Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Chapter Eleven through Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Eleven

As I said before, I live in the port-city of Mohammedia. Seen from my city, the sun usually sets somewhere on the Atlantic Ocean. But in November it sets jyst over the city of Casablanca, which, seen on the map, lies a little below Mohammedia. Also the map indicates that the capital city of Rabat lies a little above Mohammedia. The common man in the street would tell you Casablanca in the south and Rabat in the north. In fact, they’re in the west and in the east respectively. So what ? Well, this only shows that, once again, we don’t care much about a lot of details as long as they don’t affect our lives in a direct manner. But the Koran does. Why the Koran? Well, many people believe in the Koran. So let’s see what’s in there.

In the Koran God presents Himself, among other things, as the  Lord of the East and the West.” (73: 9)  But He also says of Himself the “Lord of the two Easts, and Lord of the two Wests! (55 : 17)   He even says the Lord of the rising-places and the setting-places of the planets.” (70 : 40)  What does all this mean? Objectively, and scientifically speaking, all those descriptions are correct. But to what degree is the difference relevant? It may not be relevant to most people if there’s one, two or more sun-setting places. But to some people such details are very important. To such people, God says in the Koran: “Have not those who disbelieve known that the heavens and the earth were of one piece, then We parted them, and we made every living thing of water? Will they not then believe? (21 : 30) See they not how we visit the land, reducing it of its outlying parts?” (13 : 41)

But what about most people? Shouldn’t they think, too? If most people don’t notice the difference in the setting-places, we all notice our own differences: in colour, in shape, in wealth, in literacy, etc, etc. Who is behind these differences, and why? Couldn’t these different be in sign that there is some kind of life after death; otherwise, the one who designed this world, in such a “discriminate” way, giving to some and depriving others, should be reckless. If it’s – furthermore – a god, whoever it might be, he can’t be reckless, or he CAN’T be God.

In the Koran God calls Himself Allah. He says it’s Him who made Man. And yet He “agrees” to argue with man.
“And argue not with the People of the Scripture unless it be in (a way) that is better, save with such of them as do wrong; and say: We believe in that which hath been revealed unto us and revealed unto you; our God and your God is One, and unto Him we surrender.” (29 : 46) “Call unto the way of thy Lord with wisdom and fair exhortation, and reason with them in the better way. Lo! thy Lord is Best Aware of him who strayeth from His way, and He is best aware of those who go aright.” (16 : 125) “O mankind! if ye are in doubt concerning the Resurrection, then lo! We have created you from dust, then from a drop of seed, then from a clot, then from a little lump of flesh shapely and shapeless, that We may make (it) clear for you. And We cause what We will to remain in the wombs for an appointed time, and afterward We bring you forth as infants, then (give you growth) that ye attain your full strength. And among you there is he who dieth (young), and among you there is he who is brought back to the most abject time of life, so that, after knowledge, he knoweth naught. And thou (Muhammad) seest the earth barren, but when We send down water thereon, it doth thrill and swell and put forth every lovely kind (of growth). That is because Allah, He is the Truth and Lo! He quickeneth the dead, and Lo! He is Able to do all things.” (22 : 5-6)

You have certainly, as I have, heard or read existential questions as to why God did this or that, questions about Lucifer, about evil, about punishment, about free will, about Fate, about disaster, etc, etc. Such questions are anything but new : they have always been asked by believers and non-believers alike. Let me add one more question : Is it easy to believe? The Quran says : "And though thou try much, most men will not believe."  (12.103) "And most of them believe not in Allah except that they attribute partners (unto Him)." (12.106) 

I, the author of this book, am a Muslim because I was born into a Muslim family in a Muslim state. As a kid, I was used to seeing people around me perform their daily prayers, recite the Quran, observe the holy month of Ramadan, etc. I mean, everybody can be a Muslim. You only have to testify that there is no deity worthy of worship except Allah and that Muhammad (pbuh) is His Messenger, to perform salah (ritual prayer), to pay the zakah, to fast during Ramadan, and to perform Hajj (pilgrimage) to the Ka`bah at Makkah, if you can afford it. That’s Islam. It's only when you start asking questions that you enter the area between Islam and Iman:  when you want to know why you should be a Muslim and not something else. It’s at this critical phase that a Muslim can either move up to the level of Iman or leave the Faith altogether.  One who, through personal experience and more knowledge, succeeds in discovering the truth and the beauty of Islam will move up, gradually, step by step, to the level of Iman and become a moomin (a believer), not only a Muslim, (a submitter). This person would want to live and enjoy a peaceful Iman experience: to live as a moomin, always trying to improve his Iman in an attempt to reach the level of Ihssan, the highest level.  This is a long process that starts with "Guide us to the straight path –"  (1 :5-6) The personal experience and the necessary knowledge will come afterwards. You first build the house (that is Islam), then you put in the furniture (that is Iman), then you add in the home decorators (that is Ihsan).

I wonder whether you have ever seen a little child or teenager draw something in an old copybook that he wouldn’t show to anybody. The copybook is full of drawings of horses or pets or movie characters or imaginary or real persons –why ? You, who can’t draw, would say WOW ! You are amazed at the child’s creativity. But to him that’s quite normal, it’s natural. And suppose he wanted to show his "work", who would be interested ? Don’t you know of painters/writers…who were recognized as such only after their death or very late in their life ? Don’t you know of artists who died poor while their work brought lots of money to other people ? Does such an artist necessarily have someone in mind (an audience) when he creates something ?

You know, it’s springtime right now, and the other day I was walking in the nearby wood when suddenly my eyes fell on a beautiful wild flower. As I was looking at that particular flower I noticed other flowers just beside it –maybe much less beautiful, but each with a different colour, each with a different shape. Once I was leaving a school where I gave evening classes when a 17-year-old female student of mine waved to me and said in a voice filled with awe : "Teacher, look over there !" She pointed with an almost trembling hand at a car that was parked across the street. Between us, my heart leapt when I saw the car. It was just marvellous. (Didn’t I say temptation is so powerful !) I understood why the girl was looking at the car with such reverence. Well, I too went around in that wood, walking slowly, going from path to path, looking with such wonder at all those wild flowers, examining, like a passionale botanist, the shape, the colour, the peculiarities of each flower. When you are in such a place, looking with your heart rather than with your eyes, you can’t help asking : But why did God make this flower grow here, at this particular place, where nobody would see or care about it ? How many people would come and spend half an hour going from flower to flower and looking at their colours and shapes ? Well, is the number so important ? You remember those verses at the beginning of this book ? "And though thou try much, most men will not believe."  (12.103) "And most of them believe not in Allah except that they attribute partners (unto Him)." (12.106) 

Imagine we just were not here. Imagine there were only dogs and pigs and donkeys roaming about where we now study, work, play, live. Imagine there was no such thing as the tele, the cellphone, the car, the chair, the bed, the trousers, the glass, the cooking pot, the bike, the knife, the book, the garden, the asphalt road, the neighbourhood, the people, the nation, the country. Imagine there was no such thing as the eyes, the ears, the mouth, the nose, the hands, the feet, the brain, the heart and the rest. Imagine there were only dogs and pigs and donkeys in this beautiful world.

Where did this beautiful world come from ? In the past many Muslims were killed because they believed the world was created from scratch; many others were killed because they believed God created the world from something that existed before. At the end of the day, both believed, as I do, that the world was created by God. Science is no doubt interesting, but my life is too short. I may not live to see the results of scientific research as to whether there actually was a Big Bang or whether there’s life in another planet. I won’t be there, anyway. I have a book that explains to my small mind enough things for me to understand where I came from and where I’m heading. When historians tell me about my country’s history they often start at BC 1,200. They say the first known (Amazigh) kingdom dates back to about BC 280. The Quran quotes the prophet Moses (pbuh) as saying to his people :  "Hath not the history of those before you reached you: the folk of Noah, and (the tribes of) A'ad and Thamud, and those after them? None save Allah knoweth them." (14 : 9) Contemporary historians say that some historical records were falsified at the demand of some rulers. They also say that several peoples (tribes) simply disappeared in the wake of severe drought or disease and of whom we know absolutely nothing. Before Edwin Powell Hubble (November 20, 1889 – September 28, 1953) scientists believed the world was made up of one galaxy. They now talk of a billion galaxies. The Guardian Newspaper quoted astronomers as saying that the Universe has 2 trillion galaxies ! All that remains details to me as long as I have a book sufficiently detailed and clear to shed lights for me. I am not supposed to know everything. I can’t read all the newspapers, all the magazines, all the blogs and websites, all the books and anthologies and encyclopedias of the world. I can’t read all Facebook or watch all Youtube. I can’t see all the TV stations or listen to all radio stations. Suppose the Truth was dispersed across all this plethora of sources of information, how could I piece  together the story ? If you have a problem with your tele, you call someone who repairs TV sets. If your eyes ache you, you go to an ophthalmologist. That’s why I can only rely, for this matter, on my God Who says to me : "And whosoever believeth in Allah, He guideth his heart. And Allah is Knower of all things." (64 : 11)  "He giveth wisdom unto whom He will, and he unto whom wisdom is given, he truly hath received abundant good. But none remember except men of understanding." (2 : 269) "As for those who strive in Us, We surely guide them to Our paths, and lo! Allah is with the good." (29 : 69)

IbnJareer Al-Tabari (224–310 AH; 839–923 AD) lived 86 years and he was one of the shaykhs who never got married. He devoted all his life to teaching and writing. According to one of his students, Al-Tabari wrote 40 pages per day. That’s more than 80,000 pages. I wish I could read all that work. But I can’t. All I need is good faith.

When I believe in God and the Hereafter that means I’ll have to do things that may require a lot of sacrifice on my part. Why should I make such sacrifices for something I am not sure of ? God says in the Quran : "And when Abraham said (unto his Lord): My Lord! Show me how Thou givest life to the dead, He said: Dost thou not believe? Abraham said: Yea, but (I ask) in order that my heart may be at ease. (His Lord) said: Take four of the birds and cause them to incline unto thee, then place a part of them on each hill, then call them, they will come to thee in haste, and know that Allah is Mighty, Wise." (2 : 260) Ibrahim (pbuh) asked that question in good faith. You and I would have no problem asking questions, but in good faith. This question of intention, of good or bad faith, is essential to all of us. A premeditated crime is not treated like an unwanted offence. It’s clear if I want to understand, to clear off doubts, or I just want to argue for the sake of arguing. In the Quran we read : "And they say: O thou unto whom the Reminder is revealed, lo! thou art indeed a madman! Why bringest thou not angels unto us, if thou art of the truthful?" (15 : 6-7) "And they said: Whatever portent thou bringest wherewith to bewitch us, we shall not put faith in thee." (7 : 132) So what do they want ? One has to be consistent with oneself. Abu Sufian, the powerful man in Makkah in the prophet’s time, had no doubt that Muhammad (pbuh) was a Messenger, and that a man like him, who had never lied to a human, would never lie on God ; but Abu Sufian did not want to believe because he feared for his social status. When he believed, finally, he became a Muslim like others, but the prophet (pbuh) allowed him to retain a certain importance in the community, and his son, Mu’awiyah, later became a governor, then a caliph. The prophet (pbuh) said: "People are like gold and silver; those who were best in Jahiliyyah (Pre-Islamic Period of Ignorance) are best in Islam, if they have religious understanding." Being a Muslim will only make me a better person, it will not lower my social status. On the contrary ! "And had We willed We could have raised him by their means (Quranic verses), but he clung to the earth and followed his own lust. Therefor his likeness is as the likeness of a dog: if thou attackest him he panteth with his tongue out, and if thou leavest him he panteth with his tongue out." (7 : 176)  "O ye who believe! when it is said unto you, Make room! in assemblies, then make room; Allah will make way for you (hereafter). And when it is said, Come up higher! go up higher; Allah will exalt those who believe among you, and those who have knowledge, to high ranks. Allah is Informed of what ye do." (58 : 11) The prophet (pbuh) said : "I was sent to perfect good character." Islam was not entirely new. It only came to help new believers perfect their conduct. Muslims are not the guardians of virtue. There’s good and bad everywhere. A non-Muslim ruler can be a thousand times more useful to his people than a Muslim ruler to his Muslim people. Islam will show me the rules, and it’s up to me to obey or disobey those rules. Would social justice in a non-Muslim society be different from social justice in a Muslim society ? Not at all. A corrupt ruler is a corrupt ruler, a dictator is a dictator, a drunkard is a drunkard, a prostitute is a prostitute, be they Muslim or non-Muslim. The prophet Muhammad (pbuh) tells us the story of that prostitute who went to Paradise because she watered a thirsty dog. “Allah had once forgiven a prostitute. She passed by a dog panting near a well. Seeing that thirst had nearly killed him, she took off her shoe, tied it to her scarf, and drew up some water. Allah forgave her for that.” The prophet Muhammad (pbuh) sent a group of his companions as refugees under the protection of Abraha, a Christian king. The Quran did not prohibit Muslim men from marrying Christian or Jewish women. So it’s all a matter of faith. My intention is the foundation of my Faith. If my faith is good I will be a good person. The Quran is there to guide me, to show me the limits within which I behave in the best way possible. If I do wrong, even in bad faith, the Quran will still be there to help me correct my faults. The Quran helps me elevate my nafs from ammara (literally, the soul inciting to evil) to lawama (The soul which blames itself) to mutmainna (the soothed soul). Angels are constantly rating me, upgrading or downgrading me according to my work. If I stand out with my work, as a believer, individually or in the midst of a group, my angels will invite other angels to see what I’m doing or listen to what I’m saying. And that’s the problem ! I will not see even my angels (until the hour of my death). I have to think in a different way when it comes to Faith. I have to believe in al-ghayb (the invisible).  "Who believe in the Unseen, and establish worship, and spend of that We have bestowed upon them; And who believe in that which is revealed unto thee (Muhammad) and that which was revealed before thee, and are certain of the Hereafter. These depend on guidance from their Lord. These are the successful." (2 : 3-5)  My body is alive no doubt, but there’s not just my body. I have feelings, I have thoughts, I have memories, etc. It’s a totally different being from my physical being. My physical being, my body, can be alive whereas my "unseen being" can be dead. Just think of Alzheimer, for example. Faith fills up the most precious part in my body, my heart, with something that makes me feel that my body is not just flesh and blood, but much more important than that. It makes me feel that my body is something sacred, something that should be clean from inside and from outside. That’s why I make ablutions to clean my body from outside and I perform my prayers to clean what’s inside.

There is no Faith without belief in the invisible (al-ghayb). God could have ended the life of anyone who disobeyed Him in any way and spared only those who obeyed Him. But God does not want to compel us. God wants us to believe out of conviction, out of love. That’s why the Quran speaks of "error" (addalaal) : "He said: Verily ye and your fathers were in plain error." (21 : 54) It’s like you were lost in a desert, but if you could know the way you would reach the place where you would be safe. It’s like someone flying in a helicopter and indicating the way to you. The prophet (pbuh) said : "Allah is more pleased with the repentance of one of you than a man in a desolate, barren, destructive wasteland, who has his mount carrying his provisions, his food, and his drink and what he needs with him. Then it wanders away. So he goes to find it until he is on the brink of death. He says: 'I will return to the place where I lost it, to die.' So he returns to his place and his eyes become heavy (falling asleep). Then he awakens to find his mount at his head carrying his food, drink and what he needs."

Life is like work. You get tired when you work, but at the end of your day you take a shower and have dinner and do all the rest…happily. Except that, for life in this world, this "tiredness" will last until you get a place in Heaven. "And they say: Praise be to Allah Who hath put grief away from us. Lo! Our Lord is Forgiving, Bountiful, Who, of His grace, hath installed us in the mansion of eternity, where toil toucheth us not nor can weariness affect us." (35 : 34-35)

But life is also a feeling. Despite all my tiredness I can feel happy. Like a mother who spends two hours close to the heat in the kitchen, but once at the dinner table, with her husband and children, all that tiredness is forgotten! Like a bricklayer who spends hours working in the sun, but once back home in the evening his wife and children make him forget all the tiredness. So despite all my trials (all my depravations) my Faith will make my life enjoyable. When the prophet (pbuh) says: "The world is the believer's prison and the infidel's Jannah (Paradise)" that doesn’t mean that my life as a believer will be hell on earth. It only means that I’ll have to make “sacrifices” that a non-believer would not make. The feeling that God is with me will certainly alleviate my sufferings, physical or emotional, and my sadness will only break the routine of my life, will make it more enjoyable, less boring. If some people don’t become happy unless they get lots of money (or material things), I, as a believer, can be happy with as little as a smile, a phone call or a look at a rose in the garden. It’s all a question of faith.

If I want the life of the world only, that’s a problem. But if I want to be happy in this life and in the Hereafter, then no problem. All trials are about that. God does certainly know what I want. He will only subject me to trials, He will put me to test, in order for me to show with acts, with words, with feelings, whether I want Him or I want myself, my ease. Do I want to serve God or do I want God to serve me? God says in the HaddithQudsi: "I am near to the thought of My servant as he thinks about Me, and I am with him as he remembers Me. And if he remembers Me in his heart, I also remember him in My Heart, and if he remembers Me in assembly I remember him in assembly, better than his (remembrance), and if he draws near Me by the span of a palm, I draw near him by the cubit, and if he draws near Me by the cubit I draw near him by the space (covered by) two hands. And if he walks towards Me, I rush towards him." And in the Quran: "Your Lord is best aware of what is in your minds. If ye are righteous, then lo! He was ever Forgiving unto those who turn (unto Him)." (17 : 25) All I need is to be an (awwab), one of "those who turn (unto Him)". I have to have a good relationship with my Lord. I don’t need to ask existential questions as to why God does this or that or about Lucifer or about Fate or whatever. I just have to have good faith. I just have to smile and be optimistic. Optimism is part of Faith. I don’t care if there are around me any people who are luckier than me.  "And covet not the thing in which Allah hath made some of you excel others. Unto men a fortune from that which they have earned, and unto women a fortune from that which they have earned. (Envy not one another) but ask Allah of His bounty. Lo! Allah is ever Knower of all things." (4 : 32) "He will cause you to enjoy a fair estate until a time appointed. He giveth His bounty unto every bountiful one." (11 : 3)  "Is he who relieth on a clear proof from his Lord like those for whom the evil that they do is beautified while they follow their own lusts?" (47 : 14) It’s all a question of faith. What matters is not my work or my unemployment, my being married or my being single; what matters is my intention, my good or bad faith; what matters is what I have at heart. The prophet (pbuh) said: "You will not get the taste of the reality of faith until you know that what has come to you could not miss you, and that what has missed you could not come to you." When I lose my job God knows in advance the job I’ll get afterwards and when and where and how. When I lose my love, God knows in advance the person I will love afterwards or who will love me, the person I will marry and what will happen between us. It’s what I feel, the way I will do what I’ll be doing (while looking for another job, a person to marry, another home to live…) –it’s that what matters. One of the companions of the Prophet (pbuh) reported: "My father set aside some dinars for charity and gave them to a man in the mosque. I went to that man and took back those dinars. He said: "I had not intended you to be given." So we went to the Messenger of Allah (pbuh), and put forth the matter before him. He said to my father, "Yazid, you have been rewarded for what you intended." And he said to me, "Ma'n, you are entitled to what you have taken." The Quran says:  "And as for him who hoardeth, he hoardeth only from his soul. And Allah is the Rich, and ye are the poor. And if ye turn away He will exchange you for some other folk, and they will not be the likes of you." (47 : 38) "Whoso looketh forward to the meeting with Allah (let him know that) Allah's reckoning is surely nigh, and He is the Hearer, the Knower. And whosoever striveth, striveth only for himself, for lo! Allah is altogether Independent of (His) creatures." (29 : 5-6)

When I hear an ambulance siren, do I stop eating and drinking, even for a second, if only for solidarity? When a funeral procession passes near me, do I stop, if only for a second, if only for solidarity? If I stop eating and drinking, that will not help the victim. If I stop for a second, that will not bring the dead back to life. It's just a matter of faith. A companion of the Prophet (pbuh) narrated : "We were with the Prophet (pbuh) when a funeral passed and he stood up for it. When we went to carry it, we found that it was a funeral of a Jew. We, therefore said: Messenger of Allah, this is the funeral of a Jew. He said: Death is a fearful event, so when you see a funeral, stand up."

And there are, fortunately, many people in all nations, in all religions, who want to act in good faith. If good faith does not always work with humans, with God it does.  "Lo! Allah loseth not the wages of the good." (9 : 120)

Chapter Twelve

What do I understand when I read the Koran ? I understand that, by creating me, God gave me the opportunity to have this brief terrestrial experience which I will remember when I am in Heaven, if I ever go there. On the Day of Judgment I will be given a book, it’s a book of my memories. My knowledge of the world, of God, of myself should be a light for me. My knowledge should strengthen my faith. My knowledge and my faith will be like my two hands, my two eyes, my two ears, my two feet. So my mind (be it in my brain or in my stomach) won’t work independently of my heart. I need both of them as I need both of my hands, both of my eyes… My mind and my heart will show me how to best work for both this life of the world (which is only "a pastime and a spot" (6 : 32)) and my eternal life, where I will be able to see God with my own eyes, if I ever go to Heaven.

In my early youth I needed to know things without questioning anything. I grew up as a Muslim, so at school I was taught how to read the Quran, how to perform my ablutions, my prayers, etc. As I grew older I learned more from the mosque, from the media, from books, from society, etc. But there came a time when I realized that what I knew was not enough. There was a book which could have helped me understand why I had been going through a hardship, but I did not know the book at that time. When that book came my way and I read it, I finally understood part of what I had experienced. But the book was too hard for me. (I could not finish reading it on one occasion.) I thought it was for saints, not for ordinary believers like myself. So I continued to think about my faith without relying so much on other people’s thoughts. I studied the Quran on my own. So what would I say now to someone who asked me about my religion ?

The five pillars of Islam are known to all. There’s another five things that are not known to all. What comes first in Islam, I think, is (1) awareness "They said: Our Lord! We have wronged ourselves. If thou forgive us not and have not mercy on us, surely we are of the lost!" (7 : 23) ; then comes accountability (2) "Our Lord! Condemn us not if we forget, or miss the mark! Our Lord! Lay not on us such a burden as thou didst lay on those before us! Our Lord! Impose not on us that which we have not the strength to bear! Pardon us, absolve us and have mercy on us." (2 : 286) ; then comes (3) kindness "Those who entered the city and the faith before them love those who flee unto them for refuge, and find in their breasts no need for that which hath been given them, but prefer (the fugitives) above themselves though poverty become their lot. And whoso is saved from his own avarice - such are they who are successful." (59 : 9) "merciful among themselves" (48 : 29)  "and whose affairs are a matter of counsel, and who spend of what We have bestowed on them." (42 : 38) ; then comes (4) solidarity : "And feed with food the needy wretch, the orphan and the prisoner, for love of Him, (Saying): We feed you, for the sake of Allah only. We wish for no reward nor thanks from you." (76 : 8-9) ; then comes (5) change : "And there may spring from you a nation who invite to goodness, and enjoin right conduct and forbid indecency. Such are they who are successful." (3 : 104)

That’s the knowledge. Now the practice. Imams and preachers will not be with me everywhere every time. It’s my heart that will be with me everywhere every time. So I have to work on my heart. If I have a clean heart Faith will go in just as the roots go into a fertile soil. How can I work on my heart ? As we said before, and as is well explained by our scholars, there’s annafs al ammara and annafs allawama and annafs al mutmainna. When I am in a hell because I don’t know what to do that’s annafs allawama. That means that I fear God, or, if I want to go a step further in my Iman, that I wouldn’t love to do anything that would displease my Lord. That’s out of respect, out of love of my Lord. That’s a good thing. And God likes that.  "And there is no sin for you in the mistakes that ye make unintentionally, but what your hearts purpose (that will be a sin for you). Allah is Forgiving, Merciful." (33 : 5) "Know that Allah knoweth what is in your minds, so beware of Him; and know that Allah is Forgiving, Clement." (2 : 235) "Yet whoso doeth evil or wrongeth his own soul, then seeketh pardon of Allah, will find Allah Forgiving, Merciful." (4 : 110) "And whoso committeth a delinquency or crime, then throweth (the blame) thereof upon the innocent, hath burdened himself with falsehood and a flagrant crime." (4 : 112) It’s defiance that is a problem. Even between us humans it’s not right to defy someone whom we want to be good to us. The point is, there are limits that one should be ready to accept. All this is a set of “operations”, a process, if you will, that take place in the heart. Defiance comes from the heart first. So it should be tackled in the heart first. I want to move up from Islam to Iman to Ihsan. I want to elevate my nafs from ammara to lawama to mutmainna. This means that it’s I who should endeavour towards reaching that level. I should do my best to please God, not to defy Him. I should do my best, but not the impossible. The prophet (pbuh) said: "The religion (of Islam) is easy, and whoever makes the religion a rigour, it will overpower him. So, follow a middle course (in worship); if you can't do this, do something near to it and give glad tidings and seek help (of Allah) at morn and at dusk and some part of night." I should therefore do what I can. If I can worship God at night while people are sleeping, that’s great, that’s the top honour for a moomin (a true believer). If I can fast very often, that’s great too. But Islam does not ask me to impose on mysef  that which I have not the strength to bear. I can express my gratitude to God in many different ways. The prophet (pbuh) said : "Do good deeds properly, sincerely and moderately and know that your deeds will not make you enter Paradise, and that the most beloved deed to Allah is the most regular and constant even if it were little." He also said : "Your body has a right over you, your eyes have a right over you and your wife has a right over you." "Start with your own self and spend it on yourself, and if anything is left, it should be spent on your family, and if anything is left (after meeting the needs of the family) it should be spent on relatives, and if anything is left from the family, it should be spent like this, like this. And he was saying: In front of you, on your right and left." The Quran says : "They ask thee, (O Muhammad), what they shall spend. Say: that which ye spend for good (must go) to parents and near kindred and orphans and the needy and the wayfarer. And whatsoever good ye do, lo! Allah is Aware of it." (2 : 215) The mere fact that I am willing to give is a sign that I want to be grateful to God. The Quran says :  "What concern hath Allah for your punishment if ye are thankful (for His mercies) and believe (in Him)? Allah was ever Responsive, Aware." (4 : 147) This wish to give, to be good, is not peculiar to believers in God. This wish is human because it comes from the heart and every human being has got a heart. Even animals have this kind of thing. Many people have been saved from death by their pets.

Now, I have the wish to do good. How can I do it ? Is it   always easy to do good, by the way ? One day I was listening to a radio show in which listeners asked for advice from other listeners. One listener said this : "I am the youngest of three brothers living in a foreign country. My problem is that I see one of my brothers flirt with the wife of my other brother. I am in a hell because I don’t know whether I should turn a blind eye and thus have peace with both of my brothers or tell my poor brother who is betrayed by both his wife and his brother. Please help me. I need your advice." I am sorry I can’t give my opinion on this. But the other day I found a full cigarette as I was walking in the woods. I said to myself : should I crush it since it’ll only harm somebody’s health ? or should I rather leave it for a poor guy who can’t buy a cigarette ? Well, I did not crush it. This is called Ijtihad, meaning you try your best to come up with the right solution to a problem like this. Ijtihad is the work of scholars, of the erudite. But sometimes you need to take action on the spot. Hence the importance of work on one’s heart.

Hearts do get tired at times. They may become blind. What can I do so that my heart won’t go blind ? One way is taking a holiday. One way is taking a rest, any kind of rest. One way is arts or sport. In the time of the prophet (pbuh) people liked poetry and cavalry. Different people like different things.

Listen to this unbelievable story that I heard on the radio. An aged experienced hunter was asked about his hunting feats. Speaking in front of members of his tribe who knew him well, he said he had hunted 72 wolves and scores of foxes, among other things. He and his friends ate those wolves and foxes. Once, the man said, my friends and I were lurking behind a makeshift wall for foxes, wolves or rabbits. Then a rabbit appeared on the bare ground. I aimed at it, and I had never missed a game, and as I was watching it through the viewfinder of my rifle the muezzin started to call for prayer. The rabbit stopped dead in its tracks. It leaned on its buttocks and remained motionless. When the muezzin finished his call, the rabbit wiped its face with its front paws, as in prayer, and went away. I was moved as I saw that, so I left it alone.

That’s quite unbelievable, but one may need to hear or read challenging tales like this one. That’s part of literature, my own hobby. What would entertain my heart may be different from what would entertain your own. Tbourida in my country, Morocco, is not baseball in the US or hokey in Canada or cricket in India. When reading the Quran, an ex-priest who reverted to Islam may be interested in what it says about Jesus Christ and Mary ; an ex-rabbi may be interested in stories about Hebrews ; a scientist may want to focus on something in the Quran that has to do with science, etc. What about me ?

Well, I saw on TV a large crowd of people in China gathering for long hours (one said he waited for no less than three days) in order to see (and take pics of) some mystical fog as it enveloped a beautiful village in a valley. The view was spectacular. It must be breathtaking to see white fog hanging just under your feet. I wish I were with them. I wish I could see sunrise and sunset in those places where people go only to see sunrise and sunset. The Quran speaks of "the close of night, And the breath of morning." (81 : 17-18)  The Quran is not poetry, but as a poet I love that kind of language. Have a taste ! This is how it sounds in Arabic : "wallayliiza ’ass’asswassobhiizatanaffass"
And this :

"falaaoqsimubishafaq, wallayliwamawassaq, walqamariizattassaq…"

 "Oh, I swear by the afterglow of sunset, And by the night and all that it enshroudeth, And by the moon when she is at the full, That ye shall journey on from plane to plane." (84 : 16-19)

And this :

"washamsiwadohaha, walqamariizatalaha, wannahariizajallaha, wallayliizayaghshaha…"

"By the sun and his brightness, And the moon when she followeth him, And the day when it revealeth him, And the night when it enshroudeth him." (91 : 1-4)

The Quran says : "The Beneficent Hath made known the Qur'an. He hath created man. He hath taught him utterance." (55 : 1-4)  What is "utterance" (in Arabic, al bayan) ? It’s the ability to express things in a beautiful way. How can I express things in a beautiful way if I can’t feel beauty ? Why does the Quran speak about beauty, as in the verse : "And wherein is beauty for you, when ye bring them home, and when ye take them out to pasture." (16 : 6) ? Well, normally, the fascination with beauty results in the realization of the greatness of the one who created this beauty and the feeling of this realization appears in the form of sanctification of this creator, and this is but worship ! The prophet (pbuh) said : "Allah is beautiful and loves beauty." When the Arabs and many non-Arab Muslims see, hear or smell something beautiful they say : ALLAH !

The Quran calls on me, as a believer, to "Travel in the land and see how He originated creation, then Allah bringeth forth the later growth." (29 : 20) This travel (in Arabic, siyaha) is spiritual as well as material. When I am practising this kind of spiritual tourism (siyaha) in order to give my heart some rest so that it won’t go blind I am actually practising my faith – just as if I were at prayer: "Have they not then observed the sky above them, how We have constructed it and beautified it, and how there are no rifts therein? And the earth have We spread out, and have flung firm hills therein, and have caused of every lovely kind to grow thereon, A vision and a reminder for every penitent slave." (50 : 6-8) In other words, I am enjoying myself. I am living my (worldly) life while preserving and strengthening my faith.

Confrontation can work with men sometimes, but never with God. If I want peace with God there’s one and only one option : istighfar (begging God’s pardon). When I am imploring God to forgive me I am actually confirming my belief that God is my Lord and that He and He Alone can decide my Fate. I am confirming that I believe in the invisible. That’s very, very important. Good believers "believe in the Unseen." (2 : 3) "Those who fear their Lord in secret and who dread the Hour (of doom)." (21 : 49) The more I know the more I should fear the Lord. "The erudite among His bondmen fear Allah alone. Lo! Allah is Mighty, Forgiving." (35 : 28)  The erudite who think in good faith can only know God more and fear Him more. But what about someone like me who is not an erudite ? Well, at least I should avoid any kind of confrontation with God. If I understand something, so much better. If I can’t understand the logic of a rule, for example, I should respect the knowledge of God Who set that rule. I should also bring my humble testimony to the fairness of God. "Allah (Himself) is Witness that there is no God except Him. And the angels and the men of learning (too are witness). Maintaining His creation in justice, there is no God save Him the Almighty, the Wise." (3 : 18) It’s a question of Faith. I trust that God did not make that rule against the interest of man. I trust that there must be some good in that rule even though I can’t see it myself. I may not understand the wisdom underlying some rules, but I have to abide by them for the sake of the public good. I should accept the rule first, then philosophize about it. So I should admit that my knowledge is limited compared to God’s knowledge. If I think that I know everything in the earth and in the sky I may still have doubts about what’s most important to me : the fate of my own soul after death. God says : "They know only some appearance of the life of the world, and are heedless of the Hereafter." (30 : 7) "And verily We have displayed for mankind in this Qur'an all manner of similitudes, but man is more than anything contentious." (18 : 54)  "And they have no knowledge thereof. They follow but a guess, and lo! a guess can never take the place of the truth. Then withdraw (O Muhammad) from him who fleeth from Our remembrance and desireth but the life of the world. Such is their sum of knowledge." (35 : 28-29) "Most of them follow not but conjecture. Assuredly conjecture can by no means take the place of truth." (10 : 36) As a believer, who evidently want to have good faith when thinking about Faith, I will not seek knowledge in books and schools only. I am being taught everyday in the school of life too. My trials, my ordeals, teach me loads of knowledge about myself and the world. I know and believe and make no barrier between the visible and the unseen, between the world and Heaven. The Quran tells me that, on the Day of Judgement, Heaven people will say : "Take, read my book!" (69 : 19) To Hell people it will be said : "Read thy Book. Thy soul sufficeth as reckoner against thee this day." (17 : 14) It’s a no return trip : nobody is going to be given another chance to think or decide. If I don’t want to take the unseen into account NOW, I may regret it THEN. "Every soul will taste of death. And ye will be paid on the Day of Resurrection only that which ye have fairly earned. Whoso is removed from the Fire and is made to enter paradise, he indeed is triumphant. The life of this world is but comfort of illusion." (3 : 185) "This is a clear message for mankind in order that they may be warned thereby, and that they may know that He is only One God, and that men of understanding may take heed." (14 : 52)

Belief in the unseen is not easy. In the previous chapter I quoted those two verses from the Surah of Yusuf : "And though thou try much, most men will not believe."  (12 : 103) "And most of them believe not in Allah except that they attribute partners (unto Him)." (12 : 106) When I am put to test my tests will either strengthen or weaken my belief. Knowledge alone is not enough, but it helps. People spend lots of money on psychiatrist consultation. If I manage to acquire that kind of knowledge (of personal experience, through my tests, through siyaha (spiritual tourism), I will never see a psychiatrist. When I am in an adversity and go somewhere on the outskirts of the city and implore God to help me and He does help me from whence I had no expectation, that will help me strengthen my faith. I learn from this experience that when God promises something His promise is true. That’s why siyaha, whenever possible, is very important. It is very important for a believer (like myself) to see beauty.

However, for us, the children of Adam, the beauty of this world is supposed to be only a foretaste of true beauty, that of Paradise. The goodness of this world is only a sample of divine goodness.

"Allah is full of pity, Merciful toward mankind." (2 : 143) God knows what life is like. It’s Him Who made the world and life. "Blessed is He in Whose hand is the Sovereignty, and, He is Able to do all things. Who hath created life and death that He may try you which of you is best in conduct; and He is the Mighty, the Forgiving." (67 : 2)   God is running our world everyday, every minute, every second. "All that are in the heavens and the earth entreat Him. Every day He exerciseth (universal) power." (55 : 29)  "He sendeth down from the heaven mountains wherein is hail, and smiteth therewith whom He will, and averteth it from whom He will." (24 : 43) God knows what it means for me to have work, to marry, to have a roof, to have children, to eat well, to sleep well. God knows what happiness is. God also knows things I don’t know.  "Lo! Allah! With Him is knowledge of the Hour. He sendeth down the rain, and knoweth that which is in the wombs. No soul knoweth what it will earn tomorrow, and no soul knoweth in what land it will die. Lo! Allah is Knower, Aware." (31 : 34) God knows what’s good for me and what’s bad for me. "it may happen that ye hate a thing which is good for you, and it may happen that ye love a thing which is bad for you. Allah knoweth, ye know not." (2 : 216) What matters is my intention, good or bad faith. What matters is what I have at heart. Life is life. Most people, believers and non-believers alike, eat, drink, work, sleep, marry, build houses, drive cars, etc, etc. But, apparently, most people live for the world only. If I am a believer I can "seek the abode of the Hereafter in that which Allah hath given" me without neglecting my "portion of the world". All I have to do is to be "kind even as Allah hath been kind to" me. God says : "But seek the abode of the Hereafter in that which Allah hath given thee and neglect not thy portion of the world, and be thou kind even as Allah hath been kind to thee, and seek not corruption in the earth; lo! Allah loveth not corrupters." (28 : 77) Nobody is asking me, as a believer, to give up my "portion of the world". For good believers everything is ‘ibaada (act of worship) ; even making love to one’s spouse is ‘ibaada. But to be considered as a good believer I have to be tested. I want something from God ? So I should put my trust in Him and be patient. I should be one of "Such as are steadfast and put their trust in Allah." (16 : 42) Instead of being gnawed by remorse, I opt for patience, contentment and trust in God. If I do that here’s what God promises me :  "Whosoever doeth right, whether male or female, and is a believer, him verily we shall quicken with good life, and We shall pay them a recompense in proportion to the best of what they used to do." (16 : 97) "O ye who believe! Guard your duty to Allah, and speak words straight to the point; He will adjust your works for you and will forgive you your sins. Whosoever obeyeth Allah and His messenger, he verily hath gained a signal victory." (33 : 70-71) My "works" is everything I do in my life.

Yes, it’s easier said than done. But what could I do ? I have no other choice. Good quality life is for the faithful only.  "Shall We treat those who believe and do good works as those who spread corruption in the earth; or shall We treat the pious as the wicked?" (38 : 28)  "Or do those who commit ill-deeds suppose that We shall make them as those who believe and do good works, the same in life and death? Bad is their judgment! (45 : 21) "But he who turneth away from remembrance of Me, his will be a narrow life." (20 : 124) If I am a sensible person, I wouldn’t love to have  "a narrow life".

God knows that the material means are so important. God knows that some good believers can’t do without a car, that others need to pay the rent urgently, that others are ill and need medecine all the time, that others don’t even have a shaver to shave their faces or socks or shoes… But God does not see only my depravations. He also sees the reward which I can’t see as yet. He sees my reward in this world and in the Hereafter. "Whoso desireth power (should know that) all power belongeth to Allah. Unto Him good words ascend, and the pious deed doth He exalt." (35 : 10)  "Lo! Allah wrongeth not even of the weight of an ant; and if there is a good deed, He will double it and will give (the doer) from His presence an immense reward." (4 : 40) "And had We willed We could have raised him by their means, but he clung to the earth and followed his own lust. Therefor his likeness is as the likeness of a dog: if thou attackest him he panteth with his tongue out, and if thou leavest him he panteth with his tongue out. Such is the likeness of the people who deny Our revelations. Narrate unto them the history (of the men of old), that haply they may take thought." (7 : 176) Why should God deprive me of things He knows are so dear to me ? Isn’t it enough that I believe in Him already and that I am striving to please Him ? Well, that may not be enough. Faith needs absolute yaqeen (absolute belief/faith). "Or think ye that ye will enter paradise while yet there hath not come unto you the like of (that which came to) those who passed away before you? Affliction and adversity befell them, they were shaken as with earthquake, till the messenger (of Allah) and those who believed along with him said: When cometh Allah's help? Now surely Allah's help is nigh."(2 : 214) Personally, there came a time when I realized that all the "bad" things that happened to me and all my past depravations were in fact good things. I got the feeling that my Lord had been managing my life without my knowledge in such a way that, were He to let me do what I wanted to do with my life, I would have certainly done a lot of wrong to myself ! Only then did I realize how merciful God is to me. This kind of personal experience would make one willingly ready to make great efforts to please the Lord. "And of mankind is he who would sell himself, seeking the pleasure of Allah; and Allah hath compassion on (His) bondmen." (2 : 207) "Allah is well pleased with them, and they are well pleased with Him. They are Allah's party. Lo! is it not Allah's party who are the successful?" (58 : 22) When I am led to show patience and self-denial, others will say of me: This one is lazy, he is good for nothing ; this one would love to be fed by others. It's all part of my ordeal. It is an experience for me so that I have a strong personality, to have more confidence in me, to live for real principles and not for money. "Those who believe and obscure not their belief by wrongdoing, theirs is safety; and they are rightly guided." (6 : 82) "Who have believed and whose hearts have rest in the remembrance of Allah. Verily in the remembrance of Allah do hearts find rest!" (13 : 28) It’s my trials that will make me "a grateful slave" (17 : 3)  It would be a great honour for me if God considered me "a grateful slave". God says : "Few of My bondmen are thankful." (34 : 13) If I am thankful God will take care of me in the best way possible. "He giveth His bounty unto every bountiful one." (11 : 3) What could be better than leading a life managed from above by the Lord, Who knows everything,  Who can do everything ? I manage my heart, God manages my life like no manager can.

What about my frustrations that I couldn’t get that particular job or purchase that home or marry that very person ? God says to me : "No calamity befalleth save by Allah's leave. And whosoever believeth in Allah, He guideth his heart. And Allah is Knower of all things." (64 : 11) "Naught of disaster befalleth in the earth or in yourselves but it is in a Book before we bring it into being - Lo! that is easy for Allah - That ye grieve not for the sake of that which hath escaped you, nor yet exult because of that which hath been given. Allah loveth not all prideful boasters." (57 : 22-23) My patience and contentment with God will wash all that away.

But Satan will always be lurking for me. Satan may not be able to disturb me when I am alone.  "Lo! he hath no power over those who believe and put trust in their Lord." (16 : 99) But once I am in the midst of other people Satan will be there too. He will inspire them just the kind of words that would make me feel frustrated over things I could not get in the past or aspire to things I may not be able to achieve in the future. While I am being tested (by ordeals) Satan will make me problems with friends, with family members, etc. Those friends, neighbours, family members, won’t think of Satan. But it’s my own responsibility to be aware that Satan is going to use some of those people to make me unhappy.  "Lo! Conspiracy is only of the devil, that he may vex those who believe; but he can harm them not at all unless by Allah's leave. In Allah let believers put their trust." (58 : 10) Still, during my trials, God will send me good people to help me when I can’t help myself. But God will not give me everything I want through even the best soul in the world until I have passed the test. Otherwise, why should it be called a test ? God can make my family, or a charity, for example, help me with food but not with money. I won’t get the money I want until God wills so. So I shouldn’t blame people for what they can’t give me. God says : "Tell My bondmen to speak that which is kindlier. Lo! the devil soweth discord among them. Lo! the devil is for man an open foe." (17 : 53) Those people who are "bad" to me may be good to other people. There’s good in all of us, even in criminals. Those people may be "bad" to me now because I was bad to them in the past. God says :  "And whoso doeth good an atom's weight will see it then, And whoso doeth ill an atom's weight will see it then." (99 : 7-8) So if I can do good, I should do it for the sake of God.  God says:  "If ye publish your almsgiving, it is well, but if ye hide it and give it to the poor, it will be better for you." (2 : 271) "A kind word with forgiveness is better than almsgiving followed by injury. Allah is Absolute, Clement. O ye who believe! Render not vain your almsgiving by reproach and injury." (2 : 263-264)  "And whatsoever good thing ye spend, it is for yourselves, when ye spend not save in search of Allah's Countenance; and whatsoever good thing ye spend, it will be repaid to you in full, and ye will not be wronged." (2 : 272) In other words, I should be good and then do good. I should do what I can. I am not obliged to do good to a person who will only hurt me. I have the choice. I alone can know the limits of my patience in this regard. "Allah tasketh not a soul beyond its scope." (2 : 286) I should take life as it comes. I manage my heart and God will manage my life.

If I have children good upbringing is the best thing I can offer them. My family is my people. My home is my kingdom. My conduct is my Law. If I don’t want my children to lie to me, I should not lie to them or in front of them. "Enjoin ye righteousness upon mankind while ye yourselves forget (to practise it)?" (2 : 44)  "O ye who believe! Why say ye that which ye do not? It is most hateful in the sight of Allah that ye say that which ye do not." (61 : 2-3) I have to be consistent with myself. God wants me, as a believer, to be honest with myself first. I should be free of contradictions.

What’s the fruit of good upbringing ? God says :  "Such as persevere in seeking their Lord's Countenance and are regular in prayer and spend of that which We bestow upon them secretly and openly, and overcome evil with good. Theirs will be the sequel of the (heavenly) Home, Gardens of Eden which they enter, along with all who do right of their fathers and their halpmeets and their seed. The angels enter unto them from every gate, (Saying): Peace be unto you because ye persevered. Ah, passing sweet will be the sequel of the (heavenly) Home." (13 : 22-24) That’s the fruit of Islamic upbringing. My parents, my children, my siblings – we can all meet there, in Heaven, as we met here in the earth. Good upbringing (or lack of it) will either reunite or separate us – forever. 

We can all be psychologically broken at one time or another. Only faith can help us rise up again. Faith is light. Faith is freedom. Faith is the freedom of all but the Lord. As a believer, I free myself from what fills my heart with grudges and remorse. I give myself importance. I look for this importance in myself, I will find it in my faith.

I have just mentioned a sensitive subject: freedom. It affects all of us. For example, I want to go out and let off steam a little. Where will I go? With whom ? Alone ? With my family? With a friend ? Which friend ? With my wife? How am I going? Walk ? By bike ? By car?  By public transportation? What am I going to eat? Something I prepared at home? Something I would buy at the snack shop? Faith is not far from all that. I have the choice between several destinations: the cinema, the theater, the sports club, the cabaret, the café, the nightclub, nature, the swimming pool, the sea ... Each time I think: 1) Is this halal or haram (licit or illicit)? 2) What will people say about me? Is it going to impress somebody? Eating a home-cooked snack in a remote corner of nature, away from people's eyes, is not like eating in a posh restaurant among people who will notice everything about my looks and actions. For a woman, going out wearing a hijab in a chic neighborhood is not like going out wearing a hijab in a working-class neighbourhood.

The power of society is heavier than the mountains. Even with faith it takes a lot of effort to break free without shocking. What does faith tell you, then? One day a wise man saw a man standing staring right and left. The wise man said to him : "What do you want, man?" The man said to him : "I am looking for a clean place to pray." The wise man said to him, "Clean your heart and pray wherever you please!" If I can clean my heart, as a believer, I can go wherever I want, with whomever I want ; I can eat whatever I want wherever I want ; I can put on the clothes I want wherever I want. My heart will guide me. God says:  "There shall be no sin (imputed) unto those who believe and do good works for what they may have eaten (in the past). So be mindful of your duty (to Allah), and do good works; and again; be mindful of your duty, and believe; and once again: be mindful of your duty, and do right, Allah loveth the good." (5 : 93)

See the grades of Faith? If I make a mistake the first, the second, the tenth time, I will be punished and I will understand that this or that thing is not good for me; my heart will take a lesson and lead me where I would no longer have any problems with God or with people. That's wisdom. This is how freedom will become for me second nature. I manage my heart, God will manage my life. My heart is the most precious piece of me. If I keep it clean my life will be clean.

Often when we read a book like this, we want to know what God has to give us. If I ask myself the same question, what would be the answer? Well, God has so much to offer me, but me – what do I have to offer to God? God seeks no livelihood from me. He says : "I created the jinn and humankind only that they might worship Me. I seek no livelihood from them, nor do I ask that they should feed Me. Lo! Allah! He it is that giveth livelihood, the Lord of unbreakable might." (51 : 56-58) What God would expect of me is that I give Him a special, very, very special place in my heart. God says in the hadith quodsi: "Neither My Earth nor My Sky has been vast enough to hold Me, but the heart of My believing slave has !"

If I have chosen for my prayers the most beautiful place in my house, I should reserve for the Lord the most beautiful, the cleanest, the most intimate place in my heart. God speaks in the Quran of tijara (trade): if you do this I give you that. I need God. I need the grace of God. I need God's help. But I ought not to trade with God, literally speaking. I should not deal with God on a give-and-take basis. I must see in Him a friend, a reliable and faithful friend forever. I do not hide anything from Him, He knows everything. I do not feign, He knows what's in my heart. If He deprives me of one thing or another, I speak to Him as politely as possible. I ask of Him what I want, I tell Him what I am suffering from. I show Him my tears that I would not show to anyone else. I tell Him the best words, the ones I would not tell anyone. I show Him how much I love Him, how honoured I am to have Him as God, as a protecting friend. I show Him that I love Him for what He is. I show Him how much I need Him, His Grace, His paradise, His pleasure. I show Him, with words and deeds, that I am nothing without Him. He will make me happy as I am, happy with what I do. He will make me feel no longer alone. He will make me happy. He will give me – if  He will – more than I asked of Him. "Is the reward of goodness aught save goodness?" (55 : 60) If I soil my heart with a sin, I shed tears, I wet my eyes to clean it. I sweep it every day with the tasbeeh of my tongue. I make the place of God in my heart cleaner than my clothes, my food, my home. And I say: "Praise be to Allah, Who hath not taken unto Himself a son, and Who hath no partner in the Sovereignty, nor hath He any protecting friend through dependence. And magnify Him with all magnificence." (17 : 111)

Chapter Thirteen

Allah says in the Koran : "He it is Who gathereth you at night and knoweth that which ye commit by day. Then He raiseth you again to life therein, that the term appointed (for you) may be accomplished. And afterward unto Him is your return. Then He will proclaim unto you what ye used to do." (6 : 60) If I am a good believer that warning should be enough to remind me that Allah "is the Omnipotent over His slaves." (6 :61) and "Not an animal but He doth grasp it by the forelock!" (11 : 56 ) "Say: Have ye thought: If (all) your water were to disappear into the earth, who then could bring you gushing water?" (67: 30)"And We send the winds fertilizing, and cause water to descend from the sky, and give it you to drink. It is not ye who are the holders of the store thereof." (15: 22) If that warning is not enough, if I don't really feel that Allah takes my life every night, well, here's another warning that appeals to me directly : Allah says : "and we made every living thing of water" (21 :30) Say: Have ye thought: If (all) your water were to disappear into the earth, who then could bring you gushing water? " (67 : 30) And We send the winds fertilizing, and cause water to descend from the sky, and give it you to drink. It is not ye who are the holders of the store thereof." (15 : 22) I have experienced this firsthand. I was a student in a dorm where I could not have a shower for a whole month – simply because water was scarce that year. We could barely find water to drink. Water shortage kills. Drought causes huge fires. Allah says : "And have sent down from the rainy clouds abundant water, Thereby to produce grain and plant,  And gardens of thick foliage."  (98: 14-16) Up to this day man has been unable to solve the problem of drought. Engineers have bombed clouds but apparently that hasn't worked. It takes more than bombing a thousand clouds to fill a river or save a forest from an imminent blaze. And when it does rain there's the risk of floods and mud slides.

Also Allah says : "Lo! Allah graspeth the heavens and the earth that they deviate not, and if they were to deviate there is not one that could grasp them after Him. Lo! He is ever Clement, Forgiving." (35: 41) "He holdeth back the heaven from falling on the earth unless by His leave. Lo! Allah is, for mankind, Full of Pity, Merciful." (22 : 65) This might look highly unlikely for a non believer scientist but not entirely impossible for an ordinary believer like myself. All I know is that in February 2013 a thousand people were wounded after the fall of a meteorite in Russia, which has got an advanced space program. Yes, I concede that's rare and not so much dangerous, but should I wait for the sky to fall on my head so as to believe? Allah also says : "and of all fruits He placed therein two spouses (male and female)." (13 : 3) I am not a scientist to check that out. So should I know or believe ? Scientific knowledge is not static. Many things that are now obvious were not known a century ago.

Allah also says : "Let man consider his food:  How We pour water in showers  Then split the earth in clefts   And cause the grain to grow therein   And grapes and green fodder And olive-trees and palm-trees  And garden-closes of thick foliage   And fruits and grasses:  Provision for you and your cattle." (80 : 23-32)  "Have ye seen that which ye cultivate?   Is it ye who foster it, or are We the Fosterer?" (56 : 63-64) What can I say about this ? Well, once again, I can only judge by what I notice. I have noticed that many farmers content themselves with sowing the seeds and working the land for a few days or weeks and then they go to sleep. One day the first green vegetation emerges from the ground. How did it emerge ? I don't know. Then bees come around and do their precious work, for free. Bees are the best volunteers in this world, aren’t they ? We humans take many things for granted. Allah says : "He it is Who hath made the earth subservient unto you, so Walk in the paths thereof and eat of His providence." (67 : 15) We have seen how people move about in space. They can't walk as they do in the earth.

Allah says : "man is more than anything contentious." (18 : 54) It is easy to argue with Allah because Allah is not going to argue with you NOW. But Allah is not dead. "And trust thou in the Living One Who dieth not." (25 : 58) Speaking to Allah is not like speaking to a dead body. To Allah the real dead are those who want to argue with Him.  "Is he who was dead and We have raised him unto life, and set for him a light wherein he walketh among men, as him whose similitude is in utter darkness whence he cannot emerge? Thus is their conduct made fairseeming for the disbelievers." (6 : 122)  Just as Allah revives the land after its death so does He revive the souls of men who suddenly feel the light of wisdom.   "He it is Who sendeth down water from the sky, and therewith We bring forth buds of every kind; We bring forth the green blade from which We bring forth the thick-clustered grain; and from the date-palm, from the pollen thereof, spring pendant bunches; and (We bring forth) gardens of grapes, and the olive and the pomegranate, alike and unlike. Look upon the fruit thereof, when they bear fruit, and upon its ripening. Lo! herein verily are portents for a people who believe." (6 : 99)  "Portents (signs) for people who believe". I believe first, then I look for the signs.  "And in the Earth are neighbouring tracts, vineyards and ploughed lands, and date-palms, like and unlike, which are watered with one water. And we have made some of them to excel others in fruit. Lo! herein verily are portents for people who have sense." (13 : 4) How can I be one of the people who have sense  if I don't think about what's happening around me ? You know, temperatures in such beautiful Moroccan cities as Fez and Marrakech reach 40 to 45°C in the summer these last years. A recent joke says that if you want to marry a girl from one of these cities her father will demand a climatiser among her dowry ! Worse, high temperatures can burn thousands of people and their homes in just a few days. Allah says : "Allah promiseth to the believers, men and women, Gardens underneath which rivers flow, wherein they will abide - blessed dwellings in Gardens of Eden. And - greater (far)! - acceptance from Allah. That is the supreme triumph." (9 : 72)   Also about Heaven He says : "Reclining therein upon couches, they will find there neither (heat of) a sun nor bitter cold." (76 : 13)  How can I feel, as a believer, the importance of this last piece of description if I haven't felt the difference? "Nor is the shadow equal with the sun's full heat." (35 : 21)  Is walking in the shade like walking in the baking sun ? A good believer knows that the shade is a great gift from Allah. A good believer would thank Allah for the mere sight or smell of a fruit, let alone eating it !  "None can inform you like Him Who is Aware." (35 : 14)  "Is he who knoweth that what is revealed unto thee from thy Lord is the truth like him who is blind? But only men of understanding heed." (13 : 19) "The erudite among His bondmen fear Allah alone. Lo! Allah is Mighty, Forgiving." (35 : 28) Those are the minority of the minority : those "who believe and do good works are the best of created beings. (…) Allah hath pleasure in them and they have pleasure in Him. This is (in store) for him who feareth his Lord." (98 : 7-8)

What can I understand from the verse which says : "Say (O Muhammad, unto the disbelievers): My Lord would not concern Himself with you but for your prayer." (25 : 77) ? Well, if you think about it a little, as a believer, you’ll notice that non-believers produce the good things for believers in this life. Most believers will only get a fraction of all that production, but even a wealthy person’s stomach can't hold more than a few kilograms of food! In the Hereafter only believers will find the good things; nobody will produce such things for non-believers in Hell. Allah Himself says : "Few of My bondmen are thankful." (34 : 13)  Allah knows that people who really care about Him are few compared to the total number. And yet He makes these few suffer ! He deprives them of things they love. Allah says : "Lo! therein indeed are portents for every steadfast, grateful (heart)." (31 : 31)  And those are not very many. Why doesn't Allah "fear" to lose that minority of the minority ? Well, He knows that they love Him. He knows that they will be patient and, on top of that, GRATEFUL ! Because they have   "hearts wherewith to feel and ears wherewith to hear? For indeed it is not the eyes that grow blind, but it is the hearts, which are within the bosoms, that grow blind." (22 : 46) That's why He made general norms (to rule the world) for the sake of that specific population. People marry and enjoy themselves generation after generation and as they do so a few souls are born in every generation and stand out with their hearts so as to join the lucky club of "every steadfast, grateful (heart). Such as are steadfast and put their trust in Allah." (16 : 42)

Allah is not reckless. He knows what He is doing. "Deemed ye then that We had created you for naught, and that ye would not be returned unto Us?" (23 : 115) "Thinketh man that he is to be left aimless? Was he not a drop of fluid which gushed forth? Then he became a clot; then (Allah) shaped and fashioned And made of him a pair, the male and female. Is not He (Who doeth so) able to bring the dead to life?" (75 : 36-40) How many people care ? Allah says : "See ye not how Allah hath made serviceable unto you whatsoever is in the skies and whatsoever is in the earth and hath loaded you with His favours both without and within?" (31 : 20) "And He giveth you of all ye ask of Him, and if ye would count the bounty of Allah ye cannot reckon it. Lo! man is verily a wrong-doer, an ingrate." (14 : 34) Did Allah do that just for us to enjoy ourselves in this world, just for us to play and sing and dance and make love ...? No, "And We created not the heaven and the earth and all that is between them in vain. That is the opinion of those who disbelieve."  (38 : 27) Good believers "give that which they give with hearts afraid because they are about to return unto their Lord" (23 : 60)   because they hold Allah in high esteem. They know that  "The thunder hymneth His praise and (so do) the angels for awe of Him." (13 : 13) They know that   "if all the trees in the earth were pens, and the sea, with seven more seas to help it, (were ink), the words of Allah could not be exhausted." (31 : 27) "Allah, Lord of the Ascending Stairways (Whereby) the angels and the Spirit ascend unto Him in a Day whereof the span is fifty thousand years." (70 : 2-4) Those people know that  "all who are in the heavens and the earth praise [Allah], and the birds in their flight. Of each He knoweth verily its worship and its praise; and Allah is Aware of what they do." (24 : 41) "The seven heavens and the earth and all that is therein praise Him, and there is not a thing but hymneth His praise; but ye understand not their praise. Lo! He is ever Clement, Forgiving." (17 : 44)

In the Koran we read : "Allah is He Who created the heavens and the earth, and causeth water to descend from the sky, thereby producing fruits as food for you, and maketh the ships to be of service unto you, that they may run upon the sea at His command, and hath made of service unto you the rivers; And maketh the sun and the moon, constant in their courses, to be of service unto you, and hath made of service unto you the night and the day. And He giveth you of all ye ask of Him, and if ye would count the bounty of Allah ye cannot reckon it. Lo! man is verily a wrong doer, an ingrate." (14 : 32-34) "See ye not how Allah hath made serviceable unto you whatsoever is in the skies and whatsoever is in the earth and hath loaded you with His favors both without and within?" (31 : 20) Why all this ? Just for us to play and sing and dance and make love? Allah says : "Their reckoning draweth nigh for mankind, while they turn away in heedlessness." (21 : 1) Disasters are warning me everyday. How can't I fear ? "If Allah took mankind to task by that which they deserve, He would not leave a living creature on the surface of the earth; but He reprieveth them unto an appointed term, and when their term cometh - then verily (they will know that) Allah is ever Seer of His slaves." (35 : 45)  "Verily We have brought them a Scripture which We expounded with knowledge, a guidance and a mercy for a people who believe." (7 : 52)  "And in truth We have made the Qur'an easy to remember; but is there any that remembereth?" (54 : 17)  "Will they then not meditate on the Qur'an, or are there locks on the hearts?" (47 : 24)  "O ye who believe! Remember Allah with much remembrance.  And glorify Him early and late.  He it is Who blesseth you, and His angels (bless you), that He may bring you forth from darkness unto light; and He is Merciful to the believers." (33 : 41-43) "Allah directeth the ordinance from the heaven unto the earth; then it ascendeth unto Him in a Day, whereof the measure is a thousand years of that ye reckon." (32 : 5) "All that are in the heavens and the earth entreat Him. Every day He exerciseth (universal) power." (55 : 29) "We shall dispose of you, O ye two dependents (man and jinn)." (55 : 31)

Shall I live in this world for ever? What would I do if I found out upon my death that I had only been wasting my life away? The Quran says :   "We warn them, but it increaseth them in naught save gross impiety." (17 :60) "Thou art but a warner unto him who feareth it." (79 : 45) I did not fall with the last rain. I know what's happening in this world. I know that people commit suicide in rich beautiful countries. People get depressed despite all their financial ease. People lose faith easily. People feel lonely in homes where everything is available. People use drugs to forget their unforgettable problems. People fear death.

We are all Allah's guests in this earth. Whether we like it or not, the earth belongs to Allah alone, Who can act as He pleases. "Doer of what He will" (85 : 16) Allah was here before we were born and He will be here after we are gone. "He brought you forth from the earth and hath made you husband it" (11 : 61) according to certain rules. Suppose somebody put at my disposal his home and said make yourself at home, treat yourself, you're worth it!, would that mean that this home will be mine ? I know that I only came after thousands and thousands of generations who all had quite the same dreams and desires and that I too will go one day. "Allah's is the heritage of the heavens and the earth." (3 : 180) "Is it not a guidance for them (to observe) how many generations We destroyed before them, amid whose dwelling places they do walk? Lo! therein verily are portents! Will they not then heed?" (32 : 26) But Allah also says : "Those are a people who have passed away. Theirs is that which they earned, and yours is that which ye earn. And ye will not be asked of what they used to do." (2 : 134) "Then We appointed you viceroys in the earth after them, that We might see how ye behave." (10 : 14)

The question is, where do I go from here ? The previous generations left us a heritage partly red partly green. France, for example, is due to ban fuel cars by 2040. That's because everybody has been aware of the dangers of air pollution. One does not need to be an intellectual to notice that our prosperity has had side effects. We all know that each one of us is partly responsible for what has happened to our earth. Deforestation, over-exploitation of fisheries, corruption, and so on are the results of our own greed. Our leaders have understood that no single country, no single continent, can solve such problems alone. Hence all that quantity of world summits on this and that. Only now are we convinced that all Men are one. Allah was the first to address men as one.  "And He it is Who hath produced you from a single being, and (hath given you) a habitation and a repository. We have detailed Our revelations for a people who have understanding." (6 : 98) "O mankind! Be careful of your duty to your Lord Who created you from a single soul and from it created its mate and from them twain hath spread abroad a multitude of men and women." (4 : 1)  "And We have not sent thee (O Muhammad) save as a bringer of good tidings and a warner unto all mankind; but most of mankind know not." (34 : 28)  "Unto Allah belong the East and the West, and whithersoever ye turn, there is Allah's Countenance. Lo! Allah is All-Embracing, All-Knowing." (2 : 115) What is amazing, though, is that man has acknowledged his "sin" perpetrated against this earth; he has acknowledged his weakness; he has acknowledged his responsibility towards future generations… but how many men have acknowledged the role of Allah in our lives ? Allah says : "Corruption doth appear on land and sea because of (the evil) which men's hands have done, that He may make them taste a part of that which they have done, in order that they may return." (30 : 41)  How many men are willing "to return" ? How many men are willing to listen to Allah? "Lo! Allah is a Lord of Kindness to mankind, but most of mankind give not thanks." (2 : 243)  Even those who, like me, pretend they listened to Allah, listen to what Allah says about them : "O ye who believe! Follow not the footsteps of the devil. Unto whomsoever followeth the footsteps of the devil, lo! he commandethfilthiness and wrong. Had it not been for the grace of Allah and His mercy unto you, not one of you would ever have grown pure. But Allah causeth whom He will to grow. And Allah is Hearer, Knower." (24 : 21) "And thus have We inspired in thee (Muhammad) a Spirit of Our command. Thou knewest not what the Scripture was, nor what the Faith. But We have made it a light whereby We guide whom We will of Our bondmen. And lo! thou verily dost guide unto a right path." (42 : 52) "And if We willed We could withdraw that which We have revealed unto thee, then wouldst thou find no guardian for thee against Us in respect thereof. (It is naught) save mercy from thy Lord. Lo! His kindness unto thee was ever great." (17 : 86-87)

Allah said to the prophet (pbuh) :  "We sent thee not save as a mercy for the peoples." (21 : 107)  Allah wants mercy for us all. Can any fire brigades in the whole world put out a huge fire if Allah does not help them with the rain? "And He it is Who sendeth down the saving rain after they have despaired, and spreadeth out His mercy. He is the Protecting Friend, the Praiseworthy." (42 : 28)  Our leaders can be good and well qualified, but they can't replace Allah. Allah says: "And the earth hath He appointed for (His) creatures." (55 : 10) That is, for mankind. Unfortunately, some of our leaders are erecting frontiers and borders and imposing visas. Why ? Well, every leader fears for his dear country. That's comprehensible. God doesn't "fear" for His Kingdom. "Unto Him belongeth all that is in the heavens and all that is in the earth. Lo! Allah, He verily is the Absolute, the Owner of Praise. (22 : 64) Unto Him belongeth whosoever is in the heavens and the earth. All are obedient unto Him." (30 : 26) The problem is that some of our leaders give us the impression that they can give us everything we want. Well, that's questionable. Also, the first thing a leader thinks of before going to bed is his/her memoirs. Allah does not need memoirs. Allah says : "Or do they own the treasures of thy Lord? Or have they been given charge (thereof)?" (52 : 37)  "Or are theirs the treasures of the mercy of thy Lord, the Mighty, the Bestower?" (38 : 9) He even says : "those unto whom ye pray instead of Him own not so much as the white spot on a date-stone." (35 : 13) And that's true. If leaders in the past owned "so much as the white spot on a date-stone", no empire would have fallen, no economic crisis would have torn societies apart. "Blessed is He in Whose hand is the Sovereignty, and, He is Able to do all things." (67 : 1) If I don't believe that, Allah says : "Call upon those whom ye set up beside Allah! They possess not an atom's weight either in the heavens or the earth, nor have they any share in either, nor hath He an auxiliary among them." (34 : 22) "Unto Allah belongeth the Sovereignty of the heavens and the earth and whatsoever is therein, and He is Able to do all things." (5 : 120)  "Say: O Allah! Owner of Sovereignty! Thou givest sovereignty unto whom Thou wilt, and Thou withdrawest sovereignty from whom Thou wilt. Thou exaltest whom Thou wilt and Thou abasest whom Thou wilt. In Thy hand is the good. Lo! Thou art Able to do all things. Thou causest the night to pass into the day, and Thou causest the day to pass into the night. And Thou bringest forth the living from the dead, and Thou bringest forth the dead from the living. And Thou givest sustenance to whom Thou choosest, without stint."   (3 : 26-27)

When I realize the greatness of Allah, when I realize the grace of Allah, I can only feel rest in my heart. Even when I feel the fear of Allah my fear is immediately followed by rest in my heart. God says : "Allah hath (now) revealed the fairest of statements, a Scripture consistent, (wherein promises of reward are) paired (with threats of punishment), whereat doth creep the flesh of those who fear their Lord, so that their flesh and their hearts soften to Allah's reminder. Such is Allah's guidance, wherewith He guideth whom He will. And him whom Allah sendeth astray, for him there is no guide." (39 : 23) "Those who believe and obscure not their belief by wrongdoing, theirs is safety; and they are rightly guided." (6 : 82) "Lo! verily the friends of Allah are (those) on whom fear (cometh) not, nor do they grieve." (10 : 62)  Even on the day of resurrection, as the prophet (pbuh) said, "Allah will give them protection with His Shade on the Day when there will be no shade except His Shade."

A non-believer would say : why should I fear Allah if, as he says, "Unto Allah belongeth whatsoever is in the heavens and whatsoever is in the earth. He forgiveth whom He will, and punisheth whom He will." (3 : 129) ? That's a good question. But why do I look at "punisheth whom He will" and don't I look at "forgiveth whom He will?" The full verse is : "Unto Allah belongeth whatsoever is in the heavens and whatsoever is in the earth. He forgiveth whom He will, and punisheth whom He will. Allah is Forgiving, Merciful." (3 : 129) Why don't I try to do good and avoid evil as much as I can and then hope to be one of those whom Allah will forgive, since He is "Forgiving, Merciful" ? But, at the same time, if I make a silly mistake, I don’t deem myself "secure from Allah's scheme" because "None deemeth himself secure from Allah's scheme save folk that perish." (7 : 99) Allah says : "Allah is Mighty, Able to Requite (the wrong)." (14 : 47) Allah wants to scare me in order to save me. He says : "With this doth Allah appal His bondmen. O My bondmen, therefor fear Me!" (39 : 16)  "And Allah summoneth to the abode of peace, and leadeth whom He will to a straight path." (10 : 25) He also says : "And vie one with another for forgiveness from your Lord, and for a paradise as wide as are the heavens and the earth, prepared for those who ward off (evil)." (3 : 133) Wouldn't I be stupid if I missed such a golden opportunity ? If there's so much space in Heaven, why don't I hope to be one of the lucky dwellers of that beautiful world ?

Allah says : "Therefore keep your duty unto Me, O men of understanding." (2 : 197) Allah is speaking to "men of understanding." Who are "men of understanding"? In the Quran we read : "Therefor give good tidings (O Muhammad) to My bondmen Who hear advice and follow the best thereof. Such are those whom Allah guideth, and such are men of understanding." (39 : 17-18) The mosques we pray in are built by the rich, not the poor. Can't those people make better use of their money ? Don't they have minds to think ?  "But only men of understanding heed; Such as keep the pact of Allah, and break not the covenant; Such as unite that which Allah hath commandeth should be joined, and fear their Lord, and dread a woeful reckoning; Such as persevere in seeking their Lord's Countenance and are regular in prayer and spend of that which We bestow upon them secretly and openly, and overcome evil with good. Theirs will be the sequel of the (heavenly) Home, Gardens of Eden which they enter, along with all who do right of their fathers and their halpmeets and their seed. The angels enter unto them from every gate, (Saying): Peace be unto you because ye persevered. Ah, passing sweet will be the sequel of the (heavenly) Home. (…) Allah enlargeth livelihood for whom He will, and straiteneth (it for whom He will); and they rejoice in the life of the world, whereas the life of the world is but brief comfort as compared with the Hereafter." (13 : 19-26)  That's the best investment, isn't it ?

Why do angels say to Heaven dwellers "because ye persevered" ? Well, the prophet (pbuh) said : "Paradise is surrounded by hardships and the Fire is surrounded by desires." An Olympic gold medal is not Heaven, but can anybody be an Olympic champion without making sacrifices? Can you get a high university degree without making sacrifices? The right question is, is Heaven worth such sacrifices? No doubt our world is beautiful, otherwise there wouldn't be any such thing as tourism, with the myriad sumptuous hotels and resorts and campsites ... But there are also tragedies. "A similitude of the Garden which is promised unto those who keep their duty (to Allah): Underneath it rivers flow; its food is everlasting, and its shade." (13 : 35)  There's no "toil nor weariness" (38 : 35)  in Heaven. There are no problems in Heaven. So to get a chance to go there I have to endure some kind of suffering in this world.

Some people commit suicide because they can't have a lasting feeling of happiness. I too have suffered, but I have also had a lot of happy days. I should be grateful to Allah for that. If I am patient and grateful in this world Allah will make my life better in this world and hopefully grant me a place in Heaven. "For those who do good in this world there is a good (reward) and the home of the Hereafter will be better. Pleasant indeed will be the home of those who ward off (evil)." (16: 30)

Do I really need to be in Heaven after my death? Well, Ibrahim (pbuh) "was a people obedient to Allah, by nature upright, and he was not of the idolaters." (16: 120) and "Allah (Himself) chose Abraham for friend." (4: 125)  And yet he said: "And place me among the inheritors of the Garden of Delight." (26: 85)  Allah says: "See how We prefer one of them above another, and verily the Hereafter will be greater in degrees and greater in preferment." (17: 21)  How can't I pray to Allah to grant me a place in Heaven too? The prophet (pbuh) said: "If you ask of Allah, ask Him for al-Firdaws" (the highest part of Paradise). You know those kinds of radio shows where you are invited to send in answers in SMS text messages. They give an easy question so that a large number of people send in a large number of text messages. Well, for you personally, to increase your chances of winning you send as many text messages as you can afford. Why don't I do the same when it comes to Heaven? An ordinary Muslim who keeps his duty to Allah is entitled to Heaven, but to avoid "bad surprises" I should try to do better than a mere Muslim. Why don't I try to be a moomin (a believer), that's a higher grade? I should try to secure a place in Heaven first, then try to philosophize about the whole thing.

Now, how do I understand the story of Heaven? Allah could have stayed ‘alone’ and not bothered to make anything. He was God, magnanimous and magnificent, free and self-sufficient. But He was too beautiful not to be known. He was too generous not to share His beauty. But with whom? He was God and nothing could be like Him. Nothing could match up to Him. Nor did He need anything or anybody. It’s by the grace of Him that He made the world to share not only His beauty but also His bounty. He made Heaven, beautiful in every sense of the word. He made it not for Himself. (He didn’t need it.) He made it for us.  Whether Allah made the earth before or after Heaven and Hell, that’s not a really big question. But it’s interesting to notice that Allah made part of the earth look like Heaven and part of it look like Hell, as a reminder for the future dwellers of this planet, for us. Allah describes the Quran as a reminder. Now that we are here we should ask ourselves questions. Allah says: "I created the jinn and humankind only that they might worship Me. I seek no livelihood from them, nor do I ask that they should feed Me. Lo! Allah! He it is that giveth livelihood, the Lord of unbreakable might." (51 : (56-58) I can't over-interpret these verses. They are clear. Allah wants man to worship Him.  Does this mean, though, that Allah needs man to worship Him? Allah Himself answers this question. He says: "And Moses said: Though ye and all who are in the earth prove thankless, lo! Allah verily is Absolute, Owner of Praise." (14: 8) If Allah needed to be adored He would have spared at least those who adored Him in the best way in the past, but we all know that even prophets and saints died. Would Allah be interested in the number of worshippers or in the quality of worshippers or in the quantity of worship? Again, "Allah verily is Absolute, Owner of Praise." (14: 8) Suppose Allah was interested in the number of worshippers or in the quantity of worship, how much would "my worshipping" weigh in all that? Would I deserve eternal happiness in Heaven for this little worshipping I do in my short life? This doesn't make sense. The prophet (pbuh) said: "Do good deeds properly, sincerely and moderately and know that your deeds will not make you enter Paradise, and that the most beloved deed to Allah is the most regular and constant even if it were little." And yet Allah doesn't want us to go to Hell. Allah says: "Shall We utterly ignore you because ye are a wanton folk?" (43: 5) "Ah, the anguish for the bondmen! Never came there unto them a messenger but they did mock him!" (36: 30) The question is, why does man want to go to Hell? True, "It is not for any soul to believe save by the permission of Allah." (10 : 100) But you and I know what man is like. Many men love defiance. Many men are reckless. Even many smart men make silly mistakes. Think of AIDS, drugs, bad food habits, etc. So it’s easy to generate question after question. Some people ask questions so as to understand, others just to argue for the sake of arguing. Those who ask questions so as to understand can understand that Allah made Heaven to show how great He is, how merciful He is, how gentle He is, how grateful He is, how lovely He is. Allah made Heaven to share with believers His beauty and bounty. Therefore He is worth worshipping. Not because He has got a Fire “in His back garden”, not because He "is strong in punishment." (13 : 6) ( He is also "rich in pardon for mankind despite their wrong" (13 : 6) )  , but because He is "Merciful, Loving." (11 : 90)  These people will understand that Allah would be worth worshipping even if there were neither Heaven nor Hell. But there must be Heaven and Hell. There must be a way to differentiate between the grateful and the ingrate. That’s why we are different; in colour, in shape, in health, in wealth, etc. All that is but trials for us. Allah will not accept to be worshipped for free. "Now Allah be Exalted, the True King! There is no God save Him, the Lord of the Throne of Grace." (23 : 116) Allah will guide me, if I am willing to listen, and pay me for the slightest thought of Him.  "And whoso doeth good an atom's weight will see it then." (99 : 7) He will pay me even in the life of the world. But there’s something more precious than Heaven. Can you guess ? It’s "Allah's pleasure". (2 : 265) That’s why "of mankind is he who would sell himself, seeking the pleasure of Allah; and Allah hath compassion on (His) bondmen." (2 : 207)  And because Allah is not just anybody, His "pleasure"  is hard to obtain. Hard but not impossible. It requires sacrifices.

I do things out of love of Allah, out of respect of Allah, not out of kindness. Allah does not need my kindness. Allah wants me, as a believer, to love Him and to know why I should love Him. I love Allah because He is beautiful, bountiful, merciful, forgiving, loving. I love Him for His intricate qualities. I love Him because that’s the natural course. I would love a human for much, much less virtues and qualities than that. Likewise, just as I would love to see a wonderful resort created on earth by a human like myself, I would love to see Paradise which was designed and prepared by Allah Himself for the faithful. I believe in Allah and I don’t know what He is like. I believe in Heaven and I don’t know what it really is like. I can’t even imagine it. Now I believe in the invisible as the only way – decided by Allah – to pay for a ticket to Paradise. In other words, I don’t only think of Heaven from a religious perspective, but also from an intellectual perspective. For this idea to be clearer, take one person. Imagine a man by the name of Juan Toledo Iglesias, a 22-year-old teacher in Lima, Peru. This man comes across a Muslim couple in his city. These Muslim man and woman are not Arabs. They are Peruvian. The teacher, accustomed to Western lifestyle, asks himself questions. He does some research on the Web. He reads books, then travels to an Arab country. On his arrival, he is shocked to see that many people in this Arab Muslim country do not really give him the impression that this is Islam. So what does he do ? Does he go back home and say why should Islam be good to me while these Muslim people do not practise true Islam in their own country ? Or does he say "I don’t care of the people. I came here to discover more about the religion" ? Suppose he ignored the people and focused on the Faith as such, what could happen to him ? Well, many people went through a similar process and ended up becoming cleriks and imams who preach Arabs and non-Arabs on true Islam ! Imagine the happiness of such cleriks and imams.

Allah says : "Lo! this is an Admonishment, that whosoever will may choose a way unto his Lord. Yet ye will not, unless Allah willeth. Lo! Allah is Knower, Wise." (76 : 29-30)  "Such is Allah's guidance, wherewith He guideth whom He will." (39 : 23) Should I take this as an excuse and say if Allah wants me to be a good believer He would make me a good believer ? Well, that’s like staying at home and waiting for Allah to bring me what I want to eat, etc. That’s like giving birth to twelve children that I can’t feed.

As I said before, the Quran speaks to "men of understanding" who "hear advice and follow the best thereof. Such are those whom Allah guideth." (39 : 17-18) That means, I use my own mind, my own personal experience to know the truth, and when I know the truth I have to heed it. Even good believers – who are already believers, (that is, ("only men of understanding") – say:  "Our Lord! Cause not our hearts to stray after Thou hast guided us, and bestow upon us mercy from Thy Presence. Lo! Thou, only Thou, art the Bestower." (3 : 8)   They always say : "Show us the straight path." (1 : 6) If I use my mind I can only strengthen my faith. "Those who have been given knowledge see that what is revealed unto thee from thy Lord is the truth and leadeth unto the path of the Mighty, the Owner of Praise." (34 : 6) "And that those who have been given knowledge may know that it is the truth from thy Lord, so that they may believe therein and their hearts may submit humbly unto Him. Lo! Allah verily is guiding those who believe unto a right path." (22 : 54)

Here’s an innocent question : why do ill people and pregnant women fast Ramadan ? Sometimes the holy month of Ramadan comes in the hot season and yet many men insist that they should fast it although they are ill and many women insist that they should fast although they are pregnant ! Allah says : "And whosoever of you is present, let him fast the month, and whosoever of you is sick or on a journey, (let him fast the same) number of other days. Allah desireth for you ease; He desireth not hardship for you." (2 : 185) "Allah would not place a burden on you, but He would purify you and would perfect His grace upon you, that ye may give thanks." (5 : 6)  "But (as for) those who believe and do good works –We  tax not any soul beyond its scope–" (7 : 42) "This day have I perfected your religion for you and completed My favour unto you, and have chosen for you as religion AL-ISLAM. Whoso is forced by hunger, not by will, to sin: (for him) lo! Allah is Forgiving, Merciful." (5 : 3)

It’s not Islam that is pushing ill men or pregnant women to fast Ramadan or these hungry people not to eat from a meat that is normally forbidden. It’s these people’s hearts that push them to do so. It’s their love of Allah that is making them to behave in that way. It’s for such people that Allah made Heaven. The prophet (pbuh) said : "One amongst the denizens of Hell who had led a life of ease and plenty amongst the people of the world would be made to dip in Fire only once on the Day of Resurrection and then it would be said to him: O, son of Adam, did you find any comfort, did you happen to get any material blessing? He would say: By Allah, no, O my Lord. And then a person from amongst the persons of the world who had led the most miserable life (in the world) from amongst the inmates of Paradise would be brought and he would be made to dip once in Paradise and it would be said to him. 0, son of Adam, did you face any hardship? Or had any distress fallen to your lot? And he would say: By Allah, no, 0 my Lord, never did I face any hardship or experience any distress."

Now compare these two groups :
Group A :
"There is no sin on those who believe and perform good deeds for what they might have eaten (in the past) if they fear and come to faith and do good things and are conscious (of Allah) and believe, and still fear and do good, for Allah loves those who do good." (5 : 93)
Group B :
"Lo! those who believe, then disbelieve and then (again) believe, then disbelieve, and then increase in disbelief..." (4 : 137)
Just think of two people you made friends with. One is increasingly good to you, the other is increasingly nasty. If  you had a little heaven and a little hell, what would you do with these two friends ?

Chapter Fourteen

One question, if you wouldn't mind: would a princess or the daughter of a billionaire appreciate life in a palace in the same way as a girl who grew up in the slums and then became the wife of a president or a billionaire? One or the other may take such life for granted. Idem for us. We would probably have taken life in Paradise for granted. We would probably have thought that we are worth more than that. Satan said to Adam and Eve: "Your Lord forbade you from this tree only lest ye should become angels or become of the immortals." (7 : 20 ) Adam and Eve heeded Satan and ate from the tree because they suddenly aspired to something they deemed more precious than the Heaven they were in. But Allah, the Beautiful, the Bountiful, willed that there couldn't be anything more beautiful than Paradise, because it's "a gift of welcome from their Lord." (3 : 198) If you are a host and received guests that you like you would receive them in the best place possible and give them the best reception possible. Allah is not going to pay for Paradise. "Unto Allah belongeth the sovereignty of the heavens and the earth. He createth what He will." (42 : 49)  "He is the All-Wise Creator." (5 : 86) "He is the Knower, the Mighty." (30 : 54) A God like this would not be thrifty towards the faithful. Eternity alone is priceless. But eternity is too long a time. As a believer, I would love to have a long book of memories to accompany me in Paradise while enjoying all the good things in there. That's why Allah made us to live in this world so as to have as many beautiful memories as possible to cherish while in Heaven. Allah wants us to know His Merit, to value Him, to appreciate His generosity and kindness. If Allah makes us to suffer in this life of the world it's for us to see the difference between here and there, between the happiness we want to achieve by ourselves (which has an end, anyway) and the happiness that Allah wants us to feel forever and ever in Heaven. In other words, Allah wants us to thank Him in advance for that unhoped-for gift. He wants us to thank Him here – despite  any depravations – because it's only our thanks here that count. And yet people who spent their lives giving thanks to Allah in this world will also give Him thanks in the Hereafter. They will say : "Praise be to Allah, Who hath fulfilled His promise unto us and hath made us inherit the land, sojourning in the Garden where we will! So bounteous is the wage of workers." (39 : 74)

Now, is Allah worth or does He need to be thanked in advance? That's where people part ways: some will say yes (He deserves not needs), others won't care one way or another. That's where I have the choice: I choose between believing and not believing. When I believe I realize that, in fact, I don't have any other choice. Because the more I believe the more I feel obliged to Almighty. It's, in a way, like choosing between smoking and not smoking.  Nobody is going to forbid  me from smoking, but if I smoke I know the consequences. That's why Allah says: "Whoso doeth right it is for his soul, and whoso doeth wrong it is against it. And thy Lord is not at all a tyrant to His slaves." (41 : 46) If I give thanks to Allah I am doing that to save my own soul first, and then I am  only doing the right thing. I am expressing gratitude to my Lord for giving me a chance to live in this "imperfect" world and a chance to work for a place in Paradise, where I can see all the perfect things that I can't see in this world. The Prophet  (pbuh) said : "Allah, the Exalted, has said: 'I have prepared for my righteous slaves what no eye has seen, no ear has heard, and the mind of no man has conceived.' If you wish, recite (Quran) : 'No person knows what is kept hidden for them of joy as a reward for what they used to do." (32:17)

On a radio show an old countryman was asked: "Do you recall the 1981 famine?" He said: "Oh that's nothing compared to the 1945 famine, when a woman would take her baby far away from her home and leave him/her beside somebody else's house or on the roadside, and then she would look back  in sorrow and stop for a moment before continuing on her way back home." "That must be painful," said the interviewer. "Do you think such women were so heartless as to abandon their babies in this way?" "But that's famine,  my friend," said the countryman. "Hunger makes you blind."

That's the blindness of the mind. How about the blindness of the heart? When I listen to some radio programs, not only from my country, I listen to international radio stations as well, I sometimes get the impression that the world is full of misery. I have heard a lot of people talk on the radio to complain about various problems. Even celebrities complain about  their heartache, their horrific experiences with their partners, their parents, their children... Some go live on TV to talk about such things. At the same time, by day and by night, I hear on the radio a lot of laughter, a lot of merry music, a lot of sports, a lot of gastronomy, a lot of things that give me the impression that there's not one unhappy  person in the whole world! I have heard many people use the phrases "Thank God", "Dieu merci", "alhamdulillah" to express gratitude to God. But I have also heard many people complain about God, or rather about Fate. One question such people  ask: "How is it that God, this Almighty Creator Who knows everything, who is powerful, merciful, how is it that he knows my pitiful situation, he knows all about my sufferings, and yet he doesn't do anything to change my situation ? That's a difficult question. But I bet a good believer would say: "Yes "He is the Knower, the Mighty." (30 : 54) "He is Able to do all things." (67 : 1) , but I have committed sins, and my "Lord is not at all a tyrant to His slaves." (41 : 46) and "There is naught that can change His words. He is the Hearer, the Knower." (6 : 115)  And even if my sins were all pardonable I may still have doubts about my faith. So Allah may want to test my faith by depriving me of things I love. Allah "would know him who believeth in the Hereafter from him who is in doubt thereof." (34 : 21)  Even yaqeen (absolute belief) may vary from one person to another, from one situation to another. Some people may need to go through personal experiences, kind of heart  knowledge, in order to strengthen their faith. Allah wouldn’t deprive me of anything unless He has something good in store for me." But even this very good believer may not think in this manner without having gone through some kind of personal experience. It's such experiences that would make a believer deal with Allah differently. I know, as a believer, that Allah is "the Knower, the Mighty." (30 : 54) and "is Merciful, Loving."(11:  90) , but Allah is also "Mighty, Able to Requite (the wrong)." (14 : 47) ; and I have sinned, no matter what my sins are. So when I have a problem I "call on Him in fear and hope." (7 : 56) I cry unto Allah "in longing and in fear." (21 : 90)  I call on Allah in fear because I know He may punish me for my sins. I call on Him in hope because I know He "is Merciful, Loving." (11 : 90)  and "He is Able to do all things." (67 : 1) It’s not because Allah says "Our word unto a thing, when We intend it, is only that We say unto it: Be! and it is." (16 : 40)  that I should expect Him to answer my prayer right away. What I should expect is that Allah can – when He wills so – answer my prayer. That’s what’s important for me. When I am in a difficult situation some good-hearted people would  be willing to help me but they can’t. What could you do when you see a child burning behind the windows of a flat in a tower block on blaze ? What could you do when you see people swept away in their car by the floods ? Suffice it for me as a believer that Allah can help me when He wills so. For my part, I have to try as best I can to avoid anything that would anger Allah and make Him punish me in the first place. I should do as much good as possible – if I can – and then hope for the best. Nobody is going to tell Allah what to do. If I have questions Allah too would have questions to ask me : Did you give Me thanks for the job I gave you in…. or did you rather respond by sinning ? Would you like other people to be ingrate to you ? So who should you blame for this debt you can’t repay now that you are jobless ? It’s not Allah who’s going to say this to me. If I am a good believer it’s my nafslawama ("the accusing soul" (75 : 2)) that’s going to put me through such a self-analysis. This means that if I have acted wrongly, I must assume the responsibility. I have to repair the damage. I must at least have some decency towards my Lord. "Allah changeth not the condition of a folk until they (first) change that which is in their hearts." (13 : 11)  In other words, I should not expect Allah to give me something for which I have done nothing good in return. Allah says : "For the taming of Qureysh.  For their taming (We cause) the caravans to set forth in winter and summer.  So let them worship the Lord of this House,  Who hath fed them against hunger and hath made them safe from fear." (106) What I should  pray for first and foremost is hidaya (guidance). "Show us the straight path, The path of those whom Thou hast favoured." (1 : 6-7) Moreover, I should pray for al-khashya (the fear of God). Because without hidaya and khashya I can easily go astray. Hidaya is my passport. Khashya is my visa. 

"Allah giveth without stint to whom He will." (3 : 37) "He bestoweth as He will." (5 : 64)  That means that Allah would give to even those who won't pray for anything, who won't do anything for the sake of Him. That's my trap. That's what will make me say: since Allah gives to those people why doesn't He give me too, I who believe in Him and strive to please Him? That's a trap! What can I do to avoid falling in the trap, if I haven't fallen in it already? Well, I just have to learn a lesson from my personal experiences. My personal experiences will teach me, through facts, that  "If Allah touch thee with affliction, there is none that can relieve therefrom save Him, and if He touch thee with good fortune (there is none that can impair it); for He is Able to do all things. He is the Omnipotent over His slaves, and He is the Wise, the Knower." (6 : 17-18) Once I have learned this, I can understand why Allah deprived me of something I loved. Allah says: "And if Allah were to enlarge the provision for His slaves they would surely rebel in the earth, but He sendeth down by measure as He willeth. Lo! He is Aware, a Seer of His bondmen." (42 : 27) I ask myself: did I become a better person when Allah last gave me this or that? Did I thank Allah for His gift or did I rather respond by sinning? 

Allah says: "This is for him who feareth My Majesty and feareth My warning." (14 : 14) What does this verse say to me? Well, it says to me: STOP!  Where are you heading? What do you want? Do you want to serve God or do you want God to serve you?

Those are legitimate questions. I should answer them, if I am a good believer. I should put all my requests and prayers aside for a moment and start asking myself questions about the things I got already. In the news we hear something like: "It's the worst hurricane in 30 years. Many people have lost everything." This is hard to live for even devout believers. It's not easy for anybody to lose everything overnight. But when I see that such things do not happen to specific nations or countries exclusively, I have to ask questions. Drought, for example, struck people even in the prophets' lifetime. It happened to followers of Moses (pbuh) in his lifetime. It happened to followers of the prophet Muhammad (pbuh) in his lifetime, to the prophet's companions under the rule of Umar Ibn al-Khattab and other good leaders. What would I think of when I ask such quesions? Well, I would think of those (more or less happy/peaceful/normal...) 28 years between the current devastating hurricane/drought/war and the previous one. I would think of my hand/foot/tooth... before it was hurt. I would hopefully think of the time when I had water and electricity all day all year long...before the enerving daily power cuts. I should think of Allah's gifts and generosity and patience during all that time when I would not really appreciate those gifts.
Now, suppose I am certain that somebody loves me so much and cares for my love so much, how do you think I would react? Well, if I am grateful, I would at least try not to hurt him/her, not to disappoint him/her even if I had no special feelings towards that person. If I am an ingrate, I might think that it's only too normal that such a person should love me more than that and should do the impossible to please me. So I wouldn't care, I would show that person that I don't like him/her, etc. What happens in this case? Well, I may regret losing that person's love. This is the consequence of arrogance. Allah does not like that. He said about Pharoh's people : "So, when they angered Us, We punished them and drowned them every one." (43 : 55)

So such terrible happenings should be a reminder to me. I should remember that Allah is more powerful than people, more powerful than states, more powerful than empires. Why did Allah make people suffer from drought while they were still receiving His revelations from their prophets? The answer is clear and simple: Allah wants mankind to know that "That which Allah openeth unto mankind of mercy none can withhold it; and that which He withholdeth none can release thereafter. He is the Mighty, the Wise. O mankind! Remember Allah's grace toward you! Is there any creator other than Allah who provideth for you from the sky and the earth? There is no God save Him. Whither then are ye turned?" (35 : 3) It's not the government who creates jobs; it's Allah Who creates the conditions for economic growth where He wills when He wills. A government which cannot avert a major economic crisis cannot, overnight, create millions of jobs! It's Allah Who is the Lord of the world. The state/the government can build as many bridges and roads as it can afford. Allah can bring all that down in a few hours. At the same time, when the state destroys the environment with abject pollution and causes drought and floods, directly or indirectly, Allah remains the last resort to end the drought or control the floods. When I think about that, I should be amazed that Allah, Who has to run the World, the whole world with all its problems, can "find some time" to think of me too. "My Lord neither erreth nor forgetteth." (20 : 52) This feeling that my God is the Lord of the world is my best insurance. When I give thanks to Allah – for  what He gave me already – I am breaking down the imaginary psychological barriers that separate me from Him; I am cleansing my heart from all its complexes. By reconciling with my God, through repentance, I am curing my heart from my superficial ego. By doing all that I am putting myself in the hands of the real Lord. "And Allah was predominant in His career, but most of mankind know not." (12 : 21) "And let not their speech grieve thee (O Muhammad). Lo! power belongeth wholly to Allah. He is the Hearer, the Knower." (10 : 65)  "Say: Cry unto those (saints and angels) whom ye assume (to be gods) beside Him, yet they have no power to rid you of misfortune nor to change." (17 : 56)  "They measure not Allah His rightful measure. Lo! Allah is Strong, Almighty." (22 : 74) "And there is not a thing but with Us are the stores thereof. And we send it not down save in appointed measure." (15 : 21) "And there is not a beast in the earth but the sustenance thereof dependeth on Allah. He knoweth its habitation and its repository. All is in a clear Record." (11 : 6) "And how many an animal there is that beareth not its own provision! Allah provideth for it and for you. He is the Hearer, the Knower." (29 : 60) So I can't help bowing willingly, knowingly, with every cell in my body, with every bit of my soul, to God, to Allah, the Lord of the Worlds.

Does that mean that the state is useless, that the government is redundant? Not at all. When a leader helps me with money to rebuild my home or the destroyed school for my child, that's good of him, and I should thank him for that – even though he might be doing so only to be re-elected or to boost the sales of his future memoirs. I should thank him because, as the prophet (pbuh) said, "He who does not thank people cannot thank Allah Almighty."

Now, should I accept help from people? Why not? I should not regard this as help to my person, but rather to the human being in me. When I go to work and spend hours at work, with all the resulting long-term consequences on my health, I am not doing that for the good of my soul only. I am doing that for the sake of society as a whole. When I spend years and years bringing up a child, I am not doing so for my own pleasure only. I am doing that for the good and interest of my nation as well. This child may become a soldier to defend the nation, or a teacher to educate the future generations, or a doctor to treat future patients in this country. So I should not feel ashamed to receive help – be it tax-payer money or private donations – when I can't help myself. Today I'm the one who needs help, tomorrow I may be the one who provides help to somebody else. This is solidarity. Allah wants two things: gratitude towards Him and solidarity between humans. If we can't thank one another we can't thank God. When somebody gives me something (some help) he may do so to be thanked or just to implement the human/humane side in him – to feel as a decent, useful person. When Allah gives me something good, it's like Him saying to me : "Hey, this is just for you to remember Heaven." "We gave him his reward in the world, and lo! in the Hereafter he verily is among the righteous." (29 : 27)  When Allah subjects me to something painful, it's like Him saying to me: "Hey, this is just for you to remember Hell." "See they not that they are tested once or twice in every year? Still they turn not in repentance, neither pay they heed." (9 : 126)  In other words, Allah cares for me. He doesn't want me to go to Hell. He wants me to go to Heaven. Even the Quran describes death as a "moseebah", a "calamity". (9 : 106)  How can I rely on something that in the best case will end by a moseebah? That's even more horrific than losing one's home!

Besides, when there's a calamity, a natural disaster, you don't really feel a very big difference between a rich country and a poor country. Suffering is suffering. You can rescue people here using helicopters and there using small boats or animals. The pace of reconstruction may differ and yet one can only be astonished to notice that despite recurrent devastating natural disasters (the monsoon in South-east Asia, for example) life goes on as normal. Every year there's a monsoon and yet it's there where you find the largest population in the world. The homes are rebuilt, the villages are rebuilt, the towns are rebuilt, and the tourists go back there. Despite the monsoon people play cricket every year. Despite the hurricane people go to concerts and stadiums every year. The point is that, as a believer, I should regard such terrible happenings as messages, as a reminder. I should remind myself that, as a human, I am weak. My power has limits. I am not "at home" : I am only a guest in this world. Many people were here one day. I too will go one day. The plane may give me the best comfort, in the best First Class in the world, but I am only a passenger. I may live in a Five-Star-like home, but upon my death it will cease to be mine. Allah says: "O mankind! Ye are the poor in your relation to Allah. And Allah! He is the Absolute, the Owner of Praise." (35 : 15) "Lo! We Only, We inherit the earth and all who are thereon, and unto Us they are returned." (19 : 40)  "O mankind! A similitude is coined, so pay ye heed to it: Lo! those on whom ye call beside Allah will never create a fly though they combine together for the purpose. And if the fly took something from them, they could not rescue it from it. So weak are (both) the seeker and the sought!" (22 : 73)  "Everyone that is thereon will pass away; There remaineth but the Countenance of thy Lord of Might and Glory." (55 : 26-27) "Ye cannot escape (from Him) in the earth or in the sky, and beside Allah there is for you no friend nor helper." (29 : 22)  "Say: Have ye thought, if Allah made night everlasting for you till the Day of Resurrection, who is a God beside Allah who could bring you light? Will ye not then hear? Say: Have ye thought, if Allah made day everlasting for you till the Day of Resurrection, who is a God beside Allah who could bring you night wherein ye rest? Will ye not then see? Of His mercy hath He appointed for you night and day, that therein ye may rest, and that ye may seek His bounty, and that haply ye may be thankful." (28 : 71-73) "Allah receiveth (men's) souls at the time of their death, and that (soul) which dieth not (yet) in its sleep. He keepeth that (soul) for which He hath ordained death and dismisseth the rest till an appointed term. Lo! herein verily are portents for people who take thought." (39 : 42)

My days are numbered everyday. The Quran says to me : "send (good deeds) before you for your souls, and fear Allah, and know that ye will (one day) meet Him. Give glad tidings to believers, (O Muhammad)." (2 : 223) So what can I do apart from seeking a peaceful rather than  confrontational relationship with my Lord ? When I acknowledge my weakness vis-à-vis Allah, He too says to me : "Allah would make the burden light for you, for man was created weak." (4 : 28) Therefore, Allah will take my weakness into account. Because He is "Merciful, Loving" (11 : 90) "And He is the Forgiving, the Loving." (85 : 14) "Those who avoid enormities of sin and abominations, save the unwilled offences - (for them) lo! thy Lord is of vast mercy. He is best aware of you (from the time) when He created you from the earth, and when ye were hidden in the bellies of your mothers. Therefor ascribe not purity unto yourselves. He is best aware of him who wardeth off (evil)" (53 : 32) When Allah knows that I do not want war with Him, that I am not seeking to antagonize Him, He turns my weakness into strength.

What does it mean for me to acknowledge that I am weak vis-à-vis Allah? It means that I don't want Allah to regret creating me. I want Him to be proud of me. How? Allah says:  "What concern hath Allah for your punishment if ye are thankful (for His mercies) and believe (in Him)? Allah was ever Responsive, Aware." (4 : 147) "O ye who believe! Eat of the good things wherewith We have provided you, and render thanks to Allah if it is (indeed) He Whom ye worship." (2 : 172) As I said, I am only a guest in this world. Yes, I can work and get money. But I can't do everthing to make my life smooth. I can't make my clothes myself. I can't make my bike myself. I need a tele; I need to follow the news. I need vegetables and fruits. I need power and water at home. What would I do with my money if there weren't other people to make all those things for me? I may be financially self-dependent, but never self-sufficient. I also need clean air. I need the sun. I need sleep. I need good health. So Allah thought of all these things before making us. He says : "Is it they who apportion thy Lord's mercy? We have apportioned among them their livelihood in the life of the world, and raised some of them above others in rank that some of them may take labour from others; and the mercy of thy Lord is better than (the wealth) that they amass." (43 : 32) That's why He says: "And covet not the thing in which Allah hath made some of you excel others. Unto men a fortune from that which they have earned, and unto women a fortune from that which they have earned. (Envy not one another) but ask Allah of His bounty. Lo! Allah is ever Knower of all things." (4 : 32)

Now, instead of asking why Allah gives to those people who don't believe in Him I should ask: why don't I seek Allah's help? Why don't I respect Allah's decisions? If Allah wants to give so-and-so, so be it! What's important for  me is that Allah can give me too. But I have to first prepare myself to receive Allah's gift. There's a difference between what Allah gave me before – without  "deserving" what He gave me – and giving me something now or in the future as a reward for something I did to please Him. A reward is not like a present. I won't get any kind of reward without making sacrifices. When that reward comes my way I regard it as a mercy from Allah. Just as when somebody helps me (for love) or does something for me (for money) I regard that as a mercy from Allah too. Nobody can help me or do anything for me  "save by the permission of Allah", anyway. So I regard Allah's mercy as a sign of the greatness of Allah. But as I realize how great Allah is, how powerful Allah is, I can't help feeling some kind of fear of God. I will realize that even the fear of God is actually a mercy. That's why good believers beg Allah to grant them khashya (the fear of God). The fear of God is kind of spiritual vaccination. I am a believer, but I am a human being after all. I can be weak at times because I have the same instincts, the same desires, the same fears as anybody else. Life is unpredictable. I don't know what may happen to me tomorrow. I may be smart, but I can't know what's on other people's minds. I may be betrayed, I may be deceived, I may be let down, I may be humiliated, I may lose things that are now essential to me. So if I rely on my own behaviorial capabilities, on my communicational talents, on my exceptional wits, I may still be surprised to have to deal with particularly unkind people who would have no mercy on me. Hence the importance of the fear of God. If I fear Allah I will do my best to avoid evil, bearing in mind that I can yet fall at times of weakness. If something bad happens to me (as divine punishment for my past or present sins) I am the victim, not the aggressor. If I am the victim and I am a good believer, Allah helps me despite my past sins.  "Lo! Allah defendeth those who are true. Lo! Allah loveth not each treacherous ingrate." (22 : 38) If I am the aggressor, "Allah loveth not aggressors." (2 : 190) So He may not help me.  "And one who attacketh you, attack him in like manner as he attacked you. Observe your duty to Allah, and know that Allah is with those who ward off (evil)". (2 : 194) When I am trying to avoid evil, I am fearing God, not people. This is "taqwa" keeping duty to Allah. Taqwa means that I am the monitor of my own behaviour. I watch my own acts. I don't wait for the policeman to arrest me to change my behaviour. I drive well, I respect the rules. I don't drink, and then I won't care whether there's a policeman on my way or not. That's sense. That's what a sensible person should do. And Allah speaks to sensible people, called in the Quran "men of understanding". Allah says : "Say: The evil and the good are not alike even though the plenty of the evil attract thee. So be mindful of your duty to Allah, O men of understanding, that ye may succeed." (5 : 100)

What does "succeed" mean? It simply means not falling into unnecessary problems. When I think about it I realize that all this is good for me. Why do l worship Allah after all? Well, Allah says : "O mankind! worship your Lord, Who hath created you and those before you, so that ye may ward off (evil)." (2 : 21) "So observe your duty to Allah in order that ye may be thankful." (123) I first worship Allah in order to fear Him, to keep duty to Him, to liberate myself from the fear of people. By doing so I avoid a lot of unnecessary problems. By being good, fewer and fewer people will suffer from my acts or complain about me or think of harming me. So I find myself leading a rather peaceful life (despite occasional harm from some Satan followers during my trials or as punishment for my own sins). Therefore I see the benefit of my Faith. I see that religion is good for me. I feel that Faith is not only talk, or brain-washing; that it has concrete positive effects on my daily life. So I give thanks to Allah for that: I see, through this, the greatness and wisdom of Allah.

The Prophet (pbuh) said : "By Him in Whose Hand is my life, if you were not to commit sin, Allah would sweep you out of existence and He would replace (you by) those people who would commit sin and seek forgiveness from Allah, and He would have pardoned them." This is not a call to believers to commit sins. Far from it. It simply means that Allah will create the conditions for you, for me, to fall. I am a single man, Allah leads a woman onto my path while I am weak. The last decision remains in my hand. If I fail the trial and sin I will be punished. My punishment will hopefully lead me back onto Allah's path. Thus Allah remains on my mind always. Some believers dread such situations. They don't want to sin at all. They don't want to commit abominable acts. But there are other people who dread al-khatarat (bad thoughts); not only al-'atharat (bad acts), they don't even want to think of committing the slightest sin !  This is the grade of wilaya (Alliance with God, protection from God).  "In this case is protection only from Allah, the True, He is best for reward, and best for consequence."(18 : 44) That’s the peak of the Everest. "He selecteth for His mercy whom He will. Allah is of Infinite Bounty." (3 : 74) Those are the people who want to serve God rather than wait for God to serve them. That’s why Allah prepared for them a special grade in Paradise. "And the foremost in the race, the foremost in the race: Those are they who will be brought nigh  In gardens of delight." (56 : 10-12)  "Is the reward of goodness aught save goodness?" (55 : 60)

Is that a "closed group" ? The Quran says : "And the foremost in the race, the foremost in the race: Those are they who will be brought nigh  In gardens of delight. A multitude of those of old And a few of those of later time."  (56 : 10-14)   Allah says in the Quran : "Few of My bondmen are thankful." (34 : 13) How can I be thankful, "a grateful slave" (17 : 3) ? There’s a clear example in the Quran : "(They were) the seed of those whom We carried (in the ship) along with Noah. Lo! he was a grateful slave. "(17 : 3) That’s a prophet. I am not a prophet. How can I be like him ? The Quran says : "So observe your duty to Allah in order that ye may be thankful." (3 : 123) "And He it is Who hath appointed night and day in succession, for him who desireth to remember, or desireth thankfulness." (25 : 62)  "And he who doeth good of his own accord, (for him) lo! Allah is Responsive, Aware." (2 : 158)  It’s a question of choice. "Lo! We create man from a drop of thickened fluid to test him; so We make him hearing, knowing. Lo! We have shown him the way, whether he be grateful or disbelieving." (76 : 2-3) Allah says : "O ye who believe! Endure, outdo all others in endurance, be ready, and observe your duty to Allah, in order that ye may succeed." (3 : 200) How many people are willing to do that ? No wonder Allah says : "Few of My bondmen are thankful." (34 : 13)   "Small thanks give ye! "(23)

If I can't be patient when I lose one thing, how can I thank Allah for all the things He gave me already? It's a question of Faith (belief) and of faith (intention). Allah says : "If ye give thanks, I will give you more." (14 : 7) "And he who doeth good of his own accord, (for him) lo! Allah is Responsive, Aware." (2 : 158)  That's why Allah says : "Lo! therein indeed are portents for every steadfast, grateful (heart). "(31 : 31) These people who are patient and grateful do not complain about Fate. They don't want an easy life from start to finish. They are ready for trials and sacrifices. Solomon (pbuh) is quoted in the Quran as saying : "This is of the bounty of my Lord, that He may try me whether I give thanks or am ungrateful. Whosoever giveth thanks he only giveth thanks for (the good of) his own soul; and whosoever is ungrateful (is ungrateful only to his own soul's hurt). For lo! my Lord is Absolute in independence, Bountiful." (40) If I am a good believer, I should know that it's only too normal for me to give thanks to Allah. Otherwise why do I believe in Him ? "So eat of the good and lawful things which Allah has provided for you; and be grateful to Allah for His favors, if you are sincere in His worship." (27 : 114) "If ye are thankless, yet Allah is Independent of you, though He is not pleased with thanklessness for His bondmen; and if ye are thankful He is pleased therewith for you. No laden soul will bear another's load. Then unto your Lord is your return; and He will tell you what ye used to do. Lo! He knoweth what is in the breasts (of men)." (39 : 7) Gratitude is a virtue, isn't it? Allah wants us to have virtues, not vices. When Allah says : "Will they not then give thanks?" (36 : 73) it's as though He says : Why should you believe if you don't give thanks to Me ?

Again and again, it's a question of faith (intention). I can't believe in Allah "save by His permission". And I can't do good "save by His permission". "Yet ye will not, unless Allah willeth. Lo! Allah is Knower, Wise." (76 : 30) If only I had good faith ! Allah says to me : "And each one hath a goal toward which he turneth; so vie with one another in good works. Wheresoever ye may be, Allah will bring you all together. Lo! Allah is Able to do all things." (2 : 148)  So let me say OK. And then Allah helps me to believe in Him, to do good for His sake, to give thanks to Him... "and of them are some who outstrip (others) through good deeds, by Allah's leave. That is the great favour! "(35 : 32) "Had it not been for the grace of Allah and His mercy unto you, not one of you would ever have grown pure. But Allah causeth whom He will to grow. And Allah is Hearer, Knower." (24 : 21)

As I said before, Allah is speaking to "men of understanding" (5 : 100) , people who use their minds to see what's good for them. Allah does not need my thanks. He is worth more than thanks, but does not need them. If I am grateful to Allah, He too is grateful to me. "Allah is Responsive, Aware." (2 : 158)   "Allah is Forgiving, Responsive." (42 : 23)  "If ye give thanks, I will give you more." (14 : 7)  It's a reciprocal "love" relationship. I care for Allah, He cares for me. I have nothing to give to Allah, He has a lot of things to give me.

To simplify things, let’s imagine a friendship between a great emperor and his gardener. The Emperor shows tenderness and generosity towards the gardener. He protects him and gives him some assurance. The gardener, for his part, shows total respect, unwavering loyalty and even unshakable love for his master. This image is too simplistic to oversimplify even a little bit the relationship that should be between a believer and Allah. But at least it has the merit of helping us to understand that it’s the emperor who should provide the protection and the gardener must in no case be disrespectful to his master. From the moment I admit that God is my master, the Lord, and that I submit to Him, with all the respect due to Him, I am entitled to aspire to His protection. Even the Quran speaks of "Tijara" (trade) between the believer and the Lord. I honour my part of the contract, "And who is truer to his promise than Allah?"(9 : 111)

By submitting to the will of God I will inevitably make  sacrifices, which, in principle, should be rewarded and moreover by fair compensation. But it's not because I have done what Allah asked me to do that I deserve this reward. He has already given me so many things! The life He has given me is priceless. One eye or one arm or one leg He has given me is priceless. He gave me all this and more without asking him. And on top of that there's a bonus: Paradise. Everyone would normally be entitled to Heaven if there were not some kind of competition. I want paradise ? Well, I make an effort for it !

So, for good believers, expressing gratitude is expressing love just as helping others is giving them a chance to love God in their turn. Allah does not want me to believe in Him just out of kindness. He wants me to believe in Him because that's the truth. He wants me to believe in Him so as to prepare for His meeting, to prepare "my return" to Paradise.  "Say: I am only a mortal like you. My Lord inspireth in me that your God is only One God. And whoever hopeth for the meeting with his Lord, let him do righteous work, and make none sharer of the worship due unto his Lord." (18 : 110)

What's the alternative, I wonder ? There's either God or Satan. I have to choose. "Whoso chooseth Satan for a patron instead of Allah is verily a loser and his loss is manifest." (4 : 119) Yes, I can't see Satan (Lucifer) in the street. But Allah says : "O Children of Adam! Let not Satan seduce you as he caused your (first) parents to go forth from the Garden and tore off from them their robe (of innocence) that he might manifest their shame to them. Lo! he seeth you, he and his tribe, from whence ye see him not. Lo! We have made the devils protecting friends for those who believe not." (7 : 27) Allah (Who made Satan) also says : "Will ye choose him and his seed for your protecting friends instead of Me, when they are an enemy unto you?" (18 : 50)  Would I choose an enemy for a friend ? That doesn't make sense. Allah even speaks of "devils of humankind and jinn who inspire in one another plausible discourse through guile." (6 : 112) How can I know that this person is "an angel" and this one is "a devil" ? I need a special light to tell this from that : "O ye who believe! Be mindful of your duty to Allah and put faith in His messenger. He will give you twofold of His mercy and will appoint for you a light wherein ye shall walk, and will forgive you. Allah is Forgiving, Merciful." (57 : 28) Allah says : "Your parents or your children: Ye know not which of them is nearer unto you in usefulness." (4 : 11) "O ye who believe! Lo! among your wives and your children there are enemies for you, therefor beware of them. And if ye efface and overlook and forgive, then lo! Allah is Forgiving, Merciful. Your wealth and your children are only a temptation, whereas Allah! with Him is an immense reward." (64 : 14-15) How can I "beware of them" or anybody else if I don't have this "special light" from Allah ? How can I be a good believer if Allah does not help me see that light? "And he for whom Allah hath not appointed light, for him there is no light." (24 : 40) "If it had not been for the grace of Allah upon you and His mercy ye would have followed Satan, save a few (of you)." (4 : 83)

Finally, all my work – as  a believer – would be worth nothing if Allah does not accept it from me. "Allah accepteth only from those who ward off (evil)." (5 : 27) "Nay, but (the chosen of Allah is) he who fulfilleth his pledge and wardeth off (evil); for lo! Allah loveth those who ward off (evil)." (3 : 76)

I would love to be one of those who ward off evil. But if  I, personally, can’t ward off all the time, at least I can write a book which would make Satan cry.

Chapter Fifteen

What about Satan ? Should I fear him ? Well, Allah says : "Lo! the devil is an enemy for you, so treat him as an enemy." (35 : 6)  "Will ye choose him and his seed for your protecting friends instead of Me, when they are an enemy unto you? Calamitous is the exchange for evil-doers." (18 : 50) So if I don’t want to be one of the  evil-doers I should not take Satan for a friend. True, as the Quran says, "the devil's strategy is ever weak." (4 : 76) But I should nonetheless be wary of him.

What’s the difference between Allah and Satan ? Well, "The devil promiseth you destitution and enjoineth on you lewdness. But Allah promiseth you forgiveness from Himself with bounty. Allah is All-Embracing, All-knowing." (2 : 268) "Lo! Satan is for man an open foe." (12 : 5) "Satan was ever man's deserter in the hour of need." (25 : 29) As for Allah,  "it was not Allah's purpose that your faith should be in vain, for Allah is Full of Pity, Merciful towards mankind." (2 : 143) "and He is the Most Merciful of those who show mercy." (12 : 64)

The Quran does not say to me go and sin, but it says if you sin, be honest and say sorry. If I heed Satan for a moment and commit a sin, then I have to repent, and I will be punished even if I repent, so that I will not be encouraged to go on that way, the way of Satan. "Forsake the outwardness of sin and the inwardness thereof. Lo! those who garner sin will be awarded that which they have earned." (6 : 120)  Allah wants to save me. Allah wants me to lead a clean life in a clean society. If I am not clean I should not expect (my) society to be clean. If society is clean that’s not a guarantee that I’ll be clean too. I have to watch my own acts. If I am married, Allah would not want me to be constantly watching my wife. I can’t watch her all the time, anyway ! Allah will make her watch herself by keeping duty to Him, by taqwa. "Men are in charge of women, because Allah hath made the one of them to excel the other, and because they spend of their property (for the support of women). So good women are the obedient, guarding in secret that which Allah hath guarded." (4 : 34) Nobody can watch anybody. I can never totally trust someone's integrity or probity, because anybody can deceive me. Even very, very good believers are fallable : they can make mistakes. So Allah thought of a way to minimize these mistakes. Scholars call it ( الذرائع سد) or Prohibition of what may lead to committing sins. If you leave a man with a woman alone they are likely to make a mistake, sooner or later. The prophet (pbuh) said : "No man is privately alone with a woman but their third is Satan."  If you let your son or little brother go to a place where alcohol and drugs are served freely, he is very likely to do as others do. So what do you do to save him ? You prevent him from going there. If he doesn’t listen to you, what happens ? Idem for the Quran. The Quran prohibits adultery because, as you know, there may be bad consequences for everybody. Would you be pleased if you learnt that the child you call your son, the child you have fed for so many years, was in fact the son of another man ? If that didn’t happen to you personally, well, it did happen to many men. Allah knows that making love makes one feel so good, but for how long ? Allah knows that cocaine makes one feel so good, but for how long ? If I can’t marry, for material reasons, for example, and I make a mistake, at least, I should say sorry. At least I should consider that as a  sin. "Will they not rather turn unto Allah and seek forgiveness of Him? For Allah is Forgiving, Merciful." (5 : 74) "And those who, when they do an evil thing or wrong themselves, remember Allah and implore forgiveness for their sins - Who forgiveth sins save Allah only? - and will not knowingly repeat (the wrong) they did." (3 : 135) So I should beg Allah’s pardon and implore Him to give me the means to marry. It’s not a matter of coertion. It’s not because Allah wants me to suffer from sexual deprivation. It’s because Allah wants me to elevate myself from an animal into a decent human being. Love was made to encourage people to marry and beget children. Some of these children would hopefully worship Allah. Allah knows that I can, if I will, and with His help, do without all that filth. Allah knows that I can be stronger than Satan and all his temptations. Experience will show me that Satan can sometimes be as good as a lion in a cage, and it’s I who will go and let him out of the cage. Experience will show me that I wouldn’t make such mistakes only if I were weak. Sometimes I would do it soon after being relieved from a long suffering !"And if misfortune touch a man he crieth unto Us, (while reclining) on his side, or sitting or standing, but when We have relieved him of the misfortune he goeth his way as though he had not cried unto Us because of a misfortune that afflicted him." (10 : 12) What would I expect Allah to do to me in that case ? So when Allah punishes me for my mistakes, it’s because He wants me to be an honest, decent person. "O men of understanding! O ye who believe! Now Allah hath sent down unto you a reminder, A messenger reciting unto you the revelations of Allah made plain, that He may bring forth those who believe and do good works from darkness unto light. And whosoever believeth in Allah and doeth right, He will bring him into Gardens underneath which rivers flow, therein to abide for ever. Allah hath made good provision for him." (65 : 11) And even the worst punishment Allah would inflict on me, because of my mistakes, will only do me good ultimately. That’s a sign for me to know how Allah only wants good for me, how Allah wants me to be happy, how Allah loves me before I love Him. "O ye who believe! Whoso of you becometh a renegade from his religion, (know that in his stead) Allah will bring a people whom He loveth and who love Him." (5 : 54) Allah wants me to feel embarrased, ashamed of myself, so that I say SORRY. "O man! What hath made thee careless concerning thy Lord, the Bountiful, Who created thee, then fashioned, then proportioned thee? Into whatsoever form He will, He casteth thee." (82 : 6-8)

Now, why do I sin ? Very often it’s either because I am pessimistic (and think Allah is not going to help me anytime soon) or because I feel self-sufficient and think that even Allah’s punishment would not affect my life anytime soon. Why should I expect Allah to help me ? Did  I become a Muslim to serve Allah or to make Allah serve me ? What if Allah gave me everything I wanted ? Would I even care about moving up from the level of Islam to the level of Iman ? Allah first gave me a chance to become a Muslim, now He gives me a chance to become a moomin (a believer). This is a higher grade, I have to work hard to get up there. I have to work hard psychologically and intellectually. So if Allah puts me in a pitiful situation, that’s my chance to create a harmony between the physical things I do as a Muslim (praying, fasting…) and the spiritual framework within which I do these things. By doing so, I give a meaning to my salah (prayer), to my fasting, to my pilgrimage… I am not only imitating other people; I am translating the language of my own heart and mind into physical acts. This will not happen overnight : it comes bit by bit. Allah knows what I want. Allah knows what I need. Allah knows the limits of my patience more than I do. Allah knows everything about me, even before I was born. What matters now is my intention, is what I have at heart. Do I want to serve Allah or do I want Allah to serve me? If I just want Allah to serve me, I will remain no more than a Muslim, which is per se a GREAT thing. If I want to serve Allah, Allah will put the angels and the whole universe at my service. Trial by ordeal is painful. But I know that non-believers too go through painful experiences. It’s my intention, it’s my heart, that turns my painful experience into grades on the ladder of the Faith. It’s ups and downs. My Iman may go up very high, then it plummets, then it goes up higher than ever before, then it dies away, then it revives again and becomes stronger and stronger …until I find myself on the straight path. Yes, it’s a long experience, because the rule is : the higher you rise in your faith the harder your trials will be. Now, what if I fail a test/trial ? Very simply, I will be punished. When I feel alright, even if I am a moomin, I may fall to temptations, I may forget all the sufferings I experienced during my last ordeal. So Allah will remind me by a new ordeal. That good job which gave me such a strong feeling of security and self-sufficency, well, I'm losing it now. I try by all means to get a new job : all to no avail. My feeling of security is replaced by pessimism. What do I do? Well, I either give in to my animal instincts, pushed by my overwhelming pessimism, or I remember my Lord and run to Him for safety. Unfortunately for me, Allah may not remove my calamity anytime soon indeed. He will wait for me to learn a lesson. Allah will wait for me to put more questions to myself, to go through a self-analysis, to think more objectively about the world around me, about life, about my role in this world, about my goal in this life. Allah will wait for me to be honest with myself. If I do this I will rise higher and higher in the Faith. As for the job, Allah created the whole world, how can’t He find me a good job, a good wife… ? If I am a true moomin Allah cannot only give me a good job, He can give me all the tools and means to grow, to become an enviable person. 

I too could say why should I be punished in the first place since it’s Allah who made Satan and gave him the power to mislead me ? Now, suppose your lovely beloved only son stole a car and went to prison, would you take responsibility for that ? Would you agree to go to prison in his place, because it’s you who did not give him the right upbringing ? Maybe your son is good and would never do such things, but suppose your wife’s car was stolen by the son of a single mother who made love with her boyfriend during a school outing. Would your wife curse the boy who stole the car or the ex-High School student who gave birth to him ? If you (man) slept with a girl that you picked up on the street and you got AIDS, who would you blame for that ? The girl, her parents, yourself, society ? If you got a bad illness because of the junk food you eat every day, would you penalize the big food companies  or the new ways of life or society, or who? Would you blame the whole food chain? The Quran sensitizes and empowers the faithful. The Quran speaks of nafs ammara (literally, the soul inciting to evil) and nafs lawama (The soul which blames itself) and nafs mutmainna (the soothed soul). It’s up to me, as a believer, to manage my nafs, with the help of Allah.  "And a soul and Him Who perfected it And inspired it (with conscience of) what is wrong for it and (what is) right for it. He is indeed successful who causeth it to grow, And he is indeed a failure who stunteth it." (91 : 7-10)  "But ah! thou soul at peace! Return unto thy Lord, content in His good pleasure! Enter thou among My bondmen! Enter thou My Garden!" (89 : 27-30) The Quran helps me organize my life as an individual and helps individuals to organize their life as a community. The Quran sets a set of rules, some are very specific, others are general. There are things that any literate believer can take directly from the Quran. Other things need erudition. Our erudites help us understand not only the words but also the spirit of the Quran. Anyone can know directly from the Quran how to give thanks to Allah for all His grace.  "See ye not how Allah hath made serviceable unto you whatsoever is in the skies and whatsoever is in the earth and hath loaded you with His favours both without and within? Yet of mankind is he who disputeth concerning Allah, without knowledge or guidance or a scripture giving light." (31 : 20) But when it comes to handling our complex relations within society we need serious knowledge inspired by the Quran and the Hadith. It’s our scholars, those who have the knowledge, who tell us how we can accomplish our mission as viceroys of Allah in the earth.  "Ask the followers of the Remembrance if ye know not!"  (16 : 43)  "remember Allah, as He hath taught you that which (heretofore) ye knew not." (2 : 239)  "If only there had been among the generations before you men possessing a remnant (of good sense) to warn (their people) from corruption in the earth, as did a few of those whom We saved from them!" (11 : 116) Life in society needs organization. People need to know their rights and obligations ; they need to know, for example, the extent of the freedom they are allowed in society. But people also need to understand why they should abstain from doing things that others, in the same society, would do without embarrassment. Even a truly intellectual person can end up obeying Allah’s do’s and don’ts without protesting. That’s ’ibada, worship. But there’s  ’ibada (worship) and ma’rifa (knowledge). I strive, within the faith, to understand, to know the end Allah "had in mind" when He commanded this or prohibited that. Allah says : "They question thee about strong drink and games of chance. Say: In both is great sin, and (some) utility for men; but the sin of them is greater than their usefulness." (2 : 219) As a believer, I understand that Allah did not prohibit that without reason: "the sin of them is greater than their usefulness."  For practical reasons. If I want alcohol or drugs or sex out of wedlock or whatever to be depenalized time will show me the bad consequences of such a decision. Take men-women relationships, for example. From a societal point of view, there might be no problem for a sensible, honest, faithful woman to receive her male friend in her tent or in her personal room. But it’s because human experience has always shown that people don’t behave in the same way and that man can be weak that religion wanted to put  rules and regulations. "And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and be modest, and to display of their adornment only that which is apparent, and to draw their veils over their bosoms, and not to reveal their adornment save to their own husbands or fathers or husbands' fathers, or their sons or their husbands' sons, or their brothers or their brothers' sons or sisters' sons, or their women, or their slaves, or male attendants who lack vigour, or children who know naught of women's nakedness. And let them not stamp their feet so as to reveal what they hide of their adornment. And turn unto Allah together, O believers, in order that ye may succeed." (24 : 31) Even in positive law many people tend to look for loopholes and derogations in order to get that which is not theirs, to circumvent the law. Freedom is not only an individual responsibilty. It’s also a collective responsibilty. If the City (the state, the authority) outlaws the use of drugs, for example, the aim is noble, the aim is to save many people from addiction, from falling into delinquency. It’s an (amaana), a trust ; it is a general interest. Your children are not only your children ; they are the children of the nation ; they are the future of the nation, they are the treasure of the nation, be it Morocco, Malaysia or America. The City too should have a say in the way you bring up your child. Idem for the Quran. If I am a believer, the Quran shows me how to deal with my child, how to deal with my wife, how to behave in society as a whole. Allah says : "But seek the abode of the Hereafter in that which Allah hath given thee and neglect not thy portion of the world, and be thou kind even as Allah hath been kind to thee, and seek not corruption in the earth; lo! Allah loveth not corrupters." (28 : 77) The Quran wants you and me to be responsible persons. Even when it comes to elections, I have to vote – if I do vote – for the person I think is best – even if I don’t really need anything from that person or his/her party. I am doing this as part of my responsibility towards the City. Whether I go and vote or sit at home on election day, my responsibilty will not end there. I am responsible everyday : "and be thou kind even as Allah hath been kind to thee, and seek not corruption in the earth." (28 : 77)  That’s everyday ! At least I should not contribute to corruption. Because if corruption becomes rampant, widespread, everybody would suffer, even good people.  "And guard yourselves against a chastisement which cannot fall exclusively on those of you who are wrong-doers." (8 : 25)
That’s why the Quran wanted to organize our life, individual and collective, in such a way that everybody would enjoy the beauty of the world in a decent, legitimate way that wouldn’t harm anybody : Life is a precious gift. Allah wants life for us, not death. "And there is life for you in retaliation, O men of understanding, that ye may ward off (evil)." (2 : 179) The Quran even cares for our feelings. If I don’t like somebody I may turn away from him, but if he says hello I should return the greeting. "When ye are greeted with a greeting, greet ye with a better than it or return it. Lo! Allah taketh count of all things."(86) This teaches us humility. Every individual is important. Even a sick person, even a mad or penniless unemployed person, is important at least quantitatively – because he/she has to eat, to get dressed, to get medical care .... Everybody contributes directly or indirectly to the smooth running of the economic machine here or elsewhere. When we talk about a country’s economy, we say it's a market of 100,000000 consumers. We put everything in that number: the wise and the crazy.

Solomon said : "My Lord! Forgive me and bestow on me sovereignty such as shall not belong to any after me. Lo! Thou art the Bestower. So We made the wind subservient unto him, setting fair by his command whithersoever he intended.  And the unruly, every builder and diver (made We subservient),  And others linked together in chains,  (Saying): This is Our gift, so bestow thou, or withhold, without reckoning." (38 : 35-39) Not everybody can be Solomon, of course. Not everybody can be rich – even in America and China. From the very beginning life was based on dualities, just like the whole world. Male and female, day and night, good and bad, rich and poor, faith and heresy. Both believers and non-believers can be poor or rich, but believers and non-believers do not approach life in the same way. Even believers do not approach life in the same way all the time. Hence, the importance of guidance. Allah will show me the way, but He will not always push me to do something or prevent me from doing something. Allah says : "We verily sent Our messengers with clear proofs, and revealed with them the Scripture and the Balance, that mankind may observe right measure; and He revealed iron, wherein is mighty power and (many) uses for mankind." (57 :25) I’m not going to lecture you on what you could do with a knife or with your money or with your body. Just as I have a unique finger or ocular print, I can also have a different psyche, a different destiny from others. But I am not totally master of my destiny. "Lo! this is an Admonishment, that whosoever will may choose a way unto his Lord.  Yet ye will not, unless Allah willeth. Lo! Allah is Knower, Wise." (76 : 29-30) Even when it comes to remembering Allah. "So whosoever will may heed. And they will not heed unless Allah willeth (it)." (74 : 55-56) "but Allah hath endeared the faith to you and hath beautified it in your hearts, and hath made disbelief and lewdness and rebellion hateful unto you. Such are they who are the rightly guided." (49 : 7) Allah even "cometh in between the man and his own heart." (8 : 24)  But Allah’s meddling in  my life will generally differ according to two things : 1) my faith (the degree of my faith in Allah ; 2) the kind of good Allah wants to grant me sooner or later. "Lo! my Lord is Merciful, Loving." (11 : 90) But when I am leaving my place of work for the last time, without having any alternative in the offing, I may not even care about that good thing Allah may be keeping for me. I don’t want to suffer. I don’t want sleepless nights. I don’t want to hear comments or see looks that make me feel small. I want happiness now, and forever. Why should I be laid off by a human like myself ? Why should other people continue to go to work ? Why should other people live a normal life ? The same questions, they have always been asked by believers and non-believers alike. Reason alone cannot answer these questions. We only try to philosophize about things, as I am doing in my book. Because we know what’s in the Quran, we know what happens in life around us, but there are things we don’t know. And it’s these things we don’t know that make it hard for you and me to understand anything.

If I am a moomin (a believer), Allah gives me in the Quran an interesting example of how I could misinterpret Allah’s actions. The story of Moses with Al-Khidr (in the Surah of Al-Kahf) shows me that even a prophet cannot always understand Allah’s 'behaviour'. This story shows that it’s quite normal (it’s human nature) if I cannot undertand what’s happening to me, because I am using human reason / logic to think about these things. The problem is not with reason, though. The problem is that we humans base our reasoning on data which may not be complete. Allah has all the data, that’s the difference. It’s like Allah managing my heritage without my knowledge but wisely, in my best interest. What Allah takes away with one hand He makes up for it with the other. In the Quran He says : "it may happen that ye hate a thing which is good for you, and it may happen that ye love a thing which is bad for you. Allah knoweth, ye know not." (2 : 216) For example, Allah speaks in the story of Moses with Al-Khidr of this man who left two orphans. "…And as for the wall, it belonged to two orphan boys in the city, and there was beneath it a treasure belonging to them, and their father had been righteous, and thy Lord intended that they should come to their full strength and should bring forth their treasure as a mercy from their Lord…" (18 : 82) We do not know the age of this man at his death. But no matter how old he is, that's it, this man has accomplished his mission, he can go to rest. Allah will take care of his children and widow. This should enlighten me personally that I must break down this psychological barrier which tells me that at certain age I must absolutely have realized this or that, otherwise I am in a state of personal failure or considered as such. It is this psychological barrier that torments us, traumatizes us, makes us mad, blind. And we keep wondering why this or why that. Because we do not have all the data we do not really care what may happen next.

Suppose you were in a beautiful garden and then you got a call with bad news : chances are you’d forget all about the beauty of the garden. All your thoughts will focus on your SELF. There’s nothing more important to you than your SELF. And that’s normal. "Man was created weak." (4 : 28) Paradoxically, it’s at our moments of weakness that we pay attention to things we wouldn’t notice normally. This morning (December 31, 2016) I went past a very old house on the outskirts of the city. It was in the worst possible state you could imagine. The French family who built this house and lived in it for years and years, during the colonial era, would be shocked to know that it has been turned into a dirty animal shed with lots of filth all around. Of all those French settlers there remains one family in the whole area and it still lives in its old house. I have seen more than a dozen such uninhabited old houses in and around a rural commune not far away, which was called by the first French settlers "La Suisse du Maroc" (The Switzerland of Morocco), however exaggerated that might be ; to everybody here the real Switzerland of Morocco is Ifran, in the Atlas Mountains. (When I visited Ifran with friends in 1995 I said if this is Ifran I wonder what Paradise is like!) Anyway, a few weeks ago I went on foot to that rural area and I was a bit dazzled  (once again) by the beauty of the valley and the artificial waterfalls and I can understand why the first settlers called the place the Switzerland of Morocco. (At least at that time there was no dam on the river and so there must have been much more water than now.) The problem is, I was just going past a large graveyard, with lots of graves in it, when the rustic beauty of the valley snatched a broad smile from my face. I quickly forgot all about the graveyard and took pleasure in walking alongside the waterfalls. Such is the power of temptation ! But is it unislamic to feel and enjoy the beauty of the world ? Is it unislamic to live in a beautiful mansion in the middle of the greenery ? Allah says : "Who hath forbidden the adornment of Allah which He hath brought forth for His bondmen, and the good things of His providing?" (7 : 30) This beauty was made for us, but it can also turn against us. It’s like a knife, you remember ? "Beautified for mankind is love of the joys (that come) from women and offspring; and stored-up heaps of gold and silver, and horses branded (with their mark), and cattle and land. That is comfort of the life of the world. Allah! With Him is a more excellent abode." (3 : 14) So why should there be such pleasures in the first place ? Why should there be such a dazzling beauty ? Well, it’s the same place, the same Switzerland of Morocco, for the French settlers, for those who lived there before them and for those live in there now. The same beauty, the same temptations, the same graveyard. But Allah did not make beauty only. He also allowed for there to be nasty things – for us to reflect.

Even the soldiers who served the French colonial authorities were not all French. Many came from other French colonies. And the foreign people who were then in our cities and villages were not all French. Also there were local collaborators. We learnt all this at school. The question is, does one choose to be a settler in a colonized country or a collaborator ? A settler or  a local collaborator may have a family and children to feed. These children will not necessarily know how their father got the money to buy them good food or good clothes or build them a good house. Another question is, what’s the difference between a house built with money made by collaboration (or corruption, for that matter) and a house built with money made by legitimate trade, for example ? For a stranger, what matters is the look of the house : is it nice or not ? He will be thrilled at the beauty of the house, of the car, of the factory, of the children… even if he knows the origin of the money. It’s because people look at the look, not at the origin. If this stranger were poor or single or homeless, who would care about him ? He may even be of those who, "whenever Allah tries them by straitening their means of life, say : "My Lord despiseth me." (89 : 16) Maybe the French family who lived in that old house (turned into an animal shed) enjoyed the beauty of the house and the area in that beautiful time, but then the French had to leave. Maybe they weren’t even happy with the money they got when they sold everything. I can imagine the house was as beautiful as a Parisian High School girl. You can’t compensate that with money. But why is the house so dirty now ? Is it because the owner of the place is so poor that he only cares about the money he gets from the animals ? Doesn’t he care about beauty ? Or could he be "a wise person" who believes beauty is transient ? Could he be happy with his life as it is ? I don’t even know who it is, so I can’t answer those questions. But what would I do in his place ? What would I care about ? That’s a very big question.

Allah knows all that ! He knows that only a few would ever care. Allah says : "And whatsoever He hath created for you in the earth of divers hues, lo! therein is indeed a portent for people who take heed." (16 : 13) It’s for those people, who "take heed" that Allah made that beauty. If Allah says to those people : "Is He then Who createth as him who createth not ?" (16 : 17) , they will certainly say : No ! He Who creates is not as him who does not  create. Allah says : "Have they not observed what is before them and what is behind them of the sky and the earth? (…) Lo! herein surely is a portent for every slave who turneth (to Allah) repentant." (34 : 9) "A vision and a reminder for every penitent slave." (50 : 8)  This penitent servant (عَبْدٍ مُّنِيبٍ) will be sensible to all beauty : be it wild beauty in the woods or man-made beauty like that wonderful car parked in front of the school. But this penitent servant  will not be impressed too much by man-made beauty when he knows the origin. He will care as much about the look as about the origin. "The evil and the good are not alike even though the plenty of the evil attract thee." (5 : 100) This penitent servant  knows that it’s all trial. "Every soul must taste of death, and We try you with evil and with good, for ordeal." (21 : 35) But here’s the problem ! If that is what I believe, well, I will be tested. I can’t feign, once or twice. "Do men imagine that they will be left (at ease) because they say, We believe, and will not be tested with affliction? Lo! We tested those who were before them. Thus Allah knoweth those who are sincere, and knoweth those who feign." (29 : 2-3) If I pass the first test, I should prepare for the next. The rule is : the higher I rise in my iman (faith) the harder my trial will be. And I’ll be tried with people around me, people who have wonderful cars, nice houses, good jobs, lovely children… and even people who don’t have anything at all. "And We have appointed some of you a test for others: Will ye be steadfast? And thy Lord is ever Seer." (25 : 20) I’ll be like a lonely sailor in a pitiless sea, lonely except from Allah. Each time I go beyond a wave in this monstrous sea of temptations I say  "lo! with hardship goeth ease,  Lo! with hardship goeth ease" (94 : 5-6) until  I reach the shore with the least damage. It’s a fascinating experience, but it’s very, very hard. It’s like learning chess on a software application, you go from level 1 to level 12. Except that you risk leaving plenty of feathers there!

Some people surpass themselves by practising certain sports or by engaging in certain adventures. A penitent servant  surpasses himself by practising his faith, on the ground, in reality. In either case, if I am a moomin, I’m doing that for the good of my own soul. "And whosoever striveth, striveth only for himself, for lo! Allah is altogether Independent of (His) creatures." (29 :6) The world is full of people, but only a few of them mean to you. Your family and your friends mean to you more than anybody else. Idem for Allah. In the Quran we read : "Leave Me (to deal) with him whom I created lonely, And then bestowed upon him ample means, And sons abiding in his presence And made (life) smooth for him. Yet he desireth that I should give more…" (74 : 11-15) How can this one mean to Allah anything ? If I want to mean something to somebody I do something to please him, don’t I ? If I want to mean something to Allah I do something to please Him, don’t I ? But if I can lie to people, if I can feign to people, I can’t lie to Allah. "Thus Allah knoweth those who are sincere, and knoweth those who feign." (29 : 3)
All the temptations, all the glamour, all the beauty in the world was made to that purpose. "(All this hath been) in order that Allah might try what is in your breasts and prove what is in your hearts. Allah is Aware of what is hidden in the breasts (of men)." (3 : 154) And just as we reveal to Allah that we are truly sincere, He reveals to us, through our tests, that when everybody lets us down, He alone stays by our side to support and save us. Just as we know Allah more and more we end up loving Him.

By creating us, Allahwanted to show us His beauty and goodness. Allah did not need us. He just wanted to give us a chance to have this earthly experience. Allah knew that the earth would not be a paradise for us. He promised us a true paradise without deserving it, plus eternity. But we, me first, we want paradise here and right away. That's why Allah gives us time: to think, to compare, to remember. Fortunately, Allah does not punish us right away. Even Pharoh, He did not punish him right away. Because Allah knows that when we give ourselves the time to think (earnestly) we will naturally have the chance to see His righteousness and justice in all that He does.