What Would A Muslim Say:

Conversations, Questions, and Answers About Islam

The Problem of Evil – Islam’s Response

I wanted to share with you an excerpt from my fourth book, Islamic Law, Theology, and Practice. Every now and then, I get the question of how an All-Good, All-Knowing, All-Powerful God could allow the pain and suffering we observe in life. . .

“I teach religious studies, so I am familiar with Islam and especially its history. What I am curious about is new thinking in Islam. The biggest problem for any belief in Allah or God is the Problem of Evil. If we praise God for creation then why do we not condemn God for causing so much suffering? If God is good then why is there so much suffering? The modern world does not sustain the old defenses from the past, we know too much about how the world comes into being to believe old myths and we know that we do not need a God for a moral universe. In fact God only makes the universe less moral because if we think of God as in control of creation then God is the author of all this suffering. It makes no moral sense to worship a being that causes this amount of unjustified suffering. What does Islam –what do modern Muslims– say about these issues?”

In the Name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful:

These are very good points. However, in this particular issue (the Problem of Evil), modern Islamic philosophy has not diverged much from traditional Islamic philosophy.

The Problem of Evil is usually stated this way:

  • P1. An All-powerful God would be able to prevent evil/suffering.
  • P2. An All-knowing God would be aware of all evil/suffering in the world.
  • P3. An All-good God would want to prevent evil/suffering in the world.
  • P4. There is evil/suffering in the world.
  • C. Therefore, there is no God that is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good.

The crux of the argument is that the existence of evil in the world precludes at least one of these attributes of Traditional God. The traditional Islamic response and what modern Islamic philosophers have not changed significantly is that there is a hidden assumption in this argument:

  • P0. The purpose of life is to live contented and blissfully.

Muslim philosophers to this day challenge this premise. They argue that this is the purpose of Heaven or Paradise, but not this worldly life. Rather, the Qur’an mentions in several places that this world is only a temporary proving ground, whose sole purpose is to test the faith of mankind. Here are some samples of these verses for reference:

For, He it is who has made you inherit the earth, and has raised some of you by degrees above others, so that He might try you by means of what He has bestowed upon you. (6:165)

By all this, God but puts you to a test-and so that on Resurrection Day He might make clear unto you all that on which you were wont to differ. (16:92)

And We dispersed them as communities all over the earth; some of them were righteous, and some of them less than that: and the latter We tried with blessings as well as with afflictions, so that they might mend their ways. (7:168)

Behold, We have willed that all beauty on earth be a means by which We put men to a test: which of them are best in conduct; (18:7)

He who has created death as well as life, so that He might put you to a test: which of you is best in conduct, and He alone is almighty, truly forgiving. (67:2)

With this goal in mind, then the conclusion above does not necessarily follow because it is possible that there could exist a God who allows the evil we see and experience for the purpose of testing the faith of men. Muslim philosophers argue that if the purpose of life was to eat, drink, and be merry, then yes, the existence of evil and suffering would contradict the attributes of God. However, if we replace that assumption with the belief that this life is only a spiritual test, then we can reconcile the existence of evil with the attributes of God.

Notice that this hinges on the belief in Judgment Day, the Final Reckoning, and Heaven and Hell. Since these are cardinal articles of faith for entire spectrum of Muslims (conservative to liberal), Muslim scholars have considered and continue to consider this a sufficient to answer the Problem of Evil.

. . . End of Excerpt . . .

Read the rest of this conversation (and more like this) in Islamic Law, Theology and Practice: What Would a Muslim Say – Volume 4. 

Available Now

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The Problem of Evil – Islam’s Response
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