The Concept of One God and Its Importance In the Life of Human Beings (Dr. Mansoor Alam, Ohio, USA)

(The Concept of God – Part 2)

(We take our) colour from Allah, and who is better than Allah at colouring. (2:138 Picthall)

This Quranic verse is best explained by the saying of ‘Aisha (R), “The Prophet (PBUH) was a walking Quran.” This saying is  supported by many Quranic verses.  (See a three-part article on the Prophet’s Sunnah in the MONITOR: September/October 1999, pages 7-12; December 1999, pages 9-14; May/June 2000, pages 9-16)

What is meant by “sibgha-tullah,” or “the color of Allah” in the Quranic verse quoted above? And how does it relate to us? This article will explore the meaning of this verse, but first, we summarize the important points from Part 1 of this article.

We saw that the true and objective concept of God must come from God Himself, as humans have no ability to comprehend God (6:103). All the concepts of God designed by human minds are, therefore, subjective. Also, the true and objective concept of God can only be found in God’s final revelation, the Quran. This is because both Muslim and non-Muslim scholars agree that the Quran has been preserved in its Arabic text exactly as it was revealed by God around 1400 years ago. (See Maurice Bucaille’s The Bible, The Quran and Science). This cannot be said of any other religious book present today including the books of ahadith (both Sunni and Shi‘ia) and translations or interpretations (tafseers) of the Quran like Tabari or Ibn Kathir.  The Quran’s challenge for any group or individual to produce a book, or even a chapter, or even ten verses like the Quran is still outstanding (17:88, 2:23, 8:31, 10:38, 11:13). Holding the Quran hostage to any book ofhadith or tafseer or asbab-annuzool (cause of revelation) is, therefore, against these Quranic verses.

We also saw in the first part of this article that a proper concept of God requires a proper understanding of the human “self.” The Quran says that every human being is endowed by God with a “self” or soul (‘rooh in the words of the Quran (32:9) or “khudi” in the words of Iqbal). However, this is given in latent form and the purpose of human life is to develop, nourish, and strengthen it. Just as there are laws governing the nourishment of the human body, there are laws governing the nourishment of the human “self.” Since the human “self” is not a material thing it does not die with the death of the human body. A developed “self” marches onward in its journey in the hereafter (7:8, 23:102, 101:6). The Quran calls this developed state of the “self” Jannah (Heaven), which will continue forever (7:42). On the other hand, an undeveloped “self” gets stuck and is not able to move forward in its journey in the hereafter (7:9). The Quran calls this stagnant state of the “self” Jahannam or Ja‘heem (Hell). Ja‘heem means static or stationary. Contrary to the popular belief of many Muslims, the Prophet (PBUH) will not help us avoid Hell (6:51), because the Quran says that one will remain stuck in Hell forever (7:36, 32:12, 43:74) and no one will be able to help (35:36-37, 40:49). According to the Quran, a state of Hell can only be avoided by developing the “self” in this life, through righteous work, beyond a certain threshold that is required to enter the state of Heaven (7:42, 29:58, 89:27-30). The development of the “self” is the purpose of human life on earth.

We had seen that the development of the “self” can occur only through society.   Being different in nature, the “self” develops on a different dimension and with a different set of values than the material body. The body develops by taking, but the “self” develops by giving.  Giving up a lesser value, e.g. wealth and material things, including the body, for the sake of a higher, permanent value, e.g. universal freedom and justice, universal welfare and respect for all humanity leads to the development of the “self”; when such permanent values are neglected in society, the “self’ is weakened. Thus the development and nourishment (or purification) of the “self” cannot occur by leading a solitary life and meditating about God. Unlike other religions, the Quran states that the nourishment and development of the “self” requires inter-actions among human beings. The Quranic concept of God differs from all other concepts of God in that the Quran requires power to establish a political, economic and social structure based on Quranic universal, permanent values which will allow and encourage the development of the “self” of individuals (8:26, 22:41, 24:55).  The “self” is affected by social and economic dealings especially when conflicts of interest arise between individuals, groups, or nations. That is why Islam emphasizes Jama‘ah or togetherness. “There is no Islam without Jama‘ah,” said Khalifa ‘Umar (R) [Jame‘e Ibn ‘Abd-al‘Aziz].  Jama‘ah does not mean just praying together but working together in unity in all aspects of life. The Prophet (PBUH) is reported to have said: “Anyone who gets even one feet away from the Jama‘ah has taken out the Islamic yoke from his neck, even if he prays and fasts.” [Riwayah ‘Ahmad Wal-‘Hakim]

In addition, we saw that the development of the “self” is not imaginary but real and tangible, requiring a standard or touchstone against which its development can be measured.  We had seen in Part I of this article that this touchstone is the most balanced attributes of Allah called Asmaaul-‘Husnaa (7:180). The Quran demands from anyone professing to be a Muslim to make these most beautiful attributes of Allah, as given in the Quran, the goal of life: “That to thy Rabb (The Nourisher and Sustainer) is the final Goal” (53:42).   Instead of merely claiming our belief in God with our tongues, or expressing it by the mechanics of rituals and customs, the Quran asks us to express our praise for God by emulating the Asmaa-ul-Husnaa (1:1-2, 59:23-24). The Quran further says, “If they believe (in God) the way you, O Prophet, believe, then only will they be guided,” (2:137).  This means that our life’s goal should be to get closer to God.  However, getting closer to God is only possible through a social order established on the basis of the Quranic principles.

How to Get Closer to God 

What does “getting closer to God” mean? Obviously, it does not mean getting closer to God physically, as that would be contrary to the Quranic concept of God – God is not situated in a particular place in space. God says, “I am closer to you than your jugular vein” (50:16), and again,  “Wherever you are, I am there” (2:115, 7:7).  So “getting closer to God” means emulating, as far as possible, in our own characters, the attributes of the perfect Self, which is God. The more we emulate these attributes the closer we get to God. But, as with the “self,” the emulation of these attributes must occur within society, not alone. Concepts of God that teach personal salvation through individual meditation or prayer are non-Quranic. Quranic salvation can only be possible by restructuring the present political and economic systems so that they reflect the universal and permanent attributes of God given in the Quran. For example, since God is universally merciful, forgiving, fair and just, so should be the social order operating on behalf of God. Just as God provides sustenance and nourishment to all, so should the system established on His behalf. Just as God guarantees universal human rights and freedoms, so should the system.  Those who establish such a system and direct their daily affairs by it will gradually start reflecting the attributes of God in their own characters, i.e. they will take on the “color” of the attributes of Allah in their own characters. They will boldly proclaim: “(We take our) colour from Allah, and who is better than Allah at colouring” (2:138, Picthall).  This is what   “sibgha-tullah” or  “the color of Allah” means in this famous Quranic verse.

Under such a system therefore, people—individually, as well as, collectively—will start getting closer to the one true God since they will have the same objective standard of Asmaaul ‘Husnaa, the most balanced attributes of God, as their common goal. This is bound to lead to universal brotherhood and unity of humankind, the ultimate objective of the Quran. In this system, individuals colored with the color of Allah’s attributes work and struggle together in a synergistic fashion, helping each other, being driven only by the conviction (or FAITH) of this one common goal – closeness to God.  This common goal requires that we understand clearly some other facets of our relationship to God as well.

God’s Attributes and Self-Imposed Limitations  

The main characteristics of the “self” are uniqueness, independence and freedom. When I say, “ ‘I’ am free,” it really implies that my “self” is unique, it is free and not dependent on any other “self”, and it has the freedom of choice and action. God, being the perfect “Self”, is completely unique (Allahu A‘had); He is absolutely free and is not dependent (Allahus Samad); “He begetteth not, and He is not begotten” (Lam yalid wa lam yulad); and there is none like unto him (Wa lam yakun lahu kufuwan a‘had). (112:1-4)

Therefore, in this life, human beings must strive to move closer to God by developing these latent characteristics of the “self”.  To facilitate this development, the “self” needs some limitations, which must be self-imposed rather than externally imposed. In fact, external imposition destroys the “self”. God says in the Quran that although He has absolute power and control over His creation, He too has put some limitations on Himself, for example, to be merciful and to help the believers:

Say (O Prophet): “To whom belongs all that is in the heavens and the earth?” Say: “To Allah.” He has prescribed Mercy for Himself.  (6:12) 

It is Our duty to help the believers. (6:54, 7:156) 

Allama Iqbal says:

No doubt, the emergence of egos endowed with the power of spontaneous and hence unforeseeable action is, in a sense, a limitation on the freedom of the all-inclusive Ego. But this limitation is not externally imposed. It is borne out of His own creative freedom whereby He has chosen finite egos to be participators of His life, power, and freedom.” … “All activity, creative or otherwise, is a kind of limitation without which it is impossible to conceive God as a concrete operative Ego.” … “Thus the element of guidance and directive control in the ego’s activity clearly shows that the ego is a free personal causality. He shares in the life and freedom of the Ultimate Ego who, by permitting the emergence of a finite ego, capable of private initiative, has limited this freedom of His own free will. (Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam, Jointly published by Iqbal Academy Pakistan and Institute of Islamic Culture, 1989, pp. 63-64 and 86-87.)

According to the Quran, this participation between God and believers occurs through a contract. This concept of God is not found in any other religion. In Islam, Believers must enter into a contract with Allah by selling their lives and property to Him in return for Jannah (9:111). Therefore, in this way, they become helpers of Allah for carrying out His mission in this world (61:14), while Allah makes it His duty to help them. Since Jannah encompasses both this world as well as the Hereafter, believers pray and must strive for a good life on earth as well as in the Hereafter (2:201).

Another example of Allah’s self-imposed limitations in spite of unlimited power is that Allah does not force anyone to accept His message. He has given complete freedom of choice to human beings to accept or reject it (18:29). He could make every human being a believer but He does not (32:13, 10:99).

The God of the Quran Is Not a Dictator

There is no doubt that God has complete control over His creation (5:120, 9:116, 23:88). He can do anything (2:117, 6:73, 14:27,19:35, 36:82). No one can question Him (21:23). But does He use His powers arbitrarily like a dictator or a king? Or does He follow some standard or pattern? There is a set pattern according to which God produces results. This is called the Will of God. The Will of God is not arbitrary and cannot be influenced by prayers or other rituals. The result of our actions is produced according to the Will of God, i.e. that law related to God’s permanent attribute for that particular action as set forth in the Quran. With this concept of God, all the contradictions created by the subjective concepts of God are thus removed. In the Quranic concept of God, people do not have to individually please him by prayers and sacrifices but have to follow His laws, which have been clearly outlined in His book. The God of the Quran does not bend towards anyone. He has permanent and objective attributes and is the fountainhead of unchangeable laws (called KALIMAT-I-ALLAH (6:34, 6:115, 10:64, 18:27), SUNNAT-I-ALLAH (17:77, 33:62, 35:43, 48:23), and KHALQ-I-ALLAH (30:30) by the Quran). Therefore, the result of our actions depends on whether or not the action was performed according to His law. If the result is different than expected, then one has to change one’s actions. One should not keep on doing the same thing while trying to please God by prayers and sacrifices to persuade God to change His laws. One has to align oneself with His laws, not vice versa. There is no other way to receive God’s “help”. Allama Iqbal says:

Teri dua se qadha to badal nahin sakti                       Magar ye hay mumkin tu badal jaaye

The law (qadha) of God cannot change by your prayers. But it is possible that you might change.

Teri dua hay ki ho arzoo their puri                                Meri dua hay teri arzoo badal jaaye

Your prayer is that God fulfil your wish. My prayer is that you change your wish (to coincide with the laws of Allah).

Khalifa ‘Umar (R) once said that his aim was to stop the people’s prayers from reaching God. This intrigued the people. He explained that people normally pray to God when they are facing some problems. His duty as Khalifa was to solve their problems so they would not have to pray to God for their solution. If they needed to pray to God, then that would, in effect, be a complaint against him to God.  Interestingly, this means that the system, implemented according to the Quran, is supposed to fulfil God’s promises to human beings. God does not directly help human beings. He helps them through his servants (Prophets and true believers) who implement His plans in the human world by using the Quran as the Constitution of God on earth. This brings us to another important aspect of the concept of God, i.e. God’s laws are not only unchangeable but they are universal.

Universality of God’s Law 

In the physical world, we readily accept the universality of God’s laws. For example, an experiment to liberate hydrogen and oxygen from water will produce the same result under the same conditions no matter where that experiment is conducted. We owe our health and welfare, and even our life to the universality of these laws.

The same applies to another set of God’s laws now safely preserved in the Quran. It does not matter if we believe in them or not. These laws have their own objective existence and they work inexorably in the human world just as the laws of nature work in the physical world. The God of the Quran is the Nourisher and Cherisher of all the worlds (Rabbul ‘Alameen) and the Nourisher and Cherisher of all humankind (Rabb-in-Naas). He is the Sovereign (Malik-in-Naas) and God of all humankind (Ilaah-in-Naas).

Therefore, in this concept of God, there is no place for discrimination based on gender, race, ethnicity, language, economic opportunities, political power, or social status. The Quranic God is equidistant from every human being.  Only those people who synchronize their wills with the will of God get their “color” from Him. In turn, those who get colored by God reflect universal God-like attributes and become members of one family (Ummah) supported by the divine laws, which are in the Quran. In this way, there is no contradiction in their inner and outer lives. With this concept of God, there is no push and pull, no effort through prayers and rituals to bend God in anyone’s favor. This leads to yet another aspect of God’s objective laws pertaining to humans: whether or not one believes in this concept of God, every human action produces a reaction based on God’s law of requital.

God’s Law of Requital

Although human beings have been given complete freedom to choose any action, this freedom is ended once the choice is made. Human beings do not have the freedom or authority to change the result after the action has been performed. This is called the law of requital. The following verses in the Quran clearly state the consequences of human actions:

2:21, 2:179, 2:183, 2:185, 2:189, 3:123, 3:129, 3:199, 5:35, 7:69, 7:157.

It is our daily experience that if we violate the physical laws of nature we suffer the consequences right away. For example, fire burns, floods drown, gravity pulls, lightning strikes, and tornadoes tear things in their path. Each one of these forces of nature causes physical injury or death if we do not follow the laws of nature or take precautionary measures. But how, we may ask, does the law of requital operate in the human world? Why do cheaters get away if not caught by man-made laws? Why do liars seem to flourish?  Why do people who manipulate the system using loopholes get further in life than the honest? Why do the rich and the powerful thrive while exploiting the poor and the weak? Why are murder, torture, and rape of innocent human beings allowed to go on in many parts of the world? Why does God not do anything to stop it? Why does God’s law of requital not punish the perpetrators of these crimes immediately as it punishes those who violate the physical laws of nature?  In answer to these questions, some religious scholars teach the poor and the subjugated to be patient, to accept their destiny, to look for reward in the Hereafter.   On the other hand, some people turn to mysticism, wrongly thinking they can get closer to God by renouncing the material world (57:27). According to this thinking, the best way to cure a headache—forever—is to remove the head. This concept of God teaches escapism from the real problems of the real world.

Can it be said, then, that God’s law of requital is not working in the human world? Are people who commit crimes and who are not punished immediately, as in the physical world, getting away? Is there no higher law before which they are accountable here in this world? Let us be assured, the law of requital is working—incessantly and unremittingly, right here in this world. We might be deceived into thinking it is not, because the time scale for this law is different than the physical laws of nature. It is as if one were keeping time on a clock from which the seconds and minutes indicators were removed and one is fooled into thinking the clock is not running. This is because one day in God’s calendar may be equivalent to one thousand (32:5) or even fifty thousand years of our time on this planet (70:4).

Another distinction between the laws of nature in the physical world and the law of requital in the human world is that the law of requital operates on the “self” not on the body. This law either strengthens or weakens the “self” depending on whether or not our actions violate it.  In this way, our own actions determine our destiny here as well as in the Hereafter.

Although God’s law of requital is working in the human world, it appears extremely slow to us and its impact is not on the body but on the soul or “self”. The question then becomes: Can this law be speeded up?

Speeding up the Law of Requital

As we know, the Universe and everything within it operates according to a fixed pattern called the laws of nature. Laws of nature cannot be speeded up. For instance, no matter how impatient, a farmer must wait for a fixed amount of time before his crop matures for harvesting. While this is true everywhere in the physical world, the same is not the case in the human world.

Is it possible to speed up the law of requital operating in the human world so violators can face the consequences of their actions in real time as in the physical world? The concept of God presented by the Quran declares it is possible.

How can this be done? We have seen that God’s attributes come into effect in a particular situation in accordance with a fixed pattern or law. We have also seen that human beings have been endowed, in latent form, with the same attributes as God, but within human limitation. With a Quranic-based program of education, training, and development, human beings can develop and reflect God-like attributes in their own characters.

If human beings are able to create a society in which individuals become colored with God’s attributes, then the speed of the law of requital is increased. In other words, if human actions become synchronized with God’s law of requital then its speed is accelerated (Saree-ul-‘Hisaab). This is what the following verses mean:

in tansurullahu yunsurukum – “If you help God then He will help you.” (47:7)

“And fulfil your Covenant with Me then I shall fulfil My Covenant.” (2:40)

By synchronizing their wills with the Will of God, human beings start cooperating with Allah in accordance with the contract (9:111) mentioned earlier. Allah then helps the believers (Momineen) through Angels (Malaika or forces of Allah).

Those who say that our Lord (Nourisher and Sustainer) is Allah and then (on this promise) become steadfast (in their action) then Angels descend on them. (41:30)

It is the descending of the Angels on the believers then that speeds up the law of requital in the human world. So, if the rich and the powerful, on an individual, familial, or national level, are getting away with the exploitation of the poor and the weak, then it only means one thing: that the law of requital does not have the support of the believers and that is why Angels are not descending on them to speed the outcome. But that does not mean God’s law of requital is not working. It is working, but it is moving, like the hour hand on the clock, with its own speed. (Remember! One day in God’s calendar may be equivalent to one thousand or even fifty thousand years in our time.) As an example, when our Prophet (PBUH) and Sahaabah (R) synchronized their wills with the Will of Allah, the results of their efforts occurred very fast. History bears testimony to the fact that they changed, in a very short time, the system which was based on exploitation of the weak and enslavement of the masses by tribal leaders, kings, capitalists, and priests with a system based on fairness, justice and respect for universal human rights and freedom. Who could imagine that the two superpowers of the day i.e., the Byzantine and Persian empires would crumble at the hands of the then lowly Arabs in just a few years?  This was due to the human input into the law of requital thus accelerating its momentum and resulting in fast output.

Conclusion

Dear brothers and sisters! As we have seen, the concept of God presented by the Quran is quite different than all other concepts of God designed by human beings. The Quran is God’s Constitution. He does not act in an arbitrary manner. Contrary to popular belief among many Muslims, He does not arbitrarily grant wealth to whomsoever He wants; He does not shower dignity and power arbitrarily on whomsoever He wants; He does not arbitrarily inflict poverty and misery on whomsoever He wants. (See the article “God’s Will” MONITOR, May/June 1998, pp. 9-17,for details and logical interpretation of the verses related to this topic)  Also, God does not guide or misguide whomsoever He wants. It does not make sense that God would misguide someone and then punish him by sending him to hell.  Sisters and brothers!  God is not a dictator.  This is a wrong concept of God born in a period ruled by kings and supported and blessed by the Muslim clergy. In order to maintain their firm grip on power, they needed such a concept of God to legitimize their own dictatorship by turning God into a dictator. (For a more logical interpretation of the verses related to this topic, see the article “Does God Misguide Anyone?” MONITOR, July/August 1998, pages 14-16.)

Was our Prophet (PBUH) a dictator or a king? Remember ‘Aisha’s (R) saying that the Prophet (PBUH) was a walking Quran. Why then have we had, and still have, so many dictators and kings in the Muslim world who have the temerity and hypocrisy to praise his name? In recent history, the oil boom in many Muslim countries has made the kings into capitalists—an even more dangerous combination and  a far greater curse for humanity. Then again, was our Prophet (PBUH) a priest? Clearly not. Why then do we have so many priests who start every sermon praising his name?  Was our Prophet (PBUH) a capitalist? We know that our Prophet (PBUH) lived a very simple life and did not have any wealth when he died. Why then are there are so many capitalists in the Muslim world who, on the surface,   continue to shower praises on him?

Brother and sisters! There must be something wrong in our concept of God which has made us turn away from the true God that our Prophet (PBUH) and Sahaaba (R) lived and died for.  While they had dignity and power, we are humiliated and live at the mercy of others. How can we regain our lost dignity and glory?

There is no other way than to come back to the true concept of God given in the Quran and demonstrated by our Prophet (PBUH) and the Sahaaba (R). Let us proclaim and act upon the verse:

(We take our) colour from Allah, and who is better than Allah at colouring.  (2:138, Picthall)

Let us not get colored by our own emotions (25:43). Also, let us not get our color from kings, political leaders, priests, or capitalists. If we do that, we are committing idolatry (shirk) because, then, the color of Allah will become adulterated with these colors.

Let us read, understand, and reflect upon the Quran so we are not fooled or intimidated by the modern Pharaohs (kings and dictators), the modern Hamaans (priests and university-trained scholars who teach man-made Shari’ah in the name of God’s Shari’ah or who substitute God’s shariah with man-made laws), and the modern Qaroons (commonwealth of Croesus, capitalist parasites, be they institutions or individuals who “invest” and “hoard” wealth for an individual future at the expense of the masses). As Iqbal warns:

badal ke bhays zamane mein phir se aatay hain

agarche pir hai adam jawan hain laat-o-manaat

The kings, priests, and capitalists come in every age changing their appearance to deceive their fellow human beings. Although humanity has matured, Laat and Manaat (idols of the pre-Islamic days) are still young.

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