You have certainly, as I have, heard or read existential questions as to why God did this or that, questions about Lucifer, about evil, about punishment, about free will, about Fate, about disaster, etc, etc. Such questions are anything but new : they have always been asked by believers and non-believers alike. Let me add one more question : Is it easy to believe? The Quran says : "And though thou try much, most men will not believe." (12.103) "And most of them believe not in Allah except that they attribute partners (unto Him)." (12.106) If I start asking why that is, I may not get the answers I want. So what to do ? Suppose you were (yourself or one member of your family) in a place (a school or anywhere else) and then somebody came in and started shooting at everybody. Would you then start asking who that person was or why he was doing that ? Or would you rush to safety ? Safety is hidaya (guidance). "It is You we worship and You we ask for help. Guide us to the straight path –" (1 :5-6) If God says, for example, "And it is not for a soul to believe except by permission of Allah" , (10 : 100) I say right away "Guide us to the straight path –". If I flee from war and become a refugee a thousand miles away I should consider myself lucky, for many others have not had that chance. God help them. My safety comes first. Likewise, I will listen to God and I won’t argue with the arguers. "And if you obey most of those on earth, they will mislead you far away from Allah's Path. They follow nothing but conjectures, and they do nothing but lie." (6 : 116)
I, the author of this book, am a Muslim because I was born into a Muslim family in a Muslim state. As a kid, I was used to seeing people around me perform their daily prayers, recite the Quran, observe the holy month of Ramadan, etc. I mean, everybody can be a Muslim. You only have to testify that there is no deity worthy of worship except Allah and that Muhammad (pbuh) is His Messenger, to perform salah (ritual prayer), to pay the zakah, to fast during Ramadan, and to perform Hajj (pilgrimage) to the Ka`bah at Makkah, if you can afford it. That’s Islam. It's only when you start asking questions that you enter the area between Islam and Iman: when you want to know why you should be a Muslim and not something else. It’s at this critical phase that a Muslim can either move up to the level of Iman or leave the Faith altogether. One who, through personal experience and more knowledge, succeeds in discovering the truth and the beauty of Islam will move up, gradually, step by step, to the level of Iman and become a moomin (a believer), not only a Muslim, (a submitter). This person would want to live and enjoy a peaceful Iman experience: to live as a moomin, always trying to improve his Iman in an attempt to reach the level of Ihssan. This is a long process that starts with "Guide us to the straight path –" The personal experience and the necessary knowledge will come afterwards. You first build the house (that is Islam), then you put in the furniture (that is Iman), then you add in the home decorators (that is Ihsan). When you reach this level, God becomes your ally and protector. "Indeed, my protector is Allah, who has sent down the Book; and He is an ally to the righteous." (7 :196) "Allah is the ally of those who believe. He brings them out from darknesses into the light." (2 : 257) Your life becomes good. "Whoever does righteousness, whether male or female, while he is a believer – We will surely cause him to live a good life, and We will surely give them their reward [in the Hereafter] according to the best of what they used to do." (16 : 97) It’s like your little heaven in the earth.
How do I know that I reached this level of the Faith ? The Quran says : (The true believers are those) "Who have believed and whose hearts have rest in the remembrance of Allah. Verily in the remembrance of Allah do hearts find rest! Those who believe and do right: Joy is for them, and bliss (their) journey's end." (13 : 28-29) "The believers are only those who, when Allah is mentioned, their hearts become fearful, and when His verses are recited to them, it increases them in faith; and upon their Lord they rely –" (8 : 2) If I reach this level God says to me : "O you who have believed, upon you is [responsibility for] yourselves. Those who have gone astray will not harm you when you have been guided. To Allah is your return all together; then He will inform you of what you used to do." (8 : 105)
Can anybody reach this level of the faith ? Honestly, I don’t know. But why not try ? God says : "So fear Allah as much as you are able" (64 : 16) "Allah intends for you ease and does not intend for you hardship" (concerning the rituals; that's different from trials.) (2 : 185) But He also detailed ways one can work his/her way up through the Faith ranks. If I can't fast very often or worship at night while people are sleeping, for example, I may still rise in my Iman by enduring hardships and remaining steadfast in the worst ordeals. Anyway, God Alone will judge my Iman. But I can have clues/signs, just like I know whether I took or lost more weight. If I become pessimistic because of an ordeal, that’s a sign for something. If I remain patient and grateful no matter what happens to me, that’s a sign for something.
What about sins ? Can I sin and yet rise in my Iman ? Well, I can’t sin and get out of it safe and sound. A sin is a sin. There’s punishment in there. There’s no la la land about it. God will punish me and show me the way I can correct myself. If I try in earnest to correct myself, if I repent each time I sin, that would probably not be a big problem. Tawba nasoh (definite repentance) will come ultimately. Man is fallable and anyone can sin, but men’s hearts differ. The Word of God will have a much better impact on someone who "hath a heart, or giveth ear with full intelligence." (50 : 37) "Your Lord is best aware of what is in your minds. If ye are righteous, then lo! He was ever Forgiving unto those who turn (unto Him)." (17 : 25)
Now, why do I sin ? Very often it’s either because I am pessimistic (and think God is not going to help me anytime soon) or because I feel self-sufficient and think that even God’s punishment would not affect my life anytime soon. Why should I expect God to help me ? Did I become a Muslim to serve God or to make God serve me ? What if God gave me everything I wanted ? Would I even care about moving up from the level of Islam to the level of Iman ? God first gave me a chance to become a Muslim, now He gives me a chance to become a moomin (a believer). This is a higher grade, I have to work hard to get up there. I have to work hard psychologically and intellectually. So if God puts me in a pitiful situation, that’s my chance to create a harmony between the physical things I do as a Muslim (praying, fasting…) and the spiritual framework within which I do these things. By doing so, I give a meaning to my salah (prayer), to my fasting, to my pilgimage… I am not only imitating other people; I am translating the language of my own heart and mind into physical acts. This will not happen overnight : it comes bit by bit. God knows what I want. God knows what I need. God knows the limits of my patience more than I do. God knows everything about me, even before I was born. What matters now is my intention, is what I have at heart. Do I want to serve God or do I want God to serve me? If I just want God to serve me, I will remain no more than a Muslim, which is per se a GREAT thing. If I want to serve God, God will put the angels and the whole universe at my service. Trial by ordeal is painful. But I know that non-believers too go through painful experiences. It’s my intention, it’s my heart, that turns my painful experience into grades on the ladder of the Faith. It’s ups and downs. My Iman may go up very high, then it plummits, then it goes up higher than ever before, then it dies away, then it revives again and becomes stronger and stronger …until I find myself on the straight path. Yes, it’s a long experience, because the rule is : the higher you rise in your faith the harder your trials will be. Now, what if I fail a test/trial ? Very simply, I will be punished. When I feel alright, even if I am a moomin, I may fall to temptations, I may forget all the sufferings I experienced during my last ordeal. So God will remind me by a new ordeal. That good job which gave me such a strong feeling of security and self-suffiency, well, I'm losing it now. I try by all means to get a new job : all to no avail. My feeling of security is replaced by pessimism. What do I do ? Well, I either give in to my animal instincts, pushed by my overwhelming pessimism, or I remember my Lord and run to Him for safety. Unfortunately for me, God may not remove my calamity anytime soon indeed. He will wait for me to learn a lesson. God will wait for me to put more questions to myself, to go through a self-analysis, to think more objectively about the world around me, about life, about my role in this world, about my goal in this life. God will wait for me to be honest with myself. If I do this I will rise higher and higher in the Faith. As for the job, God created the whole world, how can’t He find me a good job, a good wife… ? If I am a true moomin God cannot only give me a good job, He can give me all the tools and means to grow, to become an eviable person. If I am a true moomin I may be punished for a sin by losing a job in the morning and be pardoned and given a better job in the afternoon!
Solomon said : "My Lord! Forgive me and bestow on me sovereignty such as shall not belong to any after me. Lo! Thou art the Bestower. So We made the wind subservient unto him, setting fair by his command whithersoever he intended. And the unruly, every builder and diver (made We subservient), And others linked together in chains, (Saying): This is Our gift, so bestow thou, or withhold, without reckoning." (38 : 35-39) Not everybody can be Solomon, of course. Not everybody can be rich –even in America and China. From the very beginning life was based on dualities, just like the whole world. Male and female, day and night, good and bad, rich and poor, faith and heresy. Both believers and non-believers can be poor or rich, but believers and non-believers do not approach life in the same way. Even believers do not approach life in the same way all the time. Hence, the importance of guidance. God will show me the way, but He will not always push me to do something or prevent me from doing something. God says : "We verily sent Our messengers with clear proofs, and revealed with them the Scripture and the Balance, that mankind may observe right measure; and He revealed iron, wherein is mighty power and (many) uses for mankind." (57 :25) I’m not going to lecture you on what you could do with a knife or with your money or with your body. Just as I have a unique finger or ocular print, I can also have a different psyche, a different destiny from others. But I am not totally master of my destiny. "Lo! this is an Admonishment, that whosoever will may choose a way unto his Lord. Yet ye will not, unless Allah willeth. Lo! Allah is Knower, Wise." (76 : 29-30) Even when it comes to remembering God. "So whosoever will may heed. And they will not heed unless Allah willeth (it)." (74 : 55-56) "but Allah hath endeared the faith to you and hath beautified it in your hearts, and hath made disbelief and lewdness and rebellion hateful unto you. Such are they who are the rightly guided." (49 : 7) God even "cometh in between the man and his own heart." (8 : 24) But God’s meddling in my life will generally differ according to two things : 1) my faith (the degree of my faith in God ; 2) the kind of good God wants to grant me sooner or later. "Lo! my Lord is Merciful, Loving." (11 : 90) But when I am leaving my place of work for the last time, without having any alternative in the offing, I may not even care about that good thing God may be keeping for me. I don’t want to suffer. I don’t want sleepless nights. I don’t want to hear comments or see looks that make me feel small. I want happiness now, and for ever. Why should I be laid off by a human like myself ? Why should other people continue to go to work ? Why should other people live a normal life ? The same questions, my friend. They have always been asked by believers and non-believers alike. Reason alone cannot answer these questions. We only try to philosophize things, as I am doing in my book. Because we know what’s in the Quran, we know what happens in life around us, but there are things we don’t know. And it’s these things we don’t know that make it hard for you and me to understand anything.
If I am a moomin (a believer), God gives me in the Quran an interesting example of how I could misinterpret God’s actions. The story of Moses with Al-Khidr (in the Surah of Al-Kahf) shows me that even a prophet cannot always understand God’s 'behaviour'. This story shows that it’s quite normal (it’s human nature) if I cannot undertand what’s happening to me, because I am using human reason / logic to think about these things. The problem is not with reason, though. The problem is that we humans base our reasoning on data which may not be complete. God has all the data, that’s the difference. It’s like God managing my heritage without my knowledge but wisely, in my best interest. What God takes away with one hand He makes up for it with the other. In the Quran He says : "it may happen that ye hate a thing which is good for you, and it may happen that ye love a thing which is bad for you. Allah knoweth, ye know not." (2 : 216) For example, God speaks in the story of Moses with Al-Khidr of this man who left two orphans. "…And as for the wall, it belonged to two orphan boys in the city, and there was beneath it a treasure belonging to them, and their father had been righteous, and thy Lord intended that they should come to their full strength and should bring forth their treasure as a mercy from their Lord…" (18 : 82) We do not know the age of this man at his death. But no matter how old he is, that's it, this man has accomplished his mission, he can go to rest. God will take care of his children and widow. This should enlighten me personally that I must break down this psychological barrier which tells me that at certain age I must absolutely have realized this or that, otherwise I am in a state of personal failure or considered as such. It is this psychological barrier that torments us, traumatizes us, makes us mad, blind. And we keep wondering why this or why that. Because we do not have all the data we do not really care what may happen next.
By creating us, God wanted to show us His beauty and goodness. God did not need us. He just wanted to give us a chance to have this earthly experience. God knew that the earth would not be a paradise for us. He promised us a true paradise without deserving it, plus eternity. But we, me first, we want paradise here and right away. That's why God gives us time: to think, to compare, to remember. Fortunately, God does not punish us right away. Even Pharoh, He did not punish him right away. Because God knows that when we give ourselves the time to think (earnestly) we will naturally have the chance to see His righteousness and justice in all that He does.