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 understanding, that 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 you, therefor 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)