For love some people lost their lives. Others went bankrupt. Some became philosophers. Others went mad. Some wrote books. Others versified. Some hated the whole world save the beloved.
From inside the trenches, surrounded by the smell of blood and the fear of an unseen enemy, young soldiers wrote home to say how much they missed the smile of their women (wives and fiancées), how much they longed to go back home and kiss their lips and fondle their breasts.
From the plane taking them far away, some pick up their mobiles and say to that dear person back at home, “Don’t forget, Katy. I love you. See you soon.”
Some stop somewhere to pick and choose a postcard and words to write on the back of the postcard. Others buy flowers or pullovers or whatever they think would make their beloved happy. Others just don’t bother to buy anything. Not because they are mean. But simply because they cannot find anything that would translate what they feel more than a smile from the bottom of the heart or a tear long held back.
For love some get so happy that they start doing what they never did before. Mean people become generous. Proud people become humble.
But who loves who? Apparently, neither the colour of the skin nor the physical beauty nor even the kindness of the heart or character seems to be a prerequisite for loving or being loved. The Beautiful can love the beast. So you can’t say who is more likely to love who. For many people love is a wish, but most often it just happens by accident, and when it happens it’s too late for anyone to judge whether the beloved’s ‘qualities’ do match the lover’s secret criteria. Even beauty can’t explain everything. In other words, everybody is potentially loveable. All nations have love stories and love songs. The question is therefore limited to the trigger: the precise moment when it all kicks off.
Whatever the criteria, what is perhaps crazy about love is that it can very often make you love somebody with all his/her physical or other defects. One can even love more than once in one’s life.
If you think about it, it’s really mystical. What’s driving me towards you? What’s in me that makes me attracted to you personally? If you are beautiful, kind, whatever…, you’re not the only one. So why you personally? Is it simply because I came across you in my school, my workplace, my neighbourhood, my family, during my travels…? Why shouldn’t other people love you like I do? Why shouldn’t you love me too? Why should you refuse to marry me while you love me? Why did I love other persons before you and forgot all about them? Any answer to such questions can only be approximate. Love is not always pure. It’s not always absolute. It’s not always naïve. But it’s there, it’s something real. Is it something normal? Or does it hide something? Couldn’t it be a sign for something? Couldn’t it be a message, an indirect message? Hey, look for the qualities in you: don’t wait for your sweetheart to love you. You are loveable in your own right. If you are black, white people have loved black people. If you are handicapped, able-bodied people have loved handicapped people… if you don’t have good looks, good-looking people have loved ‘bad-looking’ people. Just do like a treasure hunter who keeps searching a specific place until he finds the treasure… But who is telling me this? Where could this indirect message be from? Is it self-coaching only? Or is it reality?
It may sound strange, but there is more than one great Sufi master who tells us that no one has ever loved other than God. Leila, Bouthaina, Azza and all the other legendary women immortalized by Arab poets in their love poetry would in fact be only an image of divine beauty. Not being able to see God, the poet expresses all his love, his passion, his gratitude,... while addressing a woman, in whom he sees all the beauty, the greatness and the wisdom of the world.
So is it all about Faith? Why should I be different, then? Why did my God make me different? Well, according to the Quran, for example, there’s no difference between a black woman and a white woman, between a handsome man and an ugly man, between a successful engineer and a street vendor, between a disabled person and an able-bodied person. They all have souls. They are all judged on the basis of their deeds: good deeds and bad deeds. Being black, ugly or disabled –that’s ‘the first creation’ "We mete out death among you, and We are not to be outrun, That We may transfigure you and make you what ye know not. And verily ye know the first creation. Why, then, do ye not reflect?" (Al-Waqi'a : 60-62)
And if nobody cares about me, if no one offers me a bouquet of flowers or tells me tender words, if no one thinks of me beyond those around me, my parents and siblings ...? Does this mean that I do not deserve this "little more interest" that would flatter my ego? Does this mean that there is nothing special about me and that those who are loved are much better than me?
There was a Bedouin man (desert dweller) called Zaahir, and whenever he visited the Messenger of Allah (pbuh), he would bring him a gift from the products of the desert. When he intended to leave Madeenah, the Prophet (pbuh) would give him provisions from the products of the city. The Prophet (pbuh) said, ‘Zaahir is our Bedouin, and we are his city-dwellers.’ He (pbuh) liked him a lot. Zaahir was not very good looking. The Prophet (pbuh) once approached him while he was selling his merchandise. He hugged him from behind and Zaahir could not see him. Zaahir said, ‘Who is this? Let go of me!’ He turned and found out that it was the Prophet (pbuh), so he straightened his back and pressed it against the chest of the Prophet (pbuh). The Prophet (pbuh) then said, ‘Who will buy the slave?’ Zaahir said, ‘O Messenger of Allah, you will find no demand for me (i.e. no one would buy me)!’ The Prophet (pbuh) said, ‘But you are not so in the sight of Allah;’ or he said, ‘But in the sight of Allah you are valuable.’
Allah says in the Quran : "Wed not idolatresses till they believe; for lo! a believing bondwoman is better than an idolatress though she please you; and give not your daughters in marriage to idolaters till they believe, for lo! a believing slave is better than an idolater though he please you." (2 : 221) Allah does not speak here about just any woman ; He speaks about the woman you’d share your life with!
Is it un-Islamic, though, to aspire to be loved or to live with someone of one’s own choosing? Ibn ‘Abbas said “Mughith was a slave.” He said “The Apostle of Allaah (pbuh) made intercession for me to her (Barirah)”. The Apostle of Allaah (pbuh) said “O Barirah fear Allaah. He is your husband and father of your child”. She said “Apostle of Allaah (pbuh) do you command me for that? He said No, I am only interceding. Then tears were falling down on his (her husband’s) cheeks. The Apostle of Allaah (pbuh) said to ‘Abbas “Are you not surprised with the love of Mughith for Barirah and her hatred for him.”
In the Quran we read: “And of His signs is this: He created for you helpmeets from yourselves that ye might find rest in them, and He ordained between you love and mercy. Lo! herein indeed are portents for folk who reflect." (30 : 21) This means that there should be a minimum of ‘love’, or, say, ‘accepatability’, between spouses, and this “love and mercy” is a gift from Allah. In other words, love is good.
If we aspire to be loved, that's understandable. What about those who show their love to the point of passion, like legendary Arab poets and others? What would be the most important: to be loved or to love others? Don’t we all have the right to be loved since love has no prerequisites?
But love is not a game. Love is scary. In the worst case, the one who loves may be disappointed, shocked, humiliated or even pushed to death. At best, an accident in life (a natural death, for example) may end a long love relationship full of happiness and joy. A real dilemma, isn’t it? Maybe this is a dilemma only in theory. There are lots of people who love each other, who live happily with their families, who have children, and for whom everything is going well. The problem would be excess, perhaps. Yes, sometimes we love someone who has given us nothing; worse, one who has hurt us a lot, although we would want to ‘monopolize’ him/her somehow.
But why should one be loved if one is not always willing to give reciprocal love, to agree to marry, for example, the one that would fill us with love and tenderness? Many people prefer money to love. This has always been the case since the Babylonians and even before. Where are all these people, where are their palaces, their gardens, their jewels... ? There are only words left in poems or drawings on ruined walls. This told some people that one should better see what is most essential in life. That would be a giant step towards quietude that will make us less dependent on many things that we don’t have, on many people we consider indispensable, irreplaceable.
It seems that we need more love and affection in times of crisis (or as we advance in age). Sometimes we try to provoke, to arouse this love by caring to the maximum for one’s physical appearance.
In times of crisis many people crave for affection and tenderness. We can all detect on faces personal traumas and tragedies hidden by insincere smiles. Many people need to feel loved, and what's more natural? What more than a sincere love, a well-intentioned attention, could we use as a lifesaver, a cane to help us move quietly on the bumpy road ahead? But the truth is that there are husbands and partners who hate each other while sleeping together. Even those who love one another madly do not always have an easy life. Oh how many lovers are out there making war on a daily basis!
We all need compassion, or some kind of love, one way or another, one day or another. We need to compliment or soothe one another. We all love to hear nice words about us, about our possessions, our cities, our countries. However, there are many people who can live their love on their own and endure separation, as people can endure diabetes or high blood pressure. They say to themselves, when they want to, just what they like to hear. They give themselves importance when nobody is interested in them.
Love teaches wisdom because very often love experiences are full of frustration and missed opportunities. With age, the feeling of love matures and makes us love life as it is without giving up our wildest dreams, just as it makes us love a person with all his/her defects. This kind of love would allow one to have some peace of mind, emotional assurance and the ability to smile from the bottom of the heart and see and enjoy what is left of the beauty of the world.
In a garden we gaze at the beautiful flower; we turn a blind eye to the dead one. We clap eyes on the palace and ignore the hut beside. But no (straight) man would ignore a young woman passer-by to see flowers instead. A young woman is more precious than a beautiful flower.
Sometimes, one just can’t help sighing at seeing a dead rose beside a beautiful one. What makes him/her sigh? It’s clear: all beautiful roses will die in the end. All beautiful abodes will crumble one day. All nice furniture will decay. Friends go. Nothing is there to stay. Seasons change. There must be a winter before the spring. You may have to go through a nasty place before reaching the wonderland. The tiring return trip may make you forget the pleasures of your stay in the beautiful place. Things like these may push some to think about the transient beauty of our world. Is it our world, by the way? Or are we just passers-by? What’s next?
In a way, we all need some kind of love these days; we need to really feel being in family when we sit at the dinner table, for example: everyone seems separated by TV, smart-phones or other gadgets. There are people who are sick and who need this love. What do they do if nobody is giving them the love they need?
In matters of love, intellectually and spiritually speaking, it is better to be a subject than an object. When we love, we give, we are generous. When we aspire to be loved, by all means, or when we feel loved, we risk falling into pride and greed. When we love we are more sensitive to flowers and songs of birds, to the beauty of orchards, to people and everything in the world we live in. Love tenderizes the heart and strengthens spirituality. With love one can realize one's full humanity. Love helps us to extract strength from our weaknesses and resilience from of our setbacks. If we are of the kind who seek the common interest rather than the separating factors, if we are willing to give gracefully, if we do not want to satisfy all our expectations at all costs, if we want to walk hand in hand, in peace and quietude with the one we love, if we do not want to impose anything on the one who loves us, if we are willing to settle differences with smiles and beautiful words, if we do not want to cut ourselves off from the other by arrogating to ourselves the right to impose our way of seeing the world, oh how beautiful and sweet love will be! To ask someone who is in distress to think of others is obviously unrealistic, especially if it is the beloved who caused this distress. But love works miracles.
This kind of love is not always possible between two persons. When one cannot find someone who deserves such kind of love he/she is left with two options: to keep his/her love to oneself or to share it with just anybody else, with mankind.
Suppose you found just the right match, the wonder helpmeet, and lived together the happiest life ever. And then you lost everything overnight, as in the worst nightmare. What would you do? Would you still care about anything or anybody in the world, after you lost your spouse, your children and everything. Abdul-Rahman Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406), one of the most, if not the most ever, distinguished Arab scholar of all times. In his diaries, he said something like this : "Many people here (in Egypt) were jealous of me when I became a Maliki Judge. There came a time when I could not endure anymore, so I asked to be relieved of my duties. Then, I devoted my time to writing and teaching. But I soon missed my family, who were still back in Tunis. The problem is I could not go there because of the Sultan of Tunis. So I asked the Sultan of Egypt to speak with the Sultan of Tunis on my behalf. The latter allowed my family to leave Tunis. They took a ship, but as they neared the Egyptian shore the ship sank, and so all the members of my family were lost… " This happened to Ibn Khaldun when he was too old to think of marriage and begetting children. And yet he remained mentally fit and told us his story. Now, all the distinguished thinkers in my country and in the Arab world were influenced in one way or another by the writings of Ibn Khaldun. They all care about his thoughts; nobody gives a thought to his personal story.
For many people, such an unfortunate ending would be the end of one’s life: no more hope, no more dreams, no more foals. For people like Ibn Khaldoun life ends only when the soul leaves the body. But should one be like Ibn Khaldoun so as to approach life in this manner? What did Ibn Khaldoun have that allowed him to go forward? Two things: the Faith and a certain knowledge of the world. We can all have this kind of thing, if we want to. I am speaking here about people like you and me, who read and think.
How can faith and knowledge help us when our life is blocked, when all barriers are erected in our faces ? Well, they can help us ‘impersonalize’ the whole thing. If I lost my love, love, the best love in the wold, is only one pleasure among many. I can have pleasure by another means. If I lost a loved one, I ask myself: what if I lost myself? If I suddenly found myself in danger of death, would I think of that loved one I lost or would I think of my soul only? Do I miss, cry over, that loved one because I believe he/she should have lived longer or because I want him/her for myself, to be at my side forever? Is it an altruistic or an egoistic feeling? Well, when we impersonalize life we break down all egoistic barriers that prevent us from going forward.
Do you think Ibn Khaldoun did not weep when he got the news? Even the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) shed tears when he lost his son Ibrahim. Jacob, too, wept when he lost his son Joseph. But Ibn Khaldoun did not have one family, his family? He had a much, much larger family: the family of readers; you and I are members of that family. The prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and Jacob (pbuh) did not live for their family only, for themselves only: they lived for a much, much larger family, for mankind. You and me are part of this large family. Therefore, you see childless people help the children of other people; you see blind authors write for seeing people; you see poor artists entertain rich people; you see destitute bricklayers build houses for the wealthy; you see unemployed persons volunteer to give joy to people who have jobs.
But is altruism very far from egoism ? Not really. I can help others and at the same time have pleasure in doing so. This pleasure is my pay. Even when I do something for the sake of God, I can rightly and legitimately hope to have something good in return. In the Quran we read: "Lo! Allah loseth not the wages of the good." (9 : 120)
Speaking of myself, for example, when I work for sharing, I, in fact, join all of humanity in its journey in search of truth. Each of us has a fraction of this universal truth. All of these fractions constitute human knowledge, our common experiences. For example, the code of the road is the result of this human knowledge, which belongs neither to Westerners nor to Orientals. It is for the good of all Humanity. Like the zero, which the Arabs learned from the Indians and passed on to Westerners. Many people have found some peace of mind by practicing Yoga, for example. Others, by embracing a religion.
When we love an artist, a football team, a kind of art, we would like everyone to share our love of what we love. However, this artist, this football team, this kind of art ... might not be the best in the world. In my case, I can only express what’s in my heart. And it’s up to the reader to judge.
But what do I have to say about my religion? Well, a non-Muslim visitor to many of our Arab cities won’t get the impression that he sees something different from what he left at home. The same towers, same boutiques, same beaches. Why should he/she care about our religion in the first place? How much relevant would Islam be to a non-Muslim?
The world is all about beauty and greatness. Man aspires to beauty and greatness. When we are not beautiful ourselves, we strive to get somebody or something beautiful. When we can't be great, we identify to somebody or something great.
Men want beautiful women and women want handsome men. Both want beautiful children, a lot of money for housing, for education, for food and leisure. They want big cars, and property in the countryside...to impress friend and foe. They want the comfort of the life of the world as a sign of success, of greatness. Is there anything wrong with that? Well, our knowledge of the world is supposed to help us discern between good and bad and focus on what is lasting rather than what is transient.
Now, what does Islam say about beauty? The Quran gives an example of extreme beauty: Joseph, grand-son of Abraham. “And women in the city said: The ruler's wife is asking of her slave-boy an ill-deed. Indeed he has smitten her to the heart with love. We behold her in plain aberration. And when she heard of their sly talk, she sent to them and prepared for them a cushioned couch (to lie on at the feast) and gave to every one of them a knife and said (to Joseph): Come out unto them! And when they saw him they exalted him and cut their hands, exclaiming: Allah Blameless! This is no a human being. This is not other than some gracious angel. She said: This is he on whose account ye blamed me.” (12 : 30-32)
There’s yet a much more compelling beauty that we could hardly, if ever, conceive of: the Houris, Heavenly Maidens. The Quran describes them “(In beauty) like the jacynth and the coral-stone.” (55 : 58) The prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said: "The marrow of the bones of the wives' legs will be seen through the flesh out of excessive beauty." Can you imagine them? But that’s not all. The prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said: "Allah is Beautiful, He loves beauty.” Can we imagine Allah’s beauty even in a dream? Of course not. “Vision comprehendeth Him not, but He comprehendeth (all) vision.” (6: 103) “And when Moses came to Our appointed tryst and his Lord had spoken unto him, he said: My Lord! Show me (Thy Self), that I may gaze upon Thee. He said: Thou wilt not see Me, but gaze upon the mountain! If it stand still in its place, then thou wilt see Me. And when his Lord revealed (His) glory to the mountain He sent it crashing down. And Moses fell down senseless.” (7 : 143) If we can’t see the beauty of Allah Himself, we can –and ought to– see the beauty Allah created in the universe and in ourselves. Our –human– beauty is only an instance of that beauty. "And wherein is beauty for you, when ye bring them home, and when ye take them out to pasture." (16: 6) "and have caused of every lovely kind to grow thereon" (50: 7) "We cause to spring forth joyous orchards" (27: 60) "And verily We have beautified the world's heaven with lamps" (67: 5) "And verily in the heaven we have set mansions of the stars, and We have beautified it for beholders." (15: 16) "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) The purpose is clear: man should meditate on the signs that Allah made in His Creation.
Why are all peacocks beautiful? Why are some hens more beautiful than others? Does a coq choose a hen for its beautiful plumage? These beautiful colours are for us. "A vision and a reminder for every penitent slave." (50 : 8) Beauty endears the faith to the believer's heart. "It was said unto her: Enter the hall. And when she saw it she deemed it a pool and bared her legs. (Solomon) said: Lo! it is a hall, made smooth, of glass. She said: My Lord! Lo! I have wronged myself, and I surrender with Solomon unto Allah, the Lord of the Worlds." (27: 44) Allah says in the Quran : "O Children of Adam! Look to your adornment at every place of worship." (7 : 31) Would it be OK if you went to a wedding party in your best clothes and to a mosque in a shabby attire?
In a mosque you'd see people with more or less different colours, who speak different languages, etc. "And of His signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the difference of your languages and colours. Lo! herein indeed are portents for men of knowledge." (30: 22) "and We produce therewith fruit of divers hues; and among the hills are streaks white and red, of divers hues, and (others) raven-black; And of men and beasts and cattle, in like manner, divers hues? The erudite among His bondmen fear Allah alone. Lo! Allah is Mighty, Forgiving." (35: 27-28) It's because Allah, "The Originator of the heavens and the earth" and " the Creator of the heavens and the earth", "multiplieth in creation what He will. Lo! Allah is Able to do all things." (38: 1) "When He decreeth a thing, He saith unto it only: Be! and it is." (2: 117) He is capable not only of creating, but also of inventing and diversifying.
Indeed, diversity is part of the beauty Allah made in this world. You may be stunned to see how many colours are in tomatoes and eggplants, for example. But you would comfortably eat vegetables and fruits and meat of widely different colours. How would I know that this person is Chinese, if he speaks exactly like a Swedish or like an Indian American, or speaks exactly like an Irish man or a Moroccan Berber? Allah says : "O mankind! Lo! We have created you from male and female, and have made you nations and tribes that ye may know one another. Lo! the noblest of you, in the sight of Allah, is the best in conduct. Lo! Allah is Knower, Aware." (49 : 13) "And of His signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the difference of your languages and colours. Lo! herein indeed are portents for men of knowledge." (30: 22) Does this mean that a Chinese person is worth less than or worth more than a person from another country? Not necessarily. In the Quran we read : "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) First and foremost, it’s a question of ‘innocent’, ‘innocuous’ diversity. After that we can, yes, talk of some kind of differentiation, but not favouritism. The Quran says it explicitly. “And Allah hath favoured some of you above others in provision.” (16: 71) “See how We prefer one of them above another, and verily the Hereafter will be greater in degrees and greater in preferment.” (17: 21) "And covet not the thing in which Allah hath made some of you excel others." (4 : 32) So should I take offense when I see that Allah favoured somebody over me in terms of physical beauty or health or worldly possessions or power, etc.? Allah says: "And covet not the thing in which Allah hath made some of you excel others." (4 : 32) Allah even preferred some messengers above others. “Of those messengers, some of whom We have caused to excel others, and of whom there are some unto whom Allah spake, while some of them He exalted (above others) in degree.” (2: 253)
The prophet (pbuh) said : “Look at those who are lower than you but do not look at those who are higher than you, lest you belittle the favours Allah conferred upon you.” I have to compare myself to other creatures. “Verily we have honoured the children of Adam. We carry them on the land and the sea, and have made provision of good things for them, and have preferred them above many of those whom We created with a marked preferment.” (17 : 70) A can can eat what I spit, but I would never eat what a cat spits.
Besides, “preferment” is not necessarily pre-determined. You could buy a good car (of your own choosing) then find out that you could have bought a much better one with the same amount of money if and if and if. Idem for your house, your school, your shirt, your spouse, etc. Who would you blame, then? Worse, you may be beautiful and your spouse beautiful too but your children turn out to be less beautiful than the children of a couple with no good looks at all. You could be smart and your spouse smart too but your kids turn out to be less smart than the kids of an illiterate couple.
So where do we go from here ? There’s the problem of beauty; there’s the problem of love; there’s the problem of choice. Should I, for example, see to it that I only “choose” to marry somebody who is beautiful and who loves me? What if my spouse were neither beautiful nor did she love me? Would that be a sign that that’s exactly what I am worth? Then, in this case, it would be my own responsibly. If I regard it as an absolute precondition that my spouse be of the kind I dream of, then I don’t marry and I spare myself the trouble. If I can see in myself my own qualities, if I can value myself independently of what others may think of me, then I won’t see in my spouse “egoistic” signs that I am worth something. I am worth what I am worth. My wife is worth what she is worth. However, I can find in my wife full happiness –if I deserve it. How? Well, Allah says in the Quran: “Vile women are for vile men, and vile men for vile women. Good women are for good men, and good men for good women.” (24 : 26) So I should see in my spouse not a reflection of myself, but rather “revelations of Allah.” (7 : 26) Real beauty, real love –all that can be found outside of myself and my beloved. I can see –and enjoy– beauty all around me, in this world that Allah created for us all. I am not the epicenter of the world. I am only a tiny piece of this world. (One day I will die and become dust.) So I look to what is greater, better and "Who dieth not." (25 : 58) I look to the Origin of the world, to Him Who created the world: Allah.
Allah alone is "Allah is altogether Independent of (His) creatures." (29 : 6) All creatures need one another. "O mankind! Ye are the poor in your relation to Allah. And Allah! He is the Absolute, the Owner of Praise." (35 : 15) The mere fact that we need to marry and have children is a sign of our need of one another. “And of His signs is this: He created for you helpmeets from yourselves that ye might find rest in them, and He ordained between you love and mercy. Lo! herein indeed are portents for folk who reflect." (30 : 21) "And He it is Who hath created man from water, and hath appointed for him kindred by blood and kindred by marriage; for thy Lord is ever Powerful." (25 : 54) "And Allah hath given you wives of your own kind, and hath given you, from your wives, sons and grandsons." (16 : 72)
So instead of being constantly obsessed with what I am worth in my own eyes or in the sight of humans like me I'd rather see look higher than us all. "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) The prophet (pbuh) said: "None of you is a believer till I am dearer to him than his child, his father and the whole of mankind."
Our actions are not always justifiable by analytical reasoning. Think of love at first sight, for example. Also beauty is very often relative. "There's no beauty without a blemish," as the Moroccan proverb goes. Even the most beautiful woman gets old and loses her youth and beauty.
The problem is that, at our times of weakness, we may be afraid of not being up to it. Self-acceptance is not always obvious. You all know, for example, that the plastic surgery industry is worth billions of dollars.
What may be shocking, perhaps, is that a true believer would never be "satisfied" completely and sincerely with a beauty of this world, be it a human face or body, or any kind of material possessions. A true believer is an ambitious believer, one who aspires to what is better. But a true believer is a human like all human beings, with the same primordial impulses. Allah says : "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) This applies to all men. The differentiation comes afterwards. "Say: Shall I inform you of something better than that? For those who keep from evil, with their Lord, are Gardens underneath which rivers flow wherein they will abide, and pure companions, and contentment from Allah. Allah is Seer of His bondmen." (3 : 15) "Is he whom We have promised a fair promise which he will find (true) like him whom We suffer to enjoy awhile the comfort of the life of the world, then on the Day of Resurrection he will be of those arraigned?" (28 : 61) "And strain not thine eyes toward that which We cause some wedded pairs among them to enjoy, the flower of the life of the world, that We may try them thereby. The provision of thy Lord is better and more lasting." (20 : 131) The differentiation comes with the faith. When I believe that, one day, I will be entitled to what is better than the best thing I can have in this world, I rein in my wishes and my whims and would be pleased with what I have. The French say : " When we do not have what we love we love what we have." That's true for a true believer, too, with the slight nuance that a true believer accepts what he has out of belief, not out of resignation.
If I am a true believer, I myself will be incomparably more beautiful and desirable than I am in this world. Hasan Basri says that an old woman came to the prophet (pbuh) and made a request, O Messenger of Allah make Dua that Allah grants me entrance into Jannah (Paradise).
The prophet (pbuh) replied : O Mother, an old woman cannot enter Jannah. That woman started crying and began to leave. The prophet (pbuh) said : Say to the woman that one will not enter in a state of old age, but Allah will make all the women of Jannah young virgins. Allah says : “Lo! We have created them a (new) creation and made them virgins, lovers, equal in age.” (56 : 35-37). If I want to be loved, as a man, by a woman and can’t find the love I want in this world I can yet be loved in Heaven : “and made them virgins, lovers.” (56 : 35-37). The Egyptian ruler’s wife adored Joseph, but in the end he married another woman. “She said: This is he on whose account ye blamed me. I asked of him an evil act, but he proved continent, but if he do not my behest he verily shall be imprisoned, and verily shall be of those brought low.” (12 : 32) When I have this belief I rid myself of all psychological complexes and I take pleasure in doing my duty, to live my life serenely within my faith.
Allah wants me to live in peace with myself. “so let not thy soul expire in sighings for them.” (35 : 8) “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.” (58 : 22-23) Allah even wants me to be fit physically. Hence my rest and sleep. “Have they not seen how We have appointed the night that they may rest therein, and the day sight-giving? (27 : 86) “He it is Who hath appointed for you the night that ye should rest.” (10 : 67) “O Children of Adam! Look to your adornment at every place of worship, and eat and drink, but be not prodigal.” (7 : 31)
Even when I get into trouble as punishment for my sins I should not worry myself to death. “And when We cause mankind to taste of mercy they rejoice therein; but if an evil thing befall them as the consequence of their own deeds, lo! they are in despair! See they not that Allah enlargeth the provision for whom He will, and straiteneth (it for whom He will). Lo! herein indeed are portents for folk who believe. ” (30 : 36-37) “Say: O My slaves who have been prodigal to their own hurt! Despair not of the mercy of Allah, Who forgiveth all sins. Lo! He is the Forgiving, the Merciful. » (39 : 53) To appease my soul I have easy tools: “There is no God save Me. So serve Me and establish worship for My remembrance.” (20 : 14) "Verily in the remembrance of Allah do hearts find rest!" (13 : 28)
If I am lucky to have just the right spouse with whom I can live in peace and love, that’s great. If I can’t find that, what do I do? Self-flagellate or blame others for my woes? Or rather look for the love I want, the beauty I want, in myself, in my soul? Self-esteem is more precious than anybody's love or beauty. I can find all that in myself and be happy with what I am, with what I have. And at the same time I can be ambitious without wanting to set the bar too high.
The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was offered the opportunity to be the Bill Gates of his time, but he just refused to “seize” that opportunity. He slept on a harsh bed, lived on bread and dates, and once he had to roam the streets at night simply because he felt too hungry to stay at home. And yet his followers managed to build great (ambitious) empires. He could have made for himself a heaven on earth had he so willed, even if it meant waging bloody wars.
The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) wanted to be with al-Masakeen “the have-nots”, not with the rich. He wanted to be a man of the masses, not of the elite. He wanted to set an example. Once a governor came before Caliph Umar Ibn al-Khattab and offered him cakes. Umar said to him: “Do all people in your region eat such good cakes?” How on earth could a close companion of the Prophet Muhammad eat cakes which only the haves could afford?
Allah "has not taken a wife or a son." (72 : 3) Allah does not have a family. He does not need them. He does not need to be loved by a wife or helped by a son. Otherwise He wouldn’t be God. The best wife Allah could create for Himself or the best son He could ever make should be either as good as or better than Him. But why should Allah have someone in His presence who could be as good as or better than Him ? What would be the purpose ? There can’t be anything as good as or better than Allah and anything less good than Allah cannot be a god. “Naught is as His likeness.” (42 : 11) Period. There can only be Allah, on the one hand, and the Kingdom of Allah, on the other hand. And then "Thy Lord createth what He willeth and chooseth." (28 : 68) Why ? Because "If there were therein Gods beside Allah, then verily both (the heavens and the earth) had been disordered." (21 : 22) "Allah hath not chosen any son, nor is there any God along with Him; else would each God have assuredly championed that which he created, and some of them would assuredly have overcome others." (23 : 91) "Say (O Muhammad, to the disbelievers): If there were other gods along with Him, as they say, then had they sought a way against the Lord of the Throne." (17 : 42) Look at what man, this weak creature, has done against Allah; what if Allah surrounded Himself with other gods ? Would any sensible king accept to have around him someone who could do what he does or undo what he undoes ? That would be unwise of him. We have seen what happened in History between kings and their parents and their children and their siblings. "And it was not (vouchsafed) to any mortal that Allah should speak to him unless (it be) by revelation or from behind a veil, or (that) He sendeth a messenger to reveal what He will by His leave. Lo! He is Exalted, Wise." (42 : 51) "Yet they worship instead of Allah that which can neither benefit them nor hurt them. The disbeliever was ever a partisan against his Lord." (25 : 55) Allah can do all His work on His own. "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) So the Kingdom of Allah can only be ruled by Allah. But Allah does not want to rule by force only. With those who need force Allah will use force because He is “the Almighty, the Wise." (3 : 6) To those who need love Allah will give love because He is “Merciful, Loving.” (11 : 90) ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab (may Allah be pleased with him) said: “Some prisoners were brought to the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), and there was a woman among the prisoners who was searching (for her child). When she found her child she embraced him and put him to her breast. The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said to us, ‘Do you think that this woman would throw her child in the fire?’ We said, ‘No, by Allah, not if she is able not to.’ The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said, ‘Allah is more merciful to His slaves than this woman is to her child.’” We all know that the rain, which is a gift from Allah, does not fall only where Allah is worshipped. "Each do We supply, both these and those, from the bounty of thy Lord. And the bounty of thy Lord can never be walled up." (17 : 20) "And He it is Who sendeth the winds as tidings heralding His mercy, till, when they bear a cloud heavy (with rain), We lead it to a dead land, and then cause water to descend thereon and thereby bring forth fruits of every kind. Thus bring We forth the dead. Haply ye may remember." (7 : 57) This dead land could be anywhere in the world. You and I are not the one to judge Allah, but time has proved to us that Allah was right in doing so. "We shall show them Our portents on the horizons and within themselves until it will be manifest unto them that it is the Truth. Doth not thy Lord suffice, since He is Witness over all things?" (41 : 53) We now know that in almost every country in the world there’s at least one person or two who believe in Allah. For the sake of that one person Allah is ready to provide to all the people living where he lives. Because that person will need to eat, to wear clothes, to use transportation, to have a home, etc, and all this cannot be done by him alone. He will need people to farm for him, people to make clothes for him, to build a home for him, etc, etc. All the people will eat quite the same things, use the same transportation, have the same kind of homes, etc, but in this world only. In the Hereafter only the faithful will have the good things. That’s why it’s not un-Islamic for a good Muslim to enjoy the good things of this life. "Say: Who hath forbidden the adornment of Allah which He hath brought forth for His bondmen, and the good things of His providing? Say: Such, on the Day of Resurrection, will be only for those who believed during the life of the world. Thus do we detail Our revelations for people who have knowledge." (7 : 32) That’s why Allah provided our forefathers who did not believe in Him. He provided them with food, with shelter, with everything. He caused love to make them feel so good so as to encourage them to marry, to support a family, to prepare the future generations of believers. That’s why when Angel Gabriel said to the prophet Muhammad (pbuh) that, if he wanted, Allah could destroy the people of Taif, who had mistreated him, he said : "No, but I hope that Allah will let them beget children who will worship Allah Alone and will worship None besides Him." Does that mean that Allah is doing all this and taking all this trouble because He needs to be adored, to be loved ? We’ll see that later in the book.
Now, if I am a good Muslim and have some knowledge about Islam I should share it will all people all over the world, if I can. I am using things that come from all over the world (clothes, gadgets, books, etc). I should return the favour in the form of advice. Allah made those people help me (through their material products) to enjoy the life of the world, I should help them to see why Allah can be good for them too, why the life of the Hereafter is true and is no less good than the life of the world. Allah said to the prophet (pbuh) : "We sent thee not save as a mercy for the peoples." (21 : 107) The prophet (pbuh) died 14 centuries ago, his message is still being shared in so many languages by people who have tasted the sweetness of Faith, by people who love Allah.
Now, is it easy for anyone to share such knowledge ? Well, it depends. Allah says : "Enjoin ye righteousness upon mankind while ye yourselves forget (to practise it)? And ye are readers of the Scripture! Have ye then no sense? "(2 : 44) Put differently, I will be punished (here in the world and there in the Hereafter) if I contradict myself. If I don’t contradict myself, if I do as I say, I will have problems still all the same. Allah says : "Do men imagine that they will be left (at ease) because they say, We believe, and will not be tested with affliction?" (29 : 2) Put differently, I will have to make a lot of sacrifices. Is it worth it ? Well, it depends once again. For me personally, I am a writer and I have no choice. "And who is more unjust than he who hideth a testimony which he hath received from Allah? Allah is not unaware of what ye do." (2 : 140) "And (remember) when Allah laid a charge on those who had received the Scripture. (He said): Ye are to expound it to mankind and not to hide it." (3 : 187) I have learned things from my personal experience as a believer in Allah ; so maybe there are people out there who would be interested in what I am saying. This has become part of my everyday life as a believer. As I live a new day I earn something and lose something else, the least of which are my past days which are gone for good and will never come back. It’s not a 5-minute prayer every two or five hours that will alter the course of my day or prevent me from doing what I want to do. On the contrary, it’s more beneficial than a soldier’s respite. Likewise, when I am reading the Quran I am learning new things every time. When I am writing I am enjoying the immaterial side of my life. When I am posting my work on line I am making new friends. Allah is watching me all the time and that’s an honour for me. "And thou (Muhammad) art not occupied with any business and thou recitest not a Lecture from this (Scripture), and ye (mankind) perform no act, but We are Witness of you when ye are engaged therein. And not an atom's weight in the earth or in the sky escapeth your Lord, nor what is less than that or greater than that, but it is (written) in a clear Book." (10 : 61) Everywhere I look I see signs that I’m leaving this world one day. I see babies who will be my age when I’m gone. I see young people who remind me that I too was as young as them and I am no more. I see very old people and I’m not sure I’ll live as long as them. I see plants that last a few months and trees that are more than 100 years old. All this reminds me that I am leaving sooner or later. At the same time, when I say my prayers five times a day, and read some Quran, and do some good, day in day out, I get the feeling that I am kind of investing in these days gone by and that this investment should bear fruit upon my death. I feel that my life is in fact eternal, once I left my mother’s womb. "They taste not death therein, save the first death." (44 : 56) This gives me hope. So if I lose something when I am writing about religion I should consider that as an investment.
Now, what would I hope for as a believer who knows something about Islam ? In the Quran I read : “whom He loveth and who love Him” (5 : 54) What does that mean ? Well, it means that, why not, Allah can love me too. And that’s something I would love so much. But how do I know that Allah loves me ? Allah says : "As for man, whenever his Lord trieth him by honouring him, and is gracious unto him, he saith: My Lord honoureth me. But whenever He trieth him by straitening his means of life, he saith: My Lord despiseth me." (89 : 15-16) I would probably assume that if Allah gives me everything I want, that can be a sign that He loves me. But what’s the sign that I love Him ? Why should Allah love me if I don’t love Him in return ? Am I the only one in the kingdom of Allah ? Why should Allah favour me over all his bondmen ? Allah says : "O mankind! Lo! We have created you from male and female, and have made you nations and tribes that ye may know one another. Lo! the noblest of you, in the sight of Allah, is the best in conduct. Lo! Allah is Knower, Aware." (49 : 13) Am I "the best in conduct" ? Allah says : "Surely We created man of the best stature" (95 : 4) "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 if ye would count the favour of Allah ye cannot reckon it. Lo! Allah is indeed Forgiving, Merciful." (16 : 18) If that applies to me too, what did I give Allah in return ? When someone gives me something I say thank you. Did I thank Allah for all His gifts ? How ? Do I have a special relationship with Allah, a relationship far, far better than my relationship with anybody else ? Allah says : "Those who believe are stauncher in their love for Allah -" (2 : 165) "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." (39 : 23) "They only are the (true) believers whose hearts feel fear when Allah is mentioned, and when revelations of Allah are recited unto them they increase their faith, and who trust in their Lord; Who establish worship and spend of that We have bestowed on them. Those are they who are in truth believers. For them are grades (of honour) with their Lord, and pardon, and a bountiful provision." (8 : 2-4) "remember Allah as ye remember your fathers or with a more lively remembrance." (2 : 200) Am I among those meant by these verses ? When I want to sin, for example, do I hide from Allah or from people ? Do I fear Allah or do I fear people ? Allah says : "a party of them fear mankind even as their fear of Allah or with greater fear." (4 : 77) "They seek to hide from men and seek not to hide from Allah." (4 : 108) "The erudite among His bondmen fear Allah alone. Lo! Allah is Mighty, Forgiving." (35 : 28) "And of mankind is he who would sell himself, seeking the pleasure of Allah; and Allah hath compassion on (His) bondmen." (2 : 207) Do I really care about "the pleasure of Allah" ? Do I really fear Allah ? Do I really love Allah ? Allah says : "Say, (O Muhammad, to mankind): If ye love Allah, follow me; Allah will love you and forgive you your sins. Allah is Forgiving, Merciful." (3 : 31) Do I follow the prophet (pbuh) ? Do I ask myself such questions when I am alright or only when I am miserable ? What do I do when I am miserable ? Do I turn to Allah or do I turn away from Him ? Do I implore Allah to forgive and help me or do I try by all means to change my fate ?
You know, as I do, that normal adult people aspire to three things : financial independence, marriage and good health. What if I had none of these ? What if I were jobless, single and sick ? What could I do, knowing that I can’t, even if I try, change my fate ? All I can do is live with that and accept it and wait for salvation – just like a homeless person who can’t find a shelter. Suppose I were married and had two wonderful boys and a loving spouse, would I know what may happen to me or to them in the near future ? Now, here’s an anecdote. It’s in the Quran. "… So they twain journeyed on till, when they met a lad, he slew him. (Moses) said: What! Hast thou slain an innocent soul who hath slain no man? Verily thou hast done a horrid thing. He said: Did I not tell thee that thou couldst not bear with me? (Moses) said: If I ask thee after this concerning aught, keep not company with me. Thou hast received an excuse from me. " (18 : 74-76) Moses was a prophet and yet he could not see the point in killing an "innocent child". You and I would have the same reaction. Even after reading the justification for the killing of the child one would still wonder : Why didn’t Allah give those good parents the right child right away ? Well, they might have taken that for granted, just as I take it for granted when I take the train, when I switch on the light, when I turn on the tele, when I take a call from a dear person… Do I thank God for all this comfort ? What if I lost such comfort overnight? What if I lost anything that was so dear to me ?
Hopefully, that great loss may – I say may – bring me closer to my Lord so that I’ll think more seriously not only of my material comfort, my healthcare, my financial ease in this world, but also of my salvation. What do you think I would prefer : work after a long period of unemployment or a kind message from a person I loved so much and thought she had forgotten all about me ? How would I feel when I read that unhoped-for message or when I get a surprise call from that dear person ? If I think about it, it’s nothing compared to when Allah sends down the rain after a severe drought or when He puts out the fire of a deadly war or when He helps someone repay his debt after he was very close to imprisonment. That’s my chance to feel the love of Allah. That’s my chance to relish and cherish that love from my Lord and the Lord of the Worlds. People are proud to take selfies with humans like them, how about the love of the Lord of the Worlds ?
These are personal experiences. I am an ordinary believer. I am not a saint. What happens to me can happen to other people in various ways. I too need to understand things that cannot be understood by reason alone. So I need to go through personal experience and to know about other people’s personal experiences.
Ayshah (May Allah be pleased with her) reported: "The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) had slaughtered a sheep and distributed major portions of its meat. Then he (pbuh) asked, "What is left of it?''. I replied, "Nothing remains except its shoulder.'' Thereupon he said, "All of it remains except its shoulder.'' How could you and I understand this with our logic ? The sheep was eaten by the poor and there remained no more in Ayshah’s room but that shoulder : that’s logic, that’s reason. But to the prophet (pbuh) there was another logic. He saw Allah’s logic. We humans when we lose something it’s hard for us to think of a replacement/a compensation that we can’t see with our eyes.
We humans will always ask such logical questions as to why Allah gave the prophets Noah and Lot bad wives and to the tyrant Pharoah a good wife he didn’t deserve ? Would we see in Pharoah’s wife a wife to him but also an adoptive mother to Moses (pbuh), who could have been killed by Pharoah ?
The Quran tells us that Allah did not give a child to Abraham (pbuh) until he was very old. And then after He gave him a child and this child grew up a little bit, Allah told Abraham (pbuh) (in a dream) to sacrifice him. Someone who doesn’t have faith in his heart would only see in this kind of sadism. But both Abraham and his son would forget all about the pains they had suffered during the trial once they saw the gift brought down by angels from the sky, from the Lord of the Worlds. It’s like slapping your little son or little brother and then you give him a surprise present : the slap is painful, but your present will make him forget it, because you gave him a sign that you love him, that you didn’t mean him any harm. Likewise, it is not easy for many people to fast during the whole month of Ramadan. And yet they do it, not out of fear of people, but to please Allah and to do good to their own health.
Why did Allah do that to Abraham, why did He order him to sacrifice his son ? We don’t need to dream up an explanation. When Allah tells me, as a believer, to do something I have to do it, I don’t ask why. "The saying of (all true) believers when they are called unto Allah and His messenger to judge between them is only that they say: We hear and we obey. And such are the successful." (24 : 51) "And it becometh not a believing man or a believing woman, when Allah and His messenger have decided an affair (for them), that they should (after that) claim any say in their affair; and whoso is rebellious to Allah and His messenger, he verily goeth astray in error manifest." (33 : 36) Nobody asks a king to justify an order. Allah is the King / the Lord of the Worlds, period. Adam, don’t touch that tree. That’s it, don’t touch it. "And when Saul set out with the army, he said: Lo! Allah will try you by (the ordeal of) a river. Whosoever therefore drinketh thereof he is not of me, and whosoever tasteth it not he is of me, save him who taketh (thereof) in the hollow of his hand." (2 : 249) Don’t go beyond what you have been ordered. "To hunt and to eat the fish of the sea is made lawful for you, a provision for you and for seafarers; but to hunt on land is forbidden you so long as ye are on the pilgrimage." (5 : 96) That’s it, don’t hunt on land. Don’t ask questions. Maybe there are secrets I don’t know and Allah would not let me in on the secret. So I have to do as I am told. Who am I to be let into the Secret of Allah ? I should respect the distance between me and my Lord as I respect the distance between me and my superiors at work. I should show my Lord that He is indeed my Lord. I should show Him that I love Him by obeying His orders whatever they are. I should not ask why a male heir should receive twice as much as a female heir. That’s none of my business. I should not ask why a woman does not pray or fast during menstruation. Allah did not ask me to use water for my ablutions if I am ill. Allah permits me to only perform tayammum if I can’t find/use water, or to perform my daily prayers lying on my side in bed if I am ill. Allah permits me to postpone my fasting until after Ramadan if I am ill. If I can see symbolism in tayammum, why can’t I see symbolism in Adam’s tree or in Hevrews’ river or in hunting during Hajj in Mecca?
Allah made me (as a human) a viceroy of Him in this earth. A viceroy is not the king. But a viceroy can be brought near the king. I too can be brought near my Lord if I make a good viceroy. What’s my job as a viceroy ? I do what I can, that’s my job. I can help a homeless person by giving him shelter or food or clothes or money or just a smile. I am doing this to a human like myself. If I marry I marry a human like myself. If I work, I work for a human like myself. If Allah wants to take revenge on a tyrant He will send him a human like himself. Allah will not transport victims in ambulances or help the blind cross the street. I, as a believer, do it in His name. If Allah wants me to be jobless, nobody will ever give me work unless Allah wills so. If Allah wants me to be single, nobody will marry me unless Allah wills so. That’s because Allah is the Lord. "Knowest thou not that it is Allah unto Whom belongeth the Sovereignty of the heavens and the earth; and ye have not, beside Allah, any friend or helper?" (2 : 107) Allah is never in the headlines, but He is somewhere behind what’s in the headlines. When a celebrity dies, all the media talk about that celebrity, but where is he/she taken ? To a church or a mosque, to where Allah is. People who have faith in their hearts know that. So each would do what he/she can as a viceroy of Allah. They will seek a peaceful rather than confrontational relationship with Allah, because they know that there are things that Allah alone can do. Allah does them for us. "Have ye seen that which ye cultivate? Is it ye who foster it, or are We the Fosterer? If We willed, We verily could make it chaff, then would ye cease not to exclaim: Lo! we are laden with debt! Nay, but we are deprived! Have ye observed the water which ye drink? Is it ye who shed it from the raincloud, or are We the Shedder? If We willed We verily could make it bitter. Why then, give ye not thanks?" (56 : 63-70) "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 : 24-32) These people who have faith in their hearts strive to serve their Lord and do not wait for Him to serve them. When they need something they beg Allah to help them. When they have questions they think about possible answers rather than ask them bluntly. These people know that even science cannot explain everything. So they try to guess what Allah would expect of each of them and each would strive to accomplish his/her mission in the best way possible. What matters is what Allah wants, not what they want.
For many people religion is a problem; religion is a synonym of a long set of restrictions; religion is a natural enemy of freedom and individual liberties. Even for religious people religion is not always easy.
Now, is religion a problem or a solution? There’s not a clear-cut answer to that. The safest way to approach that question would be to say that religion is a set of solvable problems. "Every soul must taste of death, and We try you with evil and with good, for ordeal. And unto Us ye will be returned." (21 : 35) "But lo! with hardship goeth ease, Lo! with hardship goeth ease." (94 : 5-7) "Allah will vouchsafe, after hardship, ease." (65 : 7) Even the best religious society, led by the best religious ruler, would have problems, but they are solvable problems. Societies are tried just like individuals. An individual believer can lose his job, a society can suffer drought or an economic crisis. So what’s the use of religion if it will only add more problems to my problems? If I put that question bluntly, I will get nowhere. If I put it in good faith, as I said before, there’s room for discussion. Allah says: "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) That means religion is a mercy, a divine favour, not a problem. Why should Allah bother to send thousands of prophets and messengers in so many languages to so many peoples over a long period of time? What’s the use for Allah to do that? Isn’t that a "problem" for Allah? When Allah says: "Ah, the anguish for the bondmen! Never came there unto them a messenger but they did mock him!" (36 : 30) "Shall We utterly ignore you because ye are a wanton folk?" (43 : 5) , what good would that add to God ? What interest would God have in prohibiting sex outside of marriage, for example? Yes, Islam says don’t do this, don’t do that. A lot of restrictions. But in this chapter I will focus on the do’s. Many people would love to move up from Islam to Iman to Ihsan. Many people would love to elevate their nafs from ammara to lawama to mutmaina. Many people would love to approach beauty and greatness in the light of the Word of God. Many people would seek godly solutions rather than lament over Satanic problems. But that’s the minority of the minority. Allah says: "Whoso obeyeth Allah and the messenger, they are with those unto whom Allah hath shown favour, of the prophets and the saints and the martyrs and the righteous. The best of company are they!" (4 : 69) That’s the Elite. And in this elite (the saints, asseddeeqoon) come immediately after the prophets and before the martyrs. Who are asseddeeqoon ? Allah says : "And those who believe in Allah and His messengers, they are the loyal, and the martyrs are with their Lord; they have their reward and their light.". (57 : 19) (Translators have rendered here the Arabic word asseddeeqoon as the saints or the loyal.) At first sight those criteria do not appear to be unattainable. So can I be a seddeeq (a saint) ?
Let’s first see how al-muhsinoon (the good), which is a general term, are described in the Quran and then we’ll see whether you and I can attain that. Let’s just dream a bit !
"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); Those who spend (of that which Allah hath given them) in ease and in adversity, those who control their wrath and are forgiving toward mankind; Allah loveth the good." (3 : 133-134) "Such as remember Allah, standing, sitting, and reclining, and consider the creation of the heavens and the earth, (and say): Our Lord! Thou createdst not this in vain. Glory be to Thee!" (3 : 191) "Who forsake their beds to cry unto their Lord in fear and hope, and spend of that We have bestowed on them." (32 : 16) "The (faithful) slaves of the Beneficent are they who walk upon the earth modestly, and when the foolish ones address them answer: Peace; And who spend the night before their Lord, prostrate and standing." (25 : 63-64) "The steadfast, and the truthful, and the obedient, those who spend (and hoard not), those who pray for pardon in the watches of the night." (3 : 17) "Who are constant at their worship And in whose wealth there is a right acknowledged For the beggar and the destitute." (70 : 23-25) "And to feed in the day of hunger, An orphan near of kin, Or some poor wretch in misery, And to be of those who believe and exhort one another to perseverance and exhort one another to pity." (90 : 14-17) "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) "And let not those who possess dignity and ease among you swear not to give to the near of kin and to the needy, and to fugitives for the cause of Allah. Let them forgive and show indulgence. Yearn ye not that Allah may forgive you? Allah is Forgiving, Merciful." (24 : 22)
Grossomodo, it’s all about gratitude towards Allah and solidarity between humans. The details may differ from one verse to another, but the major guidelines are the same. "Ihsan," as the Prophet (pbuh) said, "is that you should serve Allah as though you could see Him, for though you cannot see Him yet He sees you." How can I translate this into acts ? Well, the Quran answered this in the verses above. That’s what al-muhsinoon (the good) do. But suppose I can’t do that. For one reason or another, I can’t fast very often or worship Allah at night while people are sleeping, for example, and yet I aspire to be among al-muhsinoon. What can I do ? Well, if I can’t do what al-muhsinoon and asseddeeqoon (saints) do in terms of acts of worship I should not expect to get the wages they get or the special place they get near Allah. Playing in the school games is not like playing in the Olympic Games. However, I can still rise in my Iman and stand out in the Eyes of Allah. How ? I should have a strong faith, an unwavering faith. If I hear "Is there any God beside Allah?" (27 : 62) , my heart will say before my tongue NO ! I have to be among those "Who have believed and whose hearts have rest in the remembrance of Allah." (13 : 28) That means I have to be anything but "anxious" , "Fretful" or "grudging." (70 : 19-21) If I have a problem I implore Allah : "and call on Him in fear and hope. Lo! the mercy of Allah is nigh unto the good." (7 : 56) In addition to praying I keep my duty to Allah. "And whosoever keepeth his duty to Allah, Allah will appoint a way out for him, And will provide for him from (a quarter) whence he hath no expectation. And whosoever putteth his trust in Allah, He will suffice him. Lo! Allah bringeth His command to pass. Allah hath set a measure for all things." (65 : 2-3) If my prayers are not answered quickly, I presevere and keep hope. "Such as are steadfast and put their trust in Allah." (16 : 42)
By doing so I discover things that I can only read about in the Quran and the Hadeeth. It’s my problems and how I see them solved by Allah, by the power of Allah, by the knowledge of Allah, that will show me whether this religion is about truth or about dogma. If I don’t have a problem, how will I ever know that ? "And whosoever keepeth his duty to Allah, Allah will appoint a way out for him, And will provide for him from (a quarter) whence he hath no expectation." (65 : 2) Who can try that out ? It’s my personal experience (what I feel when I have a problem, what I do to solve that problem, how I do it) that will teach me on God better than any scientific or religious book. These are the signs that affect my life directly. "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)." (6 : 17-18) "And your Lord hath said: Pray unto Me and I will hear your prayer." (40 : 60) "But lo! with hardship goeth ease, Lo! with hardship goeth ease." (97 : 5-6) "Lo! Allah defendeth those who are true." (22 : 38) "And whosoever keepeth his duty to Allah, Allah will appoint a way out for him, And will provide for him from (a quarter) whence he hath no expectation. And whosoever putteth his trust in Allah, He will suffice him. Lo! Allah bringeth His command to pass. Allah hath set a measure for all things." (65 : 2-3) "And whatsoever ye spend (for good) He replaceth it. And He is the Best of Providers." (34 : 39)
If anyone tells me about reason and obscurantism, well, I tell him that there are things that can never be rationalized. If you ever have to go through a real love experience, chances are that you will be confronted with situations where reason can’t help.
That’s why I devoted a previous chapter to intention (good or bad faith). And I posed the question : what do I care about ? What do I want ?
Ihsan is not a prerequisite to Heaven. An ordinary Muslim who keeps his duty to Allah is entitled to Heaven. Ihsan is a chance given to ambitious believers who would like to stand out with their work, to express their gratitude to Allah in the best way possible. It’s a further step towards Allah, Who made this world and gave me a chance to live in this world. Many people in history began as low-ranked soldiers and became army leaders or even kings. It’s a matter of ambition. "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); Those who spend (of that which Allah hath given them) in ease and in adversity, those who control their wrath and are forgiving toward mankind; Allah loveth the good." (3 : 133-134) "It is not righteousness that ye turn your faces to the East and the West; but righteous is he who believeth in Allah and the Last Day and the angels and the Scripture and the prophets; and giveth wealth, for love of Him, to kinsfolk and to orphans and the needy and the wayfarer and to those who ask, and to set slaves free; and observeth proper worship and payeth the poor-due. And those who keep their treaty when they make one, and the patient in tribulation and adversity and time of stress. Such are they who are sincere. Such are the God-fearing." (2 : 177) "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) "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) – Not everyone has that privilege.
Do I want to stand out in the eyes of people or in the sight of Allah ? Do I want to be talked about by people or by angels ? Do I want to be a celebrity in the earth or a celebrity in the heavens ? Do I believe in Allah because I am sure that He is God or because I want Him to give me a job or to give me a match or a child… ? These are essential questions ! My intention should be clear and pure. Do I do what I do for the sake of Allah ? If only my initial faith (intention) were good, Allah will take care of the rest. "As for those who strive in Us, We surely guide them to Our paths, and lo! Allah is with the good." (29 : 69) "Lo! Allah is with those who keep their duty unto Him and those who are doers of good." (16 : 128) "While as for those who walk aright, He addeth to their guidance, and giveth them their protection (against evil)." (47 : 17) "Allah is the Protecting Guardian of those who believe. He bringeth them out of darkness into light." (2 : 257) "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) If I am a sinner, Allah says to me (and to you) : "Save him who repenteth and believeth and doth righteous work; as for such, Allah will change their evil deeds to good deeds. Allah is ever Forgiving, Merciful. And whosoever repenteth and doeth good, he verily repenteth toward Allah with true repentance -" (25 : 70-71) If I want Allah, Allah says to me (and to you) : "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) If I forget, if I relent from time to time, Allah reminds me : "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)
If my faith is not that good, if it’s not pure, well, Allah will yet give me another chance, but through a trial, maybe two, maybe more. "Man tireth not of praying for good, and if ill toucheth him, then he is disheartened, desperate." (41 : 49) "And verily, if We cause him to taste mercy after some hurt that hath touched him, he will say: This is my own; and I deem not that the Hour will ever rise, and if I am brought back to my Lord, I surely shall be better off with Him -" (41 : 50) "When We show favour unto man, he withdraweth and turneth aside, but when ill toucheth him then he aboundeth in prayer." (41 : 51) "And if we cause man to taste some mercy from Us and afterward withdraw it from him, Lo! he is despairing, thankless. And if We cause him to taste grace after some misfortune that had befallen him, he saith: The ills have gone from me. Lo! he is exultant, boastful; Save those who persevere and do good works. Theirs will be forgiveness and a great reward." (11 : 9-11)
My trials will show whether I really want Allah. It’s then when I am supposed to do my best not to succumb to the lure of worldly pleasures ; it’s then when I have to show that I remember the Creator, I remember Him as I would remember a loved one. "then remember Allah as ye remember your fathers or with a more lively remembrance." (2 : 200) My trial will not necessarily be a hardship. I may be tried with a very good job, with a very happy family life. And that may be even harder than being tried with a hardship. In either case, I have to show what I want for myself in this world.
My belief in Allah entails a responsibility on my part, otherwise I'll be of those of whom Allah said: "And when it is said unto them: Spend of that wherewith Allah hath provided you, those who disbelieve say unto those who believe: Shall we feed those whom Allah, if He willed, would feed? Ye are in naught else than error manifest." (36 : 47) There’s good in all of us. The problem is that many of us don’t want that good to bear fruit. We prefer evil to good because evil is often easier than good. It’s easier to lie than to tell the truth, for example. I can lie to people, but unless I am a pathologically complex person, I would not lie to myself. I know my mistakes. If my faith is alive there will be a struggle between me and my conscience. It’s in fact a struggle between my nafsammara and my nafslawama. The mere fact that I have this nafslawama is a good sign. It’s a sign that I care about my faith. When my nafslawama is stronger than my nafsammara, what do I do ? Well, I know that "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) "Allah loveth the good; 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 : 134-135) "Will they not rather turn unto Allah and seek forgiveness of Him? For Allah is Forgiving, Merciful." (5 : 74) So I beg Allah’s pardon. I know Allah is just : "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) I implore Allah to forgive all my mistakes. That’s how I move up on the scale of my faith. "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) "Save him who repenteth and believeth and doth righteous work; as for such, Allah will change their evil deeds to good deeds. Allah is ever Forgiving, Merciful. And whosoever repenteth and doeth good, he verily repenteth toward Allah with true repentance -" (25 : 70-71) Allah does not expect me to be an angel. Allah expects me to be honest with myself first. I should be the engineer of my own redemption. In theory, if I personally am good and my family is good and my neighbourhood is good, who will ever be bad ? Allah says : "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)
Let’s imagine this. My brother and I are at the same university, at the same campus ; we have the same amount of money, the same amount of free time : I personally buy books or papers to learn more about the world, my brother buys beer and cigarettes ; I go to mosque, he goes to nightclubs… When I go to mosque I don’t find a devil who prevents me from entering ; when my brother goes to the nightclub he doesn’t find an angel who prevents him from entering. That's the freedom of conscience. "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) The judgement will come on the Day of judgement, not now.
But suppose Allah gave me the power to judge people, what would I do ? Well, this is not an absolute utopia. In the Quran we read : "They will ask thee of Dhu'l-Qarneyn. Say: I shall recite unto you a remembrance of him. Lo! We made him strong in the land and gave him unto every thing a road. And he followed a road Till, when he reached the setting-place of the sun, he found it setting in a muddy spring, and found a people thereabout. We said: O Dhu'l-Qarneyn! Either punish or show them kindness. He said: As for him who doeth wrong, we shall punish him, and then he will be brought back unto his Lord, Who will punish him with awful punishment! But as for him who believeth and doeth right, good will be his reward, and We shall speak unto him a mild command." (18 : 83-88) Would I be fair in my judgement ? Wouldn’t I be subjective, impulsive in my judgement ? Allah wants me to be honest, free from contradictions, fair in my judgement. "As for man, whenever his Lord trieth him by honoring him, and is gracious unto him, he saith: My Lord honoureth me. But whenever He trieth him by straitening his means of life, he saith: My Lord despiseth me. Nay, but ye (for your part) honor not the orphan, And urge not on the feeding of the poor, And ye devour heritages with devouring greed, And love wealth with abounding love." (89 : 15-20) If I can be fair in my judgement I should judge myself first. If I judge myself fairly my nafs may move up from ammara to lawama to mutmainna. When I shed tears of repentance that’s a good sign that my nafs is on the right way to reconciliation with Allah. When I see my brother or my sister are not as good as me I should implore Allah to guide them. "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) Am I sure I will remain as religious as I am until the end of my days ? Am I sure my brother or my sister is not going to become as good as or even better than me ? A Moroccan proverb goes : "How many landfills have become mosques and how many mosques have become landfills !" Besides, am I sure I am a religious person ? Allah says : "Ah, woe unto worshippers Who are heedless of their prayer; Who would be seen (at worship) Yet refuse small kindnesses!" (107 : 4-7) "Hast thou observed him who belieth religion? That is he who repelleth the orphan, And urgeth not the feeding of the needy." (107 : 1-3) Do I urge the feeding of the needy ? Religious people would say : "We feed you, for the sake of Allah only. We wish for no reward nor thanks from you." (76 : 8-9) Don’t I expect a reward or thanks when I do good to somebody ?
That’s the kind of education Islam wants for me. Islam wants me to be honest with myself. I should do as I say and say as I do. Otherwise I’ll be only lying to myself. It’s a matter of (good or bad) faith, once again. "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) Islam is not only about the veil or the beard. Islam is about every aspect of our life. "A kind word with forgiveness is better than almsgiving followed by injury. Allah is Absolute, Clement. "(2 : 263) "O ye who believe! Spend of the good things which ye have earned, and of that which We bring forth from the earth for you, and seek not the bad (with intent) to spend thereof (in charity) when ye would not take it for yourselves save with disdain; and know that Allah is Absolute, Owner of Praise." (2 : 267) "Ye will not attain unto piety until ye spend of that which ye love. And whatsoever ye spend, Allah is Aware thereof." (3 : 92) "It is not righteousness that ye turn your faces to the East and the West; but righteous is he who believeth in Allah and the Last Day and the angels and the Scripture and the prophets; and giveth wealth, for love of Him, to kinsfolk and to orphans and the needy and the wayfarer and to those who ask, and to set slaves free; and observeth proper worship and payeth the poor-due. And those who keep their treaty when they make one, and the patient in tribulation and adversity and time of stress. Such are they who are sincere. Such are the God-fearing." (2 : 177) "O Children of Adam! Look to your adornment at every place of worship, and eat and drink, but be not prodigal. Lo! He loveth not the prodigals." (7 : 31) "Say: Who hath forbidden the adornment of Allah which He hath brought forth for His bondmen, and the good things of His providing? Say: Such, on the Day of Resurrection, will be only for those who believed during the life of the world. Thus do we detail Our revelations for people who have knowledge." (7 : 32) "Now whatever ye have been given is but a passing comfort for the life of the world, and that which Allah hath is better and more lasting for those who believe and put their trust in their Lord, And those who shun the worst of sins and indecencies and, when they are wroth, forgive, And those who answer the call of their Lord and establish worship, and whose affairs are a matter of counsel, and who spend of what We have bestowed on them, And those who, when great wrong is done to them, defend themselves, The guerdon of an ill-deed is an ill the like thereof. But whosoever pardonethand amendeth, his wage is the affair of Allah. Lo! He loveth not wrong-doers. And whoso defendeth himself after he hath suffered wrong - for such, there is no way (of blame) against them. The way (of blame) is only against those who oppress mankind, and wrongfully rebel in the earth. For such there is a painful doom. And verily whoso is patient and forgiveth - lo! that, verily, is (of) the stedfast heart of things." (42 : 36-43)
"No soul can ever die except by Allah's leave and at a term appointed. Whoso desireth the reward of the world, We bestow on him thereof; and whoso desireth the reward of the Hereafter, We bestow on him thereof. We shall reward the thankful." (3 : 145) "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)
Allah says in the Quran : "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 Quran 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 every day. 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 forever? 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 commandeth filthiness 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. Allah 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 ?
In Hajj, people from all over the world meet at the same place, do quite the same things, and go back each to one’s home. Back at home each follows one’s own customs. What do these customs do ? They tell you how to behave well in society. That’s what the Quran does. If if I am a believer, the Quran tells me how to behave well when I am alone and when I am in society. I am never alone, actually. I am physically alone, but my soul is supposed to be linked to the Creator. The Quran helps me handle all my relationships : with myself first, with my kin, with my close community, with my state, with the country I live in, with the Ummah (The Islamic Nation), with mankind, with Allah and with Satan. In my relationship with myself, for example, I am advised on how to preserve my life, my money, my mind, my faith and my honour. I am advised on how to manage my relation to beauty and greatness. I am advised on how to turn my fragility (instincts, etc.) into a moral strength that preserves my honour and self-esteem. I am advised on how to elevate myself from an animal (a body) into a decent human being (a good soul in a good body).
Moroccan society is not American society or Russian society or Chinese society. But as humans we have many things in common. We may experience unemployment, for example, in many different ways. But the basic feelings of an unemployed person remain more or less the same. When you fail to find a job very often people would deal with you in a bad manner. You may even be surprised to see friends or family members turn their backs on you. You start asking existential questions. So you need to know about other people’s experiences in order not to repeat the same mistakes. That’s what I am doing now. I am sharing my experience with you.
My life has taught me that dreams are an inexhaustible source of inspiration. A good Muslim should have dreams in the worst possible circumstances. When you cease to dream you cease to be hopeful, and that’s the worst thing that a Muslim believer can do. If I don’t have dreams I can’t move up from Islam to Iman. But there are dreams and dreams. There are dreams that can be fulfilled and dreams that will never come true. As a believer, I should be realistic. I should take into account all "the data", as I said before. Age 50 is not like age 20. An only child living in a suburban villa is not like a young boy living with his brother or sister in a small room in a small apartment in an under-privileged area. The child of well-educated, religious parents is not like the child of illiterate parents interested in money only. Living in a country where social security and healthcare are commonplace is not like living in a country where social security and healthcare are a luxury. If I personally can make do with as little as one dollar per month, another person would need at least 500 dollars per month. If I personally can find someone to feed me when I lose my job, another person may not find anybody to give him a loaf of bread. My own hardships may be very, very hard – for me –, but they may be nothing compared to another person’s hardships. That’s why Islam calls to humility. "And walk not in the earth exultant. Lo! thou canst not rend the earth, nor canst thou stretch to the height of the hills." (17: 37) If I have eyes, I should think of one who doesn’t have them. If I have legs, I should think of one who doesn’t have them. If I have a roof, I should think of one who sleeps in the street. That’s how I will feel how Allah has loaded me "with His favours both without and within." (31: 20) And Allah says to me: "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) In other words, I should think of giving before I think of receiving. It doesn’t take a lot to be a benefactor: I can give as little as a smile or a nice word. That’s Islam how I perceive it.
A century ago young people in many parts of the world would live with their parents until they were married. Most people, even illiterate people, had homes of their own. There was plenty of work for everybody. The youth could go to school and thus live a better life than their parents’. Massive destruction caused by war led to massive reconstruction and the massive drift to towns in colonized countries increased the number and size of the cities everywhere in the world. New jobs were created, new trainings, new lifestyles. Everybody wanted to be "modern". Each country had its own economic boom. And then each country had its economic crisis. Unemployment, a relatively new concept, became a problem. Economic crises became cyclic. Employers became increasingly demanding. Education became increasingly expensive. The (unlucky) masses were growing (in numbers) faster than the lucky few. Young people had to contract long-term loans to finance their homes. The newer generations were asked to work harder in the hope of achieving half of what their illiterate parents or grand-parents managed to have. The result of all this: France, a rich country, is now alleged to be the fourth most pessimistic nation in the world. The truth is, pessimism is everywhere. Analysts are telling us that the crisis is systemic, the problem is with the System. There are rich countries that will never be able to repay their debts. Fewer and fewer countries will be able to control their budget deficits or even their currency. Unemployment is now a chronic disease in many countries. Robotisation and Uberization are a big challenge. Investors of today would prefer placing their money in banks or in stock exchanges rather than bet on manpower-consuming industries or farming projects. And yet it’s the individual citizen who would be blamed for not finding a job. Little blame would be laid at the door of bankrupt companies or even the government. In theory, the state is at the service of the citizen, but increasingly it’s the citizen who serves the state more. In many states of today many people pay taxes and on top of that they pay for their children’s education, healthcare, etc. But what can the state do, in many cases? Fewer and fewer states would have the means to provide free or low-cost education and healthcare without further widening the budget deficit or resorting to debt. It's a vicious circle. Each new government tries to give itself a good conscience, but it is not always easy to recover from a general crisis. It’s regrettable. It is all the more regrettable that many of us continue to put a lot of hope in our governments, in the state in general.
We have believed in a certain image of the modern man. The cinema, the media, school, the family, society at large… all have contributed to the dazzling image of the successful man or woman. In a way, that image is not entirely new. Even in old times people had a certain materialistic image of the successful man. The Quran relates the story of "Korah" who "was of Moses' folk." (28: 77) "(…) Then went he forth before his people in his pomp. Those who were desirous of the life of the world said: Ah, would that unto us had been given like of what hath been given unto Korah! Lo! he is lord of rare good fortune (...)" (28: 79) What’s new is that this image has been popularized to the point that almost everybody believes he/she can be that successful person. At school we were taught "If you work hard you will succeed." In my country, for example, many low-income families (lower-middle class, if you will) spend as much as half their income on their children’s education, insisting on scientific subjects, because everybody believes his or her child can be a doctor or an engineer. Literature, philosophy, history, geography…have all become taboo. But even now the state is hiring less and less people, be they doctors or engineers or whatever.
Those trivial things I said about how people lived a century ago and how we are today have become terribly important to many people now. Many people have discovered that life calculations are not like mathematical calculations. They have discovered that the state is not the government, and the state’s financial capabilities under one government may end under the next. So pressure on the government does not work always.
Now, what does Islam say about all this? Well, when the Muslim state, under Caliph Umar, for example, had the means, most men, if not all Muslim men, got a certain income from the state. And yet Umar once said: "No one of you should refrain from earning a living and say, 'O Allah grant me provision.' when he knows that the sky will not rain down gold and silver." The state is supposed to help me when it can afford it. And when the state can’t afford it, what do I do? When pressure on the government doesn’t work, what do I do? I give in to pessimism? I give up hope? I cease to dream? Well, that’s the worst thing a good Muslim could do.
But there are other important questions too. What do I want? Do I want to just lead a decent life or to live a better life than others? Which wages would I accept? Which lifestyle do I want? If I were a doctor, would I accept to work far away from the cities? Would it be a disgrace for me – as a doctor – to serve in a small village? Wouldn’t my children be able to live in a good way with the children of poor countrymen? Or would I want them to become doctors from generation to generation ? If I had the opportunity to work in a private hospital for a better salary, would I give up my work in a public hospital for material reasons only ? Is it a matter of working conditions or a matter of money ? If I were a state-employed teacher, would I leave my classes in public schools and go and work in private schools for an extra amount of money ? If I were a good writer and wrote a good book, would I share it with Web users or withhold it until I were paid for it ? What would I do with the money earned from that ?
What about people who have nothing, no money, no skills? They are unfortunately just put on the side. This gives the impression of living in a world greatly influenced by the haves. But the truth is very different, though. The world has always belonged, and will always belong, to the One who created it, to Allah. Everyone agrees that here in Morocco economic activity depends greatly on rainfall. But when it rains little or not at all at the right time, rogatory prayers are performed in all the kingdom's mosques upon orders of the King. This means that your fate, mine, and the fate of everyone does not depend on the propertied, (or on the government, by the way) and that Allah Alone is the Lord of the world. Normally, we are supposed to think of Allah in good and bad. Allah says: "Every soul must taste of death, and We try you with evil and with good, for ordeal. And unto Us ye will be returned." (21 : 35) What does that mean ? It means that you and I ought to think of Allah, and not forget Him, when we are hungry, when we have something to eat and drink, when we are naked and when we have something to wear. As a believer, I ought to remember Allah when I am tired and when I go to bed, etc., etc. I ought to think of Allah by way of gratitude, whatever the shape I’m in. Why ? Well, it's because Allah says: "Therefore remember Me, I will remember you. Give thanks to Me, and reject not Me." (2 : 152) "Such as remember Allah, standing, sitting, and reclining, and consider the creation of the heavens and the earth, (and say): Our Lord! Thou createdst not this in vain. Glory be to Thee!" (3 : 191) If I believe that Allah is the Lord of the world, I ought to think of Him before thinking of anyone else. I ought to think of Him when I make my decisions about my job, my place of work, the salary I should accept, etc., about my marriage, the schooling of my children, etc., etc.
For some the problem that is the root of all our problems is not so much the economy, but rather lack of social justice, it is unfair redistribution of wealth, it is the tax havens, it is corruption. Precisely, the prophet (pbuh) says: "The virtue of a nation determines the virtue of its leaders and politicians. (literally: as you are, you are ruled)." If everyone thinks only of money why should Allah think of us? Why should He see to it that we have the right leaders? Allah warns us in the Quran: "O ye who believe! Observe your duty to Allah. And let every soul look to that which it sendeth on before for the morrow. And observe your duty to Allah. Lo! Allah is Aware of what ye do. And be not ye as those who forgot Allah, therefor He caused them to forget their souls. Such are the evil-doers." (59 : 18-19) "The hypocrites, both men and women, proceed one from another. They enjoin the wrong, and they forbid the right, and they withhold their hands (from spending for the cause of Allah). They forget Allah, so He hath forgotten them. Lo! the hypocrites, they are the transgressors." (9 : 67)
Everyone wants to be modern, and this kind of (theological) thinking may not rhyme with modernity, is no longer up to date. Companian Abu BakrAsidiq (RA) said : "We folks don't eat unless we are hungry, And when we eat we don't get full."
Who applies this in his life, actually? Me ? Not at all ! I too am far from being vaccinated. I grew up like everyone else, in the same schools, in the same neighbourhoods, in the same stream of thought. But I know that (some) people have lived well on very, very little. People deprived of everything except their faith, and yet they enjoyed their lives. These people loved Allah because they saw in this world (full of contradictions, full of inequalities, full of suffering, full of what have you) – (in spite of everything) they saw a sublime beauty inside and outside themselves. They liked to see gold without wanting to grab it, as they liked to see the moon or sunset without wanting to own the moon or the sun. They loved Allah for the wonder He created in them. Yet for many of them, they gave up only what was not so essential to them. They too ate and drank, they too married and had children, they too had their homes. Only they were not obsessed by the desire to have everything. Some had the doors of worldly life open wide to them after their renunciation. They had the choice to give up all luxuries to the extent humanly possible or to fully enjoy the pleasures of life. Islam does not forbid you to live in a palace or in a luxurious villa. But this palace or any other good must remain in the hand and not in the heart. It is Allah and Allah Alone that must be in the heart. That's the difference between a believer and a non-believer. If you live in a hut you will see the beauty and goodness of Allah in this hut. If you live in a luxurious villa you will see the grace of Allah in all its corners, in all the roses of the little garden. You will express your love for Allah whether you are in the hut or in the palace. It’s the same Qur'an that you will read there. It’s the same prayer that you will perform there. This love entails a responsibility on your part. You must do what Allah has created you for. I speak to you here as I speak to myself. I'm preaching myself. If Allah meant me to play a particular role in a particular place at a paticular time, I should strive to play that role in the best way possible. There may be other people who were chosen by Allah to play similar roles. I am in a competition. I should not think of the prize before the competition is over. "for this let (all) those strive who strive for bliss -" (83 : 26) If I were a doctor, would I count how many patients were cured at my hands or would I count my money ? If I were a teacher, would I count how many of my former students became successful people, or would I count my possessions ? If I were a lawyer, would I count how many people were saved at my hands, or would I count my money ? If I were a successful writer, would I count how many people found my work useful or would I count my royalties ? Allah does not choose only believers to play such roles. "And with Him are the keys of the Invisible. None but He knoweth them. And He knoweth what is in the land and the sea. Not a leaf falleth but He knoweth it, not a grain amid the darkness of the earth, naught of wet or dry but (it is noted) in a clear record." (6 : 59) "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 to-morrow, and no soul knoweth in what land it will die. Lo! Allah is Knower, Aware." (31 : 34) That’s Allah’s DATA, as I said before. That’s how Allah manages His Creation with His knowledge and His power, in Morocco,in France, in U.S.A., in China, everywhere. "Lo! He is Knower, Powerful." (42 : 50) Allah knows how many teachers, doctors, engineers, grocers, hairdressers, nurses, policemen, pilots, computer scientists, street sweepers… are needed to serve His bondmen. That’s part of Allah’s design when He willed that the whole universe should be at the service of man. "Hast thou not known that Allah knoweth all that is in the heaven and the earth? Lo! it is in a record. Lo! that is easy for Allah." (22 : 70) "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) "And We have given you (mankind) power in the earth, and appointed for you therein livelihood. Little give ye thanks! " (7 : 10) "And we have given unto you livelihoods therein, and unto those for whom ye provide not." (15 : 20) Different jobs, different occupations : "Lo! your effort is dispersed (toward divers ends)." (92 : 4) Allah knows the pace at which every community, every nation, every state develops ; Allah knows every single development in History. That’s because Allah wants to make Himself known to all mankind. "Messengers of good cheer and of warning, in order that mankind might have no argument against Allah after the messengers. Allah was ever Mighty, Wise." (4 : 165) One day God, Allah, will be known and adored in every part of the earth much, much more than today. He will be worshipped more and more on the land, on the continents, on the islands, on the sea, en route in the sky, everywhere, night and day. This wonderful tool, the Internet, is a gift from Allah to mankind, it’s a tool for mankind to know Allah more ; it’s a tool for believers to express their gratitude to Allah. "remember Allah, as He hath taught you that which (heretofore) ye knew not." (2 : 239) Allah shared some of His knowledge with us ; those among us who have some knowledge have to share it with their fellow human beings. And yet Allah does not care how many billionaires or new millionaires will be there, how many people will make money of this process. Allah will care for those who care about Him.
As I said earlier, what you learn at age 50 is not what you learn at age 20. Wisdom comes with time. Wisdom means knowing one's possibilities and limitations. Wisdom means that one should not blame others for one's woes. If there is an economic crisis, or social unrest, even if they were willed by Allah, everyone should examine one’s own behaviour first. "That is because Allah never changeth the grace He hath bestowed on any people until they first change that which is in their hearts, and (that is) because Allah is Hearer, Knower." (8 : 53) The responsibility for all our problems lies with us in the end. "Whatever of misfortune striketh you, it is what your right hands have earned. And He forgiveth much." (42 : 30) "Whatever of good befalleth thee (O man) it is from Allah, and whatever of ill befalleth thee it is from thyself." (4 : 79) "And whatever of comfort ye enjoy, it is from Allah. Then, when misfortune reacheth you, unto Him ye cry for help. And afterward, when He hath rid you of the misfortune, behold! a set of you attribute partners to their Lord." (16 : 53-54) "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) For example, if the currency plummets, this, say the economists, has to do with the trade balance; when our imports exceed in volume and in value our exports there is foreign trade deficit. The question is, why all these imports? Are they all useful, are they all indispensable? Is it not our way of life that influences our trade balance and therefore our money and our purchasing power? It is easy to say that we have to put an end to certain practices that only maintain a sense of superfluous development. But who will start by fixing the damage? If we are told that every year thousands of people join the ranks of the unemployed, or that most jobs are precarious, who is responsible? Who are these people who opt for robotization, for uberisation, for offshoring ...? Aren’t they members of our society? Multinationals, who manage them locally? What would I do if I had the means to create a medium sized business?
Many people suffer so much that everyone tends to think that the fault lies with others. All I have tried to do in this chapter is to say that it may be necessary to start by sweeping in front of one’s own door. Wisdom teaches me that one should not complicate things. Even when I want to move up from Islam to Iman, and from Iman to Ihsan, I have to proceed slowly. One can very well enjoy life within the limits prescribed by the Quran. "O ye who believe! Forbid not the good things which Allah hath made lawful for you, and transgress not, Lo! Allah loveth not transgressors." (5 : 87) Why would I spend my time crying and sighing except when it comes to repentance ? The ulema, who have understood the faith, say: (1) Warding off evil takes precedence over bringing benefits. They also say : (2) Necessities permit prohibitions (or Necessity removes restriction).(3) That without which an obligatory duty cannot be done is obligatory. These are (some of) the general rules. If I have good faith I will not break these rules. I will do my best to at least respect the spirit of the Quran. In any case, Allah alone will know what is in my heart and Allah Alone will judge me. Wisdom also says that I should not overly raise the level of my faith requirements because I can never know what the future holds for me. It would be better for me to proceed slowly than to suffer within myself what I am not quite capable of assuming.