Muhammad: When bad things happen to good people, maintain trust in God

REUTERS A student is consoled after he placed flowers on a memorial at the entrance to Newtown High School in … Continued


A student is consoled after he placed flowers on a memorial at the entrance to Newtown High School in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 18, 2012.

As we prepare to lay 26 souls to rest in Newtown, Conn., countless are left behind, alone. As long as good people have existed, bad things have happened to them. And as long as religion has existed, believers and non-believers alike rightfully ask, “Why does God let bad things happen to good people?”

Islam’s answer to the question of suffering does not serve to “justify” or mitigate the pain associated with the horror of losing a child. Nor does it serve to apply blame to any person, entity, or worldview. Rather, it provides a perspective that directly answers—why do bad things happen to good people?

First, suffering is not some experience that exists on its own. Rather, it is intimately intertwined with our growth as a species—with the experiences we call pleasure. Recognition of suffering delineates between good and bad, pleasure and pain. As the old saying goes, necessity is the mother of innovation.

That is, the greater degree of self-awareness we achieve, the greater degree of loss and gain we recognize. For example, imagine a grown, mature adult, devastated at being sent to his room for misbehaving, instead of being allowed to play outside. This would seem obscure. Now, imagine the same scenario but the person is my 3 year old. For a 3-year-old child’s awareness, this behavior makes more sense.

Likewise, imagine a person who loses his residence, mode of transportation, and anything more than the clothes on his back—but carries on as if nothing has changed. This would seem obscure. Now imagine the same scenario but the person is an infant child. For an infant child’s awareness, this behavior makes more sense.

Suffering is painful, but not inherently unjust. It would be unjust only if it existed on its own, with no complimentary level of pleasure. Without suffering, pleasure would also cease to exist. Such a scenario in which we are all equal—knowing neither pleasure nor pain—is counter to reality. With individuality and intelligence comes recognition of gain and loss—and thus recognition of pleasure and pain. The two are inseparable.

But what is God’s role in this?

View Photo Gallery: Students, excluding those at Sandy Hook Elementary School, return to class for the first time since Friday’s shooting.

Well, for the atheist this is a non-issue. God cannot be blamed because God does not exist. Chance created everything; chance determined that a random person would have experiences that would motivate him to murder 26 individuals who per chance were his victim on that fateful day. That is not to say atheists even slightly endorse, justify, or anything less than condemn this horrible act. It merely points out that if God has no role, then any pleasure or suffering we understand is mere chance. The only escape to end the cycle of pleasure and pain is when we all ultimately lose consciousness and die.

For the believer, however, God plays a substantive role. Prophet Muhammad, who suffered the deaths of 11 children, taught that when bad things happen to good people—or to any people—to maintain patience while expressing grief, and to maintain trust in God. In a famous letter he wrote to one of his companions, M’uaz bin Jabal, when M’uaz’s son died, Muhammad wrote, “If you get to know, how much return and recompense has been granted to you for [your loss], then this loss would appear very meager in your eye.”

In other words, for believers, this life is both sacred and transitory to the next life, in which pleasure exists independent of suffering, and we will be recompensed for what was taken from us in this life.

None of the above mitigates the pain and suffering every person—particularly the family members—feels after the Newtown tragedy, or after any tragedy. Nor should it. But it does explain why suffering exists—as a byproduct of our increased awareness and increased pleasure, not independent of it. For the believer and atheist alike—death is an escape from this cycle of pleasure and pain. But for the believer, death is not an end, but a transition to an eternal life in which pleasure reigns supreme, and pain is left behind, alone.

Qasim Rashid is a national spokesperson for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA. Follow him on Twitter @MuslimIQ

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Qasim Rashid
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  • cs9243

    God does not cause our misfortunes. God is not responsible for our illnesses,accidents and natural disasters. God neither kills nor cures.
    Praying to God may give us the strngth to cope with the problems but there no explanations from God. Life is not fair.Life is suffering but suffering has causes, mostly man made. We have to find the cures.

  • jsmith4

    So “God is not responsible for our illnesses,accidents and natural disasters.”
    What good is he then? An omniscient, all-powerful god who is not benevolent is no blessing.
    And if he is not omniscient and all-powerful, what good is she?

  • cs9243

    God is our imagination who gives us strength but no explanations


    Moslem preacher, you have ZERO idea what an atheist thinks about these things. So do what you do? Following the immutable laws of the religious everywhere, when you don’t know something, you make up a LIE about it.

    BTW, those LIES include the moslem concept of the angry old man in the sky, allah.

  • WmarkW

    Theodicy is one of the oldest and most-discussed problems in monotheism. It takes not just strong faith, but a remarkable rejection of reason, to conclude that the world operates under the jurisdiction of a being that is both all-powerful and all-good. Being compensated in the next life, has long been the fall-back position of believers who know that there is no way to justify killing 20 elementary schoolers and six educators (nor Treblinka) with their conception of God.

    But the next life is the rankest speculation. It was invented primarily to provide an out from this very discussion. In free societies, advancement has proven inversely related to dogmatism. Our minds would be terrible things to waste on the latter.

  • plattitudes

    Thank you, Qasim, for writing this article. Although our beliefs vary widely in some areas, it was very pleasant to read your narrative and find myself in complete agreement with what you have expressed. I hope that articles like this can help people of all faiths find common ground, and help prevent some of the bigoted and hate-filled rhetoric.

  • tianxiang69

    “That is not to say atheists even slightly endorse, justify, or anything less than condemn this horrible act. It merely points out that if God has no role, then any pleasure or suffering we understand is mere chance.” Actually, that has nothing to do with the so-called atheist position. Mere chance and divine intervention are not the only possibilities and, in fact, very few atheists I know would attribute such things to “chance.” This belies your complete ignorance about what non-believers really believe. It is not chance that causes suffering. It is either through natural disasters, which we can only mitigate through a scientific understanding of what causes such things and how to better predict them to lessen their impact; through realities of nature, such as when a hungry tiger attacks an antelope which is just part of the evolutionary process; or through human behavior like what happened in Sandy Hook. A belief in some god might or might not make someone feel some solace after such an event, but it will do little or nothing to prevent something like this from recurring. This did not occur because of some god nor because of chance. It happened because we still need to learn more about mental illness (which is an endeavor of science and not religion) and we need to develop a better understanding of how to educate and nurture our children and fellow citizens to not engage in violent behavior. In fact, it is very often belief in some god that causes others to engage in violent acts against others, and Islam certainly has a number of instances of this throughout its sordid history to answer for.

  • Abey

    This allegation that pain in this worlld would be compensated for in the “other world”is deduced from a Muslim principal that a”good” work will erase a bad “work”. A visit to the grave of the Prophet will erase all previous sins is the only motive for many Muslims to visite the grave in Arabia. That is why rich merchants of Egypt insist on making the pilgrimage every year. This reasoning is faulty on many levels.

  • PhillyJimi1

    I wasn’t going to comment because if faith helps people cope in this I could care less but the author had to attack me an atheist. As if he has me all figured out. I want to actively figure out what happened and how to prevent it from happening again. Society isn’t going to find the answer in some old book of stories.

    Isn’t it obvious that god is just a construct of the human mind.

    Try to teach a child, when bad things happen or things go wrong they must trust their self. It is perhaps the best lesson you can teach a child but it isn’t easy. Sounds rather weak at first.

    But teach a child there is some really powerful super hero that can do anything. This teach that this cartoon character loves them and wants them to do good things. Then when bad things happen know that this super hero is going to take care of them. Also teach them to openly tell everyone about their love for this super hero. Parents get an A+ from all the other members of the cult..

    The key to the whole scam is to also teach the child to never ever question the existence of the invisible magical super hero. The must never ever question the existence of magic man.

    A funny thing happened along the way. Kings and politicians quickly figured out how to exploit the invisible magical super hero to gain control. If they said “I want you to die for me” it didn’t work. If they said “God wants you to die for him”, that worked. As if there is any difference.

    As an atheist there are real world answers not rolls of the dice.

    Mentally unstable people shouldn’t have access to firearms. Blind people can’t drive cars. 2nd graders can’t perform brain surgery. It is just common sense. If you want to talk your friend in the sky or read your story book feel free. I would like to address the things we can control.

    This article would of been fine without the dig towards the atheists. But is obvious you can’t explain the problem of evil and a loving god.

  • ThomasBaum

    Lots of people believe in God and at the same time do not believe in your conception of God just as you do not believe in your conception of God.

    You wrote, “but the author had to attack me an atheist”, this seems to be a human thing as opposed to being a theist thing seeing as you did the same thing, just from a different perspective.

  • DJWinMassachusetts

    I have always thought that the question, “Why does God allow bad things to happen…” is difficult for us because most of us are neither fully secular nor fully religious, but something in between.

    For the fully secular, as the author says, it ” is a non-issue. God cannot be blamed because God does not exist.” The fully religious, by contrast, ought to believe that earthly posessions are meaningless and the afterlife is a better existence than the earthly life. If I am fully a believer, and a tornado destroys my house, I should be ok. In God’s economy I have not lost anything important. If a loved one dies, I ought to be happy for her because she is in a better place, albeit sad for myself because our relationship will have to be put on hold until I too arrive at my final destination.

    My dilemma is that I cannot bring myself to adopt either a fully secular POV, in which I could say “no God, therefore no issue,” or a fully religious POV in which I can comfortably say “The Lord gives [these meaningless earthly posessions] and the Lord takes [them] away. Praised be the Lord.” I’m too attached to my earthly things to say that and really mean it.

    The problem is, one foot in one belief system (secular) and another foot in another belief system (Christianity or Islam) leads to a mental confusion that should not happen if both feet are in the same belief system.

  • Messiah1889

    “Our prayers should be for blessings in general, for God knows best what is good for us.” Socrates

    Even in Antiquity the Greeks knew the power of prayers triumphs even the sciences…thank you Qasim for this excellent piece, may the truth seekers find the light