Evil and Pain Are Not Synonymous

This is an edited excerpt from an interview with Shaykh Faraz Rabbani (SFR) by Dr Shadee ElMasry (SM) of Safina Society. The subject is the perception and reality of evil. You can watch the entire interview here.

SM: We should define evil technically. In the Sharia evil is defined as disobedience of Allah that is not followed by repentance. That is so important to limit it because evil in the eyes of people is just a synonym for pain.

They use evil as a synonym for pain which they don’t understand. Everybody can understand the concept. You can cause pain to happen to somebody and because you know that the future is better with this pain nobody considers it evil.

Nobody considers a parent evil if they say no to eating sweets in excess. Or if he forces his kids to study and gets him a tutor and makes him do math. A doctor is not evil if they open up a kid or stitch them up. Yet those are things that are extremely painful. The reason is that we understand and we see with our own two eyes that this is better for us.

Now the whole leap, whether it’s a difficulty of the Sharia, or the difficulty of an event that occurs to us, is believing that this is good for you while not seeing it. Not being able to see the good or not understanding how this is good.

Live Life as a Mystery

In fact I actually, personally, enjoy that because it’s a mystery. I don’t like to watch a movie that I know the ending to. I’m not even really interested if I know what the ending is. So the real mystery of life is to accept everything that happens that’s bad in the way that the Sharia requires us to accept it.

The Sharia may say fight back. The Sharia may say accept it. But you have a belief that there’s going to be some amazing goodness that comes out of this. Now, you’re living life as a mystery. And you can only connect the dots later on. So you can say: “Oh, that’s why this happened.”

There is this factor that Allah tries to bring out of us which is the tasbih – which is the amazement. Why would you deprive yourself of this? So a bad thing happens, whatever the reason be, you wait a little bit.

Grow In Faith

Sometimes, I think, when people have weak faith, Allah gives it to them right away. But as you mature and you become stronger the wisdom comes thirty years later because he’s strong enough, he’s mature enough with Allah to know: “Yes, that was painful. I don’t know the reason.”

But we will someday know the reason that this happened. It increases your awe in the Creator and it gives life some mystery. Rather than: “I want to know the ending.” I’m not watching the movie until I know the ending. You’re missing out on life.

All the joy of life is that everything is unfolding. Every mystery is unfolding for us. And the only way you could do that is really, what you said earlier on, is to accept it as a believer. If you accept it as a disbeliever you will not see it.

Gain Perspective

In this subject of evil, in the subject of science, they say: “Seeing is believing” because you got to do the demonstration. – Mix blue and yellow and produce green. I have to see it first before I believe it. – In faith and in evil it’s believing first, then, you will see the truth. You will see the wisdom. But you have to believe first. 

SFR: Which is why the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, said: 

تَعَرَّفْ إلَى اللَّهِ فِي الرَّخَاءِ يَعْرِفُك فِي الشِّدَّةِ

“Come to know Allah when times are easy and He will know you when times are difficult.” [Nawawi 19]

Meaning He will grant you that ease of having clarity and certitude when things are difficult. When somebody finds that difficulty or distress, whether in life or related to some religious test, there’s something very difficult before them, taking that time to cultivate one’s faith helps give one perspective.

The Reality of Divine Mercy

Spend some time. Come to know Allah Most High rather than dealing with what happened. Take a moment to think about who Allah is. Learn a little bit about His mercy. Learn a little bit about the Names of Allah.

Even the things that the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, told us to recite daily – all of them. One of the key emphases in it is to appreciate the reality of Divine Mercy. What do you recite in the prayer? The Fatiha.

One of the key themes in it is the mention of Divine Mercy. Allah being the caring, sustaining, nurturing, Lord of all that exists – encompassingly Merciful, the particularly Merciful. The keys to being able to put evil or tests and difficulties in perspective are in the things that we’re supposed to say and do daily.

Seek Refuge in Allah

Most practicing Muslims know that morning and night we’re supposed to say the three Quls. There’s no surprise in it. We know both from Surat al Falaq and from Surat al Nas that Allah is the creator of evil. He tells us that:

مِن شَرِّ مَا خَلَقَ

We seek refuge in Allah from all the evil that He has created. [Quran 113:2]

Therein is the wisdom of evil – that Allah has created it. So, “Will you return to me?”

“I seek refuge in Allah.” What is seeking refuge? You go to what you seek refuge in. A refugee goes somewhere. That’s one of the key wisdoms in it. That’s why, if you look back on your life, rarely are blessings what caused a transformation in your relationship with Allah. Typically it is some test, some difficulty, that causes you to return to Allah.