Are disease and death punishments from God?
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
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.