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Why Does God Allow Suffering?

Question and answer details
Terrel
2014/03/16
I am non-Muslim and I am reading a lot about Islam. I have a question and I need a comprehensive answer to it. Why is God allowing much suffering on earth?
Shahul Hameed
Answer
Salam Terrel,


Thank you for your question and thank you for your interest in Islam.


The problem of suffering has been haunting human consciousness from the moment man gained the power of thinking: The question is: If God is good and means well for humankind, why should He allow them to suffer?


The answer, one may say, can be found in the universal operation of cause and effect. Basically, human actions are motivated by the hope for desired results. It is the hope for the realization of these results that pushes us forward to do good work.


Islam teaches that evil, which causes suffering, is like one of the twins, the other being good. This is because good in our life on earth is ironically linked to evil. In fact, good in this world cannot exist without bad, as they are two sides of the same coin, and both are relative concepts.


The foregoing means that the inadequacies and deficiencies of this world offer us enough opportunities to engage in creative efforts for improvement; and thus they effectively make our life and work meaningful.


Thus, a little reflection would make us see that both good and evil are equally necessary for the spiritual development of humanity. The spirit grows when it confronts evil and overcomes it to do good.


You can read in the noble Quran, which Muslims believe is the word of God, what means:


{Nor can goodness and Evil be equal. Repel (Evil) with what is better: Then will he between whom and thee was hatred become as it were thy friend and intimate! And no one will be granted such goodness except those who exercise patience and self-restraint — none but persons of the greatest good fortune.} (Fussilat 41:34-35)


The foregoing means that in order to counter evil, immense patience is necessary. Similarly, suffering, which is a natural concomitant of evil, tests the worth and mettle of a person. And the spirits of genuine believers do not weaken under suffering; nor does suffering frighten them or make them desperate.


The superiority of Islam over other philosophies or ideologies can be seen in that it equips its adherents with the spiritual strength to confront evil and overcome suffering. A genuine Muslim accepts physical pain, disease, personal loss of life or property, as an unavoidable test of this life and strives to overcome them with a sense of balance and equanimity. God says in the noble Quran what means: 

 

{And certainly, We shall test you with something of fear, hunger, loss of wealth, lives and fruits, but give glad tidings to the patient ones.} (Al-Baqarah 2:155)


In order to face the trials and tribulations of this world with calmness, we need to realize that everything happens by the permission of God. And God says in the Quran what means:


{And with Him are the keys of the unseen; no one knows them except Him.  And He knows what is on the land and in the sea. Not a leaf falls but that He knows it. And no grain is there within the darkness of the earth and no moist or dry [thing] but that is [written] in a clear record.} (Al-An`am 6:59)


Indeed, God has power over all things; and the reason why He allows diseases and calamities in a particular situation is beyond our comprehension and for reasons that may not be apparent. Yet, out of His infinite wisdom and mercy, He wants only what is best for us:


{Their Lord gives them glad tidings of a Mercy from Him, and that He is pleased (with them), and of Gardens (Paradise) for them wherein are everlasting delight.}  (At-Tawbah 9:21)


Believers must try to view both good fortune and bad fortune with an equal temper of mind. The ultimate good they are going to get is certainly in the hereafter. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said:


"How wonderful is the affair of the believer, for his affairs are all good.  If something good happens to him, he is thankful for it and that is good for him.  If something bad happens to him, he bears it with patience and that is also good for him." (Muslim)


Islam teaches that the life of this world is indeed a trial, and what is most beneficial to us ultimately is the good we do. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) also said:


"No misfortune or disease befalls a Muslim, no worry or grief or harm or distress — not even a thorn that pricks him — but God will expiate for some of his sins because of that." (Al-Bukhari)


We humans are weak beings; and our first inclination is to weep and wail about our situation, but God, Who is Most Merciful, promises us that after every hardship comes ease.


{So verily, with the hardship, there is relief.} (Ash-Sharh 94:5)


When struck by illness or injury, believers put their trust in God, and are satisfied with whatever God has decreed for them. And at the same time, they pray to their God for the amelioration of the condition, while resorting to the means of remedy available to them.


It is not uncommon for people suffering from debilitating diseases or terrible disabilities, to thank God for their condition, or speak of the way pain and suffering brought blessings and goodness into their lives. When we are feeling utterly helpless and distressed, God is our only refuge. When pain and suffering become unbearable, only God can send us the means of relief.


Complete trust in God and total submission to His will enable a person to peacefully accept all the conditions this world brings — the good and the hard, as well as the exciting and utterly distressing.


Islam teaches that the suffering of this world is a means of our purification; and indeed, God is there to reward us abundantly in the hereafter for our losses and pains.


Believers never lose hope. They trust in the eternal benevolence and mercy of Allah, as He says in the Quran:


{On no soul doth Allah Place a burden greater than it can bear.}  (Al-Baqarah 2:286)

And,


{My mercy extends to all things.} (Al-A`raf 7:156)


Allah's mercy is all-pervading, and He fulfills the smallest need of the lowest creature in the most unexpected ways.


And Allah knows best. I hope this answers your question.


Salam and please keep in touch.


Useful links:


Can Evil Be Good?


Understanding Natural Evil


Do Good and Evil Come from Allah?


Reflections on the Existence of Evil


Fate and Free Will


Islam Between Surrender and Free Will


Why Do We Have Free Will?


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