Sick Children and Sabr: A Pediatric’s Point of View on God and Sickness

“I witnessed cases like dextrocardia, leptospirosis, and nephrotic syndrome. These are big disease names for little children.”

“I witnessed cases like dextrocardia, leptospirosis, and nephrotic syndrome. These are big disease names for little children.”

Being with children and playing with them makes you feel more alive than ever, and as pediatrics, our motto was to make them smile and laugh, rather than just focusing on taking cases and learning. 

Sometimes, we even teased them, although I know it may sound a bit strange. I remember one time, however, some of us decided to take a phone from a child who was using it, just to observe how the child would react. Upon doing so, the child didn’t complain and continued lying down without any change in emotions. I didn’t go along with them with this particular tease. 

After talking to their parents, my friend came to me with eyes teared up and asked, “Why is God like this? Why is He testing children? What sin did that child commit?” This child had already undergone 5-6 surgeries at the young age of 4. Children getting sick, then, had a different perspective in my mind. 

To my right, there was a cute boy with Tetralogy of Fallot, a birth defect that affects blood flow to the heart, and on my left, another cute boy with a migraine. I witnessed cases like dextrocardia, leptospirosis, and nephrotic syndrome. These are big disease names for little children. Surely, their illnesses were not their fault. What makes them go through such difficulties at such a young age? 

The more I explored the ward and pediatric ICU, the more humble I became. There was a kid who used to give me a high-five whenever we met. I didn’t speak his language, but he somehow understood, and our high-fives continued. Later, my batchmate revealed that he was suffering from cancer. 

Stephen Fry famously said, “If God exists, why are children born with cancer?” So, questioning God doesn’t seem wrong, I thought. I had a deep reflection on this and realized something that often goes unnoticed. 

Allah says, “Your wealth and your children are but a trial, and Allah has with Him a great reward.” (Quran 64:15) 

The wealth and children bestowed upon someone are merely a test, just like the life we have in this world. It’s interesting that Allah ends by saying that He holds a ‘great reward,’ meaning that Allah will undoubtedly reward the patience with something better. 

When you think about it, this world is a test of how good you can be and how close you can get to Almighty God, rather than guaranteeing a good life here. In other words, your reward for all the good you have done and the punishment (if you have not repented) for your sins will definitely come in the next world.

My grandmother had two children who were born and died shortly after birth. She sometimes talks about a hadith narrated from Abu Sa’eed where women said to the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم), “Give us a day (to teach us).’ So, he preached to them and said, ‘Any woman who loses three of her children, they will be a shield for her against the Fire.’ A woman said, ‘And two?’ He said, ‘And two.’ “(Narrated by al-Bukhaari, 99; Muslim, 4786) 

So maybe our narrow thinking, fueled by our emotions, leads us to question Almighty God. He promised a reward for whatever we did in the next life. 

Allah says, “So be patient. Indeed, the promise of Allah is true.” (Quran 30:60). The Quran also says: “And be patient, for indeed, Allah does not allow to be lost the reward of those who do good.” (Quran 11:115) 

Meaning that being patient grants you a lot of reward. In another perspective, Allah tested the Prophets the most, yet Allah loved them even more. Moreover, patience (صبر) is a blessing, a means for great reward, a pathway to success, and a sign that the Almighty loves you. Anything that makes you patient is a blessing. 

There is a hadith from Abu Sa’id and Abu Hurairah where the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم)said, “Never a believer is stricken with discomfort, illness, anxiety, grief, mental worry, or even the pricking of a thorn but Allah will expiate his sins on account of his patience.” (Al-Bukhari and Muslim) 

In another narration, Abu Huraira reported: Allah’s Messenger (صلى الله عليه وسلم) said, “If Allah wants to do good to somebody, He afflicts him with trials.” (Sahih al-Bukhari 5645) 

Similarly, when you read and reflect on any Prophet’s life, you will find that nothing made them stronger and greater than the tests Allah sent upon them. Allah says, “O believers! Patiently endure, persevere, stand on guard, and be mindful of Allah, so you may be successful.” (Quran 3:200) 

So, after taking some time, I feel that maybe suffering is proof that God Almighty exists, and it’s our lack of understanding of the wisdom of the One who created us and lack of faith in Him that leads us to question His plans and His existence.