Why is there Evil and Suffering?

By F. Kamal

Note: If non-Muslims are reading this chapter please be aware, that this article was originally written for a Muslim audience and that unfortunately, it may sometimes be difficult to fully understand some matters “vicariously.” Even many Muslims find that Islam is often best understood when actually practiced (with sincerity). It is however offered as an insight for interested individuals. (So do consult with knowledgeable Muslims if you do not understand something here.)

Why is there evil in this world? Why is there suffering? Isn’t everything just plain unfair? Why are a Muslim’s duas [supplications] not answered?

Answer # 1

What causes evil? What causes darkness but the absence of light? Where can light come from if not from one’s Lord and Creator? Who is the wanton murderer and torturer but someone who has chosen to turn away from his Lord and thus condemns himself to be left stumbling in his own darkness? Where is there light except where God spreads it with His Grace on those who have submitted completely to their Lord — in full love and awe of Him?

Thus “evil” can arise because of the freedom of choice (e.g., to submit to God or to turn away from Him in rebellion), choice given to man for a short time by God. It is this freedom that will uncloak the good from the bad. We must remember that for many the world is full of (spiritual) tests — those who do well will go to heaven, and those who fail the tests will go to hell. However, if there were no hardship or effort involved in the tests — what sort of testing would it be? How effective would it really be in separating the good from the bad? Does not “to be tested” mean to summon up all your reserves to accomplish a task?

Does an athlete become one without years of dedication, enterprise, and hard work? Should we expect endless, vast fields of happiness and wealth in paradise with no sweat, no toil, no suffering?

Where is the logic in this? If everything is okay how will anyone be tested? Everyone will seem okay. A man shows his true colors under duress and hardship. Is there any better way to mark a person for evil then to have one express one’s evil? For example, if Hitler were given all the land, wealth, and fame he sought instantly without a trial, would we humans have known his true nature? Or would you prefer that these individuals’ inner evil remain hidden to the world and themselves? How pleasant would heaven be with backbiters, murderers, thieves, and hypocrites as your bosom companions and neighbors. Can these rebellious people inhabit heaven you ask? Nay, this is not a heaven but rather a hell. How effective is the test?

Sunan Abu-Dawud Book 40, Number 4726: Narrated Abu Hurayrah: “The Apostle of God (peace be upon him) said: When God created paradise, He said to Gabriel, ‘Go and look at it.’ He went and looked at it, then came and said, ‘O my Lord! By Your might, no one who hears of it will fail to enter it.’ He then surrounded it with disagreeable things, and said, ‘Go and look at it, Gabriel.’ He went and looked at it, then came and said, ‘O my Lord! By Your might, I am afraid that no one will enter it.’ When God created hell, He said, ‘Go and look at it, Gabriel.’ He went and looked at it, then came and said, ‘O my Lord! By Your might, no one who hears of it will enter it.’ He then surrounded it with desirable things and said, ‘Go and look at it, Gabriel.’ He went, looked at it, then came and said, ‘O my Lord! By Your might and power, I am afraid that no one will remain who does not enter it.’”

Imagine for a moment the reverse — the enticing things were outside heaven and the difficult things outside hell. Would the right people be in hell? How many tyrannical rulers have committed grotesque torture of their subjects, ridiculed the truth, oppressed the weak and helpless, and seized wealth beyond their needs to live in mansions, with fast cars and even faster women? The allure of the world is becoming indeed. The unscrupulous will not allow morality to stand in their way of devouring wealth and fame, surrounded by “beautiful art treasures,” trying to satiate all their appetites and vices, living “the good life,” “the life of ease and luxury.” Would you want these people in heaven?

Consider next the “loser” who offered food to a hungry person even though he himself had little and was hungry, or the individual who was “foolhardy” enough to fight for justice even though he could have “compromised” and found a position of power, wealth and influence oppressing those weaker than he. Consider the individual who was tortured, starved and beaten just because he tried to create a better world. Would you want these people in hell?

How do we find out the mettle of a person, what a person believes in, what he is made of? The hadith from Sunah Abu Dawud above tells you how God has chosen to mark the good from the bad, and God is Al-Alim (The Omniscient), Al-‘Adl (The Just).

Quran 3:142: Did you think that you could enter Paradise without first being tested by God so He could make known who among you strives hard (in His cause) and (who among you) perseveres (under pressure)?

Quran 47:31: And We shall try you until We test those among you who strive their utmost and persevere in patience; and We shall try your reported (mettle).

Quran 2.155 -157: Be sure that We’re going to test you in some things like fear, hunger and loss of wealth and self, and also in the fruits (of your labor), but give good news to those who patiently persevere, who say, when stricken with adversity, “To God we belong and to Him we return.” The prayers and mercy of their Lord are upon them, and they’re the ones who are truly guided.

Quran 16:96: Whatever (material goods) you have will vanish, but whatever lies with God will last forever. We’re going to compensate those who patiently persevered by rewarding them according to the best of their deeds

Quran 29:2: Do people think they’re going to be left alone by just saying, “We believe,” and that they won’t be tested?

We may be being tested even when we do not expect it, in forms we may or may not expect, as mentioned in this beautiful saying of the prophet.

Abu Huraira reported God’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) as saying: Verily, God, the Exalted and Glorious, would say on the Day of Resurrection,” O son of Adam, I was sick but you did not visit Me.” He would say, “O my Lord; how could I visit You whereas You are the Lord of the Worlds?” Thereupon He would say, “Didn’t you know that such and such servant of Mine was sick but you did not visit him and were you not aware of this that if you had visited him, you would have found Me by him? O son of Adam, I asked food from you but you did not feed Me.” He would say, “My Lord, how could I feed You whereas You are the Lord of the worlds?” He said, “Didn’t you know that such and such servant of Mine asked food from you but you did not feed him, and were you not aware that if you had fed him you would have found him by My side?” (The Lord would again say,) “O son of Adam, I asked drink from you but you did not provide Me.” He would say, “My Lord, how could I provide You whereas You are the Lord of the Worlds?” Thereupon He would say, “Such and such of servant of Mine asked you for a drink but you did not provide him, and had you provided him drink you would have found him near Me.” (Muslim 32.6232).

If one suffers, remember that the night is followed by day. “Know that with patience there is victory, with affliction there is relief, and with hardship there is ease” (Nawawi #19). See also Quran 94:5-6.

Please note that it is impossible for there to be full human justice on this earth. Consider the mother whose daughter has been unjustly tortured and killed. Even if (and it is a very big if) her killer is caught and imprisoned, has justice really been done? If you ask the family, they will undoubtedly note that their daughter is not back with them. Or consider a tyrannical ruler who tortured and murdered thousands of people. Even if he is caught and executed, has justice been done? Does one death equal thousands of deaths? We must remember our test on earth will for the most part establish accountability for the Day of Judgement when true justice will occur. God can do things humans cannot, and, if He wishes, He can compensate the victim and her family as He sees fit. He can also cause the tyrannical ruler to suffer the punishment of 1000 deaths, for on that day, our good and bad deeds will stand before us, awaiting judgement.

This test is for our sake, since God is Al-Alim (The Omniscient) and as such already knows the outcome (although we do have full moral freedom of choice in our actions). (see Sahih Bukhari 4.55.550). The test is for our sake. (We can image the Serb commander of a Bosnian concentration torture camp saying, “Oh I am one of the good ones! I deserve Paradise!” If there had been no worldly life, what proof would he have seen against his own statements? Yet now because of life, his deeds will stretch out before him and stand witness against him on the Day of Judgement. But God is, of course, Al-Alim (The Omniscient). One can use the analogy of the good teacher who can predict which students will pass or fail a test that he or she gives. It should be noted that even though the students have full freedom to select their answers to the test questions, that does not change the ability of a good teacher to predict passes and fails.1 Of course, God, who transcends time, knows and does not predict.

Answer #2

Sometimes we desire something that is, in truth, bad for us, or we despair when “hard times” strike us when in reality with just our limited knowledge, we cannot truly know if something we encounter will eventually benefit us or harm us – whether it is good for us or not—unless God tells us. Sometimes we are happy for a bad thing and complain when we really should be grateful. Perhaps sometimes God gives us what we truly need instead of what we think we want.

Quran 2:216: … you may hate something that’s good for you and love something that’s bad for you. God knows, and you don’t know.

So sometimes it is, in fact, better that we do not get what we want.

There is the story2 of the man who asked Prophet Muhammad to pray for him to become wealthy. The Prophet ignored him. Again he asked, and again the Prophet ignored him. Once again he asked, and so the prophet prayed that he be made wealthy. Now this individual had used to spend time at the mosque, but as his wealth grew he found himself in possession of larger and larger sheep herds. So he would take them out of the city to graze and he spent less and less time with the prophet and his companions – being preoccupied with his sheep herds. When the directive on zakat (alms giving) was revealed, the prophet sent someone to collect the zakat (charity) from him, but the man had grown so distant from Islam that he refused. Thereupon, the Prophet refused to accept any future zakat from him. Even at the time of Abu Bakr and Umar, when this man tried to pay the zakat both Caliphs (Muslim leaders) refused to accept it on the grounds that the prophet had refused zakat from him. The Prophet had sensed that wealth would not agree with this man when he had initially asked the Prophet to pray for him. Yet the man had repeatedly insisted …. Sometimes be glad you do not receive everything you ask for. Some things you ask for can lead you astray. You may not know, but God does.

In the story of Prophet Moses and Al-Khadir in the Quran (which is also explained in the hadith), God warns us about arriving at judgements based on limited knowledge and reminds us that absolute knowledge rest only with Him.

Sahih Bukhari volume 6, book 60, number 250: “Then a man came to Moses and asked, ‘O God’s Apostle! Is there anyone on the earth who is more learned than you?’ Moses replied, ‘No.’ So God admonished him (Moses), for he did not ascribe all knowledge to God. It was said (on behalf of God), ‘Yes, (there is a servant of ours who knows more than you ).’

…Then they returned back and found Al-Khadir. …When Moses greeted him, he uncovered his face and said … Who are you?’ Moses said, ‘I am Moses.’ … Al-Khadir said, “What do you want?’ Moses said, ‘ I came to you so that you may teach me of the truth which you were taught.’ … At that time a bird took with its beak (some water) from the sea. Al-Khadir then said, ‘By God, my knowledge and your knowledge besides God’s Knowledge is like what this bird has taken with its beak from the sea.’ “

The Quran proceeds to say what happened:

Quran 18:65–82: Then they retraced their footsteps and found one of Our servants upon whom We had granted mercy from Our Own presence and whom We had taught from Our Own knowledge.

“Can I follow you,” Moses asked, “so you can teach me something of the good sense that you’ve been taught?”

“You won’t be able to have patience enough (to learn) from me,” (Khidr) replied, “for how could have have patience in situations where your knowledge is incomplete?”

“God willing, you’ll find me patient,” (Moses) replied, “and I won’t disobey your commands.”

“If you really want to follow me,” (Khidr) said, “then don’t ask me about anything until I’ve spoken about its meaning first.”

Then they proceeded on (and took passage on a ship), but then (Khidr) damaged (the boat and caused it to take on water). (Moses) cried out, “Have you damaged it in order to drown those within it? What an awful thing you’ve done!”

“Didn’t I tell you,” (Khidr) intoned, “that you would have no patience with me?”

“Don’t hold my forgetfulness against me,” (Moses) cried, “not be hard on me in my position.”

So then they proceeded on until they met a young man, but then (Khidr) killed him. “Have you killed an innocent person,” (Moses) cried out, “who hasn’t murdered anyone! What a horrible thing you’ve done!”

“Didn’t I tell you,” (Khidr) answered, “that you would have no patience with me?”

Then (Moses) beseeched him, saying, “If I ever ask you about anything after this, then you have every right to part ways with me, and you would be fully justified as far as I’m concerned (to make me leave).”

Then they traveled farther until they came to some people in a town. They asked them for food, but the (townspeople) refused to give them any hospitality. (As they passed through the town,) they came upon a wall that was about to collapse, but then (Khidr) repaired it. “If you want,” (Moses) remarked, “you could ask them for some payment for (your labor).”

“This is where you and I will go our separate ways,” (Khidr) announced, “but first let me tell you the full meaning of those things for which you had no patience. As for the boat, it belonged to some poor (sailors) who used it on the sea, and I only desired to make it (temporarily) unserviceable, for there was a certain king coming up from behind them, seizing every boat by force. As for the young man, his parents were believers, and we were afraid that he was going to bring sorrow down upon them due to his rebellious and thankless nature. Therefore, we only desired that their Lord give them (a better son) in exchange, one who would be purer and nearer to a merciful disposition. As for the wall, it belonged to two young orphans of the town. Below it was a buried treasure that was their due right. Their father had been a moral man, so your Lord desired that they should reach maturity and find their treasure, as a mercy and favor from your Lord. I didn’t (do all those things) from my own motivations. This is the meaning of (all of those things) for which you had no patience.” (Quran 18:64–82; also see Sahih Muslim, book 030, # 5865)

We should not be envious of the life of pomp and ease enjoyed by a corrupt man of power, or discouraged by the straightened circumstances of an honest man. To call life unfair is truly foolish. To do so is to arrive at a rash judgement. Would you call the outcome of a 24 hour marathon race, 3 seconds after it had started? How accurate would your call be? Yet the life of this world is like a drop in the ocean compared to the hereafter. Says the Quran about the shortness of life of the world “(it will seem) as though they had tarried but an hour of the day” (Quran 10:45).

A human’s ability to discern what is good or bad for himself is very limited. Also remember that God is al-Hakim (The Wise) and al-Latif (the Subtle One). Perhaps you asked for wisdom, and God sent you problems so you would learn wisdom, perhaps you asked for wealth and God sent you lean times to teach you the thrift you would need to build a lasting prosperity; perhaps you asked for health and God sent you health problems to teach you the value of exercise and diet to build a better foundation for your eventual good health. Perhaps, God wanted to remind you the value of being optimistic ( “he who … (in all sincerity) testifies to the Best We will indeed make smooth for him the path to Bliss.” Quran 92.5-7) and positive (“To harbor good thoughts is part of well-conducted worship.” Abu Dawud #4975) even when times weren’t great. Remember to “trust in God. Lo! He is the Hearer, the Knower” (Quran 8:61).

Do not despair of God fulfilling your supplication, for anger and impatience about an apparent lack of results could void a supplication (Bukhari 8.354). Sometimes God surprises His pious servant with the way He chooses to help His servant.

Quran 65:2-3:… And for those who fear God, He (ever) prepares a way out, and He provides for them from (sources) they never could imagine. And if any one puts his trust in God, sufficient is (God) for him, for God will surely accomplish His purpose. Verily, for all things has God appointed a due proportion.

Sometimes God withholds the reward for your deeds. Do not despair if you do not get something you want in this life. Perhaps God will reward you with it or something better in the afterlife. The value of the afterlife after all is much, much greater then this very short life we live. Put your trust in God—for no one rewards better than He. “And [always] does He give you something out of what you may be asking of Him; and should you try to add up God’s blessings, you could never count them.” (Quran 14:34)

Riyadh-us-Saleheen, #1501: Hazrat Ubadah bin Samit reports that the Holy Prophet said: “Whenever a Muslim supplicates God, He grants him his supplication, or averts some equivalent evil from him, as long as he does not pray for something sinful or something that may break the ties of kinship. Upon hearing this one of the companions said: ‘Then we shall supplicate generously.’ The messenger of God said: ‘God is more generous in fulfilling your requests’ (Tirmizi). Hakim narrating from Hazrat Abu Sa’eed, adds: ‘or keeps a reward equal to his prayer in reserve for him for the Last Day.’”

How generous is our Lord who gives the believer one of three good options: 1) the boon now, 2) a similar reward in the hereafter or 3) averts an evil from us. So why should a Muslim be too concerned if he does not get option 1? This helps a Muslim understand the following saying in Abu Dawud, book 8, number 1483: Narrated Salman al-Farsi: “The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: ‘Your Lord is munificent and generous, and does not want to turn away empty the hands of His servant when he raises them to Him.” Truly, a pious devout servant of God can never thank God enough for the blessings that He showers on him.

Sometimes God delays a matter in this life. God speaks about purifying from falsehood in Quran 13:17 “Likewise, a similar kind of foam also arises when they heat (ore) in the fire to make jewelry or tools. That’s how God distinguishes the truth from falsehood, for the foam is discarded while what is useful for people remains on the earth. That’s how God lays out His examples.” The early Muslims suffered greatly in Mecca from persecutions, mockery, torture, and banishments. When they asked the Prophet to pray for respite, he urged sabr (steadfast perseverance and patience). In the heat of these trials the good was separated from the dross. The “fire” of the trials expelled the impurities of individual Muslims like the fire expels the impurities from gold or from iron ore to create steel. The Arabic word for trial is “fitnah,” which also means to test the purity of gold.

Only many years later in Medina were they strong enough to carry the awesome task of building a Muslim nation, free from the problems and limitations they had faced in Mecca. Had they been given a political community to govern earlier in their weakness, the “building” of Islam’s structure would have been severely compromised. After all, steel, which is smelted from iron in heat to drive out impurities, is much stronger than iron. Perhaps this is the reason behind the hadith: Abu Hurairah reported that the Messenger of God said: “He whom God intends good, He makes him to suffer from some affliction” (Al-Bukhari). (Riyadh-us-Saleheen #39)

Sometimes God uses hardship to teach people. Take the case of a smoldering building in ruins and bullet holes, or a bankruptcy. Sometimes one’s life seems to collapse completely. Says God in Quran 29:41 “The example of those who take protectors other than God is that of a spider that builds its dwelling (out of delicate webs), for the flimsiest of homes is the home of the spider, if they only knew.” Did you build your life on a spider’s web or a solid foundation built on God consciousness? Do you know what is really important in life? A solid foundation that will not crumble on you? What is ephemeral and what lasts? There is nothing stronger in life than to build on God’s grace, guidance and instructions. “…before We condemn them to that (dreaded) punishment, We let them experience some (lesser) forms of punishment here (in the) lower (life of this world), so they can at least have (a chance to repent of their evil) and return (to the path of God)” (Quran 32.21).

Sometimes hardship reminds us of God’s enormous bounty. After all, do not the sick develop special appreciation for health? “If you ever tried to count God’s favors, you would never be able to enumerate them all!” (Quran 014.34). You begin to learn the value of things. Someone who has starved is more likely to give to the hungry and be generous and more of a comfort to those in trouble. It makes him more humble and grateful to God. It makes him turn to God and to develop trust in God. In short, he develops the attributes of those more likely to be raised in honor by God. Sahih Muslim book 32, number 6238: “’A’isha reported God’s Messenger as saying: ‘A believer does not receive (the trouble) of stepping on a thorn or more than that but God elevates him in rank or effaces his sins because of that.”

While pain can come in many forms and from many sources, sometimes it comes from others who abuse you. Do not worry excessively, however if misfortune comes your way. Of course, there is normally nothing wrong with defending yourself against bad people. Remember also that God will compensate you for your misfortune if you are a pious servant of His. So do not worry too much. (Concentrate instead on pleasing God always). Do not forget that one of the names of God is Al-Muqsit, the Equitable, The One who is Just in His judgment.

Quran 5.27-29: Relate to them the story of the two sons of Adam in all accuracy. They both presented an offering (to God), but it was accepted from one, though not from the other. (In a jealous rage, Cain) said to his brother, “I’m going to kill you!”

“God (only) accepts offerings,” (Abel) replied, “from those who are mindful (and sincere to Him).” (then he tried to reason with his angry brother), saying, “If you raise your hand against me to kill me, I won’t raise my hand against you to kill you, for I fear God, the Lord of All the Worlds. As for me, I want you to take my sins upon yourself to add them with yours, for then you’ll become a companion of the Fire, and that’s the payback of all those who do wrong.”

The following hadith explains these Quranic ayat (verses) better.

Sahih Muslim book 32, number 6251: Abu Huraira reported God’s Messenger as saying: “Do you know who is poor?” They (the Companions of the Holy Prophet) said: “A poor man among us is one who has neither coins with him nor wealth.” He (the Holy Prophet) said: “The poor one of my community would be he who would come on the Day of Resurrection with prayers and fasts and charitable acts, but (he would find himself bankrupt on that day as he would have exhausted his funds of virtues) because he hurled abuses upon others, brought calumny against others, unlawfully consumed the wealth of others and shed the blood of others and beat others, and his virtues would be credited to the account of one (who suffered at his hand). And if his good deeds fall short to clear the account, then his sins would be entered in (his account) and he would be thrown in the Hell-Fire.”

Such is the “accounting” of the Day of Judgement. Everyone will be compensated in full and not wronged in the least.

Answer #3:

Sometimes calamity descends as a result of direct and arrogant rebellion against God.

Quran 29.38: And (the people of) ‘Ad and of Thamud—the ruins of their settlements are laid out clearly for your inspection. Satan made their (evil) deeds seem right to them, and he steered them all away from the path (of God), even though they were very far-sighted peoples. And Korah, Pharaoh and Haman—Moses went to them in the past with clear evidence (of the truth). Yet, they acted outrageously in the land, but they couldn’t get away from Us! We seized each of (those wrongdoers) for their sins. Among them were some who suffered from deadly sandstorms; some were shattered with deadly blasts; some were swallowed up by the earth, while others were drowned (in the sea). God wasn’t the author of their harm, however, for they brought harm to their own souls.

Consider if God had not destroyed them. Consider if corruption and evil were allowed to reign supreme how severe the test would have been on anyone in that society who even would try to do good. But God is merciful to his servants.

Sometimes man expects God to listen to him but he does not listen to God. Where is the logic in this?

Abu Huraira reported God’s Messenger as saying: “O people, God is Good, and He therefore accepts only that which is good. And God commanded the believers as He commanded the Messengers by saying: ‘All you messengers! Eat only wholesome (foods), and do morally upright deeds, for I know what you’re doing’” (Quran 23:51). And He said: “All you who believe! Eat of the wholesome things that We’ve provided for you…” (Quran 2:172). He then spoke of a person who travels widely, his hair disheveled and covered with dust. He lifts his hand towards the sky (and thus makes the supplication): “O Lord, O Lord,” whereas his diet is unlawful, his drink is unlawful, and his clothes are unlawful and his nourishment is unlawful. How then can his supplication be accepted? (Sahih Muslim, book 5, #2214):

Then there is this:

Narrated Anas ibn Malik: “God the Almighty told Ya’qoub (i.e. Jacob), through Jibreel: ‘Do you know why I took your sight and bent your back, and why the brothers of Yusuf (i.e., Joseph) did what they did? You killed a sheep and a poor orphan who was fasting came by and you gave him nothing from it” (Al-Hakim).

Answer #4 (For Muslims in hardship)

Did you think you could enter Paradise without experiencing what those before you did? They were tested through affliction and loss, and (some were) so shaken that even their messenger joined with them in crying, “When will God’s help arrive?” (Remember) that the help of God is always near!

Life can be a test. A difficult test. For those going through tough times, one of the primary causes of stress is worrying about one’s capacity to handle a problem. Is the problem just too big for me? But a Muslim need not be worried on this account. God says in the Quran:

No soul shall have a burden laid on it greater than it can bear. (Quran 2.233).

and the following:

Sa’d asked the Prophet (peace and blessings of God be upon him): “O Messenger of God, which of the people suffers the most distress?” He said: “The Prophets, then those who come after them (in terms of status), then those who come after them. A man will be tested according to the strength of his faith. If his faith is strong, then the distress with which he is tried will be greater; if his faith is weak, he will be tested in accordance with the level of his faith. Distress will keep on befalling the servant until he walks on the face of the earth free from sin.”

This means that everything dealt to you is within your capacity to handle Islamically. This in itself should be a source of great comfort. Also find comfort and tranquility in dhikr (remembrance of God). “In the remembrance of God do hearts find tranquility” (Quran 13:28).

One should also be careful not fall into the trap of despair which is a type of disbelief.

And who despairs of the Mercy of his Lord except those who are astray? [Quran 15:56]

The gravest of sins are to… and to despair of the mercy of God” 3

Also do not forget to count your blessings:

If you ever tried to count God’s favors, you would never be able to enumerate them all! (Quran 14.34)

If you are worried about having lost a leg consider the person who has lost two legs.

Sahih Muslim, book 42, number 7070: “Abu Huraira reported God’s Messenger as saying: Look at those who stand at a lower level than you, but don’t look at those who stand at a higher level, for this would make the favors (conferred upon you by God) insignificant (in your eyes)”

The companions of the prophet used to complain to the Prophet about the torture they were suffering…

Narrated Khabbab bin Al-Arat: “We complained to God’s Apostle (of the persecution inflicted on us while he was sitting in the shade of the Kaaba, leaning over his Burd (i.e., covering sheet). We said to him, ‘Would you seek help for us? Would you pray to God for us?’ He said, ‘Among the nations before you a (believing) man would be put in a ditch that was dug for him, and a saw would be put over his head and he would be cut into two pieces; yet that (torture) would not make him give up his religion. His body would be combed with iron combs that would remove his flesh from the bones and nerves, yet that would not make him abandon his religion. By God, this religion (i.e., Islam) will prevail until a traveler from Sana (in Yemen) to Hadramaut will fear none but God, or a wolf as regards his sheep, but you (people) are hasty’” (Bukhari 4.56.809).

A mu’mim (believer) is in a wonderful state. If good befalls him then he enjoys the good, if bad befalls him God uses it as a means to elevate him.

Sahih Bukhari, volume 7, book 70, number 545: Narrated Abu Sa’id Al-Khudri and Abu Huraira: The Prophet said, “No fatigue, nor disease, nor sorrow, nor sadness, nor hurt, nor distress befalls a Muslim, even if it were the prick he receives from a thorn, but that God expiates some of his sins for that.”

Now consider the difficult case of a woman raped in the Bosnian concentration camps, consider the cases of Muslims being unjustly imprisoned, consider the case of unspeakable tortures being inflicted on individual Muslims who profess Islam, think of the worst most tragic, most grotesque miscarriage of justice of which you can think. Now consider not the worst case of just today’s world but the worst case that has EVER(!) existed in the annals of time for mankind. What do you say about this one case? A case that stands as the epitome of seeming injustice. Herein lies the importance of understanding the differences between this world and the hereafter. Of weighing this world against the next. You see, God has put down a veil until the Day of Judgement when the realities of existence shall manifest themselves according to His command.

Sahih Muslim book 39, number 6738: Anas b. Malik reported that God’s Messenger said that one among the denizens of Hell who had led a life of ease and plenty among the people of the world would be made to dip into the Fire only once on the Day of Resurrection and then it would be said to him: “O, son of Adam, did you find any comfort, did you happen to get any material blessing?” He would say: “By God, no, my Lord.” And then that person from among the persons of the world would be brought who had led the most miserable life (in the world) from amongst the inmates of Paradise, and he would be made to dip once in Paradise and it would be said to him. “O, son of Adam, did you face, any hardship? Or had any distress fallen to your lot?” And he would say: “By God, no, O my Lord, never did I face any hardship or experience any distress.”

Most certainly is our Lord al-‘Adl (The Just) and al-Basir (The All-Seeing). All praise be to God, our Rabb, the Cherisher and Sustainer of the Worlds.

Sahih Muslim, book 4, number 2000: Umm Salama, the wife of the Apostle of God, reported God’s Messenger as saying: “If any servant (of God) who suffers a calamity says: We belong to God and to Him shall we return; O God, reward me for my affliction and give me something better than it in exchange for it, God will give him reward for affliction, and will give him something better than it in exchange. She (Umm Salama) said: “When Abu Salama died, I uttered (these very words) as I was commanded (to do) by the Messenger of God. So God gave me better in exchange than him,. i. e., I was taken as the wife of) the Messenger of God.

When a Muslim feels despair and is on the verge of being overwhelmed by events, he should look to the example of our prophet. On one of the saddest days of his life, he was driven out, pelted by stones and bleeding, from Taif when he had tried to present Islam to them. Seeking refuge in an orchard, exhausted and greatly grieved, he said something from which we Muslims can learn much. He said, in this period of great anguish:

“O God! To You alone I make complaint of my helplessness, the paucity of my resources and my insignificance before mankind. You are the most Merciful of the mercifuls. You are the Lord of the helpless and the weak, O Lord of mine! Into whose hands would You abandon me: into the hands of an unsympathetic distant relative who would sullenly frown at me, or to the enemy who has been given control over my affairs? But if Your wrath does not fall on me, there is nothing for me to worry about.” “I seek protection in the light of Your Countenance, which illuminates the heavens and dispels darkness, and which controls all affairs in this world as well as in the Hereafter. May it never be that I should incur Your wrath, or that You should be wrathful to me. And there is no power nor resource, but Yours alone.”

We should remember that a pious Muslim’s immediate concern is whether he has angered His Lord, but if this is not the case he turns to His Lord in recognition of the true reality of affairs. For he realizes that God is the source of all strength and power. He remembers His Grace and asks for His Mercy. And he knows that if his Lord is not unhappy with him he has nothing to fear.

Finally, the intelligent servant of God uses the hardship as a reminder to turn to God, but be not among those who are forgetful or ungrateful and forget God when God removes the hardship from them. Remember God in hardship and ease.

He’s the One Who makes it easy for you to travel over the land and sea. You board ships and sail along on them with favourable winds, and (the sailors) are pleased with their (progress). However, when a storm arises and the waves begin to assault them from all sides, they feel as if they’re going to perish. Then (they realize) that all religion belongs to God, so they cry out to Him, (pledging to serve Him) sincerely, saying, “If you save us from this, then we’ll be forever grateful!” Then, when He saves them, they act outrageously throughout the earth (once more) against all right! All you people! Your rebellion is against your own souls! (There’s only a) short time to enjoy the life of this world—and then you’re going to come back to Us, and that’s when We’re going to tell you the meaning of everything you ever did. (Quran 10:22-23)

Remember God in hardship and ease.

Note: Now a note about “fatalism,” a term that reeks of many negative connotations that some elements have tried to associate with it. Islam does not advocate “fatalism,” which implies laziness. In reality, anyone who has tried to strive in the way of God knows it is the opposite of laziness. But, if God has decreed something and one truly has no control over it, a Muslim does not waste time getting upset or stressed out about it.

These are just a few possible answers and of course, as always, only God truly knows the full answers best

(Excerpt from book "Easily Understand Islam")

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1 Another possible explanation I heard is that God is outside our universe’s time-frame. Therefore God can, for example, examine the choices you made through free will and work His plan around that. Bonus insight: This can also explain God being an “uncaused” cause. (As opposed to everything else one typically encounters that has a cause -e.g. the cause and effect argument). Since God is outside our universe’s time frame He does not need a cause. For example, one possible explanation uses the big bang theory’s notion that time and space for our universe began at the initial singularity which has been calculated to have occurred many billion years ago. And of course, Muslims believe God created the universe and that God, existed before the big bang. (Future theories may offer different possibilities.)

On a personal level, I would note that “time” is a very unusual concept.

2 Not all Muslims accept this particular account of this specific story, but the story is helpful as a cautionary tale.

3 Said by Ibn Masood, reported by Abd al-Razzaaq and classified as sahih by al-Haythami and Ibn Katheer.