Why Does Allah Allow Sickness?
It was narrated from Abu Sa’eed al-Khudri and Abu Hurayrah that the Prophet (pbuh) said: “No tiredness, exhaustion, worry, grief, distress or harm befalls a believer in this world, not even a thorn that pricks him, but Allah expiates some of his sins thereby.” (Bukhari, 5318 and Muslim, 2573)
Dr. Mahmud Es'ad Cosan says, "Sickness wakes people up from heedlessness, guides them to give up their sins, makes them think about the Hereafter, leads them to pious foundations; makes them more thankful to Allah, and teaches them the necessity of taking better care of their health and making better use of their life - something they didn't realise before - teaches them to understand other sick and pained people better, to feel sorry for them and to help them; and raises their ranks and degrees higher in the Hereafter."[i]
"Certainly, We shall test you with fear, hunger, loss of wealth, lives and fruits; but give glad tidings to the patient - those who, when afflicted with calamity say, "Truly to Allah we belong, and truly to Him shall we return." it is those who will be awarded blessings and mercy from their Lord; and it is those who are the guided ones." (Qur’an 2:155-157)
There are things which, if the one who is stricken with calamity thinks about them, that will make the calamity easier for him to bear.
In the book Zaad al-Ma’aad (4/189-195), Ibn al-Qayyim explained the following:
1 – If he looks at what has befallen him, he will find that what his Lord has left for him is similar to it or better than it, and if he is patient and accepts it, He has stored up for him something that is many times greater than what he has lost through this calamity, and if He willed He could have made the calamity even greater.
2 – The fire of calamity can be extinguished by thinking of those who have been hit even harder. Let him look to his right, does he see anything but calamity? Then let him look to his left, does he see anything but loss? If he were to look at the people around him, he would not see anything but people who are tested, either by missing out on something that they like, or by having happen to them that which they dislike. The pains of this world are like dreams or like a passing shadow. If you laugh a little you will weep a lot, and if you are happy for a day you will be miserable for a lifetime, and if you have what you want for a little while, you will be deprived for a long time. There is no day of happiness but it is followed by a day of pain. Ibn Mas’ood (may Allah be pleased with him) said: For every moment of joy there is a moment of sorrow, and no house is filled with joy but it will be filled with sorrow. And Ibn Sireen said: There is never any laughter but there comes weeping after it.
3 – It should be noted that panicking will not make the calamity go away, and in fact it makes it worse.
4 – It should be noted that missing out on the reward for patience and surrender, which is mercy and guidance that Allah has granted as the reward for patience and turning to Him (by saying Inna Lillaahi wa inna ilayhi raaji’oon (Verily to Allah we belong and unto Him is our return)), is worse than the calamity itself.
5 – It should be noted that panicking makes one’s enemy rejoice and makes one’s friend feel sad; it makes Allah angry and makes the shaytaan happy; it destroys reward and weakens resolve. If he is patient, seeks reward, strives to please Allah, to make his friend happy and to make his enemy sad, and seeks to relieve his brothers of their burdens and to console them before they console him, this is steadfastness and a sign of perfection – not slapping one's cheeks, rending one's garment, wishing for death and being discontent with the divine decree.
6 – It should be noted that what comes after being patient and seeking reward is pleasure and joy that is many times greater than what he could have got from keeping what he lost. Sufficient for him is the “house of praise” that will be built for him in Paradise as a reward for his praising his Lord and turning to Him (by saying Inna Lillaahi wa inna ilayhi raaji’oon (Verily to Allah we belong and unto Him is our return)). So let him decide which of the two calamities is greater: a calamity in this world, or the calamity of missing out on the house of praise in eternal Paradise. In al-Tirmidhi it is narrated in a marfoo’ report: “On the Day of Resurrection people will wish that their skins had been cut with scissors in this world, when they see the reward of those who were struck with calamity.” One of the salaf said: Were it not for the calamities of this world, we would come empty-handed on the Day of Resurrection.
7 – It should be noted that the One Who is testing him is the Most Wise and the Most Merciful, and that He – may He be glorified – did not send this calamity in order to destroy him or cause him pain or finish him off, rather He is checking on him, testing his patience, acceptance and faith; it is so that He may hear his du’aa’ and supplication, so that He may see him standing before Him, seeking protection, filled with humility and complaining to Him.
8 – It should be noted that were it not for the trials and tribulations of this world, a person could develop arrogance, self-admiration, a pharaonic attitude and hardheartedness which would lead to his doom in this world and in the Hereafter. It is a sign of the mercy of the Most Merciful that He checks on him from time to time with the remedy of calamity so as to protect him from these diseases, to keep his submission and servitude sound, and to eliminate all bad elements that may lead to his doom. Glory be to the One Who shows mercy by means of testing, and tests by means of blessing, as it is said:
Allah may bless us with calamities even if that is hard, and Allah may test some people with blessings.
9 – It should be noted that the bitterness of this world is the essence of sweetness in the Hereafter, as Allah will turn the former into the latter. Similarly the sweetness of this world is the essence of bitterness in the Hereafter. It is better to move from temporary bitterness to eternal sweetness than the other way round. If this is still not clear to you, then think of what the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: “Paradise is surrounded with difficulties, and Hell is surrounded with desires.”[ii]
When a person responds well to calamity, they understand that it is a blessing and a gift, not a test. Shaykh al-Islam [Ibn Taymiyah] (may Allah have mercy on him) said: A calamity that makes you turn to Allah is better for you than a blessing which makes you forget the remembrance of Allah.”
Sufyaan said: What a person dislikes may be better for him than what he likes, because what he dislikes causes him to call upon Allah, whereas what he likes may make him heedless.[iii]
Is Sickness a Punishment or Test?
Sicknesses are blessing in disguise, and a test. It doesn’t imply that the person afflicted is being punished.
Allah says: “Do you expect to enter Paradise without being tested, like those before you [were]?” (Qur’an 2:214)
Allah also says: “And We will most certainly test you until we know which amongst you are those who strive and those who are patient, and so We can bring out your true qualities [whether obedient or sinful, etc].” (Qur’an 47:31)
Tests will eventually pass, so the sooner you can accept the sickness as a trial, and don’t fall into despair and fear, the easier it will be. Just humble yourself and count your blessings.
As long as you keep a positive outlook and respond to sickness with humbles and not anger, and resentment, all will be good for you. Give thanks to Allah in the good times, and the bad. By being patient with Allah’s decree, sickness can be a cause for earning good rewards from Allah.
“We have tried them with both prosperity and adversity: in order that they might turn (to Us).” (Qur’an 7:168)
“‘Verily with every difficult situation there is a relief.” (Qur’an 94:6)
“Verily, God is with those who are patient in hardship.” (Qur’an 8:46)
Treat Sickness with Charity and Dua’
Narrated Abdullah bin Masoud that the Prophet (pbuh) said: "Treat your sick with sadaqa and protect your money with zakat, and prepare for the hard days with dua’." [Al-Bayhaqi in Kubra 3/382]