Many people claim that God is unjust as he places different people in different circumstances and thus giving unequal opportunities for them to enter paradise. They claim that since God has placed some people in a religious environment, it is easy for them to do good and enter paradise. However Others who are placed in non-religious environment are not able to do enough good to enter paradise. If they had been placed in the religious environment, they might have done same amount of good as the former person and would have entered paradise. Thus God is unjust.
For example, a lady asked Dr. Jeffrey Lang
I don’t think God is fair, because we are not all given the same chance at Paradise. I have a cousin, who is a Muslim, whose parents died when she was a baby and was raised in her uncle’s house. Her uncle began sexually molesting her when she was a little girl and continued to molest and rape her until she left home in her late teens. Today she is practically a prostitute, sleeping with just about any guy who comes her way. How can a girl who has been raised in such depraved surroundings and has been abused since she was little be held as accountable as someone like me who grew up in a wholesome family environment? It just does not seem right.
Dr. Lang answers the Question, in the book Losing My Religion: A Call for Help, by giving his personal example, and perhaps we can learn a lesson from it as well. He recalls that he grew up in corrupt and violent place. The city was filled with interracial violence, rioting, gang fighting and crime. Several of Dr. Lang’s friends landed up in prison. A few of them were guilty of major violent crimes. Several became thieves and many were dealers. Almost everybody in his friend circle was into drugs in some way.
The environment at home was worst. His father was a violent alcoholic and was also addicted to wife abuse. His three elder brothers and one younger brother fell into either alcoholism or drug addiction. Yet Dr. Lang survived his childhood without falling into any of these major crimes, although he was subject to same environmental conditions as his brothers.
Just because a person is exposed to vice does not mean that he has to be devoid of morals and wholesome aspirations. All human beings possess moral and spiritual awareness that increases or decreases according to choices they make. This is not to say that environment and genetics does not influence our development. Ofcourse they do to some extent, but as Dr. Lang puts it, “volition plays a pivotal role”.
Now returning to the main question, that all human beings are not given the same environment; it is true that some of us are born into circumstances more conducive to attainment of virtue. Perhaps this is why the Quran indicates that the merit of good deeds varies, while detriment of a wrongful deed is largely uniform.
God is never unjust in the least degree: If there is any good (done), He doubleth it, and giveth from His own presence a great reward. [Quran 4:40]
He that doeth good shall have ten times as much to his credit: He that doeth evil shall only be recompensed according to his evil: no wrong shall be done unto (any of) them. [Quran 6:160]
And if any one earns any good, We shall give him an increase of good in respect thereof: for God is Oft-Forgiving, Most Ready to appreciate (service). [Quran 42:23]
Although an evil action reaps an equivalent ill effect, the rewards of a righteous act can differ considerably. This may be because the goodness of an act and its positive benefits increase with the resistance it encounters. Hence, joining the prophet in the beginning of his mission, when his followers were few and his opposition most severe, had greater merit than uniting with his cause when victory was at hand.1
A small act of kindness by someone who has had many advantages may count as a small act of kindness, but the same act done by someone who has faced tremendous handicaps, could be a huge moral and spiritual achievement. In line with this, the Quran asserts that we are tested in life in accordance with what we have been given – which would include knowledge, personality, wealth, environment, and social position – and that no one is charged beyond his or her ability.
It is He Who hath made you (His) agents, inheritors of the earth: He hath raised you in ranks, some above others: that He may try you in the gifts He hath given you: for thy Lord is quick in punishment: yet He is indeed Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful. [Quran 6:165]
On no soul doth God Place a burden greater than it can bear. It gets every good that it earns, and it suffers every ill that it earns. [Quran 2:286]
On no soul do We place a burden greater than it can bear: before Us is a record which clearly shows the truth: they will never be wronged. [Quran 23:62]
Coming to the aid of a stranger in distress is a meritorious act when done in the relative safety of the suburbs, but could be a much nobler deed when performed in the inner city where self-survival is the rule and human misery is routinely ignored. Similarly, a charitable gift of a rupee on the part of a poor person weighs heavier than the same donation by one that is well off.
This theme is even supported in the hadith literature. For example, a woman who was in the habit of giving laban to the needy and never injuring anyone with gossip earns Heaven thereby, even though she was notorious for neglecting her prayers and fasting.2 A man goes to paradise for climbing down a well to fetch water for a dog dying of thirst.3 A murderer of one hundred men travels to a faraway city to find a holy man who could show him the way to repentance. Halfway there he dies, but God admits him to paradise because of his sincere attempt to reform.4 Likewise, to whom more has been given, more is expected. Thus if the prophet were not to have conveyed the Revelation truthfully, he would have received a double punishment, as would have his wives if they had been guilty of manifest lewdness.5
Therefore, it appears our future reward is not based solely on the level of goodness we reach by life’s end but also on the amount of progress we make in getting there. It is the moral and spiritual distance that we cover in this life – the progress that we make relative to what we have been given – that translates into our state in the next. Hence, I may disapprove of one’s behaviour on religious grounds, on the same grounds I refuse to estimate their standing with God. Even though one individual is ostensibly more upright than another, the good deeds of later may count for more in God’s weighing than those of the former, for God’s mercy, compassion, and forgiveness pervade the entire system of creation.
Finally, it would be remiss not to mention that Islam has always recognised that there is no culpability when wrongdoing is associated with psychological and psychiatric disorders. In Islam, for example, fornication is a sin, but trauma induced sexual promiscuity goes way beyond the problem of sin. Instead of our judgement, such people should receive our understanding and be encouraged to receive help they so desperately need.
I would like to end with the following verse of the Quran
God is never unjust in the least degree: If there is any good (done), He doubleth it, and giveth from His own presence a great reward. [Quran 4:040]
1. Quran 57:10
2. Mishkat, No. 4992, on the authority of Abu Hurayrah, from the collections of Ahmad and Bayhaqi
3. Bukhari, Vol. 1, no. 174, on the authority of Abu Hurayrah
4. Bukhari, Vol. 4, no. 676, on the authority of Abu Hurayrah
5. Quran 33:30