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Is Free Will to Blame for Human Suffering?

Lessons From Surah Yūsuf

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5Part 6

‘’And so, when they took him away and decided to throw him into the bottom of the well, We inspired him: You will remind them of this deed of theirs while they are unaware.”[1]

This is a violent scene where the brothers of Yūsuf عليه السلام are forcefully putting him down a well.

He is young and outnumbered, and not strong enough to stop them from fulfilling their plot against him.

It reminds me of something I heard when I was a lot younger. There was a lady who had newly embraced Islam. I recall her saying to my mum and some other ladies around her that she understood and accepted Islam. However, she still had one question:

“When I was young I was abused…why did Allah allow that to happen to me when I was young and I couldn’t stop it?”

I remember the ladies saying things about having abr and that Allah is going to reward her, but I was not content with this answer. I started thinking to myself, “Allah often describes that He can do anything: He is the strongest and He is the All Just. Then why did He not stop a young child from being hurt?” It was not just for a young child to be hurt by someone they did not have the strength to fight or resist.

Today I understand things a little better.

The world is not a place where things are equal.

It may be the case that in a small town in Africa there is a young man who is the fastest runner in the whole world. But no one will ever know of his talent because he will never have enough money or the opportunity to leave his country.

There may be an extremely intelligent girl born with physical deformities. Because of her physical attributes, she will be bullied and made to feel worthless throughout her whole life. Due to her suffering, she will not be able to make people understand even a fraction of what is truly in her mind.

On this very day, there may be a mother and father who will lose all three of their children in a car crash. Life is not equal for all people, and opportunities and rizq are not equal. But the one thing that is equal is everyone’s opportunity to please their Lord and get to Jannah.

That is equal.

”He is the One Who has placed you as successors on earth and elevated some of you in rank over others, so He may test you with what He has given you. Surely your Lord is swift in punishment, but He is certainly All-Forgiving, Most Merciful.”[2]

Allah clearly states in the Qur’an that He has made us of different ranks. This is not because He likes some individuals more than others, but rather He uses this variation as a test to see what we will do with what we have. Wealth was not made so we may hoard it for ourselves. Allah has given us good health so we may use it in a way that will make Him happy. It is important to note here that just looking after ourselves is not where our aims should be. Instead, we should strive to become valuable assets to our families and communities.

The Prophet ﷺ said, “The most beloved people to Allah are those who are most beneficial to people.”[3]

Free Will

Allah has placed us on this Earth to recognise Him. Despite our vastly different circumstances, for this time on the Earth He has given each one of us free will.

Even though Allah is all aware, WE are the ones who bear full responsibility for our actions and whether we choose to use them for good or evil purposes.

There will be some, who, like the brothers of Yūsuf, will use their strength and their authority to harm others.

Because of such people, human suffering will and does exist on this Earth. This suffering and oppression may be found behind the iron gates of prison cells, or open air bombs.

But Allah is not to blame.

In every situation where someone is oppressed, Allah is ever watchful. Not a thing escapes His notice from what people do on this Earth. And if you, dear reader, have ever been or are being abused, remember this fact.

One day (maybe not in this lifetime), there is no doubt that you will get the chance to face up to your oppressors.

Life on this Earth will not always be easy, but know that Allah has your back even in the worst of circumstances. Know that Allah will serve justice for every wrong that has ever been committed, on a day when this whole lifetime will seem so insignificant.

That day, when we see the rewards for our patience and reliance on Allah in such tough circumstances, we will say that we would not mind to go through it all again for such rewards.

I understand that it may seem far away sometimes, but you must believe in it without having any doubts. Such firm belief and resolve will help you get through those dark days, and will keep the light inside you alive. Never give up, and never lose hope.

Allah says in the Qur’an:

“The patient will be given a reward without measure.”[4]

The Fate of Oppressors

It is also very important to remember that we may also fall into the role of being an oppressor if we let our guard down. What is backbiting and slandering except oppression? What about breaking oaths, or revealing the secrets of others? Violence is definitely not the only kind of oppression.

On the Day of Judgment, those who have wronged others will have to pay their victims back with their good deeds. And when those good deeds finish, they will then have to take the sins of others in recompense.

We cannot and should not justify our own bad behaviour, even if others around us wrong us as well.

The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said:

“Fulfil the trust for the one who entrusted you, and do not cheat the one who cheated you.”[5]

And it would do us well to not have much expectations from the people around us. We are created as humans, and humans do often err. You cannot change the people around you; you can only change yourself.

The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said, “Verily, people are like camels. From one hundred you will hardly find one suitable to ride.”[6]

Do not concentrate all your efforts in the world looking for those who are like the good camels.

You be the change.

Source: www.islam21c.com


[1] Al-Qur’an, 12:15

[2] Al-Qur’an, 6:165

[3] Al-Muʿjam al-Awsaṭ

[4] Al-Qur’an, 39:10

[5] Jāmiʿ al-Tirmidhī

[6] Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, 6133

About Najma Juneja

Najma is an NLP life coach interested in finding links between human psychology and Islam. She has a Masters in Pharmacy from London, has been living in Makkah for over 10 years, and completed the Mahad course at Umm Al Qura University. She enjoys journaling and being in nature.


  1. Julie Amal Rashid

    Maa’sha’Allah I’m enjoying your articles sister, JazakAllahKhair

    We need to train ourselves to see the big picture, the long haul. Short term Allah Ta’ala tests us, the long picture tells the truth, what we may perceive as a test maybe a blessing long term. We may gain a higher place in Jannah, who knows what blessings await for a sister who endured what you mentioned. Nothing is lost on Allah Ta’ala.

    In this life, we have the abuser hiding their abuse, hypocrisy, lies, violence, the injustice seems never ending. But there is always a bigger picture, Allah Ta’ala is with the weak, with the oppressed, with the sick and with those who strive. Allah Ta’ala never promised an easy life, but He did promise after hardship comes ease.

    “How many of the prophets fought (in Allah’s way), and with them (fought) large bands of [religious] men? But they never lost heart if they met with disaster in Allah’s way, nor did they weaken (in will) nor give in. And Allah Loves those who are firm and steadfast” (Quran, 3:146)

  2. Lamin Kanuteh

    Assalamualaikum warahmatullah sister Najma, May Allah protect and preserve you and your family and grant us all the best in both worlds, ur articles are just inexplicable. Please keep on opening our eyes.

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