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The Problem of Evil in Islam and How Muslims Cope With Suffering and Evil Qasim Latifi

Introduction Throughout history, there has always been a problem of reconciling the existence of evil with the existence of an omnipotent, benevolent, absolute good God. Simply called the problem of evil, this idea questions why there is evil and suffering if there is an all-mighty and good God. As such, this poses problems for monotheistic religions. Furthermore, the problem itself doesnt present methods to deal with suffering yet it is vital to understand why there is evil and suffering for followers of Islam to be able to cope with it. In this short essay I discuss how the monotheistic religion of Islam copes with the problem of suffering and evil in the world, first by detailing the problem itself and explaining why it is such a threat to monotheistic religions, then by presenting the origins of evil and why it was created and finally how Muslims cope with it, all from an Islamic perspective.

The Problem of Evil

The problem of evil refers to an ongoing, and perhaps unending philosophical and theological debate about the nature of God, the existence of God, and how a person can resolve the question of why evil exists in the world. The argument can be summarised as follows: 1. If an all-powerful and absolute good God exists, then evil does not. 2. There is evil in the world. 3. Therefore, God doesnt exist. 1 The argument here is that God exists and is omnipotent, omniscient and perfectly good. If he is perfectly good then there should be no evil. Monotheistic religions are fundamentally based on the existence of such a God, thus the problem of evil poses a threat. 2 This manner of thinking is futile as it doesnt provide means by which one could cope with suffering, yet it had to be presented as background information, thus for the remainder of the essay I will not consider the argument further. Let us now consider, the origins of evil, why it exists and how followers of Islam cope with it.

S. Law., The Evil-God Challenge. Cambridge, 2010, p. 353-373; I. Corban., Nursi on Theodicy: a new theological perspective, Hanover, 2010, pp.111-35; M.L Peterson., God and Evil: An Introduction to the Issues, Colorado, 1998, p. 17. 2 W.L Rowe., The Problem of Evil and Some Varieties of Atheism . American Philosophical Quarterly, 1979, p. 337; C. Meister., Introducing Philosophy of Religion. Routledge, 2009, p. 134; I. Corban., Nursi on Theodicy: a new theological perspective, Hanover, 2010, pp.111-35.

Islamic Perspective on Evil and Suffering The term Islam translates to submission and can therefore be defined as voluntary submission to the will of God. This divine will of God is embodied in the Quran and was interpreted by his last messenger Muhammad. Islam is a commitment of the mind and heart that is compatible with human nature.3 The Quran often refers to an innate duality within the human person which enables a simultaneous capacity for good and evil.4 The Quran mentions the act of the creation of humans, yet it also speaks of God breathing the divine spirit into a human being, together with the earthliness of humanity, thus it can be imputed that God intended to combine the possibility of evil with the prospects of good.

It is also mentioned in the Quran, that God created humans in the best possible fashion and placed them on the earth as a vicegerent.4 Having been placed at such a high station, it is required that one have the ability to accept or reject the terms of this vicegerency, thus one should have freedom. Freedom therefore demands that evil opportunities should be available in addition to the promise of good.5 Consider the following verse from the Quran: Behold, thy Lord said to the angels: "I will create a vicegerent on earth." They said: "Wilt Thou place therein one who will make mischief therein and shed blood? whilst we do celebrate Thy praises and glorify Thy holy (name)?" He said: "I know what ye know not."(2:30) Al-Ghazali asserts6 that one could deduce from this verse that the angels are created with an exclusive capacity to do good and humans were created with the capacity to do good or evil. That is why the angels express bewilderment over the possibility of evil being placed at the disposal of humanity and rightly predict the result of mischief and much bloodshed. Thus, the ability to bring about evil and suffering is in the very nature and construction of humans. Hence, one can argue that evil and suffering originated from God since it was God who gave mankind the ability.5 One might now wonder why God created this capacity for evil.

Why is there evil and suffering in Islam and how do Muslims cope with it?

Having established that evil and suffering are brought about by the ability of mankind to perform good or evil acts since God has constructed mankind with an innate duality, we must now consider, why God gave such an ability to mankind instead of making mankind perfectly good. The main reasons for this is; if humans were made such that they could only
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C. Meister., Introducing Philosophy of Religion. Routledge, 2009, p. 134 W. Cenkner., Evil and the response of world religions, Minnesota, 1997, p.70-80 5 I. Corban., Nursi on Theodicy: a new theological perspective, Hanover, 2010, pp.111-35; W. Cenkner., Evil and the response of world religions, Minnesota, 1997, p.70-80. 6 As cited in W. Cenkner., Evil and the response of world religions, Minnesota, 1997, p.72

perform good actions, then we have no free will and therefore cannot be held accountable for the actions we perform since they are subjected to our constitution.7 If all humans performed the same type of good actions, how could we distinguish between the good and the bad, between those that deserve eternal bliss in the hereafter or those that deserve eternal damnation? The free will response asserts that the existence of a free being is of considerable value, because with free will comes the ability to make morally significant choices. Al-Ghazali asserts8 that when a creature with the options of good and evil pursues the path of good and shuns the avenues of evil by ones own choice, such a person surpasses all angelic levels of spirituality. This is an essential quality that allows God to distinguish between the good and the bad. The question then arises, why did God give humans free will? Consider the following verse from the Quran: Alif Lam Mim. Do men think that they will be left alone on saying, "We believe", and that they will not be tested? We did test those before them, and Allah will certainly know those who are true from those who are false. (29:13)

The above verse explains the necessity for the presence of evil and suffering. God has given humans this innate duality and free will as a means to test and justify the eternal bliss or damnation that we are headed towards.9 Let us consider how followers of Islam cope with evil and suffering. Suffering and evil do not discriminate between people and their religious beliefs. Therefore, Aslan et al (2001) asserts that what matters is not producing a consistent theodicy to defend a particular belief in relation to the problem of evil, but rather how each person can psychologically and spiritually prepare to contest circumstances of evil and suffering. He further argues that Quran seeks to mould its believers in such a manner that they are able to combat suffering and eventually conquer evil.10 In support of this Huseyn et al (2009) asserts that there are many verses that note the nature of human existence and various forms of mental state, and show causes and factors of deviation and diseases in addition to improvement, education and treatment of the human psyche. This is further confirmed in the Quran: We reveal of the Quran that which is a healing and mercy for believers. (17:83) Throughout the Quran, instructions are given out to believers that guides and helps them cope with suffering and evil. Some of these verses are: Give good news to those who endure with patience; who, when afflicted with calamity, say: We belong to Allah and to Him we shall return. Such are the people on whom there are blessings and Mercy from Allah; and they are the ones that are rightly guided. (2:156-157)
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M. McCrod., Horrendous Evils and the Goodness of God, Melbourne, 2010, p. 26 As cited in W. Cenkner., Evil and the response of world religions, Minnesota, 1997, p.72 9 W. Cenkner., Evil and the response of world religions, Minnesota, 1997, p.74 10 A. Aslan, The Fall and The Overcoming Of Evil and Suffering in Islam, Netherlands, 2001, p.24-27

Allah puts no burden on any person beyond what He has given him. Allah will grant after hardship, ease. (65:7) Surely with every difficulty there is relief. Surely with every difficulty there is relief. (94:5-6) Such verses bring about a spiritual benefit and reduce the stress on an individual11 helping them to cope with instances of suffering and evil. Conclusion The problem of evil does not successfully dispute the irreconcilability of evil and the existence of God. It is necessary to have evil and suffering so as to allow free will and distinguish between the good and bad. Followers of Islam see this as a means of a test to determine where they belong in the afterlife. Given that there is suffering and evil in the world, followers of Islam cope with it by following spiritual instructions within the Quran that moulds their characters and psyche in such a manner whereby they are able to combat suffering and evil in day to day life.

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P.S Huseyn, Role of Quran in reducing stress and psychological security of people, Iran, 2009.

References

1. Aslan, Adnan., The Fall and the Overcoming of Evil and Suffering in Islam, The Origins and Overcoming of Evil in World Religions, 2001, p.24-27 2. Cenkner, William., Evil and the response of world religions, Minnesota, 1997, 9.70-80 3. Corban, Izzet., Nursi on Theodicy: a new theological perspective, in Nazif Muhtaroglu and Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka (eds), Classic issues in Islamic philosophy and theology today, Hanover, 2010, pp.111-35. 4. Huseyn, Puran Surati., Role of Quran in Reducing Stress and Psychological Security of People, Islamic Azad University, 2009. 5. Khan, Mohsin., Translation of the meanings of the noble Quran in the English language, King Fahd Complex, 2006. 6. Law, Stephen., The Evil-God Challenge. Religious Studies, 2010, 46 (3):353-373 7. McCord, Marilyn., Horrendous Evils and the Goodness of God. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 2010, p. 26. 8. Meister, Chad., Introducing Philosophy of Religion. Routledge, 2009, p. 134. 9. Peterson, Michael L., God and Evil: An Introduction to the Issues (Colorado: Westview Press, 1998), p. 17. 10. Plantinga, Alvin., God, Freedom, and Evil. Harper & Row, 1974, p. 58. 11. Rowe, William L., The Problem of Evil and Some Varieties of Atheism. American Philosophical Quarterly, 1979, 16: 337 Copyright 2013