The Pandemic: Punishment or Blessing?
All Muslims accept that God is al-Kareem (The Most Generous). Muslims learned in madrasa that the Omni-Benevolent God is the source of all generosity.
But I never had an internally consistent satisfactory answer to my impasse over theodicy (the vindication of divine goodness and providence in view of the existence of evil), as well as the existence of the free will within Qadr of Allah (God knows everything and has already decided everything that will happen).
Muslim scholars have tried to circumvent the quandary as follows: Allah exists outside of time and space, beyond the cosmic veil in the Unseen. By contrast, we human beings can only conceive of realities within the framework of time and space.
Divine providence, or predestination, is a reality that exists beyond time and space, which means we are simply incapable of conceiving it with our limited rational faculties. Then, how do we, Muslims, respond to someone or a Muslim college student using same logic to vindicate polytheism and denies Tawhid (The Unification of oneness of God)? Coronavirus and social isolation gave me time to reflect on the topic and the coronavirus experience gave me the answer.
Allah created the earth and the universe. God offered Heavens and Mountains to take the responsibility of its care. But they refused, but later mankind accepted it. The dialogue between God and heavens, mountains and the plenum of gases enlightens us that as in the case of the animal kingdom these inanimate creatures also have self, consciousness, and subjectivity. The inanimate creations communicate with God in their own language that human does not understand.
God directed Himself to the heaven while it was smoke and said to it and to the earth, “Come [into being], willingly or by compulsion.” They said, “We have come willingly.” (Qur’an 41:11) The seven heavens and the earth and whatever is in them exalt Him. And there is not a thing except that it exalts [Allah] by His praise, but you do not understand their [way of] exalting. Indeed, He is ever Forbearing and Forgiving” (Qur’an 17:34).
“We did indeed offer the Trust to the Heavens and the Earth and the Mountains; but they refused to undertake it, being afraid thereof: but man undertook it;- He was indeed unjust and foolish;” (Qur’an 33:72). God instructed man also : “And do not commit abuse on the earth, spreading corruption.” (Qur’an, 2:60), and elsewhere: “And do not desire corruption in the land. Indeed, God does not like corruptors.” (Qur’an 28:77)
The world has changed since then. Arrogant man self-glorified himself as the invincible lord of the world and assumes that everything on the earth is his personal property that can be used, abused, or wasted. All knowing God notices man’s dereliction of his duties by polluting the earth, the air, oceans, cutting down forests, and destroying the habitat of other communities of His creatures to satisfy man’s greed. The consequences of human ravages on the earth many?
- 100,000 citizens die every year in America alone from air pollution. Then, add up all the life lost in the rest of world (https://www.usnews.com/news/national-news/articles/2019-04-08/100-000-americans-die-from-air-pollution-study-finds).
- Climate change and pollution resulted from the self-indulgent human exploitation of the natural wealth apportioned for the entire divine creatures are responsible for a staggering extinctions 318 animal species to date that we know of (https://theecologist.org/2019/oct/04/rising-pollution-endangering-species).
- Globally, 100,000 marine mammals die every year as a result of plastic pollution (https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/content/documents/Ocean_Factsheet_Pollution.pdf).
- Bees are the foundation for many sources of food, fruits, nuts, coffee, vegetable, etc., Honeybees are already under siege. Colony Collapse Disorder kills an alarming number of bees each year linked to some pesticides. If bee goes into extinction, the fruits, vegetable and grains will disappear from markets (https://www.calacademy.org/explore-science/pollution-and-honeybees).
- There are many more human inflicted mayhem on the ecosystem to list here. Muslims accept and speak frequently of the universe as a classroom and a testing ground for the adjudication of the sincerity of our faith in God. But few Muslims ever talk about God’s amazing immaculate organization of the universe. I believe that an understanding of the flawless configuration of the universe is extremely important to make a spiritual sense out of the coronavirus pandemic, the human ravage on the environment, the mass migration of refugees, etc. under the watch of Omni-Benevolent God.
God created the universe as a testing ground for his creatures while saving the Jannah for the righteous: ”And We shall assuredly try you until We know those of you who struggle and are steadfast, and try your tidings” (Qur’an 47:31). Allah is flawless in His process of creation and its products so that whatever He created have the potentiality to do what He indented them to execute.
A perfect machine functions by itself without its inventor’s constant intervention. Then only it is perfect and so says God: “Thou seest the mountains and thinkest them firmly fixed: but they shall pass away as the clouds pass away: (such is) the artistry of Allah, who disposes of all things in perfect order: for he is well acquainted with all that ye do.” (Qur’an 27:88).
At the inception of the creation, God built a self-regulating system that we call the universe. He created it with paradisaical precision so that it would do all its duties and function. As revealed in the Quran, the universe and its animate as well as inanimate components, whether it is micro or macro, are living beings that have assigned duties and responsibilities (Qur’an 41:12}
“…He assigned to each heaven its duty and command..”). God endowed the universe with a faculty to monitor its components. This incredible machine acts and reacts, gives and takes, rewards and retributes etc. It knows what God wants to happen in every micro and macro situation as well as in every nook and corner. It executes what God programmed to happen in every situation without God’s constant attention. It is a perfect laboratory machine to evaluate and finally judge man, as Khalifa on the earth.
There is another marvelous wisdom behind the creation of this self-regulating universe. By the genesis of this incredible self-regulating universe, God took Himself off the equation to become “the best judge of all judges” (“Is not Allah the most just of judges?” Qur’an 95:8) so that no creatures including man can implicate Allah for their sin as predestination. Such an understanding of the universe as a flawless machine or computer perfectly merges with the Qur’anic concept of Omniscient Omni-Benevolent Compassionate God in a world with mankind with free will.
This video demonstrates God’s immaculate creation better.
The video illustrates a very small sampling of “الْحَكِيمُ (All Wise) in Action.” We named its activities as the Economy of Nature.
So, God, being the programmer of universe, knows everything and what will happen for every action and its reaction. This is what’s meant by Qadr of Allah . Still in the same universe, God can respond to our prayers without violating His established laws of the universe:
“Your Lord has said, ‘Call upon Me and I will answer you. Surely those who wax too proud to do Me service shall enter Gehenna utterly abject.’” (Quran 40:60).
Another characteristic of the world, that we live in, is the amazing harmony of our free will with the omniscience of the Almighty. Human experiences are linked to time and space. In order to integrate God’s Omniscience with man’s experience of the past, the present, and the future, God created time with an elastic property. God enlightened us on this relative characteristic of time long time before Albert Einstein did (“…but lo! A day is like one thousand years of what you reckon.” Qur’an 22:47).
So, time can shrink even to a freezing halt as in the case of God or expand for the rest of creations depending on its space, speed of motion, gravity, etc. So, our experiences of the past, the present, the future are only a present event happening concurrently for God who is outside time and space. Thereby, in this self-regulating world there is freedom, free will, randomness for mankind without the infringement of God’s omniscience.
We, the human species, take extraordinary measures in extraordinary situations. For example, for the greater good, we, as a nation, lockdown our nation leaving millions of our compatriots, living on paycheck to paycheck, without a source of income for daily living and lifesaving medicines. So, I am thinking aloud here whether coronavirus is an extraordinary response to an extraordinary event by the internally programmed corrective action against greedy heedless mankind polluting the earth, air, and water (“…when some evil afflicts them because of what their (own) hands have sent forth, behold they are in despair!..” Quran 36:37 & “Indeed, Allah does not wrong the people at all, but it is the people who are wronging themselves.” Quran 10:44).
What happens when the universe deploys coronavirus? The earth is showing signs of returning to its original pristine state in a short 4-6 weeks’ time.
Satellite animation shows air pollution in China and Italy clearing amid coronavirus lockdowns (https://www.cnn.com/2020/03/23/health/us-pollution-satellite-coronavirus-scn-trnd/index.html).
A few Muslims, Christians, and Jews called out the pandemic as a divine punishment against those who differ with them in faith. But I see a God acting as the God of the entire universe not as a God of man only. Is the pandemic a divine blessing for the entire ecosystem of the earth along with lessons as well as a warning to the greedy extravagant heedless humankind for their dereliction of duties as Khalifa?
The laws of the economy of nature are working as it is programmed by God for the welfare of entire creations, not just for man alone. Coronavirus brought tragedy for humankind. Even hugging and kissing became a weapon. But coronavirus delivered also the signs of the abatement of pollution as a result of national lockdowns and the return of life such as dolphins in Italian waterfront, etc. The current pandemic made the earth little more habitable for all other forms of life as a result of abatement of the pollution. Hedonistic hunters are not killing freely roaming wild animals for their selfish fun and joy.
Within the natural economy of the earth, if the current lockdown continues nature will save many millions from the premature deaths around the world with the abatement of pollution. Many species of animals will have a rebirth as a result of the decreasing environmental pollution. The lockdowns cut down the violent deaths. 313 people die from gun violence every day in the US. Marked decrease in travel in lockdown is saving life. 1,000 people die per day from automobile accidents in the US. That does not include the people crippled from accidents. Future generations can breathe and drink untainted air and water if man if mankind learns from it. In the big picture more life saved, more habitat reinstated, a little less global warming and pollution of the earth, air, and water.
Bill Gates pointed out few other blessings that coronavirus brought us. Nothing with standing of the cultural, financial, religious difference the pandemic taught us that humanity is one. The affliction in one is an affliction on the entire humanity. It brought families back together and taught the importance family in our life.
It reminds us that we can be patient. It showed us that “and man is created weak.” (Quran 4:28)
Now read the following verses in the background of the divinely programmed self-regulating system of the universe. Then we can discern the harmony of the presence of evil in the Omni-Benevolent God created world, and motivate all of us to act dutifully, justly, ethically and empathically to the rest of God’s creatures. We are being tested and simultaneously are being warned by coronavirus calamity that we are not necessary for the purity of air, water, the earth and sky.
God demands from us to cease our abuse and wasting of worldly resources and the “corruption of the earth.”
“Verily, We shall put you to test with some fear, and hunger, and with some loss of wealth, lives, and offspring. And (O Muhammad) convey good tidings to those who are patient, who say, when inflicted by hardship, “Verily we are of God and verily to Him shall we return;” upon them is the blessings of Allah and His mercy.” (Qur’an 2:155)
Yes, men and women around the world including me hate and fear coronavirus. It is a tragedy for human species. While coronavirus snatches away thousands of beautiful lives, the decline in pollution, the restoration of natural habitats like dolphins returning to Italian coastline, millions of lives saved from the decrease of pollution, etc. are the good things.
The contradictory concurrent happenings are referred in this verse “…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 know not”; (Qur’an 2:216).
In the big picture Allah is the Omni-Benevolent Lord of the Worlds where man is one among many zillions of creatures. The existence of evil in our amazing self-regulating universe is not incompatible with Omni-Benevolent Lord. The emergence of evil and calamities are the end results of the interactions among the animate and inanimate components of the universe.
The prospect of the emergence of evil is built into the structure of the universe in order to make the universe a testing ground. The emergence of an evil rests with the creatures and the application of their free will as we have seen in the case of human selfish squandering the natural resources by deforesting and polluting natural habitats of flora and fauna. Another example of the emergence of pandemic tragedy in US from human activity is Trump’s downplay of impending threat of coronavirus for his political expediency.
So, evil is not from God as He stated in verses 10:44 & 36:37. Let me quote the verse again here:
(“…when some evil afflicts them because of what their (own) hands have sent forth, behold they are in despair!” Qur’an 36:37 & “Indeed, Allah does not wrong the people at all, but it is the people who are wronging themselves.” (Qur’an 10:44).
God’s self-regulating system of the universe looks for the most goodness for the most creations. Man, God’s Khalifa, can join in this struggle or be the victim.
It is not too late for man to repent and rectify his greedy mindset. And seek God’s forgiveness and mercy: Say, ‘O My servants who have transgressed against themselves [by sinning], do not despair of the mercy of Allah. Indeed, Allah forgives all sins. Indeed, it is He who is the Forgiving, the Merciful.” (Qur’an 39:53)”
O. Shanavas is a native of Kerala, India and is now based in the USA. He is the author of “Islamic Theory of evolution of Evolution the Missing Link between Darwin and The Origin of Species.” Co-author of the book, And God Said, “Let There Be Evolution!” Reconciling the Book of Genesis, The Qur’an, And the Theory of Evolution. Edited by Prof. Charles M. Wynn and Prof. Arthur W. Wiggins.