Praise be to Allah, Lord of the worlds, and the most honorable prayer and peace be upon the master of the first and the last, our master, Muhammad, the chosen, the trustworthy, and upon his pious and pure family, his faithful companions, and those who followed them in goodness until the Day of Judgment, may Allah Almighty be pleased with them all.
Many people ask, if there is a God, why do we see all these evils in this world? This is a very old question with which many philosophers all along in history have grappled. For some it makes no sense to believe in a God, who is claimed to have the attributes of love and justice but still allows evil to seemingly reign in so many parts of life.
To answer this question, we need to investigate. First of all, we need to decide upon the logical fallacy used to deny the existence of God because there are many evils in this world. There is no logical relation between the two. The existence of God is proved by the logic of causality, not by the fact or not of evil in this world. That means for every creature there has to be a creator, for: 1- Anything created cannot create itself out of nothing. This assertion of course still rests on an assumption that a creator, God is timeless and eternal, and therefore was not created. 2- We know that the chain of creatures cannot go infinitely in the past as there would be a logical contradiction. There must be a creator and we as Muslims claim this creator to be Allah who is timeless and eternal. To explain the second point, imagine a soldier who is holding his rifle to shoot the enemy, but he has to get the order from his officer, and his officer has to get the order from his officer and so on infinitely. The question is, will the soldier shoot the enemy? The logical answer is no, because there will be a contradiction; the chain has to reach an officer who is the first one, and we proposed that the chain goes infinitely. That is the contradiction. So, if there are created beings, or in this example if the soldier fires a shot which must be ordered by a superior, there must be an original superior who issues the order, or in this universe, a creator of all that is created. So, the issue of the presence of evil in this world is not related to the existence of God, rather to the attributes of that God and how He chooses to create and order his creation. We will discuss this issue accordingly.
Another aspect we might investigate is the types of evil. We see that there are mainly two types of evil, man-made evils, such as wars and crimes, and natural events that cause suffering and thereby could be thought of as evil, such as volcanoes and earthquakes. Logically it is not right to blame God for the evils made by man. Man created these evils, so, he is responsible for that as Allah said in the Qur’an, “People, We have created you from a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes that you might know one another. The noblest of you before Allah is the most righteous of you. Allah is the Knower, the Aware” (Surah 49, Ayah 13). It is obvious in this Ayah why Allah created us in this beautiful diversity, to know each other, not to kill each other.
An astute person would then ask why would Allah allow for some in this diversity of created beings to choose to be, and to do, evil, which is a very important question and is one that has plagued sufferers from time immemorial. What is important to grasp in this regard is that as a loving and good God, Allah created all humanity with free will. That means that no human was created without the capacity to turn away, reject and disavow his creator, choosing to make his or her own way. Allah created us men and women with the freedom to choose and exhorted humanity to learn and increase in wisdom as one of our most important tasks in life as well as to love, live morally and forgive one another living in peacefulness in community. Allah says in the Qur’an, “Read (Prophet Muhammad) in the Name of your Lord who created, created the human from a (blood) clot. Read! Your Lord is the Most Generous, (who taught by the pen, taught the human what he did not know” (Surah 96, Ayah 1-5). Allah did not create automatons, but free human beings and Islam is not a religion of coercion. Allah says in the Qur’an, “There is no compulsion in religion. Righteousness is now distinct from error. He who disbelieves in the idol and believes in Allah has grasped the firmest tie that will never break. Allah is Hearing, Knowing” (Surah 2, Ayah 256). Each human being can accept or reject Allah as the creator and also accept or reject Allah’s path of righteousness. While this means that Allah loved us enough to give us freedom, it also allows for a fatal flaw, that humans can also chose to be and do evil, and many do. The first human evil doers in the Qur’an are Adam and Eve who didn’t follow Allah’s instructions but listened to the tempter instead, as Allah says in the Qur’an, “So he (Satan) cheated both by delusion. And when they had tasted the tree, their shameful parts became apparent to them, and they both covered themselves with the leaves of Paradise. (Then) their Lord called to them, saying: ‘Did I not prohibit you to approach that tree, and did I not warn you that Satan was your clear enemy?” (Surah 7, Ayah 22). The second was their son Cain who grew disgruntled and slew his brother Abel, Allah says in the Qur’an, “Recite to them in all truth the news of Adam’s two sons; how they each made an offering, and how the offering of the one was accepted while that of the other was not. He said: ‘I will surely kill you. ‘ (The other) said: ‘Allah accepts only from the righteous. If you stretch your hand to kill me, I shall not stretch mine to kill you; for I fear Allah, the Lord of the Worlds. I would rather you bear my sin and your sin and become among the inhabitants of Hell. Such is the recompense of the harm doers. His soul made it seem fair to him to slay his brother; he killed him and became one of the lost” (Surah 5, Ayah 27-30) It goes on and on until today. Because we are free, and many chose to make poor use of that freedom, all of us are likely to suffer from the selfish and sinful choices others will make. We will suffer under greedy leaders, corrupt regimes, harsh parenting, neglectful or abusive parents or spouses, or from children gone astray.
But we too have a choice in how we respond to this evil. The best we can do is keep our eyes fixed on Allah and keep our own paths straight when we suffer from such evils and remember that while Allah created us to be free to choose, he will not let evil choices reign over our lives forever. Sometimes we will need to fight back, but often we will need to muster our internal strengths, the love Allah gives us, and forgive those who harm us. Whether we deem it correct to fight back or endure, we should remember we have only this life to endure this kind of suffering, but as we choose to obey Allah and the path of righteousness, we pray to Allah to grant us Paradise to live there eternally. We just cannot truly experience this reward we already have inside of us until the afterlife when we will become aware of ourselves as eternal beings and the sufferings of this world will be forgotten as a tiny blip in time compared to our everlasting rewards of living with Allah as we chose today and, in this life, to do good and chose Allah’s path.
Those who chose otherwise may appear to reap many rewards in the here and now, but that too will seem like nothing when we see from our eternal point of view. In eternity those who chose to reject Allah will not see these rewards which we will enjoy in their fullness, they will live eternally in Hell. So we need not have anxiety or suffer too much even from the evils that come from other people who chose evil. We need only to trust Allah and be grateful for this trust he put in us to make us free to choose and who will put all right and in order in the end. This is actually a precious gift of trust that Allah made us free. It means we will suffer evil from those who chose unwisely, but it’s also a source of great joy to choose our creator rather than simply be automatons who have no say in the matter.
As for the second type of evil, i.e. the natural events causing suffering, Islam also has its view on that. First of all, from an Islamic point of view, this life is in a sense just a farm in which you work on your entire life to reap the results in the afterlife. When we consider something as evil, we have to bear in mind the full picture, this limited life and the eternal afterlife. There is no pure natural evil in this life, even if we could not withstand it, such as earthquakes, because of which many people, especially children, die. Suffering and death due to natural events are tragic facts of life, but the suffering they cause is only relative and subjective, not objective. Even the biggest earthquake while causing widespread suffering can also be the cause of a certain amount of good. It triggers the spirit of working together to save people. It motivates people to gather in groups to maintain food supplies and other essential needs for the survivors. Charity becomes a normal activity in the face of natural disasters. The relations among survivors and rescuers grow and they will feel the beautiful bonding between humans. Indeed, scientists have found that in the face of traumatic natural events, human bonding often increases in the short-term as people’s hearts are moved to open their homes and share generously. Natural disasters, such as an earthquake, also motivate scientists to invent technologies which predict earthquakes so as to be able to act before they happen. Engineers will develop certain technologies for the buildings to resist earthquakes. So, this evil, as we see it, also brings a lot of good to the world as it awakens the desires of goodness and generosity in humans.
As for the attributes of God, there is no All Loving attribute in Islam, but there is The Loving, The Merciful, The Kind. These attributes are not in contradiction with what some call the evil existing in this world. First, we have to consider this life as Allah called it, when He said. “The life of this world is nothing but a diversion and play. Indeed, the Everlasting Residence is the Eternal Life, if they but knew” (Surah 29, Ayah 64). We really need to step outside of our limited logical minds and use our imagination to think what it is to be an eternal being who is promised Paradise for choosing the right path. Can we imagine, or compare, this life of 70, 80, 90 years to that we may live to in eternity? Anything that happens in this life is regarded as nothing in the afterlife. Likewise, if we truly know we will live eternally we need to remember while we are suffering now we can have faith that Allah will grant us Paradise. We will not look at the suffering of this life as of any importance when we are filled with the bliss of Paradise. Moreover, the Prophet, peace be upon him, said, “How wonderful is the case of a believer; there is good for him in everything and this applies only to a believer. If prosperity attends him, he expresses gratitude to Allah and that is good for him; and if adversity befalls him, he endures it patiently and that is better for him” (Sahih Muslim, 2999). So whatever harm a believer suffers in this life, if he was patient he will get his reward in abundance in the afterlife, Allah said in the Qur’an, “Say: ‘My worshipers who believe, fear your Lord. For those who do good in this world there is good and the earth of Allah is wide surely, those who are patient will be recompensed in full without count” (Surah 39, Ayah 10). So, life is nothing compared to the afterlife. This is so important, because, as I said earlier, this limited earthly life is but the farm where we can choose now to reap the rewards or punishments of the afterlife. Here and now you have the ability to decide your destiny, whether it is in Paradise or Hell.
Prophet Muhammed, peace be upon him, said, “Among the inmates of Hell, a person who had led the most luxurious life in this world will be brought up on the Day of Resurrection and dipped in the Fire and will be asked: ‘O son of Adam! Did you ever experience any comfort? Did you happen to get any luxury?’ He will reply, ‘By Allah, no, my Rubb.’ And then one of the people of Jannah who had experienced extreme misery in the life of this world will be dipped in Jannah. Then he will be asked: ‘O son of Adam! Did you ever experience any misery? Did you ever encounter difficulty?’ He will say: “By Allah, no my Rubb, I neither experienced misery nor passed through hardship” (Riyad al-Salihin, 461). Here we see the amazing comfort of being eternal that wipes out all our suffering in this world so that there is not even a trace of memory for it when we are comforted and rewarded in Paradise. If we can hold on to that faith of the prize to come, no suffering today can take us off our course to our coveted destination. So, it is obvious now, that what we may see as evils in this life are only tests from Allah and all who chose to pass through them with faith in Allah, may pass them. This life is mainly a court of tests and ordeals, to sort the believer and the patient who worships his God in every situation to win the prize in the afterlife. In this regard, the wise will realize the wisdom of facing abundance in gratitude knowing it is for now and may not last, as well as facing suffering with equanimity and faith and also knowing it is only for now and cannot last. May Allah grant us all Paradise, amen. Ordeals in this life in truth are always a motivation to return to and renew our faith in Allah to be in peace with him, knowing well that no blessing and no hardship is everlasting and we can, in the here and now, by our choices, choose peace and comfort now, and in the afterlife.
Praise be to Allah, Lord of the worlds.