[By Jamiatul Ulama Gauteng]
A sufficient response is to provide a strong argument that Allah Ta’aala has communicated some reasons to us about why He has allowed evil and suffering in the world. The intellectual richness of Islamic thought provides us with many reasons.
Our purpose is worship
The primary purpose of the human being is not to enjoy a transitory sense of happiness; rather, it is to achieve a deep internal peace through knowing and worshipping Allah Ta’aala. This fulfilment of the Divine purpose will result in everlasting bliss and true happiness. So, if this is our primary purpose, other aspects of human experience are secondary. The Qur’an states, “I did not create either jinn [spirit world] or man except to worship Me.”
Consider someone who has never experienced any suffering or pain, but experiences pleasure all the time. This person, by virtue of his state of ease, has forgotten Allah Ta’aala and therefore failed to do what he was created to do. Compare this person with someone whose experiences of hardship and pain have led him to Allah Ta’aala, and fulfilled his purpose in life. From the perspective of the Islamic spiritual tradition, the one whose suffering has led him to Allah Ta’aala is better than the one who has never suffered and whose pleasures have led him away from Allah Ta’aala.
Life is a test
Allah Ta’aala also created us for a test, and part of this test is to experience trials with suffering and evil. Passing the test facilitates our permanent abode of eternal bliss in Jannah. The Qur’an explains that Allah Ta’aala 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 The-Almighty, The-Forgiving.”
On a basic level, the atheist misunderstands the purpose of our existence on Earth. The world is supposed to be an arena of trials and tribulations in order to test our conduct and for us to cultivate virtue. For example, how can we cultivate patience if we do not experience things that test our patience? How can we become courageous if there are no dangers to be confronted? How can we be compassionate if no one is in need of it? Life being a test answers these questions. We need challenges to ensure our moral and spiritual growth. We are not here to party; that is the purpose of Jannah.
So why is life a test? Since Allah Ta’aala is perfectly good, He wants every single one of us to believe and, as a result, experience eternal bliss with Him in Jannah. Allah Ta’aala makes it clear that He prefers belief for us all: “And He does not approve for His servants’ disbelief.”
This clearly shows that Allah Ta’aala does not want anyone to go to hell. However, if He were to send everyone to Jannah, then a gross violation of justice would take place; Allah Ta’aala would be treating Moosa Alaihis Salaam and Fir’oun and Qaroon and Isa Alaihis Salaam as the same. A mechanism is needed to ensure that people who enter Jannah do so based on merit. This explains why life is a test. Life is just a mechanism to see who among us are truly deserving of eternal happiness. As such, life is filled with obstacles, which act as tests of our conduct.
In this regard, Islam is extremely empowering because it sees suffering, evil, harm, pain and problems as a test. We can have fun, but we have been created with a purpose and that purpose is to worship Allah Ta’aala. The empowering Islamic view is that tests are seen as sign of Allah Ta’aala’s love. Rasulullah SallAllah Ta’aalau Alayhi Wasallam said, “When Allah Ta’aala loves a servant, He tests him.”
The reason Allah Ta’aala tests those whom He loves is because it is an avenue to achieve the eternal bliss of Jannah—and entering Jannah is a result of Divine love and mercy. Allah Ta’aala points this out clearly 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 Allah Ta’aala’s help arrive?’ Truly, Allah Ta’aala’s help is near.”
The beauty of the Islamic tradition is that Allah Ta’aala, who knows us better than we know ourselves, has already empowered us and tells us that we have what it takes to overcome these trials. “Allah Ta’aala does not burden any soul with more than it can bear.” However, if we cannot overcome these trials after having tried our best, Allah Ta’aala’s mercy and justice will ensure that we are recompensed in some way, either in this life or the eternal life that awaits us.
Knowing Allah Ta’aala
Hardship and suffering enables us to realise and know Allah Ta’aala’s attributes, such as The-Protector and The-Healer. For example, without the pain of illness we would not appreciate Allah Ta’aala’s attributes as The-Healer, or the one who gives us health. Knowing Allah Ta’aala in the Islamic spiritual tradition is a greater good, and worth the experience of suffering or pain, as it will ensure the fulfilment of our primary purpose, which ultimately leads to Jannah.
Suffering and evil allow a greater good, also known as second-order good. First-order good is physical pleasure and happiness, and first-order evil is physical pain and sadness. Some examples of second-order goodness include courage, humility and patience. However, in order to have a second order good (like courage) there must be a first-order evil (like cowardice). According to the Qur’an, elevated good such as courage and humility do not have the same value as evil: “Say (Oh Rasulullah SallAllah Ta’ala Alayhi Wasallam), bad cannot be likened to good, though you may be dazzled by how abundant the bad is. Be mindful of Allah Ta’ala, people of understanding, so that you may prosper.”
The view that everything that happens is in line with a Divine wisdom is empowering and positive. This is because Allah’s wisdom does not contradict other aspects of His nature, such as His perfection and goodness. Therefore, evil and suffering are ultimately part of a Divine purpose. So something can be objectively evil due to certain variables or context, and at the same time it can be included with an ultimate Divine purpose that is good and wise. This evokes positive psychological responses from believers because all the evil and all the suffering that occur are for a Divine purpose.
Suffering of innocent people is temporary
Even if there is a lot of greater good to be actualised, one may observe that some people still suffer without experiencing any relief. This is why in Islam, Allah Ta’aala not only provides justifications for evil and suffering in this world but also recompenses them. At the end, all believers who suffered and were innocent will be granted eternal bliss, and all the suffering they had—even if they suffered all of their lives—will be forgotten forever.
Rasulullah Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam said:
“…the person who had suffered the most affliction in the world of those destined for Jannah will be brought forth and merely dipped into Paradise for a moment. Then he will be asked ‘O son of Adam, have you ever seen suffering? Have you ever experienced hardship in your life?’ He will reply ‘No my Lord, by God. I have never undergone suffering. I have never seen hardship.’”
Source: The Divine Reality