Suppose you were in a beautiful garden and then you got a call with bad news : chances are you’d forget all about the beauty of the garden. All your thoughts will focus on your SELF. There’s nothing more important to you than your SELF. And that’s normal. "Man was created weak." (4 : 28) Paradoxically, it’s at our moments of weakness that we pay attention to things we wouldn’t notice normally. This morning (December 31, 2016) I went past a very old house on the outskirts of the city. It was in the worst possible state you could imagine. The French family who built this house and lived in it for years and years, during the colonial era, would be shocked to know that it has been turned into a dirty animal shed with lots of filth all around. Of all those French settlers there remains one family in the whole area and it still lives in its old house. I have seen more than a dozen such uninhabited old houses in and around a rural commune not far away, which was called by the first French settlers "La Suisse du Maroc" (The Switzerland of Morocco), however exaggerated that might be ; to everybody here the real Switzerland of Morocco is Ifran, in the Atlas Mountains. (When I visited Ifran with friends in 1995 I said if this is Ifran I wonder what Paradise is like !) Anyway, a few weeks ago I went on foot to that rural area and I was a bit dazzled (once again) by the beauty of the valley and the artificial waterfalls and I can understand why the first settlers called the place the Switzerland of Morocco. (At least at that time there was no dam on the river and so there must have been much more water than now.) The problem is, I was just going past a large graveyard, with lots of graves in it, when the rustic beauty of the valley snatched a broad smile from my face. I quickly forgot all about the graveyard and took pleasure in walking alongside the waterfalls. Such is the power of temptation ! But is it unislamic to feel and enjoy the beauty of the world ? Is it unislamic to live in a beautiful mansion in the middle of the greenery ? God says : "Who hath forbidden the adornment of Allah which He hath brought forth for His bondmen, and the good things of His providing?" (7 : 30) This beauty was made for us, but it can also turn against us. It’s like a knife, you remember ? "Beautified for mankind is love of the joys (that come) from women and offspring; and stored-up heaps of gold and silver, and horses branded (with their mark), and cattle and land. That is comfort of the life of the world. Allah! With Him is a more excellent abode." (3 : 14) So why should there be such pleasures in the first place ? Why should there be such a dazzling beauty ? Well, it’s the same place, the same Switzerland of Morocco, for the French settlers, for those who lived there before them and for those live in there now. The same beauty, the same temptations, the same graveyard. But God did not make beauty only. He also allowed for there to be nasty things –for us to reflect.
Even the soldiers who served the French colonial authorities were not all French. Many came from other French colonies. And the foreign people who were then in our cities and villages were not all French. Also there were local collaborators. We learnt all this at school. The question is, does one choose to be a settler in a colonized country or a collaborator ? A settler or a local collaborator may have a family and children to feed. These children will not necessarily know how their father got the money to buy them good food or good clothes or build them a good house. Another question is, what’s the difference between a house built with money made by collaboration (or corruption, for that matter) and a house built with money made by legitimate trade, for example ? For a stranger, what matters is the look of the house : is it nice or not ? He will be thrilled at the beauty of the house, of the car, of the factory, of the children… even if he knows the origin of the money. It’s because people look at the look, not at the origin. If this stranger were poor or single or homeless, who would care about him ? He may even be of those who, "whenever God tries them by straitening their means of life, say : "My Lord despiseth me." (89 : 16) Maybe the French family who lived in that old house (turned into an animal shed) enjoyed the beauty of the house and the area in that beautiful time, but then the French had to leave. Maybe they weren’t even happy with the money they got when they sold everything. I can imagine the house was as beautiful as a Parisian High School girl. You can’t compensate that with money. But why is the house so dirty now ? Is it because the owner of the place is so poor that he only cares about the money he gets from the animals ? Doesn’t he care about beauty ? Or could he be "a wise person" who believes beauty is transient ? Could he be happy with his life as it is ? I don’t even know who it is, so I can’t answer those questions. But what would I do in his place ? What would I care about ? That’s a very big question.
I wonder whether you have ever seen a little child or teenager draw something in an old copybook that he wouldn’t show to anybody. The copybook is full of drawings of horses or pets or movie characters or imaginary or real persons –why ? You, who can’t draw, would say WOW ! You are amazed at the child’s creativity. But to him that’s quite normal, it’s natural. And suppose he wanted to show his "work", who would be interested ? Don’t you know of painters/writers…who were recognized as such only after their death or very late in their life ? Don’t you know of artists who died poor while their work brought lots of money to other people ? Does such an artist necessarily have someone in mind (an audience) when he creates something ?
You know, it’s springtime right now, and the other day I was walking in the nearby wood when suddenly my eyes fell on a beautiful wild flower. As I was looking at that particular flower I noticed other flowers just beside it –maybe much less beautiful, but each with a different colour, each with a different shape. Once I was leaving a school where I gave evening classes when a 17-year-old female student of mine waved to me and said in a voice filled with awe : "Teacher, look over there !" She pointed with an almost trembling hand at a car that was parked across the street. Between us, my heart leapt when I saw the car. It was just marvellous. (Didn’t I say temptation is so powerful !) I understood why the girl was looking at the car with such reverence. Well, I too went around in that wood, walking slowly, going from path to path, looking with such wonder at all those wild flowers, examining, like a passionale botanist, the shape, the colour, the peculiarities of each flower. When you are in such a place, looking with your heart rather than with your eyes, you can’t help asking : But why did God make this flower grow here, at this particular place, where nobody would see or care about it ? How many people would come and spend half an hour going from flower to flower and looking at their colours and shapes ? Well, is the number so important ? You remember those verses at the beginning of this book ? "And though thou try much, most men will not believe." (12.103) "And most of them believe not in Allah except that they attribute partners (unto Him)." (12.106) God knows all that ! He knows that only a few would ever care. God says : "And whatsoever He hath created for you in the earth of divers hues, lo! therein is indeed a portent for people who take heed." (16 : 13) It’s for those people, who "take heed" that God made that beauty. If God says to those people : "Is He then Who createth as him who createth not ?" (16 : 17) , they will certainly say : No ! He Who creates is not as him who does not create. God says : "Have they not observed what is before them and what is behind them of the sky and the earth? (…) Lo! herein surely is a portent for every slave who turneth (to Allah) repentant." (34 : 9) "A vision and a reminder for every penitent slave." (50 : 8) This penitent servant (عَبْدٍ مُّنِيبٍ) will be sensible to all beauty : be it wild beauty in the woods or man-made beauty like that wonderful car parked in front of the school. But this penitent servant will not be impressed too much by man-made beauty when he knows the origin. He will care as much about the look as about the origin. "The evil and the good are not alike even though the plenty of the evil attract thee." (5 : 100) This penitent servant knows that it’s all trial. "Every soul must taste of death, and We try you with evil and with good, for ordeal." (21 : 35) But here’s the problem ! If that is what I believe, well, I will be tested. I can’t feign, once or twice. "Do men imagine that they will be left (at ease) because they say, We believe, and will not be tested with affliction? Lo! We tested those who were before them. Thus Allah knoweth those who are sincere, and knoweth those who feign." (29 : 2-3) If I pass the first test, I should prepare for the next. The rule is : the higher I rise in my iman (faith) the harder my trial will be. And I’ll be tried with people around me, people who have wonderful cars, nice houses, good jobs, lovely children…and even people who don’t have anyhting at all. "And We have appointed some of you a test for others: Will ye be steadfast? And thy Lord is ever Seer." (25 : 20) I’ll be like a lonely sailor in a pitiless sea, lonely except from God. Each time I go beyond a wave in this monstrous sea of temptations I say "lo! with hardship goeth ease, Lo! with hardship goeth ease" (94 : 5-6) until I reach the shore with the least damage. It’s a fascinating experience, but it’s very, very hard. It’s like learning chess on a software application, you go from level 1 to level 12. Except that you risk leaving plenty of feathers there!
Some people surpass themselves by practicing certain sports or by engaging in certain adventures. A penitent servant surpasses himself by practising his faith, on the ground, in reality. In either case, if I am a moomin, I’m doing that for the good of my own soul. "And whosoever striveth, striveth only for himself, for lo! Allah is altogether Independent of (His) creatures." (29 :6) The world is full of people, but only a few of them mean to you. Your family and your friends mean to you more than anybody else. Idem for God. In the Quran we read : "Leave Me (to deal) with him whom I created lonely, And then bestowed upon him ample means, And sons abiding in his presence And made (life) smooth for him. Yet he desireth that I should give more…" (74 : 11-15) How can this one mean to God anything ? If I want to mean something to somebody I do something to please him, don’t I ? If I want to mean something to God I do something to please Him, don’t I ? But if I can lie to people, if I can feign to people, I can’t lie to God. "Thus Allah knoweth those who are sincere, and knoweth those who feign." (29 : 3)
All the temptations, all the glamour, all the beauty in the world was made to that purpose. "(All this hath been) in order that Allah might try what is in your breasts and prove what is in your hearts. Allah is Aware of what is hidden in the breasts (of men)." (3 : 154) And just as we reveal to God that we are truly sincere, God reveals to us, through our tests, that when everybody lets us down, God Alone stays by our side to support and save us. Just as we know God more and more we end up loving Him.