In the Name of God, Most Compassionate, Most Merciful
You know, I never really was raised with a feeling that God loves me. My mother – may God bless her abundantly – raised in me the fear of God. “If you do something wrong,” she would always tell me, “God will punish you…and let me find out about it.” You know what, she was right almost every single time!
Whenever I would do something wrong, something bad would happen to me: I’ll sprain my ankle, lose something, get a bad grade. AND, my mom would eventually find out what I did! Now, I never did anything that bad as a kid, mind you. Still, if I disobeyed the rules of Islam, something would happen to me. Thus, I did my best to not disobey the rules of Islam.
Although this worked for me, I can see how this sort of paradigm about God can backfire. The constant emphasis on God’s judgment and punishment – of which I am afraid to this day – can conjure up an image of a spiteful, vindictive, vengeful God; a God who continually “waits in the wings” for the believer to fall so He can strike him down with His Rod of Might and Justice. Add to this, the pressures of being a devout Muslim in American society. Frequently, the rules of Islam would clash with the life of a typical teenager: no drinking, no drugs, no dating. I did not do any of those things, and consequently I stuck out like a sore thumb, and I hated feeling left out. Even though I had a lot of friends, even though I was surrounded by a lot of kids, I frequently felt lonely and alone.
So, when a Muslim teenager, who already feels “different” and hates this feeling, looks for comfort to a God that can’t wait to punish him for screwing up, it can crush his faith in Islam. Thank God it did not happen to me, but I am almost positive this situation is happening across our country, each and every day. It is a terrible situation.
I remember, growing up, that whenever God and love was mentioned, I would be told, “That’s a Christian thing.” In Egypt, the Christians would have signs in their shops that read, “God is love.” I remember quite a few Muslims who would chuckle when they read that: “Christians! All they talk about is God and love.” Well, I’ve got news for you. God and love is not solely a “Christian” thing. It is also a Muslim thing.
I remember reading parts of books on Islam by Christian missionaries (or Christians who were formally Muslim), and they mention how God’s love in Islam is conditional. In the book, Unveiling Islam: An Insider’s Look at Muslim Life and Beliefs, the Caner brothers (ex-Muslims) write: “God loves you! This is the brash claim of Christianity…Yet in the Qur’an, no such statement is to be found.” They later write, “In Islam, it is hoped that salvation is earned through one’s good works (surah 3:31). One must love Allah in order for Allah to love that person in return. In Christianity, God loved people first in order to secure their salvation. There is no security for the believer of Islam. One is left wanting and waiting for the will of Allah to be accomplished.”
That is not exactly the case. The Qur’an is full of references of God’s love. He says, “Say (O Muhammad): “If you do love God, Follow me: God will love you and forgive you your sins: For God is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful” (3:31). About this verse the Caner brothers wrote: “One must love Allah in order for Allah to love that person in return.” But, that is not what the verse says. Rather, it says God will love us if we follow the Prophet (pbuh). So many verses talk about the type of people that God loves: the righteous, the patient, etc. The Qur’an also talks about the types of people that God does not love: those who wrong themselves, etc. Thus, if want God’s love, I should be righteous, patient, etc.
Yet, the Qur’an goes even further than this, and it really signals to me that God does truly love His servants. The Qur’an says, “O my Servants who have transgressed against their souls! Do not despair of the Mercy of God. For God forgives all sins: for He is oft-forgiving, most merciful” (39:53). God, through the speech of Jacob (pbuh) to his sons, says: “…never give up hope of God’s Soothing Mercy: truly no one despairs of God’s Soothing Mercy except those who have no faith” (12:87). God also says, “Say (O Muhammad): ‘To whom belongeth all that is in the heavens and on earth?’ Say: to God. He has decreed upon Himself (the rule of) Mercy…” (6:12).
God, according to the Qur’an – and contrary to the contention of many – is a close, personal God: “When My servants ask you (O Muhammad) concerning Me, I am indeed close (to them): I listen to the prayer of every suppliant when he calls on Me: Let them also, with a will, Listen to My call, and believe in Me: That they may walk in the right way” (2:186). In another verse, God says: “It was We Who created man, and We know what dark suggestions his soul makes to him: for We are nearer to him than (his) jugular vein” (50:16). God is so close, nearer to us than our own jugular vein. He is just waiting for us to come back to Him.
The Hadith literature is filled with references of God’s immense mercy. In one of these, the Prophet (pbuh) said: “A prostitute was forgiven by God, because, passing by a panting dog near a well and seeing that the dog was about to die of thirst, she took off her shoe, and tying it with her head-cover she drew out some water for it. So, God forgave her because of that” (Bukhari) The Prophet (pbuh) had also said that, if someone takes one step towards God, He will take two steps toward us. If we walk to God, He will run to us.
If God is so Merciful that He will forgive a prostitute for giving drink to a dog, doesn’t that indicate that He is a Loving God? In addition, the Prophet (pbuh) told us that God has 99 Names and Attributes. Among these are: the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful, the Gentle, the Forbearing, the Forgiving, the Loving One, and the Pardoner. All this, put together, tells me that God indeed loves me. Of course, those who are skeptical will bring out the verses in the Qur’an that talk about God’s punishment, and wrath, and anger. Yes, there are such verses in the Qur’an, but God Himself said: “He has decreed upon Himself (the rule of) Mercy…” (50:16).
Yet, with all this, a great deal of Muslims like to focus on God’s wrath, anger, justice, and vengeance. They talk about these names of God: the Mighty, the Subduer, the Abaser, the Humiliator, etc. They like to direct these aspects of God towards the enemies of Islam. They talk so much about fearing God, which is important, while neglecting to equally stress God’s love and kindness. Continually stressing the fear of God, without reminding about the love of God, will conjure up the image of God I talked about earlier. There should be a balance. Yes, we must fear God’s wrath and punishment. Yet, we must always remember: God is loving; He loves us, and we must love Him in return.
The manifestation of that love is doing the things He wants us to do. When we love God, we hate to disobey Him willfully. We are bound to sin against Him; that is part of our nature as human beings. Yet, when we love God, we will never willfully go against His commands. When we do, we rush back to Him in repentance, and He has promised us His forgiveness. Nowadays, I stress the love of God to my own children. I try to always tell them that God loves them, and that they should love God. Living in the love of God is so much more fulfilling, and because I love God so much, I do not dare do what He told me not to do. It is a wonderful existence.
So, “God is love” is not just a “Christian thing.” It is a Muslim thing, too.