A dilemma of God

3 minute read


It seems to be true that if God exists, his power is unlimited, or if he does not exist, simply believing in this imaginary God helps his followers to deal with difficulties and find the meaning of life. But does this almighty God, whether real or imaginary, ever encounter a dilemma?

On my recent trip to Africa, the most common word I heard is Inshallah, an Arabic expression of “if God wills” or “God willing.” It means that what happens in the future is in God’s will. It implies that we should not worry about the future, as everything is under the control of God. However, words like this only work if people believe in them deeply, and this belief typically needs practice and training for a long time.

It turns out that, in Senegal, there is a systematic way to train children into God’s faithful followers. Many children would become talibés (meaning seekers or students) who study the Quran at a Daara (Quranic school). They receive full-time Islamic education for free, without or with little secular education in subjects like math, French (the only official language in Senegal), or English.

As a tradition, parents from villages are encouraged to send their children to urban Daaras to reduce the cost of parenting. Since religious education in Daara is tuition-free by nature, Daara has to rely on other financial methods to maintain its running. Some lucky Daaras can receive enough donations from the nearby local community, which allows them to offer their talieès free food and accommodation. In contrast, some other Daaras must rely on their talieès.

Those unlucky talieès then have to earn money for their Daaras as well as food for themselves. They usually are forced to become street beggars, constantly suffering hunger. Suppose they are lucky enough to survive until they graduate from their Daaras; the reality is still cruel to them. In lacking secular education, they are missing basic knowledge to better survive in modern society.

A marabout (teacher) is correcting what a talibé (student) memorized in a Daara (Quranic school).
A typical classroom where talibés study and sleep.
Likely to be the only food a small talibé eats in a day, provided by an NGO free of charge. They suffer constant hunger.
A grown-up talibé is learning how to compare numbers with two digitals in a lesson provided by an NGO.

Even if the lives are so hard for those talieès, they have a toolset to deal with those difficulties: everything is Inshallah. The attitude of accepting reality is the exact training they receive in religious education. However, assuming receiving such religious education is why they suffer in the first place, God is facing a difficult dilemma: If God allows them to decrease religious education and emphases on secular education, perhaps, in general, they will improve their material life and likely to reduce physical suffering, but they may eventually become indifferent towards God, like what happened in Europe. Or if God maintains such religious education, God is responsible for his people’s suffering. A dilemma to be solved by God.