(Mis)knowing Allah


by AbdelRahman Murphy

4333164839_b5388209b9_bAt a program that I recently attended in the Midwest, I asked the audience of 150-plus young men a question that would be telling of the Islamic identity narrative in the west: “How many of you were raised thinking that Allah was angry at you?” At least 90% of the room, in an unpleasant and uncomfortable manner, raised their hands in the air, confirming one of the worst possible realities that we are facing as Islamic workers in the west: the majority of Muslims, especially youth, see themselves as “Sinners in the Hands of An Angry God.”

The problem, as straightforward as it may seem, has far-reaching and complex implications. The most serious aspect, and the one I will address in this short discussion, is the erosion of faith into a sadly apathetic and borderline agnostic relationship between the worshipper and The Only One Worthy of Worship.

During that same talk with the youth, I mentioned a couple of Qur’anic verses that describe Allah, as well as some ahadith that beautifully narrate how Allah, in ways that befit His Majesty, smiles and even laughs out of His love for the believers. These narrations really shocked the attendees, showing them a “side” of Allah that they had never even heard of before.

I could feel the vibe in the room getting better, the love of Allah was increasing before my eyes – not because of the speaker, but because of the content of the speech. It became clearer than ever that the discourse about Allah that had been presented to these youth was one that distanced them emotionally, as well as spiritually. Subhan’Allah, briefly mentioning the description of Allah that He gives about Himself to these youth – descriptions that can be found in the two fundamental sources of our deen – changed perceptions in the room like the flick of a light switch.

It is this experience, as well as experiences very similar to this, that has led me to realize the importance of prudent guidelines for teaching Muslims about Allah. No one can appreciate and fear Allah’s anger until they have developed and felt His love and their love for Him first.  If someone is told that Allah can punish them severely and that He is most harsh in His wrath, then they will perceive Him as a perennially angry Lord. On the contrary, if we emphasize the relationship between Him and us is based on love of Him and His love for us, then His disappointment and punishment will be seen as even worse of a punishment. Simply put, you would not care about disappointing one that you did not care about; disappointing one whom you love, however, is a terrible experience.

Imam Ghazali summarizes this point well in his book Ihya Ulum Ad Deen (Revival of The Religious Sciences): “Know that action on account of hope is of a higher order than action on account of fear, because the creatures who are nearest to God are those who love Him most, and love dominates hope.” As succinctly as Hujjat al-Islam has put it, the Prophet ﷺ put it best when he said, “Truly, not one of you will die, except he should have good expectations of Allah.” If we are to die with good expectations of our Lord, then one can only imagine how we are to think of Him during our life.

39:53

“Say, “Oh My servants who have transgressed against themselves [by sinning], do not despair of the mercy of Allah. Indeed, Allah forgives all sins. Indeed, it is He who is the Forgiving, the Merciful.” (Qur’an, 39:53)

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13 Comments

  1. Islam-lover says:

    Asalaamu alikum warahamtullah wabarakatuhu,

    Jazakallah for this lovely post. It always softens the heart when one is reminded of the love of Allah swt.

    However, can anybody link an article for me or touch upon the hadiths of Allah swt laughing and such? I always find these kind of explanations of Allah swt unsettling :(

    Wasalaam
    May Allah swt forgive me for any sins I did knowingly and unknowingly.

    • Islam-lover, if you find such descriptions unsettling it might be because you imagine them in human terms. The problem is that our human languages were developed to describe human experience, and we don’t have the proper terminology to describe Allah. Indeed, we cannot comprehend or imagine Allah, and we should not try. He, Allah, is unlike anything in creation.

      So even though the Quran and ahadith may describe Allah using some of the same words that we use to describe ourselves (loving, angry, laughing, forgiving, face, hand, smiling, etc), the key is to understand that only the word is the same; Allah’s reality is far different from ours, and thus we should not attempt to imagine or picture it, but merely to accept Allah’s words at face value, adding nothing to them and subtracting nothing.

      And Allah knows best.

  2. regular baba says:

    Narrated Abu Huraira: The people said, “O Allah’s Apostle! Shall we see our Lord on the Day of Resurrection?” He replied, “Do you have any doubt in seeing the full moon on a clear (not cloudy) night?” They replied, “No, O Allah’s Apostle!” He said, “Do you have any doubt in seeing the sun when there are no clouds?” They replied in the negative. He said, “You will see Allah (your Lord) in the same way. On the Day of Resurrection, people will be gathered and He will order the people to follow what they used to worship. So some of them will follow the sun, some will follow the moon, and some will follow other deities; and only this nation (Muslims) will be left with its hypocrites. Allah will come to them and say, ‘I am Your Lord.’ They will say, ‘We shall stay in this place till our Lord comes to us and when our Lord will come, we will recognize Him. Then Allah will come to them again and say, ‘I am your Lord.’ They will say, ‘You are our Lord.’ Allah will call them, and As-Sirat (a bridge) will be laid across Hell and I (Muhammad) shall be the first amongst the Apostles to cross it with my followers. Nobody except the Apostles will then be able to speak and they will be saying then, ‘O Allah! Save us. O Allah Save us.’

    There will be hooks like the thorns of Sa’dan in Hell. Have you seen the thorns of Sa’dan?” The people said, “Yes.” He said, “These hooks will be like the thorns of Sa’dan but nobody except Allah knows their greatness in size and these will entangle the people according to their deeds; some of them will fall and stay in Hell forever; others will receive punishment (torn into small pieces) and will get out of Hell, till when Allah intends mercy on whomever He likes amongst the people of Hell, He will order the angels to take out of Hell those who worshipped none but Him alone. The angels will take them out by recognizing them from the traces of prostrations, for Allah has forbidden the (Hell) fire to eat away those traces. So they will come out of the Fire, it will eat away from the whole of the human body except the marks of the prostrations.

    At that time they will come out of the Fire as mere skeletons. The Water of Life will be poured on them and as a result they will grow like the seeds growing on the bank of flowing water. Then when Allah had finished from the Judgments amongst his creations, one man will be left between Hell and Paradise and he will be the last man from the people of Hell to enter paradise. He will be facing Hell, and will say, ‘O Allah! Turn my face from the fire as its wind has dried me and its steam has burnt me.’ Allah will ask him, “Will you ask for anything more in case this favor is granted to you?’ He will say, “No by Your (Honor) Power!” And he will give to his Lord (Allah) what he will of the pledges and the covenants. Allah will then turn his face from the Fire. When he will face Paradise and will see its charm, he will remain quiet as long as Allah will. He then will say, ‘O my Lord! Let me go to the gate of Paradise.’ Allah will ask him, ‘Didn’t you give pledges and make covenants (to the effect) that you would not ask for anything more than what you requested at first?’ He will say, ‘O my Lord! Do not make me the most wretched, amongst Your creatures.’ Allah will say, ‘If this request is granted, will you then ask for anything else?’ He will say, ‘No! By Your Power! I shall not ask for anything else.’ Then he will give to his Lord what He will of the pledges and the covenants.

    Allah will then let him go to the gate of Paradise. On reaching then and seeing its life, charm, and pleasure, he will remain quiet as long as Allah wills and then will say, ‘O my Lord ! Let me enter Paradise.’ Allah will say, May Allah be merciful unto you, O son of Adam! How treacherous you are! Haven’t you made covenants and given pledges that you will not ask for anything more that what you have been given?’ He will say, ‘O my Lord! Do not make me the most wretched amongst Your creatures.’ So Allah will laugh and allow him to enter Paradise and will ask him to request as much as he likes. He will do so till all his desires have been fulfilled . Then Allah will say, ‘Request more of such and such things.’ Allah will remind him and when all his desires and wishes; have been fulfilled, Allah will say “All this is granted to you and a similar amount besides.” Abu Said Al-Khudri, said to Abu Huraira, ‘Allah’s Apostle said, “Allah said, ‘That is for you and ten times more like it.’ “Abu Huraira said, “I do not remember from Allah’s Apostle except (his saying), ‘All this is granted to you and a similar amount besides.” Abu Sahd said, “I heard him saying, ‘That is for you and ten times more the like of it.” [Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol. 1, #770]

  3. “Allah laughs about two men who kill each other but both enter paradise.” (Agreed upon it by Bukhari and Muslim)

    The meaning of this hadith is that a believer goes to war with unbelievers, and a non-believer kills the believer Muslim, so the martyred Muslim enters Paradise. However, after that, the non-believer accepts Islam and becomes a believer then dies as a true believer, and he in turn enters Paradise, so the killer and the killed enter Paradise, Wallahu alam.

    The Prophet’s saying, “Allah smiled last night at the good deed of both of you…” which is part of a longer hadith about the Ansari who hosted a guest of the Prophet’s while he himself remained hungry with his wife. Bukhari and Muslim extracted it through various chains.

  4. Rhonda says:

    asalamu `alaykum,

    jazakAllahu khayr for the post. Do you have any recommended sources (ie: books, lectures) that can help a student of knowledge attain this level of God Consciousness?

    • Osman Umarji says:

      Assalaamualaykum,

      Check out Madarij al Salikeen by Ibn al Qayyim (get the tahdheeb since its shorter) and also Mahabbat Allah as well (same author).

    • The Quran with some good tafasseer.

      In English, Muhammad Al Ghazali’s “Thematic Commentary of The Quran” is a great resource. Also, Sayyid Qutb’s “In The Shade of The Quran” has been fully translated into an 18-volume set, it’s a brilliant supplement.

      In Arabic, Fath Al Qadeer by Imam Shaukani (or you can get Zubdat At-Tafseer which is the abridged version done by Sh Muhammad Sulayman Al Ashqar) is good. Tafseer Kabeer by Imam Razi is also good.

      Basically, study Qur’an on a personal level with guidance of tafseer and tafhim. That would be my first recommendation.

      “In The Early Hours” by Khurram Murad is amazing, and also recommended by Imam Suhaib. It’s a great book to guide on how to develop an organic relationship with Allah.

      And lastly, to get yourself or anyone out of a rut of pessimism in regards to Allah, Don’t Be Sad by Shaykh Aa’id Qarni is an instant classic and a psychologically positive and spiritually uplifting work.

  5. Rufus says:

    Who were the top 10 people who influenced you to write this?

  6. Milbes says:

    Asalaamu alayka
    I was wondering if u could put up some of the Verses of the Quran and ahadiths which you used during your lecture…if it is too much trouble I understand

  7. Maryam says:

    let me reiterate this “….because the creatures who are nearest to God are those who love Him most, and love dominates hope.”

    jazakAllah for the reminder.

  8. I need help says:

    Dear All,

    Recently I have been suffering from being too afraid from the akhira, to the extent that I cannot function in my every day life. this excessive fear is making me stagnant. It is to the extent that I wish someone murders me and finishes me from this dunya.

    Astaghfur ALLAH

  9. Alaa says:

    Assalamu `Alaikum,

    I need help –

    If i may remind you of this beautiful hadith Qudsi:

    On the authority of Abu Harayrah (may Allah be pleased with him), who said that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: Allah the Almighty said:

    I am as My servant thinks I am (1). I am with him when he makes mention of Me. If he makes mention of Me to himself, I make mention of him to Myself; and if he makes mention of Me in an assembly, I make mention of him in an assemble better than it. And if he draws near to Me an arm’s length, I draw near to him a fathom’s length. And if he comes to Me walking, I go to him at speed.

    It was related by al-Buhkari (also by Muslim, at-Tirmidhi and Ibn-Majah).

    Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala is to us what we think of Him subhanahu wa ta`ala. He (swt) is the Most Merciful, His mercy encompasses EVERYTHING and He’s more merciful and loving to us than our own mothers.

    A friend of mine had a similar fear and a very dear and respected shaykh of ours reminded her with a profound reminder. He said: Think of death as the challenge that’s preventing you from meeting Him subhanahu wa ta`ala.

    Do not be scared of Al-akhirah. Think of Jannah more and read about it’s description. Think of the moment when we will be able to actually see Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala. Stay positive and think the BEST of Him subhanahu wa ta`ala. None of us is perfect in this world and we have all sinned. but as long we repent and NEVER give up on Allah’s mercy and compassion, Allah will ALWAYS be there for us!

  10. ummahmed says:

    Assalamualykum ,

    Jazakallahu khairaa..beautiful article.It`s really important to let each and everyone know that Allah loves them.If anybody really wants to know how much Allah loves them ..They simply have to read surah baqarah..How the baniisraeel disobeyed Allah and Allah keep on forgiving them ,giving them chance after chance.One of my favorite verses from surah imraan.108 وَمَا اللَّهُ يُرِيدُ ظُلْماً لِّلْعَـلَمِينَ
    Allah wills no injustice to the `Alamin..

    salaam

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