Assalaamu’alaykum warahmatullaahi wabarakaatuh,
Why do bad things happen to good people? This is a question asked by many people, often by those who question the existence of Allah. If He exists, they assume, of course He would prevent bad things, right? Or some even go as far as saying that if He exists and lets bad things happen, then He is EVIL. Astaghfirullah!
Some answer this question by saying that ‘there is always hikmah (wisdom) behind everything, good or bad’. This is not wrong, in fact this is very true. Yet the problem is that on many occasions people just cannot accept this answer. Sometimes it is because they just cannot find what wisdom is behind the misfortunes that befell them, or that the wisdom that they can think of was -according to them- not good enough compared to what calamities they suffered.
What seems to be the real problem is that we dont really understand the concept of life and reality in Islam. Some think it as if life just happens, and the job of Allah is like our protector. They think Islam is just one of the things we find among so many other things to help us through our life, which we choose which one is most beneficial, and that Islam is just the most beneficial among the other choices. This is not true, and actually is an insult.
The truth is that Islam is our way to clarify reality. For more explanation on this, please look at this link. This life is just a test, and the true reality is the hereafter. Most of us Muslims know this, but on many occasions it takes a lot for us to really ponder on what it means. There are profound implications to this, and it really should affect the way we see and understand life. It would affect the way we make decisions and appreciate things.
Maybe this is why the Qur’an, when mentioning the characteristics of the muttaqiin, the first character mentioned in the Quran (in Surah Al Baqarah ayat 3) is “Those who believe in the ghaib [unseen]…”
Do Bad Things Really Happen to Good People?
It does seem like a common expectation that good things should happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people. And, Allah is Fair, right? However, there are some things we need to ponder on. We can start by asking ourselves: what does ‘good’ really mean? What does ‘bad’ really mean? When plainly understood, I guess it is easy to imagine. Good things are like love and help from other people, ease in our affairs, wealth, health, happiness in general, absence of pain and suffering, and so many other things. Bad things are like the exact opposite to the aforementioned.
But lets consider some things that usually escape our mind. Abdullah ibn Mas’uud narrated that the Prophet (ﷺ) said:
نَعَمْ مَا مِنْ مُسْلِمٍ يُصِيبُهُ أَذًى مَرَضٌ فَمَا سِوَاهُ إِلاَّ حَطَّ اللَّهُ سَيِّئَاتِهِ كَمَا تَحُطُّ الشَّجَرَةُ وَرَقَهَا
“Yes. No Muslim is afflicted with hurt caused by disease or some other inconvenience, but that Allah will remove his sins as a tree sheds its leaves” (Sahih Bukhari and Muslim)
It is easy for the tongue of a Muslim to say that we want our sins to be erased, but how many of us can really ponder and fathom the aforementioned hadeeth? Can we, Muslims, still say that illnesses or other conveniences are really classified as ‘bad things’ now?
Even great calamities and disasters. Look at the following narration
عن أم سلمة زوج النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم قالت: سمعت رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم يقول: “إذا ظهرت المعاصي في أمتي، عَمَّهم الله بعذاب من عنده” . فقلت: يا رسول الله، أما فيهم أناس صالحون؟ قال: “بلى”، قالت: فكيف يصنع أولئك؟ قال: “يصيبهم ما أصاب الناس، ثم يصيرون إلى مغفرة من الله ورضوان“
“From Umm Salamah, wife of the Prophet (ﷺ), she said: ‘I heard Rasulullah ﷺ say: if mischief has spread from my ummah, Allah will befall azhab upon them generally”. Umm Salamah asked: ‘O Rasulullah, arent there pious persons among them?’ Rasulullah answered: ‘yes’. Umm Salamah said: ‘why are they [the pious] inflicted too?’ Rasulullah answered: ‘The azhab will befall them as it does the others, but they will receive the forgiveness and ridha of Allah” (Musnad Imam Ahmad)
Of course massive earthquakes and tsunamis with hundreds of thousands of victims does seem very terrible. If this is the gate that Allah gives to the good people to be forgiven and sent to heaven, is this still really that bad?
This is why Rasulullah (ﷺ), as reported by Shuhaib bin Sinan, said the following:
عَجَبًا لأَمْرِ الْمُؤْمِنِ إِنَّ أَمْرَهُ كُلَّهُ خَيْرٌ وَلَيْسَ ذَاكَ لأَحَدٍ إِلاَّ لِلْمُؤْمِنِ إِنْ أَصَابَتْهُ سَرَّاءُ شَكَرَ فَكَانَ خَيْرًا لَهُ وَإِنْ أَصَابَتْهُ ضَرَّاءُ صَبَرَ فَكَانَ خَيْرًا لَهُ
“Strange are the ways of a believer for there is good in every affair of his and this is not the case with anyone else except in the case of a believer for if he has an occasion to feel delight, he thanks (God), thus there is a good for him in it, and if he gets into trouble and shows resignation (and endures it patiently), there is a good for him in it.” (Sahih Muslim)
Do Good Things Really Happen to Bad People?
Allah does say in the Quran that azhab will be cast upon people when they are committing mischief and corruption in the lands. Numerous ayats explain this, but one among them is Surah Ash Shura ayat 30:
فَكُلًّا أَخَذْنَا بِذَنْبِهِ فَمِنْهُمْ مَنْ أَرْسَلْنَا عَلَيْهِ حَاصِبًا وَمِنْهُمْ مَنْ أَخَذَتْهُ الصَّيْحَةُ وَمِنْهُمْ مَنْ خَسَفْنَا بِهِ الْأَرْضَ وَمِنْهُمْ مَنْ أَغْرَقْنَا وَمَا كَانَ اللَّهُ لِيَظْلِمَهُمْ وَلَكِنْ كَانُوا أَنْفُسَهُمْ يَظْلِمُونَ
“So We punished each (of them) for his sins, of them were some on whom We sent Hâsib (a violent wind with shower of stones) [as on the people of Lut (Lot)], and of them were some who were overtaken by As¬Saihah [torment – awful cry, (as Thamûd or Shu’aib’s people)], and of them were some whom We caused the earth to swallow [as Qârûn (Korah)], and of them were some whom We drowned [as the people of Nûh (Noah), or Fir’aun (Pharaoh) and his people]. It was not Allâh Who wronged them, but they wronged themselves.”
This is not to mention what misfortune they will receive in hell afterwards.
But very often we see people who are committing mischief, corruption, so many sins, including the worst which is shirk. Yet they live happy lives, rich with all their wealth, laughing and enjoying what they have. Where is the azhab for them?
Allah says in Surah Al Imran ayat 178:
وَلَا يَحۡسَبَنَّ ٱلَّذِينَ كَفَرُوٓاْ أَنَّمَا نُمۡلِى لَهُمۡ خَيۡرٌ۬ لِّأَنفُسِہِمۡۚ إِنَّمَا نُمۡلِى لَهُمۡ لِيَزۡدَادُوٓاْ إِثۡمً۬اۚ وَلَهُمۡ عَذَابٌ۬ مُّهِينٌ۬
“And let not the disbelievers think that Our postponing of their punishment is good for them. We postpone the punishment only so that they may increase in sinfulness. And for them is a disgracing torment.”
Uqbah bin Amir reported that Rasulullah (ﷺ) said:
إِذَا رَأَيْتَ اللَّهَ تَعَالى يُعْطِي الْعَبْدَ مِنَ الدُّنْيَا مَا يُحِبُّ وَهُوَ مُقِيمٌ عَلَى مَعَاصِيهِ فَإِنَّمَا ذَلِكَ مِنْهُ اسْتِدْرَاجٌ
“When you see Allah gives good fortunes to His slaves who are always committing sins (disobedient), know that the person is being given istidraj by Allah” (Then Rasulullah [ﷺ] recited Surah Al An’am ayat 44, check it out! This hadeeth is from Musnad Imam Ahmad)
Good things happening to bad people is called istidraj, where essentially punishment is simply delayed and they commit more and more sins, and suddenly they are put in hell.
خَـٰلِدِينَ فِيہَآ أَبَدً۬…..
“wherein they will abide forever..” (Surah An Nisa ayat 78)
Is there, truly, any good in this?
To what extent does ‘good’ or ‘bad’ things (in this world) matter anyway?
There is a very beautiful hadeeth which we really should ponder on. Narrated by Anas bin Malik, Rasulullah (ﷺ) said:
يُؤْتَى بِأَنْعَمِ أَهْلِ الدُّنْيَا مِنْ أَهْلِ النَّارِ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ فَيُصْبَغُ فِي النَّارِ صَبْغَةً ثُمَّ يُقَالُ يَا ابْنَ آدَمَ هَلْ رَأَيْتَ خَيْرًا قَطُّ هَلْ مَرَّ بِكَ نَعِيمٌ قَطُّ فَيَقُولُ لاَ وَاللَّهِ يَا رَبِّ .
وَيُؤْتَى بِأَشَدِّ النَّاسِ بُؤْسًا فِي الدُّنْيَا مِنْ أَهْلِ الْجَنَّةِ فَيُصْبَغُ صَبْغَةً فِي الْجَنَّةِ فَيُقَالُ لَهُ يَا ابْنَ آدَمَ هَلْ رَأَيْتَ بُؤْسًا قَطُّ هَلْ مَرَّ بِكَ شِدَّةٌ قَطُّ فَيَقُولُ لاَ وَاللَّهِ يَا رَبِّ مَا مَرَّ بِي بُؤُسٌ قَطُّ وَلاَ رَأَيْتُ شِدَّةً قَطُّ
“One amongst the people of Hell who had led a life of ease and plenty amongst the people of the world would be made to dip in Fire only once on the Day of Resurrection and then it would be said to him: ‘O, son of Adam, did you find any comfort, did you happen to get any goodness in the world?’ He would say: ‘By Allah, no, my Lord.‘”
“And then that person from amongst the persons of the world be brought who had led the most miserable life (in the world) from amongst the inmates of Paradise. and he would be made to dip once in Paradise and it would be said to him. ‘0, son of Adam, did you face, any hardship? Or had any distress fallen to your lot?’ And he would say: ‘By Allah, no,0 my Lord, never did I face any hardship or experience any distress.'” (Sahih Muslim, emphasis given and hadeeth split in two for tadabbur purposes)
Re-read this hadeeth until you fully understand what happened. See how the person who enjoyed his life in the world said that he never enjoyed anything. See also how the person who suffered in the world said he never faced any problems. Certainly they did not lie. This is a perfect example on how whatever we may have experienced in the world (good or bad) no matter how extreme we think they are: they are really nothing, and will disappear into insignificance when faced with what we get in the hereafter.
In The End
Of course it is not that Muslims should only suffer. As the previously mentioned hadeeth of Shuhaib bin Sinan stated, our test is not only to be patient during hardship but also to be grateful in times of ease.
The point here is that it is true that good things happen to good people, and bad things happen to bad people. Yet the nature of this truth can only be understood by those who truly understand an important message that Islam brings, i.e. this world is temporary, it is not permanent. There is a hereafter which is the true reality which we must prepare ourselves for. We need to really ponder on this because this fact really should change the way we see things.
The good that will come to good people and the bad that will come to bad people are very often not understandable for those who do not believe or do not really understand the hereafter. Therefore, to answer the question “Why does bad thing happen to good people?” is actually a question of mindset and worldview.
If we do not yet fully understand this, then it shows how we will really need to seek more knowledge of the foundations of Islamic aqeeda and really ponder on it into our hearts so that we truly understand it. It is important as aqeeda is the basic of everything.
If we already understand this, then we should know more how much we must strive to strengthen our imaan even more. We should seek more and more knowledge of the deen so that we can do as much good deeds as possible, of course with intentions only to Allah, and so that we can avoid the bad deeds and seek forgiveness for what we have already done.
To end, let us read Surah Al Hadeed ayat 20 and ponder on its meanings and reflect on how it should affect our life.
ٱعۡلَمُوٓاْ أَنَّمَا ٱلۡحَيَوٰةُ ٱلدُّنۡيَا لَعِبٌ۬ وَلَهۡوٌ۬ وَزِينَةٌ۬ وَتَفَاخُرُۢ بَيۡنَكُمۡ وَتَكَاثُرٌ۬ فِى ٱلۡأَمۡوَٲلِ وَٱلۡأَوۡلَـٰدِۖ كَمَثَلِ غَيۡثٍ أَعۡجَبَ ٱلۡكُفَّارَ نَبَاتُهُ ۥ ثُمَّ يَہِيجُ فَتَرَٮٰهُ مُصۡفَرًّ۬ا ثُمَّ يَكُونُ حُطَـٰمً۬اۖ وَفِى ٱلۡأَخِرَةِ عَذَابٌ۬ شَدِيدٌ۬ وَمَغۡفِرَةٌ۬ مِّنَ ٱللَّهِ وَرِضۡوَٲنٌ۬ۚ وَمَا ٱلۡحَيَوٰةُ ٱلدُّنۡيَآ إِلَّا مَتَـٰعُ ٱلۡغُرُورِ
“Know that the life of this world is but amusement and diversion and adornment and boasting to one another and competition in increase of wealth and children – like the example of a rain whose [resulting] plant growth pleases the tillers; then it dries and you see it turned yellow; then it becomes [scattered] debris. And in the Hereafter is severe punishment and forgiveness from Allah and approval. And what is the worldly life except the enjoyment of delusion.”