Friday, December 17, 2010

Focusing on Allah’s Love

It grieves me to see how people these days, especially among the younger generation, are almost wholly preoccupied with negativity: through baseless arguments, gossip, and useless talk. Their time and energies are constantly being wasted on fruitless distractions that squander their potential, foster enmity, and make them unmindful of Allah’s remembrance. These habits are like an addiction. They are hard to shake off, and they are as effective as any intoxicant in making people speak and act contrary to good sense.

I believe that the greatest way to repel such tendencies is to focus on Allah. This is not only a cure for negative thoughts and bigoted notions, but it provides relief for all the negativities, problems and worries of life. The remembrance of Allah calms and fortifies the soul. It cultivates fortitude and perseverance, moderates impatience, and repels depression and despair.

Remembering Allah is also very easy. It is accessible to everyone. There are no prerequisites to fulfill or procedures to follow. There are no permissions to be sought. The doors to Allah’s remembrance are open at all times, whether we have recently been engaged in worship or have recently committed a sin. We have the opportunity to remember Allah upon waking, whenever something good happens, when misfortune strikes, when we make a mistake, and whenever else we are given cause to be reminded of our Lord.

It has been my experience that remembering Allah is the first step in treating all maladies, both physical and spiritual. It is a prescription for every person afflicted with bodily illness or spiritual doubt. It is equally suitable for the young and old, rich and poor, the powerful and the weak, since everyone is equally dependent on Allah.

Anyone who takes time to consider the names of Allah will come to a surprising realization: not one of these names focuses on Allah’s punishment, anger or wrath. Instead, we find names that express His mercy, love, and kindness, others that communicate His knowledge and wisdom, those that speak about His greatness and majesty, as well as those that speak about His creative powers and providence.

We find names like: the Beneficent, the Merciful, the Forgiving, the Source of Peace, the Bestower, the Provider, the Most Kind, and the Loving. There are no names like: “the Punisher”, “the Avenger”, or “the Wrathful”. The Qur’an speaks about Allah being “severe in punishment”, but this is actually a description of Allah’s punishment and not of Allah Himself. It is Allah’s punishment that is severe.

A number of scholars have pointed out this distinction, among them Ibn Taymiyah who writes:
None of Allah’s names denote anything terrible or bad. The consequences of Allah’s actions, however, can at times be described as bad. For instance, Allah says: “Announce, (O Muhammad) to My slaves that verily I am the Forgiving, the Merciful, and that My punishment is a painful one.” [Sūrah al-Hijr: 49-50] and: “Indeed Your Lord is swift in punishing, and indeed He is Most-Forgiving, Merciful.” [Sūrah al-A`rāf: 167] and: “Know that Allah is severe in punishing and (know as well) that Allah is Most-Forgiving, Merciful.” [Sūrah al-Mā’idah: 98]
Ibn al-Qayyim observes:
Blessings and salvation are attained through Allah’s mercy, forgiveness, benevolence, and generosity. Therefore, we find these meanings attributed to Allah. As for Allah’s punishment and its consequences, these are among Allah’s creations, and as such, Allah is not called “the Punisher” or “the Wrathful”. This is an important difference. The former set of meanings is attributed to Allah directly while the latter are only used to describe His actions. This distinction can even be found in a single passage of the Qur’an, for instance: “Announce, (O Muhammad) to My slaves that verily I am the Forgiving, the Merciful, and that My punishment is a painful one.” [Sūrah al-Hijr: 49-50]
Dr. Umar al-Ashqar writes: “Names are not ascribed to Allah from the derivative attributes of His actions, such as His being severe or swift in punishing, or swift in reckoning…” These phrases are always descriptive of certain circumstances and we never see them directly attributed to Allah as names. Moreover, such descriptions only apply to the specific contexts in which they appear. Therefore, Allah is not described as being eternally in a state of anger or wrath, or of eternally dispensing punishment. By contrast, the meanings that Allah’s names convey are eternally and constantly applicable to Him.

Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) once said, while beseeching Allah in prayer: “Evil is never applicable to You.” [Sahīh Muslim (771)] This means that Allah is perfectly and completely good in His essence, names, and attributes. He is praiseworthy in every way. His actions are full of wisdom and justice and they are always for the best. His names are all depictions of beauty.

Evil exists in the world that Allah created, since Allah’s wisdom dictated that He create a world containing both good and evil. It is in this way that evil can be understood to exist as a consequence of Allah’s actions as Creator, and Allah alone knows why the presence of evil in the world is for the best. It is something that goes beyond our limited human understanding.

When we regard all of Allah’s names together, we see a clear pattern. All of His names refer to benevolence, generosity, mercy, kindness, clemency, and forgiveness. This tells us something very important. It shows us that love is the foremost quality that we should focus on in our relationship with Allah. It is the quality that brings us nearest to Him, and it should govern how we conduct ourselves with others in the world.

Our love for Allah should transcend the fear we have of Him as well as the hopes we pin on His favor. This does not mean that we should fail to pin our hopes on Allah, nor that we should be devoid of feelings of awe or fear of Him, since Allah describes some of His righteous servants as follows: “They would vie with one other in good deeds, and they cried unto Us in longing and fear, and they were submissive unto Us.” [Sūrah al-Anbiyā’: 90]

He also says: “Call upon your Lord humbly and in secret. Lo! He loves not those who are aggressors. Do no mischief on the Earth after it hath been set in order, but call on Him with fear and longing (in your hearts): for Allah’s mercy is always near to those who do good.” [Sūrah al-A`rāf: 55-56]

However, the fact that Allah’s names praise Him for His mercy, clemency and kindness, means that these are the qualities that we should remind people of when we call them to Allah, and these are the qualities we should strive to cultivate in ourselves and our children.

When we affirm that the love of Allah is foremost, we must not be hesitant in doing so, fearing that our categorical commitment to Allah’s love means we should no longer fear Him or pin our hopes of salvation upon Him. All of these feelings are aspects of our relationship with Allah. They complement and reinforce one another. Once we understand this, we will find ourselves open to more goodness than ever before. Our deeds will be better for it, and we must know that Allah’s mercy far surpasses the merit of our best deeds. So we beseech Allah for His mercy and support, and ask Him never to leave us to our own efforts.

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