The question that is often posed:
“If God is All-Powerful, He must be able to prevent evil. If God is All-Good, He must want to prevent evil. But evil and suffering exist. How is it possible for God to be both All-Powerful and All-Good and still allow a world in which evil and suffering exist?”
There are manifold reasons, beyond our limited understanding, why God allows evil to happen in this world. Nor can intellect arrive, in its limited understanding, as to what is really good and evil. Something may appear to be evil, but in the long run be a good thing. Take fighting for example. Allah says about fighting in the way of Allah
“Perhaps you hate a thing and it is good for you, and perhaps you love a thing and it is bad for you. And Allah Knows, while you know not.” The Qur’an, Chapter 2, Surat ul-Baqarah, passage 216.
Fighting is the total opposite of peace but is used in instances in order to establish peace. There are many things that are seeming evil but good for us in the long run. Some medical cures are derived from poison and use for healing. Earthquakes relieve pressure and prevent the earth’s crust from being destroyed. Likewise, people become stronger from going through bad experiences, it shapes and defines their character. In fact, grateful people are thankful for their experiences because it made them the person they are today. Allah knows best the outcome.
When Allah announced that He was going to put a vicegerent in the earth, the angels asked a very similar question regarding the “problem of evil”. They said:
“Will you place in it somebody who will cause havoc and bloodshed on the earth, whereas we glorify and praise you?
Allah replied to the Angels saying, “I know what you know not”. On hearing this, the angels submitted to Allah’s wisdom and infinite knowledge saying:
“Glory be to you! No knowledge do we have except what You have taught us, indeed You are the all-wise, the all-knowing” The Qur’an, Chapter 2, Surat ul-Baqarah, passages 30-32
The Qur’an also narrates to us about the dialogue between Prophet Moses, alayhi as-salaam, and Khidr, alayhi as-salam, in 18th chapter, Surat ul-Kahf,, where Moses, alayhi as-salaam, was shown to have a short-term vision in regards to three seemingly questionable actions that Khidr had committed. Khidr had warned Moses, alayhi as-salaam, not to ask and have patience until all things were made clear [ayah 70], yet Moses, alayhi as-salaam, continued to question Khidr, rigorously about these actions.
Such passages only demonstrate the fact that we will always have a limited understanding regarding the will of Allah and the unseen, we will never know the bigger picture to Allah’s divine planning, and owing to this, there is no absolute definite answer as to why Allah has allowed war and suffering on this planet. However, what we do know, in our limited knowledge, and the reasons given through the revelation, is that there a number of reasons as to why nations go to war, and why people are left to suffer, and due to the number of these reasons, the answer is multi-faceted, depending on various possibilities and situations.
1. Free will, Human Responsibility, and Accountability
The first line of reasoning I shall present is free will, human responsibility, and their accountability. A lot of the suffering, in this world, is due to the evil that emanates from other humans. Going back to the account that we mentioned earlier, Allah told the Angels that He intended to put a vicegerent [Ar. Khaleefah] in the earth. This passage from the Qur’an demonstrates that Allah has allocated mankind the responsibility the welfare of this planet.
With this great responsibility, He revealed to us instructions, within the Qur’an, how to keep the peace, protect, and take care of the earth and its inhabitants. Therefore, when these divine injunctions go ignored, God cannot be blamed for the result. Human suffering and abject poverty are a direct result of human oppression. Allah says in the Qur’an
“Corruption has appeared throughout land and sea because of what people’s own hands have brought about” [The Qur’an, Chapter, Surat ar-Rum, passage 41
Allah is not to blame for the evil that happens, Allah only calls to goodness:
“Allah does not enjoin what is evil. Do you say about Allah what you do not know? Say, “My Lord orders you to act justly” The Qur’an, Chapter 7, Surat ul-Ar’aaf, passages 28-29
When the divine injunctions are not practiced and people do not act with justice, the evil of injustice arises, and irreligious people – even those posing to be religious – cause havoc throughout the earth. We may even know of living examples of such people in this time that befit the description
“When it is said to them, ‘do not cause havoc in the earth, they say, ‘We are only the peacemakers” The Qur’an, Chapter 2, Surat ul-Baqarah, passage 11.
We should be all aware that, in this present age, not enough is being done by world leaders to offer ideal solutions that would eradicate world suffering. Instead, they allocate billions of pounds on war weapons to bomb other countries, and as a result, add to the suffering and poverty that already exists. Humans have been warned through the revelation of their pending consequences for causing corruption in the earth. Each person will be held accountable by God for their deeds, good or bad. In Surat ul-Zalzalah we are told:
“Whoever does an atom weight of good shall see it, and whoever shall do an atom-weight of evil shall see it”.
We are told further in Surat ul-Imran, passage 161-162:
“Every soul will be paid in full for what it earned. They will not be wronged. Is somebody who pursues the pleasure of Allah the same as somebody who incurs the displeasure of Allah and whose refuge is the hellfire? What an evil destination”
For the doers of evil, there will be no escape. They will be made to account for all their wicked deeds and the suffering they have caused to other living beings. Why then, would Allah allow for the wickedness of such people?
Allah could have easily created all of His creation to believe and obey Him, but He did not. In one hadeeth, Prophet Muhammad, sal Allahu ‘alayhi wasallam, told us that Allah said:
“O my slaves, Indeed I have made injustice forbidden for Myself, and I have forbidden it for you all, so do not do injustice” Saheeh Muslim
Allah, the all-Just did not compel His creation to believe and obey Him, but out of His justice, He gave every human the right of free will to choose whether they want to believe or not, and to choose whether they want to obey Him, or disobey Him. Allah says in the Qur’an:
“Say, ‘The truth is from your Lord, so whoever wills – let him believe; and whoever wills – let him disbelieve.” [The Qur’an, Chapter 18, Surat al-Kahf, passage 29
Mankind can never claim that Allah has wronged by not giving them free will. Allah forbade for Himself to deprive anybody of free will. He created mankind, gave them free will and sent down guidance that instructed them to goodness and forbade them to from wrongdoing and oppression. Yet the disobedient have ignored such guidance only to perpetrate evil and suffering on others.
It is not as if Allah has allowed this world to be overcome with evil. He has revealed many injunctions that provide solutions to our everyday problems, even that of warfare, poverty, and suffering. For example, fighting has been revealed to aid the oppressed:
“What reason could you have for not fighting in the way of Allah – for those men, women, and children are who oppressed and say “O Lord, take us out of this city who inhabitants are oppressive! Give us a protector from You, give us a helper from You” [The Qur’an, Chapter 4, Surah an-Nisaa, passage 75]
It is Allah that has given an ideal solution to humanity via the values found in the Qur’an. He has commanded the believers to practice charity, help the oppressed, feed the poor. The believers have been made responsible for taking care of those who are in dire need of support. Charity is such a religious obligation, that if rejected, one is not a Muslim. The absence of such values only allows evil to remain unchecked, and for poverty and suffering to exist. Had mankind adhered to the values found in the Qur’an, the problem of evil, and hence, poverty and suffering would have been kept to a minimum.
2. Because of our own actions
Another one of the many reasons why people suffer is because of the wrong-doing that people have perpetrated onto others. We have all heard the universals “What goes around comes around” and “You reap what you sow”. In many instances of our personal life, we have done something that we have regretted after it has happened to us in return. Another universal is “Do not throw stones if you live in a glass house”. Therefore, what we inflict upon others will be inflicted on us, and this is only from the divine justice of Allah. He says:
“Whatever misfortune happens to you, is because of the things your hands have wrought, and for many (of them) He grants forgiveness”. [The Qur’an, Chapter 42, passage 30]
The same holds true for nations that oppress others through warfare
And were it not that Allah checks the people, some by means of others, there would have been demolished monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques in which the name of Allah is much mentioned. And Allah will surely support those who support Him. Indeed, Allah is Powerful and Exalted in Might. The Qur’an, Chapter 22, passage 40
3. A Test of Patience and Endurance for the Believers
Sometimes, even believing people are made to suffer. The believers are constantly reminded throughout the Qur’an that this world is only temporal and that this word is the battleground of the Shaytaan. Allah has said in the Qur’an:
“Verily, we have created man into a life of pain, toil, and trial (Quran 90:4).”
In one hadeeth, Prophet Muhammad, sal Allahu ‘alayhi wasallam, said:
“This world is a prison for a believer and a garden of paradise for the disbeliever” Jami’ at-Tirmidhi
To the believer, suffering is a cause of forgiveness from Allah, eradicating any wrongdoings they may have done. Therefore, any suffering, even if its divine punishment, acts as a purifier to the believer, as they are paying for the wrong-doings in this life. Prophet Muhammad, sal Allahu ‘alayhi wasallam, said:
“No calamity befalls a Muslim, but that Allah expiates some of his sins because of it, even though it were the prick from a thorn.”
For such believers, Allah advises to trust in Him, have patience in His plan, and to be steadfast. This is indeed a great test for them. Allah has said in the Qur’an:
“Do the people think that they will be left to say, “We believe,” without being put to the test? [29:2]
Also, Allah has said:
“And most certainly we should try you by means of fear, hunger, and loss of worldly goods, of life or of labour’s fruit. But give glad tiding unto those who are patient in adversity, who when the calamity befalls them, say, ‘Verily unto God we belong and verily unto him we shall return” (2:155-156).”
Prophet Muhammad, sal Allahu ‘alayhi wasallam, said about such believers who show patience in the face of adversity:
“How amazing is the case of the believer; there is good for him in everything, and this characteristic is exclusively for him alone. If he experiences something pleasant, he is thankful, and that is good for him; and if he comes across some adversity, he is patient, and that is good for him.”
We have given three premises as to why evil is allowed to exist within the word. In the absence of goodness, we will always be faced with evil. Allah is not to blame for such evil, nor can He be questioned. However, mankind will be made to stand account for their choices. Whether they chose to do good or perpetrate evil on others, it will be Allah doing the questioning. Allah will not be made to account for the free will of those who chose to act rebellious. “He cannot be questioned for His actions, but they will be questioned for theirs” [The Qur’an, Chapter 21, passage 23]
And Allah, certainly, knows best.