Are Sufferings meant to be a Lesson for Others?
Social Issues
Question asked by .
Answered by Dr Khalid Zaheer
Question: I have heard many scholars saying that innocent people suffer so that other people may learn a lesson (‘ibrah) and turn towards the right path. Frankly, I have my reservations on this due to the following. There is so much misery in the world today. All you need to do is pick up the newspaper and see these nightmarish pictures splashed all over. I am still haunted by this picture of children who were found in an orphanage in Iraq last week, malnourished and tied to beds barely alive. Who is learning a lesson from the pathetic state of these kids? Hardly anyone, but these poor kids are suffering nonetheless. This is just one example.

This world is clearly divided into the haves and have-nots categorized as rich vs. the poor, able bodied vs. the disabled, to name just a few. The have-nots as we all know far outnumber the haves. In my opinion 80% belong to the former category. Now if people who are already enjoying in this world do learn a lesson from the latter and follow a righteous path as a result, they are in a win-win situation both in this life and the hereafter. Does that mean that a vast majority is suffering just for the benefit of a small minority. I am absolutely sure that here must be a reason for all this but ‘ibrah does not appear to be a plausible explanation.

Answer: The sufferings people go through happen because of various reasons. Enabling others to learn a lesson through them (‘ibrah) is just one of them. When a person suffers, he normally suffers in a particular aspect of his life. I mean, he may have a physical disability, for instance, but may have other aspects of his personality in a normal or better-than-normal state. A blind person normally has a more sensitive ability to hear and so on. It is incorrect to assume that an affluent and apparently healthy person is always happy and successful. We don’t know the extent of sufferings such people may be going through in other aspects of their lives. The quality of life should be taken in its totality.

I do, however, agree that this world is divided in the material sense into two groups: haves and have-nots. But who promised that this world was going to be a perfect place? This phase of our life is only a trial. For that purpose it had to be somewhat imperfect. It is in the next life that we will have the result of this trial fully unfolded. Those who were rich and healthy (of course the two don’t always go together) shall be held accountable for what they possessed. The others shall be accountable in what they possessed. Clearly haves will have much more to account for than the have-nots. Who then is at an advantage?

I agree that we can’t offer a ready explanation for the suffering of children in Iraq and elsewhere. However, going by the understanding that God is absolutely fair, that He never does anything wrong, that He has designed worldly life as only one phase of our existence, and that our knowledge is limited and therefore we can’t know all His secrets in this life, we have a good reason to feel comfortable that our world, which includes the life hereafter, is not going to remain unfair forever. The above explanation shouldn’t lead one to feel complacent. The imperfection of this world is a test for us: We have to face the challenge and attempt to correct the problems of this life as best as we can. One of the things we’ll be asked in our accountability would be as to how much we tried to make our imperfect world a better place to live for ourselves and for others.



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