Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Understanding Qur'anic teachings: an Examination of the Functions of Virtue and Evil

Understanding Qur’anic Teachings: An Examination of the Functions of Virtue and Evil

All of us can identify what we see as manifest evil in our world. Among the top of this, we can name murders, wars, rape, and other crimes. These are all acts which largely fall in the control of individuals. Philosophers would call these actions moral evil. The seemingly destructive worldview of many humans can lead to a loss of faith, in both God and humanity itself.

In a similar vein, natural disasters, such as what we have witnessed recently in Indonesia, can have the same affect. Indeed, many will point to natural disasters to “prove” that God does not exist! Disasters such as tsunamis, hurricanes, earthquakes, are all among the events beyond human abilities to control or direct, and as such philosophers refer to them as examples of natural evil.

God: The Ultimate Source of all events

In a world that largely depicts God and the Devil as equal co-potentials [even though they are perceived as representing polar opposites], it is understandable that there would be some confusion on the place of good and evil. We must admit that both inside and outside the Muslim Ummah, there have always been debates and differences among leading figures and thinkers on these issues.

The Qur’an says: “Praise belongs to Allah, who has created the Heavens and the Earth, and has made darkness and light [wa ja’aladh- dhulumaati wan Noor]. Despite this, the ‘Kuffaar’ ascribe equals to their ‘Rabb’ [Thummal ladheena kafaroo bi-Rabbihim Ya’diloon].” [Q 6:1]

The latter sentence clearly expresses a refutation of the idea of dualism, a Zoroastrian tenant which has influenced other faiths and philosophers. Dualism is the term that is used to explain the notion that God and the Devil both exist as equal co-potentials. The above Qur’anic verse shows that Allah, the most high, is the source of ‘darkness’ [Dhulumaat is actually the plural of ‘dhulm’, which can also mean ‘oppression’] as well as ‘light’. Similarly, in a Soorah that we have all memorized, a text that is recited when seeking protection from Satan [ Saheeh Al-Bukhari, 58:1805, Kitaab at-Tafseer], we are told to say, in part, to seek refuge with Allah “from evil which he has created” [ Min Sharri Maa Khalaq] {Q 113:2].

Struggles with evil are a tool for human development

To understand the Islamic perception on issues of this kind, we must treat the entire Qur’an as a united, coherent text, looking at the whole to understand its parts. The Qur’anic teaching is that God has placed humans in this world to have the role of Khalifah. We are to be stewards in this life that God has given us. Oftentimes, this role requires ‘on the job’ training, in order to be prepared for future challenges, in order to have moral, spiritual, material growth. In addition to this, as Muslims we have to remember these lessons, especially when there has been loss of physical life. This world is only the stepping stone into the next life, an existence that is eternal. Rather than loosing faith, we are to recognize that God alone is Al-‘Aleem [the All-knowing] and Al-Hakeem [The Wise]. “And put all of your trust [in Allah], if you are indeed believers.” [Q 5:23]

[Shamsuddin Waheed is Imam at Toledo Masjid Al-Islam, which has recently re-opened the historic Islamic Center at 722 E. Bancroft Street. More of his writings can be found at]

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