Explanation of the Concept of Evil

What is meant by “falsehood is not fundamentally a thing”?

Ibn Taymiyyah in his ‘Essay on the Heart’ says: “therefore if it is not located in the truth, there is nothing left for it but falsehood. Furthermore falsehood is not fundamentally a thing and what is not a thing is not suitable as a location.” In this statement, Ibn Taymiyyah introduces a philosophical concept when he said: “falsehood is not fundamentally a thing”. This is because we have a statement of Allah in a number of verses in the Qur’an. You can see it in Surah al Zumar verse 32

Allah is the creator of everything.”

So when he mentioned about falsehood, that that is what is left. If a person is not in truth then they are in falsehood. He is saying that falsehood is not fundamentally a thing meaning it is not from the creation of Allah. He is entering into the concept of Allah being the creator of everything.

Is evil, corruption, all of these falsehoods from the things of Allah’s creation. If Allah is good and whatever he does is good, then where do we place falsehood, corruption, evil, etc.? And this is the point, which for some people becomes a point for disbelief and to fall into atheism. It is part of the argument of the atheists. That if Allah is good and he’s All-Powerful, then where did the evil come from? Unless you say that Allah created evil. And of course as a believer it is difficult for you to just say it like this. In fact we have a hadeeth which was narrated by Ali ibn Abi Talib regarding the attribution of evil to Allah and this was part of the opening supplication of the tahajjud prayer and it is found in Sahih Muslim in which Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) had said:

“…I hear Your call and I’m following your religion and all good is in Your two hands and evil is not attributable to you.”[1]

And we see where Allah says in the second last chapter of the Qur’an

 “I seek refuge in the Lord of the dawn from the evil of what He created." [2]

He does not say the evil He created. You can see, there is a deliberate buffer zone, which is put between the evil and Allah’s creation. So it is a product of His creation. Not Himself creating evil. Because there is an implication what is involved there.

However as scholars pointed out that evil is of two types, nonexistence evil and existence evil. Nonexistence evil meaning the absence of good in that vacuum is evil. When you remove good from something, what remains in that vacuum is evil. Now that is an absence, a lack of, a nonexistence. So when you talk about creation, it does not include nonexistence. When you talk about Allah created everything you mean every existing thing. So this is the aspect of evil which is not attributable to Allah, the nonexistence of good. But now, as a consequence of that nonexistence, evil acts may take place. That aspect of evil is from Allah’s creation, because nothing can take place without His permission. Regarding that aspect which does take place, Ibn al Qayyim had said the second form of evil, existing evil, like false belief, corrupt desires, it is a necessary consequence of the  nonexistence of good, for the earlier, the first form of evil. For whenever beneficial knowledge and righteous deeds from a soul are absent, they’re automatically followed by evil and ignorance and what they necessitate. This must be the case because the soul must be in one of two opposite states. If it is not busy with beneficial and righteous deeds, it will be busy doing harmful and corrupt deeds. This existing evil is from the creation of the Almighty as there is no creator besides Him and He is the creator of everything.

However there must be a good purpose for everything that Allah the Almighty created. If he did not create it that good purpose would be lost and it is not wise to let that good purpose pass which is more beloved to Him than the resulting good in its nonexistence.

So this is the point, that the evil which is existing evil is from Allah’s creation like Satan, calamities and all the other things referred to as evil things; this is all from Allah’s creation. But Allah created it for the good which comes from it or the good aspect of it and not for the evil that we observe and we experience. The example that can easily be given with regards to children that if you take the children; you tell your child we now have to go to the dentist. They have been to the dentist before. What does the child say? Let’s go to the dentist. No! They say no we don’t want to go to the dentist because all that the child can perceive from going to the dentist is pain. That is the sum total of the visit to the dentist. No matter how many candies the dentist gives the kid afterward, how many toys you buy them afterward, still the main perception of the child for the dentist is pain. You are taking the child to the dentist so the child will be saved from greater pain which is of rotting teeth and the pain that comes with it so by the dentist cleaning the teeth, filling it and all these things, though it involves pain, it is to prevent a greater pain. We know it. But you cannot convince the child because of his or her limited scope; they can only focus on the pain. And that is the same with us with the calamities of our lives. Calamities strike and all we can see is the calamity. We have difficulty in grasping that there is a good behind it. Maybe you cannot see it now but for sure if Allah has permitted this to happen to you, there is good in it.

References:

[1] [Muslim (771)]

[2] [Qur’an (113 : 1-2)]

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