Prof. Seyyed Hossein Nasr, speaking from the floor of Trinity Church on the topic of “Naming Evil; How To Confront And Overcome Evil In Human Life”, articulates the following response to the Problem of Evil in an Islamic-Sufi theodicy.
What is evil? From a philosophical point of view, he says, God is All-Good or as Plato called the Supreme Good.
“There cannot be anything other than God that can be all goodness. Creation already implies the separation from the creator otherwise there would be no creation and to talk of creation is to talk of separation and to talk of separation is to talk of, what appears on human plane, as evil. So, to be in creation, one has to experience separation from Supreme Good, the separation which is evil in our lives. This is the metaphysical foundation for the presence of evil.”
Explaining the same from an ontological level, he states;
“…because the world is not God there has to be this separation and there has to be evil. In fact one could go so far as to say, metaphysically speaking, that God CANNOT create a world without privation or evil and remain God.”
He then acknowledges the gravity of this problem by stating that this problem alone has been responsible, especially in the west, to lead many an educated and intelligent people away from religion.
Using the metaphor “there are no shadows in the sun” he goes on to mention that certain sages like Jalalu-din-Rumi and some Christian mystics as well have denied the existence of evil. Nasr explains that these human being were really speaking from the point of view of the Divine and that
“it is possible to reach a stage of realization in which one does not see evil because one has transcended the world of evil; this world of separation from God.”
By using the Islamic art of “always seeing the good aspect of a thing and not to see the privation/evil but seeing everything in its metaphysical transparency”, but for most human beings in the world, evil is a consequence of our separation from God.
Two great problems of today’s world, according to Nasr are,
- Denial of Evil
- Politicizing Evil
Denial of the existence of such evil/privation results in people trying to turn world completely good as if to turn the world into God and that results in ideologies like Marxism and Communism.
Politicizing evil in one’s enemies, “absolutizing” our own beliefs and demonizing others, coupled with the unprecedented power in modern weaponry has the potential of total annihilation of human civilization.
In examining the essence of this evil, he goes on to its origins and comments as;
“The result of denying cosmic and beyond human reality to evil has also meant the denial of what appears to human plane as the Devil, i.e. the Devil in the Islamic theology and Christian theology, in the sense of personification of this cosmic tendency of the Fall, of the Fall away from the Divine Principle.” (21:30-21:55 minutes into his talk).
“All religions believe that we have Fallen in some way. That there is a perfect state to which we have belonged…“
Referring to Qur’an, Sura 95, he gives an exegesis of its 4th and 5th verse and state that God created Man in goodness and then lowered him of the lowest. In the light of this, he then reflects on the essence of Good and Evil. He connects that with Jesus Christ’s two commandments i.e. love God and love your neighbor and says that once you transgress against God and neighbor, you have committed evil. In Islam, he mentions, is the Devine Law (shariah), similar to Jewish Torah that explains what is Good and what is Evil, within society. This Law, Nasr states, has been different for different peoples at different times throughout human history and that,
“…the covenant of God with Jews is not broken by the coming of the Jesus Christ”.
As to the question of; why God created the world and separated us from him? Nasr only mentions that is passing and alludes to it as “because God wanted to be known and loved”.
At the end he states,
“…there is a wisdom that there is this multiplicity in the world, and never before as now have we been faced with the importance of accepting this multiplicity, of not forcing ourselves upon the world.”
Critical Analysis of this Islamic-Sufi Theodicy:
Nasr’s justification/explanation of the brute presence of evil in the world can be summarized in the following logical steps.
- The only Perfection that there is, is God (premise)
- Creation without separation from God is ontologically absurd (premise)
- Humans are a creation of God (premise)
- Humans are ontologically separate from Perfection of God (conclusion from 1, 2 & 3)
- Apart from God, perfection is not possible (conclusion from 1, 2)
- Separation from Perfection results in privation/Evil (final conclusion)
Although the above line of reasoning, to some extent, answers the Problem of Evil in theodicy, but at the same time, it also creates some irresolvable theological problems as stated below.
Existence of Evil Before the Fall:
Considering the state of affairs before the historic Fall that Nasr alludes to (Adam disobeying and eating the forbidden fruit), following points can be derived.
- Adam and Eve were a Creation of God (conclusion from 3 above)
- Adam and Eve were separate from God (conclusion from 2 above)
- Evil existed (in the heaven) before the Fall (conclusion from 5 & 6 above)
Thus, Evil could not have ORIGINATED at FALL because it already existed since Adam and Heaven were a creation, separated in privation. As one can easily see that this line of argument makes “the origin of Evil at Fall” or “Fall being somehow responsible for Evil” non-sequitur and makes the whole line of argument internally inconsistent.
Impossibility of Existence of a Heaven Free of Evil:
Considering the eschatological affairs, in at least Semitic religions, after The Final Judgment, good human beings are supposed to be in a place known as Heaven, which by definition has no Evil. Considering the explanation provided to us by Prof. Nasr, following point can be said about this Heaven-to-Be.
- Haven would be a creation of God (conclusion from 1 above)
- Heaven would be separate from God (conclusion from 2 above)
- Pious people living in Haven would be a creation of God (conclusion from 3 above)
- There will be Evil in Haven (conclusion from 4, 5 & 6 above)
Here again, Nasr’s explanation makes the possibility of the existence of Heaven illogical or at least totally at odds with Islamic belief of a Heaven free of evil.