In my last year of high school in Tripoli Lebanon back in August of 1986, I entered the first class of philosophy at Tripoli Evangelical School for Boys and Girls with 18 other students who chose to be in literature field instead of science. Mr. Masri started the class by asking all these teenagers one question – if they were of free will or without! Students started answering left and right, and you could tell they had no clue about this question as they were all put on the spot. When my turn came, I said: “Our free will is a choice within a system of choices made available for us by God.” Masri said: “Are you saying that God made evil available for you to choose?” I said: “Yes, how could there be evil if God did not decree it to exist in the first place?” He replied: “Maybe when Adam disobeyed God by eating from the tree, the first act of evil started and was inherited by his kind, so evil is a man-made act, not something God created.” I said: “If evil did not exist before Adam was even created, where would he have had the idea to disobey God and eat from the tree in the first place?” Masri smiled and said: “We will have an interesting year of discussions indeed.”

Understanding evil has always been puzzling to humans. Philosophers throughout history from every type of background have written volumes analyzing it. Ordinary people have dealt with it in ways that related to their own experiences like death, illness, and injustice. God (SW) did not leave this matter unclarified because even angels asked about the purpose of allowing the creation of humans who will act in evil ways. Allah (SW) said: {And when thy Lord said unto the angels: Lo! I am about to place a viceroy in the earth, they said: Wilt thou place therein one who will do harm therein and will shed blood, while we hymn Thy praise and sanctify Thee? He said: Surely, I know that which ye know not.} 2:30. Yet in addition to acts of evil, including causing harm and shedding blood, a human being can act in goodness and perform acts of righteousness and piety. This is how God taught Adam the names of all things so that he can rise in the Eyes of God in good not evil. Allah (SW) said: {And He taught Adam all the names.} 2:31.

The confusion that has always caused people to have doubts or lose faith in God has always somehow related to the question: how could God the Almighty, of beautiful names and attributes and perfection, allow evil to even exist?

To answer this question, we first need to understand that Islam teaches us that God does not create evil as something of 100% evil. This means that in every act of evil, there could be something of good within it or from it that might prevail in a different time or form. This concept was clearly clarified in the verse where Allah (SW) said: {Perhaps you hate a thing and it is good for you; and perhaps you love a thing and it is evil for you. And Allah Knows, while you know not.} 2:216. As you can see, Allah (SW) used the term {evil} directly in relation to matters that might be hated because of harm or loss. But at the same time, the verse finished by saying: {And Allah Knows, while you know not}.

Such understanding helps us navigate life with faith and trust that something good might prevail so we will be able to cope with all the tests and hardships that come into our lives, be it natural or man-made.

The story of Mousa (AS) and Al-Khader is a very good example of taking something at face value, and it’s meant to show us that the qadr of Allah includes what we cannot immediately see or understand. Allah (SW) said: {So they set out, until when they had embarked on the ship, Al-Khader tore it open. [Moses] said, Have you torn it open to drown its people? You have certainly done a grave thing.} – {So they set out, until when they met a boy, al-Khader killed him. [Moses] said, “Have you killed a pure soul for other than [having killed] a soul? You have certainly done a deplorable thing.} – {So they set out, until when they came to the people of a town, they asked its people for food, but they refused to offer them hospitality. And they found therein a wall about to collapse, so Al-Khader restored it. [Moses] said, “If you wished, you could have taken for it a payment.“} 18:70/77.

When all these questions came from Mousa, who was unable to understand the acts of Al-Khader, matters were explained to him. Al-Khader said: {As for the ship, it belonged to poor people working at sea. So, I intended to cause a defect in it as there was a king who seized every [good] ship by force. And as for the boy, his parents were believers, and we feared that he would overburden them by transgression and disbelief. And as for the wall, it belonged to two orphan boys in the city, and there was beneath it a treasure for them, and their father had been righteous. So, your Lord intended that they reach maturity and extract their treasure, as a mercy from your Lord.} 18:79/82.

Al-Khader was not representing a regular human being that is held responsible for his actions, rather he was representing Al-Qadar of Allah (SW) in matters that happen, and sometimes we do not see the good side of it.

In such times we are living in, we can only have faith and trust in Allah (SW) as to the tests and trials that come into our path that some good will come out of it. If not in this life, then in the Hereafter. We trust Allah (SW) for His Knowledge and Wisdom and submit and surrender to His Will.

By Sh Kifah Mustapha