognizes that God will not place them in a situation where they cannot manage.
“Allah does not burden a soul except [with that within] its capacity…” (Quran 2:286)
Realize, in every hardship that one faces, God has given them the requirements to handle the situation and pass the test associated with it. He knows that one can cope with the situation, or he would not have placed that person in that difficulty in the first place. And realize that no harm can befall anyone except by the Permission and Will of the Almighty. God states:
“Say, ‘Never will we be struck except by what Allah has decreed for us; He is our protector’ And upon Allah let the believers rely upon” (Quran 9:51)
A person of faith has a different attitude than others regarding calamities. He has surety and contentment in his or her heart, knowing that life is full of tests and trials; and that with time and patience, things will improve, and he will be rewarded. And remember my dear brother or sister, what your Lord has promised:
“For indeed, with hardship [will be] ease. Indeed, with hardship [will be] ease” (Quran 94:5-6)