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My brother is mentally challenged, how do I reconcile this with God’s mercy?

My brother is mentally challenged, how do I reconcile this with God’s mercy?


I have a brother and he is mentally challenged. He has Cerebral Palsy and I often wonder what is his point in living and why did God create people like this. I love him to death and he’s the sweetest person in the world, but his life is entirely suffering. He has had over 10 major spinal surgeries in his life, can barely walk, can never be alone and has the mental capacity of a 5 yr old (he’s 20). He’ll never grasp the concept of God and so whats the point of creating life that will only suffer?

Salaam alykum,

I actually received this question a while ago, and I’ve wanted to answer it for a long time, but it hit so close to home I had to take my time, I apologize. Like you, I have family members with similar difficulties, and it is hard to try and rationalize it. I think it’s especially difficult to try and even put into words the emotions, the mundane everyday dealings, the routines, how they all come together to form this sort of amalgam of “rituals” that in some sense define you.

To attempt to rationalize why someone suffers will be impossible, however, when I read The Qur’an, there are several ayahs that come to mind, like:

“And so, he who shall have done an atom’s weight of good, shall behold it; and he who shall have done an atom’s weight of evil, shall behold it.” [99:7-8] Muhammad Asad

That God is just, and that we will be assessed by God through our actions and most importantly, based upon our abilities, our limits, and our human capacity, is clear, for The Qur’an asks us:

“Is not God the most just of judges?” [95:8] Muhammad Asad

If we are to believe in God, specifically God as described in The Qur’an, then we must account for and put our trust in God’s supreme justice, that our fate is from what we do on this earth, and frankly, that we are not given more than we can bear [2:286]; that our belief is not just found in our declaration of our faith but through trials [29:2]; and that those tests will come from our deprivation from food, of wealth, and by fear [2:155]; and even though we will face these facts, God concluded The Revelation of The Qur’an with this ayah:

“And be conscious of the Day on which you shall be brought back unto God, whereupon every human being shall be repaid in full for what he has earned, and none shall be wronged.” [2:281] Muhammad Asad

This ayah, confirmed by uncontested evidence of Ibn Abbas (via Bukhari), is said to be the last revelation given to The Prophet, who passed away shortly afterwards.

So, please take comfort that your brother will not be wronged by our Lord, that He is The Ultimate Mercy and will give your brother what he is due, for this life is just a speck, a brief moment.

Yet the question still stands, why?

To offer some sort of religious answer as to why your brother’s condition is there would be impossible, because I cannot rationalize the choices of God. If we are to discuss this matter however, as people of faith, among ourselves, we must extract ourselves from something: we feel strongly about this because we could not bear that pain ourselves, but they can. That comparison we make is dangerous, and while comparisons are appropriate in some situations, in these matters it is not. It is a testament to their strength that they can handle what we cannot, and we should know that whatever trials we or others may face, God will deal with us justly.

Yet, an issue still stands: are we not confronted with a test of our character? Will we rely upon God’s justice to help those in need? Or will we strive to help others, in whatever capacity we can, to alleviate their suffering?

Many times we are unable to understand the good without being aware of what the bad is, and that goodness is affirmed, in our human minds, because of contrast to the bad. Look at Tumblr, people send other people anonymous messages filled with rather hurtful things, and is it not after you receive one of those messages that the next one, the one that praises you, reminds you of what good you have in you, does that not help? Does that not alleviate that pain? Remind you of the value of goodness and manners?

A critique of God for this process (of needing to know bad to value good) hardly makes sense, because we make the choice to do good or evil, we choose inactivity and apathy, this is where evil takes its foothold, not from random perversion, but from the good staying silent.

How does this relate to the issue at hand? It can relate in many different ways, and I will keep this personal, but somewhat vague on the details.

It is so humbling to be in those hospitals, among families who share your pain that few understand; to know how we look at basic functions and value them; how the smallest things, a few steps, the reading of a book, things we readily dismiss, can be the grandest achievements. Sitting in those waiting rooms, for occupational therapists, ear experts, everything, you see mothers crying because their son finally could drink water by themselves, and you break down, because you have so many gifts and care so little about them.

Having fingers that work, that allow me to type this, eyes that can read, legs that can take me where I desire, that these are not struggles for me, and yet, do I thank God for them? Do I sit in front of God, in awe? No, I complain about problems, problems that are of my own doing.

I sit there, seeing one of the closest people in my life, emerge from having few functions, to being, well, I hate this word, but closer to “normal,” because of the sheer will of people who loved them. I do not pity them, I do not put them as some sort of martyr, I see my test, the test that no one else sees: the daily struggle, will I have the patience to help, to overcome my ego for those who need my help?

I know that God will reward them, that what they go through will not be pushed aside by God, but what the situation reveals is not about them, it is about us, not just on the individual basis, but as a society: what can we do to help? What does it say about our society when we put more resources into weapons than help? What priorities do we make when we put money into luxury goods but not into sustainable solutions and assistance for those who need it most?

As to why God places these burdens within our world, I do not know, but from my perspective, I believe it is to reveal our choices, to test us, and to humble us, also, it is from the pain of our experiences that propel us to find solutions for those that will come after us, we may not personally find solutions, but, through the trials we face, individually and as a collective society with our loved ones, these push us to not want others to face the same ordeals. It is a hard, grueling process, but it is what ensures that we can, collectively, become better.

I pray this reaches you and your families in the best of health and Iman, insha Allah.

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