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 mid-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)