The Islamic position concerning life's trials and tribulations is one that is extremely empowering. Calamities, disasters and tragedies - all forms of suffering and hardship - are viewed as divinely-sent tests. This life is not meant to be one giant party, rather, we have been created with a noble purpose - to worship God. Tests are an inevitable part of this purpose. These tests serve as a reminder of our greater purpose, as a means of purification and, ultimately, as a way to draw closer to God. Tests are actually seen as a sign of God's love. In fact, the Prophet Muhammed (pbuh) said,
"When God loves a servant, He tests him." (Tirmidhi)
Why would God test those He loves? Trials and tribulations are an avenue to achieving Divine mercy; a means to entering the eternal bliss of paradise. God clearly states this in the Qur'an:
"Do you suppose that you will enter the Garden without first having suffered like those before you? They were afflicted by misfortune and hardship and they were so shaken that even [their] messenger and the believers with him cried, 'When will God's help arrive?' Truly, God's help is near."
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, Who, when disaster strikes them, say, "Indeed we belong to Allah, and indeed to Him we will return."
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.
The suffering argument may have some validity if Allah had said there won't be hardships, but he said there will be to separate out the truthful and believers from the liars and disbelievers. This argument has little to do with the existence of Allah and more to do with false expectations from Allah.
The beauty of this is that God has empowered us with all the necessary means to overcome these trials. Indeed,
"God does not burden any soul with more than it can bear."
Generally speaking, any evil or suffering experienced in life is the exception and not the rule. Illness is relatively short-lived in comparison to good health, as are earthquakes in comparison to the age of the earth. Moreover, just because we may not be able to understand the wisdom behind something, doesn't mean it isn't there. For instance, in some cases, sickness results in the buildup of immunity; earthquakes relieve pent up pressures within the earth; and volcanoes spew out minerals resulting in rich fertile soil for agriculture.
There is an ancient wisdom that states, "Out of the snake's poison comes the antidote". How else can one appreciate ease without having first experienced hardship? Would it be possible to appreciate good health if illness did not occur? It is said that,
"Evil in the world is like the shaded spaces in a painting; if you come close to it you'll see these as defects, but if you draw back to a distance you will discover the shaded areas are necessary in fulfilling an aesthetic function within the artwork."
Sceptics may focus on the negative aspects, claiming that evil and suffering do not serve a greater purpose. Muslims, on the other hand, believe that trials and tribulations are an inevitable part of establishing their ultimate purpose. The Qur'an emphasises this concept, stating,
"The One who created death and life, so that He may put you to test, to find out which of you is best in deeds; He is The Almighty, The All-Forgiving."
In some religions, a person's good status in the world is seen as an indication that God is pleased with him or her. For instance, if a person has a good job or a nice house the inference made is that God loves him or her. However, in Islam, health, wealth, poverty, sickness, etc., are not signs of success or failure: they are a means of testing the individual to determine his or her response to a particular situation.
There is no denying the amount of evil and suffering that exists in the world and we should all be concerned with how we can make the human experience more peaceful. Some argue the existence of all of this evil and suffering undermines God's existence. However, putting emotions aside, is this a convincing argument?
The argument can be summarised in the following way:
"It is unbelievable that a good, all-powerful God exists with all the evil and suffering in the world."
In its logical form:
A basic lesson in logic will make one realise that this argument is not deductive. The conclusion doesn't necessarily follow from the previous two statements. Rather, the conclusion is probably true; essentially, it is a probabilistic argument. The problem of evil argument is a very weak one due to it being based on two major false assumptions.
God IS ONLY GOOD AND ALL-POWERFUL?
The problem of evil argument misrepresents the Islamic concept of God. God is not just good and all-powerful; rather, He has many names and attributes, all of which are understood holistically. For example, one of His names is The-Wise. Since the very nature of God is wise, it follows that whatever He wills is in line with wisdom. If something has wisdom behind it, there's a purpose for it.
In response, sceptics typically reply in the following way:
"Why does he have to test us in such evil ways?"
This response misrepresents the Islamic position and commits the fallacy of arguing from ignorance. The point here is that just because the wisdom cannot be understood, doesn't mean there isn't one. This reasoning is typical of toddlers. Many toddlers get told off by their parents for something they want to do. For example, wanting to drink an enticing brown-gold liquid, also known as whisky. The toddlers may cry or have a tantrum because they are thinking how bad Mummy and Daddy are for not letting them drink it. They don't yet realise the wisdom behind them not being allowed to consume it.
The Qur'an uses profound stories and narratives to instil this understanding in the reader's mind. Take for instance the story of Moses and al-Khidr:
"And they found a servant from among Our servants to whom we had given mercy from us and had taught him from Us a [certain] knowledge.
Moses said to him, 'May I follow you on [the condition] that you teach me from what you have been taught of sound judgement?'
He said, 'Indeed, with me you will never be able to have patience. And how can you have patience for what you do not encompass in knowledge?'
[Moses] said, 'You will find me, if Allah wills, patient and I will not disobey you in [any] order.'
He said, 'Then if you follow me, do not ask me about anything until I make to you about it mention.'
So, they set out, until when they had embarked on the ship, al-Khidr tore it open. [Moses] said, 'Have you torn it open to drown its people? You have certainly done a grave thing.'
[al-Khidr] said, 'Did I not say that with me you would never be able to have patience?'
[Moses] said, 'Do not blame me for what I forgot and do not cover me in my matter with difficulty.' So they set out, until when they met a boy, al-Khidr killed him.
[Moses] said, 'Have you killed a pure soul for other than [having killed] a soul? You have certainly done a deplorable thing.'
[al-Khidr] said, 'Did I not tell you that with me you would never be able to have patience?'
[Moses] said, 'If I should ask you about anything after this, then do not keep me as a companion. You have obtained from me an excuse.'
So they set out, until when they came to the people of a town, they asked its people for food, but they refused to offer them hospitality. And they found therein a wall about to collapse, so al-Khidr restored it.
[Moses] said, 'If you wished, you could have taken for it a payment.'
[al-Khidr] said, 'This is parting between me and you. I will inform you of the interpretation of that about which you could not have patience. As for the ship, it belonged to poor people working at sea. So I intended to cause defect in it as there was after them a king who seized every [good] ship by force. And as for the boy, his parents were believers and we feared that he would overburden them by transgression and disbelief. So we intended that their Lord should substitute for them one better than him in purity and nearer to mercy. And as for the wall, it belonged to two orphan boys in the city and there was beneath it a treasure for them and their father had been righteous. So your Lord intended that they reach maturity and extract their treasure, as a mercy from your Lord. And I did it not of my own accord. That is the interpretation of that about which you could not have patience.'"
Commenting on the above verses, the classical scholar of Qur'anic exegesis, Ibn Kathir, explained that al-Khidr was the one to whom God had given knowledge of these realities and He had not given it to Moses. With reference to the statement:
"Indeed, with me you will never be able to have patience,"
Ibn Kathir writes that this means,
"You will not be able to accompany me when you see me doing things that go against your law, because I have knowledge from Allah that He has not taught you and you have knowledge from Allah that He has not taught me."
In essence, God's wisdom and knowledge are unbounded and complete, whereas we as human beings have its particulars: in other words, limited wisdom and knowledge. Hence, Ibn Kathir explains that the verse:
"And how can you have patience about a thing which you know not,"
"For I know that you will denounce me justifiably, but I have knowledge of Allah's wisdom and the hidden interests which I can see but you cannot."
The view that everything that happens is in line with a Divine wisdom is empowering and positive. This is because God's wisdom does not contradict other aspects of His nature, such as His perfection and goodness. Therefore, all evil and suffering is ultimately part of a greater Divine plan. This evokes positive psychological responses from believers, because in the end, all evil and suffering serves a purpose that is both wise and good. The 14th century classical scholar Ibn Taymiyyah summarises this point, saying,
"If God – exalted is He – is the Creator of everything, He creates good and evil on account of the wise purpose that He has; in that by virtue of which His action is good and perfect."
HAS GOD NOT GIVEN US REASONS?
A sufficient response to the second assumption is to provide a strong argument that God has justified reasons to permit suffering and evil in the world. The intellectual richness of Islamic Theology provides us with many reasons, some of which include:
The primary purpose of the human being is not to enjoy a transitory sense of happiness, but to achieve a deep internal peace through knowing and worshipping God. This fulfilment of the Divine Purpose will result in everlasting bliss and happiness. If this is our primary purpose, other aspects of the human experience are secondary. God states:
"I did not create either jinn or man except to worship Me."
As already mentioned, God created us for a test; an inevitable part of this is being tested with suffering and evil. The Qur'an mentions,
"The One who created death and life, so that He may put you to test, to find out which of you is best in deeds: He is the Almighty, the All-Forgiving".
Having hardship and suffering enables us to realise and know God's attributes such as 'The Victorious' and 'The Healer'. For example, without the pain and suffering of illness, we would not appreciate the attribute of God being 'The Healer'. Knowing God is a greater good and worth the experience of suffering or pain-as it will mean the fulfilment of our primary purpose.
Suffering allows 2nd order good. 1st order good is physical pleasure and happiness and 1st order evil is physical pain and sadness. 2nd order good is elevated goodness, such as courage. Courage is appreciated in the presence of cowardice.
God has given us free will and free will includes choosing evil acts. This explain personal evil, which is evil or suffering committed by a human being. One can argue the following: why doesn't God give us the choice to do good or evil but always ensures that we choose good?
The problem here is that good and evil would lose their meanings if God were to always ensure we chose good. Take the following example into consideration: someone always points a loaded gun to your head and asks you to give charity. You obviously give the charity, but does it have any moral value? It doesn't.
A number of responses to the perceived problem of evil have been discussed herein.
Ultimately, the absence of any evil or suffering would point towards absolute perfection, but this is something that is reserved for God alone.
Life on earth cannot ever be a flawless paradise: this state can only be earned by those who pass the test of this worldly existence.
 Narrated by Tirmidhi.
 Qur'an 2:214
 Qur'an 2:286
 Islamic Theology vs. the Problem of Evil, by Abdal Hakim Murad.
 Qur'an 67:2
 Qur'an 18:65-82
 Tafsir Ibn Kathir
 Minhaj As-Sunnah 3:142/2:25
 Qur'an 51:56-57
 Qur'an 67:2
The "Problem of Evil" is a problem for atheists, not believers.
Atheists have to explain how murderers and tyrants can get away with all their crimes while living comfortable lives without facing any consequences for their crimes.
As for how God could allow suffering and pain in this world despite his power, this is easy to address. The Prophet ﷺ gave us the answer in numerous hadith. For instance:
"If the dunya to Allah was worth as much as even a mosquito's wing, then He would not allow the disbeliever to have a sip of water from it."
حَدَّثَنَا قُتَيْبَةُ، حَدَّثَنَا عَبْدُ الْحَمِيدِ بْنُ سُلَيْمَانَ، عَنْ أَبِي حَازِمٍ، عَنْ سَهْلِ بْنِ سَعْدٍ، قَالَ قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ (saw) " لَوْ كَانَتِ الدُّنْيَا تَعْدِلُ عِنْدَ اللَّهِ جَنَاحَ بَعُوضَةٍ مَا سَقَى كَافِرًا مِنْهَا شَرْبَةَ مَاءٍ "
Bask in the radiance of the Messenger's words!
If this worldly life was worth anything or had any lasting significance, no evil person would get to even enjoy a sip of water. The fact that evil people are enjoying much more than this means that the world is worth even less than a single wing from a single mosquito. If that is the level of worthlessness of the entirety of the dunya, then anything less than that is worth even less and is even more insignificant. That means that any pain, joy, sadness, or happiness experienced in the dunya is of such vanishing significance in comparison to the hereafter.
Consider it from another perspective... Take the time line of life - infinity in the past and future - 80 / double infinity gives you an idea of the significance of life...
Only for those who believe the dunya is all that there is and they have overexaggerated the significance of the dunya does worldly evil cause existential doubt and despair (that they have to drown out with regular doses of heedlessness, i.e., ghaflah). For those who remember and mention Allah, however, their hearts are perfectly content.
The problem of evil in the world is a frequently discussed issue. People often wonder why many parts of the world are awful places to live in whilst others are not, why some people are deformed and others are not, why some are and others sick. They lead to a fundamental question: if there is a just God, why do these inequalities exist? Or put another way, "If God is All-Powerful, All-Merciful and All-Knowing, why do people suffer?" Most, if not all, who abandon theism refer back in some way or another to the problem of evil.
The British philosopher David Hume phrases it eloquently:
"Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is impotent.
Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing? What then is evil?" (part 10)
("Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion")
Firstly this notion is not one that determines the existence of God, rather, it relates to his attributes. At most this problem may suggest an unmerciful god. For that reason, I'm not going to discuss the existence of God here as it is not relevant.
The Purpose of Existence
Life in this world is neither fair nor joyful. Our world is neither the best possible world, nor the perfect world, rather, in Islamic theodicy is a world God created to test us. We came here not to be as happy as possible, but rather as righteous as possible, to please God. The purpose of our existence to pass the test of servitude of God with the aim of pleasing him.
ولقد خلقنا الإنسان في كبد
"We have, surely, created man to toil and struggle." (Qur'an 89:4)
Allah also said:
وما خلقت الجن والإنس إلا ليعبدون
"And I have not created the jinn and Human beings but that they may serve Me." (Qur'an 51:56)
This world is not the end of some story, but the opening page of an eternal afterlife. If we insist in seeing the world as a story that ends at the grave, we would not understand the problem of evil. Life continues beyond the grave, there is eternal reward and punishment for the good or evil we committed.
As the Prophet (saw) said:
حُفت الجنة بالمكاره وحفت النار بالشهوات
"The Paradise is surrounded by hardships and the Hell-Fire is surrounded by temptations." (Sahih Muslim, 2822)
To look at it from this perspective, you would see some years of suffering as nothing compared to eternal happiness for those who are patient. It's the feeling that allows people who suffered to say we have never seen any hardship before when they experience eternal reward for the evil they faced. It is the feeling that lets to wish they could have suffered more.
The Prophet (saw) described such feeling and said:
يود أهل العافية يوم القيامة حين يعطى أهل البلاء التراب لو أن جلودهم كانت قرضت في الدنيا بالمقاريض
"On the Day of Judgement, when the people who were tried (in this world) are given their rewards, the people who were pardoned (in life), will wish that their skins had been cut off with scissors while they were in the world." (Jami at-Tirmidhi 2402)
The Prophet (saw) also said:
يُؤْتَى بِأَشَدِّ النَّاسِ بُؤْسًا فِي الدُّنْيَا مِنْ أَهْلِ الْجَنَّةِ فَيُصْبَغُ صَبْغَةً فِي الْجَنَّةِ فَيُقَالُ لَهُ يَا ابْنَ آدَمَ هَلْ رَأَيْتَ بُؤْسًا قَطُّ هَلْ مَرَّ بِكَ شِدَّةٌ قَطُّ فَيَقُولُ لاَ وَاللَّهِ يَا رَبِّ مَا مَرَّ بِي بُؤُسٌ قَطُّ وَلاَ رَأَيْتُ شِدَّةً قَطُّ
"A person will be brought having led the most miserable life (in this world) from amongst the inmates of Paradise. He would be made to dip once in Paradise and it would be said to him: 'O son of Adam, did you face, any hardship? Or had any distress fallen to your lot?' And he would reply: 'By Allah, no, O my Lord, never did I face any hardship or experience any distress." (Sahih Muslim 2807)
Thus our short life here is not the reward of our good deeds, but rather the place in which we are entitled to do good deeds to be rewarded in our afterlife. Whilst it is a test full of hardships and difficult questions, it leads to a world with no evil, suffering or sadness. It is the world we desired to live in happily.
So, the evil we face is a test of faith. As Allah says:
أَحَسِبَ النَّاسُ أَنْ يُتْرَكُوا أَنْ يَقُولُوا آَمَنَّا وَهُمْ لَا يُفْتَنُونَ وَلَقَدْ فَتَنَّا الَّذِينَ مِنْ قَبْلِهِمْ فَلَيَعْلَمَنَّ اللَّهُ الَّذِينَ صَدَقُوا وَلَيَعْلَمَنَّ الْكَاذِبِينَ
"Do men think that they will be left alone because they say, `We believe,' and that they will not be tried? And We did try those who were before them. So Allah will, assuredly, know those who are truthful and He will, assuredly, know the liars." (Qur'an 29:2-3)
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, Who, when disaster strikes them, say, "Indeed we belong to Allah, and indeed to Him we will return." (Qur'an 2:155-156)
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.
However Allah also makes clear
لا يكلف الله نفسًا إلا وسعها
"God does not burden any soul with more than it can bear."
The Wisdom in the Existence of Evil
Islamic Theodicy in considering the wisdom behind evil and suffering is based on the following principles:
1. The firm belief in the absolute perfection of God's Attributes. It is necessarily driven from the belief in His existence and His creation of such a complex universe.
2. The firm belief in the imperfection of our limited minds, impeding us from often reaching or understanding the underlying wisdom.
3. Divine revelation teaches us that evil appearances often conceal the good and the beneficial. A number of Quranic and prophetic stories illustrate this:
a. The prison of Prophet Yusuf led him to the corridors of power;
b. The assassination of 'Ghulam al-Ukhdud' (the boy of trench) led to the spread of his righteous beliefs;
c. the killing of a boy and the damage to boats by Khidr was beneficial for all involved.
The story of Khidr explicitly concludes this, when Khidr parts way with Prophet Moses by saying:
"All this was done as a mercy from your Lord. What I did was not done by my own will. That is the interpretation of those actions which you could not bear to watch with patience" (Qur'an Al-Kahf:82).
Ibn Taymiyyah said:
فكل ما فعله )الله( عَلمنا أن له فيه حكمة، وهذا يكفينا من حيث الجملة، وإن لم نعرف التفصيل، وعدم علمنا بتفصيل حكمته بمنزلة عدم علمنا بكيفية ذاته.
"We know that everything God does is based on a wisdom, this is generally enough for us even if we don't know the details. We don't know how His Self is (as it is beyond our comprehension) in the same way we may not know some details of His Wisdom." (Ibn Taymiyyah, Majmu' al-Fatawa, Vol. 6, p. 128)
There is no evil event without a comprehensible or incomprehensible wisdom behind it.
Why does an omnipotent God prevent Evil?
In light of the above argument, we could see free will is necessary for life's test - there can be no test without free will. God is all-powerful, so he is able to do all the rationally possible actions and even rational impossibilities.
The attribute of all-powerful, and the question of ability, have to do with the ability of doing what is possible in accordance with a thing's own nature.
For example, it is irrational to say "I created an uncreated cake", because a cake cannot be uncreated once it has been created. This is irrational and impossible for us. The same applies to life's test, free will and the existence of evil, all are intertwined and it is rationally impossible to have one and leave the others.
Ibn Taymiyyah comments on the idea of rationally possible and rationally impossible actions by saying:
وأما أهل السنة فعندهم أن الله تعالى على كل شيء قدير، وكل ممكن فهو مندرج في هذا، وأما المحال لذاته مثل كون الشيء موجودًا ومعدومًا، فهذا لا حقيقة له ولا يتصور وجوده، ولا يُسمى شيئًا باتفاق العقلاء.
"For Sunni Muslims, they believe that God Allah is Able to do everything, but this contains only the possible (things). But the impossible thing in its essence, such as the notion of the existence and non-existence of something, has no reality and its existence is unimaginable. Rational people consensually know that such thing can't be called a thing (because a thing has a reality, while the other is nothing)." (Ibn Taymiyyah, Minhaj as-Sunah, Vol. 2, p. 294)
Why is there Good in the world?
I mean by goodness here every good matter that does not serve the sustenance of human beings and other creatures; i.e. they are not necessary issues for survival. This includes luxury, tranquility and welfare. The whole iniverse is available for human welfare except for some matters that are there as a test. This kind of goodness is widespread in the world and we measure the evil according to it. Otherwise, we would not know what evil was because we wouldn't know what good was.
If we wanted claim evil's existence proves non-existence of God, or an unmerciful god, the existence of goodness logically proves his existence and his merciful attributes. The question here is not why the glass of water is half empty, but why it is half full.
There are four possibilities for the existence of such goodness:
1. Blind chance and randomness are responsible for such goodness: This is impossible because randomness does not give us repeated, organized and fine-tuned design.
2. Necessity: This is also impossible because the goodness we discuss is unnecessary.
3. Illusion: It is not probable because no rational being can deny the reality of goodness, or rather he would not have recognized evil either.
4. Merciful and Powerful Being (God): It is the necessary Doer for such action. He is Merciful because He had Mercy on us and Powerful because He created, designed and fine-tuned a complex and vast Universe.
Why does God have to test us in such evil ways?
I would say it is wrong to call any question we find tough, disagreeable or tortuous as 'evil' - it is evil if the examiner had malignant intent. Likewise with God. Questions in test may appear good or bad or evil. All they are, are questions. Likewise in life, they are questions we need to respond to. As for some being easy, difficult, harsh and so on, as in an exam, grades of questions separate out grades of students. Likewise in life, The disbelievers folk first, then those with dhann (less certainty), then those with ghalabat dhann (convince suspicion), then those with yaqeen (certainty) get through. How do you test top people like these? Even the prophets had tests to separate them out.
The Universe contains evil that erupts into our life. This evil would be meaningful and comprehensible when we look at life as a transitional stage in which we are tested to achieve the pleasure of our creator and thereby be rewarded with eternal life.
We are not here for happiness, rather to struggle with evil. People who suffer are the most rewarded, their suffering is neither meaningless nor arbitrary. In fact, if one rejects belief in God and the Hereafter, suffering is little more than a curse of nature, that a spell that can be broken through suicide.
We should try to see the goodness and wisdom behind the veil of evil and trust the All-Powerful, All-Merciful and All-Knowing God
Samy Amiry, Mushkilat ash-Shar wa Wujud Allah
Ibn Taymyah, Minhaj as-Sunnah
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