Allah "has not taken a wife or a son." (72 : 3) Allah does not have a family. He does not need them. He does not need to be loved by a wife or helped by a son. Otherwise He wouldn’t be God. The best wife Allah could create for Himself or the best son He could ever make should be either as good as or better than Him. But why should Allah have someone in His presence who could be as good as or better than Him? What would be the purpose? There can’t be anything as good as or better than Allah and anything less good than Allah cannot be a god. “Naught is as His likeness.” (42 : 11) Period. There can only be Allah, on the one hand, and the Kingdom of Allah, on the other hand. And then "Thy Lord createth what He willeth and chooseth." (28 : 68) Why ? Because "If there were therein Gods beside Allah, then verily both (the heavens and the earth) had been disordered." (21 : 22) "Allah hath not chosen any son, nor is there any God along with Him; else would each God have assuredly championed that which he created, and some of them would assuredly have overcome others." (23 : 91) "Say (O Muhammad, to the disbelievers): If there were other gods along with Him, as they say, then had they sought a way against the Lord of the Throne." (17 : 42) Look at what man, this weak creature, has done against Allah; what if Allah surrounded Himself with other gods? Would any sensible king accept to have around him someone who could do what he does or undo what he undoes? That would be unwise of him. We have seen what happened in History between kings and their parents and their children and their siblings. Allah says: "And it was not (vouchsafed) to any mortal that Allah should speak to him unless (it be) by revelation or from behind a veil, or (that) He sendeth a messenger to reveal what He will by His leave. Lo! He is Exalted, Wise." (42 : 51) "Yet they worship instead of Allah that which can neither benefit them nor hurt them. The disbeliever was ever a partisan against his Lord." (25 : 55) Allah can do all His work on His own. "Unto Him belongeth all that is in the heavens and all that is in the earth. Lo! Allah, He verily is the Absolute, the Owner of Praise." (22 : 64) So the Kingdom of Allah can only be ruled by Allah. But Allah does not want to rule by force only. With those who want force Allah will use force because He is “the Almighty, the Wise." (3 : 6) For those who deserve love Allah will appoint love because He is “Merciful, Loving.” (11 : 90) ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab (may Allah be pleased with him) said: “Some prisoners were brought to the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), and there was a woman among the prisoners who was searching (for her child). When she found her child she embraced him and put him to her breast. The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said to us: ‘Do you think that this woman would throw her child in the fire?’ We said: ‘No, by Allah, not if she is able not to.’ The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: ‘Allah is more merciful to His slaves than this woman is to her child.’ We all know that the rain, which is a gift from Allah, does not fall only where Allah is worshipped. Allah says: "Each do We supply, both these and those, from the bounty of thy Lord. And the bounty of thy Lord can never be walled up." (17 : 20) "And He it is Who sendeth the winds as tidings heralding His mercy, till, when they bear a cloud heavy (with rain), We lead it to a dead land, and then cause water to descend thereon and thereby bring forth fruits of every kind. Thus bring We forth the dead. Haply ye may remember." (7 : 57) This “dead land” could be anywhere in the world. Allah says: "We shall show them Our portents on the horizons and within themselves until it will be manifest unto them that it is the Truth. Doth not thy Lord suffice, since He is Witness over all things?" (41 : 53) We now know that in almost every country in the world there’s at least one person or two who believe in Allah. For the sake of that one person Allah is ready to provide to all the people living where he lives. Because that person will need to eat, to wear clothes, to use transportation, to have a home, etc, and all this cannot be done by him alone. He will need people to farm for him, people to make clothes for him, to build a home for him, etc, etc. All the people will eat quite the same things, use the same transportation, have the same kind of homes, etc, but in this world only. In the Hereafter only the faithful will have the good things. That’s why it’s not un-Islamic for a good Muslim to enjoy the good things of this life. Allah says: "Say: Who hath forbidden the adornment of Allah which He hath brought forth for His bondmen, and the good things of His providing? Say: Such, on the Day of Resurrection, will be only for those who believed during the life of the world. Thus do we detail Our revelations for people who have knowledge." (7 : 32) That’s why Allah provided our forefathers who did not believe in Him. He provided them with food, with shelter, with everything. He caused love to make them feel so good so as to encourage them to marry, to support a family, to prepare the future generations of believers. That’s why when Angel Gabriel said to the prophet Muhammad (pbuh) that, if he wanted, Allah could destroy the people of Taif, who had mistreated him, he said: "No, but I hope that Allah will let them beget children who will worship Allah Alone and will worship None besides Him." Does that mean that Allah is doing all this and taking all this trouble because He needs to be adored, to be loved? We’ll see that later in the book.
Now, if I am a good Muslim and have some knowledge about Islam I should share it will all people all over the world, if I can. I am using things that come from all over the world (clothes, gadgets, books, etc). I should return the favour in the form of advice. Allah made those people help me (through their material products) to enjoy the life of the world, I should help them to see why Allah can be good for them too, why the life of the Hereafter is true and is no less good than the life of the world. Allah said to the prophet (pbuh) : "We sent thee not save as a mercy for the peoples." (21 : 107) The prophet (pbuh) died 14 centuries ago, his message is still being shared in so many languages by people who have tasted the sweetness of Faith, by people who love Allah.
Now, is it easy for anyone to share such knowledge? Well, it depends. Allah says: "Enjoin ye righteousness upon mankind while ye yourselves forget (to practise it)? And ye are readers of the Scripture! Have ye then no sense? "(2 : 44) Put differently, I will be punished (here in the world and there in the Hereafter) if I contradict myself. If I don’t contradict myself, if I do as I say, I will have problems still all the same. Allah says: "Do men imagine that they will be left (at ease) because they say, We believe, and will not be tested with affliction?" (29 : 2) Put differently, I will have to make a lot of sacrifices. Is it worthwhile? Well, it depends once again. For me personally, I am a writer and I have no choice. Allah says: "And who is more unjust than he who hideth a testimony which he hath received from Allah? Allah is not unaware of what ye do." (2 : 140) "And (remember) when Allah laid a charge on those who had received the Scripture. (He said): Ye are to expound it to mankind and not to hide it." (3 : 187) I have learned things from my personal experience as a believer in Allah; so maybe there are people out there who would be interested in what I am saying. This has become part of my everyday life as a believer. As I live a new day I earn something and lose something else, the least of which are my past days which are gone for good and will never come back. It’s not a 5-minute prayer every two or five hours that will alter the course of my day or prevent me from doing what I want to do. On the contrary, it’s more beneficial than a soldier’s respite. Likewise, when I am reading the Quran I am learning new things every time. When I am writing I am enjoying the immaterial side of my life. When I am posting my work online I am making new friends. Allah is watching me all the time and that’s an honour for me. Allah says: "And thou (Muhammad) art not occupied with any business and thou recitest not a Lecture from this (Scripture), and ye (mankind) perform no act, but We are Witness of you when ye are engaged therein. And not an atom's weight in the earth or in the sky escapeth your Lord, nor what is less than that or greater than that, but it is (written) in a clear Book." (10 : 61) Everywhere I look I see signs that I’m leaving this world one day. I see babies who will be my age when I’m gone. I see young people who remind me that I too was as young as them and I am no more. I see very old people and I’m not sure I’ll live as long as them. I see plants that last a few months and trees that are more than 100 years old. All this reminds me that I am leaving sooner or later. At the same time, when I say my prayers five times a day, and read some Quran, and do some good, day in day out, I get the feeling that I am kind of investing in these days gone by and that this investment should bear fruit upon my death. I feel that my life is in fact eternal, once I left my mother’s womb. Allah says: "They taste not death therein, save the first death." (44 : 56) This gives me hope. So if I lose something when I am writing about religion I should consider that as an investment.
Now, what would I hope for as a believer who knows something about Islam? In the Quran I read: “whom He loveth and who love Him” (5 : 54) What does that mean? Well, it means that, why not, Allah can love me too. And that’s something I would love so much. But how do I know that Allah loves me? Allah says: "As for man, whenever his Lord trieth him by honouring him, and is gracious unto him, he saith: My Lord honoureth me. But whenever He trieth him by straitening his means of life, he saith: My Lord despiseth me." (89 : 15-16) I would probably assume that if Allah gives me everything I want, that can be a sign that He loves me. But what’s the sign that I love Him? Why should Allah love me if I don’t love Him in return? Am I the only one in the kingdom of Allah? Why should Allah favour me over all his bondmen? Am I "the best in conduct"? Allah says: "O mankind! Lo! We have created you from male and female, and have made you nations and tribes that ye may know one another. Lo! the noblest of you, in the sight of Allah, is the best in conduct. Lo! Allah is Knower, Aware." (49 : 13) Allah also says : "Surely We created man of the best stature" (95 : 4) "See ye not how Allah hath made serviceable unto you whatsoever is in the skies and whatsoever is in the earth and hath loaded you with His favours both without and within?" (31 : 20) "And if ye would count the favour of Allah ye cannot reckon it. Lo! Allah is indeed Forgiving, Merciful." (16 : 18) If that applies to me too, what did I give Allah in return? When someone gives me something I say thank you. Did I thank Allah for all His gifts? How? Do I have a special relationship with Allah, a relationship far, far better than my relationship with anybody else? Allah says: "Those who believe are stauncher in their love for Allah -" (2 : 165) "Allah hath (now) revealed the fairest of statements, a Scripture consistent, (wherein promises of reward are) paired (with threats of punishment), whereat doth creep the flesh of those who fear their Lord, so that their flesh and their hearts soften to Allah's reminder. Such is Allah's guidance, wherewith He guideth whom He will." (39 : 23) "They only are the (true) believers whose hearts feel fear when Allah is mentioned, and when revelations of Allah are recited unto them they increase their faith, and who trust in their Lord; Who establish worship and spend of that We have bestowed on them. Those are they who are in truth believers. For them are grades (of honour) with their Lord, and pardon, and a bountiful provision." (8 : 2-4) "Remember Allah as ye remember your fathers or with a more lively remembrance." (2 : 200) Am I among those meant by these verses? When I want to sin, for example, do I hide from Allah or from people? Do I fear Allah or do I fear people? Allah says : "A party of them fear mankind even as their fear of Allah or with greater fear." (4 : 77) "They seek to hide from men and seek not to hide from Allah." (4 : 108) "The erudite among His bondmen fear Allah alone. Lo! Allah is Mighty, Forgiving." (35 : 28) "And of mankind is he who would sell himself, seeking the pleasure of Allah; and Allah hath compassion on (His) bondmen." (2 : 207) Do I really care about "the pleasure of Allah"? Do I really fear Allah? Do I really love Allah ? Allah says: "Say, (O Muhammad, to mankind): If ye love Allah, follow me; Allah will love you and forgive you your sins. Allah is Forgiving, Merciful." (3 : 31) Do I follow the prophet (pbuh)? Do I ask myself such questions when I am alright or only when I am miserable? What do I do when I am miserable? Do I turn to Allah or do I turn away from Him? Do I implore Allah to forgive and help me or do I try by all means to change my fate?
You know, as I do, that normal adult people aspire to three things: financial independence, marriage and good health. What if I had none of these? What if I were jobless, single and sick? What could I do, knowing that I can’t, even if I try, change my fate? All I can do is live with that and accept it and wait for salvation – just like a homeless person who can’t find a shelter. Suppose I were married and had two wonderful boys and a loving spouse, would I know what may happen to me or to them in the near future? Now, here’s an anecdote. It’s in the Quran. "… So they twain journeyed on till, when they met a lad, he slew him. (Moses) said: What! Hast thou slain an innocent soul who hath slain no man? Verily thou hast done a horrid thing. He said: Did I not tell thee that thou couldst not bear with me? (Moses) said: If I ask thee after this concerning aught, keep not company with me. Thou hast received an excuse from me. " (18 : 74-76) Moses was a prophet and yet he could not see the point in killing an "innocent child". You and I would have the same reaction. Even after reading the justification for the killing of the child one would still wonder: Why didn’t Allah give those good parents the right child right away? Well, they might have taken that for granted, just as I take it for granted when I take the train, when I switch on the light, when I turn on the tele, when I take a call from a dear person… Do I thank Allah for all this comfort? What if I lost such comfort overnight? What if I lost anything that was so dear to me?
Hopefully, that great loss may – I say may – bring me closer to my Lord so that I’ll think more seriously not only of my material comfort, my healthcare, my financial ease in this world, but also of my salvation. What do you think I would prefer: work after a long period of unemployment or a kind message from a person I loved so much and thought she had forgotten all about me? How would I feel when I read that unhoped-for message or when I get a surprise call from that dear person? If I think about it, it’s nothing compared to when Allah sends down the rain after a severe drought or when He puts out the fire of a deadly war or when He helps someone repay his debt after he was very close to imprisonment. That’s my chance to feel the love of Allah. That’s my chance to relish and cherish that love from my Lord and the Lord of the Worlds. People are proud to take selfies with humans like them, what about the love of the Lord of the Worlds?
These are personal experiences. I am an ordinary believer. I am not a saint. What happens to me can happen to other people in various ways. I too need to understand things that cannot be understood by reason alone. So I need to go through personal experience and to know about other people’s personal experiences.
Ayshah (May Allah be pleased with her) reported: "The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) had slaughtered a sheep and distributed major portions of its meat. Then he (pbuh) asked: ‘What is left of it?’ I replied: ‘Nothing remains except its shoulder.’ Thereupon he said: ‘All of it remains except its shoulder.'” How could you and I understand this with our logic? The sheep was eaten by the poor and there remained no more in Ayshah’s room but that shoulder: that’s logic, that’s reason. But to the prophet (pbuh) there was another logic. He saw Allah’s logic. We humans when we lose something it’s hard for us to think of a replacement/a compensation that we can’t see with our eyes.
We humans will always ask such logical questions as to why Allah gave the prophets Noah and Lot bad wives and to the tyrant Pharoah a good wife he didn’t deserve? Would we see in Pharoah’s wife a wife to him but also an adoptive mother to Moses (pbuh), who could otherwise have been killed by Pharaoh?
The Quran tells us that Allah did not give a child to Abraham (pbuh) until he was very old. And then after He gave him a child and this child grew up a little bit, Allah told Abraham (pbuh) (in a dream) to sacrifice him. Someone who doesn’t have faith in his heart would only see in this some kind of sadism. But both Abraham and his son would forget all about the pains they had suffered during the trial once they saw the gift brought down by angels from the heavens, from the Lord of the Worlds. It’s like slapping your little son or little brother and then you give him a surprise present: the slap is painful, but your present will make him forget it, because you gave him a sign that you love him, that you didn’t mean him any harm. Likewise, it is not easy for many people to fast during the holy month of Ramadan. And yet they do it, not out of fear of people, but to please Allah and to do good to their own health.
Why did Allah do that to Abraham, why did He order him to sacrifice his son? We don’t need to dream up an explanation. When Allah tells me, as a believer, to do something I have to do it, I don’t ask why. Allah says: "The saying of (all true) believers when they are called unto Allah and His messenger to judge between them is only that they say: We hear and we obey. And such are the successful." (24 : 51) "And it becometh not a believing man or a believing woman, when Allah and His messenger have decided an affair (for them), that they should (after that) claim any say in their affair; and whoso is rebellious to Allah and His messenger, he verily goeth astray in error manifest." (33 : 36) Nobody asks a king to justify an order. Allah is the King / the Lord of the Worlds, period. Adam, don’t touch that tree. That’s it, don’t touch it. "And when Saul set out with the army, he said: Lo! Allah will try you by (the ordeal of) a river. Whosoever therefore drinketh thereof he is not of me, and whosoever tasteth it not he is of me, save him who taketh (thereof) in the hollow of his hand." (2 : 249) So don’t go beyond what you have been ordered. Allah says: "To hunt and to eat the fish of the sea is made lawful for you, a provision for you and for seafarers; but to hunt on land is forbidden you so long as ye are on the pilgrimage." (5 : 96) That’s it, don’t hunt on land. Don’t ask questions. Maybe there are secrets I don’t know and Allah would not let me in on the secret. So I have to do as I am told. Who am I to be let into the Secret of Allah? I should respect the distance between me and my Lord as I respect the distance between me and my superiors at work. I should show my Lord that He is indeed my Lord. I should show Him that I love Him by obeying His orders whatever they are. I should not ask why a male heir should receive twice as much as a female heir. That’s none of my business. I should not ask why a woman does not pray or fast during menstruation. Allah did not ask me to use water for my ablutions if I am ill. Allah permits me to only perform tayammum if I can’t find/use water, or to perform my daily prayers lying on my side in bed if I am ill. Allah permits me to postpone my fasting until after Ramadan if I am ill. If I can see symbolism in tayammum, why can’t I see symbolism in Adam’s tree or in Hevrews’ river or in hunting during Hajj in Mecca?
Allah made me (as a human) a viceroy of Him in this earth. A viceroy is not the king. But a viceroy can be brought near the king. I too can be brought near my Lord if I make a good viceroy. What’s my job as a viceroy? I do what I can, that’s my job. I can help a homeless person by giving him shelter or food or clothes or money or just a smile. I am doing this to a human like myself. If I marry I marry a human like myself. If I work, I work for a human like myself. If Allah wants to take revenge on a tyrant He will send him a human like himself. Allah will not transport victims in ambulances or help the blind cross the street. I, as a believer, do it in His name. If Allah wants me to be jobless, nobody will ever give me work unless Allah wills so. If Allah wants me to be single, nobody will marry me unless Allah wills so. That’s because Allah is the Lord. Allah says: "Knowest thou not that it is Allah unto Whom belongeth the Sovereignty of the heavens and the earth; and ye have not, beside Allah, any friend or helper?" (2 : 107) Allah is never in the headlines, but He is somewhere behind what’s in the headlines. When a celebrity dies, all the media talk about that celebrity, but where is he/she taken ? To a church or a mosque, to where God is. People who have faith in their hearts know that. So each would do what he/she can as a viceroy of Allah. They will seek a peaceful rather than confrontational relationship with Allah, because they know that there are things that Allah alone can do. Allah does them for us. Allah says: "Have ye seen that which ye cultivate? Is it ye who foster it, or are We the Fosterer? If We willed, We verily could make it chaff, then would ye cease not to exclaim: Lo! we are laden with debt! Nay, but we are deprived! Have ye observed the water which ye drink? Is it ye who shed it from the raincloud, or are We the Shedder? If We willed We verily could make it bitter. Why then, give ye not thanks?" (56 : 63-70) "Let man consider his food: How We pour water in showers Then split the earth in clefts And cause the grain to grow therein And grapes and green fodder And olive-trees and palm-trees And garden-closes of thick foliage And fruits and grasses: Provision for you and your cattle." (80 : 24-32) These people who have faith in their hearts strive to serve their Lord and do not wait for Him to serve them. When they need something they beg Allah to help them. When they have questions they think about possible answers rather than ask them bluntly. These people know that even science cannot explain everything. So they try to guess what Allah would expect of each of them and each would strive to accomplish his/her mission in the best way possible. What matters is what Allah wants, not what they want.
These people see how Allah would even use earthquakes and wars and all sorts of calamities to remind Man of Heaven when Man does not want to see anything but the life of this world. These people see that despite all calamities life remains beautiful. People find time for joy even in war times. Ask any woman about labour, she’ll say awful. Ask her about the first smile of her baby, she’ll say something else.
What do I understand when I read the Quran? I understand that, by creating me, Allah gave me the opportunity to have this brief terrestrial experience which I will remember when I am in Heaven, if I ever go there. On the Day of Judgment I will be given a book, it’s a book of my memories. My knowledge of the world, of Allah, of myself should be a light for me. My knowledge should strengthen my faith. My knowledge and my faith will be like my two hands, my two eyes, my two ears, my two feet. So my mind (be it in my brain or in my digestive system) won’t work independently of my heart. I need both of them like I need both of my hands, both of my eyes… My mind and my heart will show me how best to work for both this life of the world (which is only "a pastime and a spot" (6 : 32)) and my eternal life, where I will be able to see Allah with my own eyes, if I ever go to Heaven.
In my early youth I needed to know things without questioning anything. I grew up as a Muslim, so at school I was taught how to read the Quran, how to perform my ablutions, my prayers, etc. As I grew older I learned more from the mosque, from the media, from books, from society, etc. But there came a time when I realized that what I knew was not enough. There was a book which could have helped me understand why I had been going through hardship, but I did not know of the book at that time. When that book came my way and I read it, I finally understood part of what I had experienced. But the book was too hard for me. (I could not finish reading it on one occasion.) I thought it was for saints, not for ordinary believers like myself. So I continued to think about my faith without relying so much on other people’s thoughts. I studied the Quran on my own. So what would I say now to someone who asked me about my religion?
The five pillars of Islam are known to all. There’s another five things that are not known to all. What comes first in Islam, I think, is (1) awareness "They said: Our Lord! We have wronged ourselves. If thou forgive us not and have not mercy on us, surely we are of the lost!" (7 : 23) ; then comes (2) accountability "Our Lord! Condemn us not if we forget, or miss the mark! Our Lord! Lay not on us such a burden as thou didst lay on those before us! Our Lord! Impose not on us that which we have not the strength to bear! Pardon us, absolve us and have mercy on us." (2 : 286) ; then comes (3) kindness "Those who entered the city and the faith before them love those who flee unto them for refuge, and find in their breasts no need for that which hath been given them, but prefer (the fugitives) above themselves though poverty become their lot. And whoso is saved from his own avarice - such are they who are successful." (59 : 9) "merciful among themselves" (48 : 29) "and whose affairs are a matter of counsel, and who spend of what We have bestowed on them." (42 : 38) ; then comes (4) solidarity : "And feed with food the needy wretch, the orphan and the prisoner, for love of Him, (Saying): We feed you, for the sake of Allah only. We wish for no reward nor thanks from you." (76 : 8-9) ; then comes (5) change : "And there may spring from you a nation who invite to goodness, and enjoin right conduct and forbid indecency. Such are they who are successful." (3 : 104)
That’s the knowledge. Now the practice. Imams and preachers will not be with me everywhere every time. It’s my heart that will be with me everywhere every time. So I have to work on my heart. If I have a clean heart Faith will go in just as the roots go into a fertile soil. How can I work on my heart? As we said before, and as is well explained by our scholars, there’s annafs al ammara and annafs allawama and annafs al mutmainna. When I am perplexed because I don’t know what to do that’s annafs allawama. That means that I fear Allah, or, if I want to go a step further in my Iman, that I wouldn’t love to do anything that would displease my Lord. That’s out of respect, out of love of my Lord. That’s a good thing. And Allah likes that. He says : "And there is no sin for you in the mistakes that ye make unintentionally, but what your hearts purpose (that will be a sin for you). Allah is Forgiving, Merciful." (33 : 5) "Know that Allah knoweth what is in your minds, so beware of Him; and know that Allah is Forgiving, Clement." (2 : 235) "Yet whoso doeth evil or wrongeth his own soul, then seeketh pardon of Allah, will find Allah Forgiving, Merciful." (4 : 110) "And whoso committeth a delinquency or crime, then throweth (the blame) thereof upon the innocent, hath burdened himself with falsehood and a flagrant crime." (4 : 112) It’s defiance that is a problem. Even between us humans it’s not right to defy someone whom we want to be good to us. The point is, there are limits that one should be ready to accept. All this is a set of “operations”, a process, if you will, that take place in the heart. Defiance comes from the heart first. So it should be tackled in the heart first. I want to move up from Islam to Iman to Ihsan. I want to elevate my nafs from ammara to lawama to mutmainna. This means that it’s I who should endeavour towards reaching that level. I should do my best to please Allah, not to defy Him. I should do my best, but not the impossible. The prophet (pbuh) said: "The religion (of Islam) is easy, and whoever makes the religion a rigour, it will overpower him. So, follow a middle course (in worship); if you can't do this, do something near to it and give glad tidings and seek help (of Allah) at morn and at dusk and some part of night." I should therefore do what I can. If I can worship Allah at night while people are sleeping, that’s great, that’s the top honour for a moomin (a true believer). If I can fast very often, that’s great too. But Islam does not ask me to impose on myself that which I have not the strength to bear. I can express my gratitude to Allah in many different ways. The prophet (pbuh) said: "Do good deeds properly, sincerely and moderately and know that your deeds will not make you enter Paradise, and that the most beloved deed to Allah is the most regular and constant even if it were little." He also said: "Your body has a right over you, your eyes have a right over you and your wife has a right over you." "Start with your own self and spend it on yourself, and if anything is left, it should be spent on your family, and if anything is left (after meeting the needs of the family) it should be spent on relatives, and if anything is left from the family, it should be spent like this, like this. And he was saying: In front of you, on your right and left." The Quran says: "They ask thee, (O Muhammad), what they shall spend. Say: that which ye spend for good (must go) to parents and near kindred and orphans and the needy and the wayfarer. And whatsoever good ye do, lo! Allah is Aware of it." (2 : 215) The mere fact that I am willing to give is a sign that I want to be grateful to Allah. The Quran says: "What concern hath Allah for your punishment if ye are thankful (for His mercies) and believe (in Him)? Allah was ever Responsive, Aware." (4 : 147) This wish to give, to be good, is not peculiar to believers in Allah. This wish is human because it comes from the heart and every human being has got a heart. Even animals have this kind of thing. Many people have been saved from death by their pets.
Now, I have the wish to do good. How can I do it? Is it always easy to do good, by the way? One day I was listening to a radio show in which listeners asked for advice from other listeners. One listener said this: "I am the youngest of three brothers living in a foreign country. My problem is that I see one of my brothers flirt with the wife of my other brother. I am traumatised because I don’t know whether I should turn a blind eye and thus have peace with both of my brothers or tell my poor brother who is betrayed by both his wife and his brother. Please help me. I need your advice." I am sorry I can’t give my opinion on this. But the other day I found a cigarette as I was walking in the woods. I said to myself: should I crush it since it’ll only harm somebody’s health? or should I rather leave it for a poor guy who can’t buy a cigarette ? Well, I did not crush it. This is called Ijtihad, meaning you try your best to come up with the right solution to a problem like this. Ijtihad is the work of scholars, of the erudite. But sometimes you need to take action on the spot. Hence the importance of work on one’s heart.
Hearts do get tired at times. They may become blind. What can I do so that my heart won’t go blind? One way is taking a holiday. One way is taking a rest, any kind of rest. One way is arts or sports. In the time of the prophet (pbuh) people liked poetry and cavalry. Different people like different things.
Listen to this unbelievable story that I heard on the radio. An aged experienced hunter was asked about his hunting feats. Speaking in front of members of his tribe who knew him well, he said he had hunted 72 wolves and scores of foxes, among other things. He and his friends ate those wolves and foxes. Once, the man said, my friends and I were lurking behind a makeshift wall for foxes, wolves or rabbits. Then a rabbit appeared on the bare ground. I aimed at it, and I had never missed a game, and as I was watching it through the viewfinder of my rifle the muezzin started to call for prayer. The rabbit stopped dead in its tracks. It leaned on its posterior and remained motionless. When the muezzin finished his call, the rabbit wiped its face with its front paws, as in prayer, and went away. I was moved as I saw that, so I left it alone.
That’s quite unbelievable, but one may need to hear or read challenging tales like this one. That’s part of literature, my own hobby. What would entertain my heart may be different from what would entertain your own. Tbourida in my country, Morocco, is not baseball in the US or hokey in Canada or cricket in India. When reading the Quran, an ex-priest who reverted to Islam may be interested in what it says about Jesus Christ and Mary; an ex-rabbi may be interested in stories about Hebrews; a scientist may want to focus on something in the Quran that has to do with science, etc. What about me?
Well, I saw on TV a large crowd of people in China gathering for long hours (one said he waited no less than three days) in order to see (and take pics of) some mystical fog as it enveloped a beautiful village in a valley. The view was spectacular. It must be breathtaking to see white fog hanging just below your feet. I wish I were with them. I wish I could see sunrise and sunset in those places where people go only to see sunrise and sunset. The Quran speaks of "the close of night, And the breath of morning." (81 : 17-18) The Quran is not poetry, but as a poet I love that kind of language. Take a taste! This is how it sounds in Arabic: "wallayli iza ’ass’ass wassobhi iza tanaffass"
And this :
"fala oqsimu bishafaq, wallayli wama wassaq, walqamari iza ttassaq…"
"Oh, I swear by the afterglow of sunset, And by the night and all that it enshroudeth, And by the moon when she is at the full, That ye shall journey on from plane to plane." (84 : 16-19)
And this :
"washamsi wa dohaha, walqamari iza talaha, wannahar iiz ajallaha, wallayli iza yaghshaha…"
"By the sun and his brightness, And the moon when she followeth him, And the day when it revealeth him, And the night when it enshroudeth him." (91 : 1-4)
The Quran says : "The Beneficent Hath made known the Quran. He hath created man. He hath taught him utterance." (55 : 1-4) What is "utterance" (in Arabic, al bayan)? It’s the ability to express things in a beautiful way. How can I express things in a beautiful way if I can’t feel beauty? Why does the Quran speak about beauty, as in the verse: "And wherein is beauty for you, when ye bring them home, and when ye take them out to pasture." (16 : 6)? Well, normally, the fascination with beauty results in the realization of the greatness of the one who created this beauty and the feeling of this realization appears in the form of sanctification of this creator, and this is but worship! The prophet (pbuh) said : "Allah is beautiful and loves beauty." When the Arabs and many non-Arab Muslims see, hear or smell something beautiful they say: ALLAH!
The Quran calls on me, as a believer, to "Travel in the land and see how He originated creation, then Allah bringeth forth the later growth." (29 : 20) This travel (in Arabic, siyaha) is spiritual as well as material. When I am practising this kind of spiritual tourism (siyaha) in order to give my heart some rest so that it won’t go blind I am actually practising my faith – just as if I were at prayer. Allah says: "Have they not then observed the sky above them, how We have constructed it and beautified it, and how there are no rifts therein? And the earth have We spread out, and have flung firm hills therein, and have caused of every lovely kind to grow thereon, A vision and a reminder for every penitent slave." (50 : 6-8) In other words, I am enjoying myself. I am living my (worldly) life while preserving and strengthening my faith.
Confrontation can work with men sometimes, but never with Allah. If I want peace with Allah there’s one and only one option: istighfar (begging Allah’s pardon). When I am imploring Allah to forgive me I am actually confirming my belief that Allah is my Lord and that He Alone can decide my Fate. I am confirming that I believe in the Unseen. That’s very, very important. Good believers "believe in the Unseen." (2 : 3) "Those who fear their Lord in secret and who dread the Hour (of doom)." (21 : 49) The more I know the more I should fear the Lord. "The erudite among His bondmen fear Allah alone. Lo! Allah is Mighty, Forgiving." (35 : 28) The erudite who think in good faith can only know Allah more and fear Him more. But what about someone like me who is not an erudite? Well, at least I should avoid any kind of confrontation with Allah. If I understand something, so much better. If I can’t understand the logic of a rule, for example, I should respect the knowledge of Allah Who set out that rule. I should also bring my humble testimony to the fairness of Allah. "Allah (Himself) is Witness that there is no God except Him. And the angels and the men of learning (too are witness). Maintaining His creation in justice, there is no God save Him the Almighty, the Wise." (3 : 18) It’s a question of Faith. I trust that Allah did not make that rule against the interest of man. I trust that there must be some good in that rule even though I can’t see it myself. I may not understand the wisdom underlying some rules, but I have to abide by them for the sake of the public good. I should accept the rule first, then philosophize about it. So I should admit that my knowledge is limited compared to God’s knowledge. If I think that I know everything in the earth and in the sky I may still have doubts about what’s most important to me: the fate of my own soul after death. Allah says: "They know only some appearance of the life of the world, and are heedless of the Hereafter." (30 : 7) "And verily We have displayed for mankind in this Quran all manner of similitudes, but man is more than anything contentious." (18 : 54) "And they have no knowledge thereof. They follow but a guess, and lo! a guess can never take the place of the truth. Then withdraw (O Muhammad) from him who fleeth from Our remembrance and desireth but the life of the world. Such is their sum of knowledge." (35 : 28-29) "Most of them follow not but conjecture. Assuredly conjecture can by no means take the place of truth." (10 : 36) As a believer, who evidently want to have good faith when thinking about Faith, I will not seek knowledge in books and schools only. I am being taught everyday in the school of life too. My trials, my ordeals, teach me loads of knowledge about myself and the world. I know and believe and make no barrier between the Seen and the Unseen, between the world and Heaven. The Quran tells me that, on the Day of Judgment, Heaven people will say: "Take, read my book!" (69 : 19) To Hell people it will be said: "Read thy Book. Thy soul sufficeth as reckoner against thee this day." (17 : 14) It’s no round trip: nobody is going to be given another chance to think or decide. If I don’t want to take the unseen into account NOW, I may regret it THEN. "Every soul will taste of death. And ye will be paid on the Day of Resurrection only that which ye have fairly earned. Whoso is removed from the Fire and is made to enter paradise, he indeed is triumphant. The life of this world is but comfort of illusion." (3 : 185) "This is a clear message for mankind in order that they may be warned thereby, and that they may know that He is only One God, and that men of understanding may take heed." (14 : 52)
Belief in the Unseen is not easy. In the Surah of Yusuf, we read: "And though thou try much, most men will not believe." (12 : 103) "And most of them believe not in Allah except that they attribute partners (unto Him)." (12 : 106) When I am put to the test my tests will either strengthen or weaken my belief. Knowledge alone is not enough, but it helps. People spend lots of money on psychiatrist consultation. If I manage to acquire that kind of knowledge (of personal experience, through my tests, through siyaha (spiritual tourism)), I will never see a psychiatrist. When I am in an adversity and go somewhere on the outskirts of the city and implore Allah to help me and He does help me from whence I had no expectation, that will help me strengthen my faith. I learn from this experience that when Allah promises something His promise is true. That’s why siyaha, whenever possible, is very important. It is very important for a believer (like myself) to see beauty.
However, for us, the children of Adam, the beauty of this world is supposed to be only a foretaste of true beauty, that of Paradise. The goodness of this world is only a sample of divine goodness.
"Allah is full of pity, Merciful toward mankind." (2 : 143) Allah knows what life is like. It’s Him Who made the world and life. "Blessed is He in Whose hand is the Sovereignty, and, He is Able to do all things. Who hath created life and death that He may try you which of you is best in conduct; and He is the Mighty, the Forgiving." (67 : 2) Allah is running our world every day, every minute, every second. "All that are in the heavens and the earth entreat Him. Every day He exerciseth (universal) power." (55 : 29) "He sendeth down from the heaven mountains wherein is hail, and smiteth therewith whom He will, and averteth it from whom He will." (24 : 43) Allah knows what it means for me to have work, to marry, to have a roof, to have children, to eat well, to sleep well. Allah knows what happiness is. Allah also knows things I don’t know. "Lo! Allah! With Him is knowledge of the Hour. He sendeth down the rain, and knoweth that which is in the wombs. No soul knoweth what it will earn tomorrow, and no soul knoweth in what land it will die. Lo! Allah is Knower, Aware." (31 : 34) Allah knows what’s good for me and what’s bad for me. "It may happen that ye hate a thing which is good for you, and it may happen that ye love a thing which is bad for you. Allah knoweth, ye know not." (2 : 216) What matters is my intention, good or bad faith. What matters is what I have at heart. Life is life. Most people, believers and non-believers alike, eat, drink, work, sleep, marry, build houses, drive cars, etc, etc. But, apparently, most people live for the world only. If I am a believer I can "seek the abode of the Hereafter in that which Allah hath given" me without neglecting my "portion of the world". All I have to do is to be "kind even as Allah hath been kind to" me. Allah says : "But seek the abode of the Hereafter in that which Allah hath given thee and neglect not thy portion of the world, and be thou kind even as Allah hath been kind to thee, and seek not corruption in the earth; lo! Allah loveth not corrupters." (28 : 77) Nobody is asking me, as a believer, to give up my "portion of the world". For good believers everything is ‘ibaada (act of worship) ; even making love to one’s spouse is ‘ibaada. But to be considered as a good believer I have to be tested. I want something from Allah? So I should put my trust in Him and be patient. I should be one of "Such as are steadfast and put their trust in Allah." (16 : 42) Instead of being gnawed by remorse, I opt for patience, contentment and trust in Allah. If I do that here’s what Allah promises me: "Whosoever doeth right, whether male or female, and is a believer, him verily we shall quicken with good life, and We shall pay them a recompense in proportion to the best of what they used to do." (16 : 97) "O ye who believe! Guard your duty to Allah, and speak words straight to the point; He will adjust your works for you and will forgive you your sins. Whosoever obeyeth Allah and His messenger, he verily hath gained a signal victory." (33 : 70-71) My "works" is everything I do in my life.
Yes, it’s easier said than done. But what could I do? Do I have another choice? Good quality life is for the faithful only. "Shall We treat those who believe and do good works as those who spread corruption in the earth; or shall We treat the pious as the wicked?" (38 : 28) "Or do those who commit ill-deeds suppose that We shall make them as those who believe and do good works, the same in life and death? Bad is their judgment! (45 : 21) "But he who turneth away from remembrance of Me, his will be a narrow life." (20 : 124) If I am a sensible person, I wouldn’t love to have "a narrow life".
Allah knows that the material means are so important. Allah knows that some good believers can’t do without a car, that others need to pay the rent urgently, that others are ill and need medicine all the time, that others don’t even have a shaver to shave their faces or socks or shoes… But Allah does not see only my depravations. He also sees the reward which I can’t see as yet. He sees my reward in this world and in the Hereafter. "Whoso desireth power (should know that) all power belongeth to Allah. Unto Him good words ascend, and the pious deed doth He exalt." (35 : 10) "Lo! Allah wrongeth not even of the weight of an ant; and if there is a good deed, He will double it and will give (the doer) from His presence an immense reward." (4 : 40) "And had We willed We could have raised him by their means, but he clung to the earth and followed his own lust. Therefor his likeness is as the likeness of a dog: if thou attackest him he panteth with his tongue out, and if thou leavest him he panteth with his tongue out. Such is the likeness of the people who deny Our revelations. Narrate unto them the history (of the men of old), that haply they may take thought." (7 : 176) Why should Allah deprive me of things He knows are so dear to me? Isn’t it enough that I believe in Him already and that I am striving to please Him? Well, that may not be enough. Faith needs absolute yaqeen (absolute belief/faith). "Or think ye that ye will enter paradise while yet there hath not come unto you the like of (that which came to) those who passed away before you? Affliction and adversity befell them, they were shaken as with earthquake, till the messenger (of Allah) and those who believed along with him said: When cometh Allah's help? Now surely Allah's help is nigh."(2 : 214) Personally, there came a time when I realized that all the "bad" things that happened to me and all my past depravations were in fact good things. I got the feeling that my Lord had been managing my life without my knowledge in such a way that, were He to let me do what I wanted to do with my life, I would have certainly done a lot of wrong to myself ! Only then did I realize how merciful Allah is to me. This kind of personal experience would make one willingly ready to make great efforts to please the Lord. "And of mankind is he who would sell himself, seeking the pleasure of Allah; and Allah hath compassion on (His) bondmen." (2 : 207) "Allah is well pleased with them, and they are well pleased with Him. They are Allah's party. Lo! is it not Allah's party who are the successful?" (58 : 22) When I am led to show patience and self-denial, others will say of me: This one is lazy, he is good for nothing; this one would love to be fed by others. It's all part of my ordeal. It is an experience for me so that I have a strong personality, to have more confidence in me, to live for real principles and not only for money. "Those who believe and obscure not their belief by wrongdoing, theirs is safety; and they are rightly guided." (6 : 82) "Who have believed and whose hearts have rest in the remembrance of Allah. Verily in the remembrance of Allah do hearts find rest!" (13 : 28) It’s my trials that will make me "a grateful slave". (17 : 3) It would be a great honour for me if Allah considered me "a grateful slave". Allah says: "Few of My bondmen are thankful." (34 : 13) If I am thankful Allah will take care of me in the best way possible. "He giveth His bounty unto every bountiful one." (11 : 3) What could be better than leading a life managed from above by the Lord, Who knows everything, Who can do everything? I manage my heart, Allah manages my life like no manager can.
What about my frustrations that I couldn’t get that particular job or purchase that home or marry that very person? Allah says to me: "No calamity befalleth save by Allah's leave. And whosoever believeth in Allah, He guideth his heart. And Allah is Knower of all things." (64 : 11) "Naught of disaster befalleth in the earth or in yourselves but it is in a Book before we bring it into being - Lo! that is easy for Allah - That ye grieve not for the sake of that which hath escaped you, nor yet exult because of that which hath been given. Allah loveth not all prideful boasters." (57 : 22-23) In other words, my patience and contentment with Allah will wash all my frustrations away.
But Satan will always be lurking for me. Satan may not be able to disturb me when I am alone. "Lo! he hath no power over those who believe and put trust in their Lord." (16 : 99) But once I am in the midst of other people Satan will be there too. He will inspire them just the kind of words that would make me feel frustrated over things I could not get in the past or aspire to things I may not be able to achieve in the future. While I am being tested (by ordeals) Satan will make me problems with friends, with family members, etc. Those friends, neighbours, family members, won’t think of Satan. But it’s my own responsibility to be aware that Satan is going to use some of those people to make me unhappy. "Lo! Conspiracy is only of the devil, that he may vex those who believe; but he can harm them not at all unless by Allah's leave. In Allah let believers put their trust." (58 : 10) Still, during my trials, Allah will send me good people to help me when I can’t help myself. But Allah will not give me everything I want through even the best soul in the world until I have passed the test. Otherwise, why should it be called a test? Allah can make my family, or a charity, for example, help me with food but not with money. I won’t get the money I want until Allah wills so. So I shouldn’t blame people for what they can’t give me. Allah says: "Tell My bondmen to speak that which is kindlier. Lo! the devil soweth discord among them. Lo! the devil is for man an open foe." (17 : 53) Those people who are "bad" to me may be good to other people. Those people may be "bad" to me now because I was bad to them in the past. Allah says: "And whoso doeth good an atom's weight will see it then, And whoso doeth ill an atom's weight will see it then." (99 : 7-8) So if I can do good, I should do it for the sake of Allah. Allah says: "If ye publish your almsgiving, it is well, but if ye hide it and give it to the poor, it will be better for you." (2 : 271) "A kind word with forgiveness is better than almsgiving followed by injury. Allah is Absolute, Clement. O ye who believe! Render not vain your almsgiving by reproach and injury." (2 : 263-264) "And whatsoever good thing ye spend, it is for yourselves, when ye spend not save in search of Allah's Countenance; and whatsoever good thing ye spend, it will be repaid to you in full, and ye will not be wronged." (2 : 272) In other words, I should be good and then do good. I should do what I can. I am not obliged to do good to a person who will only hurt me. I have the choice. I alone can know the limits of my patience in this regard. "Allah tasketh not a soul beyond its scope." (2 : 286) I should take life as it comes. I manage my heart and Allah will manage my life.
If I have children good upbringing is the best thing I can offer them. My family is my people. My home is my kingdom. My conduct is my Law. If I don’t want my children to lie to me, I should not lie to them or in front of them. "Enjoin ye righteousness upon mankind while ye yourselves forget (to practise it)?" (2 : 44) "O ye who believe! Why say ye that which ye do not? It is most hateful in the sight of Allah that ye say that which ye do not." (61 : 2-3) I have to be consistent with myself. Allah wants me, as a believer, to be honest with myself first. I should be free of contradictions.
What’s the fruit of good upbringing? Allah says : "Such as persevere in seeking their Lord's Countenance and are regular in prayer and spend of that which We bestow upon them secretly and openly, and overcome evil with good. Theirs will be the sequel of the (heavenly) Home, Gardens of Eden which they enter, along with all who do right of their fathers and their halpmeets and their seed. The angels enter unto them from every gate, (Saying): Peace be unto you because ye persevered. Ah, passing sweet will be the sequel of the (heavenly) Home." (13 : 22-24) That’s the fruit of Islamic upbringing. My parents, my children, my siblings – we can all meet there, in Heaven, as we met here in the earth. Good upbringing (or lack of it) will either reunite or separate us – forever.
We can all be psychologically broken at one time or another. Only faith can help us rise up again. Faith is light. Faith is freedom. Faith is the freedom of all but the Lord. As a believer, I free myself from what fills my heart with grudge and remorse. I value myself. I look for this importance in myself, I will find it in my faith.
I have just mentioned a sensitive subject: freedom. It affects all of us. For example, I want to go out and let off steam a little. Where will I go? With whom? Alone? With my family? With a friend? Which friend? With my wife? How am I going? Walk? By bike? By car? By public transportation? What am I going to eat? Something I prepared at home? Something I would buy at the snack shop? Faith is not far from all that. I have the choice between several destinations: the cinema, the theater, the sports club, the cabaret, the café, the nightclub, nature, the swimming pool, the sea... Each time I think: 1) Is this halal or haram (licit or illicit)? 2) What will people say about me? Is it going to impress somebody? Eating a home-cooked snack in a remote corner of nature, away from people's eyes, is not like eating in a posh restaurant among people who will notice everything about my looks and actions. For a woman, going out wearing a hijab in a chic neighborhood is not like going out wearing a hijab in a working-class neighbourhood.
The power of society is heavier than the mountains. Even with faith it takes a lot of effort to break free without shocking. What does faith tell me, then? One day a wise man saw a man standing staring right and left. The wise man said: "What do you want, man?" The man said: "I am looking for a clean place to pray." The wise man said to him, "Clean your heart and pray wherever you please!" If I can clean my heart, as a believer, I can go wherever I want, with whomever I want ; I can eat whatever I want wherever I want ; I can put on the clothes I want wherever I want. My heart will guide me. Allah says: "There shall be no sin (imputed) unto those who believe and do good works for what they may have eaten (in the past). So be mindful of your duty (to Allah), and do good works; and again; be mindful of your duty, and believe; and once again: be mindful of your duty, and do right, Allah loveth the good." (5 : 93)
See the grades of Faith? If I make a mistake the first, the second, the tenth time, I will be punished and I will understand that this or that thing is not good for me; my heart will take a lesson and lead me where I would no longer have any problems with Allah or with people. That's wisdom. This is how freedom will become second nature for me. I manage my heart, Allah will manage my life. My heart is the most precious piece of me. If I keep it clean my life will be clean.
Often when we read a book like this, we want to know what Allah has to give us. If I ask myself the same question, what would be the answer? Well, Allah has so much to give me, but me – what do I have to give to Allah? Allah seeks no livelihood from me. He says : "I created the jinn and humankind only that they might worship Me. I seek no livelihood from them, nor do I ask that they should feed Me. Lo! Allah! He it is that giveth livelihood, the Lord of unbreakable might." (51 : 56-58) What Allah would expect of me is that I give Him a special, very, very special place in my heart.
If I have chosen for my prayers the most beautiful place in my home, I should reserve for the Lord the most beautiful, the cleanest, the most intimate place in my heart. Allah speaks in the Quran of tijara (trade): if you do this I give you that. I need Allah. I need the grace of Allah. I need Allah’s help. But I ought not to trade with Allah, literally speaking. I should not deal with Allah on a give-and-take basis. I must see in Him a friend, a reliable and faithful friend forever. I do not hide anything from Him, He knows everything. I do not feign, He knows what's in my heart. If He deprives me of one thing or another, I speak to Him as politely as possible. I ask of Him what I want, I tell Him what I am suffering from. I show Him my tears that I would not show to anyone else. I tell Him the best words, the ones I would not tell anyone. I show Him how much I love Him, how honoured I am to have Him as God, as a protecting friend. I show Him that I love Him for what He is. I show Him how much I need Him, His Grace, His paradise, His Countenance. I show Him, with words and deeds, that I am nothing without Him. He will make me happy as I am, happy with what I do. He will make me feel no longer alone. He will make me happy. He will give me – if He will – more than I asked of Him. "Is the reward of goodness aught save goodness?" (55 : 60) If I soil my heart with a sin, I shed tears, I wet my eyes to clean it. I sweep my heart every day with the tasbeeh of my tongue. I make the place of Allah in my heart cleaner than my clothes, my food, my home. And I say: "Praise be to Allah, Who hath not taken unto Himself a son, and Who hath no partner in the Sovereignty, nor hath He any protecting friend through dependence. And magnify Him with all magnificence." (17 : 111)
In the late 1980s a classmate of mine shared with me a number of American magazines, and one day he said: "Look!" At that age I was shocked. I still had a beautiful image of such American big cities as New York, Los Angeles… Several years before that an American tutor had said to me: "Don’t think America is Paradise!" But what my classmate wanted to show me in that American magazine was shocking, to say the least. Otherwise he wouldn’t even have thought of showing it me. And it was in an American magazine! It’s serious. Waste – all imaginable waste – covering the ground between sky-scrapers on the streets of New York. As if that was not shocking enough, my classmate showed me in another American magazine pictures of American citizens sleeping in cardboard boxes on the streets of Washington, DC, the Capital of the United States of America. It was just unbelievable. Now, in hindsight, I would say: So what? The neighbourhood where I grew up until age 22 was bordered with two small landfills. The whole neighbourhood has now disappeared, making way for a new residential area. The two landfills have disappeared too, and the two streets that lined that old neighbourhood are now as clean as most of the streets in the city. I don’t think that what I saw in the magazine would be seen today by passersby on that NY City street. Maybe a new skyscraper has arisen in that place. So, today, I would rather look at the minds and the hands and the arms that can raise these buildings as high as the sky. I would rather look at the epic American volunteerism, I would rather look at those millions of anonymous American citizens who donate (for love) to help not only fellow citizens but many people around the world as well. I would rather look at American civil society, at American freedom of speech, without which I could never seen such shocking images. The problem is, it takes a lot of time (and good faith) to change one’s point of view. You have to be an eagle-eyed observer to see what many other people don’t. But what would you say when you hear or read a report on women from a Muslim or Arab country who serve as prostitutes in other countries? Is that more important for people to know than the increasing numbers of youths living in these Arab and Muslim countries who become doctors, engineers, highly specialized technicians, experts in all fields, designers and inventors, successful businessmen and women…. ? Should I look at the beautiful waterfalls as they were freshly made in the rural commune outside of my city (see Chapter Thirteen) or at those parts of the resort which have been littered by young Moroccan visitors with all kinds of empty cans and bottles or at the filth left behind by country people on their way to their fields? Should I look at the wood seats as they were placed in there by a Moroccan association, for future visitors to sit, or at the food waste left by careless picnickers? Should I look at the hut beside the palace or at the palace beside the hut? If you (man) were sitting at a café in N.Y. City, would you sit out there and look at women’s legs and breasts, or at the amazing diversity of the city dwellers?
I once listened to an interesting radio show on China Radio International. A French journalist was telling a Chinese journalist about his trip to the Chinese Xinjiang Region. He told her, among other things, about an oasis. As soon as the Chinese journalist heard the name, she said: "Ah, it’s known for its apples!" The French journalist agreed and said how amazed he was to see that in that small oasis, surrounded by an immense forbidding desert, people grew apples, grapes and all sorts of fruits! He then talked of another place in which, he said, temperatures would reach 50°C, explaining that by the fact that the place lay below sea-level. The Chinese journalist recognized the place at once and agreed that it was the hottest place in China. But then she was greatly surprised, as I was, when the French journalist said that no farther than 100 km away from this hellish place…it SNOWED! (By the way, I saw some of these Xinjiang places on Chinese TV.) What can this teach you and me about us humans? First, we can’t always know what’s beyond the hellish place or what’s beyond the place where it snows – just as we don’t know whether this woman was once a prostitute, for one reason or another, or may become a prostitute in the future. Not all famines are God-made: many famines are man-made. And even when we know that this famine was man-made we should not sit idly by and wait for people to die. Why did those people settle in that oasis, in the middle of the desert, and did not go to a place with milder weather? Nay, they settled in there and turned the place into a garden of apples and grapes… It’s like they turned hell into heaven. They chose to be positive people. They chose to be civilized people. They chose to be good citizens, who fed themselves and produced good fruits for their fellow citizens. That’s what Allah wants us to do. That’s what I have learned from my religion. Allah says: "He brought you forth from the earth and hath made you husband it." (11 : 61) If man was placed as a viceroy in the earth, what about me who am not only a man, but on top of that a believer? I have, if I can, to turn hell into heaven. Those things in this world I think are not so perfect, I should try to make them perfect. I should be positive; I should be a good citizen. I should do better than those who came before us. Allah says: "Then We appointed you viceroys in the earth after them, that We might see how ye behave." (10 : 14) "And be thou kind even as Allah hath been kind to thee, and seek not corruption in the earth." (28 : 77) "So give full measure and full weight and wrong not mankind in their goods, and work not confusion in the earth after the fair ordering thereof. That will be better for you, if ye are believers." (7 : 85) The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said: “To judge justly between two people is a charity. To help a man with his mount, lifting him onto it or hoisting up his belongings onto it, is a charity. And the good word is a charity. And every step that you take towards the prayer is a charity, and removing a harmful object from the road is a charity.” A companion asked the Prophet (pbuh) which action was best. Then asked: ‘If I cannot afford (it)?’ The Prophet (pbuh) said: "Then help a labourer or work for one who is disabled". The companion asked: "If I cannot do (it)?" The Prophet (pbuh) said: "You should restrain yourself from doing wrong to people, because it (serves as) charity which you bestow upon yourself". If I can’t do good, for one reason or another, I should at least keep my evil to myself. If I can’t clean those dirty places in the city, at least I cleanse my heart and mind. At least I try to be one the "men who love to purify themselves. Allah loveth the purifiers." (9 : 108) "Truly Allah loveth those who turn unto Him, and loveth those who have a care for cleanness." (2 : 222) Generation after generation, Allah gives us a chance to show our humanity. As in an exam, in a workshop, or on stage, we are tested. We are in a prize competition. The aim is to improve our conduct. The aim is (for us) to make the world a better place. The criteria are the same: genuine faith, plus good deeds. They may be hard competitions at times, but that’s how gold is made. It must go through fire to be usable gold, to become tempting jewels. It’s fire, but it’s good fire. Think of cooking.
I once saw TV images of the Australian forest. I wished I could go there and see the forest with my own eyes. But then a huge blaze swallowed the beautiful forest. I said to myself you’re lucky you weren’t there! And then the forest started to grow again, much more beautiful than before. The commentator in the film said that it’s this natural destruction by fire that made the soil richer and the next vegetation more luxurious than the one before. The little "fire" meant for us, human believers, in the form of trials, hardships and loss, is not meant to destroy us. Allah says: "O ye who believe! Squander not your wealth among yourselves in vanity, except it be a trade by mutual consent, and kill not one another. Lo! Allah is ever Merciful unto you." (4 : 29) Allah is Merciful. Allah does not want us to kill ourselves or one another. He says: "Whosoever killeth a human being for other than manslaughter or corruption in the earth, it shall be as if he had killed all mankind, and whoso saveth the life of one, it shall be as if he had saved the life of all mankind." (8 : 24) Allah wants us to revive our souls and, if we can, the souls of our loved ones too. That little fire is meant for us to discover ourselves and to discover Allah through ourselves. Through our trials we learn endurance and trust. Besides, who can be patient without Allah’s help? "Endure thou patiently (O Muhammad). Thine endurance is only by (the help of) Allah. (…) Lo! Allah is with those who keep their duty unto Him and those who are doers of good." (16 : 127-128) And yet, if I just try to be patient, if I have good intentions, if I trust Allah, Allah says to me: "Say: O My bondmen who believe! Observe your duty to your Lord. For those who do good in this world there is good, and Allah's earth is spacious. Verily the steadfast will be paid their wages without stint." (39 : 10) "Allah loveth the steadfast." (3 : 146) But what do we do, we humans? Very often we are arrogant, pretentious. We think we know enough to solve our problems all by ourselves. Allah says no, "and of knowledge ye have been vouchsafed but little." (17 : 85) If man knew that much, no civilisation, no empire, no kingdom would have become past. If I am a good believer I should know that "every nation hath its term, and when its term cometh, they cannot put it off an hour nor yet advance (it)." (7 : 34) So I wouldn’t even rely on what my state or government could do for me. States do not fall overnight, so only those who reflect, those who meditate, would understand what Allah means by "He directeth the ordinance from the heaven unto the earth; then it ascendeth unto Him in a Day, whereof the measure is a thousand years of that ye reckon." (32 : 5) When I reflect I realize how weak man is. Everybody is vulnerable, sooner or later. Even if you were a ruler for life or a megabillionnaire, old age would make you vulnerable, illness would make you vulnerable. And yet, when I realize how weak I am, in the Kingdom of Allah, and put myself in the hands of Allah, my vulnerability and precariousness become my strength. Because what I want to do Allah will do it for me – with His knowledge and His strength. "O mankind! A similitude is coined, so pay ye heed to it: Lo! those on whom ye call beside Allah will never create a fly though they combine together for the purpose. And if the fly took something from them, they could not rescue it from it. So weak are (both) the seeker and the sought! They measure not Allah His rightful measure. Lo! Allah is Strong, Almighty." (22 : 73-74) Those "on whom ye call beside Allah" may be the state, the government, the people I vote for, the worker union representatives, the insurance company, my family, my friends…. What could those do that Allah can’t? Or could any of them change my fate? If Allah "cometh in between the man and his own heart," (8 : 24) and "Unto Him belongeth whosoever is in the heavens and the earth" (30 : 26) , how can my will prevail over His will ? If I don’t believe in this, time will prove it to me. "Say: Have ye thought, if Allah made night everlasting for you till the Day of Resurrection, who is a God beside Allah who could bring you light? Will ye not then hear? Say: Have ye thought, if Allah made day everlasting for you till the Day of Resurrection, who is a God beside Allah who could bring you night wherein ye rest? Will ye not then see?" (28 : 71-72)
Who can today say the earth is flat? But we all forget that we’re sitting / walking on a small planet in a galaxy in a world of a billion (or more) galaxies. We all run from fire, from floods, from the gun… We all fear for our lives. But where do we run when ordeal is marching on us like an invincible army, like a volcano, like a river bursting off its banks, like a tsunami? Allah says: "Therefor flee unto Allah." (51 : 50) "If Allah touch thee with affliction, there is none that can relieve therefrom save Him, and if He touch thee with good fortune (there is none that can impair it); for He is Able to do all things." (6 : 17) "O mankind! Ye are the poor in your relation to Allah. And Allah! He is the Absolute, the Owner of Praise. If He will, He can be rid of you and bring (instead of you) some new creation." (35 : 15-16) Allah honoured me and preferred me (and all mankind) above many of those whom He created "with a marked preferment." (17 : 70) ; it’s up to me to accept or reject that honour. Shall I lecture you on strong drink and games of chance and the damage they do to man? When Allah says "O ye who believe! Strong drink and games of chance and idols and divining arrows are only an infamy of Satan's handiwork. Leave it aside in order that ye may succeed." (5 : 90) , it’s because He wants you and me to live a life of noble character, to be better than many people who live like cattle, as the Quran says. "Or deemest thou that most of them hear or understand? They are but as the cattle - nay, but they are farther astray". (28 : 44) When Allah says "Wealth and children are an ornament of the life of the world. But the good deeds which endure are better in thy Lord's sight for reward, and better in respect of hope." (18 : 46), it’s because He wants you and me to earn our money and beget our children in a dignified way. If Allah says: "Lo! We have placed all that is in the earth as an ornament thereof that We may try them: which of them is best in conduct." (18 : 7), it’s because He wants you and me to be sensible persons who enjoy life in a dignified way. We eat, we drink, we work, we play, we make love, we do whatever we do in a dignified way, as civilized persons.
Let me give you this little example. Many people thought they chose the right partner. Then they divorced. See? You turn and turn and then you go back to square one. We rely on our own data. We forget that Allah has all the DATA. Can anyone really know all the data about one’s partner living with one under the same roof? Can we really know what our partners feel towards us or think about us or do behind our backs? If partners knew all that "data" about one another, would there be such a worrying number of divorces? Allah says: "O ye who believe! Lo! among your wives and your children there are enemies for you, therefor beware of them. And if ye efface and overlook and forgive, then lo! Allah is Forgiving, Merciful. Your wealth and your children are only a temptation, whereas Allah! with Him is an immense reward. So keep your duty to Allah as best ye can, and listen, and obey, and spend; that is better for your souls. And whoso is saved from his own greed, such are the successful. If ye lend unto Allah a goodly loan, He will double it for you and will forgive you, for Allah is Responsive, Clement, Knower of the Invisible and the Visible, the Mighty, the Wise." (64 : 14-18)
One question, if you wouldn't mind: would a princess or the daughter of a billionaire appreciate life in a palace in the same way as a girl who grew up in the slums and then became the wife of a president or a billionaire? One or the other may take such life for granted. Idem for us. We would probably have taken life in Paradise for granted. We would probably have thought that we are worth more than that. Satan said to Adam and Eve: "Your Lord forbade you from this tree only lest ye should become angels or become of the immortals." (7 : 20 ) Adam and Eve heeded Satan and ate of the tree because they suddenly aspired to something they deemed more precious than the Heaven they were in. But Allah, the Beautiful, the Bountiful, willed that there couldn't be anything more beautiful than Paradise, because it's "a gift of welcome from their Lord." (3 : 198) If you are a host and receive guests that you like you would receive them in the best place possible and give them the best reception possible. Allah is not going to pay for Paradise. "Unto Allah belongeth the sovereignty of the heavens and the earth. He createth what He will." (42 : 49) "He is the All-Wise Creator." (5 : 86) "He is the Knower, the Mighty." (30 : 54) A God like this would not be thrifty towards the faithful. Eternity alone is priceless. But eternity is too long a time. As a believer, I would love to have a long book of memories to accompany me in Paradise while enjoying all the good things in there. That's why Allah made us to live in this world so as to have as many beautiful memories as possible to cherish while in Heaven. Allah wants us to know His Merit, to value Him, to appreciate His generosity and kindness. If Allah makes us to suffer in this life of the world it's for us to see the difference between here and there, between the happiness we want to achieve by ourselves (which has an end, anyway) and the happiness that Allah wants us to feel forever and ever in Heaven. In other words, Allah wants us to thank Him in advance for that unhoped-for gift. He wants us to thank Him here – despite any depravations – because it's only our thanks here that count. And yet people who spent their lives giving thanks to Allah in this world will also give Him thanks in the Hereafter. They will say: "Praise be to Allah, Who hath fulfilled His promise unto us and hath made us inherit the land, sojourning in the Garden where we will! So bounteous is the wage of workers." (39 : 74)
Now, is Allah worth or does He need to be thanked in advance? That's where people part ways: some will say yes (He deserves not needs), others won't care one way or another. That's where I have the choice: I choose between believing and not believing. When I believe I realize that, in fact, I don't have any other choice. Because the more I believe the more I feel very much obliged to Almighty. It's, in a way, like choosing between smoking and not smoking. Nobody is going to forbid me from smoking, but if I smoke I know the consequences. That's why Allah says: "Whoso doeth right it is for his soul, and whoso doeth wrong it is against it. And thy Lord is not at all a tyrant to His slaves." (41 : 46) If I give thanks to Allah I am doing that to save my own soul first, and then I am only doing the right thing. I am expressing gratitude to my Lord for giving me a chance to live in this "imperfect" world and a chance to work for a place in Paradise, where I can see (or have) all the perfect things that I can't see (or have) in this world. The Prophet (pbuh) said: "Allah, the Exalted, has said: 'I have prepared for my righteous slaves what no eye has seen, no ear has heard, and the mind of no man has conceived.' If you wish, recite (Quran): 'No person knows what is kept hidden for them of joy as a reward for what they used to do." (32:17)
On a radio show an old countryman was asked: "Do you recall the 1981 famine?" He said: "Oh that's nothing compared to the 1945 famine, when a woman would take her baby far away from her home and leave him/her beside somebody else's house or on the roadside, and then she would look back in sorrow and stop for a moment before continuing on her way back home." "That must be painful," said the interviewer. "Do you think such women were so heartless as to abandon their babies in this way?" "But that's famine, my friend," said the countryman. "Hunger makes you blind."
That's the blindness of the mind. What about the blindness of the heart? When I listen to some radio programmes, not only from my country, I listen to international radio stations as well, I sometimes get the impression that the world is full of misery. I have heard a lot of people talk on the radio to complain about various problems. Even celebrities complain about their heartache, their horrific experiences with their partners, their parents, their children... Some go live on TV to talk about such things. At the same time, by day and by night, I hear on the radio a lot of laughter, a lot of merry music, a lot of sports, a lot of gastronomy, a lot of things that give me the impression that there's not one unhappy person in the whole world! I have heard many people use the phrases "Thank God", "Dieu merci", "Alhamdulillah" to express gratitude to God. But I have also heard many people complain about God, or rather about Fate. One question such people ask: "How is it that God, this Almighty Creator Who knows everything, who is powerful, merciful, how is it that he knows my pitiful situation, he knows all about my sufferings, and yet he doesn't do anything to change my situation ? That's a difficult question. But I bet a good believer would say: "Yes "He is the Knower, the Mighty." (30 : 54) "He is Able to do all things." (67 : 1) , but I have committed sins, and my "Lord is not at all a tyrant to His slaves." (41 : 46) and "There is naught that can change His words. He is the Hearer, the Knower." (6 : 115) And even if my sins were all pardonable I may still have doubts about my faith. So Allah may want to test my faith by depriving me of things I love. Allah "would know him who believeth in the Hereafter from him who is in doubt thereof." (34 : 21) Even yaqeen (absolute belief) may vary from one person to another, from one situation to another. Some people may need to go through personal experiences, kind of heart knowledge, in order to strengthen their faith. Allah wouldn’t deprive me of anything unless He has something good in store for me." But even this very good believer who would say such good things may not think in this manner without having gone through some kind of personal experience. It's such experiences that would make a believer deal with Allah differently. I know, as a believer, that Allah is "the Knower, the Mighty" (30 : 54) and "is Merciful, Loving"(11: 90) , but Allah is also "Mighty, Able to Requite (the wrong)" (14 : 47) ; and I have sinned, no matter what my sins are. So when I have a problem I "call on Him in fear and hope." (7 : 56) I cry unto Allah "in longing and in fear." (21 : 90) I call on Allah in fear because I know He may punish me for my sins. I call on Him in hope because I know He "is Merciful, Loving" (11 : 90) and "He is Able to do all things." (67 : 1) It’s not because Allah says "Our word unto a thing, when We intend it, is only that We say unto it: Be! and it is." (16 : 40) that I should expect Him to answer my prayer right away. What I should expect is that Allah can – when He wills – answer my prayer. That’s what’s important for me. When I am in a difficult situation some good-hearted people would be willing to help me but they can’t. What could you do when you see a child burning behind the windows of a flat in a tower block on fire? What could you do when you see people swept away with their car in a flash flood? Suffice it for me as a believer that Allah can help me when He wills. For my part, I have to try as best I can to avoid anything that would anger Allah and make Him punish me in the first place. I should do as much good as possible – if I can – and then hope for the best. Nobody is going to tell Allah what to do. If I have questions, Allah too would have questions to ask me: Did you give Me thanks for the job I gave you in…. or did you rather respond by sinning? Would you like other people to be ungrateful towards you? So who should you blame for this debt you can’t repay now that you are jobless? It’s not Allah who’s going to say this to me. If I am a good believer it’s my nafs lawama ("the accusing soul" (75 : 2)) that’s going to put me through such a self-analysis. This means that if I have acted wrongly, I must assume the responsibility. I have to repair the damage. I must at least have some decency towards my Lord. "Allah changeth not the condition of a folk until they (first) change that which is in their hearts." (13 : 11) In other words, I should not expect Allah to give me something for which I have done nothing good in return. Allah says: "For the taming of Qureysh. For their taming (We cause) the caravans to set forth in winter and summer. So let them worship the Lord of this House, Who hath fed them against hunger and hath made them safe from fear." (106) What I should pray for, first and foremost, is hidaya (guidance). "Show us the straight path, The path of those whom Thou hast favoured." (1 : 6-7) Moreover, I should pray for khishya (the fear of God). Because without hidaya and khishya I can easily go astray. Hidaya is my passport. Khishya is my visa.
In the Quran we read: "Allah giveth without stint to whom He will." (3 : 37) "He bestoweth as He will." (5 : 64) That means that Allah would give to even those who won't pray for anything, who won't do anything for the sake of Him. That's my trap. That's what will make me say: since Allah gives to those people why doesn't He give me too, I who believe in Him and strive to please Him? That's a trap! What can I do to avoid falling in the trap, if I haven't fallen in it already? Well, I just have to learn a lesson from my personal experiences. My personal experiences will teach me, through facts, that "If Allah touch thee with affliction, there is none that can relieve therefrom save Him, and if He touch thee with good fortune (there is none that can impair it); for He is Able to do all things. He is the Omnipotent over His slaves, and He is the Wise, the Knower." (6 : 17-18) Once I have learned this I can understand why Allah deprived me of something I loved. Allah says: "And if Allah were to enlarge the provision for His slaves they would surely rebel in the earth, but He sendeth down by measure as He willeth. Lo! He is Aware, a Seer of His bondmen." (42 : 27) I ask myself: did I become a better person when Allah last gave me this or that? Did I thank Allah for His gift or did I rather respond by sinning?
Allah says: "This is for him who feareth My Majesty and feareth My warning." (14 : 14) What does this verse say to me? Well, it says to me: STOP! Where are you heading? What do you want? Do you want to serve Allah or do you want Allah to serve you?
Those are legitimate questions. I should answer them, if I am a good believer. I should put all my requests and prayers aside for a moment and start asking myself questions about the things I got already. In the news we hear something like: "It's the worst hurricane in 30 years. Many people have lost everything." This is hard to live for even devout believers. It's not easy for anybody to lose everything overnight. But when I see that such things do not happen to specific nations or countries exclusively, I have to ask questions. Drought, for example, struck people even in the prophets' lifetime. It happened to followers of Moses (pbuh) in his lifetime. It happened to followers of the prophet Muhammad (pbuh) in his lifetime, to the prophet's companions during the reign of Umar Ibn al-Khattab and other good leaders. What would I think of when I ask such questions? Well, I would think of those (more or less happy/peaceful/normal...) 28 years between the current devastating hurricane/drought/war and the previous one. I would think of my hand/foot/tooth... before it was hurt. I would hopefully think of the time when I had water and electricity all day all year long...before the demoralizing daily power cuts. I should think of Allah's gifts and generosity and patience during all that time when I would not really appreciate those gifts.
Now, suppose I am certain that somebody loves me so much and cares for my love so much, how do you think I would react? Well, if I am grateful, I would at least try not to hurt him/her, not to disappoint him/her even if I had no special feelings towards that person. If I am an ingrate, I might think that it's only normal that such a person should love me more than that and should do the impossible to please me. So I wouldn't care, I would show that person that I don't like him/her, etc. What happens in this case? Well, I may regret losing that person's love. This is the consequence of arrogance. Allah does not like that. He said about Pharaoh’s people: "So, when they angered Us, We punished them and drowned them every one." (43 : 55)
So such terrible happenings should be a reminder to me. I should remember that Allah is more powerful than people, more powerful than states, more powerful than empires. Why did Allah make people suffer from drought while they were still receiving His revelations from their prophets? The answer is clear and simple: Allah wants mankind to know that "That which Allah openeth unto mankind of mercy none can withhold it; and that which He withholdeth none can release thereafter. He is the Mighty, the Wise. O mankind! Remember Allah's grace toward you! Is there any creator other than Allah who provideth for you from the sky and the earth? There is no God save Him. Whither then are ye turned?" (35 : 3) It's not the government who creates jobs; it's Allah Who creates the conditions for economic growth wherever He wills whenever He wills. A government which cannot avert a major economic crisis cannot, overnight, create millions of jobs! It's Allah Who is the Lord of the world. The state/the government can build as many bridges and roads as it can afford. Allah can bring all that down in a few hours. At the same time, when the state destroys the environment with abject pollution and causes drought and floods, directly or indirectly, Allah remains the last resort to end the drought or control the floods. When I think about that, I should be amazed that Allah, Who has to run the World, the whole world with all its problems, can "find some time" to think of me too. "My Lord neither erreth nor forgetteth." (20 : 52) This feeling that my God is the Lord of the world is my best insurance. When I give thanks to Allah – for what He gave me already – I am breaking down the imaginary psychological barriers that separate me from Him; I am cleansing my heart from all its complexes. By reconciling with my God, through repentance, I am curing my heart from my superficial ego. By doing all that I am putting myself in the hands of the real Lord. Allah says: "And Allah was predominant in His career, but most of mankind know not." (12 : 21) "And let not their speech grieve thee (O Muhammad). Lo! power belongeth wholly to Allah. He is the Hearer, the Knower." (10 : 65) "Say: Cry unto those (saints and angels) whom ye assume (to be gods) beside Him, yet they have no power to rid you of misfortune nor to change." (17 : 56) "They measure not Allah His rightful measure. Lo! Allah is Strong, Almighty." (22 : 74) "And there is not a thing but with Us are the stores thereof. And we send it not down save in appointed measure." (15 : 21) "And there is not a beast in the earth but the sustenance thereof dependeth on Allah. He knoweth its habitation and its repository. All is in a clear Record." (11 : 6) "And how many an animal there is that beareth not its own provision! Allah provideth for it and for you. He is the Hearer, the Knower." (29 : 60) So I can't help bowing willingly, knowingly, with every cell in my body, with every bit of my soul, to God, Allah, the Lord of the Worlds.
Does that mean that the state is useless, that the government is redundant? Not at all. When a leader helps me with money to rebuild my home or the destroyed school for my child, that's good of him, and I should thank him for that – even though he might be doing so only to be re-elected or to boost the sales of his future memoirs. I should thank him because, as the prophet (pbuh) said, "He who does not thank people cannot thank Allah Almighty."
Now, should I accept help from people? Why not? I should not regard this as help to my person, but rather to the human being in me. When I go to work and spend hours at work, with all the resulting long-term consequences on my health, I am not doing that for the good of my soul only. I am doing that for the sake of society as a whole. When I spend years and years bringing up a child, I am not doing so for my own pleasure only. I am doing that for the good and interest of my nation as well. This child may become a soldier to defend the nation, or a teacher to educate the future generations, or a doctor to treat future patients in this country. So I should not feel ashamed to receive help – be it taxpayer money or private donations – when I can't help myself. Today I'm the one who needs help, tomorrow I may be the one who provides help to somebody else. This is solidarity. Allah wants two things: gratitude towards Him and solidarity between humans. If we can't thank one another we can't thank God. When somebody gives me something (some help) he may do so to be thanked or just to implement the human/humane side in him – to feel as a decent, useful person. When Allah gives me something good, it's like Him saying to me: "Hey, this is just for you to recall Heaven." Allah says: "We gave him his reward in the world, and lo! in the Hereafter he verily is among the righteous." (29 : 27) When Allah subjects me to something painful, it's like Him saying to me: "Hey, this is just for you to recall Hell." Allah says: "See they not that they are tested once or twice in every year? Still they turn not in repentance, neither pay they heed." (9 : 126) In other words, Allah cares for me. He doesn't want me to go to Hell. He wants me to go to Heaven. Even the Quran describes death as a "moseebah", a "calamity". (9 : 106) How can I rely on something that in the best case will end by a moseebah? That's even more horrific than losing one's home!
Besides, when there's a calamity, a natural disaster, you don't really feel a very big difference between a rich country and a poor country. Suffering is suffering. You can rescue people here using helicopters and there using small boats or animals. The pace of reconstruction may differ and yet one can only be astonished to notice that despite recurrent devastating natural disasters (the monsoon in South-east Asia, for example) life goes on as normal. Every year there's a monsoon and yet it's there where you find the largest population in the world. The homes are rebuilt, the villages are rebuilt, the towns are rebuilt, and the tourists go back there. Despite the monsoon people play cricket every year. Despite the hurricane people go to concerts and stadiums every year. The point is that, as a believer, I should regard such terrible happenings as messages, as a reminder. I should remind myself that, as a human, I am weak. My power has limits. I am not "at home": I am only a guest in this world. Many people were here one day. I too will go one day. The plane may give me the best comfort, in the best First Class in the world, but I am only a passenger. I may live in a Five-Star-like home, but upon my death it will cease to be mine. Allah says: "O mankind! Ye are the poor in your relation to Allah. And Allah! He is the Absolute, the Owner of Praise." (35 : 15) "Lo! We Only, We inherit the earth and all who are thereon, and unto Us they are returned." (19 : 40) "O mankind! A similitude is coined, so pay ye heed to it: Lo! those on whom ye call beside Allah will never create a fly though they combine together for the purpose. And if the fly took something from them, they could not rescue it from it. So weak are (both) the seeker and the sought!" (22 : 73) "Everyone that is thereon will pass away; There remaineth but the Countenance of thy Lord of Might and Glory." (55 : 26-27) "Ye cannot escape (from Him) in the earth or in the sky, and beside Allah there is for you no friend nor helper." (29 : 22) "Say: Have ye thought, if Allah made night everlasting for you till the Day of Resurrection, who is a God beside Allah who could bring you light? Will ye not then hear? Say: Have ye thought, if Allah made day everlasting for you till the Day of Resurrection, who is a God beside Allah who could bring you night wherein ye rest? Will ye not then see? Of His mercy hath He appointed for you night and day, that therein ye may rest, and that ye may seek His bounty, and that haply ye may be thankful." (28 : 71-73) "Allah receiveth (men's) souls at the time of their death, and that (soul) which dieth not (yet) in its sleep. He keepeth that (soul) for which He hath ordained death and dismisseth the rest till an appointed term. Lo! herein verily are portents for people who take thought." (39 : 42)
My days are numbered every day. The Quran says to me : "Send (good deeds) before you for your souls, and fear Allah, and know that ye will (one day) meet Him. Give glad tidings to believers, (O Muhammad)." (2 : 223) So what can I do apart from seeking a peaceful rather than confrontational relationship with my Lord? When I acknowledge my weakness vis-à-vis Allah, He too says to me: "Allah would make the burden light for you, for man was created weak." (4 : 28) Therefore, Allah will take my weakness into account. Because He is "Merciful, Loving" (11 : 90) "And He is the Forgiving, the Loving." (85 : 14) "Those who avoid enormities of sin and abominations, save the unwilled offences - (for them) lo! thy Lord is of vast mercy. He is best aware of you (from the time) when He created you from the earth, and when ye were hidden in the bellies of your mothers. Therefor ascribe not purity unto yourselves. He is best aware of him who wardeth off (evil)" (53 : 32) When Allah knows that I do not want war with Him, that I am not seeking to antagonize Him, He turns my weakness into strength.
What does it mean for me to acknowledge that I am weak vis-à-vis Allah? It means that I don't want Allah to regret creating me. I want Him to be proud of me. How? Allah says: "What concern hath Allah for your punishment if ye are thankful (for His mercies) and believe (in Him)? Allah was ever Responsive, Aware." (4 : 147) "O ye who believe! Eat of the good things wherewith We have provided you, and render thanks to Allah if it is (indeed) He Whom ye worship." (2 : 172) As I said, I am only a guest in this world. Yes, I can work and get money. But I can't do everything to make my life smooth. I can't make my clothes myself. I can't make my bike myself. I need a tele; I need to follow the news. I need vegetables and fruits. I need power and water at home. What would I do with my money if there weren't other people to make all those things for me? I may be financially self-dependent, but never self-sufficient. I also need clean air. I need the sun. I need sleep. I need good health. So Allah thought of all these things before making us. He says: "Is it they who apportion thy Lord's mercy? We have apportioned among them their livelihood in the life of the world, and raised some of them above others in rank that some of them may take labour from others; and the mercy of thy Lord is better than (the wealth) that they amass." (43 : 32) That's why He says: "And covet not the thing in which Allah hath made some of you excel others. Unto men a fortune from that which they have earned, and unto women a fortune from that which they have earned. (Envy not one another) but ask Allah of His bounty. Lo! Allah is ever Knower of all things." (4 : 32)
Now, instead of asking why Allah gives to those people who don't believe in Him, I should ask: why don't I seek Allah's help? Why don't I respect Allah's decisions? If Allah wants to give so-and-so, so be it! What's important for me is that Allah can give me too. But I have to first prepare myself to receive Allah's gift. There's a difference between what Allah gave me before – without "deserving" what He gave me – and giving me something now or in the future as a reward for something I did to please Him. A reward is not like a present. I won't get any kind of reward without making sacrifices. When that reward comes my way I regard it as a mercy from Allah. Just as when somebody helps me (for love) or does something for me (for money) I regard that as a mercy from Allah too. Nobody can help me or do anything for me "save by the permission of Allah", anyway. So I regard Allah's mercy as a sign of the greatness of Allah. But as I realize how great Allah is, how powerful Allah is, I can't help feeling some kind of fear of God. I will realize that even the fear of God is actually a mercy. That's why good believers beg Allah to grant them khishya (the fear of God). The fear of God is kind of spiritual vaccination. I am a believer, but I am a human being after all. I can be weak at times because I have the same instincts, the same desires, the same fears as anybody else. Life is unpredictable. I don't know what may happen to me tomorrow. I may be smart, but I can't know what's on other people's minds. I may be betrayed, I may be deceived, I may be let down, I may be humiliated, I may lose things that are now essential to me. So if I rely on my own behavioural capabilities, on my communicational talents, on my exceptional wits, I may still be surprised to have to deal with particularly unkind people who would have no mercy on me. Hence the importance of the fear of God. If I fear Allah I will do my best to avoid evil, bearing in mind that I can yet fall at times of weakness. If something bad happens to me (as divine punishment for my past or present sins) I am the victim, not the aggressor. If I am the victim and I am a good believer, Allah helps me despite my past sins. He says: "Lo! Allah defendeth those who are true. Lo! Allah loveth not each treacherous ingrate." (22 : 38) If I am the aggressor, "Allah loveth not aggressors." (2 : 190) So He may not help me. He says: "And one who attacketh you, attack him in like manner as he attacked you. Observe your duty to Allah, and know that Allah is with those who ward off (evil)". (2 : 194) When I am trying to avoid evil, I am fearing God, not people. This is taqwa, keeping duty to Allah. Taqwa means that I am the monitor of my own behaviour. I watch my own acts. I don't wait for the policeman to arrest me to change my behaviour. I drive well, I respect the rules. I don't drink, and then I won't care whether there's a policeman on my way or not. That's sense. That's what a sensible person should do. And Allah speaks to sensible people, called in the Quran "men of understanding". Allah says: "Say: The evil and the good are not alike even though the plenty of the evil attract thee. So be mindful of your duty to Allah, O men of understanding, that ye may succeed." (5 : 100)
What does "succeed" mean here? It simply means not falling into unnecessary problems. When I think about it I realize that all this is good for me. Why do l worship Allah after all? Well, Allah says: "O mankind! worship your Lord, Who hath created you and those before you, so that ye may ward off (evil)." (2 : 21) "So observe your duty to Allah in order that ye may be thankful." (123) I first worship Allah in order to fear Him, to keep duty to Him, to liberate myself from the fear of people. By doing so I avoid a lot of unnecessary problems. By being good, fewer and fewer people will suffer from my acts or complain about me or think of harming me. So I find myself leading a rather peaceful life (despite occasional harm from some Satan followers during my trials or as punishment for my own sins). Therefore I see the benefit of my Faith. I see that religion is good for me. I feel that Faith is not only talk, or brain-washing; that it has concrete positive effects on my daily life. So I give thanks to Allah for that: I see, through this, the greatness and wisdom of Allah.
The Prophet (pbuh) said : "By Him in Whose Hand is my life, if you were not to commit sin, Allah would sweep you out of existence and He would replace (you by) those people who would commit sin and seek forgiveness from Allah, and He would have pardoned them." Is this a call to believers to commit sins? Allah says: "O ye who believe! Allah will surely try you somewhat (in the matter) of the game which ye take with your hands and your spears, that Allah may know him who fearth Him in secret. Whoso transgresseth after this, for him there is a painful doom." (5:94) This is just an example of the conditions Allah will create for you, for me, to fall. I am a single man, Allah leads a woman onto my path while I am weak. The last decision remains in my hand. If I fail the trial and sin I will be punished. My punishment will hopefully lead me back onto Allah's path. Thus Allah remains on my mind always. Some believers dread such situations. They don't want to sin at all. They don't want to commit abominable acts. But there are other people who dread al-khatarat (bad thoughts); not only al-'atharat (bad acts);Allah says: they don't even want to think of committing the slightest sin! This is the grade of wilaya (Alliance with God, protection from God). "In this case is protection only from Allah, the True, He is best for reward, and best for consequence."(18 : 44) That’s the Everest. Allah says: "He selecteth for His mercy whom He will. Allah is of Infinite Bounty." (3 : 74) Those are the people who want to serve Allah rather than wait for Allah to serve them. That’s why Allah prepared for them a special grade in Paradise. He says: "And the foremost in the race, the foremost in the race: Those are they who will be brought nigh In gardens of delight." (56 : 10-12) "Is the reward of goodness aught save goodness?" (55 : 60)
Is that a "closed group"? The Quran says: "And the foremost in the race, the foremost in the race: Those are they who will be brought nigh In gardens of delight. A multitude of those of old And a few of those of later time." (56 : 10-14) Allah says in the Quran: "Few of My bondmen are thankful." (34 : 13) How can I be thankful, "a grateful slave" (17 : 3) ? There’s a clear example in the Quran: "(They were) the seed of those whom We carried (in the ship) along with Noah. Lo! he was a grateful slave. "(17 : 3) That’s a prophet. I am not a prophet. How can I be like him? The Quran says: "So observe your duty to Allah in order that ye may be thankful." (3 : 123) "And He it is Who hath appointed night and day in succession, for him who desireth to remember, or desireth thankfulness." (25 : 62) "And he who doeth good of his own accord, (for him) lo! Allah is Responsive, Aware." (2 : 158) "Lo! We create man from a drop of thickened fluid to test him; so We make him hearing, knowing. Lo! We have shown him the way, whether he be grateful or disbelieving." (76 : 2-3) "O ye who believe! Endure, outdo all others in endurance, be ready, and observe your duty to Allah, in order that ye may succeed." (3 : 200) How many people are willing to do that? No wonder Allah says: "Few of My bondmen are thankful." (34 : 13) "Small thanks give ye!"(23)
If I can't be patient when I lose one thing, how can I thank Allah for all the things He gave me already? It's a question of Faith (belief) and of faith (intention). Allah says: "If ye give thanks, I will give you more." (14 : 7) "And he who doeth good of his own accord, (for him) lo! Allah is Responsive, Aware." (2 : 158) That's why Allah says: "Lo! therein indeed are portents for every steadfast, grateful (heart). "(31 : 31) These people who are patient and grateful do not complain about Fate. They don't want an easy life from start to finish. They are ready for trials and sacrifices. Solomon (pbuh) is quoted in the Quran as saying: "This is of the bounty of my Lord, that He may try me whether I give thanks or am ungrateful. Whosoever giveth thanks he only giveth thanks for (the good of) his own soul; and whosoever is ungrateful (is ungrateful only to his own soul's hurt). For lo! my Lord is Absolute in independence, Bountiful." (40) If I am a good believer, I should know that it's only normal for me to give thanks to Allah. Otherwise why do I believe in Him? Allah says: "So eat of the good and lawful things which Allah has provided for you; and be grateful to Allah for His favors, if you are sincere in His worship." (27 : 114) "If ye are thankless, yet Allah is Independent of you, though He is not pleased with thanklessness for His bondmen; and if ye are thankful He is pleased therewith for you. No laden soul will bear another's load. Then unto your Lord is your return; and He will tell you what ye used to do. Lo! He knoweth what is in the breasts (of men)." (39 : 7) Gratitude is a virtue, isn't it? Allah wants us to have virtues, not vices. When Allah says "Will they not then give thanks?" (36 : 73) it's as though He says : Why should you believe if you don't give thanks to Me?
Again and again, it's a question of faith (intention). I can't believe in Allah "save by His permission". And I can't do good "save by His permission". Allah says: "Yet ye will not, unless Allah willeth. Lo! Allah is Knower, Wise." (76 : 30) If only I had good faith! Allah says to me: "And each one hath a goal toward which he turneth; so vie with one another in good works. Wheresoever ye may be, Allah will bring you all together. Lo! Allah is Able to do all things." (2 : 148) So let me say OK. And then Allah helps me to believe in Him, to do good for His sake, to give thanks to Him... Allah says: "And of them are some who outstrip (others) through good deeds, by Allah's leave. That is the great favour! "(35 : 32) "Had it not been for the grace of Allah and His mercy unto you, not one of you would ever have grown pure. But Allah causeth whom He will to grow. And Allah is Hearer, Knower." (24 : 21)
As I said before, Allah is speaking to "men of understanding" (5 : 100) , people who use their minds to see what's good for them. Allah does not need my thanks. He is worth more than thanks, but does not need them. If I am grateful to Allah, He too is grateful to me. He says in the Quran: "Allah is Responsive, Aware." (2 : 158) "Allah is Forgiving, Responsive." (42 : 23) "If ye give thanks, I will give you more." (14 : 7) It's a reciprocal "love" relationship. I care for Allah, He cares for me. I have nothing to give to Allah, He has a lot of things to give me.
To simplify things, let’s imagine a friendship between a great emperor and his gardener. The emperor shows tenderness and generosity towards the gardener. He protects him and gives him some assurance. The gardener, for his part, shows total respect, unwavering loyalty and even unshakable love for his master. This image is too simplistic to oversimplify even a little bit the relationship that should be between a believer and Allah. But at least it has the merit of helping us to understand that it’s the emperor who should provide the protection and the gardener must in no case be disrespectful to his master. From the moment I admit that Allah is my master, the Lord, and that I submit to Him, with all the respect due to Him, I am entitled to aspire to His protection. Even the Quran speaks of "Tijara" (trade) between the believer and the Lord. I honour my part of the covenant, then Allah says to me, to everybody: “Fulfill your (part of the) covenant, I shall fulfill My (part of the) covenant).” (1: 40) "And who is truer to his promise than Allah?" (9 : 111)
By submitting to the will of Allah I will inevitably make sacrifices, which, in principle, should be rewarded and moreover by fair compensation. Yet, it's not because I have done what Allah asked me to do that I deserve this reward. He has already given me so many things! The life He has given me is priceless. One eye or one arm or one leg He has given me is priceless. He gave me all this and more without asking him. And on top of that there's a bonus: Paradise. Everyone would normally be entitled to Heaven if there were not some kind of competition. I want paradise? Well, I make an effort for it !
So, for good believers, expressing gratitude is expressing love just as helping others is giving them a chance to love God in their turn. Allah does not want me to believe in Him just out of kindness. He wants me to believe in Him because that's the truth. He wants me to believe in Him so as to prepare for His meeting, to prepare "my return" to Paradise. Allah says: "Say: I am only a mortal like you. My Lord inspireth in me that your God is only One God. And whoever hopeth for the meeting with his Lord, let him do righteous work, and make none sharer of the worship due unto his Lord." (18 : 110)
What's the alternative, I wonder? There's either God or Satan. I have to choose. Allah says: "Whoso chooseth Satan for a patron instead of Allah is verily a loser and his loss is manifest." (4 : 119) Yes, I can't see Satan (Lucifer) in the street. But Allah says: "O Children of Adam! Let not Satan seduce you as he caused your (first) parents to go forth from the Garden and tore off from them their robe (of innocence) that he might manifest their shame to them. Lo! he seeth you, he and his tribe, from whence ye see him not. Lo! We have made the devils protecting friends for those who believe not." (7 : 27) Allah (Who created Satan) also says: "Will ye choose him and his seed for your protecting friends instead of Me, when they are an enemy unto you?" (18 : 50) Would I choose an enemy for a friend? That doesn't make sense. Allah even speaks of "devils of humankind and jinn who inspire in one another plausible discourse through guile." (6 : 112) How can I know that this person is "an angel" and this one is "a devil"? I need a special light to tell this from that. Allah says: "O ye who believe! Be mindful of your duty to Allah and put faith in His messenger. He will give you twofold of His mercy and will appoint for you a light wherein ye shall walk, and will forgive you. Allah is Forgiving, Merciful." (57 : 28) "Your parents or your children: Ye know not which of them is nearer unto you in usefulness." (4 : 11) "O ye who believe! Lo! among your wives and your children there are enemies for you, therefor beware of them. And if ye efface and overlook and forgive, then lo! Allah is Forgiving, Merciful. Your wealth and your children are only a temptation, whereas Allah! with Him is an immense reward." (64 : 14-15) How can I "beware of them" or anybody else if I don't have this "special light" from Allah? How can I be a good believer if Allah does not help me see that light? Allah says: "And he for whom Allah hath not appointed light, for him there is no light." (24 : 40) "If it had not been for the grace of Allah upon you and His mercy ye would have followed Satan, save a few (of you)." (4 : 83)
Finally, all my work – as a believer – would be worth nothing if Allah does not accept it. "Allah accepteth only from those who ward off (evil)." (5 : 27) "Nay, but (the chosen of Allah is) he who fulfilleth his pledge and wardeth off (evil); for lo! Allah loveth those who ward off (evil)." (3 : 76)
I would love to be one of those who ward off evil. But if I, personally, can’t ward off all the time, at least I can write a book which would make Satan cry.
For many people religion is a problem; religion is a synonym of a long set of restrictions; religion is a natural enemy of freedom and individual liberties. Even for religious people religion is not always easy.
Now, is religion a problem or a solution? There’s not a clear-cut answer to that. The safest way to approach that question would be to say that religion is a set of solvable problems. Allah says: "Every soul must taste of death, and We try you with evil and with good, for ordeal. And unto Us ye will be returned." (21 : 35) "But lo! with hardship goeth ease, Lo! with hardship goeth ease." (94 : 5-7) "Allah will vouchsafe, after hardship, ease." (65 : 7) Even the best religious society, led by the best religious ruler, would have problems, but they are solvable problems. Societies are tried just like individuals. An individual believer can lose his job, a society (a people) can suffer drought or an economic crisis. So what’s the use of religion if it will only add on to my problems? If I put that question bluntly, I will get nowhere. If I put it in good faith, as I said before, there’s room for discussion. Allah says: "Thou knewest not what the Scripture was, nor what the Faith. But We have made it a light whereby We guide whom We will of Our bondmen. And lo! thou verily dost guide unto a right path." (42: 52) "And if We willed We could withdraw that which We have revealed unto thee, then wouldst thou find no guardian for thee against Us in respect thereof. (It is naught) save mercy from thy Lord. Lo! His kindness unto thee was ever great." (17: 86-87) That means religion is a mercy, a divine favour, not a problem. Why should Allah bother sending thousands of prophets and messengers in so many languages to so many peoples over a long period of time? What’s the use for Allah to do that? Isn’t that a "problem" for Allah? When Allah says "Ah, the anguish for the bondmen! Never came there unto them a messenger but they did mock him!" (36 : 30) "Shall We utterly ignore you because ye are a wanton folk?" (43 : 5) , what good would that add to Him ? What interest would Allah have in prohibiting sex outside of marriage, for example? Yes, Islam says don’t do this, don’t do that. A lot of restrictions. But in this chapter I will focus on the do’s. Many people would love to move up from Islam to Iman to Ihsan. Many people would love to elevate their nafs from ammara to lawama to mutmaina. Many people would love to approach beauty and greatness in the light of the Word of God. Many people would seek godly solutions rather than lament over Satanic problems. But that’s the minority of the minority. Allah says: "Whoso obeyeth Allah and the messenger, they are with those unto whom Allah hath shown favour, of the prophets and the saints and the martyrs and the righteous. The best of company are they!" (4 : 69) That’s the Elite. And in this elite the saints, (asseddeeqoon) come immediately after the prophets and before the martyrs. Who are asseddeeqoon? Allah says: "And those who believe in Allah and His messengers, they are the loyal, and the martyrs are with their Lord; they have their reward and their light." (57 : 19) (Translators have rendered here the Arabic word asseddeeqoon as the saints or the loyal.) At first sight those criteria do not appear to be unattainable. So can I be a seddeeq (a saint)?
Let’s first see how al-muhsinoon (the good), which is a general term, are described in the Quran and then we’ll see whether you and I can attain that. Let’s just dream a bit!
Allah says: "And vie one with another for forgiveness from your Lord, and for a paradise as wide as are the heavens and the earth, prepared for those who ward off (evil); Those who spend (of that which Allah hath given them) in ease and in adversity, those who control their wrath and are forgiving toward mankind; Allah loveth the good." (3 : 133-134) "Such as remember Allah, standing, sitting, and reclining, and consider the creation of the heavens and the earth, (and say): Our Lord! Thou createdst not this in vain. Glory be to Thee!" (3 : 191) "Who forsake their beds to cry unto their Lord in fear and hope, and spend of that We have bestowed on them." (32 : 16) "The (faithful) slaves of the Beneficent are they who walk upon the earth modestly, and when the foolish ones address them answer: Peace; And who spend the night before their Lord, prostrate and standing." (25 : 63-64) "The steadfast, and the truthful, and the obedient, those who spend (and hoard not), those who pray for pardon in the watches of the night." (3 : 17) "Who are constant at their worship And in whose wealth there is a right acknowledged For the beggar and the destitute." (70 : 23-25) "And to feed in the day of hunger, An orphan near of kin, Or some poor wretch in misery, And to be of those who believe and exhort one another to perseverance and exhort one another to pity." (90 : 14-17) "And feed with food the needy wretch, the orphan and the prisoner, for love of Him, (Saying): We feed you, for the sake of Allah only. We wish for no reward nor thanks from you." (76 : 8-9) "And let not those who possess dignity and ease among you swear not to give to the near of kin and to the needy, and to fugitives for the cause of Allah. Let them forgive and show indulgence. Yearn ye not that Allah may forgive you? Allah is Forgiving, Merciful." (24 : 22)
So, roughly speaking, it’s all about gratitude towards Allah and solidarity between humans. The details may differ from one verse to another, but the major guidelines are the same. "Ihsan," as the Prophet (pbuh) said, "is that you should serve Allah as though you could see Him, for though you cannot see Him yet He sees you." How can I translate this into acts? Well, the Quran answered this in the verses above. That’s what al-muhsinoon (the good) do. But suppose I can’t do that. For one reason or another, I can’t fast very often or worship Allah at night while people are sleeping, for example, and yet I aspire to be among al-muhsinoon. What can I do? Well, if I can’t do what al-muhsinoon and asseddeeqoon (saints) do in terms of acts of worship I should not expect to get the wages they get or the special place they get near Allah. Playing in the school games is not like playing in the Olympic Games. However, I can still rise in my Iman and stand out in the Eyes of Allah. How? I should have a strong faith, an unwavering faith. If I hear "Is there any God beside Allah?" (27 : 62) , my heart will say before my tongue NO ! I have to be among those "Who have believed and whose hearts have rest in the remembrance of Allah." (13 : 28) That means I have to be anything but "anxious", "fretful" or "grudging." (70 : 19-21) If I have a problem I implore Allah: "And call on Him in fear and hope. Lo! the mercy of Allah is nigh unto the good." (7 : 56) In addition to praying I keep my duty to Allah, Who says: "And whosoever keepeth his duty to Allah, Allah will appoint a way out for him, And will provide for him from (a quarter) whence he hath no expectation. And whosoever putteth his trust in Allah, He will suffice him. Lo! Allah bringeth His command to pass. Allah hath set a measure for all things." (65 : 2-3) If my prayers are not answered quickly, I presevere and keep hope. "Such as are steadfast and put their trust in Allah." (16 : 42)
By doing so I discover things that I can only read about in the Quran and the Hadith. It’s my problems and how I see them solved by Allah, by the power of Allah, by the knowledge of Allah, that will show me whether this religion is about truth or about dogma. If I don’t have a problem, how will I ever know that? Allah says: "And whosoever keepeth his duty to Allah, Allah will appoint a way out for him, And will provide for him from (a quarter) whence he hath no expectation." (65 : 2) Who can try that out? It’s my personal experience (what I feel when I have a problem, what I do to solve that problem, how I do it) that will teach me on Allah better than any scientific or religious book. These are the signs that affect my life directly. "If Allah touch thee with affliction, there is none that can relieve therefrom save Him, and if He touch thee with good fortune (there is none that can impair it)." (6 : 17-18) "And your Lord hath said: Pray unto Me and I will hear your prayer." (40 : 60) "But lo! with hardship goeth ease, Lo! with hardship goeth ease." (97 : 5-6) "Lo! Allah defendeth those who are true." (22 : 38) "And whosoever keepeth his duty to Allah, Allah will appoint a way out for him, And will provide for him from (a quarter) whence he hath no expectation. And whosoever putteth his trust in Allah, He will suffice him. Lo! Allah bringeth His command to pass. Allah hath set a measure for all things." (65 : 2-3) "And whatsoever ye spend (for good) He replaceth it. And He is the Best of Providers." (34 : 39)
If anyone tells me about reason and obscurantism, well, I tell him that there are things that can never be rationalized. If you ever have to go through a real love experience, chances are that you will be confronted with situations where reason can’t help.
That’s why I devoted a previous chapter to intention (good or bad faith). And I posed the question: what do I care about? What do I want?
Ihsan is not a prerequisite to Heaven. An ordinary Muslim who keeps his duty to Allah is entitled to Heaven. Ihsan is a chance given to ambitious believers who would like to stand out with their work, to express their gratitude to Allah in the best way possible. It’s a further step towards Allah, Who made this world and gave me and you a chance to live in this world. Many people in history began as low-ranked soldiers and became army leaders or even kings. It’s a matter of ambition. Allah says: "And vie one with another for forgiveness from your Lord, and for a paradise as wide as are the heavens and the earth, prepared for those who ward off (evil); Those who spend (of that which Allah hath given them) in ease and in adversity, those who control their wrath and are forgiving toward mankind; Allah loveth the good." (3 : 133-134) "It is not righteousness that ye turn your faces to the East and the West; but righteous is he who believeth in Allah and the Last Day and the angels and the Scripture and the prophets; and giveth wealth, for love of Him, to kinsfolk and to orphans and the needy and the wayfarer and to those who ask, and to set slaves free; and observeth proper worship and payeth the poor-due. And those who keep their treaty when they make one, and the patient in tribulation and adversity and time of stress. Such are they who are sincere. Such are the God-fearing." (2 : 177) "Those who entered the city and the faith before them love those who flee unto them for refuge, and find in their breasts no need for that which hath been given them, but prefer (the fugitives) above themselves though poverty become their lot. And whoso is saved from his own avarice - such are they who are successful." (59 : 9) "And feed with food the needy wretch, the orphan and the prisoner, for love of Him, (Saying): We feed you, for the sake of Allah only. We wish for no reward nor thanks from you." (76 : 8-9)
Not everyone has that privilege.
Now, do I want to stand out in the eyes of people or in the sight of Allah? Do I want to be talked about by people or by angels? Do I want to be a celebrity in the earth or a celebrity in the heavens? Do I believe in Allah because I am sure that He is God or because I want Him to give me a job or to give me a match or a child…? These are essential questions! My intention should be clear and pure. Do I do what I do for the sake of Allah? If only my initial faith (intention) were good! Allah would take care of the rest. He says: "As for those who strive in Us, We surely guide them to Our paths, and lo! Allah is with the good." (29 : 69) "Lo! Allah is with those who keep their duty unto Him and those who are doers of good." (16 : 128) "While as for those who walk aright, He addeth to their guidance, and giveth them their protection (against evil)." (47 : 17) "Allah is the Protecting Guardian of those who believe. He bringeth them out of darkness into light." (2 : 257) "O ye who believe! Remember Allah with much remembrance. And glorify Him early and late. He it is Who blesseth you, and His angels (bless you), that He may bring you forth from darkness unto light; and He is Merciful to the believers." (33 : 41-43) If I am a sinner, Allah says to me (and to you): "Save him who repenteth and believeth and doth righteous work; as for such, Allah will change their evil deeds to good deeds. Allah is ever Forgiving, Merciful. And whosoever repenteth and doeth good, he verily repenteth toward Allah with true repentance." (25 : 70-71) If I want Allah, Allah says to me (and to you) : "And whoever hopeth for the meeting with his Lord, let him do righteous work, and make none sharer of the worship due unto his Lord." (18 : 110) If I forget, if I relent from time to time, Allah reminds me: "O man! What hath made thee careless concerning thy Lord, the Bountiful, Who created thee, then fashioned, then proportioned thee? Into whatsoever form He will, He casteth thee." (82 : 6-8)
If my faith is not that good, if it’s not pure, well, Allah will yet give me another chance, but through a trial, maybe two, maybe more. He says: "Man tireth not of praying for good, and if ill toucheth him, then he is disheartened, desperate." (41 : 49) "And verily, if We cause him to taste mercy after some hurt that hath touched him, he will say: This is my own; and I deem not that the Hour will ever rise, and if I am brought back to my Lord, I surely shall be better off with Him." (41 : 50) "When We show favour unto man, he withdraweth and turneth aside, but when ill toucheth him then he aboundeth in prayer." (41 : 51) "And if we cause man to taste some mercy from Us and afterward withdraw it from him, Lo! he is despairing, thankless. And if We cause him to taste grace after some misfortune that had befallen him, he saith: The ills have gone from me. Lo! he is exultant, boastful; Save those who persevere and do good works. Theirs will be forgiveness and a great reward." (11 : 9-11)
My trials will show whether I really want Allah. It’s then when I am supposed to do my best not to succumb to the lure of worldly pleasures; it’s then when I have to show that I remember the Creator, I remember Him as I would remember a loved one. Allah says: "Remember Allah as ye remember your fathers or with a more lively remembrance." (2 : 200) My trial will not necessarily be a hardship. I may be tried with a very good job, with a very happy family life. And that may be even harder than being tried with a hardship. In either case, I have to show what I want for myself in this world.
My belief in Allah entails a responsibility on my part; otherwise I'll be of those of whom Allah said: "And when it is said unto them: Spend of that wherewith Allah hath provided you, those who disbelieve say unto those who believe: Shall we feed those whom Allah, if He willed, would feed? Ye are in naught else than error manifest." (36 : 47) There’s good in all of us. The problem is that many of us don’t want that good to bear fruit. We prefer evil to good because evil is often easier than good. It’s easier to lie than to tell the truth, for example. I can lie to people, but unless I am a pathologically complex person, I would not lie to myself. I know my mistakes. If my faith is alive there will be a struggle between me and my conscience. It’s in fact a struggle between my nafs ammara and my nafs lawama. The mere fact that I have this nafs lawama is a good sign. It’s a sign that I care about my faith. When my nafs lawama is stronger than my nafs ammara, what do I do? Well, I know that "Unto Allah belongeth whatsoever is in the heavens and whatsoever is in the earth. He forgiveth whom He will, and punisheth whom He will. Allah is Forgiving, Merciful." (3 : 129) "Allah loveth the good; And those who, when they do an evil thing or wrong themselves, remember Allah and implore forgiveness for their sins - Who forgiveth sins save Allah only? - and will not knowingly repeat (the wrong) they did." (3 : 134- 135) "Will they not rather turn unto Allah and seek forgiveness of Him? For Allah is Forgiving, Merciful." (5 : 74) So I beg Allah’s pardon. I know Allah is just. He says: "And whoso doeth good an atom's weight will see it then, And whoso doeth ill an atom's weight will see it then." (99 : 7-8) So I implore Allah to forgive all my mistakes. That’s how I move up on the scale of my faith. Allah says: "And those who, when they do an evil thing or wrong themselves, remember Allah and implore forgiveness for their sins - Who forgiveth sins save Allah only? - and will not knowingly repeat (the wrong) they did." (3 : 135) "Save him who repenteth and believeth and doth righteous work; as for such, Allah will change their evil deeds to good deeds. Allah is ever Forgiving, Merciful. And whosoever repenteth and doeth good, he verily repenteth toward Allah with true repentance -" (25 : 70-71) Allah does not expect me to be an angel. Allah expects me to be honest with myself first. I should be the engineer of my own redemption. In theory, if I personally am good and my family is good and my neighbourhood is good, who will ever be bad? In practice, even if all society is good, that’s not a guarantee that I’ll be good too. I have to perfect my own soul –regardless of what other people do. Allah says: "And a soul and Him Who perfected it And inspired it (with conscience of) what is wrong for it and (what is) right for it. He is indeed successful who causeth it to grow, And he is indeed a failure who stunteth it." (91 : 7-10)
Let’s imagine this. My brother and I are at the same university, at the same campus; we have the same amount of money, the same amount of free time: I personally buy books or papers to learn more about the world, my brother buys beer and cigarettes; I go to mosque, he goes to nightclubs… When I go to mosque I don’t find a devil who prevents me from entering ; when my brother goes to the nightclub he doesn’t find an angel who prevents him from entering. That's the freedom of conscience. Hence the verse: "And a soul and Him Who perfected it And inspired it (with conscience of) what is wrong for it and (what is) right for it. He is indeed successful who causeth it to grow, And he is indeed a failure who stunteth it." (91 : 7-10) The judgement will come on the Day of judgement, not now.
But suppose Allah gave me the power to judge people, what would I do? Well, this is not an absolute utopia. In the Quran we read: "They will ask thee of Dhu'l-Qarneyn. Say: I shall recite unto you a remembrance of him. Lo! We made him strong in the land and gave him unto everything a road. And he followed a road Till, when he reached the setting-place of the sun, he found it setting in a muddy spring, and found a people thereabout. We said: O Dhu'l-Qarneyn! Either punish or show them kindness. He said: As for him who doeth wrong, we shall punish him, and then he will be brought back unto his Lord, Who will punish him with awful punishment! But as for him who believeth and doeth right, good will be his reward, and We shall speak unto him a mild command." (18 : 83-88) Would I be fair in my judgement? Wouldn’t I be subjective, impulsive in my judgement? Allah wants me to be honest, free from contradictions, fair in my judgement. He says: "As for man, whenever his Lord trieth him by honoring him, and is gracious unto him, he saith: My Lord honoureth me. But whenever He trieth him by straitening his means of life, he saith: My Lord despiseth me. Nay, but ye (for your part) honor not the orphan, And urge not on the feeding of the poor, And ye devour heritages with devouring greed, And love wealth with abounding love." (89 : 15-20) If I can be fair in my judgement I should judge myself first. If I judge myself fairly my nafs may move up from ammara to lawama to mutmainna. When I shed tears of repentance that’s a good sign that my nafs is on the right track towards reconciliation with Allah. When I see my brother or my sister are not as good as me I should implore Allah to guide them. "Call unto the way of thy Lord with wisdom and fair exhortation, and reason with them in the better way. Lo! thy Lord is Best Aware of him who strayeth from His way, and He is best aware of those who go aright." (16 : 125) Am I sure I will remain as religious as I am until the end of my days? Am I sure my brother or my sister is not going to become as good as or even better than me? A Moroccan saying goes: "How many landfills have become mosques and how many mosques have become landfills!" Besides, am I sure I am a religious person? Allah says: "Ah, woe unto worshippers Who are heedless of their prayer; Who would be seen (at worship) Yet refuse small kindnesses!" (107 : 4-7) "Hast thou observed him who belieth religion? That is he who repelleth the orphan, And urgeth not the feeding of the needy." (107 : 1-3) Do I urge the feeding of the needy? Religious people would say: "We feed you, for the sake of Allah only. We wish for no reward nor thanks from you." (76 : 8-9) Don’t I expect a reward or thanks when I do good to somebody?
That’s the kind of education Islam wants for me. Islam wants me to be honest with myself. I should do as I say and say as I do. Otherwise I’ll be only lying to myself. It’s a matter of (good or bad) faith, once again. Allah says: "And as for him who hoardeth, he hoardeth only from his soul. And Allah is the Rich, and ye are the poor. And if ye turn away He will exchange you for some other folk, and they will not be the likes of you." (47 : 38) Islam is not only about the veil or the beard. Islam is about every aspect of our life. Allah says: "A kind word with forgiveness is better than almsgiving followed by injury. Allah is Absolute, Clement. "(2 : 263) "O ye who believe! Spend of the good things which ye have earned, and of that which We bring forth from the earth for you, and seek not the bad (with intent) to spend thereof (in charity) when ye would not take it for yourselves save with disdain; and know that Allah is Absolute, Owner of Praise." (2 : 267) "Ye will not attain unto piety until ye spend of that which ye love. And whatsoever ye spend, Allah is Aware thereof." (3 : 92) "It is not righteousness that ye turn your faces to the East and the West; but righteous is he who believeth in Allah and the Last Day and the angels and the Scripture and the prophets; and giveth wealth, for love of Him, to kinsfolk and to orphans and the needy and the wayfarer and to those who ask, and to set slaves free; and observeth proper worship and payeth the poor-due. And those who keep their treaty when they make one, and the patient in tribulation and adversity and time of stress. Such are they who are sincere. Such are the God-fearing." (2 : 177) "O Children of Adam! Look to your adornment at every place of worship, and eat and drink, but be not prodigal. Lo! He loveth not the prodigals." (7 : 31) "Say: Who hath forbidden the adornment of Allah which He hath brought forth for His bondmen, and the good things of His providing? Say: Such, on the Day of Resurrection, will be only for those who believed during the life of the world. Thus do we detail Our revelations for people who have knowledge." (7 : 32) "Now whatever ye have been given is but a passing comfort for the life of the world, and that which Allah hath is better and more lasting for those who believe and put their trust in their Lord, And those who shun the worst of sins and indecencies and, when they are wroth, forgive, And those who answer the call of their Lord and establish worship, and whose affairs are a matter of counsel, and who spend of what We have bestowed on them, And those who, when great wrong is done to them, defend themselves, The guerdon of an ill-deed is an ill the like thereof. But whosoever pardoneth and amendeth, his wage is the affair of Allah. Lo! He loveth not wrong-doers. And whoso defendeth himself after he hath suffered wrong - for such, there is no way (of blame) against them. The way (of blame) is only against those who oppress mankind, and wrongfully rebel in the earth. For such there is a painful doom. And verily whoso is patient and forgiveth - lo! that, verily, is (of) the steadfast heart of things." (42 : 36-43)
"No soul can ever die except by Allah's leave and at a term appointed. Whoso desireth the reward of the world, We bestow on him thereof; and whoso desireth the reward of the Hereafter, We bestow on him thereof. We shall reward the thankful." (3 : 145) "What concern hath Allah for your punishment if ye are thankful (for His mercies) and believe (in Him)? Allah was ever Responsive, Aware." (4 : 147)
Allah says in the Quran: "He it is Who gathereth you at night and knoweth that which ye commit by day. Then He raiseth you again to life therein, that the term appointed (for you) may be accomplished. And afterward unto Him is your return. Then He will proclaim unto you what ye used to do." (6 : 60) If I am a good believer that warning should be enough to remind me that Allah "is the Omnipotent over His slaves" (6 :61) and "Not an animal but He doth grasp it by the forelock!" (11 : 56 ) If that warning is not enough, if I don't really feel that Allah takes my life every night, well, here's another warning that appeals to me directly : Allah says : "And we made every living thing of water" (21 :30) “Say: Have ye thought: If (all) your water were to disappear into the earth, who then could bring you gushing water? " (67 : 30) And We send the winds fertilizing, and cause water to descend from the sky, and give it you to drink. It is not ye who are the holders of the store thereof." (15 : 22) I have experienced this firsthand. I was a student in a dorm where I could not have a shower for a whole month – simply because water was scarce that year. We could barely find water to drink. Water shortage kills. Drought causes huge fires. Allah says: "And have sent down from the rainy clouds abundant water, Thereby to produce grain and plant, And gardens of thick foliage." (98: 14-16) Up to this day man has been unable to solve the problem of drought. Engineers have bombed clouds but apparently that hasn't worked. It takes more than bombing a thousand clouds to fill a river or save a forest from an imminent blaze. And when it does rain there's the risk of floods and mud slides.
Also Allah says: "Lo! Allah graspeth the heavens and the earth that they deviate not, and if they were to deviate there is not one that could grasp them after Him. Lo! He is ever Clement, Forgiving." (35: 41) "He holdeth back the heaven from falling on the earth unless by His leave. Lo! Allah is, for mankind, Full of Pity, Merciful." (22 : 65) This might seem highly unlikely for a non-believing scientist but not entirely impossible for an ordinary believer like myself. All I know is that in February 2013 a thousand people were wounded after the fall of a meteorite in Russia, which has got an advanced space programme. Yes, I concede that's rare and not so much dangerous, but should I wait for the sky to fall on my head so as to believe? Allah also says: "And of all fruits He placed therein two spouses (male and female)." (13 : 3) I am not a scientist to check that out. So should I know or believe? Scientific knowledge is not static. Many things that are now obvious were not known a century ago.
Allah also says: "Let man consider his food: How We pour water in showers Then split the earth in clefts And cause the grain to grow therein And grapes and green fodder And olive-trees and palm-trees And garden-closes of thick foliage And fruits and grasses: Provision for you and your cattle." (80 : 23-32) "Have ye seen that which ye cultivate? Is it ye who foster it, or are We the Fosterer?" (56 : 63-64) What can I say about this? Well, once again, I can only judge by what I notice. I have noticed that many farmers content themselves with sowing the seeds and working the land for a few days or weeks and then they go to sleep. One day the first green vegetation emerges from the soil. How did it emerge? I don't know. Then bees come around and do their precious work, for free. Bees are the best volunteers in this world, aren’t they? We humans take many things for granted. Allah says: "He it is Who hath made the earth subservient unto you, so Walk in the paths thereof and eat of His providence." (67 : 15) We have seen how people move about in space. They can't walk as they do in the earth.
Allah says: "Man is more than anything contentious." (18 : 54) It is easy to argue with Allah because Allah is not going to argue with you NOW. But Allah is not dead. In the Quran we read: "And trust thou in the Living One Who dieth not." (25 : 58) Speaking to Allah is not like speaking to a dead body. To Allah the real dead are those who want to argue with Him. He says: "Is he who was dead and We have raised him unto life, and set for him a light wherein he walketh among men, as him whose similitude is in utter darkness whence he cannot emerge? Thus is their conduct made fairseeming for the disbelievers." (6 : 122) Just as Allah revives the land after its death so does He revive the souls of men who suddenly feel the light of wisdom. Allah says: "He it is Who sendeth down water from the sky, and therewith We bring forth buds of every kind; We bring forth the green blade from which We bring forth the thick-clustered grain; and from the date-palm, from the pollen thereof, spring pendant bunches; and (We bring forth) gardens of grapes, and the olive and the pomegranate, alike and unlike. Look upon the fruit thereof, when they bear fruit, and upon its ripening. Lo! herein verily are portents for a people who believe." (6 : 99) “Portents” (signs) “for people who believe”. I believe first, then I look for the signs. Allah says: "And in the Earth are neighbouring tracts, vineyards and ploughed lands, and date-palms, like and unlike, which are watered with one water. And we have made some of them to excel others in fruit. Lo! herein verily are portents for people who have sense." (13 : 4) How can I be one of the people who have sense if I don't think about what's happening around me? You know, temperatures in such beautiful Moroccan cities as Fez and Marrakech reach 40 to 45°C in the summer these last years. A recent joke says that if you want to marry a girl from one of these cities her father will demand an air conditioner among her dowry! Worse, high temperatures can burn thousands of people and their homes in just a few days. Allah says: "Allah promiseth to the believers, men and women, Gardens underneath which rivers flow, wherein they will abide - blessed dwellings in Gardens of Eden. And - greater (far)! - acceptance from Allah. That is the supreme triumph." (9 : 72) Also about Heaven Allah says: "Reclining therein upon couches, they will find there neither (heat of) a sun nor bitter cold." (76 : 13) How can I feel, as a believer, the importance of this last piece of description if I haven't felt the difference? Allah says: "Nor is the shadow equal with the sun's full heat." (35 : 21) Is walking in the shade like walking in the baking sun? A good believer knows that the shade is a great gift from Allah. A good believer would thank Allah for the mere sight or smell of a fruit, let alone eating it ! In the Quran we read: "None can inform you like Him Who is Aware." (35 : 14) "Is he who knoweth that what is revealed unto thee from thy Lord is the truth like him who is blind? But only men of understanding heed." (13 : 19) "The erudite among His bondmen fear Allah alone. Lo! Allah is Mighty, Forgiving." (35 : 28) Those are the minority of the minority: those "who believe and do good works are the best of created beings. (…) Allah hath pleasure in them and they have pleasure in Him. This is (in store) for him who feareth his Lord." (98 : 7-8)
What can I understand from the verse which says: "Say (O Muhammad, unto the disbelievers): My Lord would not concern Himself with you but for your prayer." (25 : 77) ? Well, if you think about it a little, as a believer, you’ll notice that non-believers produce the good things for believers in this life. Most believers will get only a fraction of all that production, but even a wealthy person’s stomach can't hold more than a few kilograms of food! In the Hereafter only believers will find the good things; nobody will produce such things for non-believers in Hell. Allah Himself says: "Few of My bondmen are thankful." (34 : 13) Allah knows that people who really care about Him are few compared to the total number. And yet He makes these few suffer! He deprives them of things they love. Allah says: "Lo! therein indeed are portents for every steadfast, grateful (heart)." (31 : 31) And those are not very many. Why doesn't Allah "fear" to lose that minority of the minority? Well, He knows that they love Him. He knows that they will be patient and, on top of that, GRATEFUL ! Because they have "hearts wherewith to feel and ears wherewith to hear. For indeed it is not the eyes that grow blind, but it is the hearts, which are within the bosoms, that grow blind." (22 : 46) That's why He made general norms (to rule the world) for the sake of that specific population. People marry and enjoy themselves generation after generation and as they do so a few souls are born in every generation and stand out with their hearts so as to join the lucky club of "every steadfast, grateful (heart). Such as are steadfast and put their trust in Allah." (16 : 42)
Allah is not rash. He knows what He is doing. He says: "Deemed ye then that We had created you for naught, and that ye would not be returned unto Us?" (23 : 115) "Thinketh man that he is to be left aimless? Was he not a drop of fluid which gushed forth? Then he became a clot; then (Allah) shaped and fashioned And made of him a pair, the male and female. Is not He (Who doeth so) able to bring the dead to life?" (75 : 36-40) How many people care? Allah says: "See ye not how Allah hath made serviceable unto you whatsoever is in the skies and whatsoever is in the earth and hath loaded you with His favours both without and within?" (31 : 20) "And He giveth you of all ye ask of Him, and if ye would count the bounty of Allah ye cannot reckon it. Lo! man is verily a wrong-doer, an ingrate." (14 : 34) Did Allah do that just for us to enjoy ourselves in this world, just for us to play and sing and dance and make love...? No, Allah says: "And We created not the heaven and the earth and all that is between them in vain. That is the opinion of those who disbelieve." (38 : 27) Good believers "give that which they give with hearts afraid because they are about to return unto their Lord" (23 : 60) because they hold Allah in high esteem. They know that "The thunder hymneth His praise and (so do) the angels for awe of Him." (13 : 13) They know that "if all the trees in the earth were pens, and the sea, with seven more seas to help it, (were ink), the words of Allah could not be exhausted." (31 : 27) "Allah, Lord of the Ascending Stairways (Whereby) the angels and the Spirit ascend unto Him in a Day whereof the span is fifty thousand years." (70 : 2-4) Those people know that "all who are in the heavens and the earth praise [Allah], and the birds in their flight. Of each He knoweth verily its worship and its praise; and Allah is Aware of what they do." (24 : 41) "The seven heavens and the earth and all that is therein praise Him, and there is not a thing but hymneth His praise; but ye understand not their praise. Lo! He is ever Clement, Forgiving." (17 : 44)
In the Quran we read: "Allah is He Who created the heavens and the earth, and causeth water to descend from the sky, thereby producing fruits as food for you, and maketh the ships to be of service unto you, that they may run upon the sea at His command, and hath made of service unto you the rivers; And maketh the sun and the moon, constant in their courses, to be of service unto you, and hath made of service unto you the night and the day. And He giveth you of all ye ask of Him, and if ye would count the bounty of Allah ye cannot reckon it. Lo! man is verily a wrong doer, an ingrate." (14 : 32-34) "See ye not how Allah hath made serviceable unto you whatsoever is in the skies and whatsoever is in the earth and hath loaded you with His favors both without and within?" (31 : 20) Why all this? Just for us to play and sing and dance and make love? Allah says: "Their reckoning draweth nigh for mankind, while they turn away in heedlessness." (21 : 1) Disasters are warning me every day. Just think of drought and water shortage, among other things. How can't I fear? Allah says: "If Allah took mankind to task by that which they deserve, He would not leave a living creature on the surface of the earth; but He reprieveth them unto an appointed term, and when their term cometh - then verily (they will know that) Allah is ever Seer of His slaves." (35 : 45) "Verily We have brought them a Scripture which We expounded with knowledge, a guidance and a mercy for a people who believe." (7 : 52) "And in truth We have made the Quran easy to remember; but is there any that remembereth?" (54 : 17) "Will they then not meditate on the Quran, or are there locks on the hearts?" (47 : 24) "O ye who believe! Remember Allah with much remembrance. And glorify Him early and late. He it is Who blesseth you, and His angels (bless you), that He may bring you forth from darkness unto light; and He is Merciful to the believers." (33 : 41-43) "Allah directeth the ordinance from the heaven unto the earth; then it ascendeth unto Him in a Day, whereof the measure is a thousand years of that ye reckon." (32 : 5) "All that are in the heavens and the earth entreat Him. Every day He exerciseth (universal) power." (55 : 29) "We shall dispose of you, O ye two dependents (man and jinn)." (55 : 31)
Shall I live in this world forever? What would I do if I found out upon my death that I had just been wasting my life away? Allah says: "We warn them, but it increaseth them in naught save gross impiety." (17 :60) "Thou art but a warner unto him who feareth it." (79 : 45) I did not fall from the last rain. I know what's happening in this world. I know that people commit suicide in rich beautiful countries. People get depressed despite all their financial ease. People lose faith easily. People feel lonely in homes where everything is available. People take drugs to forget their unforgettable problems. People fear death.
We are all Allah's guests in this earth. Whether we like it or not, the earth belongs to Allah alone, Who can act as He pleases. "Doer of what He will" (85 : 16) Allah was here before we were born and He will be here after we are gone. "He brought you forth from the earth and hath made you husband it" (11 : 61) according to certain rules. Suppose somebody put at my disposal his home and said make yourself at home, treat yourself, you're worth it!, would that mean that this home will be mine ? I know that I only came after Allah only knows how many generations who all had quite the same dreams and desires and that I too will go one day. "Allah's is the heritage of the heavens and the earth." (3 : 180) "Is it not a guidance for them (to observe) how many generations We destroyed before them, amid whose dwelling places they do walk? Lo! therein verily are portents! Will they not then heed?" (32 : 26) But Allah also says: "Those are a people who have passed away. Theirs is that which they earned, and yours is that which ye earn. And ye will not be asked of what they used to do." (2 : 134) "Then We appointed you viceroys in the earth after them, that We might see how ye behave." (10 : 14)
The question is, where do I go from here? The previous generations left us a heritage partly red partly green. France, for example, is due to ban fuel cars by 2040. That's because everybody has been aware of the dangers of air pollution. One does not need to be an intellectual to notice that our prosperity has had side effects. We all know that each and every one of us is partly responsible for what has happened to our earth. Deforestation, over-exploitation of fisheries, corruption, and so on are the results of our own greed. Our leaders have understood that no single country, no single continent, can solve such problems alone. Hence all that quantity of world summits on this and that. Only now are we convinced that all Men are one. Allah was the first to address men as one. He says: "And He it is Who hath produced you from a single being, and (hath given you) a habitation and a repository. We have detailed Our revelations for a people who have understanding." (6 : 98) "O mankind! Be careful of your duty to your Lord Who created you from a single soul and from it created its mate and from them twain hath spread abroad a multitude of men and women." (4 : 1) "And We have not sent thee (O Muhammad) save as a bringer of good tidings and a warner unto all mankind; but most of mankind know not." (34 : 28) "Unto Allah belong the East and the West, and whithersoever ye turn, there is Allah's Countenance. Lo! Allah is All-Embracing, All-Knowing." (2 : 115) What is amazing, though, is that man has acknowledged his "sin" perpetrated against this earth; he has acknowledged his weakness; he has acknowledged his responsibility towards future generations… but how many men have acknowledged the role of Allah in our lives? Allah says: "Corruption doth appear on land and sea because of (the evil) which men's hands have done, that He may make them taste a part of that which they have done, in order that they may return." (30 : 41) How many men are willing "to return"? How many men are willing to listen to Allah, Who says: "Lo! Allah is a Lord of Kindness to mankind, but most of mankind give not thanks." (2 : 243) Even those who, like me, pretend they listen to Allah, listen to what Allah says about them: "O ye who believe! Follow not the footsteps of the devil. Unto whomsoever followeth the footsteps of the devil, lo! he commandeth filthiness and wrong. Had it not been for the grace of Allah and His mercy unto you, not one of you would ever have grown pure. But Allah causeth whom He will to grow. And Allah is Hearer, Knower." (24 : 21) "And thus have We inspired in thee (Muhammad) a Spirit of Our command. Thou knewest not what the Scripture was, nor what the Faith. But We have made it a light whereby We guide whom We will of Our bondmen. And lo! thou verily dost guide unto a right path." (42 : 52) "And if We willed We could withdraw that which We have revealed unto thee, then wouldst thou find no guardian for thee against Us in respect thereof. (It is naught) save mercy from thy Lord. Lo! His kindness unto thee was ever great." (17 : 86-87)
Allah said to the prophet (pbuh): "We sent thee not save as a mercy for the peoples." (21 : 107) Allah wants mercy for us all. Can any fire brigades in the whole world put out a huge fire if Allah does not help them with the rain? Allah says: "And He it is Who sendeth down the saving rain after they have despaired, and spreadeth out His mercy. He is the Protecting Friend, the Praiseworthy." (42 : 28) Our leaders can be good and well qualified, but they can't replace Allah. Allah says: "And the earth hath He appointed for (His) creatures." (55 : 10) That is, for mankind. Some of our leaders are erecting frontiers and borders and imposing visas. Why? Well, every leader fears for his dear country. That's understandable. Allah does not "fear" for His Kingdom. "Unto Him belongeth all that is in the heavens and all that is in the earth. Lo! Allah, He verily is the Absolute, the Owner of Praise. " (22 : 64) "Unto Him belongeth whosoever is in the heavens and the earth. All are obedient unto Him." (30 : 26) The problem is that some of our leaders give us the impression that they can give us everything we want. Well, that's questionable. Also, the first thing a leader thinks of before going to bed is his/her memoirs. Allah does not need memoirs. Allah says: "Or do they own the treasures of thy Lord? Or have they been given charge (thereof)?" (52 : 37) "Or are theirs the treasures of the mercy of thy Lord, the Mighty, the Bestower?" (38 : 9) He even says: "Those unto whom ye pray instead of Him own not so much as the white spot on a date-stone." (35 : 13) And that's true. If leaders in the past owned "so much as the white spot on a date-stone", no empire would have fallen, no economic crisis would have torn societies apart. "Blessed is He in Whose hand is the Sovereignty, and, He is Able to do all things." (67 : 1) If I don't believe that, Allah says: "Call upon those whom ye set up beside Allah! They possess not an atom's weight either in the heavens or the earth, nor have they any share in either, nor hath He an auxiliary among them." (34 : 22) "Unto Allah belongeth the Sovereignty of the heavens and the earth and whatsoever is therein, and He is Able to do all things." (5 : 120) "Say: O Allah! Owner of Sovereignty! Thou givest sovereignty unto whom Thou wilt, and Thou withdrawest sovereignty from whom Thou wilt. Thou exaltest whom Thou wilt and Thou abasest whom Thou wilt. In Thy hand is the good. Lo! Thou art Able to do all things. Thou causest the night to pass into the day, and Thou causest the day to pass into the night. And Thou bringest forth the living from the dead, and Thou bringest forth the dead from the living. And Thou givest sustenance to whom Thou choosest, without stint." (3 : 26-27)
When I realize the greatness of Allah, when I realize the grace of Allah, I can only feel rest in my heart. Even when I feel the fear of Allah my fear is immediately followed by rest in my heart. Allah says: "Allah hath (now) revealed the fairest of statements, a Scripture consistent, (wherein promises of reward are) paired (with threats of punishment), whereat doth creep the flesh of those who fear their Lord, so that their flesh and their hearts soften to Allah's reminder. Such is Allah's guidance, wherewith He guideth whom He will. And him whom Allah sendeth astray, for him there is no guide." (39 : 23) "Those who believe and obscure not their belief by wrongdoing, theirs is safety; and they are rightly guided." (6 : 82) "Lo! verily the friends of Allah are (those) on whom fear (cometh) not, nor do they grieve." (10 : 62) Even on the day of resurrection, as the prophet (pbuh) said, "Allah will give them protection with His Shade on the Day when there will be no shade except His Shade."
A non-believer would say: why should I fear Allah if, as he says, "Unto Allah belongeth whatsoever is in the heavens and whatsoever is in the earth. He forgiveth whom He will, and punisheth whom He will." (3 : 129) ? That's a good question. But why do I look at "punisheth whom He will" and don't I look at "forgiveth whom He will?" The full verse is: "Unto Allah belongeth whatsoever is in the heavens and whatsoever is in the earth. He forgiveth whom He will, and punisheth whom He will. Allah is Forgiving, Merciful." (3 : 129) Why don't I try to do good and avoid evil as much as I can and then hope to be one of those whom Allah will forgive, since He is "Forgiving, Merciful"? But, at the same time, if I make a silly mistake, I don’t deem myself "secure from Allah's scheme" because "None deemeth himself secure from Allah's scheme save folk that perish." (7 : 99) Allah says: "Allah is Mighty, Able to Requite (the wrong)." (14 : 47) Allah wants to scare me in order to save me. He says: "With this doth Allah appal His bondmen. O My bondmen, therefor fear Me!" (39 : 16) "And Allah summoneth to the abode of peace, and leadeth whom He will to a straight path." (10 : 25) He also says: "And vie one with another for forgiveness from your Lord, and for a paradise as wide as are the heavens and the earth, prepared for those who ward off (evil)." (3 : 133) Wouldn't I be stupid if I missed such a golden opportunity? If there's so much space in Heaven, why don't I hope to be one of the lucky dwellers of that beautiful world?
Allah says: "Therefore keep your duty unto Me, O men of understanding." (2 : 197) Allah is speaking to "men of understanding." Who are "men of understanding"? In the Quran we read: "Therefor give good tidings (O Muhammad) to My bondmen Who hear advice and follow the best thereof. Such are those whom Allah guideth, and such are men of understanding." (39 : 17-18) The mosques we pray in are built by the rich, not the poor. Can't those people make better use of their money? Don't they have minds to think? "But only men of understanding heed; Such as keep the pact of Allah, and break not the covenant; Such as unite that which Allah hath commandeth should be joined, and fear their Lord, and dread a woeful reckoning; Such as persevere in seeking their Lord's Countenance and are regular in prayer and spend of that which We bestow upon them secretly and openly, and overcome evil with good. Theirs will be the sequel of the (heavenly) Home, Gardens of Eden which they enter, along with all who do right of their fathers and their halpmeets and their seed. The angels enter unto them from every gate, (Saying): Peace be unto you because ye persevered. Ah, passing sweet will be the sequel of the (heavenly) Home. (…) Allah enlargeth livelihood for whom He will, and straiteneth (it for whom He will); and they rejoice in the life of the world, whereas the life of the world is but brief comfort as compared with the Hereafter." (13 : 19-26) That's the best investment, isn't it?
Why do angels say to Heaven dwellers "because ye persevered"? Well, the prophet (pbuh) said: "Paradise is surrounded by hardships and the Fire is surrounded by desires." An Olympic gold medal is not Heaven, but can anybody be an Olympic champion without making sacrifices? Can you get a high university degree without making sacrifices? The right question is, is Heaven worth such sacrifices? No doubt our world is beautiful; otherwise there wouldn't be any such thing as tourism, with the myriad sumptuous hotels and resorts and campsites... But there are also tragedies. Allah says: "A similitude of the Garden which is promised unto those who keep their duty (to Allah): Underneath it rivers flow; its food is everlasting, and its shade." (13 : 35) There's no "toil nor weariness" (38 : 35) in Heaven. There are no problems in Heaven. So to get a chance to go there I have to endure some kind of suffering in this world.
Some people commit suicide because they can't have a lasting feeling of happiness. I too have suffered, but I have also had a lot of happy days. I should be grateful to Allah for that. If I am patient and grateful in this world Allah will make my life better in this world and hopefully grant me a place in Heaven. He says: "For those who do good in this world there is a good (reward) and the home of the Hereafter will be better. Pleasant indeed will be the home of those who ward off (evil)." (16: 30)
Do I really need to be in Heaven after my death? Well, Ibrahim (pbuh) "was a people obedient to Allah, by nature upright, and he was not of the idolaters" (16: 120) and "Allah (Himself) chose Abraham for friend." (4: 125) And yet Ibrahim (pbuh) said: "And place me among the inheritors of the Garden of Delight." (26: 85) Allah says: "See how We prefer one of them above another, and verily the Hereafter will be greater in degrees and greater in preferment." (17: 21) How can't I pray to Allah to grant me a place in Heaven too? The prophet (pbuh) said: "If you ask of Allah, ask Him for al-Firdaws" (the highest part of Paradise). You know those kinds of radio shows where you are invited to send answers in SMS text messages. They give an easy question so that a large number of people send a large number of text messages. Well, for you personally, to increase your chance of winning you send as many text messages as you can afford. Why don't I do the same when it comes to Heaven? An ordinary Muslim who keeps his duty to Allah is entitled to Heaven, but to avoid "bad surprises" I should try to do better than a mere Muslim. Why don't I try to be a moomin (a believer), that's a higher grade? I should try to secure a place in Heaven first, then try to philosophize about the whole thing.
Now, how do I understand the story of Heaven? Allah could have stayed ‘alone’ and not bothered to make anything. He was God, magnanimous and magnificent, free and self-sufficient. But He was too beautiful not to be known. He was too generous not to share His beauty. But with whom? He was God and nothing could be like Him. Nothing could match up to Him. Nor did He need anything or anybody. It’s only by the grace of Him that He made the world to share not only His beauty but also His bounty. He made Heaven, beautiful in every sense of the word. He made it not for Himself. (He didn’t need it.) He made it for us. Whether Allah made the earth before or after Heaven and Hell, that’s not a really big question. But it’s interesting to notice that Allah made part of the earth look like Heaven and part of it look like Hell, as a reminder for the future dwellers of this planet, for us. Allah describes the Quran as a reminder. Now that we are here we should ask ourselves questions. Allah says: "I created the jinn and humankind only that they might worship Me. I seek no livelihood from them, nor do I ask that they should feed Me. Lo! Allah! He it is that giveth livelihood, the Lord of unbreakable might." (51 : (56-58) I can't over-interpret these verses. They are clear. Allah wants man to worship Him. Does this mean, though, that Allah needs man to worship Him? Allah Himself answers this question. He says: "And Moses said: Though ye and all who are in the earth prove thankless, lo! Allah verily is Absolute, Owner of Praise." (14: 8) If Allah needed to be adored He would have spared at least those who adored Him in the best way in the past, but we all know that even prophets and saints died. Would Allah be interested in the number of worshippers or in the quality of worshippers or in the quantity of worship? Again, "Allah verily is Absolute, Owner of Praise." (14: 8) Suppose Allah was interested in the number of worshippers or in the quantity of worship, how much would my (own) worshipping weigh in all that? Would I deserve eternal happiness in Heaven for this little worshipping I do in my short life? This doesn't make sense. The prophet (pbuh) said: "Do good deeds properly, sincerely and moderately and know that your deeds will not make you enter Paradise, and that the most beloved deed to Allah is the most regular and constant even if it were little." And yet Allah does not want us to go to Hell. Allah says: "Shall We utterly ignore you because ye are a wanton folk?" (43: 5) "Ah, the anguish for the bondmen! Never came there unto them a messenger but they did mock him!" (36: 30) The question is, why does man want to go to Hell? True, "It is not for any soul to believe save by the permission of Allah." (10 : 100) But you and I know what man is like. Many men love defiance. Many men are reckless. Even many smart men make silly mistakes. Think of AIDS, drugs, bad eating habits, etc. So it’s easy to generate question after question. Some people ask questions so as to understand, others just to argue for the sake of arguing. Those who ask questions so as to understand can understand that Allah made Heaven to show how great He is, how merciful He is, how gentle He is, how grateful He is, how lovely He is. Allah made Heaven to share with believers His beauty and bounty. Therefore He is worth worshipping. Not because He has got a Fire “in His back garden”, as one would say, not because He "is strong in punishment" (13 : 6) ( He is also "rich in pardon for mankind despite their wrong" (13 : 6) ) , but because He is "Merciful, Loving." (11 : 90) These people will understand that Allah would be worth worshipping even if there were neither Heaven nor Hell. But there must be Heaven and Hell. There must be a way to differentiate between the grateful and the ingrate. That’s why we are different: in colour, in shape, in health, in wealth, etc. All that is but trials for us. Allah will not accept to be worshipped for free. He says: "Now Allah be Exalted, the True King! There is no God save Him, the Lord of the Throne of Grace." (23 : 116) Allah will guide me, if I am willing to listen, and pay me for the slightest thought of Him. He says: "And whoso doeth good an atom's weight will see it then." (99 : 7) He will pay me even in the life of the world. But there’s something more precious than Heaven. Can you guess? It’s "Allah's pleasure". (2 : 265) That’s why "of mankind is he who would sell himself, seeking the pleasure of Allah; and Allah hath compassion on (His) bondmen." (2 : 207) And because Allah is not just anybody, His "pleasure" is hard to obtain. Hard but not impossible. It requires sacrifices.
I do things out of love of Allah, out of respect for Allah, not out of kindness. Allah does not need my kindness. Allah wants me, as a believer, to love Him and to know why I should love Him. I love Allah because He is beautiful, bountiful, merciful, forgiving, loving. I love Him for His intricate qualities. I love Him because that’s the natural course. I would love a human for much, much less virtues and qualities than that. Likewise, just as I would love to see a wonderful resort created on earth by a human like myself, I would love to see Paradise which was designed and prepared by Allah Himself for the faithful. I believe in Allah and I don’t know what He is like. I believe in Heaven and I don’t know what it really is like. I can’t even imagine it. Now I believe in the invisible as the only way – decided by Allah – to pay a ticket for Paradise. In other words, I don’t only think of Heaven from a religious perspective, but also from an intellectual perspective. For this idea to be clearer, take one person. Imagine a man by the name of Juan Toledo Iglesias, a 22-year-old teacher in Lima, Peru. This man comes across a Muslim couple in his city. These Muslim man and woman are not Arabs. They are Peruvian. The teacher, accustomed to Western lifestyle, asks himself questions. He does some research on the Web. He reads books, then travels to an Arab country. On his arrival, he is shocked to see that many people in this Arab Muslim country do not really give him the impression that this is Islam. So what does he do? Does he go back home and say why should Islam be good to me while these Muslim people do not practise true Islam in their own country? Or does he say "I don’t care of the people. I came here to discover more about the religion"? Suppose he ignored the people and focused on the Faith as such, what could happen to him? Well, many people went through a similar process and ended up becoming clerics and imams who preach Arabs and non-Arabs on true Islam! Imagine the happiness of such clerics and imams.
Allah says: "Lo! this is an Admonishment, that whosoever will may choose a way unto his Lord. Yet ye will not, unless Allah willeth. Lo! Allah is Knower, Wise." (76 : 29-30) "Such is Allah's guidance, wherewith He guideth whom He will." (39 : 23) Should I take this as an excuse and say if Allah wants me to be a good believer He would make me a good believer? Well, that’s like staying at home and waiting for Allah to bring me what I want to eat, etc. That’s like giving birth to twelve children that I can’t feed.
As I said before, the Quran speaks to "men of understanding" who "hear advice and follow the best thereof. Such are those whom Allah guideth." (39 : 17-18) That means, I use my own mind, my own personal experience to know the truth, and when I know the truth I have to heed it. Even good believers – who are already believers, (that is, ("only men of understanding") – say: "Our Lord! Cause not our hearts to stray after Thou hast guided us, and bestow upon us mercy from Thy Presence. Lo! Thou, only Thou, art the Bestower." (3 : 8) They always say: "Show us the straight path." (1 : 6) If I use my mind I can only strengthen my faith. Allah says: "Those who have been given knowledge see that what is revealed unto thee from thy Lord is the truth and leadeth unto the path of the Mighty, the Owner of Praise." (34 : 6) "And that those who have been given knowledge may know that it is the truth from thy Lord, so that they may believe therein and their hearts may submit humbly unto Him. Lo! Allah verily is guiding those who believe unto a right path." (22 : 54)
Here’s an innocent question: why do ill people and pregnant women fast Ramadan? Sometimes the holy month of Ramadan comes in the hot season and yet many men insist that they should fast it although they are ill and many women insist that they should fast although they are pregnant! Allah says: "And whosoever of you is present, let him fast the month, and whosoever of you is sick or on a journey, (let him fast the same) number of other days. Allah desireth for you ease; He desireth not hardship for you." (2 : 185) "Allah would not place a burden on you, but He would purify you and would perfect His grace upon you, that ye may give thanks." (5 : 6) "But (as for) those who believe and do good works –We tax not any soul beyond its scope." (7 : 42) "This day have I perfected your religion for you and completed My favour unto you, and have chosen for you as religion AL-ISLAM. Whoso is forced by hunger, not by will, to sin: (for him) lo! Allah is Forgiving, Merciful." (5 : 3)
It’s not Islam that is pushing ill men or pregnant women to fast Ramadan or these hungry people not to eat from a meat that is normally forbidden. It’s these people’s hearts that push them to do so. It’s their love of Allah that is making them to behave in that way. It’s for such people that Allah made Heaven. The prophet (pbuh) said: "One amongst the denizens of Hell who had led a life of ease and plenty amongst the people of the world would be made to dip in Fire only once on the Day of Resurrection and then it would be said to him: O, son of Adam, did you find any comfort, did you happen to get any material blessing? He would say: By Allah, no, O my Lord. And then a person from amongst the persons of the world who had led the most miserable life (in the world) from amongst the inmates of Paradise would be brought and he would be made to dip once in Paradise and it would be said to him. 0, son of Adam, did you face any hardship? Or had any distress fallen to your lot? And he would say: By Allah, no, 0 my Lord, never did I face any hardship or experience any distress."
Now compare these two groups:
"There is no sin on those who believe and perform good deeds for what they might have eaten (in the past) if they fear and come to faith and do good things and are conscious (of Allah) and believe, and still fear and do good, for Allah loves those who do good." (5 : 93)
"Lo! those who believe, then disbelieve and then (again) believe, then disbelieve, and then increase in disbelief..." (4 : 137)
Just think of two people you made friends with. One is increasingly good to you, the other is increasingly nasty. If you had a little heaven and a little hell, what would you do with these two friends?
In Hajj, people from all over the world meet at the same place, do quite the same things, and go back each to one’s home. Back at home each follows one’s own customs. What do these customs do? They tell you how to behave well in society. That’s what the Quran does. If if I am a believer, the Quran tells me how to behave well when I am alone and when I am in society. I am never alone, actually. I am physically alone, but my soul is supposed to be connected to the Creator. The Quran helps me handle all my relationships: with myself first, with my kin, with my close community, with my state, with the country I live in, with the Ummah (The Islamic Nation), with mankind, with Allah and with Satan. In my relationship with myself, for example, I am advised on how to preserve my life, my money, my mind, my faith and my honour. I am advised on how to manage my relation to beauty and greatness. I am advised on how to turn my fragility (instincts, etc.) into a moral strength that preserves my honour and self-esteem. I am advised on how to elevate myself from an animal (a body) into a decent human being (a good soul in a good body).
Moroccan society is not American society or Russian society or Chinese society. But as humans we have many things in common. We may experience unemployment, for example, in many different ways. But the basic feelings of an unemployed person remain more or less the same. When you fail to find a job very often people would deal with you in a bad way. You may be surprised to see friends or family members turn their backs on you. You start asking existential questions. So you need to know about other people’s experiences in order not to repeat the same mistakes. That’s what I am doing now. I am sharing my experience with you.
My life has taught me that dreams are an inexhaustible source of inspiration. A good Muslim should have dreams in the worst possible circumstances. When you cease to dream you cease to be hopeful, and that’s the worst thing that a Muslim believer can do. If I don’t have dreams I can’t move up from Islam to Iman. But there are dreams and dreams. There are dreams that can be fulfilled and dreams that will never come true. As a believer, I should be realistic. I should take into account all "the data", as I said before. Age 50 is not like age 20. An only child living in a suburban villa is not like a young boy living with his brother or sister in a small room in a small apartment in an under-privileged area. Being a child of well-educated, religious parents is not like being a child of illiterate parents interested in money only. Living in a country where social security and healthcare are commonplace is not like living in a country where social security and healthcare are a luxury. If I personally can make do with as little as one dollar per month, another person would need at least 500 dollars per month. If I personally can find someone to feed me when I lose my job, another person may not find anybody to give him a loaf of bread. My own hardships may be very, very hard – for me –, but they may be nothing compared to another person’s hardships. That’s why Islam calls to humility. Allah says: "And walk not in the earth exultant. Lo! thou canst not rend the earth, nor canst thou stretch to the height of the hills." (17: 37) If I have eyes, I should think of one who doesn’t have them. If I have legs, I should think of one who doesn’t have them. If I have a roof, I should think of one who sleeps on the street. That’s how I will feel how Allah has loaded me "with His favours both without and within." (31: 20) Allah says to me: "and be thou kind even as Allah hath been kind to thee, and seek not corruption in the earth; lo! Allah loveth not corrupters." (28: 77) In other words, I should think of giving before I think of receiving. It doesn’t take a lot to be a benefactor: I can give as little as a smile or a nice word. That’s Islam how I perceive it.
A century ago young people in many parts of the world would live with their parents until they were married. Most people, even illiterate people, had homes of their own. There was plenty of work for everybody. The youth could go to school and thus live a better life than their parents’. Massive destruction caused by war led to massive reconstruction and the massive drift to towns in colonized countries increased the number and size of the cities everywhere in the world. New jobs were created, new trainings, new lifestyles. Everybody wanted to be "modern". Each country had its own economic boom. And then each country had its economic crisis. Unemployment, a relatively new concept, became a problem. Economic crises became cyclic. Employers became increasingly demanding. Education became increasingly expensive. The (unlucky) masses were growing (in numbers) faster than the lucky few. Young people had to contract long-term loans to finance their homes. The newer generations were asked to work harder in the hope of achieving half of what their illiterate parents or grand-parents managed to have. The result of all this: France, a rich country, is now alleged to be the fourth most pessimistic nation in the world. The truth is, pessimism is everywhere. Analysts are telling us that the crisis is systemic, the problem is with the System. There are rich countries that will never be able to pay off their debts. Fewer and fewer countries will be able to control their budget deficits or even their currency. Unemployment is now a chronic disease in many countries. Robotisation and Uberization are a big challenge. Investors of today would prefer placing their money in banks or in stock exchanges rather than bet on manpower-consuming industries or farming projects. And yet it’s the individual citizen who would be blamed for not finding a job. Little blame would be laid at the door of bankrupt companies or even the government. In theory, the state is at the service of the citizen, but increasingly it’s the citizen who serves the state more. In many states of today many people pay taxes and on top of that they pay for their children’s education, healthcare, etc. But what can the state do, in many cases? Fewer and fewer states would have the means to provide free or low-cost education and healthcare without further widening the budget deficit or resorting to debt. It's a vicious circle. Each new government tries to give itself a good conscience, but it is not always easy to recover from a general crisis. It’s regrettable. It is all the more regrettable that many of us continue to put a lot of hope in our governments, in the state in general.
We have believed in a certain image of the modern man. The cinema, the media, school, the family, society at large… all have contributed to the dazzling image of the successful man or woman. In a way, that image is not entirely new. Even in old times people had a certain materialistic image of the successful man. The Quran relates the story of "Korah" who "was of Moses' folk." (28: 77) "(…) Then went he forth before his people in his pomp. Those who were desirous of the life of the world said: Ah, would that unto us had been given like of what hath been given unto Korah! Lo! he is lord of rare good fortune. (...)" (28: 79) What’s new is that this image has been popularized to the point that almost everybody believes he/she can be that successful person. At school we were taught "If you work hard you will succeed." In my country, for example, many low-income families (lower-middle class, if you will) spend as much as half their income on their children’s education, insisting on scientific subjects, because everybody believes his or her child can be a doctor or an engineer. Literature, philosophy, history, geography…have all become taboo. But even now the state is hiring less and less people, be they doctors or engineers or whatever.
Those trivial things I said about how people lived a century ago and how we are today have become terribly important to many people now. Many people have discovered that life calculations are not like mathematical calculations. They have discovered that the state is not the government, and the state’s financial capabilities under one government may end under the next. So pressure on the government does not work always.
Now, what does Islam say about all this? Well, when the Muslim state, under Caliph Umar, for example, had the means, most men, if not all Muslim men, got a certain income from the state. And yet Umar once said: "No one of you should refrain from earning a living and say, 'O Allah grant me provision' when he knows that the sky will not rain down gold and silver." The state is supposed to help me when it can afford it. And when the state can’t afford it, what do I do? When pressure on the government doesn’t work, what do I do? I give in to pessimism? I give up hope? I cease to dream? Well, that’s the worst thing a good Muslim could do.
But there are other important questions too. What do I want? Do I want to just lead a decent life or to live a better life than others? Which wages would I accept? Which lifestyle do I want? If I were a doctor, would I accept to work far away from the cities? Would it be a disgrace for me – as a doctor – to serve in a small village? If I had the opportunity to work in a private hospital for a better salary, would I give up my work in a public hospital for material reasons only? If I were a state-employed teacher, would I leave my classes in public schools and go and work in private schools for an extra amount of money?
What about people who have nothing, no money, no skills? They are unfortunately just put on the side. This gives the impression of living in a world greatly influenced by the haves. But the truth is very different, though. The world has always belonged, and will always belong, to the One who created it, to Allah. Everyone agrees that here, in Morocco, economic activity depends greatly on rainfall. But when it rains little or not at all at the right time, rogatory prayers are performed in all the kingdom's mosques upon orders of the King. This means that your fate, mine, and the fate of everyone does not depend on the propertied, (or on the government, by the way) and that Allah Alone is the Lord of the world. Normally, we are supposed to think of Allah in good and bad. Allah says: "Every soul must taste of death, and We try you with evil and with good, for ordeal. And unto Us ye will be returned." (21 : 35) What does that mean? It means that you and I ought to think of Allah, and not forget Him: when we are hungry, when we have something to eat and drink, when we are naked and when we have something to wear. As a believer, I ought to remember Allah when I am tired and when I go to bed, etc., etc. I ought to think of Allah by way of gratitude, whatever shape I’m in. Why? Well, it's because Allah says: "Therefore remember Me, I will remember you. Give thanks to Me, and reject not Me." (2 : 152) "Such as remember Allah, standing, sitting, and reclining, and consider the creation of the heavens and the earth, (and say): Our Lord! Thou createdst not this in vain. Glory be to Thee!" (3 : 191) If I believe that Allah is the Lord of the world, I ought to think of Him before thinking of anyone else. I ought to think of Him when I make my decisions about my job, my place of work, the salary I should accept, etc., about my marriage, the schooling of my children, etc., etc.
For some the problem that is the root of all our problems is not so much the economy, but rather lack of social justice, it is unfair distribution of wealth, it is the tax havens, it is corruption. Precisely, if everyone thinks only about money why should Allah think about us? Why should He see to it that we have the right leaders? Allah warns us in the Quran: "O ye who believe! Observe your duty to Allah. And let every soul look to that which it sendeth on before for the morrow. And observe your duty to Allah. Lo! Allah is Aware of what ye do. And be not ye as those who forgot Allah, therefor He caused them to forget their souls. Such are the evil-doers." (59 : 18-19) "The hypocrites, both men and women, proceed one from another. They enjoin the wrong, and they forbid the right, and they withhold their hands (from spending for the cause of Allah). They forget Allah, so He hath forgotten them. Lo! the hypocrites, they are the transgressors." (9 : 67)
Everyone wants to be modern, and this kind of (theological) thinking may not rhyme with modernity, is no longer up to date. Companian Abu Bakr Assidiq (RA) said: "We folks don't eat unless we are hungry, And when we eat we don't get full."
Who applies this in his life, actually? Me? Not at all! I too am far from being vaccinated. I grew up like everyone else, in the same schools, in the same neighbourhoods, in the same stream of thought. But I know that (some) people have lived well on very, very little. People were deprived of everything except their faith, and yet they enjoyed their lives. These people loved Allah because they saw in this world (full of contradictions, full of inequalities, full of suffering, full of what have you) – (in spite of everything) they saw a sublime beauty inside and outside themselves. They liked to see gold without wanting to amass it, as they liked to see the moon or sunset without wanting to own the moon or the sun. They loved Allah for the wonder He created in them. Yet for many of them, they gave up only what was not so essential to them. They too ate and drank, they too married and had children, they too had their homes. Only they were not obsessed by the desire to have everything. Some had the doors of worldly life open wide to them after their renunciation. They had the choice to give up all luxuries to the extent humanly possible or to fully enjoy the pleasures of life. Islam does not forbid you to live in a palace or in a luxurious villa. But this palace or any other good must remain in the hand and not in the heart. It is Allah and Allah Alone that must be in the heart. That's the difference between a believer and a non-believer. If you live in a hut you will see the beauty and goodness of Allah in this hut. If you live in a luxurious villa you will see the grace of Allah in all its corners, in all the roses of the little garden. You will express your love for Allah whether you are in the hut or in the palace. It’s the same Quran that you will read there. It’s the same prayer that you will perform there. This love entails a responsibility on your part. You must do what Allah has created you for. I speak to you here as I speak to myself. I'm preaching myself. If Allah meant me to play a particular role in a particular place at a particular time, I should strive to play that role in the best way possible. There may be other people who were chosen by Allah to play similar roles. I am in a competition. I should not think of the prize before the competition is over. Allah says: "For this let (all) those strive who strive for bliss." (83 : 26) If I were a doctor, would I count how many patients were cured at my hands or would I count my money? If I were a teacher, would I count how many of my former students became successful people, or would I count my possessions? If I were a lawyer, would I count how many people were saved at my hands, or would I count my money? If I were a successful writer, would I count how many people found my work useful or would I count my royalties? Allah does not choose only believers to play such roles. He says: "And with Him are the keys of the Invisible. None but He knoweth them. And He knoweth what is in the land and the sea. Not a leaf falleth but He knoweth it, not a grain amid the darkness of the earth, naught of wet or dry but (it is noted) in a clear record." (6 : 59) "Lo! Allah! With Him is knowledge of the Hour. He sendeth down the rain, and knoweth that which is in the wombs. No soul knoweth what it will earn to-morrow, and no soul knoweth in what land it will die. Lo! Allah is Knower, Aware." (31 : 34) That’s Allah’s DATA, as I said before. That’s how Allah manages His Creation with His knowledge and His power, in Morocco, in France, in U.S.A., in China, everywhere. "Lo! He is Knower, Powerful." (42 : 50) Allah knows how many teachers, doctors, engineers, grocers, hairdressers, nurses, policemen, pilots, computer scientists, street sweepers… are needed to serve His bondmen. That’s part of Allah’s design when He willed that the whole universe should be at the service of man. Allah says: "Hast thou not known that Allah knoweth all that is in the heaven and the earth? Lo! it is in a record. Lo! that is easy for Allah." (22 : 70) "Is it they who apportion thy Lord's mercy? We have apportioned among them their livelihood in the life of the world, and raised some of them above others in rank that some of them may take labour from others; and the mercy of thy Lord is better than (the wealth) that they amass." (43 : 32) "And We have given you (mankind) power in the earth, and appointed for you therein livelihood. Little give ye thanks!" (7 : 10) "And we have given unto you livelihoods therein, and unto those for whom ye provide not." (15 : 20) Different jobs, different occupations: "Lo! your effort is dispersed (toward divers ends)." (92 : 4) Allah knows the pace at which every community, every nation, every state develops ; Allah knows every single development in History. That’s because Allah wants to make Himself known to all mankind. He says: "Messengers of good cheer and of warning, in order that mankind might have no argument against Allah after the messengers. Allah was ever Mighty, Wise." (4 : 165) One day God, Allah, will be known and adored in every part of the earth much, much more than today. He will be worshipped more and more on land, on the continents, on islands, on sea, en route in the sky, everywhere, night and day. This wonderful tool, the Internet, is a gift from Allah to mankind, it’s a tool for mankind to know Allah more ; it’s a tool for believers to express their gratitude to Allah. "Remember Allah, as He hath taught you that which (heretofore) ye knew not." (2 : 239) Allah shared some of His knowledge with us ; those among us who have some knowledge have to share it with their fellow human beings. And yet Allah does not care how many billionaires or new millionaires will be there, how many people will make money out of this process. Allah will care for those who care about Him.
As I said earlier, what you learn at age 50 is not what you learn at age 20. Wisdom comes with time. Wisdom means knowing one's possibilities and limitations. Wisdom means that one should not blame others for one's woes. If there is an economic crisis, or social unrest, even if they were willed by Allah, everyone should examine one’s own behaviour first. Allah says: "That is because Allah never changeth the grace He hath bestowed on any people until they first change that which is in their hearts, and (that is) because Allah is Hearer, Knower." (8 : 53) The responsibility for all our problems lies with us in the end. Allah says: "Whatever of misfortune striketh you, it is what your right hands have earned. And He forgiveth much." (42 : 30) "Whatever of good befalleth thee (O man) it is from Allah, and whatever of ill befalleth thee it is from thyself." (4 : 79) "And whatever of comfort ye enjoy, it is from Allah. Then, when misfortune reacheth you, unto Him ye cry for help. And afterward, when He hath rid you of the misfortune, behold! a set of you attribute partners to their Lord." (16 : 53-54) "Corruption doth appear on land and sea because of (the evil) which men's hands have done, that He may make them taste a part of that which they have done, in order that they may return." (30 : 41) For example, if the currency plummets, this, say the economists, has to do with the trade balance; when our imports exceed in volume and in value our exports there is foreign trade deficit. The question is, why all these imports? Are they all useful, are they all indispensable? Is it not our way of life that influences our trade balance and therefore our money and our purchasing power? It is easy to say that we have to put an end to certain practices that only maintain a sense of superfluous development. But who will start by fixing the damage? If we are told that every year thousands of people join the ranks of the unemployed, or that most jobs are precarious, who is responsible? Who are these people who opt for robotization, for uberisation, for off-shoring...? Aren’t they members of our society? Multinationals, who manage them locally?
Many people suffer so much that everyone tends to think that the fault lies with others. All I have tried to do in this chapter is to say that it may be necessary to start by sweeping in front of one’s own door. Wisdom teaches me that one should not complicate things. Even when I want to move up from Islam to Iman, and from Iman to Ihsan, I have to proceed slowly. One can very well enjoy life within the limits prescribed by the Quran. Allah says: "O ye who believe! Forbid not the good things which Allah hath made lawful for you, and transgress not, Lo! Allah loveth not transgressors." (5 : 87) Why would I spend my time crying and sighing except when it comes to repentance? The ulema, who have understood the Faith, say: (1) Warding off evil takes precedence over bringing benefits. They also say: (2) Necessities permit prohibitions (or Necessity removes restriction). (3) That without which an obligatory duty cannot be done is obligatory. These are (some of) the general rules. If I have good faith I will not break these rules. I will do my best to at least respect the spirit of the Quran. In any case, Allah alone knows what is in my heart and Allah alone will judge me. Wisdom also says that I should not overly raise the level of my faith requirements because I can never know what the future holds for me. It would be better for me to proceed slowly than to suffer within myself what I am not quite capable of assuming.
People don’t go to the weekly market because they love the marketplace. They go there to sell things. They sell their goods to get money. They want the money to buy other things: food, clothes, etc. There’s always some ‘end’ (purpose) at the end. Well, the hierarchy which is painful to many of us is, if we think about it objectively, vital. Hierarchy in any economic, political, social, administrative or familial structure is absolutely vital for the normal order of things; otherwise, if everyone started obstructing, to please his own ‘ego’, what other than havoc, chaos and anarchy shall we have? A Moroccan proverb goes: “nta meer wana meer shkoon ghaysog had lhmeer ?” (You are an emir and I am an emir, who then takes care of the donkeys?) If everybody were rich, who would work in the fields or in mines or in factories? For things to be easier and smoother for US, for you and me, there should normally be a rich man who has a factory or a farm or a mine, then other people to work in the factory, farm, mine, etc., people with different ranks, one higher than another in rank, so that everybody will “accept” to do his 'small' job. Also, some people are better at some things than others. Can any French native speaker be a good teacher of French Grammar ? Can any good football commentator be a good football coach ? Can any professor of Management make a good company manager? Our salaries are not mirrors of our ‘merits’, they don’t necessarily reflect what we really are worth. They are the means, not the end.
Let us take this example. A car hits a motorcyclist and knocks him off his bike, seriously injuring him. The ambulance arrives right away, the police too. The victim is transported to the hospital as a matter of urgency. Doctors and nurses welcome him into the emergency room. His family learns the sad news by telephone and soon joins him in the hospital, offering him flowers. A lawyer comes to inquire about the facts. He wants to know whether the victim has the right insurance. Meanwhile, a mechanic arrives to repair what he can. Then a sweeper comes to clean the area of the accident. I'm not telling you anything new. Is it not said that the misfortune of some makes the happiness of others? When someone works in an SME that manufactures cables, computer systems, or other, for military aircraft, does he think for a moment of the potential victims of the planes equipped with his cables, etc.? What would the doctors, nurses, pharmacists... do for a living if there were no sick people? What would the mechanics, the lawyers, the insurers, the paramedics, the courts, the flower vendors, the telecommunications operators, the sweepers, do for a living if there were no such problems?
Now let us take this other example. Who can count how many people would “live off” a wedding? Well, a lot of people live off it! The same goes for the education of a child, and so on.
It is not far from the truth to say that our misfortunes and our happiness are bound together,. Human life is like that. We cry when we lose our father, we smile when we receive our share of the inheritance. It is because one knows that he’ll be hungry that he goes to the grocer’s. The hairdresser is there because there are necessarily people who will need a haircut. It’s always humans going to other humans, either to deal with them or to chase them away. In Casablanca, the economic capital of Morocco, many people suffer during the period of the aïd-el-kebir, because many shopkeepers and almost all craftsmen (plumbers, mechanics, electricians, repairers of refrigerators, etc.) disappear from the city. They go and spend the holiday with their families in their native towns and villages. They return ten or fifteen days later to revive the white city. These people came here to live and support their families. The barber (tooth puller) needs someone who has a toothache but does not have enough money to go to the dentist; the shoe repairer needs someone who has torn his shoes but cannot buy new ones ; the mechanic needs someone who has had a road accident, and the list is long. That’s obvious, one would say. But when X or Y has such a terrible night-time toothache pain, does he think of all this? Does he put himself into a “philosophical” exercise? Apparently, few people do that.
We don't need a lot of philosophical thinking to notice that some men remain poor all their lives and some men remain disabled all their lives. Does this mean, though, that a poor man should accept his state of poverty as something fated for him and not try to improve his living conditions? Should I be like Jilali (Chapter I) when I think I could be much better off?
If all men were like Jilali, for all his bliss and contentment, we wouldn't have had such men as Alexander the Great or such civilizations as the Roman Empire or such beautiful monuments as Taj Mahal in India and Alhambra in Spain. If all men were like Jilali, you wouldn't have been able to have breakfast in Paris, lunch in New York and dinner in the skies on the way back to Paris. If all men were like Jilali you wouldn't have had such cities as New York or Tokyo or Dubai. If all men were like Jilali there would be no wars, no conquests, no discoveries, no science, no literature, no development. If all men were like Jilali there would be no big dreams.
Life is fascinating, it’s dazzling. We’re all tempted by the big-strong-and-fast kind of life. The funny thing is, whatever we do, however genius we are, there’s always somebody one step ahead of us, with something a little bigger, stronger or faster than we have. It’s a Tom-and-Jerry game!
The world is beautiful. We can see its beauty with our own eyes. We all have mirrors in which we look at ourselves. We all like nice clothes, nice homes, nice furniture, nice cars. Who wouldn’t be happy to invite or be invited by a friend in a splendid guest room and serve or be served the best food?
Suppose you went to the outskirts of the city to change air and meditate a little. Just go a little further from where you are and you’ll find not only larger fields belonging to rich persons, but also dazzlingly beautiful homes. Each time you sigh (and say) “I wish I had such a beautiful dwelling!” you’ll see another one, more beautiful, then another one, much, much more beautiful. It’s like a man obsessed with beauty looking for a beautiful woman in a big city, each one makes you forget all about the others. Then go a little further and you’ll find an asphalt road. Stop for just a few moments and you’ll see not one, but many cars you’d desire to have for yourself. Who then would you be jealous of? That asphalt road will lead you, past large farm houses, to a poultry factory. Will you be jealous of the owner of this factory too? How many people work in this factory? How many families do they support? How many people, jobless people, would be happy to find work, even seasonal work, in this factory? How many chickens and eggs does this factory produce every day? How many people will buy, transport, etc, these chickens and eggs before they land on your dinner table? How many other people will eat that factory’s chickens and eggs? See how many people serve you! That “poor farmer” and the “poor” owner of that poultry factory and the people working for them…………… are all servants of YOU! They serve YOU. You can’t count the people who are serving you every day! The clothes you are wearing, who made them for you? Did you sew them up yourself? The watch you’re wearing, your mobile, your laptop, your car, etc, etc, etc. Aren’t you a king? Who told you, for example, that the farmer is happy? Not every smiling person is happy. Even a happy-go-lucky comedian who makes millions of people “happy” with his gags may end up taking his own life, to everybody’s surprise.
Look at these poor women and children sitting on the ground, waiting for the potato harvest to be finished. To while away the time, some of the women chat and joke with one another. Others keep quiet, looking on as some seasonal workers, men and women, poor like themselves or even poorer, dig up the potatoes while others put them in wooden or plastic boxes. Other workers, men and women, carry the boxes on their shoulders to the trucks outside the field. Near the trucks are a few cars and a few men. One car and one man stand out. Anyone can tell who the eye-catching man is. He is evidently the farmer. The eye-catching car is his.
This man is the Star of the Day. The men would wish to be like him, having what he has. The women would not easily refuse to marry him or accept him as an in-law. He has such a vast field worth a lot of money and such a splendid car and he wears such smart clothes and glasses and everybody is speaking to him politely and addressing him as Haaj! Maybe he has got other things elsewhere. His wife might be shopping, at this time, at some mall or other or maybe playing golf or perhaps having a sauna at a 5-star hotel. His children, if he has any, must be at expensive schools… How lucky he and his family are!
Starting with the land, it needs workers to prepare it; maybe others, men and women, to do the sowing, etc. It may need an engineer or specialized technicians. It certainly needs people to transport something or other, etc, etc. On the harvest day, there’s more work for more people. When the harvest is finished, those poor women and children sitting by and waiting patiently will be allowed into the field to glean the leftover potatoes … The “good” potatoes will be transported and delivered to markets, supermarkets and small shops. Some will be exported or processed, etc, etc. See? The farmer won’t eat all his potatoes! It’s people like you and me who’ll eat the potatoes. The children (and husbands) of those poor women will be happy to eat those “bad” potatoes. And who knows? Some of these poor women’s children may become, one day, maybe less rich, but much better, in one way or another, than the children of the Star of the Day. Then, the money that this one man will earn from the potatoes will go into other people’s pockets: hotels, restaurants, schools, hospitals, etc. You can’t count how many people will benefit in one way or another from that farmer’s potatoes. You can’t count, for example, how many kids will be happy to eat the chips made of those potatoes. Not to mention the other “lucky person”, the owner of the potato chips factory and his employees…
You need to stand between two vast potato fields in order to meditate on all this. Think about the seasonal workers who were happy to find work in those fields. These workers, who have families of their own, were paid –whatever the pay.
Now ask yourself these questions: do you want to succeed at all costs or to be happy? It's not the same thing. Many people who have been successful are anything but happy, and many people who are happy have not been so successful. What do you want? Be both happy and successful? Okay, but what comes first: success or happiness?
Men remain men, after all. They are human beings. So there's a limit to what they can stand, whatever the (high) level of their faith and (exceptional) degree of their sincerity. Even prophets experienced moments of weakness vis-à-vis society, because every man likes to be liked in society. No man would like others to speak ill of him.
There may come a time when you say my problem is not with God, or with the Government, it's with society. People keep asking me what I do; they want me to say I'm jobless. They lecture me on what I should do to get a (new) job – as if I were new to this world! They want to see weakness in my look, in my tone. They want me to feel small. They want me to feel ashamed of myself. That's my problem. Yes, that’s your problem because you are looking at people as “persons” rather than “human beings”. You do not pay attention to what people have in common: greed, arrogance, impatience, envy, etc. When we read autobiographies or any kind of inspirational writings, we often learn a lot about “the psyche” of Man.
You say: How can I stand shoulder to shoulder with other men when I can't even find words to explain my situation without lying to them? How can I persevere? How can I be an ambitious man/woman when I see that people with less qualifications than I are by far better off? What's left for me to dream of at this age? That's my problem. My problem is not with the Scripture or with the State, it's with society.
No wonder gloom enshrouds us the moment we hear that we'll be laid off, or the moment we leave our workplace for the last time. We know then that we won’t be able to stand before people who are lucky to keep their jobs without feeling some kind of shame or guilt. These are always hard moments.
This is a very serious problem indeed. It’s very serious because you don’t have all the tools to deal with it. Even very highly educated people who find very demanding, very challenging job adverts in prestigious magazines, and reply to those ads and pass all interviews and are accepted and do start work with good salaries…., they don’t know what may happen to them in the future. Nobody knows what the future holds. All the education and skills you got, that’s the past. You may still have to worry about marriage, if you’re not married yet, or about your children, if they’re still young, or about your health… and all that is in the future.
You may go onto commercial websites and make a lot of money without leaving your bedroom, but that’s only one part of life.
You may have good insurance. That insurance will only solve the money side. Insurance will not replace a lost eye, a lost breast or a lost limb. Insurance will not solve the immaterial side (feelings, affection, mental strength…). And all that is in the future. The best economic minds of the world were unable to anticipate, let alone to avert, the 2008 Financial Crisis – are you sure your mind can anticipate (and avert) bad things for you?
To begin with, your choice is very important. Do you only want to improve your material situation so that people will say you are a successful person? What are the signs of success for you? A good job, a good spouse, a good house, good children, a good image of you….? What about your personal dream(s)? Do you have a specific objective, a personal ambition, that you would love to fulfill in your lifetime? How long can you wait to see your dream come true? What are the sacrifices you are prepared to make?
Now imagine you got a good job after a long period of unemployment, or you got married after a long period of waiting. Probably the first thing you’d think of is to show that off. You want other people to know what you’re worth. And when things go badly, what do you do ? You would try to hide from people. But how long will you hide from people ? People will end up knowing that you are jobless, that you are single, that you are suffering. People will end up showing you their true faces. They will show you what you are worth in their eyes. You will feel small, unworthy. You’ll realize that you are worth what you have, what you possess. You will see how the people you thought good friends will react to your misery. You will see how members of your beloved family will react to your unending unemployment. You will see how people will let you down when you need them most. But how do you feel when you have the money again to buy what you couldn’t buy a year ago, or to go to places you couldn’t show up your face six months ago?
When you think about these fragile people we see on the street (beggars, homeless people, prostitutes…), you realize how weak Man can become after all his strength and power.
When you go on the street with a clean jacket and clean trousers, who will know that there’s no money in your pockets? Because you don’t beg, people will think you are self-sufficient. So nobody will come forward to help you even if you are overladen with debts and probably cannot even afford your day’s food. You go on the street like a normal person – as if you were rich. In reality, you are rich in your heart. You are not impressed by what other people got. You don’t care who has what. You are not amazed at other people’s achievements. But you respect everybody. You wish good to everybody. And you wish to be a normal person “like everybody”. Other people are in a hurry to get everything in this world; they want to get something at age 20, another thing at age 30, another thing at age 40, another thing at age 50… You don’t really worry if you don’t get all that before you die. But you do everything you possibly can to achieve as much as other people, as if you’re going to live forever.
Just as there were people who did not know that you were going through a hard time, there are certainly other people now who are in the same situation and you probably do not know about them because they look alright when they go out on the street. Now that you have the means will you give a thought to those people?
Many of these people found themselves in need of basic things. They tried everything they possibly could to get those basic things – all to no avail. They were finally convinced that there was nothing the matter with their personalities, or intelligence, or talent or physical ability to get work, for example, and therefore be able to acquire what they needed. Could they blame Fate?
Now many people still trust – or at least expect something from – the Government. They trust the companies or businesses they’re in. They trust their bank accounts or real estate. Well, many governments are finding it increasingly harder to meet people’s needs (jobs, healthcare, education…). Some people chose to revolt and topple rulers and bring down regimes. They want, they said, to have their Fate in their own hands. You know the result of those revolts.
Even a great emperor would be afraid of losing his throne. More than fear, which may not always be justifiable, there are many undeniable realities. Age is a fact : nobody remains young and strong forever, and there's death at the end of the road. Even at the height of our youth and physical and mental strength there’s sleep, for example, and this sleep is a form of total helplessness. Do we think about such small things?
The world does not work in a mechanical or automatic way. Certainly, a wheat grain will always give a grain of wheat and an egg will always give a hen's chick. That's the rule. But it is not because there was sexual intercourse between a man and a woman that there will inevitably be a child. It is not because it rains that the land will yield fruit and vegetables. It's not because it's the same father and the same mother that the children will have the same size or the same facial features...
A baby could be born in the best birthing clinic or in the best palace in the world, but for him, at birth, it's not like in the womb. That's why he cries! What does this mean? It simply means that man should expect danger before quietude, problems before solutions, boos before applause, suffering before deliverance... Even if we started thinking about it in the most complex way we would never be able to understand everything.
So what do we do? Well, we choose, each according to one’s personal beliefs, and then we assume responsibility for our choices. Our choices, active or passive, free or coerced, can move us away from each other as they can bring us together where our human intelligence can only bring us together.
We are invited to make use of our intelligence to discern right from wrong. It’s up to us to see the beauty in humans, in birds, in streams, in animals, in the starry sky, in the sea, in poetry, in music, in arts, in our clothes, in our differences: physical, cultural, civilizational and other. It’s up to us to appreciate this chance we’ve been given to feel and sense the beauty of this world in all its forms.
Should we be content to be inspired by birds only to make an aircraft and not see the beautiful plumage of these birds or their incredible migration? Should we be content to distinguish colours and shapes and give them names and not think about where all these colours and shapes came from?
We're all human. We're all fragile. We have the same fears, the same aspirations. We have the same eyes to see the beauty of the world. Hunger is the same for all. Unemployment is the same for all. Death is the same for all. Compassion is the same for all. Life is the same for all.
Our eyes do not always have the same colour. Even eyes with the same colour are not identical. Why ? Well, everyone is a separate being, regardless of his beliefs. Everyone has his/her own fingerprint and his/her own eye print, and that's not because he/she is Christian, Muslim or Buddhist. Everyone has his/her own voice, own heart, own brain, own life. Who designed all this?
Without a doubt, the world could have been a better place with neither poor nor beggar, no widow nor orphan, no war nor famine. But what would be our merit, we humans, if we did not show our humanity at the moment of earthquakes, droughts, floods, volcanic eruptions, economic crises, etc.? Do we only want to take and not give?
Why, in our worst adversity, do we see incredible mutual aid, solidarity, compassion, and, at the same time, we see thieves and robbers? Why, in times of war, do we see those who slaughter the innocent, who rape women, and, at the same time, we see people who take incredible risks to save lives? Why should we not therefore see in these events and in our own personal problems kind of alert, a reminder that we have perhaps forgotten too much that we're just passing through down here on earth and that it is high time that we prepared for some eternal life after death? It is man who dared to kill humans. A man killed his brother for a matter of jealousy. That same jealousy is still making war and putting on the road millions of refugees. It’s up to us humans to see what is wrong with us. It is not any deity who burns down hundreds of tons of wheat or throw them into the sea in order to raise prices. It is not any deity who imposed to anyone opting for the nuclear or allowed anyone to exploit people. The air is free for everyone. The sun is free for everyone. Life is free for everyone. What to ask more?
We’re all like actors on a stage: a handicapped person on a stage, or a blind person or an orphan or a wretched beggar or a homeless old woman on a stage may be people in good shape and far better off in real life. They may sit at a posh dinner table outside of the theatre and laugh at what they were doing on stage. The play is for them just a good memory. It’s the same with us people of the earth. That homeless person you fed on a bad Winter day, that blind person you helped cross the road, that orphaned child you helped with food or clothes, that old man you extricated from beneath the rubble in the wake of an earthquake, that jobless widow you helped find a job,… all these people might become friends of you if you met after death. It’s like having a good experience while in exile before returning home. You can’t build roads and bridges, but you can help rebuild broken hearts.
So next time you see or hear of a hurricane, an earthquake, a war, a famine, a period of harsh unemployment… next time you see an orphan, a blind or homeless person or an obese person…. then think of how you can make real life better than life on a stage.
Sometimes we know all this and yet we make as if we have never heard of it. We behave as if we were the masters of our lives.
Today we see the glamour of others, we see how “lucky” people live, we see the growing gap between the poor and the rich ... and we just cannot understand all that. Well, there were before us, in ancient times, as well as in more recent times, people who enjoyed some glamour, too; there were handsome men and beautiful women who loved each other, who had children, who lived in beautiful mansions, who worked (for some), who listened to music, who walked in beautiful gardens, who said sweet things to each other, who made love, who dreamed of better days, who fell ill, who divorced, who waged war, who killed each other, who got injured, and who died. People just like us. Are we therefore simply a continuation of the human species? Where are we heading? Will we always have the same so-called pleasures, the same frustrations? Why are we here on this earth? Will there not be a day when misfortune disappears forever? What’s life worth if one does not live it fully, in joy and quietude? What’s the use of History, what’s the use of philosophy, what’s the use of literature... if historians themselves, if philosophers, if male and female writers take their own lives sometimes to escape their terrible realities? I do not have answers to that. However, I just notice that there are many people who do not commit suicide. They confront life with the few means they have. That means that, at least for these people, life is worth living. Now, is life really worth living – whatever our sorrows? To try to answer this question, it is necessary, I think, to see how people in all corners of the planet are leading their lives.
We have been led to believe that man has gone through several stages. We were told about pre-history, where man was rather wild, and about the Bronze Age, and so on. But in some parts of the earth there are still humans that could be called 'savages', according to historical terminology. There are people who could be said to be still in the “Bronze Age”. Why aren’t these people “like” us? But who has the right to say that these people are not like us? At least they have eyes, mouths, ears, feet, sexes like us. At least they get hungry like us. At least they marry, laugh, dream... like us. What about animals? They too have eyes, ears, feet, genitals... They too make love and give birth to little ones... They too eat and die like we do. What about plants? They too live and die like us. They cannot live without water, just like us, and like animals. They too are of different colours, different shapes, different degrees of beauty... They grow everywhere. Where there are men there are plants and animals. We all need water and oxygen. The same water from the Seine (River), or the Nile, is drunk by plants, animals, whites, blacks, Christians, Jews, Muslims, atheists ... This water does not stop at the borders. It has no nationality. Provided there is water for all! Sometimes there is none, or not enough. People die of hunger or thirst. Others migrate to flee famine. They go to countries where there are humans like them. Some of these migrants are beautiful, for beauty is everywhere. It’s neither white nor black, neither yellow nor brown. Some of these migrants settle where they arrive. They marry people from the host country. There follow mixed children. Mixed but not so different, because all remain human after all. All eat vegetables and fruit, bread and cheese. All want to grow up, work, get married. All will have the same problems and the same pleasures. A mere perpetuation of the human species, you’d say? Americans of Irish descent may not be exactly like their ancestors who had to leave Ireland in the aftermath lean years. There is some progress, nonetheless. Both at the material and intellectual level. These brave Irish children have contributed to the emergence of one of the greatest civilizations in the world. Some of their American brethren had to flee persecution in Europe. Together, the Americans built a fabulous federal state governed by formidable democratic institutions. However, evil is still not eradicated from this country, nor from any other country in the world, for that matter. Is that a frustration? Should we, even if we could, completely eradicate evil? Is it possible, for example, to dispense with military means for national defense, since it only serves war, and war is evil? Yes, it may be necessary to go through this to be able to answer strictly personal questions.
Now, let’s have a quick survey of History. Whether we read History books or ancient tales or poems we can easily notice that people have always been more important than their dwellings, mounts, money or anything else they might possess. Man has always been afraid of sickness, death, poverty, among other things. Man has always needed to feel reassured, protected, safe. Man has always made peace after the war; he has always created courts to do justice; he has always built schools to educate future generations; he has always built cities and villages to enable men to feel close to each other, to create all kinds of healthy relationships, to join hands, to exchange services, even when personal relations or between immediate neighbours or clans are not perfect. At times man may suffer from the cold, heat, hunger, thirst, fatigue, fear, loss of loved ones ... But then he would enjoy the pleasure of eating after hunger, the pleasure of drinking after thirst, the pleasure of rest after getting tired, sexual pleasure, etc.
In the past people brought knowledge – in their heads – from their old people, and then they passed it on to the next generations. Each time new palaces, schools, roads, gardens, factories, etc, were built. Man’s knowledge of the world expanded. And each time there was a new kingdom, good or bad. The question is, why didn’t those "good" kingdoms last forever ? Why were there "bad" kingdoms as well? That’s a hard one to answer. But, interestingly, History gives us some clues.
Many of the things we use today were invented by different peoples in different places at different times. Bronze, for example, was invented by the Chinese, glass by people in Mesopotamia, paper by the Egyptians, alphabet by Phoenicians, and so on. Each people learned from the other peoples and made their own inventions, thus expanding man’s knowledge of the world. This knowledge spread through trade and conquest. The conquerors inherited the knowledge of the vanquished people and took it home or spread it to other places. At the same time, the conquerors brought in their own way of life, their thoughts, their arts and their religion.
The interaction between so many powers, so many civilizations and so many ways of life made it necessary for each people to defend their own existence. Each people had to defend everything that was at stake for them. That included their culture. So those who happened to believe in a deity, any deity, had to defend their own faith by using all the tools available, including those that had been invented or developed by nations who did not share their faith. Such tools may have included Phoenicians’ alphabet and Greeks’ logic. Thus all nations were anything but "redundant". They were just as useful to one another.
It is also interesting to notice that most of those early interactions between various contending nations took place just in or around Palestine. The Egyptians, the Babylonians, the Persians, the Hittites, the Greeks, the Romans, and many more in between – all had a foothold there at some point in history. And then came the Arabs, from Makkah. Those Arabs found themselves thrusting in every direction, going towards nations who had known impressive empires, and ended up building their own empire stretching across most of the then known world.
There followed a magnificent world interaction. The Arabs borrowed old, dormant knowledge from the Greeks, the Persians and other nations, and updated and enriched it, and then spread it in every direction. Baghdad emerged as the world capital of science. And in the West there was Cordoba, in Spain, where Arab science was passed on to Europe through translation. Averroes spoke to Muslims and non-Muslim Europeans of God using Aristotle’s logic.
Baghdad was destroyed, but Islamic knowledge survived. It survived because it was not only in the books that the Mongols threw into the Tigris River, but also in people’s hearts and minds. Like the destruction of the Alexandria Library in antiquity, the loss of Baghdad libraries could have been a much more awful tragedy had there not been what I called interactions. Marrakesh, which was built and made their capital by Morocco’s Almoravid dynasty, was deliberately and completely destroyed by their Almohad successors. These rebuilt the whole city in the most beautiful way possible, because they had already "received" the necessary knowledge from their predecessors. As long as knowledge is intact, it does not matter how beautiful or big a destroyed place was. It can be rebuilt.
Even the rebuilding of a whole nation is possible if there is the necessary knowledge and will. Europe milked the Arabs of their knowledge and rebuilt itself in a matter of generations because its own people had the will to do so.
But the Arabs’ knowledge was "poisonous" somehow. Averroes’ lectures taught Europeans how to look at religion differently. This led to voices rising against the way the Church taught religion. The Church defended itself by persecuting people of knowledge such as Galileo.
The conflict between the Church and new scientists resulted in new thinking. Some clung to their religious beliefs, defending themselves by use of logic and philosophy. Others broke with the Church altogether and called their way "Secularism". They defended themselves by experimenting with their knowledge of the world, excluding any reference to the Unseen Realm.
The new knowledge of the world, based on experimentation, led to the Industrial Revolution. The boom in industry led to the spread of knowledge on a phenomenal scale. But this knowledge remained confined to where industry was thriving.
The Church made good use of that thriving industry. Wherever there was a new industrial site there was a large church. Moreover, church men paved the way for their respective industrial states to seize new lands on other continents. Both church men and those who were only interested in wealth agreed on a magic word: civilization. That civilization had to be spread through colonization.
Colonization made it possible for more people to go to more places. Africans "went" to America, taking with them their religions, including Islam. Other Muslims were taken into Europe, where they continued to practise their faith, at a time when large numbers of Christians ceased to go to Church. Orient lists (from Europe) went to the Arab and Islamic world to "return" part of the Arabic and Islamic heritage to the newly awakening Arabs and Muslims.
Now that imported material is being re-exported with added value. It is done through the Internet and satellite TV stations.
Islam has become the fastest growing religion in America, which invented the Internet and satellite TV. There are now American-born imams who know the Quran and the Haddith by heart and are authorized to issue fatwas. All the Islamic literature is now everywhere, thanks to the Internet. This was made possible by American technology and Arab oil money.
Arab oil money has contributed to the building of large mosques, big Islamic institutes and libraries, and to the printing of the Quran and other religious books in large quantities in many languages in many parts of the world.
Even within the poorest Islamic states Islam is growing as fast as demography. Wherever you go, there is a new mosque and a new school because there is a new village, town or suburb. Small towns are swelling into big cities, and so small mosques and schools are becoming bigger and bigger.
Modern means of communication and transportation together with modern educational systems have made world interaction incredibly easier every day. More and more people are coming out of illiteracy. More and more people are learning more and more about each other. More and more people are coming towards each other. Migration, tourism and business travel are playing a great role in the ever-increasing exchange of human experience. Globalization has pushed this exchange even further.
It is again interesting to remember that Islam entered many parts of the world without having to draw the sword for it. Indonesia and parts of sub-Saharan Africa are such places where Islam was introduced through trade rather than war. Similarly, lots of Western things (the ways of dressing, eating, learning…) have been introduced to the Arab-Muslim world through trade rather than war.
When, in the 7th century AD, Islam reached the lands beyond the Arabian Peninsula, non-Arab Muslims (who learned Arabic for social, political, professional and scientific reasons) shared the Arabs' astonishment at the wonderful language of the Quran. If Romans and Persians had hitherto expressed their aesthetic tastes and know-how through the way they adorned their palaces, churches and temples, the Arabs had expressed beauty through poetic descriptions of every beautiful thing they could find or see around them: horses, camels, gazelles, human bodies and faces, landscape... Putting the same Arabic letters together, the Quran did unimaginably better than any Arab or non-Arab poet. The Quran came with something simple and sophisticated at the same time for both Arabs and non-Arabs. Those non-Arabs used tiny pieces of wood, glass, stone, etc, that they put together in basic geometric forms (in imitation of flowers, stars...) to adorn gates, domes, walls, floors, thrones, etc, in the best beautiful way possible.
In a way the history of Islam cannot be different from the history of ancient Egypt or Greece or any other civilization or empire. They all reflect human nature one way or another. Islam was a victim of its own success. Islam appeared in Makkah, then moved to Madinah, then spread in a matter of years to virtually the whole of the Arabian Peninsula. Madinah became the Capital. There was so much money coming in, an ever-expanding territory, and plentiful opportunities for ambitious people. This could only lead to rivalries even amongst Arab Muslims. This is human. This has happened in all nations throughout History. In all nations kings killed sons and brothers and princes killed their fathers and uncles – for the sake of power. The Prophet Muhammad’s grand-sons were both killed for political reasons: Hussein was beheaded and Hassan poisoned. That happened under the Umayyad dynasty, the same dynasty that built the beautiful Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem and brought Islam into Spain. The last Caliph of the Abbasid dynasty was, according to some historians, “rolled in a carpet and trampled to death” by the Mongols, the same Mongols who later built the beautiful Taj Mahal in India. The Mongols not only massacred countless people during their conquest of Iraq, they also destroyed the libraries of Baghdad, which contained books of Greek philosophy and sciences, books of Indian and Persian wisdom and arts, books of the Islamic theology: all was thrown into the Tigris River. But those “barbarian” Mongols gave birth to greatly civilized Mongol rulers who brought Islam to lands stretching from India to China to Russia… Most of the old mosques in those places were built by Mongols – the same Mongols who committed atrocities against not only Arabs, but many other nations as well. It’s them who sold into slavery free men from Central Asia, men such as Baibars, who became one of the greatest rulers in Egyptian and Syrian history. The Mamluks, Baibars’ dynasty, had their part of “barbarism”. They too committed atrocities, but people remember them more for their beautiful legacy than for their ‘barbarian’ side. Cairo, Jerusalem and Damascus are full of beautiful Mamluk monuments. The Mamluks were succeeded by the Ottomans, who brought Islam deep into Europe and built a great empire including most of the Arab world.
In my Baccalaureate year, I was assigned to give a lecture in Arabic on Mahmoud Sami Al-Baroudi, a prominent Egyptian poet of Turkish origin. Some classmates were avid readers and they read almost everything, especially philosophy and literature. I knew I would have hard time once they began asking me questions, no matter what my lecture might be like. Their questions were very hard indeed and I was embarrassed, but I had a trick up my sleeve. When I felt defeated, I offered to read excerpts of Al-Baroudi's poetry. I read out one of his love poems and there was loud applause in the classroom! Even those hard-talkers, who had never been convinced by anybody's answers, were bewitched by the beauty of Al-Baroudi's poem. Al-Baroudi was a soldier who loved the Arabic language. He gave it his heart and it gave him fame and glory. (He later became Prime Minister of Egypt.) His time marked the beginning of the so-called Arab Renaissance. This Arab renaissance began with Arabic poetry. Ahmad Shawqi, who was nicknamed "Prince of Poets", was of Turkish origin, too. His poems sung by Umm Kulthum 'united' the souls of so many Arabs and Muslims around the world. Those "new Arabs" realized how much important Classical Arabic was even in their time. Cairo, Beirut and Baghdad revived that beautiful Arabic language. As a student, I used to hear the saying: "Cairo writes, Beirut prints and Baghdad reads"! But there were Arabic readers and writers even in the Americas! In fact, Christian Arab writers, such as Jubran Khalil Jubran, Elia Abu Madi and Mikha'il Na'ima, who lived in the U.S.A., further enriched the Arabic literature with their poetry and prose in Arabic. So many old Arab and Islamic books were snatched from oblivion (by Arabs and Orientalists) and broke into print, for the first time. Cairo became the Makkah of Arabic-language writers and translators. The number of Arab schools and Arab literate people started to grow by the day. But not all Arabs were proud of their history, of their language, of their religion, of their civilization. Many Arabs were impressed by the colonizers. Ibn Khaldoun had pointed out in his Muqaddima that the vanquished peoples tended to ape the victors.
A century ago, most Arabs lived in the countryside, most were illiterate, most lived on agriculture and grazing. Under colonial rule, many Arabs drifted to towns, many gave up agriculture and grazing to work as blue-collars in factories or as artisans in small shops. Their children went to school and, when the colonizers went away, became white-collars in franchises. Some became state-employees in the new Administration. More and more people tasted the pleasures of lifelong jobs; youths became financially independent, then socially independent. Anybody could lead the life he/she wanted in his/her new home. Within a few decades, villages became towns and towns became cities. A lot of jobs with the state, a lot of factories (mostly franchises), a lot of workshops, a lot of shops of all kinds and sizes. Prosperity was within reach for so many people, literate and illiterate. It was easy for many people to build a home, to send children to school, to set up businesses, to live in the city. Those who went abroad, mostly as blue-collars, sent money back home, then built their own homes, set up their own businesses. Their children became very successful. In newly independent oil-rich Arab states opportunities were much, much more important.
Then, the first economic crisis (in the 1980s). Then, the ever-worsening problem of unemployment. Then, the ever-growing crisis of housing. Then, all sorts of problems. Life is no longer as rosy as it was. People are now worried about their retirement pensions, about the future of their children, about the consequences of pollution… People have less and less faith in the State. Fewer and fewer people dream of lifelong jobs and comfortable retirement. And in the midst of all this, in the midst of the so many newly constructed neighbourhoods, apartments upon apartments upon apartments, you see a new mosque every year or so.
What happened in the Arab world also happened in other parts of the world. The Welfare State was created to give people a certain sense of security. Some are still nostalgic for the communist era when they could, at least, find with the state a safe haven: housing facilities, schooling for children, free medical care, etc. Neither the welfare state nor the communist state nor the best democratic state in the world can now reassure anybody any more. Globalization has surpassed everyone. Nobody knows anymore what the future will be like. Hence the fear of the unknown. This fear could translate into chaos, as we’ve seen in some Arab countries in this decade.
A British trade unionist of the 19th century (whose name I do not remember) said: "To solve the problem of unemployment of our young people, we have only one solution: imperialism." This was possible in the 19th century. But now that young people can make bombs with the help of free web-sites, it's increasingly difficult to think of such radical solutions. What to do, then? Multinationals are finding it increasingly difficult to compete with each other as purchasing power crumbles around the world. Education systems go bankrupt even in many developed countries. The morale of households and young people is not at all brilliant. Young people went bankrupt even before they started working because they were too indebted for their higher education. Others turn to prostitution to finance their studies. In short, there is a problem.
An Arab Revolution broke out in Tunisia in 2010, then reached other countries. The protesters called for a new constitution. But people didn't want a new constitution for the sake of a new constitution. They wanted social justice. But then they didn't want social justice for the sake of social justice. What they wanted, in fact, was a better life: jobs, housing, better schooling, better health services, better infrastructure, stadiums... and a lot of freedom. All this is now in the new constitution. The question is, where do we go from here?
In his book Understanding Britain, published in 1981, John Randle wrote: "The British were inclined to think they had avoided upheaval by virtue of their glorious constitution and their acceptance of gradual reform. This argument may have had some merit, but Britain's wealth increased dramatically in the nineteenth century, and though its distribution was highly uneven, the increase in prosperity among the working class was sufficient to give its members a growing feeling of betterment and security." This kind of prosperity is unfortunately hard to imagine in the foreseeable future in this part of the globe, North Africa.
In his book, "Dreaming of Damascus: Arab Voices from a Region in Turmoil", published in 2003, Stephen Glain wrote: "One of the most potent threats to Middle East stability (...) is chronic illiquidity – the main source of rising unemployment and stagnant economies in the Arab world. The problem is not merely weak revenue, but a lack of modern banks and financial tools to lure cash out of burgeoning black markets and into the faltering daylight economy. From Syria to Morocco, Arab financial institutions are too primitive and regimes too inept to meet their economies' basic need for capital". As a Moroccan, I can say that may be true for other Arab countries, but not as much for Morocco. The Moroccan state itself has its own wholly or partly owned ultra modern banks which have lent –so far at least– a lot of money.
But here's one of the real problems. Morocco is a Muslim state and Islam prohibits usury-based banking dealings. Many, many thousands, if not millions, of my fellow citizens bought homes on credit and are purchasing all kinds of consumer goods on credit. Many of these people are living on a tight budget. The question is, why do those people hurry to borrow from usury-based banks? The answer is very simple and very clear. With their salaries, they believe, they can pay for just anything they want, even interest on loans.
Now, what about those who don’t have money to spend? In my country, we often hear business people, economic analysts, and even government officials, say that if tens of thousands of our youths can’t find work it’s because their training is inadequate for business. People with degrees in Islamic Studies, History and Geography, Arabic language, Philosophy, etc., have nothing to do in the business world. They only wasted their time at Faculty. Business wants competent people. It wants engineers, managers, specialized technicians, etc.
So what to do? What if you can’t study what business wants so that business will be pleased with you? Will you join sit-ins in front of Government buildings to pressure the Government to find you a job? Will you wait for economic recovery or better economic growth? Will you use heroin or cocaine to forget all about these problems?
One source of our unhappiness is our anxiety about the future. How long will I keep my job in this time of crisis? What about my children? How will I be able to give them the appropriate education if I lose my job? Horrible nightmares. Childless people are anxious, too. Who will look after me when I grow old? I don’t have any social security, will I have anybody to feed me when I grow too old to work?
We live in a world where precariousness and vulnerability no longer really surprise anyone, with young people not knowing what to study, for how long, for what business opportunity; parents do not know what to make of their meager earnings, if they still have some. Chronic unemployment, divorce, children born out of wedlock, abandoned children, single mothers, homeless people, drugs, prostitution, pollution, fierce competition in all areas, excessive individualism, fear of the unknown ... We are reduced to dreaming of what we are not or what we cannot be. But at the same time we do not want to resign ourselves to witnessing our helplessness, however helpless we are, however crushed, devoid of any tools of change. Even our cherished democracy guarantees us nothing more than what we can and should receive from our happy elected officials. Nothing can be done. The system is stronger than us. We only have to manage our anger, our weakness, our fear. And if only we could understand what is happening around us! But how can we understand a world full of wealth, full of castles and Limousines and where we are told that's it, it's the end of work. Your jobs today will be worth nothing soon. From now on you're on your own…! We are constantly being told about restructuring plans, job protection plans and unavoidable relocation to save national companies and jobs; we are being lectured on public deficit, public debt, global crisis... We are bombarded morning and evening with alarming statistics. Come on, you're on your own! Needless to mention consumerism and loneliness. How to get out of this?
Well, anger and indignation do not seem to make sense any more. Even strikes and protests do not seem to be able to bring forth any good fruit in recent times. We have seen what revolutions have brought about all around us. What to do, then? To endure one’s distress and depression without acting? To continue to suffer in silence?
But what are we looking for, in reality? Well, we are looking for our well-being. Some pray to Buddha, others pray to Ram, others pray to Jesus or Allah, to get from them what we all aspire to: work, a spouse, good health, good children... But wait a minute! Why, one would say, endure the pain of patience and sacrifice for something which one is not really sure of? So people turn to those who they believe can provide them with what they want. Hence the WELFARE STATE We did not have this in our Oriental cultures before independence. Now, we are witnessing scenes of socio-economic miseries in countries that are supposed to be havens of social peace, where the destitute and the needy should not normally have to worry about their future, since there is a Welfare State that is out there to provide for their needs and to ensure that everyone is equal before the law. Before now it was Greece, today it is Venezuela, tomorrow it will be another country.... And these young unemployed who sew their mouths on the streets of Tunis, etc, all this shows us that there is a certain limit to what man can do for man. There may be some need for a stronger force than Man: why not God? More and more people are looking for “the truth”, for a solution, on that side. States struggling with the burden of debt and deficits are powerless. People cannot wait a generation to see an improvement in their lives. So in this context that does not inspire confidence, there are people who are ready to try out something else. But what?
The blame game is part of human nature. We all blame others for our misfortunes. When there’s nobody specific to blame, we blame bad luck. But let’s be objective for a moment! The best intentioned, most competent government can’t guarantee jobs for all. The most compassionate, most patriotic business establishment in the world can’t guarantee lasting economic growth. There will always be a minority of “unlucky” people. Even highly educated people (doctors, engineers…) may be surprised not to find suitable jobs. Even governments of developed countries plead with other governments of developed countries to do better for their national economy. The French want Germans to do more for German economic growth. The Germans want the French to do more to reduce their budget deficit. The U.S. appeals to Europe to do more to avoid or get out of recession.
Now, suppose we have work, we have a salary. We can purchase what we want. Is that the end of our problem? Well, pay is money received in exchange for work. Volunteers apart, every worker expects to be paid. Some even refuse to work unless they get holidays with pay, a right to sick leave and a pension. What more could a worker ask for?
Some workers do negotiate their pay with their employers. Highly skilled people with prestigious university degrees usually get the best salaries. Some job hop for better pay or more comfortable working conditions. Less qualified workers may join unions to ask for pay rise or other rights. But, still, is that all?
Interestingly, some people downshift for the sake of peace. They give up positions where they were rightly paid and take jobs meant for people with less qualifications. The reason, they say, is stress. They were willing to sacrifice some of their original income so as to save their nerves.
There is yet another category of workers. These are people who do not “work” and yet get their pay each month. They just go to their place of work, report for work and sit idly in chairs while others work long hours so as to get the same salary at the end of the month. Curiously, those who “work” are much happier than those who “do not work”. The last-mentioned are not happy at all because their working colleagues tease them always, saying something like, “You useless people, we work to feed you. You steal our money…”
Many of those who do work before getting paid are not happy, either. The reason(s) could be stress, harassment, bullying or any form of injustice. The employer could be just, but not thoughtful enough. He may not care if you have personal or family problems. Your problems are your own problem; they must not affect your work.
Other workers just take it easy and seldom, if ever, protest. Some work in dangerous mines or in steel industry, where fire is a daily sight. Others work in the fields in the blazing sun. Others work far away from home, leaving spouse, children and relatives behind. Some are migrants, others are in the army or sailors on the high seas. They do all that as uncomplainingly as possible because they cannot be paid if they don’t.
Hard work is much better than unemployment. A worker can pay for things a jobless person cannot. It makes a big difference when you cannot borrow money to meet an urgent need because you cannot guarantee paying the money back, while a worker with a steady income can. Worse, it is absolutely painful when you see yourself unemployed at the age of forty or older, while younger friends and relatives are already well-off.
But once you get a job you become like other workers. You too start suffering from new/old problems. You start thinking of holidays, among other things.
Holidays are the opportunity for many to rest and have fun. In France, for example, as soon as people come back from the annual holiday, they start preparing for the next, which obviously won’t come before eleven long months. One reason might be the French like boasting about their holidays. Another reason might be they simply get fed up with work between four walls.
What has stricken me all the time as strange is that most of those who fill tour operator buses here are old folks. Far be it from me to suggest that senior citizens should stay at home and help their grandchildren with their homework. But this, however, sets me wondering whether a large number of people do not really look forward to old age and retirement. Couldn’t this be, for them, the time to make up for the “lost time” spent “between four walls”?
Now, why should one wait so long? After all, work is not a curse. Indeed, work is something wonderful. Yet the pay that an employer gives to an employee is but a nominal – say, moral – compensation for the effort made at work. This pay just cannot compensate for all the effort that a worker invests in his work. Every physical, mental or psychological effort you make to fulfill whatever task your employer expects of you will certainly have some (negative) bearing on your body or on your psyche at some point in later life. Whatever money or privileges you may get in exchange for your work will not replace any part of your body once damaged. Money cannot replace a lost nerve or a damaged lung.
Smoking, obesity and high blood pressure are some work-related problems. If you add to this harassment or bullying, for example, what would your life be like? How would you behave towards your family? Would it be alright for you to shout at your loving spouse at home and smile at your bullying boss at work? How would you bear the stress of formality and etiquette if your child is suffering in hospital?
Things get worse when yours is not a steady job. As long as your work is precarious, anxiety will hardly let go of you. If you cannot provide for your pension in later life, what do you do?
Your children too will suffer if you lose your job. They will shun their close pals because they just cannot pay for the same little things, a sweet plus. What do you do then? Will you wait until the next elections to vote for the party promising more jobs?
Even if you do get a job after years of waiting, that will not “shake off” the effects of your unemployment. The fear of losing your job will stay with you. That fear will affect your health at some point in later life.
Almost all workers lose something as they do their work. The peasant working in the fields in the blazing sun will have to deal with his aching head one day. The constant fear of bad crops will add to his problems. Idem for so many other workers.
One might imagine that some “workers” do not have anything to worry about. One would imagine that, say, an artist, for example, is someone who is free, who can work at his leisure and have a successful, enjoyable work-life. But artists too do suffer. (As a novelist, I can tell you so.) An artist may have to weep days and nights, maybe years, before making you smile for a few seconds. An artist too does experience such things as stress and anxiety. An artist too needs money and stability. He too has his own social relationships. He too fears poverty, if he is not poor already.
Even those stars out there have their own “work problems”. It is not easy to become a star. The glamour of fame and opulence may not last a lifetime. And, for artists, this is painful. As soon as a star becomes a has-been, his problems will start piling up.
It’s not unusual to see a writer with a happy smile on his face after finishing a long novel. It’s not unusual to see a woman smile blissfully after delivering a baby. It’s not unusual to see a student on top of the world after obtaining a degree. But that novel has yet to be sold, and that baby has to be brought up, and that degree has to be accepted by an employer. Meanwhile, each of those may have to suffer.
Scientists say that if your head cools down after a heatstroke, that does not mean that you will escape the long-term effects of that heatstroke. The pain will go, but the effects of that and any subsequent heatstroke will pile up so that they may – God forbid – develop into something worse in the future. By analogy, all work-related problems will only accumulate over time.
So what to do? Well, at least we understand life and the world around us.
Can you imagine a world without problems? Can you imagine a world without poverty? Can you imagine a world without tears? Can you imagine a world without disorder? Then it wouldn’t be the world we know in the planet we know.
Problems, poverty, tears and disorder are all sources of unhappiness for some, of happiness for others. (See Chapter Three). No political or economic system has ever eradicated poverty or disorder forever. In the times of Caliph Umar Ibn Abdul’aziz (682 – 720) there were absolutely no poor at all. All men were married with their own money or with the money of the state. The state funds were such that the Caliph said to his vizier: “If there are no poor, if all men are married, and there’s so much money left in our coffers, then purchase huge quantities of grain and feed all the birds in the country!” And yet only a few caliphs succeeded Umar Ibn Abdul’aziz. His caliphate did not last long after him. The question is, why weren’t all rulers as good as Umar ibn Abdul’aziz? Why weren’t all rulers as just as Umar Ibn Al-Khattab (584 – 644)? Why weren’t all rulers as science-loving as Abbassid Caliph Al-Ma’mun (786-833)? Are the reasons for all that intrinsic or extrinsic? Did those rulers do what they did just to stay in power or because each of them was what he was by nature? In other words, is it a question of upbringing?
Take, for example, a small city where unowned (stray) dogs roam freely, where people throw garbage just everywhere, where people drive or ride as they will. This is disorder, you agree. So where does one begin to end disorder? Certainly not by simply chasing the unwanted animals out of our cities or by fining people who pollute the streets or do not respect the Highway Code. Disorder can only, if ever, be rooted out, or at least reduced, by upbringing. Poverty too can be reduced by good upbringing.
The problem is, in the past, upbringing started in the family. And until recently upbringing started on television. A century ago kids would look at their parents and listen as they spoke. A few decades ago everybody looked at the television screen and all silenced one another if a handsome actor was speaking or a ravishing songstress was singing. Until then the Quran was television. The Bible was television. The Truth was television. Happiness was television. And if you didn't look like the people you liked on television, then you didn't belong to the world of today.
Even now, when the Smartphone and the iPad have become so essential and so overwhelming, television is still queen in many homes. But television could be wonderful. It could help put the disordered world into a little bit of order. It could make our world a better place.
How could there be order when a girl could win in just half an hour by naming the maximum of songs and singers on television more than a distinguished engineer could earn in sixty days or more? How could there be order when a schoolboy sees with his own eyes and hears with his own ears on television that it would be much better for him to be a long-distance runner or a tennis player than a doctor in his own private hospital in the country's biggest city? How could there be order when illiterate female cooks and amateur teen singers become TV stars while the country's finest minds are "remembered" only when their death is announced to the press?
There are so many bad televisions around the world. What is bad about television, if you ask me, is that spending too much time watching it can kill in many viewers all power of dreaming.
By watching television everyday one might get the feeling that “successful” people are already there – filling the TV screen with their glamour and beatific smiles, and there’s just nothing left for a poor televiewer to dream of.
A poor girl might feel that she’d never become like her (famous, glamorous) idolized actress (who has millions of fans all over the world). What would she do, then? I don’t know, but perhaps – and I’m sorry to say it– she might probably try out her body. That’s why we have more porn stars than people like Bill Gates or J.K Rowling. And that often does not go without Cocaine, Marijuana and the like. For these are easy ways to make one feel that he/she has “fulfilled” all his/her dreams. Otherwise, how could one have even the opportunity to dream? Not by watching television, anyway. Really?
Is it television’s fault, though? Is television the only culprit? To speak just for myself, I have learned a lot from television. So is it a problem of television or a problem of televiewers? In other words, should a televiewer have some kind of immunity when watching TV? How can he/she have this kind of immunity?
In old times, there was no television. But there were schools. People went to school to learn, but also to dream. When you are alone reading a book of history or a book of poetry or a novel, or any kind of book, you find yourself thinking of something as you read. But that can be true for many televiewers too! Many people became movie stars or famous players or even distinguished scientists because they saw things on TV? So even at school not just anybody can hope to find the opportunity to dream at leisure.
Yes, at school a student could learn much about the World, about life, about problems and about ways of solving one’s problems creatively without relying on the State to do everything for him/her. But life can be at times, and will increasingly be, complex and complicated even for people who, as kids, studied 40 hours of Maths per week or learnt computer programming at age 6. You can’t solve all your problems by hacking people’s computers or by making genius calculations. So knowing the world is a good thing, especially in our times when individuals take precedence over the group.
Now what if you went to school and got a degree and then a good job and saw a lot of TV, would you be happy? That’s not the impression I get when I listen to the radio or see things on the Web. In my country, at least, I hear a lot of people complain about society, neighbours, relatives and so on. Easy examples: many married people just don’t know how to solve their problems with their partners or with their children or with their colleagues at work or employers. Many people just can’t bear their health problems. Many people have psychological problems that they can’t deal with. Believe it or not, I heard a frequent guest at a respectable radio debate show say that he knew a number of psychiatrists and psychologists who themselves consult psychologists! Also many rich countries whose citizens are usually thought to be happy have loads of problems too, the least of which is obesity.
Problems are just everywhere. That’s not the problem, as I said at the beginning of this chapter. That’s part of life. The problem is how to deal with our problems. Some people go to extremes: some take their lives, others change their religion or their way of life. Many Westerners have become Muslim and many Muslims have become Westernized.
What does (or should) one feel when he/she watches on television gruesome pictures of an earthquake or volcano survivors mourning their loved ones? Many of us watch such scenes while eating or chatting with family or friends. The philosophers amongst us wonder why these things happen in the first place. The religious-minded would probably say it’s divine punishment.
Actually, many people dwell on at such dreadful events and start meditating on life. Such meditation could lead to devotion just as it could lead to unbelief. But what could (or should) be learned from such calamities in which thousands of people lose their lives and thousands more are left maimed, orphaned, widowed or homeless; where whole towns and villages are flattened; where paradisiacal landscapes are turned into desolate places? Well, that’s always horrible. People who are safe and sound, ensconced in their warm armchairs, could moralize as much and as long as they wished – but would they say the same thing (in the same words, in the same tones, with the same strength of conviction) if they were in the midst of the disaster?
Moralization is best when it comes out like a gentle breeze from within one’s soul, rather than when inflicted by a safe-and-sound preacher.
I remember seeing a programme featuring Australia’s tropical forests. The TV cameras moved gracefully among breathtaking trees, beautiful native flowers, exotic birds and animals. I thought there couldn’t be a more tempting place for a holiday. But then suddenly a hellish fire broke out and destroyed all the trees, the flowers, the birds and the animals. I sighed as the voice commenting the scene explained that such fires were sort of commonplace in these forests, and that it was a very natural phenomenon. It was good of the programme to give that warning to nature-loving tourists and that lesson to those who easily succumb to beauty. Unfortunately, natural phenomena cannot all be predicted. So many tourists (from all over the world) died in Tsunami (in December 2004). No one – least of all the local people – could have predicted such a catastrophe. And yet people gave free rein to their hindsight. People asked a lot of (existential) questions. Some made some kind of change, others continued to live their lives as if nothing had happened. Personally, I do ask questions too. Recently, I read on the Web a question I had asked myself even before the Internet entered this country. Were WWI and WWII divine punishment? That was the question. I wondered why such a thing happened to people who were behind all the incredible technological development whose fruits we enjoy in our everyday life. Those people made great inventions, worked in coal mines, struggled for human rights, etc, etc. So why were they rewarded with two bloody wars? The curious thing is that during these two wars (and the subsequent Cold War) a phenomenal technological development took place – as if our (civilian) planes today couldn’t have been able to fly as far and fast as they do today; as if our mobile phones, Internet connections, televisions, etc, could have remained topics of science-fiction books, hadn’t there been two devastating (world) wars. The United Nations was born only after those wars. Democracy became widespread only after those wars, which claimed the lives of the children and grand-children of great inventors, engineers, teachers and patient workers who endured life in coal mines. Would it be superstitious to link that to the so-called separation of religion and state (as was the case in France in 1905)? Or would that be explained by people’s “increasing immorality”? (Some would argue, though, that “real immorality” became even worse in 1968, more than two decades after the War!) Others would argue that the War(s) had rather come as a result of then big powers’ struggle for supremacy and their rivalry over overseas territories. Whatever the reasons of this or that calamity, it’s never bad to ask questions about it. What is bad is “to impose” one’s answers.
Very often – but not always – it’s people who came within an inch of death in such disasters who DON’T ask the hardest questions, such as, “Why should there be such a thing in the first place?” I was moved by the story of a German young woman and her mother who happened to be in Sri Lanka during Tsunami. In a programme aired on Alarabiya TV, the young woman explained how a Sri Lankan young man had saved her, risking his own life. The young man himself spoke while the two women – who had come back to Sri Lanka to meet him and remember the incident – listened, their heads bowed in thought. This unexpected friendship is an instance of the paradoxically wonderful things that do happen during and in the aftermath of disasters. But the question remains, though: why should there be such a thing in the first place?
In other words, could there be a good side to disaster? Are earthquakes, hurricanes, cyclones, volcanoes, etc., just natural accidents that happen at random and spoil people’s lives? Even if scientists, who started developing serious theories about this only in the 1960s, proved through empirical evidence that the above-mentioned are essential to the overall equilibrium of the planet Earth, still some would ask, “Why should the Earth need such disasters just to ensure its equilibrium?" Those who would like to settle a score with God would ask, “If God is perfect, then why did He create such an imperfect earth? Why should a population in one part of the globe be callously sacrificed in order to save populations elsewhere?"
I don’t pretend to have answers to these questions. But let’s see things as they are.
The earth may not be perfect, but what would one say of those tourists who wait a whole year and spend a lot of money to get to a place? Why do they choose to go to a particular place rather than another? Do tourists go to heavenly places or to hellish corners of the globe?
Besides, scientists say, for example, that “most earthquakes cause little or no damage”. They also say that “most volcanic activity is submarine, forming new seafloors” – far away from our cities and villages.
So the “imperfection”, if any, was rather man-made. Scientists say “man-made pollution is largely to blame for global warming”, which, in turn, is responsible for at least some of such disasters as Katrina (2005). Otherwise, why should there be The Kyoto Protocol and all global climate-related conventions?
The poor are now begging the rich to stop polluting the earth (thereby causing floods, cyclones, El Niño and other disasters), whereas the rich are begging the poor to accept money in exchange for The Right to Pollute in their own countries.
I heard the President of Guyana say on the BBC (2008) that his government was willing to preserve the forests which cover 80% of the country’s surface area if the international community in general and the UK in particular provided the Guyanan government with the necessary assistance for its economic development. Also the BBC broadcast a special coverage of Brazil’s efforts to manage the preservation of the Amazon area. A UN official was quoted as saying that Brazil was doing its best, but the international community had to do more to help Brazil achieve its ecological goals.
So whether the earth is not perfect or whether it’s Man who made it so imperfect, it’s never too late for Man to try and make it perfect – or as perfect as possible.
In normal times, one would find heavenly places all over the world. Otherwise, why should there be tourists? If many tourists happened to be in South-East Asia during Tsunami (2004) it’s because they had been attracted to the beauty of that region.
Even after a place is totally destroyed in a disaster, Man is always there to do something about it. This leads to talk about solidarity.
When we speak of solidarity we mean charity, compassion, altruism, volunteering to help for love, not money. When you see people from all walks of life rushing to help each other; when you see thousands of students donating blood and running to the most affected areas to save lives, that is solidarity. Who will ever forget the help that the international community provided (or at least pledged to provide) to the Tsunami victims or the Syrian refugees?
While world war-mongers are swearing at and fighting one another, the Red Cross and the Red Crescent join forces to save people of different faiths and origins.
When you learn that 200 rescue workers lost their lives as they were trying to help their fellow citizens in China (in May 2008), and many teachers died in the disaster after having saved their students, then you can only feel proud of being a human being. We humans are capable of making the world a better place – by serving one another.
Compare that solidarity shown by people from within and without the places affected by disasters to the looting that sometimes takes place in disaster-hit areas. Compare that solidarity to the rivalries that led to WWI and WWII. Compare the bloodshed of those wars to the spirit that led to the European Union. Definitely, Man is capable of the best and the worst.
And what is more beautiful Man can do than rebuilding shattered lives? Destruction is no doubt horrific. But it’s part of life. What we tend to forget is that most destruction is man-made. Natural disasters had no hand in the unbelievable destruction that occurred in the heart of Europe in the first half of the twentieth century. Natural disasters have had no hand in the destruction that has taken place in Iraq, Syria and Yemen, for example.
Practical-minded people get down to work at once to mend the destruction, leaving to God what is God’s and to Caesar what is Caesar’s. Sometimes the destructors themselves rush to reconstruction. The U.S., who helped bring down Hitler’s Reich and Japan’s empire, put in place the Marshall Plan to rebuild postwar Europe and Japan. A thriving Baby boomer generation enjoyed the fruits of that reconstruction, thus turning the page on the horrors of the War their fathers had witnessed. "The misfortune of some makes the happiness of others,” as the French proverb goes.
After every disaster, sooner or later, a lot of people will have a lot of work, a steady income for years. A lot of companies will thrive during this period and a lot of trade will take place. Not only those demolished schools, but the whole (old) infrastructure is going to be much better than it had been before the earthquake. This will give the opportunity to newly graduated engineers to prove their worth and build their lives.
Finally, a disaster remains a disaster –be it natural or not, be it divine punishment or not. The right question that should be asked is: what if I were amongst the victims? That’s what we’ll see in Chapter Seventeen.
We have all witnessed or heard of this: big farmers with vast agricultural lands had to kill their cattle with their own hands because of the drought; young businessmen who lost everything in the wake of a sudden economic crisis; ordinary men and women who purchased for their small families homes on credit, then failed to pay their mortgages and then were driven out; hopeful students who took out loans too then went bankrupt; parents who lost their only child when they were so happy with it; people who were desperately after a loving partner and when they got him/her, divorce drove them apart for good. Can Mathematics solve such problems? Can the best software solve such problems? Did such people get such problems because they were so dull? Or do these things need another kind of thinking? I have heard employers say that they now recruit more for “soft skills” than for the usual “hard skills”. What are these “soft skills”, I wonder?
Journalism students learn that "when a dog bites a man, that is not news"; “Man bites dog" is news. A woman called a doctor live on a Moroccan radio programme to ask why her three-year-old daughter still sucked at her baby bottle (even if it were empty!). THAT IS NOT NEWS. Another listener later called to advise that woman to put something bitter in the feeding bottle or on its teat to make it disgusting to the child. He said that he had tried that out on his own daughter when she was three and it worked. THAT IS NOT NEWS, either. But then the man conceded that there arose a much bigger problem. "Now my daughter is 27 years old," he explained. "She is a university professor in a foreign country and yet she still sucks her thumb!" THAT IS NEWS, isn't it? But is it odd enough to provoke wonder in anyone?
So what provokes wonder in us? The Kenyan DAILY NATION exclaimed : "It’s a mystery: Africans can’t shoot Olympic arrows!" For the author of this article "it is puzzling that Africa doesn’t dominate archery yet no other continent uses bows and arrows for primary purposes as much."
In The Unique Necklace, Ibn Abd Rabbih (860 – 940) relates the story of a tabi'i (follower of the Prophet Muhammad's Companions) who was travelling with some of his students when they came across a drunken man singing a beautiful couplet in Arabic, something like: My heart has become sick with love, But there's no way to reach my love. The tabi'i then alighted from his horse and hastened to write down those lines. Amazed, his students asked, "You write down words said by a drunken man?" The tabi'i replied: "Haven't you heard the proverb that goes 'A pearl could very well be found in the garbage.' Well, this is a pearl in a garbage!"
Somebody was introduced to the Abbassid caliph Harun al-Rasheed as a man of genius who could make a hundred needles pass through the eyes of each other in such a way that not a single needle would fall down. The caliph asked the man to show him how he could do that, and when the latter had done that in the most brilliant manner, the caliph turned to his men, and said: "Give this man one hundred dinars and one hundred lashes." Stunned and stupefied, the genius man asked: "Majesty, I can understand why you give me one hundred dinars, but not why you give me one hundred lashes!" The caliph replied: "I give you a hundred dinars for your genius, and a hundred lashes because you wasted your genius on triviality."
We are all intelligent, aren't we, but do we always put our intelligence to good use?
As a twenty-year-old student, I was once standing alone, facing our classroom, when a classmate came up to me, and said, shaking with laughter: "On my way to Faculty (College), a group of little children stopped me, and said, 'Tell us, if you know: does a hen urinate?’' You know what, I had never thought about that before! Now I ask you the same question: does a hen urinate?
We tend to take so many things for granted – small things, I mean. How many times have you stopped to think about the tick-tock of your watch, about that tiny insect that you sometimes find scurrying across the page when you are reading a book, about the fallen leaves in your garden or in the woods, about the human mind that made all the inventions you're using every day? Like people of antiquity, who wondered at the Seven Wonders and forgot about the million small wonders around them, we still marvel at such big things as the Pyramids and forget to give a thought to small things in ourselves and in our environment.
People marveled at the Montgolfier Balloon, at the first solo nonstop transatlantic Flight in history, at the Airbus A380. They still marvel at the Great Wall of China, at the Guizeh Pyramids, at the Eiffel Tower and Lady Liberty. We still marvel at the breathtaking performances of circus animals and clowns, at the stunning achievements of record-breaking athletes, at the extraordinary talents of our artists (that are sometimes taken for gods!). Almost every week, there's a new entry into the famous Guinness World Records. There you can learn about the longest moustache, the thinnest waist, the tallest woman, the shortest man, the largest cake – all mad records. All that man has been able "to achieve".
When people think of something, they often forget something else – something more important. When we look at ourselves in the mirror, do we think of the mirror itself? When we use our computer, do we think of the one who invented it in the first place? When we wonder at our (human) power of imagination, do we think of where the human mind came from in the first place? How many of us wonder at the fact that although we have the same father and the same mother, we still are not identical. Even so-called "identical twins" are differentiated by their fingerprints and irises.
Sometimes you suddenly find yourself in a situation where you feel like a fool, when the most obvious things become hard to understand, when your life suddenly becomes a burden, void of any meaning. That's perhaps because you are not used to meditation.
Just as exercise rids your body of its "poisons", so does meditation to the "poisons" of your soul.
Meditation about small things – those things that most people don't think about – may give you a light that most people don't have.
Once, an American man went missing in Australia. After three months or so, he emerged from the other end of the Australian desert, wearing an ordinary shirt and a pair of trousers, with leather sandals on, and a water bottle in his hand. Asked why he had braved such a frightening desert alone and with so little equipment, the man said: "I just wanted to discover God." Personally, I couldn't believe my eyes and ears as I saw those TV pictures, having read about the times when Afghan camel guides took European settlers through the uncharted deserts of the Australian continent.
Just go to the woods or open countryside around your town. Go there alone, with no cam, no Smartphone, no cigarettes. Just go in your jellaba, or jeans, or shorts, or pajamas. Go and sit down on the ground, and stop TIME for a while. Open your eyes wide, and your ears, and your heart, and you'll see how small you are and how great you are! Small, because you belong to a planet that is just a drop in the ocean compared to the Universe and you are but a drop in the ocean compared to the billions of creatures that live on this planet. Great, because you belong to a species that has turned this once deserted planet into prosperous cities, ever-growing towns, beautiful villages, nice farms and fields, with lots of good people in them – despite all the evil, all the horrors this same species has caused over time.
Look up at the sun: isn't it the same sun everyone sees everywhere? It's the same moon all people all around the world know – there's no other moon in our minds when we hear someone from another country or continent speak of the moon. It's the same sky, the same stars, the same earth, the same water, the same air, the same human body, the same human soul. So couldn't it be the same Creator, whoever it might be, who made all these things for us all? Shouldn't we marvel at the fact that people share the same things and yet worship different gods?
These are old stats, but they can give you an idea. I wrote this chapter in 2008, so in that year there were in the Arab region around 600 satellite TV channels, and more than 70% of Arab people would sit up to four hours daily in front of their TV screens. Some statistics show that in 2007 these TV channels swamped their televiewers with nearly 630 billion images. What about America and Europe? How could one "think" with so many images falling like an avalanche over one's mind?
How many people would go to the woods (with no cam, no Smartphone, no cigarettes), with just a mind and a heart, and two feet willing to go from place to place, and eyes willing to look at beautiful flowers – small flowers – hiding behind small rocks that few people care to glance at? In the woods you would look at the fallen leaves, and touch them, scrutinize them; you would look at the insects, you would look for migrant birds, listen to their twitter, and think about your whole life.
There have been big farmers with vast farming lands in the times before us; there have been people who were happy for some time then lost their happiness overnight. And the list is long. Maybe those people before us did not have calculating machines, sophisticated computers and genius software, but they too were smart somehow. Maybe we too need to be doubly smart, by thinking about the big things and by meditating about the small things as well.
We Muslims around the world celebrate Eed al-Adha. Does everybody enjoy eed in the same way? Well, many people sacrifice a sheep but can’t eat of its meat simply because they are ill. Other people, with healthy stomachs and bodies, can’t afford a sheep for eed. Too expensive for them. Who should envy the other : one who can’t eat of his sheep or one who can’t buy a sheep in the first place?
Sweet potato may be good per se, but it may be better if it’s one among other ingredients in a dish. Red pepper, or capsicum, may be “bad” per se, but it could be fine as one ingredient.
The problem is, feelings and emotions are sometimes stronger than knowledge and convictions. It’s not easy for anybody to deal with the feeling that his boss or superior is less qualified than him. It’s not easy for a handsome man to understand why his beautiful beloved should marry an “ugly” man. It’s not easy for a black woman to understand why she should be black, or for a successful engineer to understand why his only son should be handicapped.
Is there really a difference between a black woman and a white woman, between a handsome man and an ugly man, between a successful engineer and a street vendor, between a disabled person and an able-bodied person? They all have souls!
Now, what about science? Well, science is great, isn’t it? Scientists can invent techniques. They can develop technologies. They can make our lives easier. But, unfortunately, they can’t explain our problems. They can’t explain to a highly educated person why he should be jobless – although he tried out all logical, practical, pragmatic means to get a job. They can’t explain to an ambitious, hard-working start-upper why he should fail again and again and again – although he tried out all logical, practical, pragmatic means to set up a successful business. Scientists can’t explain why a married couple should fail to have a child, despite all imaginable and unimaginable efforts. But scientists can explain the physiological thing that prevented the couple from begetting a child. Scientists don’t have problems with the physical world. That’s why they have been so kind as to make our physical world so easy: they developed for us wonderful transportation means, fairy-tale telecommunication means, unhoped-for medical services. Our kitchens, our living-rooms, our offices, our bags are full of technological gadgets that we owe to our venerable scientists. But scientists are like us, like you and me. They too have feelings. What can science do about feelings? In the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attacks (2015) thousands of people in France rushed to libraries to purchase …not books of science and technology, but copies of the Quran. How can a scientist explain this? Even non-scientific people need explanations.
Scientists can come up with revolutionary techniques, treat human bodies and improve agriculture, etc, but could not prevent death, drought or floods. Scientists can send humans onto Mars but cannot ward off earthquakes or hurricanes, which do cause more destruction in a few hours than science can build in years and years..
People see things in dreams that come true ten years, twenty years later, and science, which wants to put everything under the microscope, cannot explain this
But I repeat again and again: science is great. Thanks to it we more or less made good use of this land we live on: we have built cities and kingdoms, built splendid civilizations, developed political, economic, social... systems. We gave free rein to our imagination, with all the inventions we know, the technology, arts, lifestyles, etc. We did all that and more.
And yet we just can’t count the deities to whom man has attributed the privilege of creating the world. Logically, there can be no more than a single creator. When we agree on a single creator, we credit him with several religions or cults. When we agree on one cult we differ as to the details, we speak of multiple versions of the same cult that are all attributed to the same God. Despite wars and disasters, which have always been caused by these differences, there are still among us followers of this cult or that one, of this version of the cult or that one. At a certain point in history, a third of the German population was decimated by religious wars. Yet two of the most influential German political parties still carry the attribute "Christian". Similarly, in England, half of whose history is made up of religious wars, it is still being said "God Save the Queen". Even the president of the United States say "God Bless America." Even in many of these countries where people fought for the sake of God the common man is still baptized and marries and is buried according to religious rites. Should we therefore position ourselves in relation with this reality? Would it not be necessary for us to choose? Whether we have to choose to shed or keep one’s father’s religion, it's not always easy.
Some people can’t accept the idea of being dependent of or obedient to anybody, to any deity. They see themselves as self-made, self-dependent, self-sufficing, and that they don’t owe anything to anybody, to any deity. They have nothing to thank God for: because if they accept the idea of being much obliged to a deity, they fear they might be asked to behave according to that deity’s wishes, not as they see fit.
But even the Quran, for example, does not say that if you do not believe in God and the Hereafter you will fail in this world. Success is open to all. The problem is, when you fail, for any objective reasons, you may find it hard to explain your failure objectively to yourself. Because it’s human nature that man tends to blame his failures on others and to be arrogant at times of success.
Now, where does our arrogance come from? It comes from our desire to show off. We want to show people around us that we are self-dependent, we are the best. We want the world to know that we got our job because, as they say, "one Scotsman's worth 3 Englishmen". Idem for one's spouse. Idem for one's children. Idem for one's fortune. It's all the fruit of our ambition. It's all a matter of merit.
Most of the time you are thinking about one moment in your life. Or do you always take all your life into account? Do you think of the time when you grow old, when you can’t sing and dance, when you can’t play golf or tennis, when you can’t swim or even walk, when you can’t eat with knife and a fork, when you are put away in a retirement home, abandoned by both your children and the staff of your retirement home?
So before planning one’s life shouldn’t one first plan one’s thinking, one’s way of thinking? Wouldn’t it be wise to reconcile one’s mind with one’s heart? Yes, a bit of History, a bit of philosophy, a bit of spirituality, a bit of "free" tourism (a short trip on foot or by bike around your place of living), a bit of meditation – all that may be just priceless. Many people have good insurance and yet are unhappy. Many people with the best retirement pensions are unhappy too. There are other things in life that are just as important.
That's what this book is about.
Thank you for your visit.