The Good and the Evil

We have seen many explanations being proposed from Friday pulpits to streets to Majlis-e- Toubas(gathering for repentance). We have seen sharply divergent views. Victims and those who have been spared may not share explanations. Ibn Arabi, the Shaykh-i-Akbar, provides one of the most profound analysis of the issue of evil. He is the most consistent metaphysician in Islam who has dealt with the issue of evil vis-à-vis God. For him, at the risk of oversimplification, there is:

  • No such thing as evil; what we call evil is only evil from our perspective, the perspective of a finite desiring interested self. What is evil to a cat is not so for a dog and in turn what is evil to a dog will be good to dog’s predator. What is good for a patient may not be so for a doctor. What was loss to shopkeepers became a gain for those who afford only Sunday market. While some lost jobs, masons, carpenters and all kinds of unskilled labourers got jobs after the flood. So whose good and whose evil?
  • Divine Will overrides good/evil binary. The revealed law designates as evil something which is nevertheless approved by the more primordial Divine Will. This explains how criminals, thieves, dacoits etc. are “tolerated” in the world where God is the ultimate power who controls the movement of the hearts and authors all actions.
  • Everything is perfect when looked from the viewpoint of Absolute. This is a statement that only those who have arrived at the other shore, attained baqa and see with God’s eyes can make. For those still living in the dominion of duality (duginyaar), who are yet to realize the secret of unity or Tawhid, it appears scandalous. Those who can see at existence aesthetically, those who retain freshness of childhood, who can see the world as play or Leila of God, who can decipher the interplay of Divine names in every event, who have been vouchsafed the direct vision of reality, of mystical ecstasy or cosmic vision this is true. We might recall Father Zossima of Dostovesky who exclaims that this very garden is the Garden of Eden, that all things are holy and perfect. For those who are capable of unconditional love, there is nothing but God or Reality or play of lover and beloved in every storm, in every event. God the perfect can’t create imperfection. Imperfection appears to us, committed as we are to self-centric view, seeking joys and comforts only. Everything, every creature is under the tuition and influence of divine decree. God is monitoring everything. Nothing is outside His control. Everything is perfect at every moment.
  • Everything happens in accordance with archetypal constitution or possibilities. God doesn’t determine or influence archetypal possibilities. His goodness can’t be affected by evil in the creation which is acquired by the things/individuals as per there nature.
  • As nothing is outside God or Reality (as God is Reality) so nothing is against His will or His control. The realization of God/ Truth implies the realization of perfection of everything. Time, history, becoming, progress, struggle and thus evil all lose their traditional importance in the absolutist perspective. The world is the play of God rather than something that involves real tragedy. Tragedy is unknown to Eastern/mystical sensibility. There is no waste, no loss, no suffering, no evil in the real sense. Problems arise when categorical conceptual view is imposed on reality that transcends all binaries though it manifests to mind or thought in terms of binaries. All questions that mind asks, that essentially dualistic thought asks, are wrong questions. This is what Zen or Sufism so forcefully argue. We as questioning selves are not. Only God is. We aren’t outside God though we believe otherwise as long as we identify with the separating principle of ego. In the Infinite there are no boundaries, no categories that delimit, no concepts that encompass. We need to scrutinize our right to ask questions. Religions demand the submission or transcendence of the kingdom of the self that seeks justifications, that evaluates, that imposes its categories on what transcends it. A believer has no questions because he has risen above the level of the mind where questions arise. Islam as a religion of submission demands that man is nothing outside God or apart from God.
  • Mystery or wonder is what the traveler on the path to Reality discovers at the last station. There is no explaining away of mystery of Existence. Rational faculty that demands somehow subsuming the mystery at the heart of everything is to be transcended. Religious attitude is to revere the mysterious ground of existence as sacred. There is no reason for anything. God is Mystery, al- gayyib in the Quranic phrase. Love and contemplation of wonder and mystery are what religion demands. Love doesn’t ask questions. It celebrates. Everything is from the beloved alone as God (the Beloved) has no associates. All divinities other than Allah are fictions. Whatever comes from the Beloved for a lover is enjoyed and welcomed with gratitude. Reason fails to solve the mystery of existence. There is no answer to the question why is there anything and not nothing. Hafiz has famously advocated the attitude of gay abandon and celebration in contrast top the rationalist’s or logician’s approach to the riddle of existence. Men have wrongly imagined that they have untied the knot of existence, the question of why of existence.

God is the Totality and nothing is outside Him so all fragmentary views (which human views are characteristically) can’t  make sense of him or His doings. If man knew all the karmic causes he would be immediately outside the samsaric trappings and thus one with the Unborn, the Unconditioned. In fact there is no karma for the jnani, the one who truly knows. Our true self is outside all the karmic determinations; it is uncorrupted by evil. It is beyond all determinations, all binaries including the binary of good and evil. Socrates who is an exemplary philosopher and sage knew he knew nothing and that is why he was the wisest man. The Highest Good isn’t rationally knowable. One has to be it. All quests end in wonder. In the last analysis man knows nothing. From the structure of matter to the constitution of spirit nothing is ultimately known. All human knowledge is progressive unveiling of the ultimate impenetrability of the veil that disguises Reality.