Sunday, April 2, 2017

GOLDEN EDUCATION Chapter Eleven

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

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

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

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

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

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

Those are legitimate questions. I should answer them, if I am a good believer. I should put all my requests and prayers aside for a moment and start asking myself questions about the things I got already. In the news we hear something like: "It's the worst hurricane in 30 years. Many people have lost everything." This is hard to live for even devout believers. It's not easy for anybody to lose everything overnight. But when I see that such things do not happen to specific nations or countries exclusively, I have to ask questions. Drought, for example, struck people even in the prophets' lifetime. It happened to followers of Moses (pbuh) in his lifetime. It happened to followers of the prophet Muhammad (pbuh) in his lifetime, to the prophet's companions under the rule of Umar Ibn al-Khattab and other good leaders. What would I think of when I ask such quesions? Well, I would think of those (more or less happy/peaceful/normal...) 28 years between the current devastating hurricane/drought/war and the previous one. I would think of my hand/foot/tooth...before it was hurt. I would hopefully think of the time when I had water and electricity all day all year long...before the enerving daily power cuts. I should think of God's gifts and generosity and patience during all that time when I would not really appreciate those gifts.

Now, suppose I am certain that somebody loves me so much and cares for my love so much, how do you think I would react? Well, if I am grateful, I would at least try not to hurt him/her, not to disappoint him/her even if I had no special feelings towards that person. If I am an ingrate, I might think that it's only too normal that such a person should love me more than that and should do the impossible to please me. So I wouldn't care, I would show that person that I don't like him/her, etc. What happens in this case? Well, I may regret losing that person's love. This is the consequence of arrogance. God does not like that. He said about Pharoh's people : "So, when they angered Us, We punished them and drowned them every one." (43 : 55)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What does "succeed" mean? It simply means not falling into unnecessary problems. When I think about it I realize that all this is good for me. Why do l worship God after all? Well, God says : "O mankind! worship your Lord, Who hath created you and those before you, so that ye may ward off (evil)." (2 : 21) "So observe your duty to Allah in order that ye may be thankful." (123) I first worship God in order to fear Him, to keep duty to Him, to liberate myself from the fear of people. By doing so I avoid a lot of unnecessary problems. By being good, fewer and fewer people will suffer from my acts or complain about me or think of harming me. So I find myself leading a rather peaceful life (despite occasional harm from some Satan followers during my trials). Therefore I see the benefit of my Faith. I see that religion is good for me. I feel that Faith is not only talk, that it has concrete positive effects on my daily life. So I give thanks to God for that: I see, through this, the greatness and wisdom of God. Now I am prepared to take a further step towards God. I will not content myself with avoiding evil (avoiding trouble) ; I will be proactive: I will try to give a hand to other people for God's sake. And I will regard that as something I do for my own sake. God says : "and send (good deeds) before you for your souls, and fear Allah, and know that ye will (one day) meet Him. Give glad tidings to believers, (O Muhammad)." (2 : 223) Now I believe that God "is waiting for me". So I have to prepare for His meeting. How? I try to do things that would please Him. This is tatawu' (voluntary work). "whoso doeth good of his own accord, it is better for him" (2 : 184) "And he who doeth good of his own accord, (for him) lo! Allah is Responsive, Aware." (2 : 158) I do things for which I am rewarded I if do them but not punished if I don't do them. I do what I can. If I can do more, that's mujahada (striving). I can strive by helping people or/and by performing voluntary acts of worship to please God more (such as reading the Quran regularly, praying at night, fasting voluntarily etc.). The further step would be istiqama (sticking to the right path). I don't expect people to do what I don't do myself. If  I fall, I remain a good believer, though, but I have to rise up soon after.  "Establish worship at the two ends of the day and in some watches of the night. Lo! good deeds annul ill-deeds." (11 : 114) "Forgiveness is only incumbent on Allah towards those who do evil in ignorance (and) then turn quickly (in repentance) to Allah. These are they toward whom Allah relenteth. Allah is ever Knower, Wise." (4 : 17) If God punishes me for a sin, I should understand that God wants me to have a healthy uninterrupted relationship with Him. I have to beg His pardon (istighfar) ("The prayer for forgiveness"). I have to give up my bad habits (tawba). I should feel the fear of God (khushoo'). This "long" set of Arabic terms may be confusing to some, but they all beat around the same bush. They all mean one thing : having God on one's mind all the time. That's love.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

GOLDEN EDUCATION Chapter Ten

God says : "He it is Who gathereth you at night and knoweth that which ye commit by dayThen 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 God "is the Omnipotent over His slaves." (6 :61) and "Not an animal but He doth grasp it by the forelock!" (11 : 56 ). If that warning is not enough, if I don't really feel that God takes my life every night, well, here's another warning that appeals to me directly : God says : "and we made every living thing of water" (21 :30) 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. God 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 God 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 over on my head so as to believe? God 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.


God 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. God says : "He it is Who hath made the earth subservient unto you, so Walk in the paths thereof and eat of His providence. And unto Him will be the resurrection (of the dead)." (67 : 15) We have seen how people move about in space. They can't walk as they do in the earth.


God says : "man is more than anything contentious." (18 : 54) It is easy to argue with God because God is not going to argue with you NOW. But God is not dead. "And trust thou in the Living One Who dieth not." (25 : 58) Speaking to God is not like speaking to a dead body. To God 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 God 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 ! God 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 God. A good believer would thank God 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) ? As I said before, 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 king'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. God Himself says : "Few of My bondmen are thankful." (34 : 13)  God 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. God says : "Lo! therein indeed are portents for every steadfast, grateful (heart)." (31 : 31)  And those are not very many. Why doesn't God "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)


God 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 ? God 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 God 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 God 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)


God says : "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? God says : "Their reckoning draweth nigh for mankind, while they turn away in heedlessness." (21 : 1) Disasters are warning me everyday. How can't I fear ? "If Allah took mankind to task by that which they deserve, He would not leave a living creature on the surface of the earth; but He reprieveth them unto an appointed term, and when their term cometh - then verily (they will know that) Allah is ever Seer of His slaves." (35 : 45)  "Verily We have brought them a Scripture which We expounded with knowledge, a guidance and a mercy for a people who believe." (7 : 52)  "And in truth We have made the Qur'an easy to remember; but is there any that remembereth?" (54 : 17)  "Will they then not meditate on the Qur'an, or are there locks on the hearts?" (47 : 24)  "O ye who believe! Remember Allah with much remembrance.  And glorify Him early and late.  He it is Who blesseth you, and His angels (bless you), that He may bring you forth from darkness unto light; and He is Merciful to the believers." (33 : 41-43) "God directeth the ordinance from the heaven unto the earth; then it ascendeth unto Him in a Day, whereof the measure is a thousand years of that ye reckon." (32 : 5) "All that are in the heavens and the earth entreat Him. Every day He exerciseth (universal) power." (55 : 29) "We shall dispose of you, O ye two dependents (man and jinn)." (55 : 31)


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


We are all God's guests in this earth. Whether we like it or not, the earth belongs to God Alone, Who can act as He pleases. "Doer of what He will" (85 : 16) God 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 God 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 nous ont légué un patrimoine partly red partly green. France, for example, is due to ban fuel-engined 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. God 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 God in our lives ? God 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 God ? "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 God, listen to what God 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)


God said to the prophet (pbuh) :  "We sent thee not save as a mercy for the peoples." (21 : 107)  God wants mercy for us all. "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 God. God 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. God 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, God 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 God, when I realize the grace of God, I can only feel rest in my heart. Even when I feel the fear of God my fear is immediately followed by rest in my heart. God says : "Allah hath (now) revealed the fairest of statements, a Scripture consistent, (wherein promises of reward are) paired (with threats of punishment), whereat doth creep the flesh of those who fear their Lord, so that their flesh and their hearts soften to Allah's reminder. Such is Allah's guidance, wherewith He guideth whom He will. And him whom Allah sendeth astray, for him there is no guide." (39 : 23) "Those who believe and obscure not their belief by wrongdoing, theirs is safety; and they are rightly guided." (6 : 82) "Lo! verily the friends of Allah are (those) on whom fear (cometh) not, nor do they grieve." (10 : 62)  Even on the day of resurrection, as the prophet (pbuh) said, "Allah will give them protection with His Shade on the Day when there will be no shade except His Shade."


A non-believer would say : why should I fear God 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 God 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) God says : "Allah is Mighty, Able to Requite (the wrong)." (14 : 47) As I said in a previous chapter, God 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 ?


God says : "Therefore keep your duty unto Me, O men of understanding." (2 : 197) God 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 God for that. If I am patient and grateful in this world God 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)  God 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 God 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 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 God 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 the whole thing. In the first chapter of this book I talked of "my safety first".


Now, how do I understand the story of Heaven? God 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 God made the earth before or after Heaven and Hell, that’s not a really big question. But it’s interesting to notice that God 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. God describes the Quran as a reminder. Now that we are here we should ask ourselves questions. God says: "I created the jinn and humankind only that they might worship MeI 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. God wants man to worship Him.  Does this mean, though, that God needs man to worship Him? God 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 God 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 God 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 God 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 God doesn't want us to go to Hell. God 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 God made Heaven to show how great He is, how merciful He is, how gentle He is, how grateful He is, how lovely He is. God 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 God 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. God 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) God 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 God is not just anybody, His "pleasure"  is hard to obtain. Hard but not impossible. It requires sacrifices.


I do things out of love of God, out of respect of God, not out of kindness. God does not need my kindness. God wants me, as a believer, to love Him and to know why I should love Him. I love God 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 God Himself for the faithful. I believe in God 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 God– 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.


God 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 God wants me to be a good believer He would make me a good believer ? Well, that’s like staying at home and waiting for God 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’s 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 ! God 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 God that is making them to behave in that way. It’s for such people that God 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 God) and believe, and still fear and do good, for God 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 ?