What is the Islamic view of the “problem of suffering”?


Someone asked Hazrat Khalifatul Masih Vaa about their son’s illness and asked, “Why does God Almighty not simply heal my son, when everything lies in His hands? One may say that man is punished for his deeds, but my son was born with this condition. What sin has he committed? All this is beyond my comprehension. Please explain this to me.” 

In a letter dated 4 February 2020, Huzooraa gave the following reply: 

“Man’s knowledge is very imperfect and incomplete in comparison to God, Who is All-Knowing. Therefore, it is impossible for man to understand the wisdom of every action of God Almighty. Thus, it does not behove man to raise such an objection about the Being of Allah the Exalted. This shows one’s ingratitude towards God’s favours, because the blessings which Allah the Exalted has bestowed on man are innumerable, and it is impossible for him to give thanks for all of them. That is why the Holy Prophetsa said that charity was obligatory on every joint of the human body every day because even if one joint was missing, his whole body could become useless. 

“Then, another piece of advice that was given to us by the Holy Prophetsa is that when one sees a person who is better than him in terms of wealth or physical build, he should also look at a person who is financially or physically weaker than him. Following this advice can inculcate real gratitude in man’s heart for the blessings of Allah the Exalted.

“Secondly, there are many secrets of human progress, hidden in these very works of Allah the Exalted. Were it not for these sorrows, afflictions and diseases, man would not even have been moved to think and develop and he would have become a static object like a stone. It is these afflictions that keep the desire for research and enquiry alive in man. Thus, scientific research and inventions often seem to be driven by a constant struggle to get rid of human suffering and discomfort.

“The third thing is that the afflictions that befall man are the result of man’s own deeds. Allah the Exalted has made a law of nature to run the system of the world and after creating countless things in the world, He has made man the ruler over them. Now, if man does not benefit from certain things or harms himself by misusing them, then it is his own fault. For instance, medical science has proven that certain weaknesses of parents affect their children. If full care is not taken during pregnancy, it can sometimes have a detrimental effect on the health of the unborn child. Mothers who are dieting sometimes have weak babies. Girls who have the habit of eating dirt during their childhood sometimes have children with disabilities. 

“Thus, afflictions are not created by God Almighty, but are due to the misuse or a lack of moderation with regard to this law of nature which was made for the benefit of human beings. However, Allah the Exalted forgives man many of his mistakes and protects him from their ill consequences. Allah the Exalted has elucidated this subject in the Holy Quran as follows:

“‘And whatever misfortune befalls you, is due to what your own hands have wrought. And He forgives many [of your sins].’ (Surah al-Shura, Ch.42: V.31)

“Moreover, it is also part of the law of nature created by God Almighty that everything accepts the influence of other things. Due to the same law, children also take good things from their parents as well as bad things: they take health from them as well as illnesses. If they did not inherit diseases or ailments from their parents, they would also not inherit the good things. Were that the case, then man would be a stone that would not accept any effect, good or bad, and thus, the purpose of human life would become void and man’s existence would become worse than that of animals.

“Fourthly, the life of this world is actually a temporary life and its sufferings are also temporary. And those who suffer in this temporary life, Allah the Exalted in return removes the suffering of such people in the Hereafter which is, in fact, the eternal life. Therefore, it is narrated in ahadith that even if a thorn pricks a believer while walking in this world, Allah the Exalted writes a reward in his account of deeds or forgives his sins.

“Allah the Exalted puts His loved ones through the afflictions of the life of this world the most. That is why the Holy Prophetsa said that prophets were put through trials the most out of all the people. Then, the rest of the people are tried according to their rank. Hazrat Aishara states, ‘I have never seen a man in more pain than the Holy Prophetsa.’ We know that many of his children died, although the grief of the death of even one child is immense.

“Thus, there are many divine pearls of wisdom hidden in worldly suffering and trials, which sometimes the human intellect cannot comprehend. Hence, one should try to bear them with patience and prayer.

“The Promised Messiahas states, ‘Sometimes the divine expediency is that man does not achieve any desires in life. There are various kinds of calamities, trials, diseases and misfortunes, but one should not be perturbed by them.’” (Malfuzat [Urdu], Vol. 5, p. 23, Edition 2016)

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