How can evil coexist with a merciful God?
The ‘problem of evil’ is a major point of contention in philosophical and religious circles. To address the topic, this unit first clarifies the terms of the debate by explaining that human knowledge can never encompass the reality of ‘goodness’ or ‘evil.’ It then surveys how Islamic theodicies have responded to the problem of evil. The unit concludes by inviting students to explore how the prophetic model allows them to find meaning and be inspired to act positively in a world where ‘evil’ exists.
Unit overview, learning objectives and content standards
Lesson 1: Can humans objectively identify evil?
The ﬁrst lesson begins by problematizing the idea of pure evil. Through a few examples, students are presented with the case that “evil” and “good” are time-bound and culturally speciﬁc associations; thus, evil does not always look and feel the same to everyone.
1.1 Worksheet: A tale of two travelers
1.2 Worksheet: Breaking news
Lesson 1: Optional extension
The optional extension builds on lesson one by exploring, as case studies, certain marriage practices that are currently considered unethical but were regularities for much of human history. The detailed activity reinforces for students the notion that humans cannot determine what ‘evil’ is in absolute terms.
1.4 Worksheet: A historical exploration of child marriages
Lesson 2: God’s perspective on evil is All-Knowing
The second lesson focuses on the way students understand and relate to God and His actions. Although evil and suﬀering may exist in the world, students will learn to distinguish between characterizing God’s actions, what He wants of us as humans, and what actually happens. This distinction allows students to recognize that God can both exist and be all-Powerful and all-Loving even if they experience suﬀering.
2.1 Teacher reference: Tic-tac-toe recap
2.2 Worksheet: The problem of evil
2.3 Worksheet: Islamic theodicies
2.4 Worksheet: Breaking news
Lesson 3: Finding meaning in suffering and evil
In the ﬁnal lesson of the unit, students are presented with a framework through which they can ﬁnd meaning in suﬀering. Rather than thinking of their experiences of pain as purely distressing, students are encouraged to recognize suﬀering as a moral challenge intended to bring forth the best from within them. They will also learn to reframe their thinking through a theocentric worldview in which suffering is not at odds with a benevolent God.
3.1 Worksheet: Attachment styles
3.2 Worksheet: Human suffering
3.3 Worksheet: The Duha approach
3.4 Worksheet: Islamic theocentric worldwide
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The case for Allah’s existence
Is Allah real? How do we know God exists? Belief in God and the quest for existential truth is not always easy, especially in a social environment where faith is derided as superstition, wishful thinking, or even a dangerous fantasy. This unit begins by challenging this mindset before exploring a number of arguments that establish the existence of God in a way that speaks to both the heart and mind.
Why we worship God
When we think of our obligation as Muslims to worship God, some of us may express confusion at the idea that God “needs” or “wants” us to worship Him. Some may even perceive God as being egotistical to demand devotional service. This is neither common sense nor sound logic–rather, it results from a faulty image of God. Islamic theology steers clear of connecting human needs and motivations to God. Instead, Islam provides a grounded and honest answer to the question “Why does God ask to be worshiped?” Guide students through the answer with this unit.
The proofs of prophethood
Believing in prophets and messengers is a key pillar of faith in Islam. This unit unpacks the nature and necessity of these individuals by first exploring the ethical need for guidance facilitated by prophets. Students then go on to examine two types of proofs of prophethood in detail: mind-based or cognitive proofs (e.g., miracles) and heart-based proofs (e.g., prophetic character traits).
Qur’an: The living literary miracle
The greatest miracle in Islam is the Qur’an. It is divine in nature and irreplicable, having been preserved over millennia. This unit will guide students through some major concepts that illustrate the Qur’an’s miraculous nature and why it is the word of God. By the end of the unit, students will find that the Qur’an’s revelation and compilation fit the highest markers of historical accuracy.
Conscious or coerced: Divine decree in Islam
This unit explores a difficult question brought up by Muslim youth and adults alike: if God has knowledge of all things and we are subject to His will and power, then how do we have free will? Students will explore the Qur’anic discourse on predestination and free will to equip them with the tools to navigate and resolve this apparent paradox.