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Evil and Human Suffering in Islamic Thought—Towards a Mystical Theodicy

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Abstract

This paper sheds light on the treatment of the ‘problem of evil’ and human suffering from an Islamic perspective. I begin by providing an overview of the term ‘evil’ in the Qur’an to highlight its multidimensional meaning and to demonstrate the overall portrait of this notion as it is presented in the Islamic revelation through the narrative of the prophet Job. Having established a Qur’anic framework, I will then provide a brief historical overview of the formation of philosophical and theological debates surrounding “good” and “bad/evil” and the origination of Muslim theodicean thought. This will lead us to Ghazālian theodicy and the famous dictum of the “best of all possible worlds” by one of the most influential scholars of Islamic thought, Abu Ḥāmid Ghazālī. The final section of this paper will explore the Sufi/ mystical tradition of Islam through the teachings of one of the most distinguished mystics of Islam, Jalāl al-Dīn Rūmī. The conclusion of the paper will attempt to bring about a new understanding of how the so-called “problem of evil” is not presented in Islam as a problem but rather as an instrument in the actualization of God’s plan, which is intertwined with human experiences in this world-an experience that is necessary for man’s spiritual development.
religions
Article
Evil and Human Suffering in Islamic
Thought—Towards a Mystical Theodicy
Nasrin Rouzati
Religious Studies Department, Manhattan College, Riverdale, NY 10471, USA; nasrin.rouzati@manhattan.edu
Received: 13 December 2017; Accepted: 28 January 2018; Published: 3 February 2018
Abstract:
This paper sheds light on the treatment of the ‘problem of evil’ and human suffering from
an Islamic perspective. I begin by providing an overview of the term ‘evil’ in the Qur’an to highlight
its multidimensional meaning and to demonstrate the overall portrait of this notion as it is presented
in the Islamic revelation through the narrative of the prophet Job. Having established a Qur ’anic
framework, I will then provide a brief historical overview of the formation of philosophical and
theological debates surrounding “good” and “bad/evil” and the origination of Muslim theodicean
thought. This will lead us to Ghaz
¯
alian theodicy and the famous dictum of the “best of all possible
worlds” by one of the most influential scholars of Islamic thought, Abu
H
.¯
amid Ghaz
¯
al
¯
ı. The final
section of this paper will explore the Sufi/ mystical tradition of Islam through the teachings of one of
the most distinguished mystics of Islam, Jal
¯
al al-D
¯
ın R
¯
um
¯
ı. The conclusion of the paper will attempt
to bring about a new understanding of how the so-called “problem of evil” is not presented in Islam
as a problem but rather as an instrument in the actualization of God’s plan, which is intertwined with
human experiences in this world—an experience that is necessary for man’s spiritual development.
Keywords: problem of evil; theodicy; Qur’an; Job; good; evil; al Ghaz ¯
al¯
ı; mysticism; Islam
1. Introduction
The ‘problem of evil’ or, as it is more often referred to, the cause of human suffering is perhaps
one of the most debated questions in the history of the philosophy of religion.
1
Although the issue
makes itself known to humankind in general, it gains particular attention in the context of monotheistic
religions as it brings into question the main pillar of such religions, namely, the existence of a powerful
and merciful God. In light of the enormous amount of evil in the world, especially in the case of
undeserved suffering, the challenge becomes even more acute and begs for answers. According to
Hick, pondering about the volume of afflictions and adversities that mankind is faced with, “we do
indeed have to ask ourselves whether it is possible to think of this world as the work of an omnipotent
creator who is motivated by limitless love
. . .
this is indeed the most serious challenge that there is to
theistic faith.”2
This paper aims to shed light on the treatment of the ‘problem of evil’ and human suffering
from an Islamic perspective. I will begin by providing an overview of the term ‘evil’ in the Qur’an to
highlight its multidimensional meaning and attempt to demonstrate the overall portrait of this notion
as it is presented in the Islamic revelation through the narrative of the prophet Job. Having established
a Qur’anic framework, I will then provide a brief historical overview of the formation of theological
1
The “Problem of Evil”, in the context of Western scholarship, is generally identified in two main categories: theoretical
and existential, and further divides the theoretical dimension into logical and evidential; the distinction between moral evil
and natural evil is also underscored. For more on this see Michael L. Peterson, The Problem of Evil, Selected Readings
(Peterson 2011
), Alvin Plantinga, God, Freedom, and Evil (Plantinga 1974), and John Hick, Evil and the God of Love (Hick 2007).
2See John Hick, An Interpretation of Religion (Hick 2004, p. 118).
Religions 2018,9, 47; doi:10.3390/rel9020047 www.mdpi.com/journal/religions
Religions 2018,9, 47 2 of 13
debates surrounding “good” and “bad/evil” and the origination of Muslim theodicean thought.
This will lead us to Ghaz
¯
alian theodicy and the famous dictum of the “best of all possible worlds” by one
of the most influential scholars of Islamic thought, Abu
H
.¯
amid Ghaz
¯
al
¯
ı. The final section of this paper
will explore the Sufi/mystical tradition of Islam through the teachings of one of the most distinguished
mystics of Islam, Jal
¯
al al-D
¯
ın R
¯
um
¯
ı. The conclusion of the paper will attempt to bring about a new
understanding of how the so-called “problem of evil” is not presented in Islam as a problem but rather
as an instrument in the actualization of God’s plan, which is intertwined with human experiences in
this world—an experience that is necessary for man’s spiritual development.
2. Evil and Suffering in the Qur’an: An Overview
For more than fourteen hundred years the Qur’an has served as the foundation of the religion
of Islam and continues to play a dynamic role in shaping and influencing the lives of its followers,
regardless of their diverse cultural backgrounds. The Qur’an is also considered to be the highest
source of Islamic scholarship and functions as the starting point for a major portion of scholarly works.
Therefore, to understand the treatment of evil and suffering in Muslim thought, the journey must
begin with studying the Qur’anic narratives where this concept makes itself known.
A cursory review of studies on theodicy reveals that the meaning of ‘evil’, for the most part, is
assumed and is not negotiable—personal loss, illness, violence, natural disaster, etc. Although the term
appears abundantly in both popular and scholarly works, there seems to be a conceptual ambiguity
surrounding it: What exactly is evil? Furthermore, does human understanding of evil concur with the
divine message?
A key term in Arabic that is translated as evil is ‘sharr’ and it is presented in two distinct categories
of Qur’anic narratives. The first category includes verses that fall in the semantic field of sharr and
appears amongst the moral concepts of the Qur’an. The overall notion of good (khayr) and bad/evil
(sharr) is a central theme in Qur’anic teachings and is emphasized in both Meccan and Medinan phases
of the Islamic revelation.3Considering these narratives hermeneutically by applying an intra-textual
contextualization method, whereby the Qur’an functions as its own interpreter,
4
seems to suggest
that the most prominent meaning for the term sharr in this group of narratives is the situation that
man creates for himself.
5
It is clearly stated in the Qur’an that when humankind, through his own
volition, acts in certain ways and adapts to specific behaviors that are not in accordance with the
divine plan, he situates himself in a condition that is referred to as sharr by the Qur’an. Some of
the deeds that fall into this moral category include miserliness, unbelief/rejecting God, slander, and
transgression.
6
The Qur’an noticeably upholds that the creation of the universe—and by extension,
humankind—is purposeful and not in vain.
7
Man, therefore, must make a serious effort to live his life
according to God’s cosmic plan. By neglecting the purpose for his creation and the accountabilities
that it entails, he creates an undesirable living condition for himself, that is, sharr. The purposefulness
of man’s creation and his responsibility as it pertains to suffering will be discussed later in the article.
The second category of Qur’anic narratives is more of an interest to us as it is directly related to
human suffering and theodicy. This group of verses falls beyond the semantic field of sharr and is
3
For information on the chronology of the Qur’an, see Neal Robinson, Discovering the Qur’an: A Contemporary Approach to a
Veiled Text (Robinson 2003).
4
Intra-textual contextualization is a methodology used in understanding Qur’anic verses according to the context in which
they appear individually, as well as in relation to the overall theme of all the chapters in which they appear. For an
excellent discussion on the interpretation of the Qur’anic terms, see Toshibiko Izutsu, Ethico - Religious Concepts in the Qur’an
(Izutsu 2002).
5For example, see Qur’an, 3:180; 8:22; 24:11; 17:11. For an excellent exegesis on the Qur’an, see (Tabarsi 1350).
6
For more information on various contexts of sharr in the Qur’an, see Tunbar Yesilhark Ozkan, A Muslim Response to Evil. Said
Nursi on Theodicy (Ozkan 2015, pp. 19–35).
7Qur’an, 38:27
Religions 2018,9, 47 3 of 13
revealed in various historical contexts reflected in the Qur’an.
8
A careful scrutiny of these narratives
demonstrates that the so-called problem of evil—and by extension, human suffering—is not treated in
the Qur’an as a theoretical problem but rather as an instrument in the actualization of God’s purpose.
Most of these narratives illustrate that the underlying rationale for the existence of various forms of
evil and suffering is that they serve as a trial (ibtil
¯
a) and test: “We shall certainly test you with fear and
hunger, and loss of property, lives, and crops; however, [Prophet], give good news to those who are steadfast.
9
The purpose of human suffering and its role in God’s overall cosmic plan may bring about
two corollaries. First, there is no contradiction between the divine attributes of God and the fact
that suffering exists; therefore, affirmation of the Qur’an regarding God’s omnipotence is not under
question: “Say ‘God, holder of all sovereignty, You give control to whoever You will, and remove it from whoever
You will. You elevate whoever You will and humble whoever You will. All that is good lies in Your hands: You
have power over everything.
10
Moreover, since God is undoubtedly in control of creation, suffering must
also be allowed by him for God’s plan to be fully executed. Second, if suffering is meant as a test and
is regarded as a necessary component of life, then a Muslim must view the undesirable situations
(illness, financial difficulty, loss of a loved one, etc.) as an opportunity to actualize his inner potential
and move forward in his spiritual journey, becoming who he “is” as the fruit of the creational tree.
It may also be concluded that by presenting the notion of evil and suffering as part of the human
experience and a necessary component of man’s spiritual journey, the Qur’an refrains from articulating
a systematic theodicy. Therefore, the objective is not to engage man in abstract ideas but rather to
help him realize the purpose of suffering and offer guiding principles in how to overcome various
forms of evil.
11
Here it may be noted that the notion of ‘natural evil’—a distinct category under the
umbrella of the ‘problem of evil’—is not treated in the Qur’an. Although the Qur’an frequently makes
references to nature and events in the natural world that might not be desirable by mankind, these are
not referred to as ‘evil’.
3. Overcoming Evil: Prophet Job (Ayy¯
ub)—The Exemplar
The notion of prophethood (n
ab
¯
uwwa) and the descriptive narratives about the lives of the
prophets constitute a major portion of the Islamic scripture. While the prophets serve as the conduits
through which the divine message is communicated to addressee communities, they are portrayed
as exemplars that inspire and guide people to the straight path of monotheism. The history of
Qur’anic prophethood began with Adam, chosen to become the first prophet after the trial of eating
from the forbidden tree, and includes many of the figures mentioned in Judaeo–Christian traditions.
Although Islamic tradition speaks of 124,000 prophets in the history of mankind, the Qur’an mentions
twenty-five by name and describes their challenges as they conveyed the prophetic message to their
respected communities. Prophet Muhammad is mentioned as the final messenger and is referred to as
the “Seal of the Prophets”.12
The story of Job (Ayy
¯
ub), an eminent figure in Jewish and Christian tradition, is seen in the Qur’an
to exemplify genuine devotion to God, gratitude through fortune and health, and patience when
afflicted with illness and adversity.
13
Job’s incomparable sincerity and submission to God’s will in both
8
Discussing the historical, political, and social climate of Islam’s normative period is beyond the scope of this paper; however,
it needs to be noted that a large portion of the Qur’an is directly related to the circumstances that surrounded Prophet
Muhammad and the early Muslim community.
9Qur’an, 2:155. Also see 67:2 and 89:16.
10 Qur’an, 3:26, see (Abdel Haleem 2004).
11
For an extended discussion on the instrumentality of evil in the forms of bal
¯
asee, Nasrin Rouzati, Trial and Tribulation in the
Qur’an: A Mystical Theodicy (Rouzati 2015).
12 Qur’an, 33:40.
13
The story of Job in Judeo-Christian traditions is presented in the Book of Job and appears in the form of a dialogue between
Job and his friends who try to explain to him the reason for his sufferings. A comparative study of the story between
Judeo-Christian tradition and Islam is beyond the scope of this paper. For an excellent comparative review, see A.H. Johns,
A Comparative Glance at Ayyub in the Qur’an (Johns 2008, pp. 51–82).
Religions 2018,9, 47 4 of 13
health and prosperity, as well as during affliction and hardship, are the reasons the Qur’an portrays
him as “an excellent servant.”14
According to Muslim exegesis, what distinguishes Job is the fact that despite his enormous fortune,
he continually attributed the source of his blessings to God and remained humble as a servant who
lacked ownership of his belongings. Similarly, when God tested him with a serious disease, he exercised
patience and recognized that he was going through a test—a positive experience—and ascribed any
negative feelings of despair to Satan.15
The Qur’anic narrative about Job demonstrates that trials and tests—whether in prosperity and
health or illness and hardship—are part of the divine plan, so much so that even prophets are not
exempt; it is through various experiences in life that man is able to actualize his potential and propagate
his mission on this earth. As John notes, “the story of Job in the Qur ’an is understood primarily as a
reward narrative with an emphasis different from that of the story of Job in the Bible.”16
4. Concept of Evil: Theological and Philosophical Development
One of the earliest problems in Muslim theological thought (kal
¯
am) was how to reconcile the
divine attribute of omnipotence with the notion of human free will. The departure point for this
discourse was the Qur’an and the diverse interpretations of its teachings on the divine names and
attributes (asm
¯
a
Religions 2018, 9, x FOR PEER REVIEW 4 of 13
when afflicted with illness and adversity.13 Job’s incomparable sincerity and submission to God’s
will in both health and prosperity, as well as during affliction and hardship, are the reasons the
Qur’an portrays him as “an excellent servant.14
According to Muslim exegesis, what distinguishes Job is the fact that despite his enormous
fortune, he continually attributed the source of his blessings to God and remained humble as a
servant who lacked ownership of his belongings. Similarly, when God tested him with a serious
disease, he exercised patience and recognized that he was going through a testa positive
experienceand ascribed any negative feelings of despair to Satan.15
The Qur’anic narrative about Job demonstrates that trials and testswhether in prosperity and
health or illness and hardshipare part of the divine plan, so much so that even prophets are not
exempt; it is through various experiences in life that man is able to actualize his potential and
propagate his mission on this earth. As John notes, “the story of Job in the Qur’an is understood
primarily as a reward narrative with an emphasis different from that of the story of Job in the Bible.”16
4. Concept of Evil: Theological and Philosophical Development
One of the earliest problems in Muslim theological thought (kalām) was how to reconcile the
divine attribute of omnipotence with the notion of human free will. The departure point for this
discourse was the Qur’an and the diverse interpretations of its teachings on the divine names and
attributes (asmāʾ al-usnā).17 The reconciliation of certain divine attributes, predominantly the aspect
of an all-powerful God, with the idea of human free willthe broader frame with which human
suffering was enclosedwas the first attempt to initiate a theodicy within the context of Islam.
The discourse presents itself at the core of the theological dialogue amongst various groups. The
theologians who advocated for the attribute of omnipotence in its absolute and uncompromising
form were of the opinion that the only agent in this world is God: He creates His own acts as well as
the acts of all human beings. As this view raised serious concerns about the creation of “evil” acts by
God, the debate developed further to question the validity of human free willthe concept that is
deeply rooted in the Quran as it relates to man’s responsibility and accountability, as well as divine
judgment and reward and punishment. The dialogue crystallized between the Muʿtazilite and the
Ashʿarite, the two main schools of thought, with a divergence of opinion; both made a serious effort
to win the argument according to their understanding of the Qur’an.18
The Muʿtazilite school of thought, also known as the rationalists, categorically opposed the idea
that God creates human acts that include evil and advocated for human free will by emphasizing the
importance of the divine attribute of justice (ʿadl). They upheld that God, in accordance with His
attribute of (ʿāadil), cannot create evil and that evil is the direct result of man’s freedom of choice. This
view was challenged by raising questions such as: If God does not create evil, who, then, is
responsible for human suffering caused by illnesses and disasters? And if God wills for illnesses and
disasters in human life, how can He be just? The Muʿtazilites responded by affirming that illnesses
and disasters, while may appear as “evil”, are in actuality “good” that God creates and that serve a
significant purpose in the creational cosmic plan. This seems to be the first appearance of the theory
13 The story of Job in JudeoChristian traditions is presented in the Book of Job and appears in the form of a
dialogue between Job and his friends who try to explain to him the reason for his sufferings. A comparative
study of the story between JudeoChristian tradition and Islam is beyond the scope of this paper. For an
excellent comparative review, see A.H. Johns, A Comparative Glance at Ayyub in the Qur'an (Johns 2008,
pp. 5182).
14 Qur’an 38:41–2 and 21:834.
15 See Abubakr `Tigh Neishabur Surabadi, Tafsir Surabadi, ed. Sa`Idi Sirjani (Surabadi 1381). Also, see Brannon
M. Wheeler, Prophets in the Qur'an, an Introduction to the Qur'an and Muslim Exegesis (Wheeler 2002).
16 See (Johns 2003, pp. 5051).
17 For more on this see Abdol Rahman Ibn Khaldūn, Muqaddimah of Ibn Khaldūn (Ibn Khaldūn 1375).
18 For a comprehensive discussion on development of theology in Islam, see Harry Austryn Wolfson, The
Philosopy of Kalam (Wolfson 1976).
al-
h
.
usn
¯
a).
17
The reconciliation of certain divine attributes, predominantly the aspect of
an all-powerful God, with the idea of human free will—the broader frame with which human suffering
was enclosed—was the first attempt to initiate a theodicy within the context of Islam.
The discourse presents itself at the core of the theological dialogue amongst various groups.
The theologians who advocated for the attribute of omnipotence in its absolute and uncompromising
form were of the opinion that the only agent in this world is God: He creates His own acts as well as
the acts of all human beings. As this view raised serious concerns about the creation of “evil” acts by
God, the debate developed further to question the validity of human free will—the concept that is
deeply rooted in the Quran as it relates to man’s responsibility and accountability, as well as divine
judgment and reward and punishment. The dialogue crystallized between the Mu
Religions 2018, 9, x FOR PEER REVIEW 5 of 13
of instrumentality of human suffering in the divine plan. The notion of suffering, which included
undeserved suffering by children and animals, continued to be discussed by the Muʿtazilite
theologians.19 The Muʿtazilites firm stress on Gods justice, however, resulted in the group dividing,
which finally gave birth to the Ashʾarite school of thought.
According to Ashʾarite theologians, God’s law of justice applies only to human beings who have
been obligated to act according to His laws. Applying the idea of justice to God, however, will put a
limit on an all-powerful creator; therefore, God is not bound by His own laws. He is just in whatever
He does. 20 Applied to suffering, this then means that all harm encountered by man is fair as it has
been willed by God who is just in all His creation. The Ashʾarite thinkers were in sharp conflict with
the Muʿtazilites who asserted that not only is God subjected to the same rules of justice but that, in
fact, the obligation to act in just means is eternal and uncompromising for God. It is worth noting that
a prominent Muslim philosopher, Ibn Rushd (Averroes, d. 1198), challenged these views and asserted
that the element of justice may not be employed for God and man in the same manner: man, by virtue
of being just, advances to a higher level of goodness; God, however, is just due to His perfectiona
trait that requires Him to be just.21
In the final analysis, mainstream Sunnite theologians supported the Ashʾarite school of thought
and emphasized that God creates all acts. In order to reconcile God’s omnipotence with human
responsibility, the doctrine of acquisition (kasb) was adopted: God creates all acts; humans freely
acquire certain acts and, therefore, are accountable for the acquisition of good and evil acts. 22
Conversely, Muslim thinkers belonging to the Shiʾite branch of Islamthrough the influence of
rational element in the Muʿtazilite theologyremained in disagreement with the Ashʿarites. An
example of this may be observed from the writings of an eminent Persian philosopher, Morteza
Muahharī (d. 1979), who was of the opinion that the Ashʾarite outlook, while aimed at vindicating
God from injustice, resulted in exonerating human oppressors of any wrongdoing.23
From the Muslim philosophical perspective, the notion of good and evil is enclosed within the
wider ontological understanding of existence (wujūd) and nonexistence (ʿadam). Briefly put, good is
defined as a positive entity that branches from existence; evil, on the other hand, stems from
nonexistence and as such is viewed as a negative entity. 24 An example of the ontological
interpretation of what constitutes good and evil may be seen from the works of two prominent
Muslim philosophers who significantly influenced the shaping of Muslim philosophical thought: Ibn
Sīnā, known as Avicenna (d. 1037), and Sadr al-Din Shirāzī, who was mostly recognized as Mullā
Sadrā (d. 1636).
Ibn Sīnā formed a theodicy by distinguishing the various forms of evil such as “essential” evil
(sharr bidh-dhāt), which is non-being or privation, and “accidental” evil (sharr bil-ʿara), which can be
either being or privation. In his analysis, Ibn Sīnā concluded that it is the non-essential/accidental evil
that is the leading cause of human suffering and that the total amount of good in the universe
outweighs the amount of evil. 25 Mullā Sadrā, on the other hand, extensively developed this
philosophical approach by an interest in combining theology with mystical insight. This approach,
according to Rizvi, totally transformed the theory of existence as it pertains to Islamic metaphysics.26
19 For a great discussion on the Muʿtazilites view on pain and suffering see (Heemskerk 2000). For an extensive
study on the notion of disability in Islam, see Mohammed Ghaly, Islam and Disability: Perspectives in Theology
and Jurisprudence (Ghaly 2010).
20 See Wolfson, The Philosopy of Kalam (Wolfson 1976).
21 For more on his philosophy, see Ibn Rushd (Averroes), The Philosophy and Theology of Averroes, (Averroes
1921).
22 For more on theory of acquisition, see Wolfson, The Philosopy of Kalam (Wolfson 1976).
23 See (Mutahhari 1385, pp. 5051).
24 For more on ontological aspects of good and evil, see Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Islamic Philosophy from Its Origin
to the Present (Nasr 2006, pp. 6568).
25 For more on Ibn Sīnā’s theodicy, see Shams C. Inati, The Problem of Evil: Ibn Sina's Theodicy (Inati 2000).
26 See Sajjad Rizvi, 'Mulla Sadra', Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Rizvi 2009).
tazilite and the
Ash
Religions 2018, 9, x FOR PEER REVIEW 5 of 13
of instrumentality of human suffering in the divine plan. The notion of suffering, which included
undeserved suffering by children and animals, continued to be discussed by the Muʿtazilite
theologians.19 The Muʿtazilites firm stress on Gods justice, however, resulted in the group dividing,
which finally gave birth to the Ashʾarite school of thought.
According to Ashʾarite theologians, God’s law of justice applies only to human beings who have
been obligated to act according to His laws. Applying the idea of justice to God, however, will put a
limit on an all-powerful creator; therefore, God is not bound by His own laws. He is just in whatever
He does. 20 Applied to suffering, this then means that all harm encountered by man is fair as it has
been willed by God who is just in all His creation. The Ashʾarite thinkers were in sharp conflict with
the Muʿtazilites who asserted that not only is God subjected to the same rules of justice but that, in
fact, the obligation to act in just means is eternal and uncompromising for God. It is worth noting that
a prominent Muslim philosopher, Ibn Rushd (Averroes, d. 1198), challenged these views and asserted
that the element of justice may not be employed for God and man in the same manner: man, by virtue
of being just, advances to a higher level of goodness; God, however, is just due to His perfectiona
trait that requires Him to be just.21
In the final analysis, mainstream Sunnite theologians supported the Ashʾarite school of thought
and emphasized that God creates all acts. In order to reconcile God’s omnipotence with human
responsibility, the doctrine of acquisition (kasb) was adopted: God creates all acts; humans freely
acquire certain acts and, therefore, are accountable for the acquisition of good and evil acts. 22
Conversely, Muslim thinkers belonging to the Shiʾite branch of Islamthrough the influence of
rational element in the Muʿtazilite theologyremained in disagreement with the Ashʿarites. An
example of this may be observed from the writings of an eminent Persian philosopher, Morteza
Muahharī (d. 1979), who was of the opinion that the Ashʾarite outlook, while aimed at vindicating
God from injustice, resulted in exonerating human oppressors of any wrongdoing.23
From the Muslim philosophical perspective, the notion of good and evil is enclosed within the
wider ontological understanding of existence (wujūd) and nonexistence (ʿadam). Briefly put, good is
defined as a positive entity that branches from existence; evil, on the other hand, stems from
nonexistence and as such is viewed as a negative entity. 24 An example of the ontological
interpretation of what constitutes good and evil may be seen from the works of two prominent
Muslim philosophers who significantly influenced the shaping of Muslim philosophical thought: Ibn
Sīnā, known as Avicenna (d. 1037), and Sadr al-Din Shirāzī, who was mostly recognized as Mullā
Sadrā (d. 1636).
Ibn Sīnā formed a theodicy by distinguishing the various forms of evil such as “essential” evil
(sharr bidh-dhāt), which is non-being or privation, and “accidental” evil (sharr bil-ʿara), which can be
either being or privation. In his analysis, Ibn Sīnā concluded that it is the non-essential/accidental evil
that is the leading cause of human suffering and that the total amount of good in the universe
outweighs the amount of evil. 25 Mullā Sadrā, on the other hand, extensively developed this
philosophical approach by an interest in combining theology with mystical insight. This approach,
according to Rizvi, totally transformed the theory of existence as it pertains to Islamic metaphysics.26
19 For a great discussion on the Muʿtazilites view on pain and suffering see (Heemskerk 2000). For an extensive
study on the notion of disability in Islam, see Mohammed Ghaly, Islam and Disability: Perspectives in Theology
and Jurisprudence (Ghaly 2010).
20 See Wolfson, The Philosopy of Kalam (Wolfson 1976).
21 For more on his philosophy, see Ibn Rushd (Averroes), The Philosophy and Theology of Averroes, (Averroes
1921).
22 For more on theory of acquisition, see Wolfson, The Philosopy of Kalam (Wolfson 1976).
23 See (Mutahhari 1385, pp. 5051).
24 For more on ontological aspects of good and evil, see Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Islamic Philosophy from Its Origin
to the Present (Nasr 2006, pp. 6568).
25 For more on Ibn Sīnā’s theodicy, see Shams C. Inati, The Problem of Evil: Ibn Sina's Theodicy (Inati 2000).
26 See Sajjad Rizvi, 'Mulla Sadra', Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Rizvi 2009).
arite, the two main schools of thought, with a divergence of opinion; both made a serious effort to
win the argument according to their understanding of the Qur’an.18
The Mu
Religions 2018, 9, x FOR PEER REVIEW 5 of 13
of instrumentality of human suffering in the divine plan. The notion of suffering, which included
undeserved suffering by children and animals, continued to be discussed by the Muʿtazilite
theologians.19 The Muʿtazilites firm stress on Gods justice, however, resulted in the group dividing,
which finally gave birth to the Ashʾarite school of thought.
According to Ashʾarite theologians, God’s law of justice applies only to human beings who have
been obligated to act according to His laws. Applying the idea of justice to God, however, will put a
limit on an all-powerful creator; therefore, God is not bound by His own laws. He is just in whatever
He does. 20 Applied to suffering, this then means that all harm encountered by man is fair as it has
been willed by God who is just in all His creation. The Ashʾarite thinkers were in sharp conflict with
the Muʿtazilites who asserted that not only is God subjected to the same rules of justice but that, in
fact, the obligation to act in just means is eternal and uncompromising for God. It is worth noting that
a prominent Muslim philosopher, Ibn Rushd (Averroes, d. 1198), challenged these views and asserted
that the element of justice may not be employed for God and man in the same manner: man, by virtue
of being just, advances to a higher level of goodness; God, however, is just due to His perfectiona
trait that requires Him to be just.21
In the final analysis, mainstream Sunnite theologians supported the Ashʾarite school of thought
and emphasized that God creates all acts. In order to reconcile God’s omnipotence with human
responsibility, the doctrine of acquisition (kasb) was adopted: God creates all acts; humans freely
acquire certain acts and, therefore, are accountable for the acquisition of good and evil acts. 22
Conversely, Muslim thinkers belonging to the Shiʾite branch of Islamthrough the influence of
rational element in the Muʿtazilite theologyremained in disagreement with the Ashʿarites. An
example of this may be observed from the writings of an eminent Persian philosopher, Morteza
Muahharī (d. 1979), who was of the opinion that the Ashʾarite outlook, while aimed at vindicating
God from injustice, resulted in exonerating human oppressors of any wrongdoing.23
From the Muslim philosophical perspective, the notion of good and evil is enclosed within the
wider ontological understanding of existence (wujūd) and nonexistence (ʿadam). Briefly put, good is
defined as a positive entity that branches from existence; evil, on the other hand, stems from
nonexistence and as such is viewed as a negative entity. 24 An example of the ontological
interpretation of what constitutes good and evil may be seen from the works of two prominent
Muslim philosophers who significantly influenced the shaping of Muslim philosophical thought: Ibn
Sīnā, known as Avicenna (d. 1037), and Sadr al-Din Shirāzī, who was mostly recognized as Mullā
Sadrā (d. 1636).
Ibn Sīnā formed a theodicy by distinguishing the various forms of evil such as “essential” evil
(sharr bidh-dhāt), which is non-being or privation, and “accidental” evil (sharr bil-ʿara), which can be
either being or privation. In his analysis, Ibn Sīnā concluded that it is the non-essential/accidental evil
that is the leading cause of human suffering and that the total amount of good in the universe
outweighs the amount of evil. 25 Mullā Sadrā, on the other hand, extensively developed this
philosophical approach by an interest in combining theology with mystical insight. This approach,
according to Rizvi, totally transformed the theory of existence as it pertains to Islamic metaphysics.26
19 For a great discussion on the Muʿtazilites view on pain and suffering see (Heemskerk 2000). For an extensive
study on the notion of disability in Islam, see Mohammed Ghaly, Islam and Disability: Perspectives in Theology
and Jurisprudence (Ghaly 2010).
20 See Wolfson, The Philosopy of Kalam (Wolfson 1976).
21 For more on his philosophy, see Ibn Rushd (Averroes), The Philosophy and Theology of Averroes, (Averroes
1921).
22 For more on theory of acquisition, see Wolfson, The Philosopy of Kalam (Wolfson 1976).
23 See (Mutahhari 1385, pp. 5051).
24 For more on ontological aspects of good and evil, see Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Islamic Philosophy from Its Origin
to the Present (Nasr 2006, pp. 6568).
25 For more on Ibn Sīnā’s theodicy, see Shams C. Inati, The Problem of Evil: Ibn Sina's Theodicy (Inati 2000).
26 See Sajjad Rizvi, 'Mulla Sadra', Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Rizvi 2009).
tazilite school of thought, also known as the rationalists, categorically opposed the idea
that God creates human acts that include evil and advocated for human free will by emphasizing
the importance of the divine attribute of justice (
Religions 2018, 9, x FOR PEER REVIEW 5 of 13
of instrumentality of human suffering in the divine plan. The notion of suffering, which included
undeserved suffering by children and animals, continued to be discussed by the Muʿtazilite
theologians.19 The Muʿtazilites firm stress on Gods justice, however, resulted in the group dividing,
which finally gave birth to the Ashʾarite school of thought.
According to Ashʾarite theologians, God’s law of justice applies only to human beings who have
been obligated to act according to His laws. Applying the idea of justice to God, however, will put a
limit on an all-powerful creator; therefore, God is not bound by His own laws. He is just in whatever
He does. 20 Applied to suffering, this then means that all harm encountered by man is fair as it has
been willed by God who is just in all His creation. The Ashʾarite thinkers were in sharp conflict with
the Muʿtazilites who asserted that not only is God subjected to the same rules of justice but that, in
fact, the obligation to act in just means is eternal and uncompromising for God. It is worth noting that
a prominent Muslim philosopher, Ibn Rushd (Averroes, d. 1198), challenged these views and asserted
that the element of justice may not be employed for God and man in the same manner: man, by virtue
of being just, advances to a higher level of goodness; God, however, is just due to His perfectiona
trait that requires Him to be just.21
In the final analysis, mainstream Sunnite theologians supported the Ashʾarite school of thought
and emphasized that God creates all acts. In order to reconcile God’s omnipotence with human
responsibility, the doctrine of acquisition (kasb) was adopted: God creates all acts; humans freely
acquire certain acts and, therefore, are accountable for the acquisition of good and evil acts. 22
Conversely, Muslim thinkers belonging to the Shiʾite branch of Islamthrough the influence of
rational element in the Muʿtazilite theologyremained in disagreement with the Ashʿarites. An
example of this may be observed from the writings of an eminent Persian philosopher, Morteza
Muahharī (d. 1979), who was of the opinion that the Ashʾarite outlook, while aimed at vindicating
God from injustice, resulted in exonerating human oppressors of any wrongdoing.23
From the Muslim philosophical perspective, the notion of good and evil is enclosed within the
wider ontological understanding of existence (wujūd) and nonexistence (ʿadam). Briefly put, good is
defined as a positive entity that branches from existence; evil, on the other hand, stems from
nonexistence and as such is viewed as a negative entity. 24 An example of the ontological
interpretation of what constitutes good and evil may be seen from the works of two prominent
Muslim philosophers who significantly influenced the shaping of Muslim philosophical thought: Ibn
Sīnā, known as Avicenna (d. 1037), and Sadr al-Din Shirāzī, who was mostly recognized as Mullā
Sadrā (d. 1636).
Ibn Sīnā formed a theodicy by distinguishing the various forms of evil such as “essential” evil
(sharr bidh-dhāt), which is non-being or privation, and “accidental” evil (sharr bil-ʿara), which can be
either being or privation. In his analysis, Ibn Sīnā concluded that it is the non-essential/accidental evil
that is the leading cause of human suffering and that the total amount of good in the universe
outweighs the amount of evil. 25 Mullā Sadrā, on the other hand, extensively developed this
philosophical approach by an interest in combining theology with mystical insight. This approach,
according to Rizvi, totally transformed the theory of existence as it pertains to Islamic metaphysics.26
19 For a great discussion on the Muʿtazilites view on pain and suffering see (Heemskerk 2000). For an extensive
study on the notion of disability in Islam, see Mohammed Ghaly, Islam and Disability: Perspectives in Theology
and Jurisprudence (Ghaly 2010).
20 See Wolfson, The Philosopy of Kalam (Wolfson 1976).
21 For more on his philosophy, see Ibn Rushd (Averroes), The Philosophy and Theology of Averroes, (Averroes
1921).
22 For more on theory of acquisition, see Wolfson, The Philosopy of Kalam (Wolfson 1976).
23 See (Mutahhari 1385, pp. 5051).
24 For more on ontological aspects of good and evil, see Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Islamic Philosophy from Its Origin
to the Present (Nasr 2006, pp. 6568).
25 For more on Ibn Sīnā’s theodicy, see Shams C. Inati, The Problem of Evil: Ibn Sina's Theodicy (Inati 2000).
26 See Sajjad Rizvi, 'Mulla Sadra', Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Rizvi 2009).
adl). They upheld that God, in accordance with His
attribute of (
Religions 2018, 9, x FOR PEER REVIEW 5 of 13
of instrumentality of human suffering in the divine plan. The notion of suffering, which included
undeserved suffering by children and animals, continued to be discussed by the Muʿtazilite
theologians.19 The Muʿtazilites firm stress on Gods justice, however, resulted in the group dividing,
which finally gave birth to the Ashʾarite school of thought.
According to Ashʾarite theologians, God’s law of justice applies only to human beings who have
been obligated to act according to His laws. Applying the idea of justice to God, however, will put a
limit on an all-powerful creator; therefore, God is not bound by His own laws. He is just in whatever
He does. 20 Applied to suffering, this then means that all harm encountered by man is fair as it has
been willed by God who is just in all His creation. The Ashʾarite thinkers were in sharp conflict with
the Muʿtazilites who asserted that not only is God subjected to the same rules of justice but that, in
fact, the obligation to act in just means is eternal and uncompromising for God. It is worth noting that
a prominent Muslim philosopher, Ibn Rushd (Averroes, d. 1198), challenged these views and asserted
that the element of justice may not be employed for God and man in the same manner: man, by virtue
of being just, advances to a higher level of goodness; God, however, is just due to His perfectiona
trait that requires Him to be just.21
In the final analysis, mainstream Sunnite theologians supported the Ashʾarite school of thought
and emphasized that God creates all acts. In order to reconcile God’s omnipotence with human
responsibility, the doctrine of acquisition (kasb) was adopted: God creates all acts; humans freely
acquire certain acts and, therefore, are accountable for the acquisition of good and evil acts. 22
Conversely, Muslim thinkers belonging to the Shiʾite branch of Islamthrough the influence of
rational element in the Muʿtazilite theologyremained in disagreement with the Ashʿarites. An
example of this may be observed from the writings of an eminent Persian philosopher, Morteza
Muahharī (d. 1979), who was of the opinion that the Ashʾarite outlook, while aimed at vindicating
God from injustice, resulted in exonerating human oppressors of any wrongdoing.23
From the Muslim philosophical perspective, the notion of good and evil is enclosed within the
wider ontological understanding of existence (wujūd) and nonexistence (ʿadam). Briefly put, good is
defined as a positive entity that branches from existence; evil, on the other hand, stems from
nonexistence and as such is viewed as a negative entity. 24 An example of the ontological
interpretation of what constitutes good and evil may be seen from the works of two prominent
Muslim philosophers who significantly influenced the shaping of Muslim philosophical thought: Ibn
Sīnā, known as Avicenna (d. 1037), and Sadr al-Din Shirāzī, who was mostly recognized as Mullā
Sadrā (d. 1636).
Ibn Sīnā formed a theodicy by distinguishing the various forms of evil such as “essential” evil
(sharr bidh-dhāt), which is non-being or privation, and “accidental” evil (sharr bil-ʿara), which can be
either being or privation. In his analysis, Ibn Sīnā concluded that it is the non-essential/accidental evil
that is the leading cause of human suffering and that the total amount of good in the universe
outweighs the amount of evil. 25 Mullā Sadrā, on the other hand, extensively developed this
philosophical approach by an interest in combining theology with mystical insight. This approach,
according to Rizvi, totally transformed the theory of existence as it pertains to Islamic metaphysics.26
19 For a great discussion on the Muʿtazilites view on pain and suffering see (Heemskerk 2000). For an extensive
study on the notion of disability in Islam, see Mohammed Ghaly, Islam and Disability: Perspectives in Theology
and Jurisprudence (Ghaly 2010).
20 See Wolfson, The Philosopy of Kalam (Wolfson 1976).
21 For more on his philosophy, see Ibn Rushd (Averroes), The Philosophy and Theology of Averroes, (Averroes
1921).
22 For more on theory of acquisition, see Wolfson, The Philosopy of Kalam (Wolfson 1976).
23 See (Mutahhari 1385, pp. 5051).
24 For more on ontological aspects of good and evil, see Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Islamic Philosophy from Its Origin
to the Present (Nasr 2006, pp. 6568).
25 For more on Ibn Sīnā’s theodicy, see Shams C. Inati, The Problem of Evil: Ibn Sina's Theodicy (Inati 2000).
26 See Sajjad Rizvi, 'Mulla Sadra', Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Rizvi 2009).
¯
aadil), cannot create evil and that evil is the direct result of man’s freedom of choice.
This view was challenged by raising questions such as: If God does not create evil, who, then, is
responsible for human suffering caused by illnesses and disasters? And if God wills for illnesses
and disasters in human life, how can He be just? The Mu
Religions 2018, 9, x FOR PEER REVIEW 5 of 13
of instrumentality of human suffering in the divine plan. The notion of suffering, which included
undeserved suffering by children and animals, continued to be discussed by the Muʿtazilite
theologians.19 The Muʿtazilites firm stress on Gods justice, however, resulted in the group dividing,
which finally gave birth to the Ashʾarite school of thought.
According to Ashʾarite theologians, God’s law of justice applies only to human beings who have
been obligated to act according to His laws. Applying the idea of justice to God, however, will put a
limit on an all-powerful creator; therefore, God is not bound by His own laws. He is just in whatever
He does. 20 Applied to suffering, this then means that all harm encountered by man is fair as it has
been willed by God who is just in all His creation. The Ashʾarite thinkers were in sharp conflict with
the Muʿtazilites who asserted that not only is God subjected to the same rules of justice but that, in
fact, the obligation to act in just means is eternal and uncompromising for God. It is worth noting that
a prominent Muslim philosopher, Ibn Rushd (Averroes, d. 1198), challenged these views and asserted
that the element of justice may not be employed for God and man in the same manner: man, by virtue
of being just, advances to a higher level of goodness; God, however, is just due to His perfectiona
trait that requires Him to be just.21
In the final analysis, mainstream Sunnite theologians supported the Ashʾarite school of thought
and emphasized that God creates all acts. In order to reconcile God’s omnipotence with human
responsibility, the doctrine of acquisition (kasb) was adopted: God creates all acts; humans freely
acquire certain acts and, therefore, are accountable for the acquisition of good and evil acts. 22
Conversely, Muslim thinkers belonging to the Shiʾite branch of Islamthrough the influence of
rational element in the Muʿtazilite theologyremained in disagreement with the Ashʿarites. An
example of this may be observed from the writings of an eminent Persian philosopher, Morteza
Muahharī (d. 1979), who was of the opinion that the Ashʾarite outlook, while aimed at vindicating
God from injustice, resulted in exonerating human oppressors of any wrongdoing.23
From the Muslim philosophical perspective, the notion of good and evil is enclosed within the
wider ontological understanding of existence (wujūd) and nonexistence (ʿadam). Briefly put, good is
defined as a positive entity that branches from existence; evil, on the other hand, stems from
nonexistence and as such is viewed as a negative entity. 24 An example of the ontological
interpretation of what constitutes good and evil may be seen from the works of two prominent
Muslim philosophers who significantly influenced the shaping of Muslim philosophical thought: Ibn
Sīnā, known as Avicenna (d. 1037), and Sadr al-Din Shirāzī, who was mostly recognized as Mullā
Sadrā (d. 1636).
Ibn Sīnā formed a theodicy by distinguishing the various forms of evil such as “essential” evil
(sharr bidh-dhāt), which is non-being or privation, and “accidental” evil (sharr bil-ʿara), which can be
either being or privation. In his analysis, Ibn Sīnā concluded that it is the non-essential/accidental evil
that is the leading cause of human suffering and that the total amount of good in the universe
outweighs the amount of evil. 25 Mullā Sadrā, on the other hand, extensively developed this
philosophical approach by an interest in combining theology with mystical insight. This approach,
according to Rizvi, totally transformed the theory of existence as it pertains to Islamic metaphysics.26
19 For a great discussion on the Muʿtazilites view on pain and suffering see (Heemskerk 2000). For an extensive
study on the notion of disability in Islam, see Mohammed Ghaly, Islam and Disability: Perspectives in Theology
and Jurisprudence (Ghaly 2010).
20 See Wolfson, The Philosopy of Kalam (Wolfson 1976).
21 For more on his philosophy, see Ibn Rushd (Averroes), The Philosophy and Theology of Averroes, (Averroes
1921).
22 For more on theory of acquisition, see Wolfson, The Philosopy of Kalam (Wolfson 1976).
23 See (Mutahhari 1385, pp. 5051).
24 For more on ontological aspects of good and evil, see Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Islamic Philosophy from Its Origin
to the Present (Nasr 2006, pp. 6568).
25 For more on Ibn Sīnā’s theodicy, see Shams C. Inati, The Problem of Evil: Ibn Sina's Theodicy (Inati 2000).
26 See Sajjad Rizvi, 'Mulla Sadra', Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Rizvi 2009).
tazilites responded by affirming that
illnesses and disasters, while may appear as “evil”, are in actuality “good” that God creates and that
serve a significant purpose in the creational cosmic plan. This seems to be the first appearance of
the theory of instrumentality of human suffering in the divine plan. The notion of suffering, which
included undeserved suffering by children and animals, continued to be discussed by the Mu
Religions 2018, 9, x FOR PEER REVIEW 5 of 13
of instrumentality of human suffering in the divine plan. The notion of suffering, which included
undeserved suffering by children and animals, continued to be discussed by the Muʿtazilite
theologians.19 The Muʿtazilites firm stress on Gods justice, however, resulted in the group dividing,
which finally gave birth to the Ashʾarite school of thought.
According to Ashʾarite theologians, God’s law of justice applies only to human beings who have
been obligated to act according to His laws. Applying the idea of justice to God, however, will put a
limit on an all-powerful creator; therefore, God is not bound by His own laws. He is just in whatever
He does. 20 Applied to suffering, this then means that all harm encountered by man is fair as it has
been willed by God who is just in all His creation. The Ashʾarite thinkers were in sharp conflict with
the Muʿtazilites who asserted that not only is God subjected to the same rules of justice but that, in
fact, the obligation to act in just means is eternal and uncompromising for God. It is worth noting that
a prominent Muslim philosopher, Ibn Rushd (Averroes, d. 1198), challenged these views and asserted
that the element of justice may not be employed for God and man in the same manner: man, by virtue
of being just, advances to a higher level of goodness; God, however, is just due to His perfectiona
trait that requires Him to be just.21
In the final analysis, mainstream Sunnite theologians supported the Ashʾarite school of thought
and emphasized that God creates all acts. In order to reconcile God’s omnipotence with human
responsibility, the doctrine of acquisition (kasb) was adopted: God creates all acts; humans freely
acquire certain acts and, therefore, are accountable for the acquisition of good and evil acts. 22
Conversely, Muslim thinkers belonging to the Shiʾite branch of Islamthrough the influence of
rational element in the Muʿtazilite theologyremained in disagreement with the Ashʿarites. An
example of this may be observed from the writings of an eminent Persian philosopher, Morteza
Muahharī (d. 1979), who was of the opinion that the Ashʾarite outlook, while aimed at vindicating
God from injustice, resulted in exonerating human oppressors of any wrongdoing.23
From the Muslim philosophical perspective, the notion of good and evil is enclosed within the
wider ontological understanding of existence (wujūd) and nonexistence (ʿadam). Briefly put, good is
defined as a positive entity that branches from existence; evil, on the other hand, stems from
nonexistence and as such is viewed as a negative entity. 24 An example of the ontological
interpretation of what constitutes good and evil may be seen from the works of two prominent
Muslim philosophers who significantly influenced the shaping of Muslim philosophical thought: Ibn
Sīnā, known as Avicenna (d. 1037), and Sadr al-Din Shirāzī, who was mostly recognized as Mullā
Sadrā (d. 1636).
Ibn Sīnā formed a theodicy by distinguishing the various forms of evil such as “essential” evil
(sharr bidh-dhāt), which is non-being or privation, and “accidental” evil (sharr bil-ʿara), which can be
either being or privation. In his analysis, Ibn Sīnā concluded that it is the non-essential/accidental evil
that is the leading cause of human suffering and that the total amount of good in the universe
outweighs the amount of evil. 25 Mullā Sadrā, on the other hand, extensively developed this
philosophical approach by an interest in combining theology with mystical insight. This approach,
according to Rizvi, totally transformed the theory of existence as it pertains to Islamic metaphysics.26
19 For a great discussion on the Muʿtazilites view on pain and suffering see (Heemskerk 2000). For an extensive
study on the notion of disability in Islam, see Mohammed Ghaly, Islam and Disability: Perspectives in Theology
and Jurisprudence (Ghaly 2010).
20 See Wolfson, The Philosopy of Kalam (Wolfson 1976).
21 For more on his philosophy, see Ibn Rushd (Averroes), The Philosophy and Theology of Averroes, (Averroes
1921).
22 For more on theory of acquisition, see Wolfson, The Philosopy of Kalam (Wolfson 1976).
23 See (Mutahhari 1385, pp. 5051).
24 For more on ontological aspects of good and evil, see Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Islamic Philosophy from Its Origin
to the Present (Nasr 2006, pp. 6568).
25 For more on Ibn Sīnā’s theodicy, see Shams C. Inati, The Problem of Evil: Ibn Sina's Theodicy (Inati 2000).
26 See Sajjad Rizvi, 'Mulla Sadra', Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Rizvi 2009).
tazilite
14 Qur’an 38:41–2 and 21:83–4.
15
See Abubakr ‘Tigh Neishabur Surabadi, Tafsir Surabadi, ed. Sa‘Idi Sirjani (Surabadi 1381). Also, see Brannon M. Wheeler,
Prophets in the Qur'an, an Introduction to the Qur’an and Muslim Exegesis (Wheeler 2002).
16 See (Johns 2003, pp. 50–51).
17 For more on this see Abdol Rahman Ibn Khald¯
un, Muqaddimah of Ibn Khald¯
un (Ibn Khald ¯
un 1375).
18
For a comprehensive discussion on development of theology in Islam, see Harry Austryn Wolfson, The Philosopy of Kalam
(Wolfson 1976).
Religions 2018,9, 47 5 of 13
theologians.19 The Mu
Religions 2018, 9, x FOR PEER REVIEW 5 of 13
of instrumentality of human suffering in the divine plan. The notion of suffering, which included
undeserved suffering by children and animals, continued to be discussed by the Muʿtazilite
theologians.19 The Muʿtazilites firm stress on Gods justice, however, resulted in the group dividing,
which finally gave birth to the Ashʾarite school of thought.
According to Ashʾarite theologians, God’s law of justice applies only to human beings who have
been obligated to act according to His laws. Applying the idea of justice to God, however, will put a
limit on an all-powerful creator; therefore, God is not bound by His own laws. He is just in whatever
He does. 20 Applied to suffering, this then means that all harm encountered by man is fair as it has
been willed by God who is just in all His creation. The Ashʾarite thinkers were in sharp conflict with
the Muʿtazilites who asserted that not only is God subjected to the same rules of justice but that, in
fact, the obligation to act in just means is eternal and uncompromising for God. It is worth noting that
a prominent Muslim philosopher, Ibn Rushd (Averroes, d. 1198), challenged these views and asserted
that the element of justice may not be employed for God and man in the same manner: man, by virtue
of being just, advances to a higher level of goodness; God, however, is just due to His perfectiona
trait that requires Him to be just.21
In the final analysis, mainstream Sunnite theologians supported the Ashʾarite school of thought
and emphasized that God creates all acts. In order to reconcile God’s omnipotence with human
responsibility, the doctrine of acquisition (kasb) was adopted: God creates all acts; humans freely
acquire certain acts and, therefore, are accountable for the acquisition of good and evil acts. 22
Conversely, Muslim thinkers belonging to the Shiʾite branch of Islamthrough the influence of
rational element in the Muʿtazilite theologyremained in disagreement with the Ashʿarites. An
example of this may be observed from the writings of an eminent Persian philosopher, Morteza
Muahharī (d. 1979), who was of the opinion that the Ashʾarite outlook, while aimed at vindicating
God from injustice, resulted in exonerating human oppressors of any wrongdoing.23
From the Muslim philosophical perspective, the notion of good and evil is enclosed within the
wider ontological understanding of existence (wujūd) and nonexistence (ʿadam). Briefly put, good is
defined as a positive entity that branches from existence; evil, on the other hand, stems from
nonexistence and as such is viewed as a negative entity. 24 An example of the ontological
interpretation of what constitutes good and evil may be seen from the works of two prominent
Muslim philosophers who significantly influenced the shaping of Muslim philosophical thought: Ibn
Sīnā, known as Avicenna (d. 1037), and Sadr al-Din Shirāzī, who was mostly recognized as Mullā
Sadrā (d. 1636).
Ibn Sīnā formed a theodicy by distinguishing the various forms of evil such as “essential” evil
(sharr bidh-dhāt), which is non-being or privation, and “accidental” evil (sharr bil-ʿara), which can be
either being or privation. In his analysis, Ibn Sīnā concluded that it is the non-essential/accidental evil
that is the leading cause of human suffering and that the total amount of good in the universe
outweighs the amount of evil. 25 Mullā Sadrā, on the other hand, extensively developed this
philosophical approach by an interest in combining theology with mystical insight. This approach,
according to Rizvi, totally transformed the theory of existence as it pertains to Islamic metaphysics.26
19 For a great discussion on the Muʿtazilites view on pain and suffering see (Heemskerk 2000). For an extensive
study on the notion of disability in Islam, see Mohammed Ghaly, Islam and Disability: Perspectives in Theology
and Jurisprudence (Ghaly 2010).
20 See Wolfson, The Philosopy of Kalam (Wolfson 1976).
21 For more on his philosophy, see Ibn Rushd (Averroes), The Philosophy and Theology of Averroes, (Averroes
1921).
22 For more on theory of acquisition, see Wolfson, The Philosopy of Kalam (Wolfson 1976).
23 See (Mutahhari 1385, pp. 5051).
24 For more on ontological aspects of good and evil, see Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Islamic Philosophy from Its Origin
to the Present (Nasr 2006, pp. 6568).
25 For more on Ibn Sīnā’s theodicy, see Shams C. Inati, The Problem of Evil: Ibn Sina's Theodicy (Inati 2000).
26 See Sajjad Rizvi, 'Mulla Sadra', Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Rizvi 2009).
tazilite’s firm stress on God’s justice, however, resulted in the group dividing,
which finally gave birth to the Ash
Religions 2018, 9, x FOR PEER REVIEW 4 of 13
when afflicted with illness and adversity.13 Job’s incomparable sincerity and submission to God’s
will in both health and prosperity, as well as during affliction and hardship, are the reasons the
Qur’an portrays him as “an excellent servant.14
According to Muslim exegesis, what distinguishes Job is the fact that despite his enormous
fortune, he continually attributed the source of his blessings to God and remained humble as a
servant who lacked ownership of his belongings. Similarly, when God tested him with a serious
disease, he exercised patience and recognized that he was going through a testa positive
experienceand ascribed any negative feelings of despair to Satan.15
The Qur’anic narrative about Job demonstrates that trials and testswhether in prosperity and
health or illness and hardshipare part of the divine plan, so much so that even prophets are not
exempt; it is through various experiences in life that man is able to actualize his potential and
propagate his mission on this earth. As John notes, “the story of Job in the Qur’an is understood
primarily as a reward narrative with an emphasis different from that of the story of Job in the Bible.”16
4. Concept of Evil: Theological and Philosophical Development
One of the earliest problems in Muslim theological thought (kalām) was how to reconcile the
divine attribute of omnipotence with the notion of human free will. The departure point for this
discourse was the Qur’an and the diverse interpretations of its teachings on the divine names and
attributes (asmāʾ al-usnā).17 The reconciliation of certain divine attributes, predominantly the aspect
of an all-powerful God, with the idea of human free willthe broader frame with which human
suffering was enclosedwas the first attempt to initiate a theodicy within the context of Islam.
The discourse presents itself at the core of the theological dialogue amongst various groups. The
theologians who advocated for the attribute of omnipotence in its absolute and uncompromising
form were of the opinion that the only agent in this world is God: He creates His own acts as well as
the acts of all human beings. As this view raised serious concerns about the creation of “evil” acts by
God, the debate developed further to question the validity of human free willthe concept that is
deeply rooted in the Quran as it relates to man’s responsibility and accountability, as well as divine
judgment and reward and punishment. The dialogue crystallized between the Muʿtazilite and the
Ashʿarite, the two main schools of thought, with a divergence of opinion; both made a serious effort
to win the argument according to their understanding of the Qur’an.18
The Muʿtazilite school of thought, also known as the rationalists, categorically opposed the idea
that God creates human acts that include evil and advocated for human free will by emphasizing the
importance of the divine attribute of justice (ʿadl). They upheld that God, in accordance with His
attribute of (ʿāadil), cannot create evil and that evil is the direct result of man’s freedom of choice. This
view was challenged by raising questions such as: If God does not create evil, who, then, is
responsible for human suffering caused by illnesses and disasters? And if God wills for illnesses and
disasters in human life, how can He be just? The Muʿtazilites responded by affirming that illnesses
and disasters, while may appear as “evil”, are in actuality “good” that God creates and that serve a
significant purpose in the creational cosmic plan. This seems to be the first appearance of the theory
13 The story of Job in JudeoChristian traditions is presented in the Book of Job and appears in the form of a
dialogue between Job and his friends who try to explain to him the reason for his sufferings. A comparative
study of the story between JudeoChristian tradition and Islam is beyond the scope of this paper. For an
excellent comparative review, see A.H. Johns, A Comparative Glance at Ayyub in the Qur'an (Johns 2008,
pp. 5182).
14 Qur’an 38:41–2 and 21:834.
15 See Abubakr `Tigh Neishabur Surabadi, Tafsir Surabadi, ed. Sa`Idi Sirjani (Surabadi 1381). Also, see Brannon
M. Wheeler, Prophets in the Qur'an, an Introduction to the Qur'an and Muslim Exegesis (Wheeler 2002).
16 See (Johns 2003, pp. 5051).
17 For more on this see Abdol Rahman Ibn Khaldūn, Muqaddimah of Ibn Khaldūn (Ibn Khaldūn 1375).
18 For a comprehensive discussion on development of theology in Islam, see Harry Austryn Wolfson, The
Philosopy of Kalam (Wolfson 1976).
arite school of thought.
According to Ash
Religions 2018, 9, x FOR PEER REVIEW 4 of 13
when afflicted with illness and adversity.13 Job’s incomparable sincerity and submission to God’s
will in both health and prosperity, as well as during affliction and hardship, are the reasons the
Qur’an portrays him as “an excellent servant.14
According to Muslim exegesis, what distinguishes Job is the fact that despite his enormous
fortune, he continually attributed the source of his blessings to God and remained humble as a
servant who lacked ownership of his belongings. Similarly, when God tested him with a serious
disease, he exercised patience and recognized that he was going through a testa positive
experienceand ascribed any negative feelings of despair to Satan.15
The Qur’anic narrative about Job demonstrates that trials and testswhether in prosperity and
health or illness and hardshipare part of the divine plan, so much so that even prophets are not
exempt; it is through various experiences in life that man is able to actualize his potential and
propagate his mission on this earth. As John notes, “the story of Job in the Qur’an is understood
primarily as a reward narrative with an emphasis different from that of the story of Job in the Bible.”16
4. Concept of Evil: Theological and Philosophical Development
One of the earliest problems in Muslim theological thought (kalām) was how to reconcile the
divine attribute of omnipotence with the notion of human free will. The departure point for this
discourse was the Qur’an and the diverse interpretations of its teachings on the divine names and
attributes (asmāʾ al-usnā).17 The reconciliation of certain divine attributes, predominantly the aspect
of an all-powerful God, with the idea of human free willthe broader frame with which human
suffering was enclosedwas the first attempt to initiate a theodicy within the context of Islam.
The discourse presents itself at the core of the theological dialogue amongst various groups. The
theologians who advocated for the attribute of omnipotence in its absolute and uncompromising
form were of the opinion that the only agent in this world is God: He creates His own acts as well as
the acts of all human beings. As this view raised serious concerns about the creation of “evil” acts by
God, the debate developed further to question the validity of human free willthe concept that is
deeply rooted in the Quran as it relates to man’s responsibility and accountability, as well as divine
judgment and reward and punishment. The dialogue crystallized between the Muʿtazilite and the
Ashʿarite, the two main schools of thought, with a divergence of opinion; both made a serious effort
to win the argument according to their understanding of the Qur’an.18
The Muʿtazilite school of thought, also known as the rationalists, categorically opposed the idea
that God creates human acts that include evil and advocated for human free will by emphasizing the
importance of the divine attribute of justice (ʿadl). They upheld that God, in accordance with His
attribute of (ʿāadil), cannot create evil and that evil is the direct result of man’s freedom of choice. This
view was challenged by raising questions such as: If God does not create evil, who, then, is
responsible for human suffering caused by illnesses and disasters? And if God wills for illnesses and
disasters in human life, how can He be just? The Muʿtazilites responded by affirming that illnesses
and disasters, while may appear as “evil”, are in actuality “good” that God creates and that serve a
significant purpose in the creational cosmic plan. This seems to be the first appearance of the theory
13 The story of Job in JudeoChristian traditions is presented in the Book of Job and appears in the form of a
dialogue between Job and his friends who try to explain to him the reason for his sufferings. A comparative
study of the story between JudeoChristian tradition and Islam is beyond the scope of this paper. For an
excellent comparative review, see A.H. Johns, A Comparative Glance at Ayyub in the Qur'an (Johns 2008,
pp. 5182).
14 Qur’an 38:41–2 and 21:834.
15 See Abubakr `Tigh Neishabur Surabadi, Tafsir Surabadi, ed. Sa`Idi Sirjani (Surabadi 1381). Also, see Brannon
M. Wheeler, Prophets in the Qur'an, an Introduction to the Qur'an and Muslim Exegesis (Wheeler 2002).
16 See (Johns 2003, pp. 5051).
17 For more on this see Abdol Rahman Ibn Khaldūn, Muqaddimah of Ibn Khaldūn (Ibn Khaldūn 1375).
18 For a comprehensive discussion on development of theology in Islam, see Harry Austryn Wolfson, The
Philosopy of Kalam (Wolfson 1976).
arite theologians, God’s law of justice applies only to human beings who have
been obligated to act according to His laws. Applying the idea of justice to God, however, will put a
limit on an all-powerful creator; therefore, God is not bound by His own laws. He is just in whatever
He does.
20
Applied to suffering, this then means that all harm encountered by man is fair as it has
been willed by God who is just in all His creation. The Ash
Religions 2018, 9, x FOR PEER REVIEW 4 of 13
when afflicted with illness and adversity.13 Job’s incomparable sincerity and submission to God’s
will in both health and prosperity, as well as during affliction and hardship, are the reasons the
Qur’an portrays him as “an excellent servant.14
According to Muslim exegesis, what distinguishes Job is the fact that despite his enormous
fortune, he continually attributed the source of his blessings to God and remained humble as a
servant who lacked ownership of his belongings. Similarly, when God tested him with a serious
disease, he exercised patience and recognized that he was going through a testa positive
experienceand ascribed any negative feelings of despair to Satan.15
The Qur’anic narrative about Job demonstrates that trials and testswhether in prosperity and
health or illness and hardshipare part of the divine plan, so much so that even prophets are not
exempt; it is through various experiences in life that man is able to actualize his potential and
propagate his mission on this earth. As John notes, “the story of Job in the Qur’an is understood
primarily as a reward narrative with an emphasis different from that of the story of Job in the Bible.”16
4. Concept of Evil: Theological and Philosophical Development
One of the earliest problems in Muslim theological thought (kalām) was how to reconcile the
divine attribute of omnipotence with the notion of human free will. The departure point for this
discourse was the Qur’an and the diverse interpretations of its teachings on the divine names and
attributes (asmāʾ al-usnā).17 The reconciliation of certain divine attributes, predominantly the aspect
of an all-powerful God, with the idea of human free willthe broader frame with which human
suffering was enclosedwas the first attempt to initiate a theodicy within the context of Islam.
The discourse presents itself at the core of the theological dialogue amongst various groups. The
theologians who advocated for the attribute of omnipotence in its absolute and uncompromising
form were of the opinion that the only agent in this world is God: He creates His own acts as well as
the acts of all human beings. As this view raised serious concerns about the creation of “evil” acts by
God, the debate developed further to question the validity of human free willthe concept that is
deeply rooted in the Quran as it relates to man’s responsibility and accountability, as well as divine
judgment and reward and punishment. The dialogue crystallized between the Muʿtazilite and the
Ashʿarite, the two main schools of thought, with a divergence of opinion; both made a serious effort
to win the argument according to their understanding of the Qur’an.18
The Muʿtazilite school of thought, also known as the rationalists, categorically opposed the idea
that God creates human acts that include evil and advocated for human free will by emphasizing the
importance of the divine attribute of justice (ʿadl). They upheld that God, in accordance with His
attribute of (ʿāadil), cannot create evil and that evil is the direct result of man’s freedom of choice. This
view was challenged by raising questions such as: If God does not create evil, who, then, is
responsible for human suffering caused by illnesses and disasters? And if God wills for illnesses and
disasters in human life, how can He be just? The Muʿtazilites responded by affirming that illnesses
and disasters, while may appear as “evil”, are in actuality “good” that God creates and that serve a
significant purpose in the creational cosmic plan. This seems to be the first appearance of the theory
13 The story of Job in JudeoChristian traditions is presented in the Book of Job and appears in the form of a
dialogue between Job and his friends who try to explain to him the reason for his sufferings. A comparative
study of the story between JudeoChristian tradition and Islam is beyond the scope of this paper. For an
excellent comparative review, see A.H. Johns, A Comparative Glance at Ayyub in the Qur'an (Johns 2008,
pp. 5182).
14 Qur’an 38:41–2 and 21:834.
15 See Abubakr `Tigh Neishabur Surabadi, Tafsir Surabadi, ed. Sa`Idi Sirjani (Surabadi 1381). Also, see Brannon
M. Wheeler, Prophets in the Qur'an, an Introduction to the Qur'an and Muslim Exegesis (Wheeler 2002).
16 See (Johns 2003, pp. 5051).
17 For more on this see Abdol Rahman Ibn Khaldūn, Muqaddimah of Ibn Khaldūn (Ibn Khaldūn 1375).
18 For a comprehensive discussion on development of theology in Islam, see Harry Austryn Wolfson, The
Philosopy of Kalam (Wolfson 1976).
arite thinkers were in sharp conflict
with the Mu
Religions 2018, 9, x FOR PEER REVIEW 5 of 13
of instrumentality of human suffering in the divine plan. The notion of suffering, which included
undeserved suffering by children and animals, continued to be discussed by the Muʿtazilite
theologians.19 The Muʿtazilites firm stress on Gods justice, however, resulted in the group dividing,
which finally gave birth to the Ashʾarite school of thought.
According to Ashʾarite theologians, God’s law of justice applies only to human beings who have
been obligated to act according to His laws. Applying the idea of justice to God, however, will put a
limit on an all-powerful creator; therefore, God is not bound by His own laws. He is just in whatever
He does. 20 Applied to suffering, this then means that all harm encountered by man is fair as it has
been willed by God who is just in all His creation. The Ashʾarite thinkers were in sharp conflict with
the Muʿtazilites who asserted that not only is God subjected to the same rules of justice but that, in
fact, the obligation to act in just means is eternal and uncompromising for God. It is worth noting that
a prominent Muslim philosopher, Ibn Rushd (Averroes, d. 1198), challenged these views and asserted
that the element of justice may not be employed for God and man in the same manner: man, by virtue
of being just, advances to a higher level of goodness; God, however, is just due to His perfectiona
trait that requires Him to be just.21
In the final analysis, mainstream Sunnite theologians supported the Ashʾarite school of thought
and emphasized that God creates all acts. In order to reconcile God’s omnipotence with human
responsibility, the doctrine of acquisition (kasb) was adopted: God creates all acts; humans freely
acquire certain acts and, therefore, are accountable for the acquisition of good and evil acts. 22
Conversely, Muslim thinkers belonging to the Shiʾite branch of Islamthrough the influence of
rational element in the Muʿtazilite theologyremained in disagreement with the Ashʿarites. An
example of this may be observed from the writings of an eminent Persian philosopher, Morteza
Muahharī (d. 1979), who was of the opinion that the Ashʾarite outlook, while aimed at vindicating
God from injustice, resulted in exonerating human oppressors of any wrongdoing.23
From the Muslim philosophical perspective, the notion of good and evil is enclosed within the
wider ontological understanding of existence (wujūd) and nonexistence (ʿadam). Briefly put, good is
defined as a positive entity that branches from existence; evil, on the other hand, stems from
nonexistence and as such is viewed as a negative entity. 24 An example of the ontological
interpretation of what constitutes good and evil may be seen from the works of two prominent
Muslim philosophers who significantly influenced the shaping of Muslim philosophical thought: Ibn
Sīnā, known as Avicenna (d. 1037), and Sadr al-Din Shirāzī, who was mostly recognized as Mullā
Sadrā (d. 1636).
Ibn Sīnā formed a theodicy by distinguishing the various forms of evil such as “essential” evil
(sharr bidh-dhāt), which is non-being or privation, and “accidental” evil (sharr bil-ʿara), which can be
either being or privation. In his analysis, Ibn Sīnā concluded that it is the non-essential/accidental evil
that is the leading cause of human suffering and that the total amount of good in the universe
outweighs the amount of evil. 25 Mullā Sadrā, on the other hand, extensively developed this
philosophical approach by an interest in combining theology with mystical insight. This approach,
according to Rizvi, totally transformed the theory of existence as it pertains to Islamic metaphysics.26
19 For a great discussion on the Muʿtazilites view on pain and suffering see (Heemskerk 2000). For an extensive
study on the notion of disability in Islam, see Mohammed Ghaly, Islam and Disability: Perspectives in Theology
and Jurisprudence (Ghaly 2010).
20 See Wolfson, The Philosopy of Kalam (Wolfson 1976).
21 For more on his philosophy, see Ibn Rushd (Averroes), The Philosophy and Theology of Averroes, (Averroes
1921).
22 For more on theory of acquisition, see Wolfson, The Philosopy of Kalam (Wolfson 1976).
23 See (Mutahhari 1385, pp. 5051).
24 For more on ontological aspects of good and evil, see Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Islamic Philosophy from Its Origin
to the Present (Nasr 2006, pp. 6568).
25 For more on Ibn Sīnā’s theodicy, see Shams C. Inati, The Problem of Evil: Ibn Sina's Theodicy (Inati 2000).
26 See Sajjad Rizvi, 'Mulla Sadra', Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Rizvi 2009).
tazilites who asserted that not only is God subjected to the same rules of justice but
that, in fact, the obligation to act in just means is eternal and uncompromising for God. It is worth
noting that a prominent Muslim philosopher, Ibn Rushd (Averroes, d. 1198), challenged these views
and asserted that the element of justice may not be employed for God and man in the same manner:
man, by virtue of being just, advances to a higher level of goodness; God, however, is just due to His
perfection—a trait that requires Him to be just.21
In the final analysis, mainstream Sunnite theologians supported the Ash
Religions 2018, 9, x FOR PEER REVIEW 4 of 13
when afflicted with illness and adversity.13 Job’s incomparable sincerity and submission to God’s
will in both health and prosperity, as well as during affliction and hardship, are the reasons the
Qur’an portrays him as “an excellent servant.14
According to Muslim exegesis, what distinguishes Job is the fact that despite his enormous
fortune, he continually attributed the source of his blessings to God and remained humble as a
servant who lacked ownership of his belongings. Similarly, when God tested him with a serious
disease, he exercised patience and recognized that he was going through a testa positive
experienceand ascribed any negative feelings of despair to Satan.15
The Qur’anic narrative about Job demonstrates that trials and testswhether in prosperity and
health or illness and hardshipare part of the divine plan, so much so that even prophets are not
exempt; it is through various experiences in life that man is able to actualize his potential and
propagate his mission on this earth. As John notes, “the story of Job in the Qur’an is understood
primarily as a reward narrative with an emphasis different from that of the story of Job in the Bible.”16
4. Concept of Evil: Theological and Philosophical Development
One of the earliest problems in Muslim theological thought (kalām) was how to reconcile the
divine attribute of omnipotence with the notion of human free will. The departure point for this
discourse was the Qur’an and the diverse interpretations of its teachings on the divine names and
attributes (asmāʾ al-usnā).17 The reconciliation of certain divine attributes, predominantly the aspect
of an all-powerful God, with the idea of human free willthe broader frame with which human
suffering was enclosedwas the first attempt to initiate a theodicy within the context of Islam.
The discourse presents itself at the core of the theological dialogue amongst various groups. The
theologians who advocated for the attribute of omnipotence in its absolute and uncompromising
form were of the opinion that the only agent in this world is God: He creates His own acts as well as
the acts of all human beings. As this view raised serious concerns about the creation of “evil” acts by
God, the debate developed further to question the validity of human free willthe concept that is
deeply rooted in the Quran as it relates to man’s responsibility and accountability, as well as divine
judgment and reward and punishment. The dialogue crystallized between the Muʿtazilite and the
Ashʿarite, the two main schools of thought, with a divergence of opinion; both made a serious effort
to win the argument according to their understanding of the Qur’an.18
The Muʿtazilite school of thought, also known as the rationalists, categorically opposed the idea
that God creates human acts that include evil and advocated for human free will by emphasizing the
importance of the divine attribute of justice (ʿadl). They upheld that God, in accordance with His
attribute of (ʿāadil), cannot create evil and that evil is the direct result of man’s freedom of choice. This
view was challenged by raising questions such as: If God does not create evil, who, then, is
responsible for human suffering caused by illnesses and disasters? And if God wills for illnesses and
disasters in human life, how can He be just? The Muʿtazilites responded by affirming that illnesses
and disasters, while may appear as “evil”, are in actuality “good” that God creates and that serve a
significant purpose in the creational cosmic plan. This seems to be the first appearance of the theory
13 The story of Job in JudeoChristian traditions is presented in the Book of Job and appears in the form of a
dialogue between Job and his friends who try to explain to him the reason for his sufferings. A comparative
study of the story between JudeoChristian tradition and Islam is beyond the scope of this paper. For an
excellent comparative review, see A.H. Johns, A Comparative Glance at Ayyub in the Qur'an (Johns 2008,
pp. 5182).
14 Qur’an 38:41–2 and 21:834.
15 See Abubakr `Tigh Neishabur Surabadi, Tafsir Surabadi, ed. Sa`Idi Sirjani (Surabadi 1381). Also, see Brannon
M. Wheeler, Prophets in the Qur'an, an Introduction to the Qur'an and Muslim Exegesis (Wheeler 2002).
16 See (Johns 2003, pp. 5051).
17 For more on this see Abdol Rahman Ibn Khaldūn, Muqaddimah of Ibn Khaldūn (Ibn Khaldūn 1375).
18 For a comprehensive discussion on development of theology in Islam, see Harry Austryn Wolfson, The
Philosopy of Kalam (Wolfson 1976).
arite school of thought
and emphasized that God creates all acts. In order to reconcile God’s omnipotence with human
responsibility, the doctrine of acquisition (kasb) was adopted: God creates all acts; humans freely acquire
certain acts and, therefore, are accountable for the acquisition of good and evil acts.
22
Conversely,
Muslim thinkers belonging to the Shi
Religions 2018, 9, x FOR PEER REVIEW 4 of 13
when afflicted with illness and adversity.13 Job’s incomparable sincerity and submission to God’s
will in both health and prosperity, as well as during affliction and hardship, are the reasons the
Qur’an portrays him as “an excellent servant.14
According to Muslim exegesis, what distinguishes Job is the fact that despite his enormous
fortune, he continually attributed the source of his blessings to God and remained humble as a
servant who lacked ownership of his belongings. Similarly, when God tested him with a serious
disease, he exercised patience and recognized that he was going through a testa positive
experienceand ascribed any negative feelings of despair to Satan.15
The Qur’anic narrative about Job demonstrates that trials and testswhether in prosperity and
health or illness and hardshipare part of the divine plan, so much so that even prophets are not
exempt; it is through various experiences in life that man is able to actualize his potential and
propagate his mission on this earth. As John notes, “the story of Job in the Qur’an is understood
primarily as a reward narrative with an emphasis different from that of the story of Job in the Bible.”16
4. Concept of Evil: Theological and Philosophical Development
One of the earliest problems in Muslim theological thought (kalām) was how to reconcile the
divine attribute of omnipotence with the notion of human free will. The departure point for this
discourse was the Qur’an and the diverse interpretations of its teachings on the divine names and
attributes (asmāʾ al-usnā).17 The reconciliation of certain divine attributes, predominantly the aspect
of an all-powerful God, with the idea of human free willthe broader frame with which human
suffering was enclosedwas the first attempt to initiate a theodicy within the context of Islam.
The discourse presents itself at the core of the theological dialogue amongst various groups. The
theologians who advocated for the attribute of omnipotence in its absolute and uncompromising
form were of the opinion that the only agent in this world is God: He creates His own acts as well as
the acts of all human beings. As this view raised serious concerns about the creation of “evil” acts by
God, the debate developed further to question the validity of human free willthe concept that is
deeply rooted in the Quran as it relates to man’s responsibility and accountability, as well as divine
judgment and reward and punishment. The dialogue crystallized between the Muʿtazilite and the
Ashʿarite, the two main schools of thought, with a divergence of opinion; both made a serious effort
to win the argument according to their understanding of the Qur’an.18
The Muʿtazilite school of thought, also known as the rationalists, categorically opposed the idea
that God creates human acts that include evil and advocated for human free will by emphasizing the
importance of the divine attribute of justice (ʿadl). They upheld that God, in accordance with His
attribute of (ʿāadil), cannot create evil and that evil is the direct result of man’s freedom of choice. This
view was challenged by raising questions such as: If God does not create evil, who, then, is
responsible for human suffering caused by illnesses and disasters? And if God wills for illnesses and
disasters in human life, how can He be just? The Muʿtazilites responded by affirming that illnesses
and disasters, while may appear as “evil”, are in actuality “good” that God creates and that serve a
significant purpose in the creational cosmic plan. This seems to be the first appearance of the theory
13 The story of Job in JudeoChristian traditions is presented in the Book of Job and appears in the form of a
dialogue between Job and his friends who try to explain to him the reason for his sufferings. A comparative
study of the story between JudeoChristian tradition and Islam is beyond the scope of this paper. For an
excellent comparative review, see A.H. Johns, A Comparative Glance at Ayyub in the Qur'an (Johns 2008,
pp. 5182).
14 Qur’an 38:41–2 and 21:834.
15 See Abubakr `Tigh Neishabur Surabadi, Tafsir Surabadi, ed. Sa`Idi Sirjani (Surabadi 1381). Also, see Brannon
M. Wheeler, Prophets in the Qur'an, an Introduction to the Qur'an and Muslim Exegesis (Wheeler 2002).
16 See (Johns 2003, pp. 5051).
17 For more on this see Abdol Rahman Ibn Khaldūn, Muqaddimah of Ibn Khaldūn (Ibn Khaldūn 1375).
18 For a comprehensive discussion on development of theology in Islam, see Harry Austryn Wolfson, The
Philosopy of Kalam (Wolfson 1976).
ite branch of Islam—through the influence of rational element in
the Mu
Religions 2018, 9, x FOR PEER REVIEW 5 of 13
of instrumentality of human suffering in the divine plan. The notion of suffering, which included
undeserved suffering by children and animals, continued to be discussed by the Muʿtazilite
theologians.19 The Muʿtazilites firm stress on Gods justice, however, resulted in the group dividing,
which finally gave birth to the Ashʾarite school of thought.
According to Ashʾarite theologians, God’s law of justice applies only to human beings who have
been obligated to act according to His laws. Applying the idea of justice to God, however, will put a
limit on an all-powerful creator; therefore, God is not bound by His own laws. He is just in whatever
He does. 20 Applied to suffering, this then means that all harm encountered by man is fair as it has
been willed by God who is just in all His creation. The Ashʾarite thinkers were in sharp conflict with
the Muʿtazilites who asserted that not only is God subjected to the same rules of justice but that, in
fact, the obligation to act in just means is eternal and uncompromising for God. It is worth noting that
a prominent Muslim philosopher, Ibn Rushd (Averroes, d. 1198), challenged these views and asserted
that the element of justice may not be employed for God and man in the same manner: man, by virtue
of being just, advances to a higher level of goodness; God, however, is just due to His perfectiona
trait that requires Him to be just.21
In the final analysis, mainstream Sunnite theologians supported the Ashʾarite school of thought
and emphasized that God creates all acts. In order to reconcile God’s omnipotence with human
responsibility, the doctrine of acquisition (kasb) was adopted: God creates all acts; humans freely
acquire certain acts and, therefore, are accountable for the acquisition of good and evil acts. 22
Conversely, Muslim thinkers belonging to the Shiʾite branch of Islamthrough the influence of
rational element in the Muʿtazilite theologyremained in disagreement with the Ashʿarites. An
example of this may be observed from the writings of an eminent Persian philosopher, Morteza
Muahharī (d. 1979), who was of the opinion that the Ashʾarite outlook, while aimed at vindicating
God from injustice, resulted in exonerating human oppressors of any wrongdoing.23
From the Muslim philosophical perspective, the notion of good and evil is enclosed within the
wider ontological understanding of existence (wujūd) and nonexistence (ʿadam). Briefly put, good is
defined as a positive entity that branches from existence; evil, on the other hand, stems from
nonexistence and as such is viewed as a negative entity. 24 An example of the ontological
interpretation of what constitutes good and evil may be seen from the works of two prominent
Muslim philosophers who significantly influenced the shaping of Muslim philosophical thought: Ibn
Sīnā, known as Avicenna (d. 1037), and Sadr al-Din Shirāzī, who was mostly recognized as Mullā
Sadrā (d. 1636).
Ibn Sīnā formed a theodicy by distinguishing the various forms of evil such as “essential” evil
(sharr bidh-dhāt), which is non-being or privation, and “accidental” evil (sharr bil-ʿara), which can be
either being or privation. In his analysis, Ibn Sīnā concluded that it is the non-essential/accidental evil
that is the leading cause of human suffering and that the total amount of good in the universe
outweighs the amount of evil. 25 Mullā Sadrā, on the other hand, extensively developed this
philosophical approach by an interest in combining theology with mystical insight. This approach,
according to Rizvi, totally transformed the theory of existence as it pertains to Islamic metaphysics.26
19 For a great discussion on the Muʿtazilites view on pain and suffering see (Heemskerk 2000). For an extensive
study on the notion of disability in Islam, see Mohammed Ghaly, Islam and Disability: Perspectives in Theology
and Jurisprudence (Ghaly 2010).
20 See Wolfson, The Philosopy of Kalam (Wolfson 1976).
21 For more on his philosophy, see Ibn Rushd (Averroes), The Philosophy and Theology of Averroes, (Averroes
1921).
22 For more on theory of acquisition, see Wolfson, The Philosopy of Kalam (Wolfson 1976).
23 See (Mutahhari 1385, pp. 5051).
24 For more on ontological aspects of good and evil, see Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Islamic Philosophy from Its Origin
to the Present (Nasr 2006, pp. 6568).
25 For more on Ibn Sīnā’s theodicy, see Shams C. Inati, The Problem of Evil: Ibn Sina's Theodicy (Inati 2000).
26 See Sajjad Rizvi, 'Mulla Sadra', Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Rizvi 2009).
tazilite theology—remained in disagreement with the Ash
Religions 2018, 9, x FOR PEER REVIEW 5 of 13
of instrumentality of human suffering in the divine plan. The notion of suffering, which included
undeserved suffering by children and animals, continued to be discussed by the Muʿtazilite
theologians.19 The Muʿtazilites firm stress on Gods justice, however, resulted in the group dividing,
which finally gave birth to the Ashʾarite school of thought.
According to Ashʾarite theologians, God’s law of justice applies only to human beings who have
been obligated to act according to His laws. Applying the idea of justice to God, however, will put a
limit on an all-powerful creator; therefore, God is not bound by His own laws. He is just in whatever
He does. 20 Applied to suffering, this then means that all harm encountered by man is fair as it has
been willed by God who is just in all His creation. The Ashʾarite thinkers were in sharp conflict with
the Muʿtazilites who asserted that not only is God subjected to the same rules of justice but that, in
fact, the obligation to act in just means is eternal and uncompromising for God. It is worth noting that
a prominent Muslim philosopher, Ibn Rushd (Averroes, d. 1198), challenged these views and asserted
that the element of justice may not be employed for God and man in the same manner: man, by virtue
of being just, advances to a higher level of goodness; God, however, is just due to His perfectiona
trait that requires Him to be just.21
In the final analysis, mainstream Sunnite theologians supported the Ashʾarite school of thought
and emphasized that God creates all acts. In order to reconcile God’s omnipotence with human
responsibility, the doctrine of acquisition (kasb) was adopted: God creates all acts; humans freely
acquire certain acts and, therefore, are accountable for the acquisition of good and evil acts. 22
Conversely, Muslim thinkers belonging to the Shiʾite branch of Islamthrough the influence of
rational element in the Muʿtazilite theologyremained in disagreement with the Ashʿarites. An
example of this may be observed from the writings of an eminent Persian philosopher, Morteza
Muahharī (d. 1979), who was of the opinion that the Ashʾarite outlook, while aimed at vindicating
God from injustice, resulted in exonerating human oppressors of any wrongdoing.23
From the Muslim philosophical perspective, the notion of good and evil is enclosed within the
wider ontological understanding of existence (wujūd) and nonexistence (ʿadam). Briefly put, good is
defined as a positive entity that branches from existence; evil, on the other hand, stems from
nonexistence and as such is viewed as a negative entity. 24 An example of the ontological
interpretation of what constitutes good and evil may be seen from the works of two prominent
Muslim philosophers who significantly influenced the shaping of Muslim philosophical thought: Ibn
Sīnā, known as Avicenna (d. 1037), and Sadr al-Din Shirāzī, who was mostly recognized as Mullā
Sadrā (d. 1636).
Ibn Sīnā formed a theodicy by distinguishing the various forms of evil such as “essential” evil
(sharr bidh-dhāt), which is non-being or privation, and “accidental” evil (sharr bil-ʿara), which can be
either being or privation. In his analysis, Ibn Sīnā concluded that it is the non-essential/accidental evil
that is the leading cause of human suffering and that the total amount of good in the universe
outweighs the amount of evil. 25 Mullā Sadrā, on the other hand, extensively developed this
philosophical approach by an interest in combining theology with mystical insight. This approach,
according to Rizvi, totally transformed the theory of existence as it pertains to Islamic metaphysics.26
19 For a great discussion on the Muʿtazilites view on pain and suffering see (Heemskerk 2000). For an extensive
study on the notion of disability in Islam, see Mohammed Ghaly, Islam and Disability: Perspectives in Theology
and Jurisprudence (Ghaly 2010).
20 See Wolfson, The Philosopy of Kalam (Wolfson 1976).
21 For more on his philosophy, see Ibn Rushd (Averroes), The Philosophy and Theology of Averroes, (Averroes
1921).
22 For more on theory of acquisition, see Wolfson, The Philosopy of Kalam (Wolfson 1976).
23 See (Mutahhari 1385, pp. 5051).
24 For more on ontological aspects of good and evil, see Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Islamic Philosophy from Its Origin
to the Present (Nasr 2006, pp. 6568).
25 For more on Ibn Sīnā’s theodicy, see Shams C. Inati, The Problem of Evil: Ibn Sina's Theodicy (Inati 2000).
26 See Sajjad Rizvi, 'Mulla Sadra', Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Rizvi 2009).
arites. An example of this may be
observed from the writings of an eminent Persian philosopher, Morteza Mu
t
.
ahhar
¯
ı (d. 1979), who was
of the opinion that the Ash
Religions 2018, 9, x FOR PEER REVIEW 4 of 13
when afflicted with illness and adversity.13 Job’s incomparable sincerity and submission to God’s
will in both health and prosperity, as well as during affliction and hardship, are the reasons the
Qur’an portrays him as “an excellent servant.14
According to Muslim exegesis, what distinguishes Job is the fact that despite his enormous
fortune, he continually attributed the source of his blessings to God and remained humble as a
servant who lacked ownership of his belongings. Similarly, when God tested him with a serious
disease, he exercised patience and recognized that he was going through a testa positive
experienceand ascribed any negative feelings of despair to Satan.15
The Qur’anic narrative about Job demonstrates that trials and testswhether in prosperity and
health or illness and hardshipare part of the divine plan, so much so that even prophets are not
exempt; it is through various experiences in life that man is able to actualize his potential and
propagate his mission on this earth. As John notes, “the story of Job in the Qur’an is understood
primarily as a reward narrative with an emphasis different from that of the story of Job in the Bible.”16
4. Concept of Evil: Theological and Philosophical Development
One of the earliest problems in Muslim theological thought (kalām) was how to reconcile the
divine attribute of omnipotence with the notion of human free will. The departure point for this
discourse was the Qur’an and the diverse interpretations of its teachings on the divine names and
attributes (asmāʾ al-usnā).17 The reconciliation of certain divine attributes, predominantly the aspect
of an all-powerful God, with the idea of human free willthe broader frame with which human
suffering was enclosedwas the first attempt to initiate a theodicy within the context of Islam.
The discourse presents itself at the core of the theological dialogue amongst various groups. The
theologians who advocated for the attribute of omnipotence in its absolute and uncompromising
form were of the opinion that the only agent in this world is God: He creates His own acts as well as
the acts of all human beings. As this view raised serious concerns about the creation of “evil” acts by
God, the debate developed further to question the validity of human free willthe concept that is
deeply rooted in the Quran as it relates to man’s responsibility and accountability, as well as divine
judgment and reward and punishment. The dialogue crystallized between the Muʿtazilite and the
Ashʿarite, the two main schools of thought, with a divergence of opinion; both made a serious effort
to win the argument according to their understanding of the Qur’an.18
The Muʿtazilite school of thought, also known as the rationalists, categorically opposed the idea
that God creates human acts that include evil and advocated for human free will by emphasizing the
importance of the divine attribute of justice (ʿadl). They upheld that God, in accordance with His
attribute of (ʿāadil), cannot create evil and that evil is the direct result of man’s freedom of choice. This
view was challenged by raising questions such as: If God does not create evil, who, then, is
responsible for human suffering caused by illnesses and disasters? And if God wills for illnesses and
disasters in human life, how can He be just? The Muʿtazilites responded by affirming that illnesses
and disasters, while may appear as “evil”, are in actuality “good” that God creates and that serve a
significant purpose in the creational cosmic plan. This seems to be the first appearance of the theory
13 The story of Job in JudeoChristian traditions is presented in the Book of Job and appears in the form of a
dialogue between Job and his friends who try to explain to him the reason for his sufferings. A comparative
study of the story between JudeoChristian tradition and Islam is beyond the scope of this paper. For an
excellent comparative review, see A.H. Johns, A Comparative Glance at Ayyub in the Qur'an (Johns 2008,
pp. 5182).
14 Qur’an 38:41–2 and 21:834.
15 See Abubakr `Tigh Neishabur Surabadi, Tafsir Surabadi, ed. Sa`Idi Sirjani (Surabadi 1381). Also, see Brannon
M. Wheeler, Prophets in the Qur'an, an Introduction to the Qur'an and Muslim Exegesis (Wheeler 2002).
16 See (Johns 2003, pp. 5051).
17 For more on this see Abdol Rahman Ibn Khaldūn, Muqaddimah of Ibn Khaldūn (Ibn Khaldūn 1375).
18 For a comprehensive discussion on development of theology in Islam, see Harry Austryn Wolfson, The
Philosopy of Kalam (Wolfson 1976).
arite outlook, while aimed at vindicating God from injustice, resulted in
exonerating human oppressors of any wrongdoing.23
From the Muslim philosophical perspective, the notion of good and evil is enclosed within the
wider ontological understanding of existence (wuj
¯
ud) and nonexistence (
Religions 2018, 9, x FOR PEER REVIEW 5 of 13
of instrumentality of human suffering in the divine plan. The notion of suffering, which included
undeserved suffering by children and animals, continued to be discussed by the Muʿtazilite
theologians.19 The Muʿtazilites firm stress on Gods justice, however, resulted in the group dividing,
which finally gave birth to the Ashʾarite school of thought.
According to Ashʾarite theologians, God’s law of justice applies only to human beings who have
been obligated to act according to His laws. Applying the idea of justice to God, however, will put a
limit on an all-powerful creator; therefore, God is not bound by His own laws. He is just in whatever
He does. 20 Applied to suffering, this then means that all harm encountered by man is fair as it has
been willed by God who is just in all His creation. The Ashʾarite thinkers were in sharp conflict with
the Muʿtazilites who asserted that not only is God subjected to the same rules of justice but that, in
fact, the obligation to act in just means is eternal and uncompromising for God. It is worth noting that
a prominent Muslim philosopher, Ibn Rushd (Averroes, d. 1198), challenged these views and asserted
that the element of justice may not be employed for God and man in the same manner: man, by virtue
of being just, advances to a higher level of goodness; God, however, is just due to His perfectiona
trait that requires Him to be just.21
In the final analysis, mainstream Sunnite theologians supported the Ashʾarite school of thought
and emphasized that God creates all acts. In order to reconcile God’s omnipotence with human
responsibility, the doctrine of acquisition (kasb) was adopted: God creates all acts; humans freely
acquire certain acts and, therefore, are accountable for the acquisition of good and evil acts. 22
Conversely, Muslim thinkers belonging to the Shiʾite branch of Islamthrough the influence of
rational element in the Muʿtazilite theologyremained in disagreement with the Ashʿarites. An
example of this may be observed from the writings of an eminent Persian philosopher, Morteza
Muahharī (d. 1979), who was of the opinion that the Ashʾarite outlook, while aimed at vindicating
God from injustice, resulted in exonerating human oppressors of any wrongdoing.23
From the Muslim philosophical perspective, the notion of good and evil is enclosed within the
wider ontological understanding of existence (wujūd) and nonexistence (ʿadam). Briefly put, good is
defined as a positive entity that branches from existence; evil, on the other hand, stems from
nonexistence and as such is viewed as a negative entity. 24 An example of the ontological
interpretation of what constitutes good and evil may be seen from the works of two prominent
Muslim philosophers who significantly influenced the shaping of Muslim philosophical thought: Ibn
Sīnā, known as Avicenna (d. 1037), and Sadr al-Din Shirāzī, who was mostly recognized as Mullā
Sadrā (d. 1636).
Ibn Sīnā formed a theodicy by distinguishing the various forms of evil such as “essential” evil
(sharr bidh-dhāt), which is non-being or privation, and “accidental” evil (sharr bil-ʿara), which can be
either being or privation. In his analysis, Ibn Sīnā concluded that it is the non-essential/accidental evil
that is the leading cause of human suffering and that the total amount of good in the universe
outweighs the amount of evil. 25 Mullā Sadrā, on the other hand, extensively developed this
philosophical approach by an interest in combining theology with mystical insight. This approach,
according to Rizvi, totally transformed the theory of existence as it pertains to Islamic metaphysics.26
19 For a great discussion on the Muʿtazilites view on pain and suffering see (Heemskerk 2000). For an extensive
study on the notion of disability in Islam, see Mohammed Ghaly, Islam and Disability: Perspectives in Theology
and Jurisprudence (Ghaly 2010).
20 See Wolfson, The Philosopy of Kalam (Wolfson 1976).
21 For more on his philosophy, see Ibn Rushd (Averroes), The Philosophy and Theology of Averroes, (Averroes
1921).
22 For more on theory of acquisition, see Wolfson, The Philosopy of Kalam (Wolfson 1976).
23 See (Mutahhari 1385, pp. 5051).
24 For more on ontological aspects of good and evil, see Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Islamic Philosophy from Its Origin
to the Present (Nasr 2006, pp. 6568).
25 For more on Ibn Sīnā’s theodicy, see Shams C. Inati, The Problem of Evil: Ibn Sina's Theodicy (Inati 2000).
26 See Sajjad Rizvi, 'Mulla Sadra', Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Rizvi 2009).
adam). Briefly put, good
is defined as a positive entity that branches from existence; evil, on the other hand, stems from
nonexistence and as such is viewed as a negative entity.
24
An example of the ontological interpretation
of what constitutes good and evil may be seen from the works of two prominent Muslim philosophers
who significantly influenced the shaping of Muslim philosophical thought: Ibn S
¯
ın
¯
a, known as
Avicenna (d. 1037), and Sadr al-Din Shir ¯
az¯
ı, who was mostly recognized as Mull¯
a Sadr¯
a (d. 1636).
Ibn S
¯
ın
¯
a formed a theodicy by distinguishing the various forms of evil such as “essential” evil
(sharr bidh-dh
¯
at), which is non-being or privation, and “accidental” evil (sharr bil-
Religions 2018, 9, x FOR PEER REVIEW 5 of 13
of instrumentality of human suffering in the divine plan. The notion of suffering, which included
undeserved suffering by children and animals, continued to be discussed by the Muʿtazilite
theologians.19 The Muʿtazilites firm stress on Gods justice, however, resulted in the group dividing,
which finally gave birth to the Ashʾarite school of thought.
According to Ashʾarite theologians, God’s law of justice applies only to human beings who have
been obligated to act according to His laws. Applying the idea of justice to God, however, will put a
limit on an all-powerful creator; therefore, God is not bound by His own laws. He is just in whatever
He does. 20 Applied to suffering, this then means that all harm encountered by man is fair as it has
been willed by God who is just in all His creation. The Ashʾarite thinkers were in sharp conflict with
the Muʿtazilites who asserted that not only is God subjected to the same rules of justice but that, in
fact, the obligation to act in just means is eternal and uncompromising for God. It is worth noting that
a prominent Muslim philosopher, Ibn Rushd (Averroes, d. 1198), challenged these views and asserted
that the element of justice may not be employed for God and man in the same manner: man, by virtue
of being just, advances to a higher level of goodness; God, however, is just due to His perfectiona
trait that requires Him to be just.21
In the final analysis, mainstream Sunnite theologians supported the Ashʾarite school of thought
and emphasized that God creates all acts. In order to reconcile God’s omnipotence with human
responsibility, the doctrine of acquisition (kasb) was adopted: God creates all acts; humans freely
acquire certain acts and, therefore, are accountable for the acquisition of good and evil acts. 22
Conversely, Muslim thinkers belonging to the Shiʾite branch of Islamthrough the influence of
rational element in the Muʿtazilite theologyremained in disagreement with the Ashʿarites. An
example of this may be observed from the writings of an eminent Persian philosopher, Morteza
Muahharī (d. 1979), who was of the opinion that the Ashʾarite outlook, while aimed at vindicating
God from injustice, resulted in exonerating human oppressors of any wrongdoing.23
From the Muslim philosophical perspective, the notion of good and evil is enclosed within the
wider ontological understanding of existence (wujūd) and nonexistence (ʿadam). Briefly put, good is
defined as a positive entity that branches from existence; evil, on the other hand, stems from
nonexistence and as such is viewed as a negative entity. 24 An example of the ontological
interpretation of what constitutes good and evil may be seen from the works of two prominent
Muslim philosophers who significantly influenced the shaping of Muslim philosophical thought: Ibn
Sīnā, known as Avicenna (d. 1037), and Sadr al-Din Shirāzī, who was mostly recognized as Mullā
Sadrā (d. 1636).
Ibn Sīnā formed a theodicy by distinguishing the various forms of evil such as “essential” evil
(sharr bidh-dhāt), which is non-being or privation, and “accidental” evil (sharr bil-ʿara), which can be
either being or privation. In his analysis, Ibn Sīnā concluded that it is the non-essential/accidental evil
that is the leading cause of human suffering and that the total amount of good in the universe
outweighs the amount of evil. 25 Mullā Sadrā, on the other hand, extensively developed this
philosophical approach by an interest in combining theology with mystical insight. This approach,
according to Rizvi, totally transformed the theory of existence as it pertains to Islamic metaphysics.26
19 For a great discussion on the Muʿtazilites view on pain and suffering see (Heemskerk 2000). For an extensive
study on the notion of disability in Islam, see Mohammed Ghaly, Islam and Disability: Perspectives in Theology
and Jurisprudence (Ghaly 2010).
20 See Wolfson, The Philosopy of Kalam (Wolfson 1976).
21 For more on his philosophy, see Ibn Rushd (Averroes), The Philosophy and Theology of Averroes, (Averroes
1921).
22 For more on theory of acquisition, see Wolfson, The Philosopy of Kalam (Wolfson 1976).
23 See (Mutahhari 1385, pp. 5051).
24 For more on ontological aspects of good and evil, see Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Islamic Philosophy from Its Origin
to the Present (Nasr 2006, pp. 6568).
25 For more on Ibn Sīnā’s theodicy, see Shams C. Inati, The Problem of Evil: Ibn Sina's Theodicy (Inati 2000).
26 See Sajjad Rizvi, 'Mulla Sadra', Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Rizvi 2009).
ara
d
.
), which can be
either being or privation. In his analysis, Ibn S
¯
ın
¯
a concluded that it is the non-essential/accidental evil
that is the leading cause of human suffering and that the total amount of good in the universe outweighs
the amount of evil.
25
Mull
¯
a Sadr
¯
a, on the other hand, extensively developed this philosophical
approach by an interest in combining theology with mystical insight. This approach, according to
Rizvi, totally transformed the theory of existence as it pertains to Islamic metaphysics.
26
In Mull
¯
a
Sadr
¯
a’s view, explained in his major work called Maf
¯
atih Al-ghayb, absolute existence is absolute good
and since God is the only Necessary Being, He is the absolute good: perfection applies only to the
19
For a great discussion on the Mu
Religions 2018, 9, x FOR PEER REVIEW 5 of 13
of instrumentality of human suffering in the divine plan. The notion of suffering, which included
undeserved suffering by children and animals, continued to be discussed by the Muʿtazilite
theologians.19 The Muʿtazilites firm stress on Gods justice, however, resulted in the group dividing,
which finally gave birth to the Ashʾarite school of thought.
According to Ashʾarite theologians, God’s law of justice applies only to human beings who have
been obligated to act according to His laws. Applying the idea of justice to God, however, will put a
limit on an all-powerful creator; therefore, God is not bound by His own laws. He is just in whatever
He does. 20 Applied to suffering, this then means that all harm encountered by man is fair as it has
been willed by God who is just in all His creation. The Ashʾarite thinkers were in sharp conflict with
the Muʿtazilites who asserted that not only is God subjected to the same rules of justice but that, in
fact, the obligation to act in just means is eternal and uncompromising for God. It is worth noting that
a prominent Muslim philosopher, Ibn Rushd (Averroes, d. 1198), challenged these views and asserted
that the element of justice may not be employed for God and man in the same manner: man, by virtue
of being just, advances to a higher level of goodness; God, however, is just due to His perfectiona
trait that requires Him to be just.21
In the final analysis, mainstream Sunnite theologians supported the Ashʾarite school of thought
and emphasized that God creates all acts. In order to reconcile God’s omnipotence with human
responsibility, the doctrine of acquisition (kasb) was adopted: God creates all acts; humans freely
acquire certain acts and, therefore, are accountable for the acquisition of good and evil acts. 22
Conversely, Muslim thinkers belonging to the Shiʾite branch of Islamthrough the influence of
rational element in the Muʿtazilite theologyremained in disagreement with the Ashʿarites. An
example of this may be observed from the writings of an eminent Persian philosopher, Morteza
Muahharī (d. 1979), who was of the opinion that the Ashʾarite outlook, while aimed at vindicating
God from injustice, resulted in exonerating human oppressors of any wrongdoing.23
From the Muslim philosophical perspective, the notion of good and evil is enclosed within the
wider ontological understanding of existence (wujūd) and nonexistence (ʿadam). Briefly put, good is
defined as a positive entity that branches from existence; evil, on the other hand, stems from
nonexistence and as such is viewed as a negative entity. 24 An example of the ontological
interpretation of what constitutes good and evil may be seen from the works of two prominent
Muslim philosophers who significantly influenced the shaping of Muslim philosophical thought: Ibn
Sīnā, known as Avicenna (d. 1037), and Sadr al-Din Shirāzī, who was mostly recognized as Mullā
Sadrā (d. 1636).
Ibn Sīnā formed a theodicy by distinguishing the various forms of evil such as “essential” evil
(sharr bidh-dhāt), which is non-being or privation, and “accidental” evil (sharr bil-ʿara), which can be
either being or privation. In his analysis, Ibn Sīnā concluded that it is the non-essential/accidental evil
that is the leading cause of human suffering and that the total amount of good in the universe
outweighs the amount of evil. 25 Mullā Sadrā, on the other hand, extensively developed this
philosophical approach by an interest in combining theology with mystical insight. This approach,
according to Rizvi, totally transformed the theory of existence as it pertains to Islamic metaphysics.26
19 For a great discussion on the Muʿtazilites view on pain and suffering see (Heemskerk 2000). For an extensive
study on the notion of disability in Islam, see Mohammed Ghaly, Islam and Disability: Perspectives in Theology
and Jurisprudence (Ghaly 2010).
20 See Wolfson, The Philosopy of Kalam (Wolfson 1976).
21 For more on his philosophy, see Ibn Rushd (Averroes), The Philosophy and Theology of Averroes, (Averroes
1921).
22 For more on theory of acquisition, see Wolfson, The Philosopy of Kalam (Wolfson 1976).
23 See (Mutahhari 1385, pp. 5051).
24 For more on ontological aspects of good and evil, see Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Islamic Philosophy from Its Origin
to the Present (Nasr 2006, pp. 6568).
25 For more on Ibn Sīnā’s theodicy, see Shams C. Inati, The Problem of Evil: Ibn Sina's Theodicy (Inati 2000).
26 See Sajjad Rizvi, 'Mulla Sadra', Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Rizvi 2009).
tazilite’s view on pain and suffering see (
Heemskerk 2000
). For an extensive study
on the notion of disability in Islam, see Mohammed Ghaly, Islam and Disability: Perspectives in Theology and Jurisprudence
(Ghaly 2010).
20 See Wolfson, The Philosopy of Kalam (Wolfson 1976).
21 For more on his philosophy, see Ibn Rushd (Averroes), The Philosophy and Theology of Averroes, (Averroes 1921).
22 For more on theory of acquisition, see Wolfson, The Philosopy of Kalam (Wolfson 1976).
23 See (Mutahhari 1385, pp. 50–51).
24
For more on ontological aspects of good and evil, see Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Islamic Philosophy from Its Origin to the Present
(Nasr 2006, pp. 65–68).
25 For more on Ibn S¯
ın¯
a’s theodicy, see Shams C. Inati, The Problem of Evil: Ibn Sina’s Theodicy (Inati 2000).
26 See Sajjad Rizvi, ‘Mulla Sadra’, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Rizvi 2009).
Religions 2018,9, 47 6 of 13
Necessary Being. Thus, the rest of creation—all contingent entities—lacks certain degrees of goodness;
that is, evil and suffering are partial and negative.27
It may be concluded that Muslim philosophers
28
have mostly referred to evil as privatio boni
“privation of good,” which in turn provides a strong rationale for the doctrine of the optimum (al-a
s
.
la
h
.
).
According to this principle, this world, regardless of the existence of evil and human suffering, has
been created in perfect fashion by its Creator who is the Perfect One. Therefore, the amount of evil and
human suffering is inconsequential in relation to the volume of good that is inherent in the makeup
of creation.
5. Evil and “The Best of All Possible Worlds”: Ghaz ¯
alian Theodicy
As discussed previously, the instrumentality of human suffering—purposefulness and the greater
good that it brings—is emphasized in the Qur’an and is also at the core of the Muslim theological and
philosophical discourse. However, the practical and more tangible aspect of this theory becomes highly
observable in the teachings of one of the most influential intellectuals of Islam, namely, Ab
¯
u
H
.¯
amid
al-Ghaz
¯
al
¯
ı (1058–1111). Al-Ghaz
¯
al
¯
ı’s significant impact on advancing Muslim scholastic thought is
the reason he is often referred to as “the proof of Islam” (
H
.
ujjat al-Islam). It is, however, his personal
experience with suffering and, by extension, his powerful statement regarding the creation of the
world—“there is not in possibility anything more wonderful than what is” (laysa fi’l-imk
¯
an abda
Religions 2018, 9, x FOR PEER REVIEW 5 of 13
of instrumentality of human suffering in the divine plan. The notion of suffering, which included
undeserved suffering by children and animals, continued to be discussed by the Muʿtazilite
theologians.19 The Muʿtazilites firm stress on Gods justice, however, resulted in the group dividing,
which finally gave birth to the Ashʾarite school of thought.
According to Ashʾarite theologians, God’s law of justice applies only to human beings who have
been obligated to act according to His laws. Applying the idea of justice to God, however, will put a
limit on an all-powerful creator; therefore, God is not bound by His own laws. He is just in whatever
He does. 20 Applied to suffering, this then means that all harm encountered by man is fair as it has
been willed by God who is just in all His creation. The Ashʾarite thinkers were in sharp conflict with
the Muʿtazilites who asserted that not only is God subjected to the same rules of justice but that, in
fact, the obligation to act in just means is eternal and uncompromising for God. It is worth noting that
a prominent Muslim philosopher, Ibn Rushd (Averroes, d. 1198), challenged these views and asserted
that the element of justice may not be employed for God and man in the same manner: man, by virtue
of being just, advances to a higher level of goodness; God, however, is just due to His perfectiona
trait that requires Him to be just.21
In the final analysis, mainstream Sunnite theologians supported the Ashʾarite school of thought
and emphasized that God creates all acts. In order to reconcile God’s omnipotence with human
responsibility, the doctrine of acquisition (kasb) was adopted: God creates all acts; humans freely
acquire certain acts and, therefore, are accountable for the acquisition of good and evil acts. 22
Conversely, Muslim thinkers belonging to the Shiʾite branch of Islamthrough the influence of
rational element in the Muʿtazilite theologyremained in disagreement with the Ashʿarites. An
example of this may be observed from the writings of an eminent Persian philosopher, Morteza
Muahharī (d. 1979), who was of the opinion that the Ashʾarite outlook, while aimed at vindicating
God from injustice, resulted in exonerating human oppressors of any wrongdoing.23
From the Muslim philosophical perspective, the notion of good and evil is enclosed within the
wider ontological understanding of existence (wujūd) and nonexistence (ʿadam). Briefly put, good is
defined as a positive entity that branches from existence; evil, on the other hand, stems from
nonexistence and as such is viewed as a negative entity. 24 An example of the ontological
interpretation of what constitutes good and evil may be seen from the works of two prominent
Muslim philosophers who significantly influenced the shaping of Muslim philosophical thought: Ibn
Sīnā, known as Avicenna (d. 1037), and Sadr al-Din Shirāzī, who was mostly recognized as Mullā
Sadrā (d. 1636).
Ibn Sīnā formed a theodicy by distinguishing the various forms of evil such as “essential” evil
(sharr bidh-dhāt), which is non-being or privation, and “accidental” evil (sharr bil-ʿara), which can be
either being or privation. In his analysis, Ibn Sīnā concluded that it is the non-essential/accidental evil
that is the leading cause of human suffering and that the total amount of good in the universe
outweighs the amount of evil. 25 Mullā Sadrā, on the other hand, extensively developed this
philosophical approach by an interest in combining theology with mystical insight. This approach,
according to Rizvi, totally transformed the theory of existence as it pertains to Islamic metaphysics.26
19 For a great discussion on the Muʿtazilites view on pain and suffering see (Heemskerk 2000). For an extensive
study on the notion of disability in Islam, see Mohammed Ghaly, Islam and Disability: Perspectives in Theology
and Jurisprudence (Ghaly 2010).
20 See Wolfson, The Philosopy of Kalam (Wolfson 1976).
21 For more on his philosophy, see Ibn Rushd (Averroes), The Philosophy and Theology of Averroes, (Averroes
1921).
22 For more on theory of acquisition, see Wolfson, The Philosopy of Kalam (Wolfson 1976).
23 See (Mutahhari 1385, pp. 5051).
24 For more on ontological aspects of good and evil, see Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Islamic Philosophy from Its Origin
to the Present (Nasr 2006, pp. 6568).
25 For more on Ibn Sīnā’s theodicy, see Shams C. Inati, The Problem of Evil: Ibn Sina's Theodicy (Inati 2000).
26 See Sajjad Rizvi, 'Mulla Sadra', Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Rizvi 2009).
mimm
¯
a
k¯
an)—that is of special interest in this article.
Through a rigorous education in theology and jurisprudence, as well as Qur’anic and hadith
(prophetic traditions) studies, al-Ghaz
¯
al
¯
ı’s extraordinary abilities flourished at a relatively young age
and earned him a professorship position at one of the most distinguished academic settings of his
time, namely, Ni
z
.¯
am
¯
ıyah College in Baghdad. However, at the peak of his career, notwithstanding
great achievements and recognition, al-Ghaz¯
al¯
ı became doubtful of the authenticity of his theoretical
religious knowledge and resigned from his position to pursue a more interior path of piety. In Bowker’s
view, al-Ghaz
¯
al
¯
ı felt that his religious knowledge about God and the ability to describe Him with such
articulacy was worthless if it did not bring him into a direct experience of God.29
In his spiritual autobiography al-Munqidh min al-
d
.
al
¯
al (Deliverance from Error), al-Ghaz
¯
al
¯
ı
describes his intellectual and emotional challenges that ultimately resulted in a major event in his
life. After examining possible ways by which a deep religious knowledge and convention that is
free from doubt may be attained, he affirmed that the mystic path of life where knowledge of God is
grounded in direct mystical experience was the way he had to peruse. However, in preparation to
travel on this path, he needed to disengage from all worldly attachments: the prestigious professorship
position, family, and wealth, which in actuality proved to be much more difficult. This inner struggle
lasted more than six months until he was faced with a serious illness—inability to speak, eat, or
drink—that caused him afflictions and much suffering. In fact, it was through months of hardship
and suffering due to unexpected physical and spiritual crises that al-Ghaz
¯
al
¯
ı transformed internally,
leaving all of his possessions and departing to Damascus where he spent two years in contemplation
and prayer in search of certitude and a personal experience of God that was free from doubtfulness.
30
The positive impact of al-Ghaz
¯
al
¯
ı’s encounter with his severe illness, which endangered his
physical and mental wellness, appears in accord with the optimistic portrayal of hardship and
27 For an excellent commentary on Mull¯
a Sadr¯
a’s magnum opus,Asf¯
ar, see (Rahman 1975).
28
As mentioned previously, Ibn Rushd (Averroës, d. 1198) is considered as one of the most influential Muslim philosophers.
While he was greatly influenced by Ibn Sina, he made a considerable effort to highlight Aristotle’s original roots in Islamic
philosophy, and remove the Neo-Platonism influence that had entered years later. Several centuries later, Mull
¯
a Sadr
¯
a
became known as the Shiite philosopher who added a mystical layer to philosophical and theological debates. For more on
the development of Islamic philosophy, see (Nasr 2006).
29 See John Bowker, The Religious Imagination and the Sense of God (Bowker 1978, p. 195).
30 See Ab ¯
u H
.¯
amid Al-Ghaz¯
al¯
ı, Al-Munqidh Min Al-Dalal, Deliverance from Error (Al-Ghaz¯
al¯
ı 2006, pp. 52–55).
Religions 2018,9, 47 7 of 13
suffering presented in the Qur’an.
31
For al-Ghaz
¯
al
¯
ı, this apparent negative experience proved, in
fact, to be positive and instrumental in the actualization of his intellectual and spiritual potentialities.
As already mentioned, during his professorship in Baghdad, al-Ghaz
¯
al
¯
ı contributed greatly to shaping
a variety of Muslim thoughts.
32
Still, the practical implications of much of his teachings, particularly
the relationship between theological and mystical discourses, are clearly articulated in his writings
following his departure and the years he spent in seclusion. As Zarrink
¯
ub pointed out, the authenticity
of religious knowledge that al-Ghaz¯
al¯
ı pursued through rational deductions for much of his life bore
fruit after his illness and major mystical experience.
33
The reflections of al-Ghaz
¯
al
¯
ı’s renewal are
presented in his magnum opus called I
h
.
y
¯
a
Religions 2018, 9, x FOR PEER REVIEW 4 of 13
when afflicted with illness and adversity.13 Job’s incomparable sincerity and submission to God’s
will in both health and prosperity, as well as during affliction and hardship, are the reasons the
Qur’an portrays him as “an excellent servant.14
According to Muslim exegesis, what distinguishes Job is the fact that despite his enormous
fortune, he continually attributed the source of his blessings to God and remained humble as a
servant who lacked ownership of his belongings. Similarly, when God tested him with a serious
disease, he exercised patience and recognized that he was going through a testa positive
experienceand ascribed any negative feelings of despair to Satan.15
The Qur’anic narrative about Job demonstrates that trials and testswhether in prosperity and
health or illness and hardshipare part of the divine plan, so much so that even prophets are not
exempt; it is through various experiences in life that man is able to actualize his potential and
propagate his mission on this earth. As John notes, “the story of Job in the Qur’an is understood
primarily as a reward narrative with an emphasis different from that of the story of Job in the Bible.”16
4. Concept of Evil: Theological and Philosophical Development
One of the earliest problems in Muslim theological thought (kalām) was how to reconcile the
divine attribute of omnipotence with the notion of human free will. The departure point for this
discourse was the Qur’an and the diverse interpretations of its teachings on the divine names and
attributes (asmāʾ al-usnā).17 The reconciliation of certain divine attributes, predominantly the aspect
of an all-powerful God, with the idea of human free willthe broader frame with which human
suffering was enclosedwas the first attempt to initiate a theodicy within the context of Islam.
The discourse presents itself at the core of the theological dialogue amongst various groups. The
theologians who advocated for the attribute of omnipotence in its absolute and uncompromising
form were of the opinion that the only agent in this world is God: He creates His own acts as well as
the acts of all human beings. As this view raised serious concerns about the creation of “evil” acts by
God, the debate developed further to question the validity of human free willthe concept that is
deeply rooted in the Quran as it relates to man’s responsibility and accountability, as well as divine
judgment and reward and punishment. The dialogue crystallized between the Muʿtazilite and the
Ashʿarite, the two main schools of thought, with a divergence of opinion; both made a serious effort
to win the argument according to their understanding of the Qur’an.18
The Muʿtazilite school of thought, also known as the rationalists, categorically opposed the idea
that God creates human acts that include evil and advocated for human free will by emphasizing the
importance of the divine attribute of justice (ʿadl). They upheld that God, in accordance with His
attribute of (ʿāadil), cannot create evil and that evil is the direct result of man’s freedom of choice. This
view was challenged by raising questions such as: If God does not create evil, who, then, is
responsible for human suffering caused by illnesses and disasters? And if God wills for illnesses and
disasters in human life, how can He be just? The Muʿtazilites responded by affirming that illnesses
and disasters, while may appear as “evil”, are in actuality “good” that God creates and that serve a
significant purpose in the creational cosmic plan. This seems to be the first appearance of the theory
13 The story of Job in JudeoChristian traditions is presented in the Book of Job and appears in the form of a
dialogue between Job and his friends who try to explain to him the reason for his sufferings. A comparative
study of the story between JudeoChristian tradition and Islam is beyond the scope of this paper. For an
excellent comparative review, see A.H. Johns, A Comparative Glance at Ayyub in the Qur'an (Johns 2008,
pp. 5182).
14 Qur’an 38:41–2 and 21:834.
15 See Abubakr `Tigh Neishabur Surabadi, Tafsir Surabadi, ed. Sa`Idi Sirjani (Surabadi 1381). Also, see Brannon
M. Wheeler, Prophets in the Qur'an, an Introduction to the Qur'an and Muslim Exegesis (Wheeler 2002).
16 See (Johns 2003, pp. 5051).
17 For more on this see Abdol Rahman Ibn Khaldūn, Muqaddimah of Ibn Khaldūn (Ibn Khaldūn 1375).
18 For a comprehensive discussion on development of theology in Islam, see Harry Austryn Wolfson, The
Philosopy of Kalam (Wolfson 1976).
Religions 2018, 9, x FOR PEER REVIEW 5 of 13
of instrumentality of human suffering in the divine plan. The notion of suffering, which included
undeserved suffering by children and animals, continued to be discussed by the Muʿtazilite
theologians.19 The Muʿtazilites firm stress on Gods justice, however, resulted in the group dividing,
which finally gave birth to the Ashʾarite school of thought.
According to Ashʾarite theologians, God’s law of justice applies only to human beings who have
been obligated to act according to His laws. Applying the idea of justice to God, however, will put a
limit on an all-powerful creator; therefore, God is not bound by His own laws. He is just in whatever
He does. 20 Applied to suffering, this then means that all harm encountered by man is fair as it has
been willed by God who is just in all His creation. The Ashʾarite thinkers were in sharp conflict with
the Muʿtazilites who asserted that not only is God subjected to the same rules of justice but that, in
fact, the obligation to act in just means is eternal and uncompromising for God. It is worth noting that
a prominent Muslim philosopher, Ibn Rushd (Averroes, d. 1198), challenged these views and asserted
that the element of justice may not be employed for God and man in the same manner: man, by virtue
of being just, advances to a higher level of goodness; God, however, is just due to His perfectiona
trait that requires Him to be just.21
In the final analysis, mainstream Sunnite theologians supported the Ashʾarite school of thought
and emphasized that God creates all acts. In order to reconcile God’s omnipotence with human
responsibility, the doctrine of acquisition (kasb) was adopted: God creates all acts; humans freely
acquire certain acts and, therefore, are accountable for the acquisition of good and evil acts. 22
Conversely, Muslim thinkers belonging to the Shiʾite branch of Islamthrough the influence of
rational element in the Muʿtazilite theologyremained in disagreement with the Ashʿarites. An
example of this may be observed from the writings of an eminent Persian philosopher, Morteza
Muahharī (d. 1979), who was of the opinion that the Ashʾarite outlook, while aimed at vindicating
God from injustice, resulted in exonerating human oppressors of any wrongdoing.23
From the Muslim philosophical perspective, the notion of good and evil is enclosed within the
wider ontological understanding of existence (wujūd) and nonexistence (ʿadam). Briefly put, good is
defined as a positive entity that branches from existence; evil, on the other hand, stems from
nonexistence and as such is viewed as a negative entity. 24 An example of the ontological
interpretation of what constitutes good and evil may be seen from the works of two prominent
Muslim philosophers who significantly influenced the shaping of Muslim philosophical thought: Ibn
Sīnā, known as Avicenna (d. 1037), and Sadr al-Din Shirāzī, who was mostly recognized as Mullā
Sadrā (d. 1636).
Ibn Sīnā formed a theodicy by distinguishing the various forms of evil such as “essential” evil
(sharr bidh-dhāt), which is non-being or privation, and “accidental” evil (sharr bil-ʿara), which can be
either being or privation. In his analysis, Ibn Sīnā concluded that it is the non-essential/accidental evil
that is the leading cause of human suffering and that the total amount of good in the universe
outweighs the amount of evil. 25 Mullā Sadrā, on the other hand, extensively developed this
philosophical approach by an interest in combining theology with mystical insight. This approach,
according to Rizvi, totally transformed the theory of existence as it pertains to Islamic metaphysics.26
19 For a great discussion on the Muʿtazilites view on pain and suffering see (Heemskerk 2000). For an extensive
study on the notion of disability in Islam, see Mohammed Ghaly, Islam and Disability: Perspectives in Theology
and Jurisprudence (Ghaly 2010).
20 See Wolfson, The Philosopy of Kalam (Wolfson 1976).
21 For more on his philosophy, see Ibn Rushd (Averroes), The Philosophy and Theology of Averroes, (Averroes
1921).
22 For more on theory of acquisition, see Wolfson, The Philosopy of Kalam (Wolfson 1976).
23 See (Mutahhari 1385, pp. 5051).
24 For more on ontological aspects of good and evil, see Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Islamic Philosophy from Its Origin
to the Present (Nasr 2006, pp. 6568).
25 For more on Ibn Sīnā’s theodicy, see Shams C. Inati, The Problem of Evil: Ibn Sina's Theodicy (Inati 2000).
26 See Sajjad Rizvi, 'Mulla Sadra', Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Rizvi 2009).
ul
¯
um al-din (“The Revival of the Religious Sciences”), composed
during the next decade of his life. In this major work, al-Ghaz
¯
al
¯
ı illustrated through a highly detailed
elucidation of personal religious experiences ways by which a profound inner life may be integrated
with sound theological doctrines.34
The reflection of this worldview and much of what may be called Ghaz
¯
alian theodicy is
encapsulated in his famous dictum of the best of all possible worlds: “There is not in possibility
anything more wonderful than what is” (laysa fi’l-imk
¯
an abda
Religions 2018, 9, x FOR PEER REVIEW 5 of 13
of instrumentality of human suffering in the divine plan. The notion of suffering, which included
undeserved suffering by children and animals, continued to be discussed by the Muʿtazilite
theologians.19 The Muʿtazilites firm stress on Gods justice, however, resulted in the group dividing,
which finally gave birth to the Ashʾarite school of thought.
According to Ashʾarite theologians, God’s law of justice applies only to human beings who have
been obligated to act according to His laws. Applying the idea of justice to God, however, will put a
limit on an all-powerful creator; therefore, God is not bound by His own laws. He is just in whatever
He does. 20 Applied to suffering, this then means that all harm encountered by man is fair as it has
been willed by God who is just in all His creation. The Ashʾarite thinkers were in sharp conflict with
the Muʿtazilites who asserted that not only is God subjected to the same rules of justice but that, in
fact, the obligation to act in just means is eternal and uncompromising for God. It is worth noting that
a prominent Muslim philosopher, Ibn Rushd (Averroes, d. 1198), challenged these views and asserted
that the element of justice may not be employed for God and man in the same manner: man, by virtue
of being just, advances to a higher level of goodness; God, however, is just due to His perfectiona
trait that requires Him to be just.21
In the final analysis, mainstream Sunnite theologians supported the Ashʾarite school of thought
and emphasized that God creates all acts. In order to reconcile God’s omnipotence with human
responsibility, the doctrine of acquisition (kasb) was adopted: God creates all acts; humans freely
acquire certain acts and, therefore, are accountable for the acquisition of good and evil acts. 22
Conversely, Muslim thinkers belonging to the Shiʾite branch of Islamthrough the influence of
rational element in the Muʿtazilite theologyremained in disagreement with the Ashʿarites. An
example of this may be observed from the writings of an eminent Persian philosopher, Morteza
Muahharī (d. 1979), who was of the opinion that the Ashʾarite outlook, while aimed at vindicating
God from injustice, resulted in exonerating human oppressors of any wrongdoing.23
From the Muslim philosophical perspective, the notion of good and evil is enclosed within the
wider ontological understanding of existence (wujūd) and nonexistence (ʿadam). Briefly put, good is
defined as a positive entity that branches from existence; evil, on the other hand, stems from
nonexistence and as such is viewed as a negative entity. 24 An example of the ontological
interpretation of what constitutes good and evil may be seen from the works of two prominent
Muslim philosophers who significantly influenced the shaping of Muslim philosophical thought: Ibn
Sīnā, known as Avicenna (d. 1037), and Sadr al-Din Shirāzī, who was mostly recognized as Mullā
Sadrā (d. 1636).
Ibn Sīnā formed a theodicy by distinguishing the various forms of evil such as “essential” evil
(sharr bidh-dhāt), which is non-being or privation, and “accidental” evil (sharr bil-ʿara), which can be
either being or privation. In his analysis, Ibn Sīnā concluded that it is the non-essential/accidental evil
that is the leading cause of human suffering and that the total amount of good in the universe
outweighs the amount of evil. 25 Mullā Sadrā, on the other hand, extensively developed this
philosophical approach by an interest in combining theology with mystical insight. This approach,
according to Rizvi, totally transformed the theory of existence as it pertains to Islamic metaphysics.26
19 For a great discussion on the Muʿtazilites view on pain and suffering see (Heemskerk 2000). For an extensive
study on the notion of disability in Islam, see Mohammed Ghaly, Islam and Disability: Perspectives in Theology
and Jurisprudence (Ghaly 2010).
20 See Wolfson, The Philosopy of Kalam (Wolfson 1976).
21 For more on his philosophy, see Ibn Rushd (Averroes), The Philosophy and Theology of Averroes, (Averroes
1921).
22 For more on theory of acquisition, see Wolfson, The Philosopy of Kalam (Wolfson 1976).
23 See (Mutahhari 1385, pp. 5051).
24 For more on ontological aspects of good and evil, see Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Islamic Philosophy from Its Origin
to the Present (Nasr 2006, pp. 6568).
25 For more on Ibn Sīnā’s theodicy, see Shams C. Inati, The Problem of Evil: Ibn Sina's Theodicy (Inati 2000).
26 See Sajjad Rizvi, 'Mulla Sadra', Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Rizvi 2009).
mimm
¯
a k
¯
an). The statement presents itself
in Book 35 of the Ih
.y¯
a
Religions 2018, 9, x FOR PEER REVIEW 4 of 13
when afflicted with illness and adversity.13 Job’s incomparable sincerity and submission to God’s
will in both health and prosperity, as well as during affliction and hardship, are the reasons the
Qur’an portrays him as “an excellent servant.14
According to Muslim exegesis, what distinguishes Job is the fact that despite his enormous
fortune, he continually attributed the source of his blessings to God and remained humble as a
servant who lacked ownership of his belongings. Similarly, when God tested him with a serious
disease, he exercised patience and recognized that he was going through a testa positive
experienceand ascribed any negative feelings of despair to Satan.15
The Qur’anic narrative about Job demonstrates that trials and testswhether in prosperity and
health or illness and hardshipare part of the divine plan, so much so that even prophets are not
exempt; it is through various experiences in life that man is able to actualize his potential and
propagate his mission on this earth. As John notes, “the story of Job in the Qur’an is understood
primarily as a reward narrative with an emphasis different from that of the story of Job in the Bible.”16
4. Concept of Evil: Theological and Philosophical Development
One of the earliest problems in Muslim theological thought (kalām) was how to reconcile the
divine attribute of omnipotence with the notion of human free will. The departure point for this
discourse was the Qur’an and the diverse interpretations of its teachings on the divine names and
attributes (asmāʾ al-usnā).17 The reconciliation of certain divine attributes, predominantly the aspect
of an all-powerful God, with the idea of human free willthe broader frame with which human
suffering was enclosedwas the first attempt to initiate a theodicy within the context of Islam.
The discourse presents itself at the core of the theological dialogue amongst various groups. The
theologians who advocated for the attribute of omnipotence in its absolute and uncompromising
form were of the opinion that the only agent in this world is God: He creates His own acts as well as
the acts of all human beings. As this view raised serious concerns about the creation of “evil” acts by
God, the debate developed further to question the validity of human free willthe concept that is
deeply rooted in the Quran as it relates to man’s responsibility and accountability, as well as divine
judgment and reward and punishment. The dialogue crystallized between the Muʿtazilite and the
Ashʿarite, the two main schools of thought, with a divergence of opinion; both made a serious effort
to win the argument according to their understanding of the Qur’an.18
The Muʿtazilite school of thought, also known as the rationalists, categorically opposed the idea
that God creates human acts that include evil and advocated for human free will by emphasizing the
importance of the divine attribute of justice (ʿadl). They upheld that God, in accordance with His
attribute of (ʿāadil), cannot create evil and that evil is the direct result of man’s freedom of choice. This
view was challenged by raising questions such as: If God does not create evil, who, then, is
responsible for human suffering caused by illnesses and disasters? And if God wills for illnesses and
disasters in human life, how can He be just? The Muʿtazilites responded by affirming that illnesses
and disasters, while may appear as “evil”, are in actuality “good” that God creates and that serve a
significant purpose in the creational cosmic plan. This seems to be the first appearance of the theory
13 The story of Job in JudeoChristian traditions is presented in the Book of Job and appears in the form of a
dialogue between Job and his friends who try to explain to him the reason for his sufferings. A comparative
study of the story between JudeoChristian tradition and Islam is beyond the scope of this paper. For an
excellent comparative review, see A.H. Johns, A Comparative Glance at Ayyub in the Qur'an (Johns 2008,
pp. 5182).
14 Qur’an 38:41–2 and 21:834.
15 See Abubakr `Tigh Neishabur Surabadi, Tafsir Surabadi, ed. Sa`Idi Sirjani (Surabadi 1381). Also, see Brannon
M. Wheeler, Prophets in the Qur'an, an Introduction to the Qur'an and Muslim Exegesis (Wheeler 2002).
16 See (Johns 2003, pp. 5051).
17 For more on this see Abdol Rahman Ibn Khaldūn, Muqaddimah of Ibn Khaldūn (Ibn Khaldūn 1375).
18 For a comprehensive discussion on development of theology in Islam, see Harry Austryn Wolfson, The
Philosopy of Kalam (Wolfson 1976).
Religions 2018, 9, x FOR PEER REVIEW 5 of 13
of instrumentality of human suffering in the divine plan. The notion of suffering, which included
undeserved suffering by children and animals, continued to be discussed by the Muʿtazilite
theologians.19 The Muʿtazilites firm stress on Gods justice, however, resulted in the group dividing,
which finally gave birth to the Ashʾarite school of thought.
According to Ashʾarite theologians, God’s law of justice applies only to human beings who have
been obligated to act according to His laws. Applying the idea of justice to God, however, will put a
limit on an all-powerful creator; therefore, God is not bound by His own laws. He is just in whatever
He does. 20 Applied to suffering, this then means that all harm encountered by man is fair as it has
been willed by God who is just in all His creation. The Ashʾarite thinkers were in sharp conflict with
the Muʿtazilites who asserted that not only is God subjected to the same rules of justice but that, in
fact, the obligation to act in just means is eternal and uncompromising for God. It is worth noting that
a prominent Muslim philosopher, Ibn Rushd (Averroes, d. 1198), challenged these views and asserted
that the element of justice may not be employed for God and man in the same manner: man, by virtue
of being just, advances to a higher level of goodness; God, however, is just due to His perfectiona
trait that requires Him to be just.21
In the final analysis, mainstream Sunnite theologians supported the Ashʾarite school of thought
and emphasized that God creates all acts. In order to reconcile God’s omnipotence with human
responsibility, the doctrine of acquisition (kasb) was adopted: God creates all acts; humans freely
acquire certain acts and, therefore, are accountable for the acquisition of good and evil acts. 22
Conversely, Muslim thinkers belonging to the Shiʾite branch of Islamthrough the influence of
rational element in the Muʿtazilite theologyremained in disagreement with the Ashʿarites. An
example of this may be observed from the writings of an eminent Persian philosopher, Morteza
Muahharī (d. 1979), who was of the opinion that the Ashʾarite outlook, while aimed at vindicating
God from injustice, resulted in exonerating human oppressors of any wrongdoing.23
From the Muslim philosophical perspective, the notion of good and evil is enclosed within the
wider ontological understanding of existence (wujūd) and nonexistence (ʿadam). Briefly put, good is
defined as a positive entity that branches from existence; evil, on the other hand, stems from
nonexistence and as such is viewed as a negative entity. 24 An example of the ontological
interpretation of what constitutes good and evil may be seen from the works of two prominent
Muslim philosophers who significantly influenced the shaping of Muslim philosophical thought: Ibn
Sīnā, known as Avicenna (d. 1037), and Sadr al-Din Shirāzī, who was mostly recognized as Mullā
Sadrā (d. 1636).
Ibn Sīnā formed a theodicy by distinguishing the various forms of evil such as “essential” evil
(sharr bidh-dhāt), which is non-being or privation, and “accidental” evil (sharr bil-ʿara), which can be
either being or privation. In his analysis, Ibn Sīnā concluded that it is the non-essential/accidental evil
that is the leading cause of human suffering and that the total amount of good in the universe
outweighs the amount of evil. 25 Mullā Sadrā, on the other hand, extensively developed this
philosophical approach by an interest in combining theology with mystical insight. This approach,
according to Rizvi, totally transformed the theory of existence as it pertains to Islamic metaphysics.26
19 For a great discussion on the Muʿtazilites view on pain and suffering see (Heemskerk 2000). For an extensive
study on the notion of disability in Islam, see Mohammed Ghaly, Islam and Disability: Perspectives in Theology
and Jurisprudence (Ghaly 2010).
20 See Wolfson, The Philosopy of Kalam (Wolfson 1976).
21 For more on his philosophy, see Ibn Rushd (Averroes), The Philosophy and Theology of Averroes, (Averroes
1921).
22 For more on theory of acquisition, see Wolfson, The Philosopy of Kalam (Wolfson 1976).
23 See (Mutahhari 1385, pp. 5051).
24 For more on ontological aspects of good and evil, see Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Islamic Philosophy from Its Origin
to the Present (Nasr 2006, pp. 6568).
25 For more on Ibn Sīnā’s theodicy, see Shams C. Inati, The Problem of Evil: Ibn Sina's Theodicy (Inati 2000).
26 See Sajjad Rizvi, 'Mulla Sadra', Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Rizvi 2009).
ul¯
um al-din: Kit¯
ab al-tawh¯
ıd wa’ l-tawakkul, Divine Unity and Trust in God:
Everything that God distributes among men such as sustenance, life-span ‘ajal’, happiness
and sadness, weakness and power, faith and unbelief, obedience and apostasy—all of it is
unqualifiedly just with no injustice in it, true with no wrong infecting it. Indeed, all this
happens according to a necessary and true order, according to what is appropriate as it
is appropriate and in the measure that is proper to it; nor is anything more fitting, more
perfect, and more attractive within the realm of possibility. For if something was to exist
and remind one of the sheer omnipotence of God and not of the good things accomplished
by His action, it would be miserliness that utterly contradicts God’s generosity and injustice
contrary to divine justice. And if God were not omnipotent, He would be impotent, thereby
contradicting the nature of divinity.35
Although a critical analysis of al-Ghaz
¯
al
¯
ı’s statement is beyond the scope of this paper, it should
be mentioned that he received much criticism from his opponents since taking this position—it is not
possible for God to create a better world—is in conflict with the Ash
Religions 2018, 9, x FOR PEER REVIEW 4 of 13
when afflicted with illness and adversity.13 Job’s incomparable sincerity and submission to God’s
will in both health and prosperity, as well as during affliction and hardship, are the reasons the
Qur’an portrays him as “an excellent servant.14
According to Muslim exegesis, what distinguishes Job is the fact that despite his enormous
fortune, he continually attributed the source of his blessings to God and remained humble as a
servant who lacked ownership of his belongings. Similarly, when God tested him with a serious
disease, he exercised patience and recognized that he was going through a testa positive
experienceand ascribed any negative feelings of despair to Satan.15
The Qur’anic narrative about Job demonstrates that trials and testswhether in prosperity and
health or illness and hardshipare part of the divine plan, so much so that even prophets are not
exempt; it is through various experiences in life that man is able to actualize his potential and
propagate his mission on this earth. As John notes, “the story of Job in the Qur’an is understood
primarily as a reward narrative with an emphasis different from that of the story of Job in the Bible.”16
4. Concept of Evil: Theological and Philosophical Development
One of the earliest problems in Muslim theological thought (kalām) was how to reconcile the
divine attribute of omnipotence with the notion of human free will. The departure point for this
discourse was the Qur’an and the diverse interpretations of its teachings on the divine names and
attributes (asmāʾ al-usnā).17 The reconciliation of certain divine attributes, predominantly the aspect
of an all-powerful God, with the idea of human free willthe broader frame with which human
suffering was enclosedwas the first attempt to initiate a theodicy within the context of Islam.
The discourse presents itself at the core of the theological dialogue amongst various groups. The
theologians who advocated for the attribute of omnipotence in its absolute and uncompromising
form were of the opinion that the only agent in this world is God: He creates His own acts as well as
the acts of all human beings. As this view raised serious concerns about the creation of “evil” acts by
God, the debate developed further to question the validity of human free willthe concept that is
deeply rooted in the Quran as it relates to man’s responsibility and accountability, as well as divine
judgment and reward and punishment. The dialogue crystallized between the Muʿtazilite and the
Ashʿarite, the two main schools of thought, with a divergence of opinion; both made a serious effort
to win the argument according to their understanding of the Qur’an.18
The Muʿtazilite school of thought, also known as the rationalists, categorically opposed the idea
that God creates human acts that include evil and advocated for human free will by emphasizing the
importance of the divine attribute of justice (ʿadl). They upheld that God, in accordance with His
attribute of (ʿāadil), cannot create evil and that evil is the direct result of man’s freedom of choice. This
view was challenged by raising questions such as: If God does not create evil, who, then, is
responsible for human suffering caused by illnesses and disasters? And if God wills for illnesses and
disasters in human life, how can He be just? The Muʿtazilites responded by affirming that illnesses
and disasters, while may appear as “evil”, are in actuality “good” that God creates and that serve a
significant purpose in the creational cosmic plan. This seems to be the first appearance of the theory
13 The story of Job in JudeoChristian traditions is presented in the Book of Job and appears in the form of a
dialogue between Job and his friends who try to explain to him the reason for his sufferings. A comparative
study of the story between JudeoChristian tradition and Islam is beyond the scope of this paper. For an
excellent comparative review, see A.H. Johns, A Comparative Glance at Ayyub in the Qur'an (Johns 2008,
pp. 5182).
14 Qur’an 38:41–2 and 21:834.
15 See Abubakr `Tigh Neishabur Surabadi, Tafsir Surabadi, ed. Sa`Idi Sirjani (Surabadi 1381). Also, see Brannon
M. Wheeler, Prophets in the Qur'an, an Introduction to the Qur'an and Muslim Exegesis (Wheeler 2002).
16 See (Johns 2003, pp. 5051).
17 For more on this see Abdol Rahman Ibn Khaldūn, Muqaddimah of Ibn Khaldūn (Ibn Khaldūn 1375).
18 For a comprehensive discussion on development of theology in Islam, see Harry Austryn Wolfson, The
Philosopy of Kalam (Wolfson 1976).
arite theological teachings relating
to God’s omnipotence.
36
However, it must be pointed out that the statement is embedded within a
broader context of tawakkul, “trust in God,” which is treated in the Qur’an extensively. In fact, Al-Wak
¯
ıl,
the trustee, is one of the divine attributes that the Qur’an references when it characterizes true believers,
that is, those who hold full trust in God. This concept is also discussed by al-Ghaz
¯
al
¯
ı in his book called
The Ninety-Nine Beautiful Names of God, ‘al-Mag
s
.
ad al-asn
¯
a f
¯
ı shar
h
.
ma
Religions 2018, 9, x FOR PEER REVIEW 5 of 13
of instrumentality of human suffering in the divine plan. The notion of suffering, which included
undeserved suffering by children and animals, continued to be discussed by the Muʿtazilite
theologians.19 The Muʿtazilites firm stress on Gods justice, however, resulted in the group dividing,
which finally gave birth to the Ashʾarite school of thought.
According to Ashʾarite theologians, God’s law of justice applies only to human beings who have
been obligated to act according to His laws. Applying the idea of justice to God, however, will put a
limit on an all-powerful creator; therefore, God is not bound by His own laws. He is just in whatever
He does. 20 Applied to suffering, this then means that all harm encountered by man is fair as it has
been willed by God who is just in all His creation. The Ashʾarite thinkers were in sharp conflict with
the Muʿtazilites who asserted that not only is God subjected to the same rules of justice but that, in
fact, the obligation to act in just means is eternal and uncompromising for God. It is worth noting that
a prominent Muslim philosopher, Ibn Rushd (Averroes, d. 1198), challenged these views and asserted
that the element of justice may not be employed for God and man in the same manner: man, by virtue
of being just, advances to a higher level of goodness; God, however, is just due to His perfectiona
trait that requires Him to be just.21
In the final analysis, mainstream Sunnite theologians supported the Ashʾarite school of thought
and emphasized that God creates all acts. In order to reconcile God’s omnipotence with human
responsibility, the doctrine of acquisition (kasb) was adopted: God creates all acts; humans freely
acquire certain acts and, therefore, are accountable for the acquisition of good and evil acts. 22
Conversely, Muslim thinkers belonging to the Shiʾite branch of Islamthrough the influence of
rational element in the Muʿtazilite theologyremained in disagreement with the Ashʿarites. An
example of this may be observed from the writings of an eminent Persian philosopher, Morteza
Muahharī (d. 1979), who was of the opinion that the Ashʾarite outlook, while aimed at vindicating
God from injustice, resulted in exonerating human oppressors of any wrongdoing.23
From the Muslim philosophical perspective, the notion of good and evil is enclosed within the
wider ontological understanding of existence (wujūd) and nonexistence (ʿadam). Briefly put, good is
defined as a positive entity that branches from existence; evil, on the other hand, stems from
nonexistence and as such is viewed as a negative entity. 24 An example of the ontological
interpretation of what constitutes good and evil may be seen from the works of two prominent
Muslim philosophers who significantly influenced the shaping of Muslim philosophical thought: Ibn
Sīnā, known as Avicenna (d. 1037), and Sadr al-Din Shirāzī, who was mostly recognized as Mullā
Sadrā (d. 1636).
Ibn Sīnā formed a theodicy by distinguishing the various forms of evil such as “essential” evil
(sharr bidh-dhāt), which is non-being or privation, and “accidental” evil (sharr bil-ʿara), which can be
either being or privation. In his analysis, Ibn Sīnā concluded that it is the non-essential/accidental evil
that is the leading cause of human suffering and that the total amount of good in the universe
outweighs the amount of evil. 25 Mullā Sadrā, on the other hand, extensively developed this
philosophical approach by an interest in combining theology with mystical insight. This approach,
according to Rizvi, totally transformed the theory of existence as it pertains to Islamic metaphysics.26
19 For a great discussion on the Muʿtazilites view on pain and suffering see (Heemskerk 2000). For an extensive
study on the notion of disability in Islam, see Mohammed Ghaly, Islam and Disability: Perspectives in Theology
and Jurisprudence (Ghaly 2010).
20 See Wolfson, The Philosopy of Kalam (Wolfson 1976).
21 For more on his philosophy, see Ibn Rushd (Averroes), The Philosophy and Theology of Averroes, (Averroes
1921).
22 For more on theory of acquisition, see Wolfson, The Philosopy of Kalam (Wolfson 1976).
23 See (Mutahhari 1385, pp. 5051).
24 For more on ontological aspects of good and evil, see Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Islamic Philosophy from Its Origin
to the Present (Nasr 2006, pp. 6568).
25 For more on Ibn Sīnā’s theodicy, see Shams C. Inati, The Problem of Evil: Ibn Sina's Theodicy (Inati 2000).
26 See Sajjad Rizvi, 'Mulla Sadra', Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Rizvi 2009).
¯
an
¯
ı asm
¯
a
Religions 2018, 9, x FOR PEER REVIEW 4 of 13
when afflicted with illness and adversity.13 Job’s incomparable sincerity and submission to God’s
will in both health and prosperity, as well as during affliction and hardship, are the reasons the
Qur’an portrays him as “an excellent servant.14
According to Muslim exegesis, what distinguishes Job is the fact that despite his enormous
fortune, he continually attributed the source of his blessings to God and remained humble as a
servant who lacked ownership of his belongings. Similarly, when God tested him with a serious
disease, he exercised patience and recognized that he was going through a testa positive
experienceand ascribed any negative feelings of despair to Satan.15
The Qur’anic narrative about Job demonstrates that trials and testswhether in prosperity and
health or illness and hardshipare part of the divine plan, so much so that even prophets are not
exempt; it is through various experiences in life that man is able to actualize his potential and
propagate his mission on this earth. As John notes, “the story of Job in the Qur’an is understood
primarily as a reward narrative with an emphasis different from that of the story of Job in the Bible.”16
4. Concept of Evil: Theological and Philosophical Development
One of the earliest problems in Muslim theological thought (kalām) was how to reconcile the
divine attribute of omnipotence with the notion of human free will. The departure point for this
discourse was the Qur’an and the diverse interpretations of its teachings on the divine names and
attributes (asmāʾ al-usnā).17 The reconciliation of certain divine attributes, predominantly the aspect
of an all-powerful God, with the idea of human free willthe broader frame with which human
suffering was enclosedwas the first attempt to initiate a theodicy within the context of Islam.
The discourse presents itself at the core of the theological dialogue amongst various groups. The
theologians who advocated for the attribute of omnipotence in its absolute and uncompromising
form were of the opinion that the only agent in this world is God: He creates His own acts as well as
the acts of all human beings. As this view raised serious concerns about the creation of “evil” acts by
God, the debate developed further to question the validity of human free willthe concept that is
deeply rooted in the Quran as it relates to man’s responsibility and accountability, as well as divine
judgment and reward and punishment. The dialogue crystallized between the Muʿtazilite and the
Ashʿarite, the two main schools of thought, with a divergence of opinion; both made a serious effort
to win the argument according to their understanding of the Qur’an.18
The Muʿtazilite school of thought, also known as the rationalists, categorically opposed the idea
that God creates human acts that include evil and advocated for human free will by emphasizing the
importance of the divine attribute of justice (ʿadl). They upheld that God, in accordance with His
attribute of (ʿāadil), cannot create evil and that evil is the direct result of man’s freedom of choice. This
view was challenged by raising questions such as: If God does not create evil, who, then, is
responsible for human suffering caused by illnesses and disasters? And if God wills for illnesses and
disasters in human life, how can He be just? The Muʿtazilites responded by affirming that illnesses
and disasters, while may appear as “evil”, are in actuality “good” that God creates and that serve a
significant purpose in the creational cosmic plan. This seems to be the first appearance of the theory
13 The story of Job in JudeoChristian traditions is presented in the Book of Job and appears in the form of a
dialogue between Job and his friends who try to explain to him the reason for his sufferings. A comparative
study of the story between JudeoChristian tradition and Islam is beyond the scope of this paper. For an
excellent comparative review, see A.H. Johns, A Comparative Glance at Ayyub in the Qur'an (Johns 2008,
pp. 5182).
14 Qur’an 38:41–2 and 21:834.
15 See Abubakr `Tigh Neishabur Surabadi, Tafsir Surabadi, ed. Sa`Idi Sirjani (Surabadi 1381). Also, see Brannon
M. Wheeler, Prophets in the Qur'an, an Introduction to the Qur'an and Muslim Exegesis (Wheeler 2002).
16 See (Johns 2003, pp. 5051).
17 For more on this see Abdol Rahman Ibn Khaldūn, Muqaddimah of Ibn Khaldūn (Ibn Khaldūn 1375).
18 For a comprehensive discussion on development of theology in Islam, see Harry Austryn Wolfson, The
Philosopy of Kalam (Wolfson 1976).
All
¯
ah al-
h
.
usn
¯
a’, where he
provides a comprehensive discussion of the divine attribute of Al-Wak
¯
ıl, and describes to his audience
how God, in His essence, deserves to have matters entrusted to Him.37
Therefore, while certain elements of a classical theodicy are articulated in al-Ghaz
¯
al
¯
ı’s maxim of
“the best of all possible worlds,” one may infer that his objective was to provide practical guidelines to
reach a high level of trust in God despite the apparent imperfections of the world. Furthermore, prior
31
For example, Quran, 2:216, “
. . .
you may dislike something although it is good for you, or like something although it is bad
for you: God knows and you don’t.”
32
For a comprehensive study on al-Ghaz
¯
al
¯
ı’s thoughts, see Frank Griffel, Al-Ghaz
¯
al
¯
ı’s Philosophical Theology (Griffel 2009).
Also see Michael E. Marmura, ‘Al-Ghaz
¯
al
¯
ı’, in Peter Adamson and Richard Taylor (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Arabic
Philosophy (Marmura 2005).
33 See Abdolhusin Zarrinkub, Farar Az Madrasah - Life and Teachings of Al-Ghazali (Zarrinkub 1387, p. 124).
34 For more on this, see (Watt 2007).
35 See (Al-Ghaz¯
al¯
ı 2001, pp. 45–46).
36
For a detailed discussion on al-Ghaz
¯
al
¯
ı’s statement, see (Ormsby 1984). It should be noted that several centuries later this
statement was raised by Leibnitz in the context of a consistent theodicy. Also see (Kermani 2011, p. 58).
37 See (Al-Ghaz¯
al¯
ı 1992, pp. 375–76).
Religions 2018,9, 47 8 of 13
to making the aforementioned statement about the perfectness of the world, al-Ghaz
¯
al
¯
ı engages in
an in-depth discussion on the divine attributes of “wisdom” and “will” to highlight their connection,
as well as the importance of viewing the world as the most excellent work of the Creator. From the
Ghaz
¯
alian perspective, the signs of God’s will and wisdom are plentifully evident throughout His
creation. Consequently, in order to fully trust in God that this world—including all of its seeming
deficiencies—is the best of all possible worlds, one must be able to genuinely believe that the creation
of the universe is planned and premeditated according to God’s will and wisdom. It should also be
mentioned that this level of trust, tawakkul, is one of the highest stations in the mystic path and plays a
significant role in man’s spiritual development.
As it may be inferred from the above discussion, al-Ghaz
¯
al
¯
ı’s theodicy is established on a strong
relationship between man and God and the need to reach an elevated level of trust in God in the face
of the world’s imperfections, adversities, and suffering. Nevertheless, it is in the teachings of Jal
¯
al
al-D
¯
ın R
¯
um
¯
ı, one of the most prominent thinkers of Islam as well as a mystic and Sufi poet, where the
comprehensive elucidations of the constructive aspects of hardship and suffering in man’s spiritual
development come to light.38
6. Evil from the Muslim Mystical Perspective: Jal¯
al al-D¯
ın R ¯
um¯
ı
The mystical dimension of Islam, similar to other forms of religious mysticism discussed in
Perennial Philosophy,
39
deals with the esoteric teachings of Islam and is traditionally represented by
Sufism. Although the development of Sufism may be traced back to a century after the death of prophet
Muhammad, the roots of its teachings go back to the Qur’an and the Sunna (normative behavior) of the
prophet where contemplating on the spiritual realities of the universe is highly encouraged. That the
external (
z
.¯
ahir) practices of Islam should guide to insight and inner realities (b
¯
a
t
.
in) may be understood
from the Qur’an where God is presented as both the Outward (al-
z
.¯
ahir) and the Inward (al-b
¯
a
t
.
in).
40
Although the focus of Sufism is on the esoteric path (tar
¯
ıqah) in order to reach a state of union with
God, the doctrines and practices of the Sufi path are, nevertheless, founded on the exoteric framework
specified in Islamic law (shar¯
ı’ah).41
One of the most influential Sufis of Islam is Jal
¯
al al-D
¯
ın R
¯
um
¯
ı (1207–1273) who is known in the
West for his mystical poetry. R
¯
um
¯
ı was born in Balkh, the Persian province of Khor
¯
as
¯
an, and received
a high level of education under his father who was a distinguished jurisprudent and Sufi, as well
as a formal trainee to the mastery level in Sufism from one of the most well-known Sufi masters of
the time, Burh
¯
an al-Din Tirmidh
¯
ı. Being educated in the traditional religious sciences in addition
to Sufism gained him widespread recognition as a religious scholar and influential teacher in both
exoteric and esoteric teachings of Islam. In Shafiei Kadkani’s opinion, R
¯
um
¯
ı is considered as one of
the greatest intellectuals of the world mainly because of his extraordinary ability to engage with the
mystical interpretation of some of the most difficult theological concepts, as well as their exposition in
a poetic and inspirational language.
42
Although R
¯
um
¯
ı’s mystical elucidations are presented in much
of his work, it is, however, his magnum opus, the Mathnaw
¯
ıthat illuminates the mystical elements of the
Qur’anic teachings, and is regarded as an esoteric commentary of the Qur’an.
43
In what follows, I will
38
It is important to note that al-Ghaz
¯
al
¯
ı’s mystical teachings have greatly influenced R
¯
um
¯
ı’s worldview. However, while the
former emphasized more on God’s majesty, the latter established his teachings more on the notion of God’s love. For more
on the mystical views of al-Ghaz¯
al¯
ı and R ¯
um¯
ı, see (Soroush 1379, pp. 33–37).
39
Perennial Philosophy takes a universal approach in explaining the teachings of world religions, and brings to light a shared
mystical vision among them. Viewed from this perspective, world religions and spiritual traditions, despite their cultural
and historical differences, promote a deep understanding of the transcendent element, the Reality, which exists in the
universe. For more on this, see (Huxley 2009, p. vii).
40 Qur’an: 57:3, “He is the First and the Last; the Outer and the Inner: He has the knowledge of all things.”
41 For a comprehensive discussion about Islamic mysticism, see (Schimmel 1975). Also, see (Nasr 1987).
42 See (Shafiei Kadkani 1388, p. 2).
43 For more on the influence of the Qur’an in shaping Rumi’s worldview, see (Zarrinkub 1388, p. 342).
Religions 2018,9, 47 9 of 13
attempt to summarize R
¯
um
¯
ı’s expositions on the notion of evil and human suffering as presented in
the Mathnaw¯
ı.
In R
¯
um
¯
ı’s worldview, the multiplicity that exists in this world is the effect of the manifestation
of God’s names (asm
¯
a
Religions 2018, 9, x FOR PEER REVIEW 4 of 13
when afflicted with illness and adversity.13 Job’s incomparable sincerity and submission to God’s
will in both health and prosperity, as well as during affliction and hardship, are the reasons the
Qur’an portrays him as “an excellent servant.14
According to Muslim exegesis, what distinguishes Job is the fact that despite his enormous
fortune, he continually attributed the source of his blessings to God and remained humble as a
servant who lacked ownership of his belongings. Similarly, when God tested him with a serious
disease, he exercised patience and recognized that he was going through a testa positive
experienceand ascribed any negative feelings of despair to Satan.15
The Qur’anic narrative about Job demonstrates that trials and testswhether in prosperity and
health or illness and hardshipare part of the divine plan, so much so that even prophets are not
exempt; it is through various experiences in life that man is able to actualize his potential and
propagate his mission on this earth. As John notes, “the story of Job in the Qur’an is understood
primarily as a reward narrative with an emphasis different from that of the story of Job in the Bible.”16
4. Concept of Evil: Theological and Philosophical Development
One of the earliest problems in Muslim theological thought (kalām) was how to reconcile the
divine attribute of omnipotence with the notion of human free will. The departure point for this
discourse was the Qur’an and the diverse interpretations of its teachings on the divine names and
attributes (asmāʾ al-usnā).17 The reconciliation of certain divine attributes, predominantly the aspect
of an all-powerful God, with the idea of human free willthe broader frame with which human
suffering was enclosedwas the first attempt to initiate a theodicy within the context of Islam.
The discourse presents itself at the core of the theological dialogue amongst various groups. The
theologians who advocated for the attribute of omnipotence in its absolute and uncompromising
form were of the opinion that the only agent in this world is God: He creates His own acts as well as
the acts of all human beings. As this view raised serious concerns about the creation of “evil” acts by
God, the debate developed further to question the validity of human free willthe concept that is
deeply rooted in the Quran as it relates to man’s responsibility and accountability, as well as divine
judgment and reward and punishment. The dialogue crystallized between the Muʿtazilite and the
Ashʿarite, the two main schools of thought, with a divergence of opinion; both made a serious effort
to win the argument according to their understanding of the Qur’an.18
The Muʿtazilite school of thought, also known as the rationalists, categorically opposed the idea
that God creates human acts that include evil and advocated for human free will by emphasizing the
importance of the divine attribute of justice (ʿadl). They upheld that God, in accordance with His
attribute of (ʿāadil), cannot create evil and that evil is the direct result of man’s freedom of choice. This
view was challenged by raising questions such as: If God does not create evil, who, then, is
responsible for human suffering caused by illnesses and disasters? And if God wills for illnesses and
disasters in human life, how can He be just? The Muʿtazilites responded by affirming that illnesses
and disasters, while may appear as “evil”, are in actuality “good” that God creates and that serve a
significant purpose in the creational cosmic plan. This seems to be the first appearance of the theory
13 The story of Job in JudeoChristian traditions is presented in the Book of Job and appears in the form of a
dialogue between Job and his friends who try to explain to him the reason for his sufferings. A comparative
study of the story between JudeoChristian tradition and Islam is beyond the scope of this paper. For an
excellent comparative review, see A.H. Johns, A Comparative Glance at Ayyub in the Qur'an (Johns 2008,
pp. 5182).
14 Qur’an 38:41–2 and 21:834.
15 See Abubakr `Tigh Neishabur Surabadi, Tafsir Surabadi, ed. Sa`Idi Sirjani (Surabadi 1381). Also, see Brannon
M. Wheeler, Prophets in the Qur'an, an Introduction to the Qur'an and Muslim Exegesis (Wheeler 2002).
16 See (Johns 2003, pp. 5051).
17 For more on this see Abdol Rahman Ibn Khaldūn, Muqaddimah of Ibn Khaldūn (Ibn Khaldūn 1375).
18 For a comprehensive discussion on development of theology in Islam, see Harry Austryn Wolfson, The
Philosopy of Kalam (Wolfson 1976).
) and attributes (sif
¯
at) that aim to reveal His creative power. In other words,
while the form (
s
.¯
urat) of the created entities is varied, their meaning (ma
Religions 2018, 9, x FOR PEER REVIEW 4 of 13
when afflicted with illness and adversity.13 Job’s incomparable sincerity and submission to God’s
will in both health and prosperity, as well as during affliction and hardship, are the reasons the
Qur’an portrays him as “an excellent servant.14
According to Muslim exegesis, what distinguishes Job is the fact that despite his enormous
fortune, he continually attributed the source of his blessings to God and remained humble as a
servant who lacked ownership of his belongings. Similarly, when God tested him with a serious
disease, he exercised patience and recognized that he was going through a testa positive
experienceand ascribed any negative feelings of despair to Satan.15
The Qur’anic narrative about Job demonstrates that trials and testswhether in prosperity and
health or illness and hardshipare part of the divine plan, so much so that even prophets are not
exempt; it is through various experiences in life that man is able to actualize his potential and
propagate his mission on this earth. As John notes, “the story of Job in the Qur’an is understood
primarily as a reward narrative with an emphasis different from that of the story of Job in the Bible.”16
4. Concept of Evil: Theological and Philosophical Development
One of the earliest problems in Muslim theological thought (kalām) was how to reconcile the
divine attribute of omnipotence with the notion of human free will. The departure point for this
discourse was the Qur’an and the diverse interpretations of its teachings on the divine names and
attributes (asmāʾ al-usnā).17 The reconciliation of certain divine attributes, predominantly the aspect
of an all-powerful God, with the idea of human free willthe broader frame with which human
suffering was enclosedwas the first attempt to initiate a theodicy within the context of Islam.
The discourse presents itself at the core of the theological dialogue amongst various groups. The
theologians who advocated for the attribute of omnipotence in its absolute and uncompromising
form were of the opinion that the only agent in this world is God: He creates His own acts as well as
the acts of all human beings. As this view raised serious concerns about the creation of “evil” acts by
God, the debate developed further to question the validity of human free willthe concept that is
deeply rooted in the Quran as it relates to man’s responsibility and accountability, as well as divine
judgment and reward and punishment. The dialogue crystallized between the Muʿtazilite and the
Ashʿarite, the two main schools of thought, with a divergence of opinion; both made a serious effort
to win the argument according to their understanding of the Qur’an.18
The Muʿtazilite school of thought, also known as the rationalists, categorically opposed the idea
that God creates human acts that include evil and advocated for human free will by emphasizing the
importance of the divine attribute of justice (ʿadl). They upheld that God, in accordance with His
attribute of (ʿāadil), cannot create evil and that evil is the direct result of man’s freedom of choice. This
view was challenged by raising questions such as: If God does not create evil, who, then, is
responsible for human suffering caused by illnesses and disasters? And if God wills for illnesses and
disasters in human life, how can He be just? The Muʿtazilites responded by affirming that illnesses
and disasters, while may appear as “evil”, are in actuality “good” that God creates and that serve a
significant purpose in the creational cosmic plan. This seems to be the first appearance of the theory
13 The story of Job in JudeoChristian traditions is presented in the Book of Job and appears in the form of a
dialogue between Job and his friends who try to explain to him the reason for his sufferings. A comparative
study of the story between JudeoChristian tradition and Islam is beyond the scope of this paper. For an
excellent comparative review, see A.H. Johns, A Comparative Glance at Ayyub in the Qur'an (Johns 2008,
pp. 5182).
14 Qur’an 38:41–2 and 21:834.
15 See Abubakr `Tigh Neishabur Surabadi, Tafsir Surabadi, ed. Sa`Idi Sirjani (Surabadi 1381). Also, see Brannon
M. Wheeler, Prophets in the Qur'an, an Introduction to the Qur'an and Muslim Exegesis (Wheeler 2002).
16 See (Johns 2003, pp. 5051).
17 For more on this see Abdol Rahman Ibn Khaldūn, Muqaddimah of Ibn Khaldūn (Ibn Khaldūn 1375).
18 For a comprehensive discussion on development of theology in Islam, see Harry Austryn Wolfson, The
Philosopy of Kalam (Wolfson 1976).
n
¯
a), nevertheless, is indicative
of One Reality.
44
R
¯
um
¯
ı further expands the distinction between form and meaning to demonstrate
that while man appears to be a being among other beings in the universe, the universe is, in fact, in
man: “
. . .
in form thou art the microcosm, in reality thou art the macrocosm.”
45
He also identifies
man as the “fruit” of creation and uses the analogy of a tree to describe this highly elevated status:
“The only reason that the gardener plants a tree is for the sake of the fruit. Man is the goal of the
creation; therefore, he is the last creature that comes into existence; yet, in reality, he is the first.”46
The creation of Adam, as the exemplar of humankind in his ultimate closeness to God, is
postulated at the center of R
¯
um
¯
ı’s teachings as it relates to the positive impact of trials and tribulations
in man’s spiritual development. According to R
¯
um
¯
ı, the Qur’anic notion of the “knowledge of the
names,”47 taught to Adam upon his creation, reveals that humankind has the capacity to become the
perfect mirror where God’s names and attributes may be manifested. The knowledge of the names,
R
¯
um
¯
ı informs us, is not the external names of the created beings; rather, it is the mysteries and the
inner meanings of the various elements within the creation of the cosmos. Man’s responsibility is to
live in accordance with his inner nature (fitra) and recognize that actualization of his potential is doable
by his own volition, as well as the ability to differentiate between “form” and “meaning”: to search for
the truth behind the veils.
From the R
¯
um
¯
ıan perspective, the most important phase in man’s spiritual development is to
get to know one’s self, self-knowledge (ma’rifat al-nafs), and ultimately to recognize that he has been
separated from his original Source (a
s
.
l). By employing the analogy of a “reed,” R
¯
um
¯
ı explicates that
this separation is the primary cause for humankind’s unhappiness in this life.
48
Man tends to forget
his divine origin and occupies himself with the worldly attainments; therefore, in order to awaken
him from the state of negligence, he will be faced with adversities and sufferings. In other words,
trials and tribulations are necessary as they assist man in self-purification (tazkiyat al-nafs), freeing him
from material attachments and the inclinations of his ego. R
¯
um
¯
ı expounds upon prophet Joseph’s
experience to describe the constructiveness of trials; Joseph’s enslavement, as difficult as it was, freed
him from slavery to other creatures so that he could become God’s slave alone.
49
Furthermore, in
R
¯
um
¯
ı’s scheme, when a person is faced with a negative bal
¯
a, for example, a serious illness, his attitude
and response towards his condition are of primary importance. The person whose goal in life is to
satisfy the inclinations of his animal self will complain and bring to question the justice of God. On the
other hand, a person whose goal is to purify the self (nafs), to go up the spiritual ladder, will find a
deeper meaning in learning the lessons hidden within this experience.50
As it was alluded to previously, from the Qur ’anic perspective, man’s entire life on earth, in “good”
(khayr) and “bad” (sharr), is viewed as a trial and a test; the purpose is to grant him the opportunity to
flourish his inner potential by exercising freedom of choice (
ı˛
khti
¯
ar) and to strive to find ways to return
to his source. As R
¯
um
¯
ı explains, mankind has the tendency to forget God in two situations: when he is
granted wealth and during good health.
44 See (Rumi 1926, VI:3172, 83).
45 Ibid., IV:521.
46 Ibid., III:1128–29.
47 Qur’an: 2:30–37.
48 See (Rumi 1926, I:1–2; 3; and 11).
49 See (Renard 1994).
50 See (Rumi 1926, III:682–68). For more on this, see (Zamani 1384).
Religions 2018,9, 47 10 of 13
Between God and His servant are just two veils and all other veils manifest out of these:
they are health and wealth. The man who is well in body says, ‘Where is God? I do not
know and I do not see.’ As soon as pain afflicts him he begins to say, ‘O God! O God!’,
communing and conversing with God. So you see that health was his veil and God was
hidden under that pain. As much as man has wealth and resources, he procures the means
to gratify his desires and is preoccupied during the night and day with that. The moment
indigence appears, his ego is weakened and he goes round about God.51
R
¯
um
¯
ı further invites his reader to ponder about times of afflictions when his prayer in ending
the suffering appears not to have been granted by God, and to recognize and appreciate that this is
more beneficial for him: the longer the duration of the hardship, the longer he remains in this state
of immanence to God.
52
Also, as Chittick observes, in R
¯
um
¯
ı’s view, “if a person tries to flee from
suffering through various stratagems, he is, in fact, fleeing God. The only way to flee from suffering is
to seek refuge from one’s own ego with God.”
53
Moreover, another positive impact of adversity and
sorrow is that it transforms and purifies human character.
When someone beats a rug with a stick, he is not beating the rug; his aim is to get rid of
the dust.
Your inward is full of dust from the veil of I-ness and that dust will not leave all at once.
54
Finally, before closing the discussion on R
¯
um
¯
ı’s teachings, it should be pointed out that in his
elucidations on the fruitfulness of hardships in man’s life, R
¯
um
¯
ı also provides practical guidelines that
can be put to practice when one is faced with adversities. In an effort to benefit from spiritual growth,
as well as overcome suffering without going into despair, R
¯
um
¯
ı explicates two critical aspects of being
a Muslim, namely, the Qur’anic virtues of patience (
s
.
abr) and trust in God (tawakkul). As trusting God
is at the core of al-Ghaz
¯
al
¯
ı’s teachings and has already been discussed in conjunction with the “best of
all possible world” statement, we will now turn to a brief discussion on the concept of patience from
the R ¯
um¯
ıan perspective.
In his explications of man’s condition on this earth, R
¯
um
¯
ı frequently sheds light on the virtue of
patience. Nevertheless, it is in the parable of the “chickpea,” one of the most well-known stories of the
Mathnaw
¯
ı, where the importance of patience in the face of suffering fully comes to light. The story is
about a fictional dialogue between a housewife and a chickpea that is being cooked as part of a meal.
Similar to man at the time of his encounter with affliction, the chickpea complains to the housewife
for cooking it in boiling water and it tries to escape by constantly jumping out of the pot. Finally, on
realizing that it is not able to relieve itself from its misery, it desperately pleads with the housewife to
take it out of the boiling water. The housewife then comes into a conversation to console the chickpea
and help it learn that patiently enduring suffering is needed for its growth.
At the time of being boiled, the chickpea comes up continually to the top of the pot and
raises a hundred cries,
Saying, ‘Why are you setting the fire on me? Since you bought me, how are you turning
me upside down?’
The housewife goes on hitting it with the ladle. ‘No!’ says she: ‘boil nicely and don’t jump
away from the one who makes the fire.’
I do not boil you because you are hateful to me; nay, ‘tis that you may get taste; this
affliction of yours is not on account of you being despised.’
Continue, O chickpea, to boil in tribulation, that neither existence nor self may remain
51 See (Rumi 2004, p. 240).
52 See (Rumi 1926, VI:4222–26).
53 See (Chittick 1983, p. 238).
54 See (Rumi 1379).
Religions 2018,9, 47 11 of 13
to thee.
The chickpea said, ‘since it is so, O lady, I will gladly boil: give me help in verity!
In this boiling thou art, as it were, my architect: smite me with the skimming-spoon, for
thou smites very delightfully.’55
Recapitulating R
¯
um
¯
ı’s thought as presented in the final verse of the chickpea story, when man
journeys in the mystic path and is able to attain the state of inner contentment (riz
¯
a) during times of
suffering, he has truly submitted to the will of God—has become a Muslim. Consequently, in patiently
enduring suffering, as well as trusting in God and the overall goodness of His creation, man will be
able to overcome the anguish and move up the spiritual ladder to reach nearness with God. It should
also be mentioned that in R
¯
um
¯
ı’s mystical path, love of God plays a significant role in the process of
man’s spiritual growth. As man is reminded of his separation from his Source (a
s
.
l), the love of the
Beloved is the means by which he will be able to endure the most difficult times, knowing that through
God’s love he has the potential to reach the elevated state of riz
¯
a—what the Qur’an refers to as the
highest state of tranquility (‘nafs mut
.ma
Religions 2018, 9, x FOR PEER REVIEW 4 of 13
when afflicted with illness and adversity.13 Job’s incomparable sincerity and submission to God’s
will in both health and prosperity, as well as during affliction and hardship, are the reasons the
Qur’an portrays him as “an excellent servant.14
According to Muslim exegesis, what distinguishes Job is the fact that despite his enormous
fortune, he continually attributed the source of his blessings to God and remained humble as a
servant who lacked ownership of his belongings. Similarly, when God tested him with a serious
disease, he exercised patience and recognized that he was going through a testa positive
experienceand ascribed any negative feelings of despair to Satan.15
The Qur’anic narrative about Job demonstrates that trials and testswhether in prosperity and
health or illness and hardshipare part of the divine plan, so much so that even prophets are not
exempt; it is through various experiences in life that man is able to actualize his potential and
propagate his mission on this earth. As John notes, “the story of Job in the Qur’an is understood
primarily as a reward narrative with an emphasis different from that of the story of Job in the Bible.”16
4. Concept of Evil: Theological and Philosophical Development
One of the earliest problems in Muslim theological thought (kalām) was how to reconcile the
divine attribute of omnipotence with the notion of human free will. The departure point for this
discourse was the Qur’an and the diverse interpretations of its teachings on the divine names and
attributes (asmāʾ al-usnā).17 The reconciliation of certain divine attributes, predominantly the aspect
of an all-powerful God, with the idea of human free willthe broader frame with which human
suffering was enclosedwas the first attempt to initiate a theodicy within the context of Islam.
The discourse presents itself at the core of the theological dialogue amongst various groups. The
theologians who advocated for the attribute of omnipotence in its absolute and uncompromising
form were of the opinion that the only agent in this world is God: He creates His own acts as well as
the acts of all human beings. As this view raised serious concerns about the creation of “evil” acts by
God, the debate developed further to question the validity of human free willthe concept that is
deeply rooted in the Quran as it relates to man’s responsibility and accountability, as well as divine
judgment and reward and punishment. The dialogue crystallized between the Muʿtazilite and the
Ashʿarite, the two main schools of thought, with a divergence of opinion; both made a serious effort
to win the argument according to their understanding of the Qur’an.18
The Muʿtazilite school of thought, also known as the rationalists, categorically opposed the idea
that God creates human acts that include evil and advocated for human free will by emphasizing the
importance of the divine attribute of justice (ʿadl). They upheld that God, in accordance with His
attribute of (ʿāadil), cannot create evil and that evil is the direct result of man’s freedom of choice. This
view was challenged by raising questions such as: If God does not create evil, who, then, is
responsible for human suffering caused by illnesses and disasters? And if God wills for illnesses and
disasters in human life, how can He be just? The Muʿtazilites responded by affirming that illnesses
and disasters, while may appear as “evil”, are in actuality “good” that God creates and that serve a
significant purpose in the creational cosmic plan. This seems to be the first appearance of the theory
13 The story of Job in JudeoChristian traditions is presented in the Book of Job and appears in the form of a
dialogue between Job and his friends who try to explain to him the reason for his sufferings. A comparative
study of the story between JudeoChristian tradition and Islam is beyond the scope of this paper. For an
excellent comparative review, see A.H. Johns, A Comparative Glance at Ayyub in the Qur'an (Johns 2008,
pp. 5182).
14 Qur’an 38:41–2 and 21:834.
15 See Abubakr `Tigh Neishabur Surabadi, Tafsir Surabadi, ed. Sa`Idi Sirjani (Surabadi 1381). Also, see Brannon
M. Wheeler, Prophets in the Qur'an, an Introduction to the Qur'an and Muslim Exegesis (Wheeler 2002).
16 See (Johns 2003, pp. 5051).
17 For more on this see Abdol Rahman Ibn Khaldūn, Muqaddimah of Ibn Khaldūn (Ibn Khaldūn 1375).
18 For a comprehensive discussion on development of theology in Islam, see Harry Austryn Wolfson, The
Philosopy of Kalam (Wolfson 1976).
inna’)—where man is pleased with his Lord.56
7. Conclusions
The notion of evil and human suffering is not portrayed in the Islamic revelation as a “problem” to
be resolved but rather as part of the human experience. Therefore, since the Qur’an does not engage its
readers in abstract ideas and theological discussions about evil, the formulation of a classical theodicy
is not presented. Most of the Qur’anic verses on adversity and suffering suggest that human beings,
including prophets, will be tested by difficult times. The ontological nature of evil is referred to as
nonexistence and privation of good by Muslim philosophers, while the theologians attribute evil to
man’s conduct. The Muslim mystical literature as presented in the teachings of R
¯
um
¯
ı demonstrates
that trials in adversities are necessary to remove man from the state of negligence in order for him to
realize his divine source and to choose to set forth on a spiritual journey. In this mystic path, exercising
patience, trusting God, as well as loving God, are essential in assisting man reach the state of tranquility.
Along the path, man, as the fruit of the creation, will be able to actualize the potentialities of his inner
nature and purify his soul to become a perfect mirror in manifesting God’s names and attributes.
Conflicts of Interest: The authors declare no conflict of interest.
References
Averroes, Ibn Rushd. 1921. The Philosophy and Theology of Averroes. Translated by Mohammad Jamil Rehman.
Lexington: ForgottenBooks.
Abdel Haleem, Muhammad A. S. 2004. The Qur’an, English Translation. New York: Oxford University Press, US.
Al-Ghaz
¯
al
¯
ı, Ab
¯
u
H
.¯
amid. 1992. The Ninety-Nine Beautiful Names of God, al-Mag
s
.
ad al-Asn
¯
a f
¯
ı Shar
h
.
Ma
Religions 2018, 9, x FOR PEER REVIEW 5 of 13
of instrumentality of human suffering in the divine plan. The notion of suffering, which included
undeserved suffering by children and animals, continued to be discussed by the Muʿtazilite
theologians.19 The Muʿtazilites firm stress on Gods justice, however, resulted in the group dividing,
which finally gave birth to the Ashʾarite school of thought.
According to Ashʾarite theologians, God’s law of justice applies only to human beings who have
been obligated to act according to His laws. Applying the idea of justice to God, however, will put a
limit on an all-powerful creator; therefore, God is not bound by His own laws. He is just in whatever
He does. 20 Applied to suffering, this then means that all harm encountered by man is fair as it has
been willed by God who is just in all His creation. The Ashʾarite thinkers were in sharp conflict with
the Muʿtazilites who asserted that not only is God subjected to the same rules of justice but that, in
fact, the obligation to act in just means is eternal and uncompromising for God. It is worth noting that
a prominent Muslim philosopher, Ibn Rushd (Averroes, d. 1198), challenged these views and asserted
that the element of justice may not be employed for God and man in the same manner: man, by virtue
of being just, advances to a higher level of goodness; God, however, is just due to His perfectiona
trait that requires Him to be just.21
In the final analysis, mainstream Sunnite theologians supported the Ashʾarite school of thought
and emphasized that God creates all acts. In order to reconcile God’s omnipotence with human
responsibility, the doctrine of acquisition (kasb) was adopted: God creates all acts; humans freely
acquire certain acts and, therefore, are accountable for the acquisition of good and evil acts. 22
Conversely, Muslim thinkers belonging to the Shiʾite branch of Islamthrough the influence of
rational element in the Muʿtazilite theologyremained in disagreement with the Ashʿarites. An
example of this may be observed from the writings of an eminent Persian philosopher, Morteza
Muahharī (d. 1979), who was of the opinion that the Ashʾarite outlook, while aimed at vindicating
God from injustice, resulted in exonerating human oppressors of any wrongdoing.23
From the Muslim philosophical perspective, the notion of good and evil is enclosed within the
wider ontological understanding of existence (wujūd) and nonexistence (ʿadam). Briefly put, good is
defined as a positive entity that branches from existence; evil, on the other hand, stems from
nonexistence and as such is viewed as a negative entity. 24 An example of the ontological
interpretation of what constitutes good and evil may be seen from the works of two prominent
Muslim philosophers who significantly influenced the shaping of Muslim philosophical thought: Ibn
Sīnā, known as Avicenna (d. 1037), and Sadr al-Din Shirāzī, who was mostly recognized as Mullā
Sadrā (d. 1636).
Ibn Sīnā formed a theodicy by distinguishing the various forms of evil such as “essential” evil
(sharr bidh-dhāt), which is non-being or privation, and “accidental” evil (sharr bil-ʿara), which can be
either being or privation. In his analysis, Ibn Sīnā concluded that it is the non-essential/accidental evil
that is the leading cause of human suffering and that the total amount of good in the universe
outweighs the amount of evil. 25 Mullā Sadrā, on the other hand, extensively developed this
philosophical approach by an interest in combining theology with mystical insight. This approach,
according to Rizvi, totally transformed the theory of existence as it pertains to Islamic metaphysics.26
19 For a great discussion on the Muʿtazilites view on pain and suffering see (Heemskerk 2000). For an extensive
study on the notion of disability in Islam, see Mohammed Ghaly, Islam and Disability: Perspectives in Theology
and Jurisprudence (Ghaly 2010).
20 See Wolfson, The Philosopy of Kalam (Wolfson 1976).
21 For more on his philosophy, see Ibn Rushd (Averroes), The Philosophy and Theology of Averroes, (Averroes
1921).
22 For more on theory of acquisition, see Wolfson, The Philosopy of Kalam (Wolfson 1976).
23 See (Mutahhari 1385, pp. 5051).
24 For more on ontological aspects of good and evil, see Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Islamic Philosophy from Its Origin
to the Present (Nasr 2006, pp. 6568).
25 For more on Ibn Sīnā’s theodicy, see Shams C. Inati, The Problem of Evil: Ibn Sina's Theodicy (Inati 2000).
26 See Sajjad Rizvi, 'Mulla Sadra', Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Rizvi 2009).
¯
an
¯
ı asm
¯
a
Religions 2018, 9, x FOR PEER REVIEW 4 of 13
when afflicted with illness and adversity.13 Job’s incomparable sincerity and submission to God’s
will in both health and prosperity, as well as during affliction and hardship, are the reasons the
Qur’an portrays him as “an excellent servant.14
According to Muslim exegesis, what distinguishes Job is the fact that despite his enormous
fortune, he continually attributed the source of his blessings to God and remained humble as a
servant who lacked ownership of his belongings. Similarly, when God tested him with a serious
disease, he exercised patience and recognized that he was going through a testa positive
experienceand ascribed any negative feelings of despair to Satan.15
The Qur’anic narrative about Job demonstrates that trials and testswhether in prosperity and
health or illness and hardshipare part of the divine plan, so much so that even prophets are not
exempt; it is through various experiences in life that man is able to actualize his potential and
propagate his mission on this earth. As John notes, “the story of Job in the Qur’an is understood
primarily as a reward narrative with an emphasis different from that of the story of Job in the Bible.”16
4. Concept of Evil: Theological and Philosophical Development
One of the earliest problems in Muslim theological thought (kalām) was how to reconcile the
divine attribute of omnipotence with the notion of human free will. The departure point for this
discourse was the Qur’an and the diverse interpretations of its teachings on the divine names and
attributes (asmāʾ al-usnā).17 The reconciliation of certain divine attributes, predominantly the aspect
of an all-powerful God, with the idea of human free willthe broader frame with which human
suffering was enclosedwas the first attempt to initiate a theodicy within the context of Islam.
The discourse presents itself at the core of the theological dialogue amongst various groups. The
theologians who advocated for the attribute of omnipotence in its absolute and uncompromising
form were of the opinion that the only agent in this world is God: He creates His own acts as well as
the acts of all human beings. As this view raised serious concerns about the creation of “evil” acts by
God, the debate developed further to question the validity of human free willthe concept that is
deeply rooted in the Quran as it relates to man’s responsibility and accountability, as well as divine
judgment and reward and punishment. The dialogue crystallized between the Muʿtazilite and the
Ashʿarite, the two main schools of thought, with a divergence of opinion; both made a serious effort
to win the argument according to their understanding of the Qur’an.18
The Muʿtazilite school of thought, also known as the rationalists, categorically opposed the idea
that God creates human acts that include evil and advocated for human free will by emphasizing the
importance of the divine attribute of justice (ʿadl). They upheld that God, in accordance with His
attribute of (ʿāadil), cannot create evil and that evil is the direct result of man’s freedom of choice. This
view was challenged by raising questions such as: If God does not create evil, who, then, is
responsible for human suffering caused by illnesses and disasters? And if God wills for illnesses and
disasters in human life, how can He be just? The Muʿtazilites responded by affirming that illnesses
and disasters, while may appear as “evil”, are in actuality “good” that God creates and that serve a
significant purpose in the creational cosmic plan. This seems to be the first appearance of the theory
13 The story of Job in JudeoChristian traditions is presented in the Book of Job and appears in the form of a
dialogue between Job and his friends who try to explain to him the reason for his sufferings. A comparative
study of the story between JudeoChristian tradition and Islam is beyond the scope of this paper. For an
excellent comparative review, see A.H. Johns, A Comparative Glance at Ayyub in the Qur'an (Johns 2008,
pp. 5182).
14 Qur’an 38:41–2 and 21:834.
15 See Abubakr `Tigh Neishabur Surabadi, Tafsir Surabadi, ed. Sa`Idi Sirjani (Surabadi 1381). Also, see Brannon
M. Wheeler, Prophets in the Qur'an, an Introduction to the Qur'an and Muslim Exegesis (Wheeler 2002).
16 See (Johns 2003, pp. 5051).
17 For more on this see Abdol Rahman Ibn Khaldūn, Muqaddimah of Ibn Khaldūn (Ibn Khaldūn 1375).
18 For a