In the Name of God, the Most Merciful, the Most Compassionate
Last time, we responded to the contention of Dr. Ergun Caner that the essence of Islam is living and dying by “the scales,” referring to the scales of justice which will be erected on the Day of Judgment as mentioned in the Qur’an. We said that, in Islam, the mercy of God is overwhelming and immediate: accessible any time and simply by asking Him for it. The notion that forgiveness is only obtainable by the shedding of blood is completely alien to Islam.
Yet, there is something else we did not mention: no matter how many good deeds one may have on the Day he or she faces the Precious Lord, no one enters into paradise except by the mercy of God. That is the essence of salvation in Islam: the mercy of God. No matter what we do, in the end, we must rely upon the mercy and grace of the Lord. And I know that we will all be pleasantly surprised by the mercy that God will show us on the Day of Judgment.
Still, Dr. Caner made an important point when he talked about living and dying “by the scales.” When he said,
“You can immediately see the angst that we’re dealing with, certainly in the
context of our culture: you have to lie. You hope you do more good than
bad…but you’re not sure. It’s a guessing game.”
By implication, he is saying that, in Christianity, they know for certain that they are saved because of the blood of Christ, unlike Islam. He is saying that they don’t need to worry about “erasing the scales” because they have the crucifixion of Christ.
Yet, in the Lord’s prayer, Jesus Christ (pbuh) himself teaches the apostles to ask forgiveness for their sins: “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors,” as quoted in Matthew 6:12. In Luke 11:4, it says: “And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us.” In fact, later on in Matthew 6, Jesus tells the Apostles:
For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
So, as Jesus (pbuh) mentions, the servant also has to ask God of forgiveness, has to work to get God’s forgiveness. Yet, I do not want to get into an argument over scripture.
In his statements about Islam and “the scales,” Dr. Caner did raise an important point: that we should not “live and die by the scales.”
What that means is that we should not obsess about “the scales.” Don’t make our religion a dry, math story problem, so that we can be, as Dr. Caner says, at least “51% righteous” to get to heaven.
No, no, no.
We should look at our religion in a completely different way. Religion should be all about the relationship of the servant with His Master, His Creator. Our religion, in fact, should be a love affair with our Creator – everything must stem from that.
As I have said a number of times before, it is a fundamental truth – even though no Qur’anic verse exists about it – that God loves us and loves us deeply. It flows out of the sacred texts of Islam. We should be comforted by that fact. Therefore, because of that love, it is only right and honorable that we love God back.
How do we love Him? By obeying His commands as much as we can. But, first we must forge a relationship with God, to become friends of God, to come into fellowship with Him. If we look at the Meccan surahs of the Qur’an, most of them are vivid descriptions of the awesome power of God and the final judgment. There is very little law.
What is this doing? Forging the relationship between the believers and their Lord. Helping them fall in love with their Lord. After they flee to Medinah, then the laws come in: no pork, no wine, no gambling, etc. Yet, because they are in fellowship with God, following these laws becomes easy.
What many, many Muslims today have done is focus solely and completely on the laws: reduce Islam to a strict, stern book of rules with absolutely no focus on the spiritual aspect of the faith. So many Muslims focus solely and completely on the wrath, power, and fierceness of God. There is very little emphasis on the love, mercy, and subtlety of God. I try to bring this back into balance: to stress God’s love and mercy whenever I write or am blessed to give a Friday sermon.
The same is true when it comes to the “scales.” It very well may be literal, but we should also look at the “scales” as something allegorical, something representing the justice and fairness of God. But we cannot harp on the “scales.” We must live our lives to best of our abilities: doing as much good as we can and trying to avoid as much of those things our Lord told us to avoid.
Not because we are afraid to be crushed by “the scales”; not because we need to be “51% righteous,” but because we are in love with our Precious Lord and we want to please Him at every opportunity we can. That is why we do the acts of worship we do: to keep our connection with God and please Him as much as possible, because we love Him. And we love Him because He loved us first and shows us His love and each every moment of our lives.
In fact, Jesus (pbuh) did not abandon acts of worship, either. He did not tell his Apostles to no longer fast, keep Kosher, etc. He just told them to do it differently. Throughout Matthew 6, Jesus (pbuh) says:
“So when you give to the needy…” (Matthew 6:2)
“And when you pray…” (Matthew 6:5)
“When you fast…” (Matthew 6:16)
So, doing good deeds is part and parcel of the Prophetic way. It is part of the relationship of the servant with God. Jesus (pbuh) did not abandon it and neither did his brother Muhammad (pbuh).
So, don’t worry about “the scales.” Love God, for He has loved you first. Then, live in the light of His love, which means doing the best you can in living a good and righteous life on earth, trying to do the ritual acts of worship as best as possible.
Whenever we slip on this path – which we are bound to do as human beings – come back to God and ask Him to “forgive us our trespasses.” Come back to your beloved and say I’m sorry and try again. Because that is what someone in love does with his beloved.
And know this: that no matter how many good deeds someone may have; no matter how much good someone has done; no matter how tipped the scale is on the side of good deeds, the only way someone gets to Paradise is God’s mercy and grace.
And God is truly the Most Merciful, the Most Gracious. In this rejoice.