Buddhism Death and the Afterlife

The Issue of Evil and Suffering – the Islamic Perspective

3The Review of Religions – September 2004 The world today presents a devastating scenario sur- mounted by evil and precip- itated with suffering and pain. Pain and suffering affect so many people, including the innocent, the God-fearing, small children and the young and old alike, each and every day. Even I, you or the person sitting next to you may be going through a period of immense suffering – whether physical, mental or emotional. Suffering affects us all in one way or another and there is no escape from it. But why? Why should we and others suffer? Why would the One God, who has created us out of His love and in His image let us suffer? Why did He not create a world without evil? At first sight it is extremely difficult to comprehend or justify suffering. It may be credible to justify suffering that is truly self-inflicted or suffering as a result of punishment. But why should the innocent, young children or the God-loving suffer? I shall attempt to help you to understand the Islamic pers- pective of evil and suffering. Islam brings light and reason to The Issue of Evil and Suffering – The Islamic Perspective This article, based on a speech delivered at an earlier Ahmadiyya Annual Convention in Toronto, Canada, covers the reason behind suffering among innocent people, and the potential benefits that man can derive from such circumstances. by Dr. Iftikhar Ahmad Ayaz OBE – UK Sept 04.qxd 04-09-04 21:02 Page 3 4 The Review of Religions – September 2004 suffering and in essence one can then actually realise that ‘suffering is not always suffering’. Buddhism defines suffering (dukkha) as resulting from: 1. Torment e.g. old age, sickness and death; 2. Absence of pleasure; 3. The necessity of giving up what one loves and what one has become attached to, because of the inescapable transitory quality of all phenomena. It further claims that man’s selfish desire is the cause of suffering i.e. his craving for thirst (tanha). It proposes an eight-fold path to attain liberation (nirvana). Hinduism believes that all suffering is self-inflicted and justifies it with the concept of Reincarnation – lower or higher life forms based upon the conduct in the previous life. Islam rejects this concept because with His infinite powers of creation and evolvement, God does not need to recycle life and so evolves it continuously to higher levels. The Buddhist definition is valid but the affliction must be discussed at the universal as well as human level. The question of the presence of evil is more fundamental and the rational approach presented by Islam is the best. We live in a world of cause and effect and if we observe keenly we find that the entire universe is bound together in this system. It is because of this unchange- able principle of cause and effect that man has been able to make advances in scientific knowledge. A cause may be primary or the effect of yet another cause linking into a continuous chain. If this process comes to an end, it must be obvious that the final cause must exist by itself; it must be The Issue of Evil and Suffering Sept 04.qxd 04-09-04 21:02 Page 4 5The Review of Religions – September 2004 absolute. It is also obvious that a finite cause cannot be absolute for it will exclude some domain of process. It will not be the ending cause. Whichever cause or existence is absolute, all comprehensive and self- subsisting, must of necessity be infinite. The Holy Qur’an declares: Thy Lord is the final cause of all causes. (Ch.53: v.43) He is Absolute and Infinite in all aspects, in each and every attribute. Therefore, to be Absolute, His Power of Creation must express itself at infinite levels in each and every species. Whatever level can be imagined, matter, non-matter, anti-matter, fertile, barren, expanding, contracting, life, death, consciousness, uncon- sciousness, man with no eyes, with one eye, no legs, no arm, ugly, attractive, dim, bright – all levels must exist. The further away a level moves from the Absolute, the wider will be the gulf of relativity. It is this separation from the Absolute which implies priva- tion and evil. The existence of the world in itself is not evil. Evil according to Islam does not have a positive existence. Allah says in the Holy Qur’an: Do you not see how your Lord lengthens the shadow? Indeed if He pleased He would have made it fixed, but We make the sun a guide thereof withdrawing it gradually. (Ch.25: Vs.46-47) A shadow is cast by the objects that obstruct the light of the sun. It lengthens as the object moves away from the sun and contracts as it moves closer to the sun, disappearing altogether when the object is directly under the sun. The parable describes evil as a shadow resulting from the absence of Divine Light. Evil is The Issue of Evil and Suffering Sept 04.qxd 04-09-04 21:02 Page 5 6 The Review of Religions – September 2004 not a positive existence in itself. We can imagine a source of light but we cannot imagine an object as a source of darkness. The only way an object becomes a source of darkness is by obstructing the light. Likewise, it is only the absence of goodness that constitutes evil. In this light, Hadhrat Khalifatul Masih IV (the 4th Successor to the Promised Messiah(as)) explained suffering in his book Revelation, Rationality, Knowl- edge and Truth: God did not create suffering as an independent entity in its own right, but only as an indispensable counterpart of pleasure and comfort. The absence of happiness is suffering, which is like its shadow, just as darkness is the shadow cast by the absence of light. If there is life, there has to be death; both are situated at the extreme poles of the same plane, with innumerable grades and shades in between. As we move from death we gradually move towards a state of life which is happiness. As we move away from life we move away with a sense of sorrow towards death. This is the key to under- standing the struggle for existence, which in turn leads to a constant improv- ement in the quality of life and helps it to achieve the ultimate goal of evolution. The principle of the survival of the fittest plays an integral role in this grand scheme of evolution. This phenomenon is mentioned in the Holy Qur’an. Allah says: Blessed is He in Whose hand is the kingdom, and He has power over all things; it is He Who has created death and life that He might try you – which of you is best in deeds; and He is the Mighty, The Issue of Evil and Suffering Sept 04.qxd 04-09-04 21:02 Page 6 7The Review of Religions – September 2004 the Most Forgiving. (Ch.67: Vs.2-3) The profound philosophy of life and death, the innumerable shades in between and the role they play in shaping life and improving its quality are all covered in the above verse. It is the very scheme of things that God discloses here. We know that life is only a positive value, and death merely means its absence, and no sharp border exists separating one from the other. It is a gradual process, the way life travels towards death and ebbs out; or from the other direction we can view death travelling towards life gaining strength, energy and con- sciousness as it moves on. This is the grand plan of creation, but why has God designed it so? ‘That He may try you, which of you is best in deeds’, is the answer provided by the Holy Qur’an. It is the perpetual struggle between life and death that subjects the living to a constant state of trial, so that all who conduct themselves best survive and gain a higher status of existence. Herein lies the philosophy and the machination of evolution as described in these verses. It is this constant struggle between the forces of life and death which provide the thrust to the living to perpetually move away from death or towards it. It may result either in this improvement or deterioration in the quality of existence in the wide spectrum of evolu- tionary changes. (pp. 180-182, Revelation, Rationality Knowledge and Truth) The Issue of Evil and Suffering Sept 04.qxd 04-09-04 21:02 Page 7 8 The Review of Religions – September 2004 Thus loss, decline and death have been the vital constituents of the motive force of evolution. The question of suffering at the human level which is either self-inflicted or caused by events outside one’s control such as natural disasters or accidents also needs to be elaborated. Islam believes that only God is Absolute. Therefore on the plane of relativity, which is the human plane, there cannot be either absolute determination or absolute free will. Man enjoys discretion only to the extent of his pre-determined freedom. Beyond this freedom man is at the mercy of events outside of his control. Thus the human suffering can either be self- inflicted or imposed on him by outside events such as natural disasters or freak accidents. However, man cannot be credited or discredited, for certain, for the consequences of his actions. There can be innumerable causes deter- mining the resultant states and according to Islam no one has the right to judge except God. This earthly life according to Islam is Darul Ibtila, a world of test and trial and of earning, and the hereafter is Darul Jaza, the place of true reward both for the blissful state and that of deprivation. The Holy Qur’an says: As for man, when his Lord tries him and honours him and bestows favours on him, he says ‘My Lord has honoured me.’ But when He tries him and straitens for him his means of subsistence, he says ‘My Lord has disgraced me.’ (Ch.89: Vs.16-17) The next verse says that this is not the case. Both situations are a test and a trial, as is the case with everything else in this world. The states of pain and suffering The Issue of Evil and Suffering Sept 04.qxd 04-09-04 21:02 Page 8 9The Review of Religions – September 2004 are an indicator, a reminder to make man aware that he needs to change direction, and take corrective action. It can thus turn out to be a blessing. Allah says in the Holy Qur’an: And indeed We have sent Messengers to peoples before thee, then We afflicted them with poverty and adversity that they may become humble. (Ch.6: v.43) Again in Chapter 2 of the Holy Qur’an, Allah says: We shall surely try you with somewhat of fear and hunger and loss of wealth and lives and of fruits of your labour and sometimes your dear children will die, then give glad tidings to the steadfast, who, when a misfortune overtakes them do not lose heart but affirm, we belong to God and to Him shall we return. It is these on whom are blessings from their Lord and mercy and it is these who are rightly guided. (Ch.2: Vs.156-158) The Promised Messiah(as) says: This moral quality is called steadfastness or reconcil- iation to the divine will. From one aspect it might be called equity or justice. Throughout a person’s life, God Almighty manifests thousands of matters in accord with the wishes of a person and bestows uncoun- table bounties upon him, so that it would be inequitable on his part that on such occasions when God calls upon him to submit to His will, he should turn away, not pleased with the will of God and should be critical, or lose faith or go astray. (The Philosophy of the Teachings of Islam, p.41) To those who persevere in the face of trial, Allah has The Issue of Evil and Suffering Sept 04.qxd 04-09-04 21:02 Page 9 10 The Review of Religions – September 2004 promised: Upon those who affirm, God is our Lord and turn away from false gods and are steadfast, that is to say, remain firm under trials and calamities, descend angels, reassuring them: fear not nor grieve, and be filled with happiness; and rejoice that you have inherited the joy that you have been promised. We are your friends in this life and the hereafter. You will find in the next life all that you desire, and you shall have there all that you ask for. That is how you will be entertained by a Forgiving and Merciful God. (Ch.41: Vs.31-33) Now the question may well arise as to how one can find contentment and paradise in this world when one is perpet- ually burdened with afflictions and problems of one kind or another? First it should be known that they are really blessings in disguise and that Allah clearly states in the Holy Qur’an that He causes them in order to test and build one’s faith. They offer opportunities for one to demonstrate the depth of one’s faith and calibre of one’s character. Furthermore if one meets them with patience and fortitude, one gains the reward of Allah both here and in the hereafter. Allah says in the Holy Qur’an: And We will surely try you until We distinguish those among you who strive for the cause of Allah and those who are steadfast. And we will make known the facts about you. (Ch.47: v.32) Allah has made it absolutely clear in the Holy Qur’an that life’s journey is not intended to be one of ease. He says: And we created man to face hardships. (Ch.90: v.5) One should never moan or The Issue of Evil and Suffering Sept 04.qxd 04-09-04 21:02 Page 10 11The Review of Religions – September 2004 despair over trials and tribulations as this is an indication of weakness and ingratitude to Allah. The Holy Prophet(sa) has said : ‘For a Muslim, life is full of good, and nobody but a true believer finds himself in that position, for if he meets with success he is grateful to God and becomes the recipient of greater favours from Him. On the other hand, if he suffers pain and tribulation, he endures it with patience and thus again makes himself deserving of God’s favours.’ The second Khalifah(ra) has truly stated: ‘Burdens are not always burdens.’ This truth is confirmed by a well-known American writer who has said that in every adversity there lies the seed of an equivalent or greater benefit. That is to say one can find and gain some advantage from every adversity. He wrote: ‘I am thankful for the adversities which have crossed my pathway, for they have taught me tolerance, sympathy, self- control, perseverance and some other virtues I might never have known.’ Charles Darwin – the famous natural scientist of the last century was a man who suffered from ill health but made use of it to his advantage. He said: ‘If I had not been so great an invalid, I should not have done so much work as I have accomplished.’ The Holy Qur’an teaches that one should be patient in times of adversity when things seem to go wrong and against one’s personal interests. One should not despair or become unduly frustrated. Only then can one The Issue of Evil and Suffering Sept 04.qxd 04-09-04 21:02 Page 11 12 The Review of Religions – September 2004 enjoy the sweetness of paradise in the midst of the storms of life. Misfortunes are inevitable. One must learn to bear and cope with them patiently and successfully. This is one of the important battles of life in which one must emerge victorious. One should not weaken under adversity but resolve to remain poised and strong in behaviour during the darkest night, just as one would during the sunniest day. Normally one worries an unnecessary amount over adversities, set backs, failures and disappointments. By doing so one cannot enjoy peace of mind which is one of the blessings of paradise. Worrying is generally caused not so much by the problem itself, but by the wrong attitude one adopts towards it. Take two people with identical problems. One frets and fumes and becomes highly distracted. The other remains cool and calm. The problem was one and the same but the opposite reactions of the two persons were caused by their different attitudes. Islam teaches that one should approach every adversity or problem with a patient attitude and if one does this then the state of one’s mind remains stable and poised with the result that the heart remains strong and at rest in spite of disturbing influences. One should, therefore, endeavour to be patient and seek the good in everything. Allah has decreed that no one will escape hardships and misfortunes. One should expect them and when they come to make the best of them without complaints or grievances and with a positive attitude. Then one can begin to find paradise in this world no matter what circumstances one has to meet in life. A sense of loss is a vital constituent of the motive for evolution that leads to higher consciousness, which is essential for deeper bliss and The Issue of Evil and Suffering Sept 04.qxd 04-09-04 21:02 Page 12 13The Review of Religions – September 2004 happiness and eventually to a certain knowledge of the Divine. Variety and disparity, in other words inequality, play a meaningful role in advancing human society. Of course, as a consequence of such a universal system, an individual can sometimes be at the mercy of circumstances outside his control and thus remain at an unfair disadvantage. This is the aspect of suffering which is foremost in the mind of those who repeatedly ask – why the suffering? Islam claims that an individual’s loss will be more than compensated in the hereafter. There is a Hadith which states that whatever afflicts a true believer, even if it be the prick of a thorn, will be counted as a recompense for his sins. Individual handicap is taken into consideration when determining a new level of life in the hereafter. Even in the hereafter infinite levels of the blissful state continue to exist in Paradise. Hell, according to Islam, is also a place of purification. After purification, all human beings are destined to enter Paradise. In the light of the verses of the Holy Qur’an and the Hadith, the Promised Messiah(as) says: ‘This thought is inherently foolish that man should stay in hell forever, in the same way as God is Everlasting. After all, God also has an involvement in their errors because He created in them powers that were weak. Consequently the hell dwellers have a right to benefit from that weakness embedded in their nature by God.’ (Chashma Masihi, p.47) How true and how wonderful is the declaration of the Holy Qur’an: And My Mercy is All- Embracing. (Ch.7: v.157) The Issue of Evil and Suffering Sept 04.qxd 04-09-04 21:02 Page 13 14 The Review of Religions – September 2004 Compensating factors do exist in this very life. We know that the seat of both physical and psychological suffering is consciousness. However, the threshold of pain is different for different individuals. It is relative and the perspective changes when viewed from different angles. This is well illustrated by the well-known anecdote of the man who had lost one leg. He was somewhat relieved of his deep grief when he saw a man who had both legs missing. Suffering is a great teacher, cultivating and culturing our conduct. It develops and refines sensibilities, teaches humility and in more than one way prepares us to be able to turn to God. It is said that if man felt pain in the tongue each time he spoke ill of others, the social evil of backbiting may disappear. Man can misuse his freedom and inflict an unbearable suffering on others. Although Allah has provided an in-built coping mechanism to sustain the pain, if the pain reaches beyond the bearable capacity of the individual, immediately a valve is triggered which switches off his consciousness and the man is no longer aware of his pain. Another compensating factor is mentioned in a Hadith. The Holy Prophet(sa) said that among those whose prayers receive acceptance are the afflicted. Suffering sustained as a result of love and devotion becomes a pleasure. To an onlooker, the loss of sleep and the inconveniences suffered by a mother tending to her child may appear as suffering, but the mother in fact derives pleasure from it. This is why suffering has been regarded as a test of one’s love and devotion, and the prophets have always invited their followers towards sacrifices The Issue of Evil and Suffering Sept 04.qxd 04-09-04 21:02 Page 14 15The Review of Religions – September 2004 and suffering on the path of love and devotion to God. A Hadith talks of a martyr who was told by God that He would grant any wish the martyr made. The martyr asked God whether he could be sent back again and again so that he could give his life repeatedly in the cause of Allah. Allah replied that if He had not already decreed that the dead cannot return, He would have fulfilled his wish. It is impossible to put in words the deep joy of unparalleled bliss one feels as a result of the deep love that Gracious God bestows on His true servants who persevere in the face of trial and tribulations and prove their love of God. Addressing Allah, the second Khalifa(ra) says in a couplet of his poem: ‘What I suffer at Your Hand Is not a wound But a remedy indeed So continue to inflict the wounds Without yielding And in this regard Show no concern for me.’ Suffering, according to Islam, can be the gateway to res- urrection, to rebirth and to new creation. Suffering in all cases is a transitory state leading to lasting bliss, joy and happiness. It is comparatively easy to see God in one’s gains, successes and achievements and to be grateful to Him. It takes higher spiritual awareness to see God in one’s losses, failures and occasions of frustration. He is equally there, if not more so, to recognise Him as the Forgiving God, and to be thankful to Him. It was perhaps in view of this opportunity of God-realisation, by resigning one’s will to the Will of Allah, that the Holy Prophet(sa) said: ‘When Allah destines good for someone, He afflicts him.’ (Sahih Bukhari) The Issue of Evil and Suffering Sept 04.qxd 04-09-04 21:02 Page 15 16 The Review of Religions – September 2004 Comparing steadfastness with the moral qualities related to the discarding of evil, the Promised Messiah(as) says: ‘To abstain from adultery is not difficult, not to commit murder is no great achievement and to avoid a false witness is no great thing; but to choose God over all other things and bear the miseries of the world for His sake with true love and eagerness; nay, but to create miseries of one’s own choice is a supreme spiritual station that is not possible to reach by anyone except the righteous. It is the worship for the performance of which man has been commissioned.’ (Haqeeqatul Wahi, p.55) Steadfastness no doubt wins the pleasure of Allah and deserves great spiritual reward, but what is its true definition? The Promised Messiah(as) says: ‘The true and perfect grace that conveys a person to the spiritual world depends upon steadfastness which cannot be shaken by any trial. It means a strong relationship with the Divine, which a sword cannot cut asunder and fire cannot consume, nor can any other calamity damage it. The death of dear ones or separation from them should not interfere with it, nor should fear of dishonour affect it, nor should a painful death move the heart away from it in the least degree. This door is very narrow and this path is very hard. Alas, how difficult it is.’ (The Philosophy of the Teachings of Islam, p.58) Again on page 89 he says: ‘The perfection of stead- fastness is that when one is encircled by calamities and life and honour and one’s good name are in peril in the The Issue of Evil and Suffering Sept 04.qxd 04-09-04 21:02 Page 16 17The Review of Religions – September 2004 cause of Allah; and no means of comfort are available, so much so, that even visions and dreams and revelations are suspended by God as a trial and one is left helpless among terrible dangers; at such a time one should not lose heart nor retreat like a coward nor let one’s faithfulness be put in doubt in the least. One should not let one’s sincerity and perseverance be weakened. One should be pleased with one’s disgrace; one should be reconciled to death; one should not wait for a friend to lend his support in order to keep oneself firm; nor seek glad tidings from God because of the severity of the trial. One should stand straight and firm despite one’s helplessness and weakness and lack of comfort from any direction. Come what may, one should present oneself for sacrifice and should be completely reconciled to divine decrees, and one should exhibit no restlessness nor utter any complaint, right till the end of the trial. This is the steadfastness which leads to God. This is that perfume, the fragrance of which still reaches us from the dust of messengers and prophets and faithful ones and martyrs. This is also indicated in the supplication: Guide us along the path of steadfastness, the path that attracts Thy bounties and favours, and by treading along that one which wins Thy pleasure. (Ch.1: Vs.6-7) (ibid). The suffering, the trials, the tribulations through which Ahmadiyya Community has and is going through today may appear to be a glass of bitters, but indeed they are the fountain The Issue of Evil and Suffering Sept 04.qxd 04-09-04 21:02 Page 17 18 The Review of Religions – September 2004 from which the victory of Islam will spring and mankind will be encompassed in eternal light leaving no room for evil to exist. So let us bear it all with absolute faith in the fulfilment of the decrees of God Almighty. Let us perceive and bear suffering in the true Islamic perspective and the true Islamic spirit with absolute submission to the will of Allah to seek His love and pleasure under all circumstances. The second Khalifa(ra) has put this thought in a beautiful heart-rending couplet: Oh! Our Lord! Whether it is Thy blessings or any trial We are happy in that which Has Thy pleasure The Issue of Evil and Suffering In this journal, for the ease of non-Muslim readers, ‘(sa)’ or ‘sa’ after the words, ‘Holy Prophet’, or the name ‘Muhammad’, are used. They stand for ‘Salallahu ‘alaihi wa sallam’ meaning ‘Peace and Blessings of Allah be upon him’. Likewise, the letters ‘(as)’ or ‘as’ after the name of all other prophets is an abbreviation meaning ‘Peace be upon him’ derived from ‘Alaihis salatu wassalam’ for the respect a Muslim reader utters. The abbreviation ‘ra’ or (ra) stands for ‘Radhiallahu ta’ala and is used for Companions of a Prophet, meaning Allah be pleased with him or her (when followed by the relevant Arabic pronoun). Also ‘ru’ or (ru) for Rahemahullahu Ta’ala means the Mercy of Allah the Exalted be upon him. Sept 04.qxd 04-09-04 21:02 Page 18