I am sure this question must have come in your mind atleast once in your lifetime. It really is a very thought provoking question which tends to test our understanding of religion quite significantly. The recent earthquake that hit Japan might have brought this question back into people's minds. Its questions like these that often come in an atheist's head, and if not answered, can lead him or her even further from the true reality of the universe; the existense of the Most Merciful, the Most Compassionate, the One and Only God, Allah.
But Alhumdulillah, such questions have been pondered upon by scholars of the past. This precise question had been answered over 900 years ago in a very beautiful and logical manner by a great Islamic Scholar and Sufi, Abu Hamid al-Ghazali, in a book containing his commentary and explanation of the 99 Names of God.
Below is an excerpt from the chapter in which he explains the true essence of two of Allah's names; Ar-Rahman Ar-Rahim (the Most Merciful and Compassionate One).
A Question and Its Answer:
Perhaps you ask, "What is the meaning of God Most High being a compassionate one and His being the most merciful of all those who have mercy? No compassionate person who is able to remove disabilities can tolerate the sight of the afflicted, the one who suffers hardships and torments and the physically ill without using his power to deliver them from their disabilities. The Lord Most High possesses the ability of dealing with every affliction, staving off all poverty, relieving every illness and removing every hardship. The world overflows with illnesses, severe trials and tribulations. He is capable of removing all of them. Nevertheless, He leaves without help those of His creatures who are afflicted with calamities and sufferings."
Your answer is that the mother of the little child may feel tenderness for her child and protect him from the cupping (It is therapy used for purifying blood), whereas the wise father forced him to it. The ignorant person thinks that the mother is the compassionate one and not the father. But the wise person knows that the father's infliction of pain upon the child by means of the cupping belonged to the perfection of his mercy, sympathy and compassion, whereas the mother actually was the enemy disguised as a friend. He also realizes that a little pain is a blessing rather than an evil when it ultimately serves as the cause of great joy.
Ar-Rahim most certainly intends nothing but good for the object of mercy. All existing evil has some good in it. If that evil is removed, surely the good inherent within it will become ineffectual. Subsequently by means of the nullity of the evil itself, an even greater evil results. Since this is the case, even though the amputation of the leprous hand appears to be an evil, inherent in this act is ample good, namely, the well-being of the total body. Furthermore, if the amputation of the hand is omitted, the destruction of the entire body would ensue, and then (certainly) the (ultimate) evil would be greater. The amputation of the hand for the sake of the soundness of the entire body is an evil within which there is good. The primary intention behind the consideration of amputation is the well-being of the as such, and certainly this is genuine good.
Moreover, when a sound body cannot exist except by amputating the hand, then the way to health is the amputation. The soundness of the body is desired for its own sake, in the first place, whereas the amputation is desired for the sake of something else, in the second place, not for its own sake. Therefore, both are comprised in the volition. But the one is willed for its own sake and the other for the sake of something else. Undoubtedly that which is willed for its own sake has precedence to that which is willed for something else. For this reason God Most High says, "My mercy precedes My anger." His anger is His will to do evil, and the evil comes into existence by means of His will. His mercy is His will to do good, and the good comes into existence by means of His will. However, He wills good for the good itself, whereas He wills evil not for itself but rather for the good that is within it. Good is determined essentially , but evil is required accidentally. Both of them are predetermined, and there is nothing at all in that which is contrary to mercy.
Now if some kind of evil occurs to you in which you see no possible good, or if it occurs to you that the attainment of a good which contains no evil is possible, then be sure you suspect your mind of being inadequate in respect of one of these two notions.
The first is your view that this evil has no good within it. Surely this must be a part of that which the mind simply cannot understand. In this respect perhaps you are like the boy who considered cupping a pure evil, or the stupid man who considered killing in retaliation a pure evil. (The man) primarily considered the person killed, for whom, of course, the act was pure evil. However, he overlooked the general good accruing to the community as such resulting from the act. Such a person does not understand that the achievement of a general good by means of a specific evil is, in fact, a pure blessing. This (truth) the good (man) ought not disregard.
The second notion (to be held suspect) is your view that the attainment of good is possible without being involved with evil. Surely this (truth) also is subtle and obscure. The possibility and impossibility of everything possible and impossible cannot be apprehended by intuition and superficial examination. On the contrary, this can often be known only by deep, subtle thought of which the majority of men are incapable. This being the case, let your mind be suspect in respect of these two extremes and do not doubt that God is the most Merciful one of those who are merciful. His mercy always precedes His anger. Have no doubt at all that the one who wills evil for evil's sake, rather than for good, does not deserve the name "merciful". He is incapable of removing the veil that covers this secret, an uncovering which in his case is made impossible by evil. You must be content with faith. Do not covet the uncovering. You have been shown by a symbol and on allusion if you are one of his people worthy of it.
Consider this bit of poetry: "If the person you have been addressing were alive, you would have made him hear. But the one whom you have called is not alive." Certainly this is the condition of the majority of the people. But as for you, O brother, for whom this explanation is intended, I believe you are one of those trying to perceive and understand the secret action of God in respect of your destiny and therefore one who can dispense with these revolving thoughts and admonitions.
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