SPIRITUALITY AND VALUES

What is the relationship between faith and values? Does God care what label we call ourselves or how we behave with others? Is it better to be a good person or a religious person? Shouldn’t society just do away with religious doctrine?

Many people would assume that religion is about affirming a set of theoretical doctrines or subscribing to a particular dogma. Such purely theoretical conversations are consequently seen as bearing no impact on how we interact with others or live our lives. Religion has thus been regarded as secondary to the interests of mankind and to the progress of civilization. While the modern world has sought to depart from debates over abstract doctrine and instead unify society on key principles, challenges have arisen in finding alternative sources of meaning, morality, purpose and sacred values in a perceived purposeless existence. But perhaps that original assumption – that faith is a set of theoretical propositions – was mistaken to begin with.

Morality is theology

While every major religion in the world teaches people “to be good” and has a standard set of moral principles, the defining property of faith is generally presumed to be doctrines and beliefs. However, one may be surprised to know that the Islamic paradigm views faith quite differently. Faith is not about carrying a particular label or membership to a theological club, but about surrendering one’s will to God and engaging in excellent moral conduct (Qur’an 2:111-112). The Prophet Muhammmad (peace be upon him said),

The most perfect in their faith are those with the best moral character” (Sunan al-Tirmidhi).

How could moral values be the essence of one’s theology? The moral values in Islam stem from a particular way of looking at God, oneself and the world around us.

True recognition and reverence of the grandeur of God imbues one with humility (Qur’an 25:63).

Yearning for His Divine forgiveness renders one more forgiving to others (Qur’an 24:22).

Knowledge of God’s infinite bounties endows one with overwhelming gratitude (Qur’an 34:13).

A theological conviction in God’s response to those in distress develops perpetual optimism (Qur’an 27:62)

and racing to be a vehicle of Divine aid to others (Qur’an 4:75).

Objective moral values are reflective of the Divine nature of God, and our basic moral intuitions are allowed to come to fruition through a comprehensive program of moral development.

Evidently, Islamic theology and Islamic morality are two sides of the same coin, or rather, two sides of a single worldview. It should be obvious then that mistreatment of others is fundamentally indicative of a problem in one’s relationship with God and a deficiency in the way one views life. This is not without repercussions. In Islam, a person’s moral behaviour is actually of direct relevance to one’s spiritual salvation and fate in the afterlife. When he was asked about the predominant factor that enters people into heaven, the Prophet Muhammad said,

Taqwa (consciousness) of God, and excellent moral conduct with others” (Mustadarak al-Hakim).

A person’s compassion, generosity, and fairness with others reflects a commitment to know God and come closer to Him through these actions. From its beginning to its end, the Qur’an indicates that one’s relationship with God should manifest itself in one’s moral character with others. The defining verse on righteousness (birr) in the Qur’an states:

Righteousness is not a matter of praying to the east or the west. Rather, righteousness is in a person who has true faith in God, the Last Day, the angels, the revelations, the Prophets;
One who lovingly donates of his wealth to family, orphans, the needy, the traveler, all those who ask for help, and for the sake of freeing slaves;
One who establishes prayer and gives charity of the poor, and is of those who fulfill their promise when they promise, who persevere in misfortune, tribulation and times of peril.
Those are the ones who have been true, and it is those who are the righteous.
(Qur’an 2:177)

Indeed, the Prophet Muhammad summarized the entire message of Islam saying,

I have only been sent to perfect the traits of moral character” (Musnad al-Bazzar).

The Speech of Ja’far

When persecution of the Muslims at the hands of the Quraysh intensified in Makkah, the Prophet Muhammad advised a number of his companions to seek refuge in Abyssinia. While there, the Quraysh sent an envoy to the ruling Negus of Abyssinia, demanding the return of these “renegades”. The Negus summoned the Muslim refugees and asked them to explain their way of life. The Muslim spokesperson was none other than Ja’far ibn Abi Talib, the cousin of the Prophet and his esteemed companion. Given the opportunity to summarize the entire religion of Islam into a few short sentences, Ja’far said:

O Noble King! Verily, we were a backward people in a state of ignorance, engaged in idolatry, consuming carrion, committing acts of sexual indecency, severing the ties of kinship, and mistreating our neighbours, while the powerful amongst us would subjugate the weak. And we remained in that state until God sent to us a messenger from amongst us, whose nobility, honesty, sincerity and dignity were well known to us. So he called upon us to build our relationship with God, to worship Him alone and to abandon the worship of stones and idols. And he enjoined upon us honesty in speech, fulfilling our agreements and trusts, building family ties, treating our neighbours and community with excellence, and refraining from any form of sin or bloodshed. And he forbade us from sexual immorality, false testimony, exploiting the wealth of orphans, slandering chaste women, and he instructed us to worship God alone without associating any partners with Him. And he enjoined upon us prayer, fasting, and charity to the poor.

After enumerating the teachings of Islam he continued, “So our people transgressed against us, punished us, and persecuted us for our religion in order to coerce us back to idolatry and engaging in the sinful practices we had abandoned. So when they subjugated and oppressed us, and prevented us from practicing our faith, we left our homeland and chose you over others, seeking to become your neighbours, and hopeful that we would not be oppressed in your land, O Noble King” (Musnad Ahmad).

In one of the most succinct and concise expressions of the Islamic faith we find a heavy emphasis on values. When asked to explain his faith, Ja’far did not attempt to present the Negus with philosophical argumentation, nor details of jurisprudence, nor the historical and political situation in Makkah. He emphasized the moral values which are the very essence of faith. He focused on the values which are the necessary consequences of a conviction that there is a way in which the world ought to be, that this world is the creation of a Just and Merciful Lord who filled it with opportunities for us to accomplish good and know Him through our good deeds.

A paradoxical question

Once a person asked, “What’s better – to be a good Muslim, or to be a good person?”

The person understood a “good Muslim” to mean nothing other than performing ritual acts of worship, praying in the mosque, reciting lots of Qur’an, and so forth, while a “good person” was understood to mean someone who is kind towards others, caring, forgiving, etc. While it is easy to see how someone can arrive at such an erroneous conclusion, in light of the foregoing material, this question should strike one as absurd. There is no such thing as a good Muslim who is not a good person.

In fact, the companions of the Prophet discussed this very issue with him. When a man asked the Prophet about a woman who prays, gives charity and fasts a great deal, but is abusive towards her neighbour, the Prophet replied that she would be in Hell. The man then asked about another woman who is known to fast and pray very little, though she gives charity to the poor and does not harm her neighbours. The Prophet replied, “She will go to paradise.” (Sahih Ibn Hibban and Musnad Ahmad).

Our acts of worship are meant to transform us into better people. If faith is not serving as a transformative force in our lives, we need to interrogate the sincerity of our faith. All of the pillars of worship should increase our moral and spiritual growth as human beings. Concerning the Salah (daily prayers) for instance, God says, “Verily, the prayers prevent one from immorality and evil” (Qur’an 29:45). The Zakat (charity to the poor) is meant to purify us as human beings (Qur’an 9:103). Siyam (fasting) is about building ourselves morally as the Prophet Muhammad said, “Whoever does not fast from foul speech and bad deeds, then verily God has no need of him fasting from food and drink” (Sahih Bukhari). Concerning the Hajj as well, the Qur’an states, “there is to be no lewd speech, wicked conduct, or any quarrelling during Hajj” (Qur’an 2:197).

Put into this perspective, it should be no surprise that the brilliant scholar of Islamic theology, Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyyah (d.751H), entitled an entire chapter in his opus magnum Madarij al-Salikin with the title, “The religion (deen), in its entirety, is all moral character (khuluq). So whoever surpasses your in moral character has surpassed you in religion.”

What occupies the centre of one’s value system?

Everyone has values, even the most morally relativistic of people. Ibn Taymiyyah notes for instance, that if given the choice, people would opt to have correct beliefs populate their mind rather than incorrect beliefs, and they would prefer to desire something beneficial over something harmful (Dar Ta’arrud al-Aql wa’l-Naql, vol. 8, p.458). Interestingly, there’s no rational deduction or empirical data that establishes the superiority of the former over the latter in either case and yet, that has unanimously been the ambition of humanity. This is indicative of the fact that there are some inherently meaningful ways of approaching reality that human beings are naturally predisposed towards (read more in this article on meaningfulness).

Throughout their lives people end up acquiring a structure of values by which they choose between “right” and “wrong”. Sometimes that value system may be coherent, and sometimes it may be incoherent. Some of it may be based on culture and society, some of it on personal experiences, some of it perceived rational argumentation, some of it on historical influence of religious tradition, and perhaps a large amount arises from whatever is expedient to one’s pursuit of worldly gains. Whatever occupies the ultimate seat in one’s personal value system, is what is seen as conferring meaning upon all else. For the individual, that ultimate value is functionally his or her god, as the philosopher John Dewey famously articulated. By interrogating one’s own structure of meaning, one is forced to confront the lens through which one perceives the world, and evaluate its clarity and coherence.

Belief in God and belief in religion is not belief in the sense that one might believe that Venus is the second planet from the sun, or that a mule is bred from a horse and donkey, or that a molecule of water is composed of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom. These are theoretical propositions that neither shape a person’s value system nor exert any influence on the way in which a person lives one’s life. Rather, faith in God’s religion is about fundamental moral convictions: that one’s life has a purpose, and that one’s mercy towards others is necessary in one’s relationship with God. Without it, all existence is rendered meaningless, including the very values by which one strives to structure their moral outlook on life.

In modern society, the relegation of faith to the periphery has been premised on the mistaken perception of religion as mere theoretical – and largely unsubstantiated – dogma. With that perception falsified, humanity has an opportunity to reclaim the value of values.

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The Miracle of the Quran

PART II

Chapter 5

Allah’s Reproof of Muhammad (SAW)

Some Orientalists try to defame Islam by ascribing to some verses in the Qur’an, particularly to those verses in which Allah seems to reprove Muhammad (SAW), meanings other than those which they truly denote. They then use these new meanings as evidence against Muhammad’s (SAW) integrity and the way in which he delivered Allah’s message to mankind. The following are examples of these controversial verses:

“. . . And ask forgiveness for thy sin . . .” (Muhammad 47:19)

“… And if We had not made you wholly firm you might have inclined to them a little. Then had We made you taste a double (punishment) of living and a double (punishment) of dying, then had you found no helper against Us.” (al-Isra’ 17:74-75)

The same kind of reproof was made to him following the Battle of Badr and his willingness to free his captives if they agreed to teach Muslims how to read and write, which resulted in Allah’s saying:

“It is not for any prophet to have captives until he has made slaughter in the land (or: thoroughly subdued the land). You desire the lure of this world and Allah desires (for you) the Hereafter …” (al-Anfal 8:67)

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It was said that Muhammad (SAW) could not hold back his tears when this revelation was made to him. The above verses are only a few examples of such reproving remarks. Sceptics who make use of these verses to inveigh against Islam are, in fact, giving indisputable evidence that the Qur’an is indeed the original words of Allah as they were revealed to Muhammad (SAW). The mere fact that none these reproving verses were omitted or misquoted proves the originality of the Our’an and confirms Allah’s promise to preserve it intact and guard it from corruption, as is stated in the verse.

“Lo! We, even We, reveal the Reminder, and lo! We verily are its Guardian.” (al-Hijr 15:9)

The whole of the Our’an, including these reproving verses, was revealed to Muhammad (SAW) in person. It follows, therefore, that if he had been in any way dishonest or had any doubt about the divine message, he would have con-cealed these verses without anyone knowing about them suspecting him. If the Qur’an had been made up by Muhammad (SAW), he would not have left any such verses in it. After all, he was but a man, and men by nature resent being criticised and are inclined to believe that they are immune from error. There is no human doctrine whose author is self-critical or does not try to convince us of its wholesomeness. Hence, the mere fact that these reproving verses had been revealed and were transmitted intact to Muhammad’s (SAW) followers confirms the fact that the Qur’an is truly Allah’s original speech and provides us with evidence as to Muhammad’s (SAW) integrity and honesty in delivering the message. Regarding the Surah al-Tawbah (9) some Orientalists have remarked that this chapter, unlike all the other passages of the Our’an, does not open with the basmallah i.e.,

“In the name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful”.

They considered this omission to be clear evidence that the Qur’an

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was not of divine origin, and that Muhammad’s (SAW) memory -whom they alleged was its true author -had betrayed him. It should be noted that in this Surah Allah is speaking about the heretics who have been deprived of His mercy, and, therefore, the passage could not have opened with the words of mercy which Allah withheld from them, as is stated in the following verse:

“Freedom from obligation (is proclaimed) from Allah and His messenger toward those of the idolators with whom you made a treaty.” (al-Tawbah 9:1)

The same withholding of mercy is stressed in other verses, of which the following are only a few examples,

“… Allah is free from obligation to the idolators, and (so is) His messenger” (9:3)

“Give tidings (0 Muhammad) of a painful doom to those who disbelieve” (9:3) Then Allah tells Muhammad (SAW) how to deal with these idolators and non-believers:

“Then, when the sacred months have passed, slay the idolators wherever you find them, and take them (captive), and besiege them, and prepare for them each ambush …” (9:5)

“How can there be a treaty with Allah and with His messenger .. ?” (9:7)

“How (can there be any treaty for the others) when, if they have the upper hand of you, they regard not pact nor honour in respect of you? They satisfy you with their mouths the while their hearts refuse. And most of them are wrong-doers. They have purchased with the revela-tions of Allah a little gain, so they debar (men) from His

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way. Lo! evil is that which they are wont to do. And they observe toward a believer neither pact nor honour. These are they who are transgressors.” (9:8-10)

“… then fight the heads of disbelief -lot they have no binding oaths -in order that they may desist. Will you not fight a folk who broke their solemn pledges, and purposed to drive out the messenger and did attack you first? What! Fear ye them? Now Allah has more right that you should fear Him, if you are believers. Fight them! Allah will chastise them at your hands, and He will lay them low and give you victory over them, and He will heal the breasts of folk who are believers.” (9:12-14)

“It is not for the idolators to tend Allah’s sanctuaries, bearing witness against themselves of disbelief. As for such, their works are vain and in the Fire they will abide.” (9:17)

The verses go on to say that Allah gives no guidance wrong-doers:

“0 ye who believe! Choose not your fathers nor your brethren for friends if they take pleasure in disbelief rather than faith. Whoso of you taketh them for friends, such are wrong-doers.” (9:23)

“Fain would they put out the light of Allah with their mouths, but Allah disdains (aught) save that He shall perfect His light, however much the disbelievers are averse.” (9:32)

If the people referred to in the above verses are those pagans who have been denied Allah’s mercy and forgiveness, how, then, could the Surah have begun with words of mercy when there was no room for its granting? Muhammad (SAW) had not forgotten anything! It was, rather, Allah’s plan that this Surah should not open with the usual statement of His

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mercy, in order to show His wrath and the punishment that those heretics were doomed to suffer. Returning to those verses in which Allah reproves Muhammad, it is seen that in the Surah ‘Muhammad’ Allah says to His Prophet

“And ask forgiveness for your sin …” (Muhammad 47:19)

Yet in the Surah al-Fath (48) He says to him,

“Lo! We have given you (0 Muhammad) a signal victory, that Allah may forgive you of your sin that is past and that which is to come …” (al-Fath 48:1-2)

How can this paradox be explained? How can Allah ask Muhammad to beg forgiveness for his sin and also tell him that He had granted him forgiveness for his past and future sins? Furthermore, what is this sin which caused this reproof? If we examine thoughtfully all these reproaching verses we find that the reproach was aimed at Muhammad’s (SAW) excessive zeal in carrying out the message and his taking on himself more than he could endure, as is stated in the following verse from the Surah ‘Ta’ Ha’

“We have not revealed unto you (Muhammad) this Our’an that you should be distressed.” (Ta’ Ha 20:2)

Then Allah says to him,

“Yet it may be, if they believe not in this statement, that you (Muhammad) will torment your soul with grief over their footsteps.” (al-Kahf 18:6)

“0 Prophet! Why do you ban that which Allah has made lawful for you … T” (al-Tahrim 66:1)

“We know well how their talk grieves you ” (al-An’am 6:33)

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“A likely thing, that you would forsake aught of that which has been revealed unto thee… ” (Hud 11:12)

“. . . So not let your soul expire in sighings for them …” (al-Mala’ikah 35:8)

“He frowned and turned away because the blind man came unto him … ” (‘Abasa 80:1-2)

“Had it not been an ordinance of Allah which had gone before, an awful doom had come upon you on account of what you took.” (al-Anfal 8:68)

“You are not at all a warder over them.” (al-Ghashiyah 88:22)

“… Say: I am not put in charge of you.” (al-An’am 6:66)

All these verses contain some sort of reproof of Muhammad, (SAW) but the reproof is made because of his being overzealous in carrying out the message and in taking on him-self more responsibility than he could endure. This is remark-ed in the first of the above verses when Allah says to him:

“We have not revealed unto thee this Qur’an that you should be distressed.” (Ta’ Ha’ 20:2)

That is, because Muhammad’s (SAW) task was to deliver the message and explain its truth, leaving to the listener the responsibility of accepting it or not. This fact is emphasized in the following verse:

“Say: (It is) the truth from the Lord of you (all). Then whosoever will, let him believe, and whosoever will, let him disbelieve …” (al-Kahf 18:29)

Again in the Surah of Yunus (10), Allah (still) reminds Muhammad (SAW) of the goal of his commission when he says to him:

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“… Would you compel men until they are believers?” (Yunus 10:99)

In the above verses, Allah has excluded coercion as a means of spreading the message of the faith. For faith which is imposed, or which does not come from within the soul, has no merit. Furthermore, Allah has shown man the right way and the rewards of following it. He has also cautioned him against wrongdoing and informed him of the penalties that wrongdoers must pay. But because He has given man freedom of will the option to follow one way or another has been left entirely up to him. Muhammad’s (SAW) awareness of the consequences of resisting Allah’s faith, as well as his concern and pity for those who rejected it, caused him to do all he could to persuade them to come to their senses and accept the truth. But Allah saw that Muhammad (SAW) had taken upon himself an unnecessary and wearisome task which he was not required to perform, and He had to draw his attention to it. One should here bear in mind two noteworthy points. The first is that all those who use the reproaching verses to cast doubt over Islam are intrinsically motivated by malice. They single out only the reproaching verses and leave untouched the numerous verses in which Allah pays tribute to Muhammad’s (SAW) worthy conduct and integrity, as is stated in the following revelations.

“And lo! you are of a tremendous nature.” (al-Qalam 68:4)

“We sent thee not save as a mercy for the peoples.” (al-Anbiya’ 22:107)

“. . . Obey Allah and His messenger if you are (true) believers” (al-Anfal 8:1)

The above verses are only a few examples. Indeed, only a dishonest critic who knew that he was defending a lost cause would, in his attempts to establish the relationship between

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Allah and His messenger, resort to such deceit by obscuring a true meaning, accentuating certain verses and overlooking others. The second point concerns the nature of the reproof, for there is indeed a marked distinction between a reproof used to chastise for wrong-doing and inflicting harm on others, and a reproof whose underlying motive is to sympathize with the reproved. For one who is excessively keen to do a good deed might unconsciously involve himself in tasks that are beyond human endurance. Reproof is a sort of blame for a mistake that the reproved must have made, and can only take place when there is some kind of sympathy and understanding between the reprover and the one reproached. It is uncommon for reproof to take place between strangers. A non-believer, therefore, cannot be reproached for his deeds, the reason being that there is no sin greater than not believing. Likewise, one does not reproach an enemy, expecting his antagonism. On the contrary, reproof is something natural and neces-sary between people bound together by kindness and fellow-ship. Its magnitude depends on the strength or weakness of the relationship between the reprover and the reproved. If the relationship and the concern are very strong, then the reproof could be voiced, even for the slightest error or misdeed. If the relationship is weak then the reproof can be made only when the error is very serious. For instance, one does not reprove a distant acquaintance for a trivial error. But if he were a close relative the whole situation would be different and one’s reproof would be frequent and concerned in relation to the strength of your feeling for him. You would most likely reprove your brother for things for which you would never reprove a friend, and reprove a friend for things over which you would not reprove a distant acquaintance. The extent of and the reasons for the reproof depend on the closeness of the relationship between the two parties. The relationship between Allah and Muhammad (SAW) was a very close one indeed. It is this divine love and concern for Muhammad (SAW) that made Allah address him in sympathetic and concerned words; not to chastise him for

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some misdeed or because he had violated His decrees, but rather because He cared about him and wanted to caution him about overburdening himself. One might have two sons, one of whom is neglectful and pays no heed to his school work, and the other of whom is so engrossed in his studies that he skips his meals and never gives himself enough time to rest or sleep. A common reaction in a situation of this nature is to rebuke the first son for his neglig-ence and to reprove the second for his zeal and for endangering his health. This reproof stems from anxiety about his health. Thus, in asking him to leave his studies for a while or to do them in moderation and give more thought for his food and sleep, one reproaches him for something to be done. While one may have instructed him to study well and achieve success in the past, one reproves him for overexerting himself -but the reproofis for his own good and not a chastisement. All the verses which carry reproof of Muhammad (SAW) are of this nature. The reproof was made for something which he was not obliged to do. Yet he regarded it as compulsory, regardless of the additional burden it added to his already heavy task, thereby overlooking what was easy and possible and focusing his attention on tasks that were too difficult and energy-consuming, as expressed in the following verse:

“He frowned and turned away because the blind man came unto him.” (‘Abasa 80:1-2)

Certainly it was easier for Muhammad (SAW) to sow guidance in the soul of a blind man whose heart was full of faith, than to exhaust his brain trying to convince the resentful pagans of Quraysh of the truth of Allah’s message and religion. But Muhammad (SAW) chose the more difficult task. He wanted to support Islam by gaining the hearts of the influential men of Quraysh, thus forsaking an easy gain for a more difficult one. Here the Divine Will intervened, advising him not to seek something too painstaking, to obtain and to be content. He was told not to waste his time and energy over non-believers who reject guidance outright, but to give his attention to those persons who long to be close to Allah and His way. Indeed, all the reproving verses are of this nature.

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Although Muhammad (SAW) knew that Allah had forgiven him all his past and future sins, he continued to spend most of his nights in prayer even when his legs began to swell. When his wife ‘A’ishah noticed this and asked,

“Hasn’t Allah forgiven you all your past and future sins?” , he replied “Shall I not be a thankful slave?”,

showing that forgiveness should not be a reason for us to relax in our full duty of worship, or to be ungrateful. There is much to be learnt from Muhammad’s (SAW) answer. If we consider man’s position in his relationship with Allah, and compared all the favours that He bestows upon us with the divine injunctions we are ordered to obey and perform we find that whereas the former are inexhaustible the latter are only a few simple duties. The believer is aware of Allah’s favours and knows that if he wanted to establish a balance between his duties and Allah’s favours neither day nor night would be long enough for him to show his gratitude. Indeed, the believer’s heart knows that Allah’s favours outweigh by far any gratitude he might offer in the form of worship. Although he might be very keen to exert supplementary effort in obedience, gratitude, and all other worship-related duties, he nevertheless feels that he is wanting in the expression of his devotion and humility. Likewise, Muhammad (SAW) had made himself responsible for those who adamantly refused to believe. He felt that he had not done enough, and his lack of progress was beginning to distress him. But nothing escapes Allah’s attention, and He intervened and told Muhammad (SAW) to exercise moderation in his efforts and not to blame himself for the non-believers’ rejection of the message. Surely, this is not the kind of reproach whose aim is to chastise. On the contrary, it reveals Allah’s tremendous concern for His Prophet, which is clearly stated in the verse.

“We have not revealed unto you this Qur’an that you should be distressed …” (Ta’ Ha’ 20:2)

“Why do you ban that which Allah has made lawful for you?” (al-Tahrim 66:1)

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“So not let thy soul expire in sighings for them.” (al-Mala’ikah 35:8)

It is obvious that these verses speak of Muhammad’s (SAW) self-denial and his anxiety over the non-believers’ resentment of Allah’s message. He is told not to grieve or consider himself accountable for their defiance or for his inability to reach their hearts and souls. There are, however, two verses which have been widely misinterpreted by sceptics and used to inveigh against the message of Islam. The first is the verse in which Allah says to Muhammad (SAW) “Ask forgiveness for your sin” (47: 19), the true meaning of which is clarified in the following Surah:

“When Allah’s succour and the triumph comes. And you see mankind entering the religion of Allah in troops. Then hymn the praise of thy Lord, and seek forgiveness of Him. Lo! He is ever” ready to relent.” (al-Nasr 110 : 1-3)

Here Allah is apparently telling Muhammad (SAW) to seek forgiveness. But what does this forgiveness involve? This question is answered by the following verse from Surah ‘al-Mu’min’ (40), wherein Allah says to him

“Then have patience (0 Muhammad). Lo! The promise of Allah is true. And ask forgiveness for thy sin, and hymn the praise of thy Lord at fall of night and in the early hours.” (al-Mu’min 40:55)

It is evident that the forgiveness in question has to do with the praise of Allah. The same thing is repeated in the Surah ‘Muhammad’ wherein Allah says

“So know (0 Muhammad) that there is no God save Allah, and ask forgiveness for your sin and for believing men and believing women …” (Muhammad 47:19)

It appears, therefore, that the intrinsic meaning is concerned

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cerned with matters of worship, and has nothing to do with any guilt that warrants punishment. The purpose of the verse is to direct rather than to chastise, for both the seeking of forgiveness and praising Allah are integral facets of the duties of correct worship, obedience and drawing nearer to Allah. There is actually no case for blame or chastisement in this situation. The same thing applies to all believers, both men and women. According to a Hadith, good deeds alone do not guarantee an entry into paradise, unless they gain Allah’s mercy. Asking Allah’s forgiveness and mercy are desirable acts from every believer irrespective of the depth of his faith. They are both integral aspects of good deeds and essential conditions for their acceptance by Allah.

What does it mean to ‘ask forgiveness’?

Asking forgiveness is a kind of faith in which man expresses his submissiveness to Allah. Whereas the believer may find a great deal of satisfaction in his relationship with others he likewise obtains the same satisfaction in his submissiveness to Allah. In contrast, you seldom find a non-believer seeking Allah’s forgiveness. A person of this nature might be ready to show submissiveness to his fellow man, and is ready to commit, in his attempts to gain his pleasure, all sorts of unlawful acts that are condemned by Allah. Yet this same person might be too arrogant and too proud to ask Allah’s forgiveness or show submissiveness to Him. Only persons with firm faith who find pleasure in their feeling of submis-siveness are always ready to acknowledge Allah’s greatness and might and constantly ask His forgiveness. In this respect Allah says, “But Allah would not punish them while you were with them, nor will He punish them while they seek forgive-ness.” (al-Anfal 8:33)

This verse clarifies what it means to ask forgiveness, and

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tells -us that it does not happen unless faith is deeply rooted in the heart of the person who seeks it. The verse shows that Allah would not punish those defiant non-believers while Muhammad (SAW) still lived among them, because He had sent him as a mercy for all mankind, and because His mercy precedes His punishment. The verse explains what would happen when Muhammad (SAW) died. It says,

“. . . Nor will He punish them while they seek forgiveness.” al-Anfal 8:33)

Here we are informed that forgiveness could be granted to the non-believers after Muhammad’s (SAW) death, and that they would be spared punishment if they sought forgive-ness and pledged submissiveness to Allah, for in doing so they would show that faith had entered their hearts, and once faith has been established, then Allah’s mercy would be assured. With these words Allah shows how greatly He values the asking of forgiveness and how it prevents punish-ment and obliterates sins. Allah stresses the virtues of seeking forgiveness when He says,

“… And if, when they had wronged themselves, they had but come unto you and asked forgiveness of Allah, and asked forgiveness of the messenger, they would have found Allah Forgiving, Merciful.” (al-Nisa’ 4:64)

The first and most important stage of redemption is to seek forgiveness; humility and submission to Allah are its most significant signs. We should not, therefore, expect a non-believer to be eager to seek Allah’s forgiveness. Because Allah cherishes those who ask His forgiveness, Muhammad (SAW) always urged his followers to make it an integral part of their daily life, and said that he asked forgiveness no less than one hundred times each day. Asking forgiveness is an integral part of faith that is deeply entrenched in the heart of the believer and cannot be exercised sincerely except by a person who fears Allah. Furthermore, the

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THE MIRACLE OF THE QUR’AN

asking of forgiveness that is not sincere is worthless and misses one of the main rewards of faith. Thus, when Allah commanded Muhammad (SAW), who was the best example to be followed by all mankind, to ask forgiveness, He was in fact ordering all believers to follow his example. By repeatedly asking forgiveness the believer, apart from being in close touch with Allah, is also constantly aware of his own weakness and his need for Allah’s mercy. It works as a safeguard against his becoming oblivious of the Day of Reckoning or becoming engrossed in his own worldly desires, and deters him from sin and doing injustice to his fellow men or to himself. But to understand fully the meaning of the verse “and ask forgiveness for your sin” (47:19),

we have to consider it in the light of two facts. The first is that Muhammad (SAW) was sent as a mercy to mankind, and the second is that Allah is Almighty and All-Capable, and His justice, while it may not be instant, is nevertheless certain. Muhammad (SAW), in taking upon himself more than he could endure, and in his endeavour to gain the hearts of the adamant non-believers, suffered a great deal of distress and disappointment. Allah noticed this and showed His concern by telling him that He had not revealed the Our’an to him to cause him distress (20:2). On another occasion the hypocrites came to him and made excuses in order to avoid joining him in the expedition of Tabuk. Apparently Muhammad exempted them from taking part in this cam-paign, a decision which was considered to be too liberal from the point of view of Jihad. Allah made this point clear when He said to him:

“Allah forgive thee (0 Muhammad)! Wherefore did you grant them leave ere those who told the truth were manifest to you and you did know the liars?” (al-Tawbah 9:43)

Surely there is no question of fault or rebuke in this verse. Both remarks involve Muhammad’s (SAW) excessive kind-ness. But Muhammad (SAW) nevertheless continued to ask

184

Allah’s Reproof of Muhammad (SA W) forgiveness for those dead non-believers who had in the past tormented him and fought his message. Here again Allah tells him “And never pray for one of them who dies, nor stand by his grave …” (al-Tawbah 9:84). Praying for the dead is no sin, but an act of excessive pleading for mercy for those who have rejected guidance. Muhammad (SAW) not only pleaded for Allah’s mercy, but also asked Him for forgiveness, to which Allah replied, “… though you ask forgiveness for them seventy times Allah will not forgive them …” (al-Tawbah 9:80) It is obvious that Muhammad’s (SAW) concern for those who had fought him and tried to discredit him is in no way less than his concern for those who accepted his message and supported him. But Allah told him that those heretics did not deserve his unwarranted concern, and that their doom had been decided, reminding himofhis precise role: “You are not at all a warder over them.” (al-Ghashiyah 88:22) “And never pray for any of them when he dies. ” (al-Tawbah 9:84) Some sceptics say that Muhammad’s (SAW) excessive zeal and over-anxiety about the fate of those misguided heretics and opponents contradicts with the verse in which Allah says, “Nor does he speak of(his own) desire.” (al-Najm 53:3) The Orientalists’ interpretation of the above verse is that in taking upon himself more than that with which he was charged by Allah, Muhammad (SAW) followed his own intuition and the’ dictates of his own mind. This is far from true. The correct interpretation is that as long as Allah revealed the truth to Muhammad (SAW) and showed him the right way, then Muhammad (SAW) had no choice but to adhere to it, irrespective of what he would

185

THE MIRACLE OF THE QUR’AN have liked to do. Thus after the revelation of the verse “And never pray for one of them” (9:84) he refrained from doing so, following the revelation of the verse, “He frowned and turned away because the blind man came (80:1-2), he did not give priority to gaining the heart of any of the eminent leaders of Quraysh over anyone of the humble folk, no matter how much he believed that gaining the former would support the cause of Islam. An example of his complying with this rule was illustrated when his uncle’s doom was foretold: “The power of Abu Lahab will perish . . .” (al-Masad 111:1) a man for whose guidance Muhammad (SAW) had always been praying. Despite the doom the Revelation predicted for his uncle, Muhammad (SAW) could not conceal its content, and had to make it public to his people even though he might have wished otherwise. In fact Muhammad (SAW) never attemp-ted to bypass the ordinances of the religion and Allah’s commands, no matter how much they conflicted with his own feelings. Let us now turn our attention to the verse referred to at the beginning of this chapter which begins with the words, “And had We not made you wholly firm .” (al-Isra’ 17:74-75) Orientalists interpret the above verse to mean that Muhammad was about to accept a compromise with the non-believers, according to which they would alternately worship Allah for one year and their own idols for one year, and so on. This interpretation is very misleading, and there is nothing in the verse that justifies it. In fact, linguistically, the phrase translated ‘had We not’ denotes firmness, as well as immunity from digression from the ordinances of the religion and Allah’s commands. Similarly, the phrase translated ‘thou mightest’ indicates that the action, though approached, was not done. In fact, the action is absolutely negated by the

186

Allah’s Reproof of Muhammad (SAW) phrase “had We not”. In other words, Allah is saying to Muhammad (SAW) that even if he were not supported by His divine guidance and His making him wholly firm, his natural piety would have guarded him against any such evil compromise. The verse goes on to say, “Then had We made thee taste a double (punishment) of living and a double (punishment) of dying”. (17:75) For whom is this “double punishment of living and a double punishment of dying” intended? Was it Muhammad (SAW)? Obviously not, for he was safeguarded by divine support, as well as by his virtuous nature, from committing any such sin. It follows, therefore, that the verse did not apply to him but rather to those who might attempt such a compromise, involving Allah’s religion , with the non-believers. There is wisdom in the above verse which should not be overlooked, for in it Allah stresses the fact that the closer we are to Him and the higher we are ranked in His esteem, the more severely we will be judged by Him for our faults . This is repeated emphatically in Surah al-Ma’idah (5). “When the disciples said, 0 Jesus , son of Mary! Is your Lord able to send down for us a table spread with food from heaven? He said: Observe your duty to Allah, if you are true believers. (They said): We wish to eat thereof, that we may satisfy our hearts and know that you have spoken truth to us, and that thereof we may be witnesses. Jesus, son of Mary , said: 0 Allah , Lord of us! Send down for us a table spread with food from heaven, that it may be a feast for us, for the first of us and for the last of us, and a sign from Thee. Give us sustenance, for You are the Best of Sustainers.” (al-Ma’idah 5:112-114) The disciples believed in Allah and accompanied Jesus and helped to propagate submission to Allah. One day they asked him for a sign from Allah in the form of a table spread with food, which God fulfilled but cautioned them:

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THE MIRACLE OF THE QUR’AN

” And whoso disbelieveth of you afterward, him surely will I punish with a punishment wherewith I have not punished any of (My) creatures.” (al-Ma’idah 5:115)

In this verse, Allah leaves no doubt in our minds that the closer we are to Him and the higher our position in His service, the more severe will His judgement be on us. The same thing is stressed in the Surah al-Ahzab (33) wherein Allah says to the Prophet’s (SAW) wives:

“0 ye wives of the Prophet! You are not like any other women …” (al-Ahzab 33:32)

What is meant here is that, being close to Muhammad (SAW), and hence to Allah, his wives would be judged differently from other women. As for the meaning of the controversial verse

“Had We not made you wholly firm …” (17:74),

it is obvious. It involves the severe punishment of those persons ranked highly in Allah’s esteem, or those who have been shown His portents, should they break Allah ‘s law or be weakened in their faith. But they did not include Muhammad (SAW), whom Allah had made wholly firm and immune against error in matters of religion. The verse was not referring to him personally, but rather establishes a basic rule regarding the punishment of all believers who are highly esteemed by Allah.

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This is what they say about Allah and this is how they treat His Messengers.

This is what they say about Allah and this is how they treat His Messengers.

(181) (3:181)
Allah has heard the saying of those who said: ‘Allah is poor, and we are rich. *128 We shall record what they have said, and the fact of their slaying the Prophets unjustly, and we shall say to them: Taste now the torment of the Fire.

*128). This statement was made by the Jews. On the revelation of the Qur’anic verse (2: 245): ‘Who of you will lend Allah a goodly loan?’, the Jews began to ridicule it and said: ‘Look, God has now gone bankrupt and has begun to beg of His creatures for loans.’ (For this statement made by the Jews see the Tradition mentioned by Ibn Kathir in his comments on this verse – Ed.)

Sa`id bin Jubayr said that Ibn `Abbas said,

“When Allah’s statement,

﴿مَّن ذَا الَّذِى يُقْرِضُ اللَّهَ قَرْضًا حَسَنًا فَيُضَاعِفَهُ لَهُ أَضْعَافًا كَثِيرَةً﴾

(Who is he that will lend to Allah a goodly loan so that He may multiply it to him many times) [2:245] was revealed, the Jews said, `O Muhammad! Has your Lord become poor so that He asks His servants to give Him a loan’
Allah sent down,

﴿لَّقَدْ سَمِعَ اللَّهُ قَوْلَ الَّذِينَ قَالُواْ إِنَّ اللَّهَ فَقِيرٌ وَنَحْنُ أَغْنِيَآءُ﴾

(Indeed, Allah has heard the statement of those (Jews) who say: “Truly, Allah is poor and we are rich!”) [3:181].”

This Hadith was collected by Ibn Marduwyah and Ibn Abi Hatim.

Allah’s statement,

﴿سَنَكْتُبُ مَا قَالُواْ﴾

(We shall record what they have said) contains a threat and a warning that Allah followed with His statement,

﴿وَقَتْلِهِمُ الاٌّنْبِيَآءَ بِغَيْرِ حَقٍّ﴾

(and their killing of the Prophets unjustly,)

This is what they say about Allah and this is how they treat His Messengers.

Allah will punish them for these deeds in the worst manner,

﴿لَّقَدْ سَمِعَ اللَّهُ قَوْلَ الَّذِينَ قَالُواْ إِنَّ اللَّهَ فَقِيرٌ وَنَحْنُ أَغْنِيَآءُ سَنَكْتُبُ مَا قَالُواْ وَقَتْلَهُمُ الاٌّنبِيَاءَ بِغَيْرِ حَقٍّ وَنَقُولُ ذُوقُواْ عَذَابَ الْحَرِيقِ – ذلِكَ بِمَا قَدَّمَتْ أَيْدِيكُمْ وَأَنَّ اللَّهَ لَيْسَ بِظَلَّـمٍ لِّلْعَبِيدِ ﴾

(and We shall say: “Taste you the torment of the burning (Fire).” This is because of that which your hands have sent before you. And certainly, Allah is never unjust to (His) servants.)

They will be addressed like this as a way of chastising, criticism, disgrace and humiliation.

Allah said,

﴿الَّذِينَ قَالُواْ إِنَّ اللَّهَ عَهِدَ إِلَيْنَا أَلاَّ نُؤْمِنَ لِرَسُولٍ حَتَّى يَأْتِيَنَا بِقُرْبَانٍ تَأْكُلُهُ النَّارُ﴾

(Those (Jews) who said: “Verily, Allah has taken our promise not to believe in any Messenger unless he brings to us an offering which the fire (from heaven) shall devour.”)

Allah refuted their claim that in their Books, Allah took a covenant from them to only believe in the Messenger whose miracles include fire coming down from the sky that consumes the charity offered by a member of the Messenger’s nation, as Ibn `Abbas and Al-Hasan stated.

Allah replied,

﴿قُلْ قَدْ جَآءَكُمْ رُسُلٌ مِّن قَبْلِى بِالْبَيِّنَـتِ﴾

(Say: “Verily, there came to you Messengers before me, with Al-Bayinat…”) with proofs and evidence,

﴿وَبِالَّذِى قُلْتُمْ﴾

(and even with what you speak of) a fire that consumes the accepted charity, as you asked,

﴿فَلِمَ قَتَلْتُمُوهُمْ﴾

(why then did you kill them) Why did you meet these Prophets with denial, defiance, stubbornness and even murder,

﴿إِن كُنتُمْ صَـدِقِينَ﴾

(if you are truthful), if you follow the truth and obey the Messengers.

Allah then comforts His Prophet Muhammad ,

﴿فَإِن كَذَّبُوكَ فَقَدْ كُذِّبَ رُسُلٌ مِّن قَبْلِكَ جَآءُوا بِالْبَيِّنَـتِ وَالزُّبُرِ وَالْكِتَـبِ الْمُنِيرِ ﴾

(Then if they reject you, so were Messengers rejected before you, who came with Al-Baiyyinat and the Scripture, and the Book of Enlightenment.)

meaning, do not be sad because they deny you, for you have an example in the Messengers who came before you. These Messengers were rejected although they brought clear proofs, plain evidence and unequivocal signs,

﴿وَالزُّبُرِ﴾

(and the Zubur), the divinely revealed Books that were sent down to the Messengers,

﴿وَالْكِتَـبِ الْمُنِيرِ﴾

(and the Book of Enlightenment) meaning the clarification and best explanation.

183) (3:183)
To those who say: ‘Allah has directed us that we accept none as Messenger until he makes an offering that the fire will consume’, say: ‘Other Messengers came to you before me with clear signs, and with the sign you have mentioned. So why did you slay them, if what you say is true? *129

*129). The Bible mentions at several places that the token of Divine acceptance of a person’s sacrificial offering was the appearance of a mysterious fire which consumed the offering. (See Judges 6: 20-1 and 13: 19-20; 2 Chronicles 7: 1-2.)

The Bible does not state, however, that the consuming fire was an indispensable token of prophethood and that anyone not endowed with that miracle could not be a Prophet.

The Jews in discussing the claim of Muhammad (peace be on him) to be a Messenger of God brought up the question of this miraculous sign, and used it as a pretext for denying that claim. There was even clearer evidence of the Jews’ hostility to Truth: they had not hesitated to murder a number of Prophets who had been endowed with the miracle of consuming fire.

The Bible mentions, for example, the Prophet Elijah who had challenged the worshippers of Ba’l to sacrifice a bull, promising that he too would sacrifice a bull. He stated that the offering of the one who was truthful would be consumed by the miraculous fire. The confrontation took place before a large crowd and it was Elijah’s sacrifice which was consumed by the fire. This so antagonized the Ba’1-worshipping Queen that the henpecked King decided to put the Prophet Elijah to death. Elijah was forced to leave his homeland and take refuge in the mountains of Sinai. (See 1 Kings 18 and 19.)

The Jews are told in effect: ‘How dare you ask for the miracle of the consuming fire when in the past you have not even refrained from murdering Prophets who performed that miracle?’

(184) (3:184)
Now, if they give the lie to you, then other Messengers who came bearing clear signs and scriptures and the illuminating Book were also given the lie before you.

185) (3:185)
Everyone is bound to taste death and you shall receive your full reward on the Day of Resurrection. Then, whoever is spared the Fire and is admitted to Paradise has indeed been successful. The life of this world is merely an illusory enjoyment. *130

*130). Whoever considers the effects of his actions in this earthly life to be of crucial significance, and sees in them the criteria of right and wrong, the criteria of that which leads either to one’s ultimate salvation or to one’s doom, falls prey to a serious misconception. The fact that a person is outstandingly successful in life does not necessarily prove that he is either not prove that he has either strayed from the right way or is out of favour with God. The earthly results of a man’s actions are often quite different from the ones he will see in the Next Life. What is of true importance is what will happen in that eternal life rather than in this transient one.

186) (3:186)
(Believers!) You will certainly be put to test in respect of your properties and lives, and you will certainly hear many hurtful things from those who were granted the Book before you and those who have associated others with Allah in His divinity. If you remain patient and God-fearing *131 this indeed is a matter of great resolution.

*131). Muslims should not lose their self-control in the face of the Jews’ invidious taunts and slander. The Jews’ accusations, debased talk and false propaganda should not provoke the Muslims into adopting a posture either inconsistent with truth and justice or with the dignity, decorum and high standards of moral conduct that become men of faith.

(187) (3:187) And recall when Allah took a covenant from those who were given the Book: ‘You shall explain it to men and not hide it. *132 Then they cast the Book behind their backs, and sold it away for a trivial gain. Evil indeed is their bargain.

*132). Although the Jews remembered that some Prophets had been endowed with the miracle of consuming fire, they conveniently forgot their covenant with God at the time they were entrusted with the Scripture, and their mission as the bearers of the Scripture. The ‘covenant’ to which this verse alludes is mentioned at several places in the Bible. In the last sermon of Moses, cited in Deuteronomy, he again and again calls the attention of Israel to the covenant in the following words:

‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your might. And these words which I command shall be upon your heart; and you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. And you shall bind them as a sign upon your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.’ (Deuteronomy 6: 4-9.)

Then, in his last testament Moses said: ‘And on the day you pass over the Jordan to the land which the Lord your God gives you, you shall set up large stones, and plaster them with plaster and you shall write upon them all the words of this law, when you pass over to enter the land which the Lord your God gives you, a land flowing with milk and honey, as the Lord, the God of your fathers, has promised you. And when you have passed over the Jordan, you shall set up these stones, concerning which I command you this day, on Mount Ebal, and you shall plaster them with plaster.’ (Deuteronomy 27: 2-4.)

When the Levites were handed a copy of the Torah, they were instructed to gather men, women and children every seventh year on the occasion of the Feast of Tabernacles and to recite the entire text to them. But their indifference to the Book of God grew to such a point that seven hundred years later even the priests of the Temple of Solomon and the Jewish ruler of Jerusalem did not know that they had the Book of God with them. (See 2 Kings 22: 8-13.)

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And if you are patient and keep your duty, surely this is an affair of great resolution.

Chapter 3

Surah Ali ‘Imran

186 You will certainly be tried in your property and your persons. And you will certainly hear from those who have been given the Book before you and from the idolaters much abuse.a And if you are patient and keep your duty, surely this is an affair of great resolution.

186a. This verse speaks of the sufferings which were yet in store for the Muslims. They had certainly been tried respecting their property and their persons at Makkah. They had been deprived of their property and turned out of their homes; they had been severely persecuted and even put to death for professing Islam. But this verse, revealed undoubtedly after the battle of Uhud in the year 3 A.H., speaks of sufferings which were yet to come. It plainly speaks of the future, rather of the distant future, because Islam was now being firmly established in Arabia.

The rise of Islam was, however, to be followed by a setback of which there are indications in the Qur’an and the sayings of the Prophet. Thus we are told in a Hadith that Islam started its career as gharib (as a stranger in a land or as a sufferer at the hands of others) and that it will once more (i.e. after rising to power) return to the state in which it began (IM. 35:15).

The abuses which have been heaped on Islam in the nineteenth and the twentieth centuries are indeed without a parallel, not only in the history of Islam but in the whole history of religion. The abusive language of the Christian, political, as well as missionary, press and the vituperations of their imitators in the Hindu press have outstepped all bounds. Thus both the People of the Book and the idolaters have joined hands in hurling the worst abuses at Islam and its Founder.

But we are here told that the Muslims shall, in addition to the abuse of their religion, be made to suffer both respecting their property and their persons. If they have so often been turned out of their houses in the past century in Europe, and Muslim States have been wiped out of existence in many parts of the world, the twentieth century presents a yet ghastlier scene of their woes in India. In a country in which they have been living for over a thousand years, and where their population was no less than a hundred millions, they have been turned out of their homes mercilessly and the cruellest tortures known to human history have been inflicted on them in broad daylight and the civilised world has not yet raised a finger against this genocide and the perpetration of these brutalities. It is these calamities which are spoken of in this verse. The concluding words of the verse are the only hope of Islam in the present tribulations — to be steadfast and keep their duty to Islam.

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MUSLIMS HELPED CAUSE THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION

HOW MUSLIMS HELPED CAUSE THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION

Today’s American political landscape can be quite a confusing and frightening place. The ideas of the Founding Fathers are commonly cited as the foundation of the nation. The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are seen as the infallible documents on which American life are based. Freedom, democracy, and liberty are the cornerstones of political and social ideas in the United States.

At the same time, however, the rising tide of Islamophobia is making its presence felt. Politicians support the characterization of Islamic life as incompatible with American society. Media “pundits” decry the supposed influence Muslims are having on destroying the basis of American political and social ideas.

The truly ironic part of this is that Muslims in fact helped formulate the ideas that the United States is based on. While this article will not argue that Islam and Muslims are the only cause of the American Revolution, the impact that Muslims had on the establishment of America is clear and should not be overlooked.

ISLAMIC PHILOSOPHY AND THE ENLIGHTENMENT

The political and social ideas that caused the American colonists to revolt against the British Empire were formulated in a movement known as the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment was an intellectual movement that argued that science and reason should be the basis of human society, not blind following of monarchs and church authority. On July 4th, 1776, in Philadelphia, the American revolutionaries signed the Declaration of Independence, a document written by Thomas Jefferson and heavily influenced by the Enlightenment, which made official their break from Great Britain and the establishment of the United States of America.

The Enlightenment was driven by a group of European philosophers and scientists who were going against the prevailing ideas of governance in Europe at the time. Among these thinkers were people such as John Locke, René Descartes, Isaac Newton and Montesquieu.

John Locke

John Locke, an Englishman who lived from 1632 to 1704, promoted some of the most influential ideas of the Enlightenment. He pioneered the idea that humans are naturally good, and are corrupted by society or government to becoming deviant. Locke described this idea in his An Essay Concerning Human Understanding as the tabula rasa, a Latin phrase meaning blank slate. The idea was not original to him, however. In fact, Locke directly took the idea from a Muslim philosopher from the 1100s, Ibn Tufail. In Ibn Tufail’s book, Hayy ibn Yaqdhan, he describes an identical idea about how humans act as a blank slate, absorbing experiences and information from their surroundings.

John Locke borrowed many of his Enlightenment ideas from the Muslim philosopher, Ibn Tufail

The same idea manifests itself in the life of Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him). He stated that “No child is born except on the fitra.” Fitra here can be defined as the natural, pure state of a person. According to Islamic thought, all humans are born in a natural state of purity, with belief in one God, and that as they grow older, they adopt the ideas and beliefs of the people around them, particularly their parents. This is the intellectual forerunner of the tabula rasa that Locke learned from Ibn Tufail.

Through Locke, this concept would influence the political idea that humans should not be constrained by an oppressive and intolerant government. His ideas, which he borrowed from Ibn Tufail, would end up forming a cornerstone of America’s revolutionary ideas that the colonists in America would be much better off if they were not under the oppressive British government. Locke further expanded on the subject by describing something he called the social contract. In this social contract theory, the people must consent to be ruled by a government that in turn agrees to protect the natural rights of its citizens.

This same concept is also seen in 1377 in the Muqaddimah of the great Muslim historian and sociologist, Ibn Khaldun. In it, he states, “The concomitants of good rulership are kindness to, and protection of, one’s subjects. The true meaning of royal authority is realized when a ruler defends his subjects.” Here Ibn Khaldun is explaining one of the main political ideas of the Enlightenment, 300 years before Locke proposes the same argument: that a government must defend, not infringe on, the rights of its citizens. Later, in 1776, the preamble of the Declaration of Independence stated a similar argument: “Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

John Locke also pioneered the concept of natural rights: the idea that humans all have a set of God-given rights that should not be taken away by any government. In the Declaration of Independence, this is stated as “…they [men] are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

While most American and European textbooks promote this as a unique “Western” idea, the truth is that it is far older than John Locke and Thomas Jefferson. Again, in the Muqaddimah, Ibn Khaldun explains: “Those who infringe upon property commit an injustice. Those who deny people their rights commit an injustice.” He goes on to explain that this leads to the destruction of a state, and cites examples from the life of the Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) where he forbade injustice. The concepts that a Muslim government should not infringe upon rights was very clear in Islamic law and was a well-accepted idea throughout Muslim empires.

Other Philosophers

Other Enlightenment philosophers were heavily influenced by earlier Muslims and Islamic ideas. Without going into great detail, the following are some examples:

Isaac Newton was greatly influenced by Ibn al-Haytham, the Muslim scientist who pioneered the scientific method, optics, and the laws of motion. In Europe, Ibn al-Haytham was well known, as were his ideas about science and philosophy. Isaac Newton borrowed from Ibn al-Haytham the idea that there are natural laws that run the universe (an idea first proposed by Caliph al-Ma’mun as his rationale for establishing the House of Wisdom in Baghdad). Later Enlightenment philosophers used the idea of natural laws to support concepts of natural rights, the government’s role, and economic systems. All of these ideas influenced the Founding Fathers of America who cited them as the basis of the United States.

Montesquieu is usually cited as the first to propose the ideas of separation of government into several branches. During his time in Europe, monarchs held absolute power and shared control of the state with no one. The Muslim world had historically never run in such a way. While caliphs in the Umayyad and Abbasid Empires held most of the power, there also existed the idea of shura, which was a council whose job it was to advise the caliph. In those governments there also existed ministers who carried out tasks under the supervision of the monarch. Perhaps the most important however, were the qadis, or judges, who formed a legal system based on Islamic law and were independent of the ruling caliph. A prime example of how Islamic governments are designed to work through a bureaucracy is Imam al-Mawardi’s Al-Ahkam Al-Sultaniyyah [On the Ordinances of the Government], written in the early 1000s. In it, al-Mawardi explains how the caliph and other government officials are to carry out their roles within their individual spheres, all while staying within the framework of Islamic law.

This system of government was well known in Europe from the Muslim European states in Spain and Sicily, where many European Christians traveled to study under Muslim scholars. Al-Mawardi’s work was translated into Latin and disseminated throughout Europe, where he was known as Alboacen, a Latin corruption of his name.

COFFEE

All of the philosophical ideas already mentioned would not have had much effect if it were not for a curious black drink that came out of the Muslim world – coffee.

During the Middle Ages in Europe, the drink of choice was alcohol. In France and other areas that grew grapes, wine was the dominant drink, while beer and ale were popular further north. Drinking water was actually rare, as it was believed that alcoholic beverages were cleaner than water and more filling. The result of this belief was constant drunkenness among the European population.

In Yemen in the middle of the 1400s, a new drink that was made from coffee beans was beginning to become quite popular. The Yemenis were roasting and then boiling coffee beans in water to produce a drink that was rich in caffeine, a stimulant that causes the body to have more energy and the brain to think more clearly. Through the 1400s and 1500s, coffee spread throughout the Muslim world, and coffee shops began to pop up in major cities. These coffee shops became a center of urban society, as people met there to socialize and enjoy the company of others.

A British coffeehouse in the 1700s

By the 1600s, these coffee houses had spread to Europe as well. Although there was initial resistance to drinking a “Muslim drink” in Christian Europe, the beverage caught on. The coffeehouses became a central aspect of the Enlightenment, particularly in France. Whereas previously Europeans had been drinking alcohol regularly, they now met in coffee houses, where they discussed philosophy, government, politics, and other ideas that were the cornerstones of the Enlightenment. French Enlightenment philosophers such as Diderot, Voltaire, and Rousseau were all regular customers at the coffeehouses of Paris.

Were it not for this drink from the Muslim lands, Europe might never have had the Enlightenment, as the philosophers would never have met to discuss ideas, nor had the mental clarity (due to alcohol consumption) to think philosophically.

HOW DID THIS ALL LEAD TO REVOLUTION?

As previously stated, the American Revolution was a direct effect of the European Enlightenment. The theories of rights, government, and the human self that were the basis of Enlightenment took form in the 1700s at the hands of great minds such as Locke, Newton, and Montesquieu. They, however, borrowed their ideas from earlier Muslim philosophers such as Ibn Tufail, Ibn Sina, and Ibn Khaldun. Were it not for their ideas which were rooted in Islam, the Enlightenment may not have been as insightful, or may not have even happened. Added to this was the effect that coffee had on Europe in giving the philosophers a forum to expand their ideas and learn new ones.

The signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776 in Philadelphia

Without the Enlightenment, the American colonists never would have had the intellectual backing they needed to revolt. The ideas of freedom, liberty, and human rights that America is founded on are originally Muslim ideas formulated by Muslim philosophers working with the Quran and Hadith as their basis. While it is not accurate to claim that Muslims single-handedly caused the American Revolution, their contributions and influences cannot be overlooked. Those who claim that Islamic ideas are not compatible with American society must remember that it was those Islamic ideas that helped form American society, freedom, and liberty in the first place.

Bibliography:

Khaldūn, I. (1969). The muqaddimah, an introduction to history. Bollingen.

Morgan, M. (2007). Lost history. Washington D.C. : National Geographic Society.

Russell, G. A. (1994). The ‘arabick’ interest of the natural philosophers in seventeenth-century england. Brill Publishers.

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Allah belong the Most Beautiful Names

(110. Say: “Invoke Allah or invoke Ar-Rahman (the Most Gracious), by whatever name you invoke Him (it is the same), for to Him belong the Best Names.

﴿قُلِ ادْعُواْ اللَّهَ أَوِ ادْعُواْ الرَّحْمَـنَ أَيًّا مَّا تَدْعُواْ فَلَهُ الاٌّسْمَآءَ الْحُسْنَى وَلاَ تَجْهَرْ بِصَلاتِكَ وَلاَ تُخَافِتْ بِهَا وَابْتَغِ بَيْنَ ذَلِكَ سَبِيلاً – وَقُلِ الْحَمْدُ لِلَّهِ الَّذِى لَمْ يَتَّخِذْ وَلَدًا وَلَم يَكُنْ لَّهُ شَرِيكٌ فِى الْمُلْكِ وَلَمْ يَكُنْ لَّهُ وَلِىٌّ مَّنَ الذُّلِّ وَكَبِّرْهُ تَكْبِيرًا ﴾

(110. Say: “Invoke Allah or invoke Ar-Rahman (the Most Gracious), by whatever name you invoke Him (it is the same), for to Him belong the Best Names. And offer your Salah (prayer) neither aloud nor in a low voice, but follow a way between.)

(111. And say: “All the praises and thanks be to Allah, Who has not begotten a son, and Who has no partner in (His) dominion, nor is He low to have a supporter. And magnify Him with all magnificence.”)

Allah belong the Most Beautiful Names

Allah says:

﴿قُلْ﴾

(Say) O Muhammad, to these idolators who deny that Allah possesses the attribute of mercy and refuse to call Him Ar-Rahman,

﴿ادْعُواْ اللَّهَ أَوِ ادْعُواْ الرَّحْمَـنَ أَيًّا مَّا تَدْعُواْ فَلَهُ الاٌّسْمَآءَ الْحُسْنَى﴾

(“Invoke Allah or invoke Ar-Rahman (the Most Gracious), by whatever name you invoke Him (it is the same), for to Him belong the Best Names.)

meaning, there is no difference between calling on Him as Allah or calling on Him as Ar-Rahman, because He has the Most Beautiful Names, as He says:

﴿هُوَ اللَّهُ الَّذِى لاَ إِلَـهَ إِلاَّ هُوَ عَالِمُ الْغَيْبِ وَالشَّهَـدَةِ هُوَ الرَّحْمَـنُ الرَّحِيمُ ﴾

(He is Allah, beside Whom none has the right to be worshipped but He the All-Knower of the unseen and the seen. He is the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.) (59:22) Until His saying;

﴿لَهُ الاٌّسْمَآءُ الْحُسْنَى يُسَبِّحُ لَهُ مَا فِى السَّمَـوَتِ وَالاٌّرْضِ﴾

(To Him belong the Best Names. All that is in the heavens and the earth glorify Him.) [59:24] Makhul reported that one of the idolators heard the Prophet saying when he was prostrating:

“O Most Gracious, O Most Merciful.” The idolator said, he claims to pray to One, but he is praying to two! Then Allah revealed this Ayah. This was also narrated from Ibn `Abbas, and by Ibn Jarir.

This is the answer to another objection of the disbelievers. They said, “We have heard the name Allah for the Creator but where from have you brought the name Rahman?” This was because the name “Rahman ” was not used for Allah and they did not like it.

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The Miracle of the Quran

PART III

Chapter 3

The Unqualified Will of Allah

Allah created all things on earth, as well the means necessary for their interaction and their governing laws. The creation was instantaneous and materialized with the mere utterance of the command ‘Be’.

It took six days to complete the creation of the earth and the heavens as we have been told in the Qur’an. Because the Our’an came to address man, it was necessary that all the things it spoke about should be within the scope of his mental ability, whether the things it spoke about involved present events or future events deemed to be too difficult for the human mind to perceive.

But these laws do not put any restrictions on Allah’s unqualified will and capacity, because if Allah had left things on the earth to be run mechanically men would have worshipped them and the whole world would have become devoted to the material rather than the spiritual. Thus, to save man from the perils of his vanity and remind him that nothing in this world is allowed to operate outside His absolute will, Allah maintained that absolute will and gave it precedence over the laws of cause and effect. Signs of this absolute divine will at work can be seen in the unjustified hardship suffered by some hardworking honest men when contrasted with the success and prosperity of some apathetic and dishonest individuals, or, likewise, when we see a weak and helpless man suddenly rise to fame and become the master of his oppressor. According to the laws of nature the opposite should be the case: the hard worker should be better rewarded for his effort than the apathetic, and the strong

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should have the upper hand over the weak. But once Allah’s absolute power intervenes such laws cease to operate.

This line of thought does not always please many of those people who regard material gain as the most valuable goal in life. They describe Islam as a religion which is conducive to backwardness through the inculcation of a firm belief in the dominance of this absolute divine will over man’s activity, sustenance and destiny.

They argue that the Qur’anic assurance that “Allah gives without stint to whom He will” (al-Baqarah 2:212) gives man cause not to strive hard to earn his living or improve his lot, for if Allah promises to give without measure, why should anyone exhaust himself to obtain sustenance?

Those people who deny the dominance of Allah’s universal will and its role in the determination of man’s sustenance and rewards are but materialists who believe only in outward power. Their concept is that the reward is always equal to the effort: if you work less you gain less and if you work longer and harder you gain more.

I say to those people that their concept, though generally correct, does not exclude Allah’s freedom to give without measure to whom He will. It should also be noticed in the above verse that Allah does not give indiscriminately to all, but that He only gives to “whom He will”. Truly each man’s sustenance is determined according to his effort and the time he spends in his work, but above all these factors stands Allah’s absolute will.

If we, for instance, contrast the recent enormous economic growth of the oil-producing countries with that of the more developed countries, we will find that it exceeds it beyond measure in spite of the latter’s “industriousness, superior technology and production output. In fact, many European countries, and even America, have become reliant on the wealth of these less-developed and less-productive oil coun-tries in order to save their economy and stabilize their living standards and the sustenance of their people.

Thus, despite their lack of modern technology and their unpro-ductivity, these oil-producing countries have become, through Allah’s absolute will, the most prosperous nations on earth.

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Logically speaking these oil-producing nations could not have arrived at such wealth and prosperity without hard work and industrial development. Yet it is common knowledge that the greater part of the work which produced this wealth was accomplished by foreign companies, foreign labour, foreign material and foreign expertise.

If we tried to explain this paradox in terms of man’s concept which says that gain is always equal to the effort, and then in terms of Allah’s absolute and unrestricted will, it will soon become obvious that the former concept did not apply in the above case, nor could it have operated in isolation from the latter.

But why has Allah maintained His absolute power and not left the ordering of the universe to the mechanisms of nature? To answer this question we should take into consideration the fact that external efforts and their material ends represent the apparent or superficial aspects of life, and at the same time organize its normal course. But to put our trust in this alone keeps us away from Allah. Truly Allah has given some of His creatures some power over the means on earth to ensure the organization of human interaction and relationships. Thus some are given influence and authority, others wealth and so on, and He made these rewards appear as though they were the natural outcome, in order to ensure a smooth progression of life and harmony in the universe. But what happened was that some materialists tried to mislead others by givingprecedence to wealth and authority over Allah’s Will. Soon men began to drift from Allah’s path and put their trust in their fellow men and in external efforts. They became willing to surrender themselves and their souls to the will and purpose of the rich and the high in office in return for some worthless reward in the guise of position or wealth or any other worldly profit, no matter how costly the spiritual loss in this world and the next would be. Indeed a person who is ready to barter his soul so cheaply does not hesitate to lie, steal, transgress against others and commit all sorts of ungodly acts with which we are quite familiar. When men become worshippers of outward means and those who have them, and when fulfilment of ambition becomes the most important thing in life, corruption

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festers and endangers the moral religious fabric of the nation. In a society of this nature, life cannot run according to Allah’s decrees which aim at protecting the weak from the unjust and the oppressed from the oppressor.

This is a fact which has marred man’s life since Pharaoh’s time. Tyrants, like Pharaoh, and their followers have been denied Allah’s mercy and are promised instant severe punish-ment on their death until they are resurrected again on the Day of Judgement to face their trial:

“The Fire: they are exposed to it morning and evening and on the day when the Hour uprises (it is said): ‘Cause Pharaoh’s folk to enter the most awful doom’.” (al-Mu’min 40:46)

The severity emphasized in the above verse accentuates the gravity of idolizing the ruler, and the dire consequences it brings, for the idolization of man lets loose human lust and fosters corruption and injustice.

It is obvious, therefore, that trusting in outward means alone leads to the idolization of the individual and man’s readiness to surrender his will and destiny to the will of a ruler or anyone else who holds the means in his hands.

Balance must be achieved to remind man that it is Allah who has provided the means, and is capable of withholding them or reversing their course and outcome. All allegiance should be made to Him only.

In fact, the history of man abounds with examples of divine will, illustrated in the dethroning of kings, the rise and fall of rulers, in the rich becoming poor and the poor becoming rich, the oppressor becoming the oppressed, or a jailer becoming the jailed. These are but signs of Allah’s absolute power at work. All these things happen in order to remind us of this absolute divine will; that all the means through which man can satisfy his ambition cannot operate outside it; and it is Allah who can reverse their outcome. Indeed, the power to alter nature were of man’s own design he would have things under his control forever. Furthermore, the work of this divine power is neither

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selective nor biased. It deals with all people on equal terms. It is felt and acknowledged by all people in their daily life. They express their faith in it and the hold it has on their life and activities with such expressions as “Allah is watchful” or “Allah’s justice may be delayed but never fails” or “Allah is mighty” and so on. All these expressions reflect our innate belief in this divine absolute power and its ability to right all wrongs and correct the imbalance caused by the abuse of the means.

The fundamental divine wisdom behind the predominance of this absolute will is to remind man that he has no authority over the means. He can neither give nor take from any of his fellow men without this divine will. It is therefore futile for him to surrender his will and sell his soul to those who seem to have some power over the means, thereby bringing Allah’s wrath upon himself. For Allah is the giver of all means and can give the steadfast believers who put all their trust in His predominant will a great deal more than those who hold the means in their hands can give.

Allah has not made His absolute capacity an unseen phenomenon. On the contrary, He has made it common knowledge and drawn our attention to it in many surahs and ayahs of the Qur’an, Thus He says:

“He selects for His mercy whom He will” (Al ‘Imran 3:74)

“. . . He forgives whom He will and punishes whom He will …” (Al ‘Imran 3:129)

” He guides whom He will…”(al-Baqarah 2:142) “

He sends whom He will astray …”(al-Ra’d 13:27)

“Allah gives without stint to whom He will” (Al ‘Imran 3:37)

“He gives sovereignty to whom He will and He withdraws sovereignty from whom He will.” (Al ‘Imran 3:26)

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“Allah is able to do all things” (al-Baqarah 2:20)

These are but a few examples of the absolute divine power which stands guard over this universe and counterbalances man’s abuse of the means with which Allah has provided him. What is significant is that it has never been kept secret from man’s conscious awareness. It is expressed vividly throughout the whole of the Qur’an, and most emphatically in the verse in which Allah says

“But His Command, when He intends a thing, is only that He says unto it: Be! and it is.” (Ya Sin 36:82)

This indeed shows how surpassing and unrestricted by means this divine will is, or else Allah would not have said so or discarded the role of the means where His commands and decrees were concerned. But the word “Be” indicates that there is no place for the means in His will, and that things materialize and become reality with the simple pro-nouncement of the command “Be”.

This is how the universe and man came into being. It is this same divine will which determines conception and the sex of what is in the womb.

“. . . He bestows female (offspring) upon whom He will, and bestows male (offspring) upon whom He will . . . And He makes barren whom He will . . .” (al-Shura 42:49-50)

The wisdom here is that although Allah has made the union of a male and a female the means leading to pregnancy, He still holds in His hands the power to nullify the outcome of the means through barrenness.

When we come to the application of this absolute divine power in human affairs we find it to be most prominent in the miracles performed by the Apostles and Prophets, wherein the means were ordained to stand still and inopera-tive. Thus when Noah appealed to Allah to destroy the disbelievers, Allah sent down torrential rain, inundating the

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the earth and causing the great flood. This rain did not come according to the normal laws of causation but rather in obedience to Allah’s will. The same power was exhibited when Abraham was thrown into the fire, which instantly became “cool and peace for Abraham” (al-Anbiya’ 21:69).

Throughout the whole of his life Moses lived with this divine power which manifested itself most gloriously in his crossing of the Red Sea with his people after their Exodus from Egypt. Here, all natural laws came to a halt until he and his people had crossed it safely, but resumed their natural pattern when Pharaoh tried to follow suit, drowning him and his men. The same divine will was demonstrated when Moses struck the rock with his staff, and water came gushing from twelve springs that flowed in the direction of his gathered people to quench their thirst and save them from death. According to the law of the means, Moses ought to have dug a well in order to obtain water.

All these miraculous acts materialized in the absence of the means, or without resorting to them. They actually reflect and exemplify the absoluteness of Allah’s will and power at work.

Another example of this absolute will was demonstrated when Zachariah prayed to his God to bless his wife with a boy, and

“the angels called to him as he stood praying in the sanctuary: Allah giveth thee glad tidings of (a son whose name is) Yahya” (Al ‘Imran 3:39)

At this point, Zachariah remembered his old age and the barrenness of his wife and that the conditions necessary for conception were unlikely in a man of his age, and he sought some divine assurance, to which Allah replied through his angels:

“… So (it will be). Your Lord says: It is easy for Me, even as I created you before, when you were naught.” (Maryam 19:9)

It is obvious that Allah was reminding Zachariah of His

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absolute power and that nothing was difficult for Him, irrespective of its prerequisite means, and that if he had any doubt about Allah’s ability to render his wife fertile, he had but to contemplate how he himself had been created from nothing.

The same absolute power is reflected in Mary’s answer to Zachariah when he visited her in the sanctuary and noticed that she was well provided with food, and asked her where it came from, to which she replied:

“… It is from Allah. Allah gives without stint to whom He will” (Al ‘Imran 3:39)

It is again overwhelmingly demonstrated in such miracles as the creation of Adam and Eve, in the conception of Mary and the birth of Jesus and in al-Isra’ and al-Mi’raj Muhammad (SAW), wherein the means were completely bypassed.

All of these miracles give us examples of the application of this absolute power and its ability to work outside the laws of means, or cause and effect.

This absolute power was not only provided to Allah’s Apostles and Messengers, but it actually encompasses all our daily activities and life as is reflected in the following verse:

“Lo! Allah disdains not to coin the similitude even of a gnat. Those who believe know it is the truth from their Lord; but those who disbelieve say:

What does Allah wish (to teach) by such a similitude? He misleads many thereby, and He guides many thereby; and He misleads thereby only miscreants.” (al-Baqarah 2:26)

If we examine this verse thoughtfully, we will find that Allah has used the gnat as an example. This example, like all other examples in the Qur’an, is not made aimlessly or without a worthy purpose. In fact, when the disbelievers heard it they did not understand its underlying motive and treated it with indifference. But Allah wanted to draw our attention to His infinite capacity, for to create such a minute

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organism and provide it with all the physiological functions necessary for its survival can only be the work of a capable God.

There is great wisdom in the above example, for it tells us not to underestimate the smallest creatures on earth or to judge their power by their size, for the massiveness or minute-ness of a creature or organism does not necessarily correspond with its impact and effect on man’s life. Moreover, some of the smallest organisms are more powerful and more adaptable to environmental changes. For instance, whereas all the enorm-ous species of dinosaurs became extinct by the end of the Mesozoic age, smaller insects such as ants, mosquitoes and fleas have been able to adapt to climatic changes and survive all the geological and climatic disturbances that have taken place on the earth. In explaining this phenomenon, scientists say that the brains of these huge animals were greatly inferior to those of the smaller species and therefore could not adjust to the changes that were taking place on earth.

But Allah explains the whole matter in different terms. He wants to tell us that survival is not subject to power or strength but rather to His divine will, and that this divine will is greater than any other power and can destroy it at will.

In contrast, viruses and germs have survived all these geological conditions, are still living with us, and have the power to destroy all life on earth if they were allowed by the will of Allah to do so. In these minute organisms and their devastating power, Allah manifests His absolute power, and at the same time reminds us of our weakness and vanity. It is a reminder to those transgressors who believe that their mundane power has made them invulnerable and kept them out of Allah’s reach. The similitude is, in fact, aimed at purging us from vanity and conceit, and convincing us that without Allah’s care and support we are feeble and vulner-able to all sorts of hazards and misfortunes.

Allah has given us these theoretical and practical examples so that the progress of faith may continue unhampered by fear, or intervention.

The most significant fact about this absolute divine power lies in the believers’ conviction and faith in its support and

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favourable intervention when the means fail to respond their will. It is this faith which puts the believers’ mind at peace -even when the means do not respond -because they know that Allah will never abandon them.

The denial of this divine absolute will and the worship by some capitalist and communist nations of outward posses-sions has thrown these nations into a state of moral apathy, anxiety, insecurity and a loss of purpose. This loss of bearings is noticeable among the young generation; reaction to it is the recent revival of religious heritage and the call for a return to Allah’s path.

When a materialist is suddenly in financial difficulty or becomes seriously ill he never thinks of his plight as a divine test. In contrast, he succumbs to despair and the whole world turns black before him. This is because he believes that destiny is in the hands of man who has the means to make him happy or miserable. On the other hand, a non-materialis-tic person who puts his trust in Allah’s absolute will is always hopeful of His assistance and that He will never abandon him in his moments of despair when the means seem to stand impotent and unresponsive. Thus he is always hopeful cure when he is sick and of new means of sustenance when all the doors are shut in his face or when he is hit by poverty or hardship.

But Allah has undertaken to spare believers the misery of this material life, for He has promised them a good life wherein His mercy and blessings prevail: the same mercy as that which inspired the baby Ishmael to kick the earth with his foot causing the water to gush, after his mother, Hagar, had lost all hope of finding any.

This is the formidable miracle which Allah wants us to be aware of. In it we are shown signs of how this divine power can work outside normal means, and what it can do for us if we seek its support when the means fail to help us get what we need, as is reflected in the verse:

“Is not He (best) Who answereth the wronged one when he cries unto Him … ?” (al-Naml 27:63)

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“The wronged” refers to the person who is let down and stands alone, forsaken by all, unable to go anywhere. In a situation like this, man should not succumb to despair, for Allah is there waiting to offer him His help if he seeks it.

We are all quite familiar with this divine help. If each one of us looked back into his life experiences, he would soon recognize the many instances where this invisible power had manifested itself, releasing him from the grip of despair and distress, perhaps by providing a sudden unexpected solution to a conflict which had seemed insoluble, or by rescuing him from a perilous situation, and so on.

Indeed many of us have witnessed this divine power at work on a much larger scale, as in the sudden fall from power of an unjust ruler or a whole regime, at a moment when everyone believed that it would last forever.

Allah wants the believer to face the world trusting in His overwhelming power and support, his heart kindled with an ever-burning flame of faith, and for this faith to be his hope and link with Him. With this invigorating hope man will confront all the hazards which he is likely to meet in his daily life, knowing that nothing can endanger his security and peace of mind. Confident that Allah is there to lend him a hand and in his awareness of His overwhelming capacity, the believer should feel quite secure and peaceful.

The high suicide rate in the materialistic nations -in contrast with its very low rate in nations where faith in Allah’s absolute power is predominant and unshaken -is undoub-tedly the best example that one can give of the good life which Allah has promised His sincere worshippers.

The absoluteness of divine power elucidates the various phenomena which take place in the universe in isolation. We live in a world governed by both means to obtain sustenance and the absoluteness of divine power. Thus we see men in the highest seat of power ousted by men of less authority. Contemporary history is full of such events. According to the rules of nature, this could never happen. In fact, the opposite is theoretically the rule.

If, for instance, we consider a non-believing nation such as Russia, we will be able to see signs of the working of this

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absolute divine power. The Soviet Union was once the largest producer of wheat grain in the world, but because Allah’s blessing has been withheld from it, it now relies on the United States for its loaf of bread.

The absoluteness of divine power gives Allah His unique and eternal attributes while all other things in the universe are transient and subject to decadence and decay. Thus we have seen nations and empires which once reigned supreme go into decline and oblivion, in spite of the fact that their people have remained the same, with the same intellect and capacities. But Allah has decreed the change, and so it has come to pass.

Everything in the universe, by virtue of this absolute divine power, has a preordained date. It is only through this absolute power that discoveries and new facts about life in this universe are systematically being revealed to successive generations. It is needless to say that Allah has always given something new to each new generation. To explain this point, we may refer to the verse where Abraham says,

“And when I sicken, then He heals me” (al-Shu’ara’ 26:80).

This verse is wrongly understood by many persons who refrain from going to the doctor in accordance with their understanding of this verse. Others go to the doctor in the belief that the cure rests with him. But in fact there is a preordained time for any cure, and when this time is due, Allah reveals the cause of sickness to the doctor who diagnoses it and pre-scribes the appropriate healing medicine.

In many instances we consult the most renowned specialist without success, and yet, sometimes, we amazingly find the cure in the clinic of an ordinary practitioner. If we tried to account for this phenomenon in terms of normal means we would expect the chances of finding a cure with the specialist to be far greater than with the ordinary practitioner, mainly because of the specialist’s wider knowledge and longer experience. But the latter was able to diagnose the disease because the time of its discovery had come. This discovery sometimes happens by chance, as when a sick person accidentally meets a doctor, while visiting friends, and mentions his case to him, who immediately recognizes the symptoms and prescribes the cure.

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Unqualified Will of Allah

The same thing could be said about the varied scientific phenomena which Allah plans to reveal to mankind. For every new discovery has a predetermined date, and when this day is due, the phenomenon is ordained to reveal itself to the scientist working on it, but in the absence of any research the phenomenon reveals itself, perhaps to a scientist working on some other research. In fact the history of science abounds with discoveries of this sort.

But because Allah does not reveal to us the date of these events we usually ascribe them to the means or to mere chance and luck. The absoluteness of divine power forms the core of faith. We should not,therefore, expect a non-believer to acknowledge the existence of such divine power or to believe in the Unseen; he would rather put all his faith in the means, trusting only in what is substantial and apparent, rejecting all that is spiritual or mystical and ridiculing such truths as punishment and spiritual rewards. In contrast,a person who believes in this unqualified divine power will have faith in these spiritual rewards and all that Allah has promised to those who believe in His omnipotence, as well as the bleak doom that awaits those who rebel against Him; and that all these promised rewards and punishments are not subject to the laws of nature, but are bestowed freely in isolation from them.

In living with this unqualified divine capacity and observing it at work, our belief in the existence of the world of the spirit and the Unseen is enhanced, and we find no difficulty in accepting it and living in harmony with it.

Belief in the absoluteness of divine will has to be deeply entrenched in our hearts before we can perceive and accom-modate all the facts of the unseen world which Allah has veiled from us, as well as everything else, generation after generation. For this regular imparting of new facts and the unfolding of old secrets increases our faith in Allah’s domi-nation over the universe and fills our hearts with humility and submissiveness to His Will.

Truly one would expect this generation, in view of all the discoveries about the universe which Allah has revealed to it in recent years, to show more acknowledgement of this

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absolute divine power and submit to it with humility and resignation.

About the predominance of this divine will over man’s life and destiny Allah says:

“… till, when the earth has taken on her ornaments and is embellished, and her people deem they are masters of her, Our commandment comes by night or by day and We make it as reaped corn as if it had not flourished yesterday. Thus do We expound the revela-tions for people who reflect.” (Yunus 10:24)

The meaning of this verse is that Allah will, in due time, reveal to mankind new secrets about the universe, which will show them signs of His ingenuity and the perfection of His creation, but that man, in his vanity, will not perceive their true meaning and will incorrectly attribute all these dis-coveries to his own intellectual endowments and efforts, and claim that with the knowledge which he has accumulated, he has become master of this universe, and of his destiny. This is when Allah’s decree will come to wipe out all that man has accomplished on earth. We should pay special attention to the irony in the word translated as ‘deem’ (zanna) which is used to accentuate man’s foolishness in believing that he was the maker of his own knowledge or that it was he who subdued everything in the universe to his service by his own will and knowledge.

But when man reaches the zenith of vanity and thinks that he can rival Allah and appoint himself lord and master over the universe, the bell of the Hour will be tolled. The same cautioning is reflected in the following verse:

“We shall show them Our portents on the horizons and within themselves until it will be manifest unto them that it is the Truth …” (Fussilat 41:53)

The Qur’an, being Allah’s speech, will remain unaltered and unchanged until the end of time. The future tense the word translated as “show” implies that the showing is

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continuous and involves all future generations, and that the Qur’an willreveal to every future generation something new, encompassing both the survival of man on earth and the secrets of our solar system. Accordingly, man will continue to find new solutions for his present problems and diseases, dis-cover new technology and learn more about his solar system.

In fact, all man’s recent accomplishments in these fields seem to conform with the foregoing predictions which only Allah, being the Creator of all past and future things, could make with certainty.

When man puts his trust outside of Allah he usually attributes to himself powers which he does not truly possess. Therefore, when Allah sees that one of His worshippers has gone away from Him and put all his faith in the means, He leaves him until he has reached his goal and become fully convinced of their power, then He suddenly reverses their course or nullifies their favourable ends. If man had complete control over the means and if it were true that the means alone were the true giver, they would never cease to give nor prevent the loss of gains previously secured. An example of this could be inferred from the verse wherein Qarun (Korah) says:

“… I have been given it only on account of knowledge I possess …” (al-Qasas 28:78)

The same pretension was expressed by the landlord of the two gardens:

“… I think not that all this will ever perish.” (al-Kahf 18:35)

and also by the men who plotted to defraud the poor folk of the crop of their gardens:

“No needy man shall enter it today against you”.

(It was a custom throughout the East to allow the poor a gleaning of all harvests. -Pickthall’s footnote) (al-Qalam 68:24)

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These arrogant men thought that all their material gain had been earned by their own knowledge and merits, thereby bringing about their own misfortune and the withholding of divine favour. The crop of the two gardens was destroyed, and Korah’s dwelling-place and his family were swallowed by the earth. As for the rich owners of the orchard, referred to in the above verse (68:24), who wanted to cheat the poor of their rightful share, it so happened that when they went to gather the fruit, they found the orchard destroyed beyond recognition. Only then did they realise Allah’s universal will over all affairs.

The absoluteness of power means that Allah is One and Unique in that His attributes can never be found in man or in any other creature or any number of them. His qualities and nature are unimaginable. He is Eternal, without begin-ning or end, and His power over this universe is absolute in that He can say to a thing ‘Be; and it is’. He is the Omniscient, and His knowledge encompasses all things.

Thus, when we say “Allah is Unique” we mean that He should not be compared with anything.

It is possible for a single object to have a double or a like; it can also be the sum and total of all its constituent parts. For example, we may say that a number of individuals are speaking with the same tongue, meaning that each of them is repeating the same argument or speech. Similarly, although a chair is made up of wood, leather and nails, it is still one thing: a chair. But the uniqueness of Allah negates all such composition. He is not created of a number of composite parts, for if this had been so, then which one was created first? Or, likewise, which one created the other?

Allah is mighty and eternal. These two attributes give us no alternative but to turn to Him and seek His mercy in our moments of need or when we feel helpless and distressed. But because man has been given a limited freedom of choice he is not compelled to make his pleas to Allah. In contrast, some other creatures, such as the angels, are deprived of this freedom of choice and cannot disobey Allah’s com-mands, as are all the celestial bodies such as the sun and moon which have been ordained to serve man..They have

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no will of their own and must follow the patterns and role for which they were made.

As for man, Allah has given him the freedom of choice. Thus he is free to seek Allah’s help or not, and to obey or disobey His commands while he lives on this earth, but he must account for all his actions on the Day of Judgement. In being eternal, absolute and unique, Allah has given us the true perspective of religion and faith. For being absolute implies that absolute existence can only be predicated of Him; all other existence is temporal or conditional; He is not dependent on any person or thing, but all persons or things are dependent on Him, thus negating the idea of the existence of any other God but Him.

These attributes make Him the only giver and the only God to whom we should make our pleas in moments of need or when we feel helpless and distressed. His power would not be diminished if the whole of mankind strayed from His right path or rebelled against Him. He is the only one who can grant favours or withdraw them, make the weak strong and the strong weak. This is the difference between Allah’s giving and that of man. A second difference is that when man offers or grants something, he cannot retrieve what he had offered. If, for instance, you gave some money to a person, but discovered later that he had betrayed you, you could not retrieve it once it had become his. Likewise, a doctor who cures a patient of a disease cannot make him sick again if the latter refuses to pay his fee. But Allah can do so: He can make poor the ungrateful rich, make the healthy sick and enrich the grateful poor.

When Allah gives someone the means to rule on earth, but it so happens that he has become an unjust oppressor, He always sends him a more severe and unjust rival to give him a taste of his own tyranny and injustice. He never sends him a good merciful man. This is because forgiveness, mercy leniency, self-restraint and charitable conduct, all of which have been commended by Allah, stand between this righteous man and the deserved punishment of this unjust wrong-doer. But in afflicting him with a more unjust opponent Allah ensures that the punishment will be as severe as and equal to the guilt.

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The absoluteness of divine power is in fact a blessing to mankind, for Allah is above all desire. We are all His slaves, regardless of race or creed. We stand high or low in His esteem only according to our obedience to His laws and commands. The exercise of this absolute power is needed to organise man’s life in this universe and to create a balance in his interaction with his fellow man, for through it Allah gives support to the weak against his oppressor and to the incapable against the capable. If this interaction were left to be run by the laws of nature, corruption would have run wild and unchecked. That is because a man who takes no account except of such laws soon becomes rapt in his own lust and greed, stopping at nothing, thereby sowing misery and corruption into the fabric of the whole society. But Allah’s absolute freedom and supremacy over the universe have come to correct any deviation in the progress of the good life which He has promised to mankind.

Thus Allah has created the universe and given of His bounty to both believers and non-believers alike. But all Allah’s gifts to mankind, whether they are good or bad, are but a sort of test or trial of our faith in Him. For sometimes what we consider to be bad for us may in fact be a blessing in disguise and more beneficial than many of the things which we sometimes strive hard to acquire, only to discover afterward that they are but a curse.

When Allah gave us the means so that life would go on, He maintained His freedom of will in order to create a balance between the two. He wants to caution us not to forget Him and worship the means which can neither give outside His will nor restrict His power and sovereignty over all affairs and events. He wants us to put our trust in Him and not in those who might have some power or influence over secondary causes. He wants to tell us that such means are but the medium through which He bestows His favours upon whomever He chooses from among His slaves, or otherwise withholds them. Nor should we ever succumb to despair when the means fail or fall short of responding to our efforts and capacities, because this same free will is always there to correct unfavourable results of the means or even bypass them altogether.

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The maintenance of the freedom of divine will and its superiority over secondary causes is necessary to ensure man’s welfare. It gives him ample evidence of Allah’s unity and sovereignty over all things, and His capacity to act freely unhindered by time or place. It can satisfy all his needs without diminishing any part of Allah’s inexhaustible bounty, either materially or spiritually; it is there to give courage to the helpless and to support them in their struggle against oppression and the bias of the means.

Finally, belief in the absoluteness of divine will is the essence of faith, because it convinces us (with firm certainty) of all the divine rewards that Allah is capable of granting to the believer and the righteous in the Hereafter, the eternal blessings which He has promised him. It is a constant reminder that Allah alone is All-Capable and the truest giver and executor of all things.

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