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The “Problem” of Suffering

Arshad Gamiet

5 December 2008


“As-salámu ‘alaikum wa rahmatul láhi wa barakátuh!”


“A-úthu billáhi minash shaytánir rajeem. Bismilláhir rahmánir raheem.


Al hamdu lillahi nahmaduhu wanasta’eenahu, wanastagh-firuhu, wanatoobu ilayhi, wana’oothu Billaahi min shuroori an-fusinaa, wamin sayyi aati a’maalinaa. May- Yahdillahu fa huwal muhtad, wa may- yudlill falan tajidaa lahu waliyan murshida. Wa ash-hadu an Laa ilaaha ill-Alláh, wahdahoo laa shareeka lah, wa ash-hadu anna Muhammadan ‘abduhoo warasooluh”


All Praise is due to Alláh, We praise Him and we seek help from Him. We ask forgiveness from Him. We repent to Him; and we seek refuge in Him from our own evils and our own bad deeds. Anyone who is guided by Alláh, he is indeed guided; and anyone who has been left astray, will find no one to guide him. I bear witness that there is no god but Alláh, the Only One without any partner; and I bear witness that Muhammad, sws, is His servant, and His messenger.


Bismillahir Rahmanir Raheem! Ya Ay-yuhal-latheena ‘aamanut taqul-laaha, haqqa tuqaatihee wala tamu tun-na, il-la wa antum Muslimoon.”


O You who believe, - Fear Allah, as He should be feared, and die not except as Muslims.


Ya Ay-yuhal-latheena ‘aamanut taqul-laaha, wa qooloo qawlan sadeedaa. Yuslih-lakum a’maalakum wa yaghfir lakum thunoobakum, wamay yu-til-laaha warasoolah, faqad faaza fawzan atheemaa.”


O You who believe, - Be aware of Allah, and speak a straightforward word. He will forgive your sins and repair your deeds. And whoever takes Allah and His prophet as a guide, has already achieved a mighty victory…


My Dear Brothers and Sisters, our recent khutbahs have dealt with many aspects of the Hajj, and no doubt our Eid khutbah on Monday will re-confirm the legacy of love and sacrifice that Prophet Abraham a.s. taught us.


Today I’d like to deal with a topic that we all encounter, whenever we discuss natural disasters and personal grief with our friends and neighbours outside the Muslim community. It’s the “problem,” as they see it, of Suffering. Some people argue, that if God is Love, if Allah is All Merciful, then why do people suffer? There are so many earthquakes, floods, volcanoes; there’s so much warfare, hunger and disease: Why do innocent men, women and children have to endure unspeakable hardship? Why do the real sinners seem to get away with their crimes? Sometimes we hear people say, “How can I believe in a Merciful and Loving God when He allows so much suffering?” These people take the existence of suffering as proof that God doesn’t exist, or if He does exist, then He doesn’t deserve to be worshipped, because He appears to be so unjust [wa a-oothu bil-Laah!] How do we deal with such arguments?


First of all, we must be clear that every human being, without exception, will at some time or other have to endure hardship, pain, and death.


“Kullun nafsin thaa ikatul mawt,” says the Holy Quran; “Every soul will taste Death.” The same Quran also poses the rhetorical question, in Sura Al Baqara [2:214]:


“Or do you think that you will enter Heaven without being tested like those who were tested before you? They endured suffering and adversity, and were so shaken in spirit that even the Prophet and those of faith who were with him cried: ‘When will the help of Allah come?’ Ah! Truly, Allah’s help is always near!”


Ala! Inna nasral-Laahi qareeb!”


Allah’s help is always near! It’s much nearer than we think! Allah wants us to really feel and experience our desperate need for Him. He wants us to persevere, patiently. He wants us to repose our complete trust in His mercy, so that we can set ourselves apart from those who disbelieve, those who stand against faith. How blessed we are, we who believe in the Lord of all the worlds, and who have absolute certainty, yaqeen, of our Day of meeting with Him! How miserable and lonely, how futile and pointless the life of those without faith, who live from day to day, without any hope and without longing for what lies beyond death!


Bismillaahir Rahmaanir Raheem! Tabaark al-lathee biyadihil mulk wahuwa alaa kulli shay-in qadeer! Al-lathee khalaqal mawta wal hayaata liyab’luwakum ay-yukum ahsanu ‘amalaa. Wahuwal ‘Azeezul Ghaf-fuur!


“In the Name of Allah, the Most Merciful, the Most Compassionate! Blessed is He in Whose Hand is the Dominion; and He over all things has Power! He Who created Death and Life so that He may try which of you is best in deed, and He is the Exalted in Might, the Oft-forgiving!


Brothers and sisters, here is the key to what some people see as the “problem” of suffering. We know that suffering is a test for us, a test of our patience. We know that peace and prosperity is also a test, a test of our gratitude to Allah. Those who see suffering as a “problem” are really saying that they believe they have a right to a life of uninterrupted happiness, with no discomfort, no pain and no grief. But that’s not what this earthly life is all about! That’s what Allah promises us in akhira, not in dunya! We’re not there yet! We still have to earn the right to enter Allah’s garden!


Another point: When believers suffer hardship, they say, “Inna lil-laahi wa inna ilayhir-raaji-oon!” “From Allah do we come, and to Him is our return.” Believing Christians say, “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. Praise the Lord!” You can see how Believers in different faiths speak the same spiritual language. They accept the Divine Decree. Allah does what He Wills, and His will is always, unfailingly good, however harsh it may appear to us on the surface. Our human perception is limited, like ants crawling over a carpet, we complain about the rough surface, the knots and the texture that make our journey difficult. But we cannot see the beauty of the carpet from above. We cannot see the beauty of Allah’s master plan, until we step outside our small, selfish worlds. Believers suffer, but they know their suffering is an expiation of their sins, and their patience and contentment brings them closer to Allah.


But the non-believer suffers at a much deeper level. Charles [Hassan] le Guy Eaton writes in his book, Islam and the Destiny of Man, [pp207]: “First there’s the pain and suffering itself. Then there’s the belief that it shouldn’t have happened at all. They suffer because something is wrong, then they suffer again because, now everything is wrong. At the end of this particular road is the abyss of despair, a grave sin for the Believing Muslim as it is for the Believing Catholic. A wound which might otherwise be cleaned and healed now becomes suppurated and poisons the bloodstream.”


It’s only when we try to generalize our suffering into a philosophical level, that we have a problem. When non-believers suffer, their lack of faith leads them to endless despair, and sometimes, even to suicide.


Let us thank Allah for illuminating our hearts with the light of His guidance. Even if our faith, our iman is as small as a mustard seed; If we truly believe in Allah and we learn to rely on Him completely, then we are much richer and more blessed than the wealthiest non-Believer, whose wealth and happiness stand on shaky foundations. Alhamdu lil-laah, Praise to Allah!


Alhamdu lillahi Rabbil ‘Aalameen. Was-salaatu was-salaamu alaa Khairil mursaleen. Muhammadin-nabeey-yil Ummiy-yee, wa-‘alaa aalihee, wasah-bihee, aj-ma’een.


Ammaa ba’ad:


Innalláha wa malaaikata yusallúna alan nabi. Yá ay yuhal latheena ámanu sallú alayhi wasalli mú tas leema. Allahumma salli alá Muhammad, wa ala áli Muhammad, kama salayta ala Ibrahim, wa ala ali Ibrahim. Allahumma barik ala Muhammad, wa alaa áli Muhammad, kama barakta ala Ibrahim, wa ala ali ibrahim. Fil ála meen, innaka hameedun majeed.”


Part Two:


Sub’ hanallahi wal hamdu lillah, wala hawla wala quwwata illah billah yu althi yual theem.


“All glory is for Allah, and all praise is for Allah; There is no power and no strength except with Allah.”


Brothers and Sisters,


The mystical poet, Jalaluddin Rumi says that “Suffering is a gift. In it is a hidden mercy.” Suffering teaches us patience, sabr, and it also teaches us Ridhaa, which is total reliance on Allah, and serene acceptance of whatever He has decreed. It teaches us to persevere, to work hard to seek Allah’s good pleasure, his Ridwaan. It teaches us humility, it teaches compassion for those less fortunate than ourselves. Our beloved Prophet Muhammad sws said, “How fortunate is the Believer, he endures hardship, and it is good for him [it teaches patience]; then he enjoys relief from hardship, and it is good for him [it gives a chance to be grateful to Allah]. Indeed, the true Friends of Allah are always overflowing with gratitude, in good times and in hard times…


There is really no ‘problem’ of suffering. The problem is our human ignorance. If we don’t know Allah, we won’t know His Plan. We won’t be able to accept His Decree. We won’t know our place in the vast cosmic scheme of things. We won’t know who we really are, why we’re here, where we’ve come from and where we’re going to, after our death. Prophet Muhammad, sws, reminded us about the vital importance of self-knowledge. “He who knows himself, knows his Lord.” [Hadith]


Brothers and Sisters let us be truly grateful to Allah, that we have this wonderful gift of Iman, this gift of Faith, to illuminate our way through life’s challenges.


In many places the Holy Quran reminds us,


Ala, inna awliya Allah, la khawfun alayhim wala hum yah-zanoon!”


“Behold, on the Friends of Allah, there is no fear, and no grief.”


No fear and no grief, and yet, if you study the Friends of Allah, you’ll find that their lives were filled with incredible hardship, pain and endurance. The Friends of Allah taught us Ridha’, that wonderful and serene acceptance of Allah’s will. If we can be islands of calm in the oceans of turbulence; if we can show others a kind and helpful manner, in the midst of life’s problems, we will truly hold high that noble legacy of the Prophets and the Awliya, the Friends of Allah.


This is what our world needs today. Our friends and neighbours out there, are in dire need of spiritual guidance. They need a gentle helping hand to show them how to cope with natural and manmade calamities, how to keep their own pain and personal grief in perspective. Brothers and Sisters, let us set a good example, let us inspire our communities with our serenity, our dignity and our strength that come out of true faith in Allah, and total reliance on His Mercy, His Rahma.


To conclude our khutbah:


InnaAllaha, Yamuru bil adel, wal ihsaan, wa eetaa-i zil qurba; wa yanha anil fuhshaa-i, wal munkari walbaghi; ya-idzukhum lallakum tathak-karoon. (Sura 16:90),


“Surely Allah commands justice, good deeds and generosity to others and to relatives; and He forbids all shameful deeds, and injustice and rebellion: He instructs you, so that you may be reminded.”


Fadth kuroonee adth kurkum, wash kuroolee walaa tak furoon [2:152].


“and remember Me: I will remember you. Be grateful to Me, and do not reject faith.”


wala thikrul-Laahi akbar, Wal-Laahu ya’lamu maa tasna’oon.” [29:45].


“and without doubt, Remembrance of Allah is the Greatest Thing in life, and Allah knows the deeds that you do.”




Aqeemus salaah!

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