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How Do Muslims Understand Natural Evil and Disasters?

09 August, 2021
Q Assalamu Alaikum, I'm puzzled with the explanation Christians give to the problem of natural evil (i.e. natural disasters, illnesses, and so on). How do you account for it in an Islamic framework? Ma’assalaama.


Short Answer: God says in the Quran that we are given only very little knowledge. A believer should have two kinds of patience: one in the face of moral evil; and another in the face of the bad side of natural occurrences. Both kinds are required for spiritual development. A believer has the conviction that all things and events are under the control of the Almighty and so he never loses hope.


Asalamu Alaikum Abel,

Thank you for contacting About Islam with your question.

Divergent explanations have been offered by different Christian philosophers and theologians for the occurrence of natural disasters. But here I confine myself to the Islamic view.

In Islam, both good and evil do necessarily have a place in the Divine Will and Plan. Islam teaches that God is All-Powerful, but it does not mean that He does things that contradict logic or does not befit His character.

Why Evil?

The important question about God regarding the problem of evil is: If God is Good, why does He allow evil?

The answer is that a good God may allow evil if He has a good reason. And we need not know God’s reasons for allowing evil, because Allah says in the Quran that we are given only very little knowledge:

{[…] of knowledge it is only a little that is communicated to you, (O men!)} (Al-Israa’ 17:85)

Therefore, it would be enough if we know of a possible reason for God to allow evil to exist. And from the Quran we can understand that Allah has given humans free will, in order to test them to prove who is better in good deeds:

{Every soul shall have a taste of death: and We test you by evil and by good by way of trial; to Us must you return.} (Al-Anbiyaa’ 21:35)

One consequence of freedom is that humans may choose evil instead of good. But if they are forcefully prevented from choosing evil, there will not be any freedom.

That is to say, God cannot have free beings whom He forces to choose only what is good; because, that would involve a logical impossibility.

As intelligent beings, we know that most of the things that make life worth living require that we have free will. Moral responsibility, sense of individual achievement, satisfactory personal relationship, and so on, are a few valuable things that cannot be without freedom of choice.

But one may ask why natural evils like earthquakes are permitted, where free will has no part.

The answer is in the cause and effect nexus which is part of nature.

We know fire is useful because it burns and helps us cook our food; but the same burning quality of fire can burn down homes. That is to say the very things that are useful for us can inevitably cause damage too. Now can we completely dispense with fire as it has a destructive side?

Good & Evil

From the Islamic point of view, evil is like one of the twins, the other being good, as good on earth is ironically linked to evil (or a better word would be “bad”. Since evil requires intent, something nature does not possess).

Because, good in this world cannot exist without bad, as they are two sides of the same coin and both are relative concepts. We have a chance to do good work only when there is a need, which in itself is “bad”, or at any rate, not “good”. 

We replace that bad or the absence of good with good. The imperfections and shortcomings of this world provide ample opportunities for us to make creative efforts for improvement; and this makes our lives and work meaningful.

The forces of good and bad appear to work in opposite directions; but in the final analysis their work may be seen as a covert cooperation to fulfill the Divine plan. And we know, bad cannot be without God’s willing it to exist; and if so, bad has a role here to play.

In short, without bad, there is no good. And both are equally necessary for the spiritual development of man. For the spirit to grow, one has to overcome bad (from nature) or evil (from himself or others) and do good.

Allah says in the Quran what means:

{And not equal are the good deed and the bad. Repel [evil] by that [deed] which is better; and thereupon the one whom between you and him is enmity [will become] as though he was a devoted friend. But none is granted it except those who are patient, and none is granted it except one having a great portion [of good].} (Fussilat 41:34-35).

That is to say, we must counter bad with good; but to do this, immense patience is necessary. As for a believer, good does not spoil him, nor does bad make him desperate.  

Two Kinds of Patience

We may say that a believer should have two kinds of patience: one in the face of moral evil; and another in the face of the bad side of natural occurrences. Both kinds are required for spiritual development.

An example of moral evil is the insult a believer suffers from an arrogant person. Here, the believer controls his anger with patience; and he is successful in the test.

An example of natural bad is a flood in which many people including children suffer. A believer in this context does not curse God; because he takes it as a test of his faith.

Instead, he goes out to help the victims in whatever way he can. And if he himself is a victim, he is patient and seeks forgiveness from God for his own failings and prays for protection. And thus, he draws near to Allah and is successful in that test.

The Prophet (peace be upon him) said:

Wondrous are the believer’s affairs. For him there is good in all his affairs, and this is so only for the believer. When something pleasing happens to him, he is grateful, and that is good for him. And when something displeasing happens to him, he is patient, and that is good for him. (Muslim)

And Allah the Almighty admonishes:

{And seek help through patience and prayer, and indeed, it is difficult except for the humbly submissive [to Allah].} (Al-Baqarah 2:45)

A believer has the conviction that all things and events are under the control of the Almighty and so he never loses hope. He trusts in the eternal benevolence and mercy of Allah, as He says in the Quran: 

{On no soul does Allah Place a burden greater than it can bear.} (Al-Baqarah 2:286)

I hope this answers your question. Please keep in touch.

Walaikum Asalam.

(From Ask About Islam archives)

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About Professor Shahul Hameed
Professor Shahul Hameed is an Islamic consultant. He also held the position of the President of the Kerala Islamic Mission, Calicut, India. He is the author of three books on Islam published in the Malayalam language. His books are on comparative religion, the status of women, and science and human values.