You know the question why is there evil in the world? Why is there genocide or rape, or killing or wars? Why is there suffering in the world? Now this is a difficult question. And to answer this, we may consult with Muslim theologians, philosophers and masters of spirituality. And we can see how they approach this question, this difficult question.
Now we can come up with some several answers actually. One is this; evil must be put in the larger context of existence. Here is how it works; imagine a beautiful picture. And there are some dark spots in that beautiful picture. And if you just only concentrate on those dark spots, you will come up with this idea of darkness. But it’s not all dark. Yes there are some dark spots, and those dark spots, actually, if you can see the totality of that picture, may somehow be meaningful in the totality of that picture, in the larger context of that picture.
And those dark spots – Yes they are dark, they are real but they somehow are integrated in the total good. Also according to our belief, we begin everything with Bismillah. Bismillahirrahmanirrahim. In the name of God, The Most Merciful, The Most Compassionate.
Mercy and Compassion. That is the essence of this world. And if God’s first word is mercy and compassion, then the last word must be mercy and compassion too. And there are some accidental evil and ugliness and suffering, but somehow we must believe and we must have that trust. All of these things will be integrated; maybe at the end of this entire process, it will be integrated into the total good, into the greater good.
So this is one way of looking at the question. The other way is this, offered by the Ashariyyah and Maturidiyyah Schools of Theology, We must submit to the will of God. God’s will is ultimate. And we may not be able to understand everything about that will. We may not be able to access the Divine Mind. But we must have that trust, we must have that contentment, because God is good. God is All Powerful. We must have that trust in the will of God. We must submit to the will of God.
They are maybe quite ruthless to say that God is the creator of both evil and good. We must not question that and we must just submit. And this is also a possible way of approaching the question. But some others want to go further and provide an answer, more maybe convincing than these to this question.
Why is there evil? For example some actually deny the existence of evil. There is no evil they say. “Pravatio boni” as they say it in Greek. There is no evil they say. Evil, what we perceive as evil is actually a lack of good. For example illness is not a real thing. What you perceive as illness is actually lack of health, or lesser health.
So this is another way of seeing our glass full…Quite similarly, this is the dominant way of approaching the question among Sufis. They say this world is a mirror in which God’s beautiful names as well as God’s majestic names are reflected. This world is that mirror and these names must be reflected in this mirror. So God’s beautiful names right? They are reflected. God is the creator of a mother’s heart. That’s really beautiful. But God is also the creator of other rigorous things such as tsunamis or galaxies. God is the creator of both. And the world is oscillating between God’s majesty and God’s beauty. And we must accept that. We must be content with the reflections, with the manifestations of God’s beautiful names as well as God’s majestic names.
So long as we know that they are coming from the good moral, perfect and absolutely beautiful God, then we should be content with all the manifestations or tajalliyat, as they say of the names.
From another perspective, people like Al-Ghazali or Ibn-i Arabi, argue that evil is necessary actually. Evil cannot not be. That’s also another way of looking at the issue. Evil is like necessary shadow of existence. Evil has to be. It plays roles, and this is how they explained it. It’s quite philosophical, metaphysical. It is a deep discussion. But I will try to simplify it as much as I can. This is what they say; if God is infinite, there must be manifestations; because to say infinite is to include all possibilities. So these possibilities must be manifested.
This manifestation means or implies a distance between the source of manifestation and the manifestation itself. That distance also implies imperfection because nothing can be like God. So the world is created, yes. And the world cannot be like God. That is to say the world cannot be perfect. Imperfection is logically necessary in the world. That imperfection is perceived as evil. And imperfection is a logical necessity. That’s what they’re trying to say.
Actually you can draw the same meaning from “La ilaha illallah”. La ilaha illallah means there is no god but God. There is nothing like God. So if the world is created, the world cannot be perfect. Because there is only one perfect being and that is God. The world must be, logically must be imperfect. It is impossible to conclude that the world will be perfect. So they also say that evil is a logical necessity, it is a metaphysical necessity. It’s a metaphysically necessary shadow of the act of creation or the act of manifestation.
I know it is quite deep, you may not be able to absorb it when you first hear it. But when you think about it, it’s actually quite profound. So this is another aspect or way of approaching the question.
From another perspective, they also make a distinction between God’s allowing and willing evil. So God has allowed the existence of evil for the greater good. It serves some purposes and evil plays a role. In this way or another but it plays a role. It exists for the greater good. But God does not will it.
A distinction is made between God’s allowance and God’s willing. God does not will evil, but allows it for, or allows the emergence of evil as a side effect of existence one can say, for the greater good.
And from another perspective, evil is a test. Evil is a trial. That trial distinguishes the good from the bad. So it is a process of purification. Evil also exists as a test. This is actually one of the main aspects or main functions of the existence of evil in the world that is given to us in the Quran. Evil is a test, a tribulation that differentiates us.
This actually it is there to actualize the hidden potential within us. That’s what makes us “us”. So evil is this thing that helps us to realize the hidden potential within us – that’s God given potential.
From another perspective, evil has a relationship with human freedom. Human beings have free will because there is evil. Evil must be because we are free. To say that human beings must be free and there must be no evil in the world is a logical contradiction again. So since we are free and that is the most fundamental Divine project that we must be free and we must freely obey God, we must freely love God, we must freely know God.
Hence evil must exist because human beings will sometimes make bad choices. And we will witness the consequences of those bad choices. That’s another way explaining the existence of evil.
And let me give you another thing. Evil, they say, must be looked at with a perspectival logic. From one perspective things might look ugly but if you think about it, from another perspective the same thing may look good, or maybe just temporarily ugly. But in the long run things may turn out to be good. So let me give you an example; a garbage heap is ugly maybe to you, but that is a heaven for a cockroach.
So God creates for all of creation. It’s not only for you. So if you place yourself at the center of the world and judge everything from that perspective, this is quite delusional. One must elevate himself to that you know higher perspective and view things from that perspective. Maybe something that may look ugly to you or me may be good from another perspective. That’s also quite important to understand the function of evil in this world.
And I will finish with this. I believe the best answer was given by the Prophet himself,
Peace Be Upon Him. One day he lost one of his friends and He cried. This is interesting that He cried.
I believe the best explanation for the existence or the best attitude towards the existence of evil in the world, was provided by the Prophet himself, Peace Be Upon Him. He lost one of his friends and he wept. And His Companions wondered why are you weeping? After all this is God’s decree and we must take it with content
But He answered and He gave this profound answer. He said “The eye cries and the heart aches because it hurts. But the tongue does not say anything that will displease God”. Here you see this – He sees the reality of evil, yes it hurts. But He also tells us that it hurts in the heart, so you cry. It hurts. But he also tells us the tongue does not say anything that will displease God.
Here you see the appreciation of the existence of evil. It’s not a delusion. It exists. But at the same time, we believe in the Merciful and Good God. And if you believe, you must also believe that this apparent contradiction will be integrated into the higher good, sooner or later. And that trust is the best answer. We may not be able to understand all aspects of the existence of evil. We may not be able to answer all questions. But we do know this at least. God is Merciful, God is Compassionate and God is Wise. Whatever God does must have a purpose even though we may not be able to understand that purpose, or wisdom behind it.
We must believe that God is Wise and God is Merciful and hence we must have this existential optimism and trust; because that is going to provide light, even in the darkest situations. Thank you.