The Problem of Evil
What Islam has to say
It’s often been asked if God is the Creator of Everything, did He create evil too, or does evil exist as a separate entity which God has nothing to do with? Tricky question, isn’t it? So let’s see how we could answer this from an Islamic viewpoint.
To start with, let’s put it in a nutshell. Yes, Evil is part of the Divine Plan but this does not mean that God is Evil. It simply exists to test us whether we are fit for a better world. Whether we obey God and follow His Guidance or succumb to the temptations of the Devil is up to us. As we are told in the Qur’an:
Blessed be He in Whose Hands is Dominion. And He over all things hath Power. He who created Death and Life that He may try which of you is best in deed
God created the heavens and the earth for just ends, and in order that each soul may find the recompense of what it has earned, and none of them be wronged
(The Kneeling Down:22)
If God had so willed, He would have made you a single people, but (His Plan is) to test you in what He has given you; so strive as in a race in all virtues. The goal of you all is to God
So it’s quite obvious that this world is a test. Ask yourself, isn’t this world with all its trappings the best place where man can be put to the test, where he could express himself best, where the best of his nature could come out, and also his worst, a place where all the material means are provided to use or abuse, to soar to the level of angels, nay higher, or sink to the level of the devils, nay lower. Yes, a test in the truest sense!
For this test to subsist there must of necessity be two forces between which we must choose – good or evil. This is in the nature of things God has created. Since God Himself created evil, it is neither original nor essential and can in no way hold its own against Good which is God’s alone. Thus the idea of dualism of good and evil as polar opposites, like ying and yang, does not come into play in the Islamic scheme of things. The idea of good and evil being relative is not something the Muslim mind can entertain.
However, in so far as human life is concerned, the world is a test for us to choose between good and evil. There cannot be one without the other. One needs to exist for the other to have some meaning. What would evil mean if there was no good, or for that matter what would good mean if there was no evil? For example, can we know a Saint if there was no Satan to prod him? It is obvious then that evil came into being because God Willed it to be so since nothing can happen without His Willing it. Indeed not just good and evil, everything in the universe takes place according to His Will, whether it be Light or Darkness, Life or Death, Laughter or Despair:
Praise be to God, who created the heavens and the earth,
And made the Darkness and the Light
That it is He who granteth Laughter and Tears;
That it is He who granteth Death and Life
(The Star: 43-44)
God is All Good
This does not mean that God is Evil. Nay, He is All Good and belief in Him is the fountainhead of all good. Why, because all good that we do ultimately has its origins in Him who has made it part of our nature to do good in keeping with His Innate Goodness, and has given us the ability to distinguish between Good and Evil, so that all those who choose His Way will earn His Pleasure and those who stray away from it will earn His wrath. To do good is therefore in the nature of man, in the nature with which God created man. To move away from good is to move away from God. As He Himself says:
God had endeared to you belief, making it fair in your hearts, and He has made detestable to you unbelief, wickedness and rebellion. Such indeed are those who walk in righteousness
But as I said, God wishes to test us whether we tread His Way of Goodness or another way that leads away from it. To accomplish His Purpose God let loose the evil incarnate in the form of a rebellious devil, a jinn made of fire with a fiery fury even fiercer than fire and a malice none could match, who brought evil into the world by making man disobey God just as he had, one who would work in the minds of men and women, tempting them to stray on the wrong way and earn God’s Wrath. The Devil who is all evil is just that, an agent of all that is hateful to God and all that is rebellious towards the Nature He has Created. In the Qur’an God tells of this primal cosmological drama of evil which came about through disobedience to God. It begins with the creation of man in the form of Adam, our archetypical parent:
Behold, thy Lord said to the angels: “I will create a vicegerent on earth”. They said: “Wilt Thou place therein one who will make mischief and shed blood? – Whilst We celebrate Thy Praises and glorify Thy Holy (Name)?”. He said: “I know what ye know not”. And He taught Adam the names of all things. Then He placed them before the angels, and said: “Tell me the names of these things if ye are right”. They said: “Glory to Thee. Of knowledge we have none, save what Thou hast taught us. In truth it is Thou who art perfect in knowledge and wisdom”. He said: “O Adam! Tell them their names”. When He had told them, God said: “Did I not tell you that I know the secrets of heaven and earth, and I know what ye reveal and what ye conceal?”
Behold! Thy Lord said to the angels “I am about to create man from sounding clay, from mud moulded into shape. When I have fashioned him and breathed into him of My Spirit, fall ye down in obeisance unto him”
(The Rocky Tract: 28-29)
It is We who created you and gave you shape; then We bade the angels bow down to Adam, and they bowed down; not so Iblees; He refused to be of those who bow down
These three verses occurring in different portions of the Qur’an give us an idea of the importance of man in the divine scheme of things. God tells us that man is special. He blew into him of His Own Spirit, that Divine Spark that gave him both life and a free will. He tells us that He intended to place him as his Vicegerent on Earth. He tells us that He ordered even the angels to pay him obeisance. What this shows is that God loved Adam a lot.
God did not stop at that. He gave him speech, a faculty in humans that is not possessed even in the most rudimentary form by any other species on earth, as if it had popped out from nowhere. He taught Adam the names of all things, enabling him to use his free will to understand the universe around him. This was of course knowledge that even the angels did not possess, placing man on a higher plane than even the angels. Don’t you think it’s interesting that the Qur’an should tell us that God should have taught Adam the names of all things: “O Adam! Tell them their names”. Why? Because naming allows us to classify and categorize things and understand them better. In a sense all knowledge begins with names. By naming people and things, man reaches a stage of articulated thinking by which he can acquire knowledge to plan out things, solve problems and progress. Try describing something without a name, or in other words a term for it? It will leave you stumped, won’t it! So by teaching Adam the names of things God imbued him with an insatiable need for knowledge, a trait his descendants inherited.
God made Adam with the intention of placing him on earth as His Representative, for did He not tell the angels: “I am about to place a vicegerent on the earth”? What this shows is that even before Adam disobeyed God by eating of the forbidden fruit, God planned to put him there. He knew that Adam would sin. He knew that he would eat from the forbidden tree. He knew that Satan would strip away their innocence. And He knew well that He would forgive them, banishing them to earth to live and die and propagate their kind. He had also decided that the earth would be a testing ground for Adam and his kind, so that all those who obeyed God would return to Adam’s original abode in the Garden Of Eden, while those who disobeyed Him would be consigned to the Fire, the fire from which the evil one that had seduced our first parents to disobey God had been created. All of it of course depended on how the descendants of Adam used their God given knowledge and make their choices in life. So let’s continue with our primal story. God tells us:
“It is We who created you and gave you shape; then We bade the angels bow down to Adam, and they bowed down; not so Iblees; He refused to be of those who bow down. (God) said: “What prevented you from bowing down when I commanded you?” He said: “I am better than He. You created me from fire, and him from clay”. (God) said: “Get you down from this. It is not for you to be arrogant here. Get out, for you are the meanest (of creatures)”. He said: “Give me respite till the day they are raised up”. (God) said: “Be you among those who have respite”. He said: “because you have thrown me out of the way, lo! I will lie in wait for them on your straight way. Then will I assault them from before them and behind them, from their right and their left. Nor will you find, in most of them, gratitude (for your mercies)”. (God) said: “Get out from this, disgraced and expelled. If any of them follow you – Hell will I fill with you all” (The Heights:11-18)
Enter the Devil
Iblees was a Jinn created out of smokeless fire present among the angelic host and he refused to bow down before Adam who God had created in His Own Image. He was puffed up with pride and arrogance and looked upon God’s new creation with scorn and contempt, like a rich fool would look upon a helpless beggar. When God asked him: “What prevented you from bowing down when I commanded you?” He said: “I am better than He. You created me from fire, and him from clay”. Thus this Iblees was the first racist in the universe, the first supremacist who felt that he was better than Adam by virtue of his material self, not by virtue of deeds. Satan, puffed as he was with arrogance, looked askance at Adam’s outwardly composition, made of clay as he was, and not his nobler inner self. He judged by looks and looks alone.
This act of Satan and his retort to God was the first act of evil in the universe. Why, because it involved disobedience to the One who had created him in the first place. Moreover it involved an act of utter arrogance, looking down on a fellow creature of humble origin. So Iblees was cast out of the presence of God and vowed to spend the rest of his days trying to lead mankind astray, taking as many as he could to his fiery abode in the hereafter. He asked that he be given respite and that God’s punishment for his arrogance be delayed until the Day of Judgment, during which period he would attempt to turn away from God as many as he could of Adam’s descendants. God accepts the plea of Iblees and assures recompense to him and his followers in the form of Hellfire. Let’s hear what Iblees tells God:
“I will take of Thy servants a portion marked off; I will mislead them, and I will create in them false desires; I will order them to slit the ears of cattle, and to deface the nature created by God”
(The Women: 118-119)
But God knew better. He made for Adam a mate He called Eve and told him:
“O Adam! Dwell you and your wife in the Garden and enjoy as you wish, but approach not this tree, or you will run into harm and transgression”
Now, you may wonder why God placed the couple in a Garden of all places? Well you see, a Garden represents the best of creation in one place, all that is beautiful to behold among God’s countless blessings, so that there is all the more to thank Him for. But that’s not all. God warned our first parents to beware of Iblees:
“Surely this one is an enemy to you and your wife, so do not let him drive you out from the Garden, so that you are made miserable”
By now we see a transformation in the name of Iblees. He is henceforth called Satan, or in Arabic Shaytaan meaning ‘the accuser’ because he accused man of being ungrateful to God. This is why we find the Qur’an later consistently calling him Satan like when he tempts Adam and Eve to eat of the tree which God had prohibited them from approaching
But Satan whispered evil to him. He said: “O Adam! Shall I lead thee to the Tree of Eternity and to a kingdom that never decays? As a result they both ate of the tree and so their nakedness appeared to them
Then began Satan to whisper suggestions to them in order to reveal to them their shame that was hidden from them (before). He said: “Your Lord only forbade you this tree,lest ye should become angels or such beings as live forever”
Then did Satan make them slip (from the Garden) and get them out of the state (of felicity)in which they had been
When the pair tasted of the tree, their shame or in other words their private parts became manifest to them, and they began to sew together the leaves of the Garden over their bodies. Their Lord called to them, “Did I not forbid you from that tree and tell you that Satan is to you an avowed enemy?” They said, “Our Lord, we have wronged ourselves, and if You do not forgive us and have mercy upon us, we will surely be among the losers.” God told them: “Descend, being to one another enemies. On earth will be your dwelling place and your means of livelihood for a time” adding: “Therein you will live, and therein you will die, and from it you will be brought forth.“(The Heights: 22-25).
So we are told this is how Satan works- by whispering evil thoughts into the minds of men. He whispers into the hearts of humanity sowing disquieting thoughts and desires. Remember how he whispered to them that they could become immortals if they ate of the tree. This is how Satan works in people, filling our minds with evil thoughts just as he filled the minds of our first parents with thoughts of the tree so that they eventually ate of it. Adam and Eve behaved as all human beings do to this day, becoming preoccupied with their own desires whispered into their hearts by Satan and in the process forgetting about God and His Warnings to us to stay away from such temptations.
The story has a deeper meaning. We are told in it that the shame of nakedness of our first parents became manifest to them only after eating of the forbidden fruit. This implies that they were naked in the Garden, but never felt any shame because of it before this. By whispering to them to eat of the forbidden fruit, it was Satan who really stripped them of their raiment to expose their shame. Thus our first parents were created innocent. Even though they were naked, they never felt any shame because they knew no evil. As soon as they were touched by evil by listening to the devil, they felt shame, they felt guilt, and their primeval innocence was lost. So now we have to ask ourselves, what really is shame?
It certainly cannot be a bad thing because it was after feeling shame that our first parents repented, after having, to put it in their own words “wronged our own souls”. So shame also helped in their redemption. And so it is with us – this feeling of shame that keeps us on the right track without slipping into sinfulness and immorality and also gives us pangs of guilt when we do wrong. This feeling which no theory of evolution can explain, for how can evolutionists explain something as strange as shame which in evolutionary terms would only be deemed a very negative trait, an abomination detrimental to the survival of the species, and yet it is found in almost every human being in this wide, wide world. And here we have the Qur’an telling us how it came to be, with that first errant pair.
Repentance Our Saving Grace
This repentance of our first parents was their saving grace, their salvation so unlike the arrogance of Satan who would not repent of his evil act. Unlike Satan who could never bring himself to ask God forgiveness, the errant pair acknowledged their sin and sincerely repented of it, humbly beseeching God for forgiveness. This is why God loved our first parents fully well knowing what they would do. God, the Most Merciful not only accepted their repentance, but also guided them:
Then learnt Adam from his Lord words of inspiration and his Lord turned towards him (in forgiveness). For He is Oft-Returning, Most Merciful
(The Heifer: 37)
Adam disobeyed his Lord, and allowed himself to be seduced. But His Lord chose him (for His Grace). He turned to him and guided him
We said, ‘Get ye down all from here, but certainly guidance will come from Me to you – and whoever follows My guidance will neither fear nor grieve; but those who reject and deny Our signs, they are the people of the Fire; they will dwell in it.’”
(The Heifer: 38-39)
Thus our first parents, upon repenting, were given a chance to start life anew on a lower plane, this earth, to make good and recover their lost bliss. Likewise we the children of Adam do not really belong to the earth as such. Rather our destiny is the hereafter.
Just as God warned Adam, God warns Adam’s offspring not to be tempted by the evil one. He warns us again and again and again:
Verily Satan is an enemy to you. So treat him as an enemy. He only invites his adherents, that they may become companions of the Blazing Fire
(The Originator of Creation:6)
Satan makes them promises, and creates in them false desires; but Satan’s promises are nothing but deception. They (his dupes) will have their dwelling in Hell, and from it they will find no way of escape
We sent (our prophets) to peoples before you. But Satan made their own acts seem alluring. He is also their patron today, but they shall have a most grievous penalty
(The Bee: 63)
Satan had got to work shortly after Adam’s fall, making short work of Adam’s own children. That was when God commanded each son of Adam to offer a sacrifice. Cain offered his worst grain, but Abel offered his best livestock. God accepted Abel’s sacrifice and rejected Cain’s:
And (O Muhammad) recite to them (the Jews) the story of the two sons of Adam in truth; when each offered a sacrifice to God, it was accepted from the one but not from the other. The latter said to the former; ‘I will surely kill you”. The former said: ‘Verily God accepts only from those who are pious. If you do stretch your hand against me to kill me I shall not stretch my hand against you to kill you, for I fear God; the Cherisher of the Worlds’” For me I intend to let thee draw on thyself my sin as well as thine, for thou wilt (then) be among the Companions of the Fire, and that is the reward of those who do wrong”. The selfish soul of the other (latter one) encouraged him and made fair seeming to him the murder of his brother; he murdered him and became one of the losers. Then God sent a raven who scratched the ground to show him to hide the dead body of his brother. He (the murderer) said: ‘Woe to me! Am I not even able to be as this raven and to hide the dead body of my brother?’
God’s warning to the children of Adam holds good today as it did then. It is man of all creation who is most subject to diabolical influences despite being inherently good by nature. And yet he betrays his true nature when he follows Satan. Take the nature of all other creations. Are they as complex as ours? Do they go against their inherent nature? Take the sheep for instance; is not it in its nature to be gentle and does not it always act in accordance with that nature? But man is much more complex in his behaviour, which shows that it is only he of all creation that has free will and that such free will can easily be manipulated by the evil one for his own ends.The Prophet once told his followers:
Satan said to the Lord of Glory: ‘By Your Glory O Lord, I will keep trying to misguide Your slaves so long as their souls are in their bodies.’ The Lord said, ‘By My Glory and Majesty, I will continue to forgive them so long as they ask My forgiveness’
(Musnad of Ahmad)
God’s warning not to fall to the snares of Satan is greater today than it was ever before. There are more humans in the world today than there ever was before, all of them susceptible to the suggestions of the evil one who lurks in our flesh and circulates in our blood, ever ready to incite the weak faithless mind to evil and mischief. Isn’t it a fact that men, of all God’s creatures, are the ones who are most likely to bring destruction to the peace, beauty and harmony established by God? That’s because men without a fear of God are prone to the deceit of the devil whose whispers reach the innermost recesses of our minds.
It is only fitting therefore that we don the armour of faith to withstand his trickery. It is easier for man to resist evil when he thinks it is the devil that is whispering deep inside the innermost recesses of his heart, than to think that they are his thoughts and accept them as such. Such a view, that evil does not come from within him, helps him fight evil thoughts, it shows that evil is so strange to him, so unlike him, that it’s a sickness on his otherwise healthy soul, an extraneous germ that has infected him and from a small spot in his heart seeks to spread like a cancer over the rest of his body. When one thinks so, one are more likely to control evil thoughts and direct one’s heart to doing good. The Final Chapter of the Qur’an ends with the prayer:
I seek refuge with the Lord of Men, the King of Men, the God of Men, From the mischief of the Whisperer (of Evil), who withdraws (after his whisper), who whispers into the hearts of Men, both Jinn and Men.
A Companion once came to the Prophet and said: “Sometimes I experience such thoughts that I would rather be reduced to charcoal than get them on my lips” The Prophet replied: “All praise is to God who restricted the devil’s designs to mere evil promptings” (Abu Dawud). Sometimes you will find that the closer you try to get to God, the more you are tempted by the ways of the world, which is why Jesus had to face his temptations and reject him: “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only’“(Matthew 4:10). And remember that Satan is not one, he is legion, having as supporters the evil ones among the jinn ever ready to do his bidding. These evil ones are given a free hand to roam around the earth, creating mischief wherever they can. This is why God warns us:
O ye children of Adam! Let not Satan seduce you, in the manner he got your parents out of the Garden, stripping them of their raiment to expose their shame, for he and his tribe watch you from a position where you cannot see them
Many are the ways in which Satan works to create mischief and discord among men, which is why God lays down certain prohibitions that are only for our good, like telling us to keep away from liquor and gambling:
O ye who believe! Intoxicants and gambling (dedication of) stones and (divination by) arrows are an abomination – of Satan’s handiwork. Eschew them that ye may prosper.Satan’s plan is to excite enmity and hatred between you, with intoxicants and gambling, and hinder you from the remembrance of God
(The Repast: 90-91)
Satan’s aim everywhere is to create mischief. He rouses up envy in men and puffs them up with pride and arrogance and stirs up brawls and fights and wars that seek to place one nation over others. You can see this everywhere in the world today where warmongers have a field day. Ever wondered why those guys we call merchants of death, the arms dealers and others like drug kingpins, liquor makers and casino barons make such big money? This is the way of the world today and Satan sits on top of it. That he has power over the evil-minded there can be no doubt:
Seek God’s Protection from Satan the Rejected One. No authority has he over those who believe and put their trust in their Lord. His authority is over those only who take him as patron and who join partners with God
(The Bee: 98-100)
He prods them and whispers in their hearts to do the most despicable things on earth, to harm the good things God has created for our benefit:
There is the type of man whose speech about this world’s life may dazzle thee, and He calls God to witness about what is in his heart. Yet he is the most contentious of enemies. When he turns his back, his aim everywhere is to spread mischief through the earth and destroy crops and cattle. But God loveth not mischief. When it is said to him: “Fear God” He is lead by arrogance to (more) crime. Enough for him is hell, an evil bed indeed
(The Heifer 204-206)
Another means by which he tries to mislead us is to make us dislike how God created us and the nature around us. This is why you see ordinary people going for plastic surgeries and scientists scrambling to genetically engineer plants and animals to suit their taste. Here again let us bring to mind Satan’s words to God:
“I will take of Thy servants a portion marked off; I will mislead them, and I will create in them false desires; I will order them to slit the ears of cattle, and to deface the nature created by God”
(The Women: 118-119)
How telling indeed, and to think that these words of the devil were captured for us in the Qur’an revealed 1400 years ago, well before any scientist thought of ‘playing God’ by genetically altering the fair nature we see around us. But nay, they may escape from the clutches of men, but they cannot escape from God, if not in this life, then certainly in the next:
They may hide (their crimes) from men, but they cannot hide (them) from God, Seeing that He is with them when they plot by night
Evil in Other Faiths
That evil is the ultimate work of a mysterious demoniacal force prompting men to do evil is held not only by Islam, but also the Abrahamic faiths of Judaism and Christianity as well as the ancient Iranian faith of Zoroastrianism and even oriental faiths like Buddhism, showing that there must be a factual basis to this belief passed down from ancient times. It is just that Islam, being the final revelation gives us a clearer picture of this evil being and his ultimate purpose.
When we compare the Islamic story of our first parents and the origin of how evil came into the world with the Biblical story, we would find both similarities and differences. In the Old Testament we are told that it was the serpent “the most cunning of all the animals that the Lord God had made” that tempted Eve to eat of the forbidden fruit. After Eve gave some of the fruit to Adam and he ate of it, they were discovered by God. He said to the serpent: “Because you have done this, you shall be banned from all the animals and all the wild creatures; on your belly shall you crawl and dirt shall you eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman and between your offspring and hers; He will strike at your head while you strike at his heel” (Genesis 3:1-15).
The earliest mention of a being named Satan in it occurs in the Book of Job composed sometime around the 6th century BC by an author whose name is unknown. Here, Satan comes among the angels when they present themselves before the Lord.
One day when the sons of God (angels) came to present themselves before the Lord, Satan also came among them
In the Book of Revelations, which was not taught by Jesus, but purportedly revealed to a person named John long after Jesus had been taken away from earth, we read:
Then war broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels battled against the dragon.The dragon and its angels fought back, but they did not prevail and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. The huge dragon, the ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan,who deceived the whole world, was thrown down to earth, and its angels were thrown down with it
(Revelation 12: 1-5)
These conflicting accounts tell us little about Satan or the origin of evil. Was he a serpent as held in Genesis or a Dragon as held in the Book of Revelations, or a fallen angel as implied in the Book of Job and Revelations ? Some Christians even hold that Satan was among the highest of all angels and the “brightest in the sky” before his fall which took place as a result of rebelling against God, why we are not told. His being the brightest in the sky gave him the appellation Lucifer which more or less became like his personal name.
However, the Islamic account clears the confusion. It tells us clearly that he was a Jinn made of fire. He certainly could not be an angel as angels are sinless and do not have freewill in the sense we know it. The last thing they would do, even if they were given the will to do so, would be rebelling against God. He certainly could not have been a serpent as serpents are very earthly creatures, crawling on their bellies and it is unimaginable that they could tempt man to commit sin. But the Jinn, that’s a different story. As Muslims we believe that the Jinn race was created before mankind out of smokeless fire. They travel across space, but also inhabit our world, although we cannot see them. They pass on the secrets of the heavens to soothsayers and afflict people with madness, which is why in Arabic a madman is called majnoon, meaning, one possessed by the jinn. Thus it is more likely that it is such a one, rather than an angel or serpent that can tempt men to do evil. Interestingly you will find that modern day Christian depictions of him as a fiery being reflect Islamic teachings about this father of evil than the Judeo-Christian stories of old.
Another particular in which Islam differs from the Biblical account is the inheritance of sin. Christianity as taught by Paul says that sin entered the world as a result of Adam’s transgression and that all humans, being his descendants, are born in a state of sin. Islam on the other hand teaches us that God forgave Adam and Eve their sin and turned to them in forgiveness. It also teaches us that sin cannot be inherited, and that each person is responsible for his or her own actions. The Qur’an clearly says:
Every soul draws the meed of its acts on none but itself. No bearer of burdens can bear the burden of another
No bearer of burdens shall bear another’s burden, nor do We visit with Our wrath until We have sent a Messenger (to give warning)
(The Night Journey:15)
Further, if you read the Qur’anic account, you will find that both Adam and Eve are held equally responsible for the sin of eating of the forbidden fruit and very frankly admitted it:
Then they both ate of that tree, and so their nakedness appeared to them
“Our Lord (said Adam and Eve), we have wronged our souls, and if You do not forgive us and have mercy upon us, we will surely be among the losers”
(The Heights: 23)
Not so in the Bible where we read: And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat. And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. When God asked Adam “Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat?” all he could say was “The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat”. And the Lord God said unto the woman “What is this that thou hast done?” And the woman said: “The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat”. Unto the woman He said: “ I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in pain thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee”.
Reading this account you will probably get away with the idea that it was Eve who led to Adam’s downfall and brought sin into the world as a result of being tempted by the serpent. All the blame is put on her and sadly even Adam blames the woman. And as if that were not enough Adam is told off by God that his fall was “Because you listened to your wife”. Islam on the other hand tells us that eating the forbidden fruit was a mistake committed by both Adam and Eve and that they bore equal responsibility for their deed.
The ancient Persians also believed in an evil force known as Angra Mainyu or Ahriman who resembles Satan in many respects. However they took him as a being independent of God, counter-creating against all the good things that God had created. This belief of the devil as a completely independent entity free of God’s power as much as Ying was to Yang led to a very unique concept in Persian theology – Dualism where there were supposed to be two beings in constant struggle against one another, Ahura Mazda, the Good One and Angra Mainyu, the Evil One. But this was not part of this ancient Iranian faith’s true teachings.
The Iranian Prophet Zarathustra spoke of the One True God Ahura Mazda in very clear terms and declared that both good and evil was a result of His Will. His Gathas bear ample testimony to this, for they have to this day preserved much of their originality due to their use of an inimitable poetic form, an ancient Aryan devise of preserving their traditions at a time when there was no other means to record them. This was profound poetry taught to the great Maga Brotherhood that could be easily memorized and transmitted, so that chances of interpolation became very slim especially since they already had a halo of holiness around it:
If you understand the two principles of prosperity and adversity established by the Wise One, which are a long suffering for the wrongful and a lasting good for the righteous; you shall, then, enjoy radiant happiness
(Gathas: Song 3 – stanza 11)
Between these two, the seekers of false gods did not decide correctly, because delusion came to them in their deliberations.They chose the worst mind, rushed in wrath and afflicted human existence
(Gathas: Song 3 – stanza 6)
But in later times much interpolation crept into his teachings in the scripture known as the Vendidad falsely attributed to him. Satan had now become a counter to God, counter-creating all that God had created. When viewed in the light of the earlier gathas it was like saying that God created the universe, but couldn’t manage it and so Satan ran amok and spoiled it. In the Vendidad, we find Ahura Mazda telling Zarathustra:
I have made every land dear to its people, even though it had no charms whatever in it. Had I not made every land dear to its people, even though it had no charms whatever in it, then the whole living world would have invaded the Aryan homeland. The first of the good lands and countries which I, Ahura Mazda created, was the Aryan homeland by the Vanguhi Daitya. Thereupon came Angra Mainyu, who is all death, and he counter-created the serpent in the river and winter, a work of the daevas. There are ten winter months there, two summer months, and those are cold for the waters, cold for the earth, cold for the trees. Winters fall there, the worst of all plagues. The second of the good lands and countries which I, Ahura Mazda, created, was the plain which the Sogdians inhabit. Thereupon came Angra Mainyu, who is all death, and he counter-created the locust which brings death unto cattle and plants. The third of the good lands and countries which I, Ahura Mazda, created, was the Strong Holy Mouru. Thereupon came Angra Mainyu, who is all death, and he counter-created plunder and sin. The fourth of the good lands and countries which I, Ahura Mazda, created, was the beautiful Bakhdi with high lifted banners. Thereupon came Angra Mainyu, who is all death, and he counter-created the ants and the ant hills
Here we see an aversion to attribute to the Supreme Being the creation of anything evil or inimical to man. Thus while the creation of the good lands are said to be the work of the Supreme Deity Ahura Mazda, the ‘counter-creation’ of winter, locusts, ants and ant-hills (all deemed inimical to man) is attributed to the evil spirit Angra Mainyu or Ahriman, who is the Iranian equivalent of Satan.
Defies logic, doesn’t it, this ridiculous idea of dualism where all good things are said to be created by the Supreme Being and all bad things by the Devil. Even the poor ants are said to be the devil’s creation. Tis true the snake’s poison gives it life, but brings death to man and the creatures of the water see the ocean as a garden while we see it as a pool of death, but this is no more than the reality of existence, not evil per se. Such things have no good or evil by themselves.
Rather it is acts that can be good or evil, assuming the colour of goodness or wickedness by the intention behind it. Take fire, it is not good or bad in itself, but in the use you put it into. When you use it to warm your hearth it is good but when you burn the house of another with it, it becomes evil, and it becomes so not by itself but by your motive, so at the end of the day it is you who are evil, not the fire. Further, just because man chooses this way or that, it does not mean that the creation is to be labeled good or evil. That’s being very petty-minded.
Satan does not counter-create evil, rather he influences the minds of men to do evil using creation and even corrupt the good in insidious ways so that they become the very opposite. Take monotheism, this belief in one God, innate and inherent in man, which he corrupted into polytheism, the belief in many false deities, so that you find countless numbers of them even in our modern age. Take the signs of God such as sun, moon and stars which he corrupted into objects of worship. Take respect for elders which he corrupted into ancestor worship. Take religiosity which he corrupted into extremism so that those affected by his touch adopted a holier than thou attitude towards others.
Take even so simple an obligation as circumcision, which is a healthy practice for both man and woman so long as the prepuce of the sex organ is removed. But Satan could not let be even this beautiful practice, so much in keeping with our pure God-given nature and found in a good many parts of the world. Nay, came he to certain peoples and corrupted it into brutal grotesque forms, so that in certain remote parts of Arabia, some folk started the practice of flaying the penis by stripping it of its skin as far as the pubis as a test of manliness while in certain parts of Africa others took to infibulation, removing the clitoris and inner labia and sewing together the outer labia so as to render sex impossible until marriage, on the plea of preserving virginity. Thus Satan corrupts things, even good things, in the minds of men, but does not counter-create things in the physical domain.
This is no better illustrated than the history of Zoroastrianism itself; how it degenerated from the Worship of One God to the belief in two, one Good and one Evil, only to further deteriorate into a cult of fire when its misled devotees sought to represent the Supreme Being’s Light, the symbol of His Fight against Darkness, by a fire kindled in their temples, housing it there like the pagans of old did their idols. This enshrined fire they held to be sacred, the symbol of Ahura Mazda Himself, hence earning the name of ‘Fire Worshippers’. The very fire that Satan was created from and the fire to which the evil are destined had not become sacred, sanctified, sacrosanct, the very representative of the supreme Being on earth. We know now that the Zoroastrian cult of fire with its fire temples came much after Zarathustra. No mention of it is found in the Gathas which he spoke or even the Avesta which is spuriously attributed to him. Little wonder a companion of Prophet Muhammad, influenced perhaps by him, observed: “When the Prophet of the Persians died, Iblis wrote for them the lore of the Magians” (Abu Dawud).
The idea of an evil-prompting devil also occurs in Buddhist tradition which is far removed from the Abrahamic faiths. Its founder, the Indian Sage Gautama Buddha spoke of this tempter whom he called Mara:
“He who lives looking for pleasures only, his senses uncontrolled, immoderate in his food, idle and weak, Mara will certainly overthrow him, as the wind throws down a weak tree”
“As a fish taken from his watery home and thrown on the dry ground, our thought trembles all over in order to escape the dominion of Mara, the tempter”
“The swans go on the path of the sun, they go miraculously through the ether. The wise are led out of this world, when they have conquered Mara and his train”
However Buddhism could not explain how evil originated, except to put forward the law of cause and effect, the idea that we reap what we sow over countless births and rebirths through a continuous process of re-becoming ending only with extinction when one attains the highest state of nirvana. This universal law it claimed, has been in operation from the beginning of time, so that every action, karma, a being did, was met with a reaction, the vipaka. As a result, living beings, both human and animal, were born into a higher or lower state depending on their actions, until through the accumulation of good deeds they rose higher and higher to become, say a prince, after which they could attain the supreme bliss of nirvana by passing into extinction. A person who committed evil deeds on the other hand, would suffer the consequences of his deeds by being born into say, a lowly family condemned to a life of hardship or still lower, say to a lower life form. By doing so, Buddhism sought to eliminate the idea of a creator God altogether.
But I ask you, how can such a law operate when animals are amoral? How could such creatures of instinct know good or bad? How then could they be reborn as humans? Indeed, such a law cannot even explain the existence of non-living things for would not these non-living things at least require a creator?
However we must always bear in mind that what we sometimes call evil are ‘Acts of God’ like natural calamities such as floods and earthquakes and hurricanes. They are all the will of God and we cannot attribute them to any power other than God.
If God touches you with affliction, none can remove it but He; if He touches you with happiness, He has power over all things. He is the Irresistible (watching) from above over His Worshippers
To attribute whatever evil that befalls one to a power other than God is wrong. This is what led the ancient Persians astray to come up with their nonsensical idea of dualism. But remember, just as He afflicts, God also has the power to remove, and so we pray to Him to deliver us from our troubles. In a sense, this is a way which God demands our worship. When he afflicts us with trouble, We have none but Him to turn to, just like if we do evil, we have none but Him to blot it out.
If God should touch you with misfortune, there is none who can remove it but He;if He intends some good for you, none can keep back His Favour
Thus earthquakes that strike terror into the hearts of men, storms with loud thunderclaps and lightning bolts that take their toll on our possessions and the blight which rots the sources of food we depend on and such like natural events we cannot attribute to any other than God. They are merely the forces of nature created by God busily unfolding their natural destiny that God had willed for them.
In some other cultures, it is the practice to propitiate and offer sacrifices to deities believed to cause such afflictions. For instance not very long ago in Hindu India, the very goddess who was believed to cause smallpox was also propitiated with bloody animal sacrifices. It is also strange to find that it is the most terrible divinities that are sought to be most placated in such cultures. Take the Hindu Trinity, Brahma the Creator, Vishnu the Preserver and Siva the Destroyer. It is the destructive power of Siva that is most feared and placated. Why, because men fear his power of destruction. In Islam, however, the One True God is Creator, Preserver and Destroyer, all in One. Just as He can create, He can Destroy. And it is to Him alone we offer our prayers for relief. So it is that the good Muslim prays as taught by his Prophet:
I take refuge with God’s Perfect Words which none, good or bad, can transgress, from all the evil that He has Created, from the evil that descends from the sky and the evil that rises up to it, from the evil that is spread on earth and the evil that springs from her and I take refuge from the evil of the tribulations of night and day, and the evil of one who visits at night except the one who brings good, O Merciful One (Ahmad).