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Diseases, Calamities and Losses: Is God Really Merciful and Just?

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Hardships, accidents, marital woes, sickness, loss of beloved family members, and other “bad things” in life cause many people to ask questions like “If there is really a God, why do these things happen?”, “Is the God really Merciful?”, “I have been a good guy, and yet I’m suffering. My neighbor is an evil person, yet he is enjoying life. Why does your God give good things to bad guys, and bad things to good guys?”, etc.

Varying perceptions of Good and Bad:

This is one of the Names of Allah. It means The Most Forgiving One.

Before we get into answers, let us understand our definitions for bad/evil and good. A child thinks the injection the doctor gives her is a bad thing. A school student thinks the warning from his teacher is a bad thing. As they grow older, they don’t consider the injections and warnings as bad.

Some consider hijab (veil) as bad. Some economists consider Communism (or, Capitalism) as bad. And there are others who consider these as good. What do you think causes the differences in perceptions?

Promotions in the office are good things, right? Ask those who couldn’t perform well in the new positions and were fired/terminated. Getting married to the prettiest women of the city or country may be considered the best thing by some people. Others disagree. We make judgments based on our emotions and limited knowledge of the past. We have no clue about the future. God is Wise and omniscient.

Have you met employees, who were bitter when they were ignored for promotions, and who later on expressed their happiness with, “Thank God. I wasn’t promoted”. Have you been irritated by some event (e.g.: a flat tire, missed flight, cancelled meeting, etc.), and then felt relieved to know later on that the first event saved you from a major mishap. Would you still consider the first unpleasant event as bad?

“Punishing” the Good People:

A few people ask, “Tsunami is pure evil. It killed not just thousands of people – good and bad, and cattle, but also destroyed some ecosystem. Why did God allow Tsunamis?”.

There are two parts in this question:

1. Pure evil: No one knew making medicines from poisonous snakes until a few decades ago. It is probable that some people asked earlier, “Venomous Snakes are pure evil. They kill people and animals. Why did God create these snakes?”. The point is we may not know the wisdom behind God allowing calamities like Tsunami. We don’t know yet any benefits of Tsunami. But, that doesn’t allow us to label that as “pure evil”.

2. Affecting the good people:

And fear the Fitnah (affliction and trial, etc.) which affects not in particular (only) those of you who do wrong (but it may afflict all the good and the bad people), and know that Allah is Severe in punishment. [Qur’an 8:25]


Islamic Perspective:

Islam says sufferings can happen to people for two reasons:

  1. Disciplining/Punishment
  2. Test/Trial

Punishments are what happen to people in return for their evil deeds. Trials are tests which are sent to try people, and people may be tested by good things or by bad.

I. Discipline is required everywhere. Weeds need to be removed from your garden and fields. When we do bad/evil things, we may be punished in this world or Hereafter.

Evil (sins and disobedience of Allah, etc.) has appeared on land and sea because of what the hands of men have earned (by oppression and evil deeds, etc.), that Allah may make them taste a part of that which they have done, in order that they may return (by repenting to Allah, and begging His Pardon) [Qur’an 30:41]

And verily, We will make them taste of the near torment (i.e. the torment in the life of this world, i.e. disasters, calamities, etc.) prior to the supreme torment (in the Hereafter), in order that they may (repent and) return [Qur’an 32:21]

It is narrated on the authority of Abu Bakr (may Allah be pleased with him) that the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) said: “There is no sin more deserving of having its punishment hastened in this world, in addition to what is reserved in the Hereafter for the one who does it, than transgression and cutting ties of kinship.” [Abu Dawood and others. Al-Albani graded it Saheeh (sound)]

Also, please see the Quranic verses al-Nisa’ 4:79, al-Shoora 42:30, 7:64, 11:82, and Aal ‘Imraan 3:141

Truly, Hell is a place of ambush. A dwelling place for the Taghun (those who transgress the boundary limits set by Allah like polytheists, disbelievers in the Oneness of Allah, hypocrites, sinners, criminals, etc.) [Qur’an 78:21-22]

II. Allah tests all the believers. He may test us with sufferings or even with abundance of good things. A rich Muslim is tested with riches (how he earns and spends), and a poor Muslim is tested with lack of means.

And We will surely test you with something of fear and hunger and a loss of wealth and lives and fruits, but give good tidings to the patient, Who, when disaster strikes them, say, “Indeed we belong to Allah , and indeed to Him we will return.” [Qur’an 2:155-156]

Do people think that they will be left alone because they say: “We believe,” and will not be tested? And We indeed tested those who were before them. And Allah will certainly make (it) known (the truth of) those who are true, and will certainly make (it) known (the falsehood of) those who are liars [Qur’an 29:2-3]

It was narrated that Anas (may Allah be pleased with him) said: The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said, “When Allah wills good for His slave, He hastens the punishment for him in this world, and when Allah wills ill for His slave, he withholds the punishment for his sins from him until he comes with all his sins on the Day of Resurrection.” Narrated by al-Tirmidhi (2396); classed as Saheeh by al-Albaani in al-Silsilah al-Saheehah (1220).

Muslim (2572) narrated that ‘Ayisha (may Allah be pleased with her) said: The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: “The believer is not harmed by a thorn or anything greater, but Allah will raise him in status thereby, or erase a sin thereby.”


We can’t tell which event is a test and which one is a punishment. Muslims should be patient and seek forgiveness. Punishments in this world is nothing compared to those of Hell. Allah is Merciful, and so He punishes us for our sins in this world. Allah is Just  in that His punishment is never greater than the evil/bad things we do. Allah is so Kind that His rewards are always greater than our good deeds.

Whoever brings a good deed (Islamic Monotheism and deeds of obedience to Allah and His Messenger SAW) shall have ten times the like thereof to his credit, and whoever brings an evil deed (polytheism, disbelief, hypocrisy, and deeds of disobedience to Allah and His Messenger SAW) shall have only the recompense of the like thereof, and they will not be wronged [Qur’an 6:160]

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Written by S Ibrahim

Oct 28, 2012 at 9:37 pm

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