Tsunamis, Katrina and then terrible earthquakes in Kashmir
and Pakistan, all these natural disasters happened one after another. Seeing the
human suffering, death and destruction we are all shaken. It is difficult to
forget the scenes of death, pain, cries of people, men women and children. Those
who believe in God are concerned to know why God allowed these disasters to
happen. Those who do not believe in God are ready to exploit this disaster to
argue against God or His existence.
We see in this world all kinds of sufferings, evil and
pain. We find sickness, old age and death. We see things that are ugly, people
who are insane and foolish. We also see people who commit sins, show disloyalty,
unfaithfulness, greed and insincerity. We see people commit rapes, murders,
violence and wars. We know all these and many other problems. There are evils
caused by human beings and there are natural disasters. There are sufferings for
individuals and there are those that involve a large number of people.
The world, however, is not all evil. Beside all these
negative things we also see beauty, health, prosperity, life, birth, wisdom,
intelligence, growth and progress. We also see goodness among people, faith,
sincerity, charity, love and the spirit of sacrifice. We see a lot of virtue and
piety. It is also the fact that the element of good is more in the creation than
the element of evil. We all see that there are more people who are healthy than
those who are sick. There are more that eat well then those who starve. There
are more people who live decent life then those who commit crimes. Goodness is
the rule and evil is the exception. Virtue is the norm and sin is the
aberration. Generally trees bear fruits, the flowers bloom, the winds move
The question still remains why Allah allows sufferings.
Why did He not create a world without any difficulty or pain? Let us ask this
question to understand Allah's ways in His creation. The Qur'an tells us
that Good and evil whatever happens in this world happens by Allah's Will (mashi'at
Allah). Only Allah knows fully His Will. We finite beings cannot grasp fully His
infinite Will and Wisdom. He runs His universe the way He deems fit. Allah says
in the Qur'an:
No calamity occurs, except by the leave of Allah; and
whosoever believes in Allah, He guides his heart. And Allah knows all things.
The famous Muslim philosopher, jurist and thinker Imam
Ghazali (d. 11) elaborates this very clearly:
We believe that He is the Willer of things that are, and of things that happen.
There does not come about in the world, seen or unseen, little or much, small or
great, good or evil, advantage or disadvantage, faith or unbelief, knowledge or
ignorance, success or loss, increase or decrease, obedience or rebellion, except
by His will. What He wills is, and what He wills not is not. Not a glance of one
who looks, or a slip of one who thinks is outside His will. He is the Creator,
the Bringer back, the Doer of that which He wills. (A Short Creed of Ghazali)
As Muslims we believe that Allah is Wise and everything
that Allah does is right, just, and fair. We must submit and surrender to His
Will. The Qur'an has not given us all the details about Allah's Will, but it
has enlightened us with the guidance that is useful and sufficient for us. The
problem of the existence of evil in this world is a complex one and there is no
one simple answer for it. There are several points that we have to keep in our
mind to understand this issue:
1. First of all, Allah did not make this
world a permanent world. This is a temporary world and every thing here has a
time limit. When its time comes it dies, comes to an end and finishes. Neither
the good things of this world are forever, nor the bad things eternal. We are
here for a short time and we are being tested. Those who will pass this test
they will find an eternal world that is perfect and permanent. Those who will
fail this test they shall see the evil consequences of their sins and
It is He Who created the Night and the Day, and the sun
and the moon; all (the celestial bodies) swim along, each in its rounded course.
We granted not to any man before you permanent life (here); if you die, would
they live permanently? Every soul shall have a taste of death: and We test you
by evil and by good by way of trial. To Us is the return. (Al-Anbiya'
2. Allah has placed physical and moral
laws in this universe. Allah allows suffering to occur when one or more of these
laws are broken. The physical laws are based on cause and effect. Sickness comes
if some laws of health are not observed or violated. Auto accidents occur when
traffic laws are not followed or the traffic laws are not right or not properly
enforced, or the roads and freeways are not made and kept in right shape. Study
of causes and effects is very important to give safeguards. Even here we should
keep in mind that Allah often saves us and He does not cause us to suffer for
every single negligence on our part. How many times it happens that we are not
careful and still reach safely to our destinations. The way people drive in some
cities, it is a miracle that more accidents do not happen and more people do not
suffer. Allah says:
The Most Merciful, He taught the Qur'an. He created
man. He taught him speech. The sun and the moon follow courses (exactly)
computed; and the herbs and the trees both (alike) bow in adoration. And the
Firmament He has raised high, and He has set up the Balance (of Justice), in
order that you may not transgress (due) balance. So establish weight with
justice and fall not short in the balance. He spread out the earth for (His)
creatures. (al-Rahman 55:1-10)
The ways we exceed the measures set by Allah and violate
His laws of cause and effect is incredible. It is really the mercy of Allah that
we are saved. Strictly speaking the question should not be why Allah allows
suffering, but how much Allah protects us and saves us all the time in spite of
our violations and negligence. The Qur'an says:
If Allah were to punish people according to what they
deserve, He would not leave on the back of the (earth) a single living creature;
but He gives them respite for a stated Term. When their Term expires, verily
Allah has in His sight all His servants.
3. Sometimes Allah does punish some
people because of their violations of His laws whether they are physical or
moral. When the general punishment comes then the sinners and the innocents are
all destroyed. The Qur'an tells us that many nations and communities were
destroyed because of their sinful lifestyles.
If they treat you as false, so did the Peoples before
them (with their Prophets), the People of Noah, and Ad and Thamud, those of
Abraham and Lot, and the Companions of the Madyan people; and Moses was rejected
(in the same way). But I granted respite to the Unbelievers, and (only) after
that did I punish them; but how (terrible) was My rejection (of them)! How many
populations have We destroyed, which were given to wrong-doing! They tumbled
down on their roofs. And how many wells are lying idle and neglected, and
castles lofty and well-built? (al-Hajj 22:42-45)
Allah warns the people in the Qur'an who see corruption
and do not stand up to correct the wrong doers or to stop them from their wrong
doings. Allah says in the Qur'an:
Why were there not, among the generations before you,
persons possessed of balanced good sense, prohibiting (men) from mischief in the
earth, except a few among them whom We saved (from harm)? But the wrong-doers
pursued the enjoyment of the good things of life which were given them, and
persisted in sin. (Hud 11:116)
However, we must keep in mind that only Prophets of Allah,
who had access to the Revelation (wahi), could inform us whether a disaster was
a punishment of Allah or not. After the coming of the Last Prophet Muhammad –
peace and blessings of Allah be upon him- no one has access to any new Divine
Revelation and hence no one is allowed to say definitely that a particular
disaster or difficulty is the punishment of God to a person or to a group.
4. Suffering can also be a test and trial for some people.
Allah allows some people to suffer in order to test their patience and
steadfastness. Even Allah's Prophets and Messengers were made to suffer.
Prophet Ayyub (Job) is mentioned in the Qur'an as a Prophet who was very
patients. Good people sometimes suffer but their sufferings heal others and
bring goodness to their communities. People learn lessons from their good
examples. Martyrs die for their faith, soldiers give their lives for their
nations and this brings liberation and freedom for their people.
Be sure We shall test you with something of fear and
hunger, some loss in goods or lives or the fruits (of your toil), but give glad
tidings to those who patiently persevere. Who say, when afflicted with calamity:
"To Allah we belong, and to Him is our return" They are those on whom
(descend) blessings from their Lord, and Mercy, and they are the ones that
receive guidance. (Al-Baqarah 2:155-157)
5. Suffering of some people could be a test for others who did
not suffer. Whether we understand or not the reason why some people went through
a disaster, our responsibility is to help them. When we see a person who is
sick, poor or needy, or when we see a whole community gone through some
disaster, actually we are also tested by Allah. It is wrong to leave them alone
saying that "if Allah wanted He would have saved them." Allah mentions with
disapproval the saying of some people:
And when they are told, "Spend of (the bounties)
with which Allah has provided you," The Unbelievers say to those who
believe: "Shall we then feed those whom, if Allah had so willed, He would
have fed, (Himself)? You are in nothing but manifest error." (Yasin 36:47)
In the suffering of those people our faith and charity is
tested. When we see a person in pain and in difficulty, we should pay extra
attention. It is possible that Allah is there to see what our response is. In a
very moving Hadith Qudsi, the Prophet –peace be upon him- said:
Allah will say on the Day of Judgment, 'O son of
Adam, I was sick and you did not visit Me.'
He will say, 'O my Lord, how could I visit You, when you are the Lord of the
Allah will say, 'Did you not know that My servant so and so was sick and you
did not visit him? Did you not know that if you had visited him, you would have
found Me there?'
Allah will say, 'O son of Adam, I asked you for food and you fed Me not.'
He shall say, 'O my Lord, how could I feed you and you are the Lord of the
And Allah will say, 'Did you not know that My servant so and so was looking
for food and you did not feed him? Did you not know that if you had fed him, you
would have found that to have been for Me?'
'O son of Adam, I asked you for water and you did not give Me to drink.'
The man shall say, 'O my Lord, how could I give You water, when You are the
Lord of the Worlds?'
Allah will say, 'My servant so and so asked you for water and you did
not give him to drink water. Did you not know that if you had given him to
drink, you would have found that to have been for Me.'
(Muslim, Hadith no. 4661. Jesus –peace be upon him- is also reported to have
said something similar. See Matthew 25:35-45)
To summarize we can say:
1. Sufferings occur to teach us that we must adhere to Allah's natural and moral laws.
2. Sufferings are sometimes to punish those who violate Allah's natural or moral laws.
3. Suffering of the righteous people also become a healing and
liberation for others. Those who patiently bear their pain and suffering are
also promised great blessings from Allah.
4. Sufferings of some people are a test for other people's
commitment to human values and charity.
Whenever we encounter suffering we should ask ourselves, "Have we broken any law of
Allah?" Let us study the cause of the problem and
use the corrective methods.
"Could it be a punishment?" Let us repent and ask forgiveness and reform our
"Could it be a test and trial for us?" Let us work hard to pass this test
with patience if we are suffering; or with charity and kindness if we see others
are in difficulty.
Believers face the sufferings with prayers, repentance and
good deeds. The non-believers face the sufferings with doubts and confusions.
They blame Allah or make arguments against Him. May Allah keep us on the right
Dr. Muzammil H. Siddiqi, Director of the Islamic Society of
Orange County and former President of the Islamic Society of North America