Answered by Sidi Abdullah Anik Misra
Question: Does Allah take pity on a disbeliever if they are in pain and are suffering? does he feel any sort of pity or mercy towards them even though they are kafirs?
Answer: As salamu ‘alaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh,
Thank you for your question. Allah Most High has shown immense, immeasurable mercy to all of His creation – believing and non-believing- in countless ways, and continues to do so at every moment.
Suffering creatures – and even those who are disbelievers – are being shown divine mercy, but our lack of perfect wisdom does not always allow us to see the mercy in a given situation, because as humans our first instinct might be that suffering should not exist, or that it is evil. This is an erroneous assumption, rather it exists for a divine purpose.
The Reality of Allah’s Mercy is Vast and Incomprehensible
Allah’s mercy encompasses everything in this world, as He says in the Qur’an:
“… My Mercy has encompassed all things.” [al-Quran 7:156]
“Our Lord! You have encompassed everything by [Your] Mercy and [Your] Knowledge…” [al-Quran, 40:7]
Imam al-Alusi, in commenting on the first verse, mentions that the nature of the Divine Mercy is that it “is vast, it reaches all things… there isn’t any Muslim nor disbeliever, nor obedient or disobedient who is not being constantly overturned in this world by [His] generous bounty.” [Ruh al-Ma’ani, al-Alusi]
How are the disbelievers being shown mercy?
The simple fact that a being in this world, even a disbeliever, was created is a mercy from Allah, because it is a chance at existence and life, and existence is better than having never existed at all. Then, Allah nurtured and fed and sustained that disbeliever- despite the fact that the disbeliever may be unaware or in denial of His existence and generosity. Is this not mercy?
Allah also grants disbelievers health, wealth, happiness, family and most worldly pleasures on an equal basis with those who believe in and obey Him.
Disbelievers are also given rights and accorded human dignity in Islam, which is a mercy from Allah. They are only held accountable for their actions and for their beliefs if the truth reached them in a clear way and they were able to recognize it. This is also a mercy from Allah to the disbelievers.
Finally, after all the countless mercies that we can never fully realize, simply being given the opportunity to know, accept and love Allah- is that not a great mercy from Allah? It only remains that they acknowledge this mercy when it becomes clear to them, and show gratitude for it by submitting to their Creator’s commands. This merciful chance remains as long as they remain in this world.
The Divine Wisdom Behind Suffering
Many times, we do not understand the Divine Wisdom behind suffering in this world, and hence, we rush to the judgment that it should not take place, or that Allah is obliged to remove it. People are even led to atheistic thoughts when they erroneously ask themselves how Allah could allow such a thing to occur.
In Islam, the question of suffering in this world, called theodicy, is easily answered when two things are put into proper context: 1) that there is an All-Wise Creator who has created us all that we might worship Him, and 2) that we return to Him for an eternal life after this temporary worldly life, the nature of which will be determined by the choices we make in our lifetimes.
For Muslims in this world, every good they do, they are rewarded for, and every difficulty or calamity that they bear patiently with, some of their sins are wiped out or they are given reward for. Their entering Paradise however, is not by their deeds or rewards, but through Allah Most High’s mercy upon His believing servants.
For those who knowingly reject the Creator and the truth, there is suffering also, but they are not rewarded for bearing through it, rather, it is a calling for them to reflect further on reality.
Suffering could make them realize the bounty of health and life, or recognize their dependency, or cry out for help to Allah when all worldly avenues have been exhausted, or cause them to reflect on the greater purpose of life, or cause them to be cured and become grateful- all of these reflections can direct one to Allah.
Hence, sometimes a person may be so wrapped up in their worldly pursuits and pleasures that it takes some suffering to make them refocus and realize who their Lord is.
If they become guided then, they would thank Allah for the temporary suffering that led them to the truth, as it is negligible in comparison with everlasting peace and joy. Hence, they would see that their suffering was actually a mercy for them, while their remaining unmoved and in pleasures was a punishment. [for further reading see “Wisdom and Divine Suffering”, Shaykh Nuh Keller]
Perhaps a certain disbeliever is meant to suffer, only so that a Muslim can pass by and lovingly help them, so that they see the beauty of Islam and embrace it.
What we are sure of is that we can never fully comprehend Allah’s wisdom and mercy behind suffering. However, that does not mean we shouldn’t work to alleviate the suffering of all creation- believers, disbelievers, and even animals and the environment.
Doing so would be to follow the teachings and example of our Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) who was sent as a “Mercy to the All the Worlds”. Perhaps if we truly imbibed this teaching of helping those who are suffering, we would then become instruments of Allah’s mercy to all those who don’t yet know Him. And Allah knows best.
Abdullah Anik Misra
Checked & Approved by Faraz Rabbani