Explaining Evil

“Mama, did Allah create evil”

This question- it stops you in your tracks. It always comes suddenly and unexpectedly. When you are stepping out of the shower with your hair dripping and you are rushing to make it to the appointment on time or you are trying to negotiate traffic or just before you nod off to sleep.

Whenever it may happen, here are some tips on how to respond. Clearly, this question cannot be answered with a simple YES or NO.

There are several discussion points and tangents to approach this question. The question is vast in scope and has an endless answer; and yet there is no real answer. It tests the limits of our understanding of our faith.

One key thing to emphasize is that EVERYTHING is Allah’s creation and EVERYTHING that happens is His decree. But the problem that arises with this is how do we explain evil?

‘Evil’ is a vast, all-encompassing concept. Evil takes many forms. The first step would be to understand what your child means by ‘evil’. Ask open-ended questions like – What makes someone EVIL? What do you think is an EVIL thing to do?

Once you have a better understanding of the context of the question, here are some discussion points to address the question:

1. Evil as the absence of good:

Think of darkness, can it be created? It is the absence of light that we describe as dark. You have to take away light, and then what’s left behind is dark. Or something simpler, like a hole. A ‘hole’ can exist in the ground or in a cup. A hole cannot exist on its own. You need ‘something’ to be there first and the absence of a part of that thing is the ‘hole’. You could pick up a broken toy, The crack in the toy exists because the toy exists. You can ask your child to try and hold the crack in his hand on its own, without the toy. It’s impossible.

This is an excellent parable for explaining human-evil. When we choose the wrong path because of the momentary absence of good.

2. Evil as punishment:

We also think something is EVIL because it HURTS US. And we can think of it as a response to something we did. Allah SWT does say HE will punish wrongdoers, but we cannot know Allah’s judgment. It is helpful to think of punishment as a mercy. It is meant to purify us and remind us to be good. Physical pain is a good example of this. Our tummy aches and it is unpleasant for us but that is what tells us that something may be wrong. It tells us that we should take medicine to cure our tummy ache. The pain that we feel is a reminder to help us heal.

3. Evil as a trial:

Our life in this Dunya is a test. Everything we experience and go through is a means of purification so that we may be blessed with the ultimate reward. What we perceive as evil may just be part of the trial that this whole Dunya is. Natural disasters are an example of this. An earthquake effects everyone – where good and bad people suffer equally, but people react differently to trials and tests. This is a good reminder for us to practice patience and Sabr.

4. Evil from a different perspective:

Sometimes things appear ‘bad’ but they aren’t. They are actually a blessing. You can point out many examples of this in daily life. For eg. The other day my children and I were heading out somewhere. The kids were taking very long to get dressed. When they were finally dressed, I discovered that my car battery was dead. I was frantic because we were already late and now I would have to take a cab. I called for a cab, waited for it to arrive. All the while getting more and more upset and agitated as we were really very late. As we sat in the cab and went around the corner outside my house I saw an accident that had happened a few minutes back. I thought “Alhamdulillah! Had I driven off in a hurry, that accident could have been me.” It was a blessing that my car battery died just then, and I didn’t drive in my harried and agitated mental state.

5. Evil as part of a grand plan that we cannot really Know. (Ghaib knowledge):

We do not and cannot know the wisdom behind everything that may happen to us or around us. Ultimately, after discussing different aspects or evil, we have to emphasize on humility. We have to accept that we are created with limited understanding and awareness. We will never know Allah SWT’s purpose or reasons. Our job on earth is to follow the guidance we have been blessed with and know that it is Allah’s mercy that we have been told what to do. It is ok to not fully understand and it’s awesome to ponder over these things. But we must know we are bound by our limited physical senses. We can’t see beyond a certain visible spectrum, we cant hear beyond certain frequencies. We can’t even see the air that we breathe, the air that we need to survive. How can our limited bodies and minds comprehend bigger things? This too, is part of a grand plan. We must, above all else, have faith.

May Allah guide us. Ameen

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