In the Name of God, the Subtle, the Loving
This post was published today on the Chicago Tribune website.
God is father, friend, master, guide, protector
When I was growing up, I was raised to believe that God would punish me if I ever did anything wrong: I would get a bad grade, or get grounded, or get a speeding ticket. For the most part, this kept me on the straight and narrow. Yet, it instilled an image of God in me that was unpleasant: a God that was mean and always ready to "slap me down" if I made a mistake.
For example, if I did something wrong, and I got a bad grade on a paper, I would think that would be "punishment" for my sin. Never mind that, perhaps, I did not exert enough effort on the paper, and that was why I got a bad grade. Or, I make a mistake, and I then would get a speeding ticket as "punishment." Never mind that, perhaps, I was indeed dumb enough to speed right in front of the police officer.
So, were those events "punishment" or my own failings? Or, did I project the consequences of my shortcomings onto God?
In addition, at that time in my life, I had a "mutually beneficial" relationship with God. I made a "deal" with Him: I will try my best to do what You want (not drink alcohol, eat pork, date girls, etc.), but You gotta give me what I want (good grades, a career in medicine, etc.) As I look back on it now, it is the sort of image of and relationship with God with which I totally disagree, but I did not know any better.
As the years have passed, however, I have come to learn that God is completely different. The Lord God does indeed have wrath, anger, vengeance and power. But, it is His mercy that is supreme. His compassion prevails. His love overpowers all things. These truths were right before my eyes for all those years, but I never was able to see it. In fact, it is all over the Scripture:
Say: 'O my servants who have transgressed against their souls! Despair not of the Mercy of God. For God forgives all sins: for He is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful." (39:53).
“Do not lose hope of God's life-giving mercy: verily, none but people who deny the truth can ever lose hope of God's life-giving mercy." (12:87)
Perhaps the most powerful verse showing God's infinite love for us is this:
"How can you refuse to acknowledge God, seeing that you were lifeless and He gave you life, and that He will cause you to die, and then will bring you again to life, whereupon unto Him you will be brought back?" (2:28)
That God gave me life – the greatest gift that can ever be given – before I even was is the greatest manifestation of His undying love for all of us. Moreover, the Prophetic literature is full of traditions of the Prophet which manifest God's beautiful mercy. In one tradition, the Prophet described the mercy of God as the love of a mother to her child.
I have come to learn to rejoice and bask in the light of God's love, and it is wholly uplifting, invigorating, and much more spiritually fulfilling. Mind you, I still sin and make mistakes; I still do not want to have bad things happen to me; I still am afraid of being punished by God.
Now, however, I try the best I can to stay true and devout to Him as my effort to "love God back" for Him loving me first. I try to stay true to His way out of immense gratitude for His beauty which He has shown me. It is, I believe, the proper relationship one should have with his or her Lord, and my entire mission in my writing has been to share this belief and conviction with as many people, especially young Muslims, as possible.
The subtitle of my blog says it all, "Living in the light of His Love." I am trying as hard as I can to pass this experience and knowledge on to others so that they don't have to ever think of God as mean, vindictive, and spiteful. For He is none of those things. He is truly, the Compassionate and the Most Merciful. I bask in that mercy each and every day I live, and I am forever grateful for it.
So what is God to me? Although we Muslims typically do not call God "Father," He is truly a Loving Father, Beautiful Friend, Kind Master, Forgiving Guide, and Gracious Lord, Protector, and Sustainer. As I wrote recently in the Chicago Crescent, a Chicago-area Muslim newspaper, "The Prophet said, 'God is beautiful, and He loves beauty.' Know thee, therefore, that God, the Precious Lord On High, loves you. And in that love of His rejoice."