On the Origin of Calamity
Ansar Al 'Adl
The allegation is as follows:
The origin of calamity? Is the evil in our life from Satan [38:41], Ourselves [4:79], or Allah [4:78]?
Verses in question:
4:78-79 "Wherever ye are, death will find you out, even if ye are in towers built up strong and high!" If some good befalls them, they say, "This is from Allah; but if evil, they say, "This is from thee" (O Prophet). Say: "All things are from Allah." But what hath come to these people, that they fail to understand a single fact?
Whatever good, (O man!) happens to thee, is from Allah. but whatever evil happens to thee, is from thy (own) soul. and We have sent thee as an apostle to (instruct) mankind. And enough is Allah for a witness.
38:41 Commemorate Our Servant Job. Behold he cried to his Lord: "The Evil One has afflicted me with distress and suffering!"
A number of points may be mentioned:
1. Before commenting on the verses, we must clarify the two reasons behind the tragedy and difficulties one may experience in their lives.
a) As a test
29:2-3 Do men think that they will be left alone on saying, "We believe", and that they will not be tested? We did test those before them, and Allah will certainly know those who are true from those who are false.
b) As a punishment
42:30 Whatever misfortune happens to you, is because on the things your hands have wrought, and for many (of them) He grants forgiveness.
2. Verse 4:78 informs us that all events and outcomes are from Allah, i.e. Allah has full control over everything and it is by His decree that all things come about. Nothing occurs except by His will. Ibn Kathir comments on this verse, in his tafsir by saying:
Allah's statement that all things are from Him means, everything occurs by the decision and decree of Allah, and His decision shall come to pass for both the righteous and the wicked, the faithful and the disbelievers. (Tafsir Ibn Kathir, Abridged, Darussalam Publishers & Distributors, 2000, vol. 2, p. 521)
3. Meanwhile, 4:79 mentions that the good that reaches us is of Allah's bounty, favor, kindness and mercy, and we should show gratitiude to Allah for such blessings. And the misfortune that befalls us in our lives if from our own souls. The meaning of "from thy own soul" is that the misfortune is the result of our errors as a punishment, or may serve as a test for us. This was mentioned by scholars including As-Suddi, Al-Hassan Al-Basri, Ibn Jurayj and Ibn Zayd. (see Tafsir Ibn Kathir, Abridged, Darussalam Publishers & Distributors, 2000, vol. 2, p. 521)
With the above in mind, there is no contradiction between verse 4:78 and verse 4:79. All things occur by the permission of Allah, and all events are the result of His will. Yet, this does not negate the fact that any misfortune that befalls us is the result of our misdeeds, despite the fact that it has been decreed by Allah. Everything is from Allah, yet difficulties may be the result of our actions, as a punishment ordained by Allah. The difficulties are the result of our weaknesses, and ultimately we are to blame for them. But they still occur by the permission of Allah.
4. We can also arrive at a similar conclusion from a slightly different angle. Commenting on verses 4:78-79, Dr. Jeffrey Lang writes the following in his book, Even Angels Ask:
The assertion here is that our ability to experience true benefit or harm comes from God, but to do real injury to ourselves, in an ultimate and spiritual sense, depends on our actions and decisions, which God has empowered us to make. (p.29) (Lang, Even Angels Ask, Amana Publications, 1997, p.29)
Thus, Dr. Lang interprets the verse to mean that evil is the result of our human nature and our freedom of choice, which God has given to us. Hence, all things may be attributed to God since God has given us the choice to do good and evil, yet we are the ones who exercise that choice.
5. Concerning verse 38:41, what is understood is that the evil decisions we may make, and the difficulties that befall us, may have originally been inspired by Satan. i.e. in verse 38:41, Prophet Ayoub (Job) is being tested by God with an affliction from Satan. It is not incorrect to attribute this to Satan, since he is the one who directly tries to divert us from the path of truth with trouble, misguidance and calamity. Nor is it incorrect to declare this to be from God, since He has allowed Satan to afflict us, as a test. Allah tests us through several means, and Satan is one of them. Our evil inclinations are also a test for us.
To conclude, in response to the question on the origin of calamity in our lives, and whether it is from Allah, Satan, or ourselves, we would declare that it is from all three, and there is nothing contradictory about this view. Allah allows Satan to inspire us with evil by means of a test, Satan inspires us to do an evil deed to misguide us, and we are the ones who actually commit the act.
May Allah protect us from evil.
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