In the western world, Islam has become quite synonymous with terrorism. Yet when one hears of Taoism, a picture a peaceful monk, or the self-control of martial arts comes to mind. Either way, the essence of both religions is lost in our ignorance and rationalization. In fact, all religions teach goodness, and all teach some discipline to follow in this life towards achieving bliss. Although the Ultimate Peace, or the Absolute Truth differ in some way or
another; both Taoism and Islam give a message of peace, and both guide humanity on how to respond to life’s sufferings.
May it be Moral evil, or Natural evil, suffering of any kind can strike and devastate humanity at any given time. As Peter Berger mentions in his book The Sacred Canopy, “Sorrow and suffering, death and devastation seem to be all around us. For most religions, this fact is very important” (p.169). It is so important indeed that no matter what religion one follows, people begin to pray, or worship, or meditate whenever they are faced with a difficulty.
The question of why human suffering even exists has been the topic of debate among philosophers for ages. To examine the cause of evil in our world would be beyond the realm of this post. So let us for now conclude that evil and suffering does indeed exist, and instead, concentrate on the human response to its effects. As Berger says, “It is precisely the chaos of life, especially disaster and suffering that inspires the social construction of religious worlds” (p.173). But how do religions that are so fundamentally different in theology; Islam being a strict monotheistic system and Taoism a non-theistic religion, can successfully teach humans how to respond to suffering?
Islam holds the One and Only God, Allah, as the Absolute. Muslims live their lives according to the commands of Allah, and hope to attain heaven as the reward. “For Muslims, whatever sufferings we may have to endure are universal, not for any “chosen people” As such, these struggles are tests whereby we show whether we shall continue to submit to Allah” (p.181). Hence, in Islam the emphasis is not to question Allah’s Will during a time of suffering, but to continue to submit and follow His way even during the turmoil. A daily supplication for Muslims drowns any worldly suffering in comparison to the anguish of Hell, by saying “O our Sustainer! Grant us good in this world and good in the hereafter, and keep us safe from misery of the fire” (Qur’an 2:201). In another verse it says, “O our Sustainer! Behold, we believe [in Thee]; forgive us, then, our sins, and keep us safe from suffering of the fire” (Qur’an 3:16). Islam categorically undermines the intensity of any evil or suffering in this world in comparison to the suffering of noncompliance to Allah’s way. In fact, Qur’an mentions A’zab (Arabic for suffering) over 250 times, but all in the context of suffering in hell. Instead, the word affliction or distress has been used to describe the suffering of this world. As in the story of Job, God afflicted him with much misery, but he kept steadfast in his belief. Besides the simile of Job, Allah mentions, “To those whose hearts when Allah is mentioned, are filled with fear, who show patient perseverance over their afflictions, keep up regular prayer, and spend (in charity) out of what We have bestowed upon them” (22:35). Here lies the prescription for dealing with any suffering in this life – patient perseverance; just like Job! Islam teaches to accept distress and affliction as part of this life.
In Taoism, there is no Absolute God presence or an Ultimate abode of heaven, nor a consequential destination of hell, how is then a Taoist learn to deal with suffering? In the teachings of Tao Te Ching, one is discouraged from attempting to even define evil or suffering. It says, “When people see some things as beautiful, other things become ugly. When people see some things as good, other things become bad”. Hence when one sees something as suffering, only then can other things become a blessing. Similarly, if one has never tasted blessing, than how can one define suffering? Evil and suffering are also incorporated in life as the balance to good and blessing; the yin and yang. The Tao is the perfect balance in itself. Hence, “” (p.187).
So even though Islam is a monotheistic religion, and Taoism is a non-theistic discipline, each prescribes a strikingly similar response to suffering. Although the Ultimate Peace, or the Absolute Truth differ in some way or another; both Taoism and Islam give a message of peace, and both guide humanity on how to respond to suffering – to accept it as part of life.
Richter, K., Rapple, E., Modschiedler, J., Peterson, R.D., (2005). Understanding Religion in a Global Society. Wadsworth Cengage Learning: Belmont, CA.
Tao Te Ching. Written by Lao-tzu. From translation by S. Mitchell. Retrieved from class hand-out.
The Holy Qur’an. From translation by A. Yousuf Ali. Retrieved from “http://www.islamicity.com”