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We live in a world that is full of mass shootings, murder, illnesses, sudden death, poverty, racism, and injustice. The question that naturally arises from such experiences is why do these things happen? If God exists why does He allow bad things to take place? Muslims believe that humans were ultimately created for eternal life in the hereafter and this world is only a place of temporary trials and tribulations.
In order to answer the question of why God allows bad things happen one must also define what good is. In other words, what would a world without bad things look like? Is it even possible to have such a life in this world? Bad and good are relative ideas and terms. When we eat meat it is good for us but bad for the animal. When rain ruins your picnic it is bad for you but good for the farmer who plants the very fruits and vegetables you take on a picnic. There is nothing that is purely evil or bad, even the existence of the devil has some good in it because it brings about the best in some people. The Qurʾān states: Every soul shall taste death and we test you with evil and good as a trial, then to Us you will return (Q. 21:35) This means that everyone will be tested with both good and bad, and both are actually tests from God. If one passes a “bad” test it would have actually been good for them in the long run. Similarly, if one fails a “good” test, it would have actually been bad for them in the hereafter.
Furthermore, the Qurʾān challenges and changes the psychology of the believer to view things from a different perspective. Perhaps we hate something that is actually good for us, and we might love something that is actually bad for us. Perhaps you hate a thing and it is good for you; and perhaps you love a thing and it is bad for you. And Allah Knows, while you do not know (Q. 2:216). A child might hate going to the doctor and getting a shot, but it is good for him. At the human level a mother takes the child to the doctor because she loves him. The process is painful but it is necessary for the child’s long term health. The child might love to play with a sharp object or to eat something harmful, but the mother knows takes it away from him because she knows it is harmful. Similarly, God sometimes sends “bad” our way because He loves us and wants to shape us into better people.
At times in our life we wonder why bad things happened to us, but when we look back at it after many years we see that it was actually meant to take us down a particular path. A perfect example of this is the story of Prophet Yusuf. He was kidnapped by his own siblings, sold into slavery, falsely accused of fornication, and imprisoned. He was tested with the lower class and upper class. He mixed with slaves and prisoners, as well as influential political elites in the palaces. Every “bad” thing that happened to Yusuf was actually good not only for Yusuf but for humanity. Prophet Yusuf’s not only became minister of Egypt, but he saved all of Egyptian from famine. Prophet Yusuf’s “bad” experiences were the reason the Children of Israel moved from Palestine to Egypt, which would ultimately result in Moses being able to challenge Pharaoh. If Yusuf remained in the lap of his father it is likely that he would have likely been a child spoiled by the love of his father. Each bad thing that happened to Yusuf seems tragic from the human perspective, but each of these bad things were necessary for God to make Prophet Yusuf become the great man he was.
When Yusuf was thrown in the well, it was dark, scary, and seemed like there is no way out. He was thrown in there as a young boy, without a shirt, betrayed by his brothers. In the well it seemed like there is no way out. Everywhere he looks he sees darkness. His way out, slavery, also seemed bad, but it is this moment of the well that God notes that this was done “for Yusuf” (li-Yusuf). When bad things happen, you may feel like you are in the bottom of well, full of darkness, despair, and no way out. However, if you look up you will see light. Perhaps something bad happens in this life that results in your entering paradise in the hereafter. The key is to understand that Allah is Rahman (loving, compassionate), and everything He sends our way is good, even if it looks bad. Likewise, something might appear good, but it can be bad if it leads us to wrongdoing.