In the Name of God, the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful
This is my forthcoming Illume Magazine column, which will be published, God willing, in early August.
This month, the country celebrated, as it always does, the anniversary of the Declaration of Independence from the yoke of British control in 1776. In that famous and fabled document, the people of the United States declared, after listing a number of grievances against the Crown,
“That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States, that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do.”
And the rest, as they say, is history. This caused me to reflect over the issue of independence. As a people, we in the United States (and in the West, in general) value our individual liberty and independence. We believe that we are free people, being allowed to do whatever we want. Just as the United States absolved all allegiance to the British Crown, we believe that, as free and independent people, are devoid of all allegiance to anyone or anything else.
Or, are we? Are we truly independent? Are truly free to do whatever we want? The Believer claims that his allegiance lies with God; that she is bound to submit her will to that of God. This is so because the Believer loves God, because God loved him or her first. Thus, it is right, honorable, and proper that God’s will be given top priority. Yet, what of the Denier? What of the one who claims “God is Not Great?” What of the one who says, “God is dead?” Are they independent?
They are not, even if they claim to be. Indeed, they may believe that they are free of all bonds to anyone or any thing. Yet, they are not truly independent of God, for if it were not for God, they would not even be alive. The processes in the human body that preserve and maintain life are immensely complicated and complex. There are cycles and procedure that operate under very tight conditions, and the various organ systems of the body work endlessly to maintain a very narrow range of normality. The fact that we all are able to continue to walk the earth (and sin endlessly against the Precious) is living testimony to the love and mercy of God and of our utter dependence on Him.
Of course, the Denier will reject this as infantile thinking. It does not diminish from its truth. Moreover, the Qur’an speaks of those who thought themselves independent, and those who arrogantly believe that they are independent of God do so at their own peril. Let us listen in on the argument between the two neighbors, one wealthy and the other poor. To one of them, God “provided with two vineyards of grapes, surrounding them with date palms and putting grain between them. Both vineyards brought forth their fruits without anything failing therein, as We caused a stream to flow between them, and thus he had a fruitful yield .” (Qur’an 18:32-34)
Thus, in the course of a dispute with him, he said to his companion: “I am wealthier than you, and greater in manpower.” (18:34) And then, in the midst of his pride and haughtiness, he “went into one of his vineyards …[and] said, ‘I don’t think this will ever perish. And I don’t think the end of time is coming. And even if I am returned to my Lord, I will surely find better than this in exchange.'” This is where he sealed his doom, and in the verse, God says that he was “oppressing his own soul.”
He thought himself independent; he thought that he had it all, and he did not need God at all. He even claimed that he will not be returned to Him to account for his actions and his lack of gratitude to God for the blessings bestowed upon him. His friend, arguing back, said: ” Do you deny the one who created you from dust, then from a drop, then formed you into a man? For me, however, that is God, my Lord; and I associate no one with my Lord. And when you went into your vineyard, why didn’t you say, ‘Whatever God will – there is no power save through God’? If you see me with less property and children than you, it may be that my Lord will give me some good from your vineyard and may send a reckoning against it from the sky, so it turns into slippery sand; or its water may run off underground, so you can never find it .” (18:27-41)
Apparently, his exhortations made no difference, because “his crop was closed in from all sides, and he came to wringing his hands over what he had spent on it, now that it was ruined to its foundations, saying, ‘Would that I had not associated anyone with my Lord! ‘” (18:42) But, then, it was too late. He failed to learn the lesson that no one is independent of God. And God brings home the point by saying, “he had no group to him without God, and he was not triumphant. There the true help is up to God, who is best in reward and best in fulfillment. ” (18:43-44)
Would that he realized that is was God’s blessing that he had; would that he realized that it was not his own work, but the grace of the Precious; would that he would was not arrogant and thought himself independent of God. Would that Qarun (possibly the Korah of the Bible) would have done the same. Qarun was of the people of Moses – many of the commentators state that he was his nephew – and he was given a tremendous amount of wealth. But, as the Qur’an states, “he was unjust to them. We gave him treasures such that their keys alone would weigh down a strong group of men; then his people said to him, ‘Do not exult, for God does not love the exultant. But seek the abode of the hereafter with what God has bestowed on you, and do not forget your part in this world. And be good, as God has been good to you. And do not seek corruption on earth, for God does not love the corrupt’ ” (29:76-77)
What was his response? That of a doomed one: “I have been given this on account of knowledge I have.” (29:78) How unfortunate. “Didn’t he know,” as God says, “that God had destroyed generations before him who were more powerful than he, and more wealthy?” (29:78) Not only did he refuse to “be good” as God had been good to him, but he “went out among his people in his pomp.” (29:79) Thus, what was the end result?
“Then We caused the earth to swallow him and his house; and he had no army to help him against God, and he could not defend himself .” (29:81) He was not independent of God. The Precious goes even further: “And those who had desired his status the day before began to say, ‘Ah! God expands and regulates the provision of any mortal at will. Had God not been gracious to us, God would have buried us! Ah! Unfaithful ingrates do not prosper! ‘” (29:82)
That is the key: “Unfaithful ingrates do not prosper.” If we ever think that we are independent of God, the Lord God will show us – perhaps in a very painful manner – that we are utterly dependent on Him. Thus, let us be smart and always remember that ” Whatever God will – there is no power save through God.” This, as the Prophet (pbuh) said once, is “one of the treasures of Paradise.” When we remember this, we can tap into this Power and be successful, not only in this life, but – God willing – in the next as well.