On Suffering and the Human Condition:
Reflections from the Sufi Tradition

Atif Khalil

The “problem of suffering,” as conceived of in Christianity and Buddhism, has never occupied a central place in the theological disquisitions of classical Muslim thinkers. Yet the Islamic tradition has not remained silent about such a problem either, since pain, suffering, and hardship are an essential part of the human condition, and the exile of Adam and Eve brought with it, according to the Quranic account, not only a loss of Paradise, but also a loss of the felicity that marked their habitation in their original home. By drawing on the meditations of the Sufis, this paper offers a contemporary reflection on the problem with particular attention given to the necessity of suffering in our experience of this world, the spiritually transformative power of pain, and our attempts (sometimes futile) to fully understand the question forced on everyone who experiences it: Why? In the process of outlining the contours of a modern Sufi response to the problem, some critical comparisons with Buddhist and Christian philosophy will be offered.

About the Presenter

Atif Khalil is an Associate Professor in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Lethbridge (Alberta, Canada), where he has been teaching for more than a decade. He is the author of Repentance and the Return to God: Tawba in Early Sufism (Albany: SUNY Press, 2018), and thirty academic articles on Sufism, Islamic Theology and Philosophy, Virtue Ethics, the Judeo-Islamic Tradition, and the contemporary study of Islam. He is co-editor of In Search of the Lost Heart (Albany: SUNY Press, 2012) and Mysticism and Ethics in Islam (Beirut: AUB Press, 2022). At present, he is working on a monograph on the theory and practice of dhikr in Sufism, and another one on the mystical ethics of Ibn Arabi. In 2009 he completed his doctorate at the Center for Religious Studies at the University of Toronto.