Are disease and death punishments from God?

Published: June 11, 2011

It’s not limited to Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI) but also extends to cancer, blindness, leprosy and even Diabetes.

A common idea prevalent in Pakistan is that disease and death, especially if they are severe, debilitating and disfiguring, have to be punishments from God, for acts done in the past.

The fact that this idea is common among those who do not have knowledge of the sciences is not surprising, since they have grown up with superstitions. However, hearing the same rant from a medical student or a science student is not only disturbing but also depressing, since a medical student knows that most illnesses have known causes.

These perceptions are more common when diseases that are sexually transmitted are involved, for example HIV. You will see an image of late stage AIDS patient (or a disfiguring picture of genitals) labelled as “punishment” for adultery or homosexuality or  a punishment of going against, dare I say, God’s order.

All this without acknowledging that a faithful monogamous straight man can also get sexually transmitted HIV from his wife who might have caught the disease through an infected syringe.

How can this be explained as punishment?

It’s not limited to Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI) but also extends to cancer, blindness, leprosy and even, as my teacher suggested: Diabetes!

As a medical student, it was hard for me to stop myself from breaking down when an Islamic Studies teacher in our school said:

“If someone has diabetes and is deprived of such a big blessing of Allah, that is sugar, it’s a punishment. He must have done something wrong in the past; he must have committed a sin somewhere.”

And, to my surprise, my friends in class nodded, agreeing with his opinion!

Sin, a violation of law of God or moral law, can have diverse meanings, but it’s very hard to neglect genetic factors, environmental factors, dietary habits and lifestyle choices when determining causes of Diabetes. And more annoyingly, thinking that a frail old man (he can be your father) got Diabetes because he committed a sin in the past, is plain offensive.

Needless to say, one encounters many healthy people, who at the same time are cunning, deceitful, rude, immoral, womanisers, and corrupt. On the other hand many pious people, despite being full of faith, end up in seriously debilitating and painful conditions like cancer, multiple sclerosis and stroke.

Not surprisingly, ‘the disease-punishment nexus’ makes rounds for people who are detested or are thought to be irreligious or immoral. Take the example of the tsunami in Bali which was blamed on the presence of nightclubs there, or the earthquake in Pakistan alleged to be due to prostitutes and popularity of music, or the massive earthquake and the subsequent nuclear meltdown in Japan which apparently occurred due to the majority atheist population living in that country.

But guess what, ‘the disease-punishment nexus’ does not work the same way if it involves their favourite people. An example I can think of is Ahmad Deedat. The famous preacher suffered from stroke that left him paralysed, unable to speak or swallow for nine years, till he passed away. A friend commented:

“He was such a brave man, in last nine years, God gave him courage to fight against the disease, noorani chehra tha un ka

Had Mr Deedat been a non-believer preaching some other religion, I am sure the expressions would have been completely different.

So what’s wrong in a society that relates diseases and death with past life of the person involved?

I guess there is nothing wrong with living a lie, but it also leads to a society of sociopaths, comforting themselves with a delusional sense of pride over their social competitor’s disease or demise – a society that falsely accuses a person suffering from ‘disease/illness’ of immorality or of having lived a sinful life.

My point is that for societies to progress, at least medical students should not fall for this delusion for God’s sake!

“I am the punishment of God. If you had not committed great sins, God would not have sent a punishment like me upon you.” – Genghis Khan

Fahad Jabbar Laghari

Fahad Jabbar Laghari

A medical student at Isra University.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Ihk

    We get inflicted by illness obviously due to a medical reason but even the reason is Allah’s will. We may not deserve the infliction but should still be grateful to Allah and pray for forgiveness at all times.
    But ofcourse all of this is justified only and ONLY if you believe and have faith in Allah.Recommend

  • Phatty

    I completely agree with you, even though I’m no medical student :D
    But see, if we do look at it through a religious perspective, then no one thinks about the illness or a certain condition being just a mere test by Allah. Like all the other tests in life.
    And no matter how good you have been in the whole of your life, if you’re suffering from a certain illness then that doesnt necessarily mean it’s a punishment, maybe it’s just another test from Allah to judge your faith and your submission to Him. Recommend

  • Fooz

    lol..this is so true in our society, when they don’t have the knowledge to explain the cause of ill health and such..let’s just blame their lack of faith in God and their lifestyle.. Recommend

  • Dodo

    So if Allah is all knowing, all powerful, the creator of the universe etc. He already knows the result of that “test.” But does He just like to torment his beings for a shot of pleasure? Just to see whether the poor fellow bows down and kiss the all powerful’s feet? Hmmm that doesn’t sound much like a loving god to me…Recommend

  • http://mysticsmuses.wordpress.com Le Mystique

    Very good topic and I absolutely agree with your arguments. We as a nation must stop judging others and jumping to conclusions.Recommend

  • Ayesha Khan

    Agreed with your points. It is not necessary that diseases are given by Allah. But you must have read that Allah do gives us punishments in any shape. He tests our endurance and tolerance in any shape. He tests our patience in form of parents, fortune, career, physical condition and kids. All we have to do is to be patient in all state of affairs. Our fate is never accountable for any calamity. We, ourselves are responsible.Recommend

  • http://na deep

    this fatalism is rife in our collective culture. And it needs to be fought with vigour through strong rebuttals at all times – even if the person talking is your grandmother – such wisdom like Ahmed Deedat’s many gems are best left unsaid. Recommend

  • http://bit.ly/mk2D8K Judith Delgado

    Cancer is one of the most terrible diseases affecting millions of people around the world. Cancer is generally defined as abnormal and uncontrolled development of cells causing fatal and irreversible damage in our body. A healthy diet can prevent the development of this disease.

    Cancer in our body cells continue shattering it and grow out of control or impediment and rival normal cells. Cancerigenos agents are spreading in other portions of the body, to play, and causing destruction.

    When our body recognizes cancerigena cells and destroys them, but if this virtue of self knowledge is lost, our body is unable to distinguish the cancer cells healthy cells, that is why cancer is progressing. Recommend

  • ilyas abasi

    Mythology rule once education gone !!Recommend

  • Lahori

    This is by far one of the best posts on this website,,,,,Thanks for this !!Recommend

  • Phatty

    @Dodo:
    Don’t hate, man :/
    It’s about beliefs. If you don’t share the same ideology, don’t go hating.Recommend

  • parvez

    Nice topic and you have made your point very well. Recommend

  • Phatty

    @Hassan Raza:
    I may not be the best of Muslims, but I do believe that Islam is a proper guidance to life. I confess, that I don’t always follow Islam the way it’s meant to be but that is probably why I, talking about myself here, include religion in everything.
    And honestly, if everyone followed religion the proper way, not talking about any extremism here or anything, but the proper way, which means..a guidance to humanity for humanity, then things will really be pretty :D
    Just saying :$Recommend

  • Dodo

    @Phatty:
    No Phatty I ain’t hatin’ just posing a thought provoking question that’s all.Recommend

  • sundar

    Good points. I am not exactly a very God fearing person. I have lot of questions about God and not ready to accept Him just because somebody or some book says so. Linking disease or natural calamity and punishment from God exist in all over the world including west but I feel more pronounced among Muslims. Connection between God and earth quake or tsunami doesn’t make sense to me. Generally as society matures and people more educated with rise in standard of living, the linking may fade. Recommend

  • Point of view

    Great post. Finally something thought provoking and worthy of reading. Keep writing Fahad :)Recommend

  • http://bakedsunshine.wordpress.com/ Shumaila

    This is such a sensible post, and you really have put across your point well.

    I think its the responsibility of the doctor at a time like this to explain that there are many many reasons why a disease happens and transgression is not usually one of them. You need to explain that blaming themselves and seeking useless causes from their past is not going to help, instead to focus on the future and how to treat their ailment and better themselves.Recommend

  • parvez

    Nice article.
    Playing with peoples emotions and influencing the simple minded for selfish reasons goes way back. Its wrong but difficult to stop.Recommend

  • Noble Tufail

    A great post Fahad. Truth always sets the mankind free. anything evidenceless should be discarded no matter how precious!!! Recommend

  • Phatty

    @Dodo:
    Well, all the claims I put forward, you’re gonna be labeling them as “blind faith”. So, no use arguing over it, because you won’t convince me and I won’t be able to convince you either.

    Apart from that, I just think, for people to step out of this thinking, they need to be educated. If they know nothing about the origin of the disease then they’ll always keep thinking Allah has punished them.Recommend

  • http://lonepkliberal.wordpress.com Loneliberal PK

    @Phatty:

    There is no “proper” way. What you consider proper would be considered downright heathenish by another Muslim. When it comes to religious beliefs, there’s little consensus.Recommend

  • http://lonepkliberal.wordpress.com Loneliberal PK

    *AIDS, not homosexualityRecommend

  • Phatty

    @Loneliberal PK:
    Hm, yeah, I do partly agree with you on that, but that is exactly why I further stated that it should be for the whole of humanity. Excluding all extremist/one-sided ideologies.Recommend

  • Dr. Amyn Malik

    A very nice article indeed. Good work Fahad!Recommend

  • Deen Sheikh

    A lot of us Pakistani Muslims especially from the Sunni school of thought are conditioned to be Xenophobic and we are taught that when it comes to matters of Islam, any form of Xenophobia is acceptable. This is creating also at the same time, a false belief and sense of cultural, social and moral superiority, which in reality may or may not be there. Members from other religious communities or minority sects are not the only one’s given this label, non religious Pakistani’s bear a huge brunt of backlash for not being religious also. Recommend

  • Columbus

    weak in faith (may be of any religion) surely will say its there because of disobedience and sins..Recommend

  • meena gabeena

    Thats how uneducated is our society… when ppl die in earthquakes they say its azaaab on those innocent people…God’s azaaab is only on 1 builsing in islamabad as the rest of the buildings have angles living in them right? illogical reasoning from unfortunately most of the people we meet. thank you for sharing this article..might create some awareness among people but blind folded will stay blind folded no matter how many logical argument u have with them. Recommend

  • http://lonepkliberal.wordpress.com Loneliberal PK

    @Phatty:
    In that case, why can’t we just skip the religious complexities altogether and head straight for science? And where ethical dilemmas arise, use one’s own conscience to determine what needs to be done?

    Wouldn’t that be better for humanity?Recommend

  • Phatty

    @Loneliberal PK:
    I think religion is anything but complex. It’s either belief or it’s not, it’s either do or don’t.
    These complexities you talk about are created by humans themselves.
    Also, religion doesn’t contradict science. Whatever science is discovering today, Quran has stated ages ago. But here’s something, the Quran and Ahadith insist upon using ones conscience when needed AND when neither of these two seem to have the answer to your problem (ijma and qiyas). Does science do that?
    And just another addition, no religion in this world is bent on violence or extremism. Especially not the ones deriving from the same branch i.e. Islam, Christianity, Judaism.
    It’s the misinterpretation of the humans that have led to these complications.
    And how can one possibly think that something made for humans will harm humanity?
    Only if that something has been edited by those humans. Not just talking about the Bible or Torah here, but also the misinterpretation of Quran and Ahadith that’s being spread by religious fanatics to misguide people. Recommend

  • Hamza

    @Ihk:
    Mate, no offence, but then how are the most succesful and developed countries in the world non-muslim? The closest thing we have to a proper developed country without a questionable human rights record is Turkey, which is secular and not offically an Islamic nation, just a country with a Muslim majority. Why dont non-believer’s die all over the place? Why did Japan GET to that position anyway? Ans. By working hard. And we believe in God. Why was there an earthquake in our country? Because of the movement of tectonic plates in the earth’s crust. PERIOD. Sit back. Take a panadol.Recommend

  • Dodo

    @Phatty:
    Can you please elaborate on the “sciences” you talk about that was staged in Quran millions of years, oh sorry i mean ~1400 years ago? By the way, when I say science I don’t mean observations, I mean scientific facts (theories of gravitation, motion, evolution, relativity etc.) that have required countless scientists years to calculate, test, perform and evaluate in the labs. As far as Ijma and Qiyas is concerned, science has a much better procedure for it called ‘Peer Review’ which does not require “scholars” to be from a particular gender, sect or school of thought.

    Its funny that you say “its the interpretation stupid” (of course not your exact words but the gist of it). Don’t you think god should have made it simple so interpretation wasn’t causing all the chaos that we’re seeing? Shouldn’t the true religion actually be, well, TRUE!? Isn’t, in effect, god is deliberately misleading and causing all the chaos then? Now I know you’re going to say its the Shaitan that is causing all that (silly argument I must add). But how is an average Joe gets to know what the right interpretation really is? Which leads me back to the earlier assertion, “isn’t God causing all that?” By the way, “abrahamic” religions are the ones that have caused all the trouble in the world historically (look that up), not hinduism or buddhism etc. Recommend

  • Aina Saeed Baloch

    i lovee !!

    “He was such a brave man, in last nine years, God gave him courage to fight against the disease, noorani chehra tha un ka”
    Had Mr Deedat been a non-believer preaching some other religion, I am sure the expressions would have been completely different.
    hahahaRecommend

  • Aina Saeed Baloch

    i lovee it !!
    very nicely written and topic is very interesting!

    “He was such a brave man, in last nine years, God gave him courage to fight against the disease, noorani chehra tha un ka”
    Had Mr Deedat been a non-believer preaching some other religion, I am sure the expressions would have been completely different.
    so very true!Recommend

  • Maria Dahar

    Very well-written article. Good job Mr. Laghari.Recommend

  • Ihk

    @Hamza:
    Thanks for the advice. :)
    But i am pretty strong on my belief. Everything happens on Allah’s will. If you BELIEVE that, then great. If you don’t…GREAT!
    Lets have panadol together then.Recommend

  • Phatty

    @Dodo:
    “And it is He Who spread out the earth, and placed therein firm mountains and rivers and of every kind of fruits He made Zawjain Ithnain (two in pairs-may mean two kinds or it may mean: of two varieties, e.g. black and white, sweet and sour, small and big).He brings the night as a cover over the day. Verily, in these things, there are Ayat (proofs, evidences, lessons, signs, etc.) for people who reflect.”
    (Surat Ar-Ra’d (The Thunder): 3)

    Like I stated before, Islam does not contradict science, in fact it insists upon it. And it urges people to find out for themselves. There may be no formulas narrated in the Quran, but that doesn’t mean science has no say. Thus, if not all scientists believe in the Quran, doesn’t mean that all Muslims don’t believe in science.
    Also, verses in the Quran regarding science are “facts” and not “observations”; “observations” are those which the scientists have made and the theories that have followed their observations.

    Coming to Ijma and Qiyas, are you trying to say that the people chosen for “Peer Review” do not belong to a particular “school of thought”? And the mention of particular gender doesn’t make much sense. No where is there a limitation of that regarding Ijma and Qiyas. At least none that I know of. Although, do enlighten me with it if you find a proof.

    Whereas “interpretation” is concerned, honestly, when I go through the translation of the Quran, often times, I don’t get it. And despite me going over it again, I still fail to grasp what it really means. But let me assure you, that the verses I fail to understand are not vague in their statement. They are clear cut words. It is I, who cannot quite get to the proper meaning of it due to my lack of knowledge that surrounds the Quran and what is stated in it.

    This sort of brings us back to the original blog AND your last statement: It’s very important for people to be educated. It’s very important for people to know about different cultures, different notions, different ideologies to be fully able to understand them and appreciate them. Religions deriving from Prophet Abraham (AS) may have indeed created a fuss, but it’s also the fact that they have been interpreted wrong. I personally believe that Islam is all about peace, love and humanity. And that’s my interpretation, that’s my education that speaks. And unlike others, I will not blame things on Shaitan, because Allah SWT has given me a mind of my own to think and decide for myself. Blaming Shaitan is just trying to find a scapegoat, because on judgement Day, Shaitan is not going to be the one paying for my bad deeds, so there’s no particular use blaming him now, in fact, it is a “silly argument”.

    And honestly, I really don’t know how an average human being is to properly know about the “proper interpretation”, because not everyone has access to the right kind of, liberal, unbiased education. But, at the end, it’s just very important for a person to understand humanity to be able to understand all the other factors acquainted with it i.e. religion.

    Also, just one last thing, you blaming Allah SWT for everything is like you claiming that all Muslims blame Shaitan for everything (silly argument I must add).Recommend

  • Yasir Hasan

    My friend’s father condition at the time of death was very bad he was paralyzed for one year, he was unable to talk, walk, eat, excreete. They have to take to hospital after a month or so to get the spit out by some machine. During one of our discussions my friend said , Allah ka shuakar hai, unke gunaah jhar rahay hain, naik aadmi hain issi liye Allah nein unko mauqa deya (Thanks God, his sins are shedding. He is noble person that is why Allah has given him this opportunity)… :-)… Same guy comments were totally different when it was about the condition of Israeli prime minister, who was suffering from the same condition… “Allah aisay logon ko dikhata hai duniya mein meray bhai”… (Allah shows people like these in the world bro)… :-)… Same guy, same situation, almost same medical condition and see the difference in the opinion… :-)

    there is a famous Sindhi (I think) saying, marna doosri ghori ko aur jitana apni ghori ko….same situations are justified with different comments… if you refer to difficulties the religious figures faced, it is justified as Aazmaish and any difficulty faced by laymen or some non-believer is because of their own misdeeds… strange but every situation is justified in the light of religion…

    A baby born with a birth defect, is it his fault? people will say it is their parent’s fault… Can God be this unjust to punish someone else when it is clearly said in Quran that everyone is responsible for his/her own deeds and misdeeds… nothing but superstitions….Our superstitions are different from rest of the world’s superstitions just because ours are religion coated… :-) Recommend

  • Dodo

    @Phatty,
    You have a nice take on things and seem to have interesting points but I do not want to go on a verbal war here since that defeats the purpose of this blog. However, if you want to continue on this you can drop me an email at gullible.nomore@gmail.com and we can take it from there. Cheers!Recommend

  • Thinker

    @Yasir Hasan: Very well said Yasir I completely agree.Recommend

  • anya

    I am a medical student and I find even more disturbing is that apart from perceiving it as a punishment some people might refuse to treat these patients. There are a fair number of my class fellows who say they will not treat an AIDS patient.Recommend

  • http://lonepkliberal.wordpress.com Loneliberal PK

    Phatty,
    If religion isn’t complex, where does all this sectarianism come from? Jewish conspiracy?
    Even the most learned Muslim scholars often have markedly different opinions when it comes to religion. Obviously, religion isn’t as simple as one would like to believe.

    Also, science contradicts religion in many, many areas, but theists often don’t like to discuss that. They keep telling each other that their religion is perfect, and let their ideas resonate in their sealed chamber of faith.Recommend