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Monday, October 2, 2023

Why the suffering?


 It has now been confirmed that already over nineteen hundred people have lost their lives to this monster. Of course there are other diseases in the world which do as much damage as the Ebola virus or even more. Again, there are hundreds of other forms of calamities which cause a lot of suffering to mankind. In 2004, tsunami hit the Indian Ocean and hundreds of thousands of people lost their lives. There was an earthquake in China, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and many other places in the world in recent years.  A devastating earthquake visited Haiti a few years ago where hundreds of thousands again lost their lives and many more were left homeless and hopeless. Currently, the so-called jhadists, Islamic State and Boko Haram have been visiting the world with untold mayhem. Not to forget the atrocities being committed in Ukraine and other places in the world. In all of these, hundreds of thousands of people lose their lives and indescribable suffering visit the people of these lands. Besides these, hundreds of others lose   their lives due to other forms of natural disasters such as flooding, weather or diseases, just to name a few.

Besides these, is the untold suffering of human beings caused by the wars that are fought in hundreds of different places in the world presently. Women and children are always the most vulnerable and undoubtedly they suffer more than any other. The massacre in Rwanda, Kosovo and DR Congo, the chopping off of hands in Sierra Leone and the savagery committed in Liberia are all causes of suffering to humanity. 

Think now of the other – may be smaller – forms of suffering brought to man by his fellow human beings through murder, extortion and tyranny. Families are destroyed and many people have to bear a lot of pain and suffering. The question one may ask is: if there is an all-powerful God who loves mankind, then why the suffering?

Through the ages, people of different persuasions have contemplated this question and tried to come out with plausible explanations. Everyone tries to answer this question based on some prejudiced view of one type or another. In this article, I want to first scrutinise their arguments and give, in my own limited way, the Islamic perspective on this question.

When confronted with this question, the philosopher David Hume of the eighteenth century put it this way: “Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then He is impotent. Is he able but unwilling? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Whence then is evil?” (Echoing Epicurus)

An archbishop was asked about this question not long ago and he said in reply, “nothing to say to make sense of the horror”. Another clergyman said “not with clever argument but with prayer”. 

Some philosophers argue that God allows bad action since preventing them would undermine freewill, the value of which outweighs its ill effects. This is an attempt to explain at least the suffering caused by human hand, not the one that is caused by natural disaster. True, this has some weight in it; for, without the freewill to do evil, avoiding it would not be a virtue. Will a eunuch be praised for living a chaste life? The answer is definitely not. He has no capacity to be unchaste. So the allowance to be able to do both good and evil is necessary for good to be valuable and avoidance of evil becomes a virtue. When it comes to individual’s doing evil, like murder, then what is the situation of those who fall victim to the callous actions of the evil doer. Have they wronged God in some way that they deserve to die at the hands of another? And will they be compensated by God? The answer to the first is that God in His infinite knowledge knows what is best for us and what is bad for us.  He allows some to suffer so that we will live in a better world. 

And if Allah did not repel some men by means of others, there would surely have been pulled down cloisters and churches and synagogues and mosques, wherein the name of Allah is oft commemorated. And Allah will surely help one who helps Him. Allah is indeed Powerful, Mighty. Al-Hajj, chapter 22: Verse 41

Also, the fact that the possibility of this crimes is there, will better man’s life due to the fact that he will be forced to use his God-given abilities to make                                                       laws and take security measures to prevent others from carrying out their evil desires. In the case of murder the punishment may again involve suffering, albeit necessary suffering. That is why the Holy Qur’an stipulates that: And there is life for you in the law of retaliation, O men of understanding, that you may enjoy security.

Here we are told that the law of retaliation, which involves killing the person convicted of murder, Allah tells us that there is an underlying wisdom which in the final analysis, results into life for mankind. 

The answer to the second question is yes, there will be a compensation for all those who suffer at the hands of fellow beings or due to some natural disasters. Allah and His Messenger have assured us that whatever happens to a person that which involves some loss will be compensated in the day of judgement, and even here on earth. This will be elaborated on at the proper place.


It is also true that true goodness occurs out of human suffering. To appreciate this better, try to visualize a world where there is no suffering or pain. The world will contain no one in need of kindness, comfort, sympathy or generosity. If these qualities we call goodness are not needed, they will not exist. Put all the moral qualities in this perspective and you will realize that they will all become extinct. This is why God created a world where there is suffering and pain so that these good moral qualities will continue to exist and be manifested at the right time. In other words, my dear readers! Remove darkness and light loses its value. Remove suffering and pain and the result is that ease and comfort will lose value. Do away with poverty and, who will toil to get wealth? This is subtly mentioned in the Holy Quran, the book that left out nothing for the guidance of man. Says Allah: 

All praise belongs to Allah Who created the heavens and the earth and brought into being every kind of darkness and light; yet those who disbelieve set up equals to their Lord. Al-An`am, Chapter 6: Verse 2

In the forgoing verse of the Holy Qur’an, Allah the Almighty informs us that both light and darkness originated from Him. In fact, a careful study of the Holy Qur’an reveals that darkness, evil, suffering, pain, sickness and other ‘dark’ things are not separate creations. They are simply the absence of light, good, comfort, health and other beneficial things. It is a lack of the true appreciation of this philosophy that some people believe that in fact there are two gods, the god of light and the god of darkness. This verse refutes that idea and claims that everything originated from the same Allah.

These things that we may perceive as dark, evil or bad are actually propellers for the universe. They serve as lessons for man to acquire knowledge and improve his living standards. We are put through a lot of trials and tribulations in order for us to emerge as better people. The Holy Qur’an has put this beautifully to explain to man the reason why we sometimes have to bear some loss one way or the other. In Surah Mulk, we read: Who has created death and life that He might try you — which of you is best in deeds; and He is the Mighty, the Most Forgiving. Al-Mulk Chapter 67: Verse 3

In this verse of the Holy Qur’an, Allah the Almighty has informed us that He has created the world in such a way that there is a constant struggle between life and death. Observed minutely, it will be realised that life and death are just another name for consciousness and unconsciousness. The more conscious we are the closer we are to life and the more unconscious we are the less closer to life and as such closer to death. Death is nothing other than the absence of life.

Musa Bah who writes under the nom de plume Tha Scribbler is the author of several books and an English teacher at Nusrat Senior Secondary School.


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