Skeptics may focus on the negative aspect of things, claiming evil and suffering have no purpose to serve whatsoever.
Muslims believe that God created us for a test. In a verse in the Qur’an, Allah says:
The one who created death and life, so that He may put you to test, to find out which of you is best in deeds; He is the all-mighty, the all-forgiving. (Al-Mulk 67:2)
In some religions, a person’s good status in the world is seen as an indication that God is pleased with them. So for instance, if someone has a good job or a nice house the inference made is that God loves them. However, in Islam, health, wealth, poverty, sickness etc. are not signs of success or failure; rather they are a means of testing the individual to determine their response to a particular situation. But even when faced with hardships in life, the Prophet (peace be upon him) 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.” (Muslim)
Generally speaking, any evil or suffering experienced in life is the exception and not the rule. Illness is relatively short-lived in comparison to good health as are earthquakes in comparison to the age of the earth. Moreover, just because our intellectual capacity is limited and we can’t evaluate what the wisdom is, doesn’t mean it isn’t there. For instance, in some cases, sickness results in the buildup of immunity, earthquakes relieve pent up pressures within the earth, volcanoes spew out minerals resulting in rich fertile soil for agriculture. There is an ancient wisdom that states “Out of the snakes poison comes the antidote”. How else can one appreciate goodness without having experienced hardship to use as a comparator? Would it be possible to appreciate good health if illness did not occur?
“It is said that evil in the world is like the shaded spaces in a painting; if you come close to it you’ll see these as defects, but if you draw back to a distance you will discover the shaded areas are necessary in fulfilling an aesthetic function within the artwork.”
The story of Al-Khidr in Surat Al-Kahf is an eloquent account of how God’s wisdom, whether understood or not has positive benefits for humanity. Almighty Allah says,
(Moses) said, “That is what we were seeking.” So they returned, following their footprints. And they found a servant from among Our servants to whom we had given mercy from us and had taught him from Us a (certain) knowledge. Moses said to him, “May I follow you on (the condition) that you teach me from what you have been taught of sound judgment?” He said, “Indeed, with me you will never be able to have patience. And how can you have patience for what you do not encompass in knowledge?” (Moses) said, “You will find me, if Allah wills, patient, and I will not disobey you in (any) order.” He said, “Then if you follow me, do not ask me about anything until I make to you about it mention.” So they set out, until when they had embarked on the ship, Al-Khidhr tore it open. (Moses) said, “Have you torn it open to drown its people? You have certainly done a grave thing.” (Al-Khidhr) said, “Did I not say that with me you would never be able to have patience?” (Moses) said, “Do not blame me for what I forgot and do not cover me in my matter with difficulty.” So they set out, until when they met a boy, Al-Khidhr killed him. (Moses) said, “Have you killed a pure soul for other than (having killed) a soul? You have certainly done a deplorable thing.” (Al-Khidhr) said, “Did I not tell you that with me you would never be able to have patience?” (Moses) said, “If I should ask you about anything after this, then do not keep me as a companion. You have obtained from me an excuse.”
So they set out, until when they came to the people of a town, they asked its people for food, but they refused to offer them hospitality. And they found therein a wall about to collapse, so Al-Khidhr restored it. (Moses) said, “If you wished, you could have taken for it a payment.” (Al-Khidhr) said, “This is parting between me and you. I will inform you of the interpretation of that about which you could not have patience. As for the ship, it belonged to poor people working at sea. So I intended to cause defect in it as there was after them a king who seized every (good) ship by force. And as for the boy, his parents were believers, and we feared that he would overburden them by transgression and disbelief. So we intended that their Lord should substitute for them one better than him in purity and nearer to mercy. And as for the wall, it belonged to two orphan boys in the city, and there was beneath it a treasure for them, and their father had been righteous. So your Lord intended that they reach maturity and extract their treasure, as a mercy from your Lord. And I did it not of my own accord. That is the interpretation of that about which you could not have patience.” (Al-Kkahf 18:64-82)
Perceived evil or suffering also allows second order good. For instance if there weren’t any starving people how could we show our generosity? Similarly following the tsunami, humanity was as its very best and showed generosity and support by sending in medical assistance, food, money etc. Therefore a negative event enabled the positive to be manifested. On the subject of the tsunami, for those who lost their lives, although this may seem unjust it is because we are judging negative and positive based on this world, and neglecting the hereafter. It is possible that a person may get rewarded by something far greater than the adversity they experienced in this world.
Afflictions can also help individuals return to the obedience of God. In many cases, the returning to Allah and having full reliance on Him opens up doors that one could never have imagined. An interesting story is that of the musician Cat Stevens. “Stevens had gone swimming at the house of Jerry Moss, his American record boss, at Malibu Beach, and after a half-hour could barely stay afloat in the perilous currents of the Pacific Ocean. He attempted to swim to land, but the sea was too strong. He realized he was going to drown and he called out to God. Miraculously the tide swiftly turned, a sudden wave lifted him and he swam easily back to shore.
His inner faith revealed itself further when his elder brother David gave him a copy of the Qur’an. It provided the key to the answers he had been looking for: It was the timeless nature of the message, he said, the words all seemed strangely familiar yet so unlike anything I had ever read before. Privately, Stevens started applying Islam’s spiritual values to his own life: he began praying directly to God and gradually cut down drinking, clubs and parties. He retreated from the music business and finally embraced Islam in 1977, changing his name to Yusuf Islam.”
- Dialogue with an Atheist – Dr Mostafa Mahmoud
- Biography of Yusuf Islam www.yusufislam.com/biography/
Source: Taken from http://www.justislam.org.uk/ with modifications.