Between God’s Love And Mercy

In the Name of God: The Extremely, Eternally, and Perpetually Loving and Caring

This was first published in The Muslim Observer.

Although it is true that God’s Mercy is balanced by God’s Justice, it is still very important to remember the very first thing God highlighted when introducing us to Himself:

All praise and thanks is simultaneously and perpetually due to God, the Extremely, Eternally, and Perpetually Loving and Caring. (1:1-2)

God could have used anything to describe Himself in the Fatihah. Yet, He purposefully used these two beautiful words: Al Rahman, Al Raheem. Because of these two attributes of God, we get food to eat and water to drink. We get the warmth of the Sun, the cool breath of the breeze, the soft feel of grass on our bare feet.

Because God is Al Rahman and Al Raheem, we wake up each day and live our lives to the fullest. We stand breathless at the majesty of the blue ocean, its waves gently breaking on the soft sand. We marvel at the unlimited expanse of the Universe, wondering about other worlds that have yet to be discovered.

It is impossible to avoid living and breathing God’s attributes of Al Rahman, Al Raheem.

Thus, the most natural response to all this goodness is gratitude. When one realizes how much she benefits from the goodness of God’s Love and Caring, she cannot help but be grateful. In fact, one can look at the first two verses of Al Fatihah in that manner: “All praise and thanks is due to God” [because He is] The Extremely, Eternally, and Perpetually Loving and Caring.”

And out of this gratitude come our ritual worship and good works. The Prophet (pubh) said this to his wife A’isha, saying that he stood in prayer until his feet swelled because he wanted to be a “grateful servant.”

We pray five times a day because it reminds us of Him, the One to Whom we are so grateful. We refrain from doing what He prohibited, because we are so grateful to Him for all His wondrous gifts. We spend out of the wealth with which He blessed us, because we are so grateful for His blessing us with that wealth in the first place. And it can go on and on.

In fact, when one is grateful, then God has no need for punishing that person. He said it himself in the Qur’an:

What purpose does God fulfill in punishing you if you are grateful and believe, seeing that God is always responsive to gratitude (or, Grateful) and all knowing? (4:147)

The order of the words in the verse is not an accident: God purposefully put gratitude before belief, further indicating that our belief (and subsequent actions) directly come out of our gratitude. When one is grateful to his Lord, then doing what He asks is not a burden. And when one is grateful to her Lord, her love for Him will only grow and blossom.

That is why, truly, “All Praise and Thanks is simultaneously and perpetually due to God.” And we praise and thank Him always because we are so grateful to Him for all that He has done; we are so grateful for His being Al Rahman, Al Raheem.


In The Cradle of God’s Mercy

In the Name of God: The Extremely, Eternally, Infinitely, and Perpetually Mericful 

This was first published in The Muslim Observer 

Photo credit: photodune

By Hesham Hassaballa

For many years, I have written and preached about the fact that the love of God can be read in and inferred from many verses in the Qur’an. Yet, after I was exposed to the classes at Bayyinah Institute, I realized that – despite my being a native Arabic speaker – I really did not understand the book of God. For all these years, I was staring at the love of God in the Qur’an and had absolutely no idea.

In the first chapter of the Qur’an, Al Fatihah (“The Opening”), God introduces Himself to the world:

“All Praise and Thanks belong to God, The Lord and Master of all nations of people
The Extremely, Eternally, Perpetually? and Infinitely Merciful
Master and King of the Day of Judgment”

This chapter was the first one revealed in totality to the Prophet, and in it, God describes Himself in terms of love and mercy. The root of the words, Al Rahman and Al Raheem, is “rhm,” which denotes love, care, and mercy. From it comes the word for mother’s womb, which is the ultimate manifestation of love and care.

And the words themselves are deeply profound in meaning. Al Rahman has three elements of mercy: first, it is extreme in nature; second, it is immediate; and third, it is temporary, meaning that something can take it away. Al Raheem has two qualities: first, it is eternal and perpetual; and second, it is not necessarily occurring right at this second.

Thus, with the two being paired together, it has the meaning which is roughly translated at “The Extremely, Eternally, Perpetually and Infinitely Merciful.” His Mercy is extreme and occurs right at this second, when we need it most, and it is there perpetually and eternally when we need it later.

And within those two words are God’s love for us. For more than two decades of my life, I was reciting in the prayer these words and had no idea that God was telling me, directly, that He loves me. For too many times in my life, I have had preachers and Imams focus on God’s wrath, and punishment, and anger, and power.

Indeed, He has all of these things. And we all pray that He never shows us those things. Yet, when He chose to introduce Himself to the world, and introduce Himself to those who seek guidance in His Word, He chose to focus on His love and mercy; His beauty and goodness; His care and benevolence. Out of all His infinite qualities, He chose to tell us that He is Al Rahman, Al Raheem.

Now, of course, whenever one has a benevolent master, employer, or manager, those in his responsibility are liable to take advantage of this benevolence. There is a risk that, knowing that our God is a loving and merciful Lord, we may take advantage of this fact and willfully sin against Him saying, “He is Merciful.” That is why He said that He is “Master and King of the Day of Judgment.” There will be a day when we will face Him and be taken to account for all that we have done.

Yet, still, despite this, the first thing He said about Himself is that He is Al Rahman, Al Raheem. This means that His mercy is extreme, immediate, eternal, and perpetual. And this is because He loves us more than we will ever know. I never knew that this amazing chapter told me this from the very beginning. And I am so very grateful to my Lord that I now do.

The Arafat Moments We Can Have Every Day

In the Name of the Kind and Beautiful Precious Beloved

Today, the over 2 million pilgrims are now standing upon the plain of Arafat, fulfilling the most essential and important ritual of the Hajj, or the pilgrimage to Mecca, which every able-bodied Muslim must perform once in his or her lifetime. I was blessed to perform the pilgrimage in 2003, and it was the most powerful experience of my entire life. I recount the pilgrimage in a diary here.

On Arafat, it is said, Adam and Eve were first reunited after their expulsion from the Garden. In this vast and flat plain, pilgrims stand before the Lord and beseech Him for forgiveness and mercy. I still remember this day as if it was yesterday. I could not stop the tears from flowing down my cheeks: I was in total awe of the Power and Majesty of the Lord and ashamed and horrified by the sins that I brought with me to that holy place. And the emotion of standing there before God – like I will on Judgment Day – was completely overwhelming.

Not only is the experience of Arafat humbling, but it is also cleansing, because after the sun sets, all of the pilgrim’s sins are forgiven. At that moment, the pilgrim is born anew. It is a promise from the Lord.

Yet, even after we go to the Hajj and stand on Arafat, we can still have our own Arafat moments wherever we may be. We don’t have to be on Arafat to stand before the Lord and ask His forgiveness. We don’t have to be on Arafat to beseech our Lord’s Beauty and Mercy. We don’t have to be on Arafat to tremble in our shame and humility before the Lord. Wherever we may be, the Shining, Beautiful Face of our Lord is always there. All we have to do is look and seek its radiant light.

And so, let us pledge to have our Arafat moments every single day.

Today, I am fasting, which is something Muslims who are not on the Hajj are encouraged to do, in solidarity with my brothers and sisters who are at Arafat today. I am very happy to do so, because of the beauty of the experience I had at Arafat. Every single day we live and breathe on this earth, we commit sins – despite the love of the Lord flowing upon us as a river of life-giving water. But, our own plains of Arafat are always there, and we can go there and ask His pardon at any time. So, let us do it. We will be all the better because of it.

Read more:

Standing Before The Perfect

In the Name of the Kind and Beautiful Precious Beloved Lord

Here is another example of another famous artist making a song with an incredibly inspiring message. When I listen to this song, “Perfect” by Pink, there are so many images that come into my head. I imagine myself saying these very same words to any one of my daughters:

You’re so mean
When you talk
About yourself
You are wrong
Change the voices
In your head
Make them like you
So complicated
Look how big you’ll make it
Filled with so much hatred
Such a tired game
It’s enough
I’ve done all I can think of
Chased down all my demons
See you do the same

And, in fact, I have actually said to my eldest daughter that I echo these lyrics:

Pretty, pretty please
Don’t you ever, ever feel
Like you’re less than
less than perfect
Pretty, pretty please
If you ever, ever feel
Like you’re nothing
You are perfect to me

Moreover, I had a similar conversation with my late daughter, who was disabled, when she asked me, “Baba, do you love me even though I can’t walk?” I looked at her and said, without any hesitation: “I love you because you can’t walk.” If she was still with us today, I imagine I would have said the above to her as well, and when I think about it, I can’t help but shed a tear for my baby.

Yet, there is another conversation of which this song reminds me. It is a conversation that I should have, one day, when I will stand alone before the Lord, the One, the King. When all is said and done; when I have lived my life to the best of my ability, and I am now resurrected before my Creator, there will be nothing I could say for all the sins that I will bring before Him. All I can do is present myself and confess my weakness before The Perfect:

Made a wrong turn
Once or twice
Dug my way out
Blood and fire
Bad decisions
That’s alright
Welcome to my silly life
Mistreated, misplaced, missunderstood
Miss, no way it’s all good
It didn’t slow me down
Always second guessing
Look, I’m still around

Yet, you know what? I am hopeful – nay, confident – that the response from The Perfect will be something like this:

Pretty, pretty please
Don’t you ever, ever feel
Like you’re less than
less than perfect
Pretty, pretty please
If you ever, ever feel
Like you’re nothing
You are perfect to me

That is the Beauty of the Lord our God. All He wants is for us try our best; to struggle and work to the best of our ability to stay true to His path. And after a lifetime of trying, working, struggling on that path, when we come back to Our Creator, as long as we are not arrogant before His Face, He will say to us that it is OK, that we are perfect to Him. I confident that He will say something like this, because that is how Beautiful the Lord our God is. That is how Lovely the Lord our God is. That is how Wonderful the Lord our God is.

We have such an Awesome God, and so let us praise Him for all times, for ever and ever. Amen.

Good Riddance

In the Name of God, the Kind, the Beautiful

Good riddance. At long last, the criminal murderer Osama bin Laden has been killed by American Special Forces. As the news percolated throughout the world, the myriad of emotions made it difficult to say just one thing about the killing of this man.

Then I started to think about all the horrific things done in this man’s name; all the barbarism that has been inspired by this “holy warrior”; all the strife that has befallen the hundreds of millions of innocent Muslims because of the criminal barbarity that this man has called for in the past.

Consequently, the words flowed out of my mouth: good riddance.

I received a message from someone who had mentioned his killing and said “May God have mercy upon him.” I had a hard time with that. This man didn’t show any mercy to anyone on earth that didn’t fit his ultra-narrow definition of “believer.” Thus, I can’t bring myself to ask God to have mercy upon him.

That is not to say that God cannot have mercy upon him. I am no one to predict or put words in God’s mouth. But I will not be someone who will beseech God to forgive Osama bin Laden. God will deal with him as he deserves. And God is a Lord of justice: bin Laden will get exactly what he deserved.

Even though it has been almost ten years since the horrific attacks of Sept 11, I am thankful that our country never gave up the chase; I am grateful that our President, our Commander-in-Chief, never gave up the fight to find that monster and bring him to justice. Indeed, his killing will not put a stop to the terrorist threat against our nation; it was naive to think otherwise. Nevertheless, it brings our whole country enormous satisfaction that we did finally get him.

Although this operation was a “kill” operation from the very beginning, I do admit that it would have been nice to actually capture bin Laden and bring to trial as the criminal that he was: in shackles and wearing a bright orange jumpsuit. That image would have been quite powerful indeed.

But I will gladly take his elimination from this earth. We are all better without him, and it brings to mind this verse of the Quran:

“And we have become certain that we will never be able to
thwart or escape from God on earth.” (72:12)

No, we are not God; but He did extend His long arm of
Justice through us. And may Osama bin Laden get
exactly what he deserved.

It’s Never Too Late

In the Name of God, the Kind, the Beautiful

I always was intrigued and moved by this song by OneRepublic, “Apologize.” It always sounded nice to me, but I was not motivated to add it to my iPod until I saw it rendered into an acapella version on NBC. Almost right away, you can tell that the song Narrator has a lot of bitterness towards his love interest, who let him down:

I’m holding on your rope,
Got me ten feet off the ground
I’m hearin what you say but I just can’t make a sound
You tell me that you need me
Then you go and cut me down, but wait
You tell me that you’re sorry
Didn’t think I’d turn around, and say…

It’s too late to apologize, it’s too late
I said it’s too late to apologize, it’s too late

The bitterness of the Narrator continues:

I’d take another chance, take a fall
Take a shot for you
And I need you like a heart needs a beat
But it’s nothin new
I loved you with a fire red-
Now it’s turning blue, and you say…
“Sorry” like the angel heaven let me think was you
But I’m afraid…

It’s too late to apologize, it’s too late
I said it’s too late to apologize, it’s too late

Many times, people can hurt each other, and the apologies come too late. Sometimes, the person to whom the apology is directed, like the song Narrator, actually says, “Too little, too late.” You know what, many times we do apologize too late to the ones we love and may have hurt. That’s because, many times, it is very hard to apologize. It is very hard to swallow your ego and pride and admit that you were wrong and feel sorry for the hurt you have caused.

Why is this so?

Are we so arrogant that we cannot see when we do wrong ourselves? Partly, yes. Are we so arrogant that we cannot show humility to someone else? Partly, yes. Yet, it is also hard to face the fact that you have caused someone you care about very much emotional harm and pain. It is also difficult to remind yourself that you are not perfect, and that you do make mistakes.

For all that and more is involved by simply saying, “I’m sorry.” So, let us all commit ourselves to try to say “I’m sorry” sooner whenever we make a mistake and hurt the ones we love. That way, we won’t be told, “It’s too late to apologize, it’s too late…”

Yet, there is Someone to Whom it is never too late to apologize: our Precious Beloved Lord. I am always reminded of this fact when I listen to this song. It is never too late to say to the Lord, “I’m sorry.” The Lord is always there, waiting for us to come back to Him and re-enter his fold. For whenever we sin, we estrange ourselves from our Precious Beloved. We place a barrier between us and He. We fall as our father Adam (pbuh) fell all those years ago.

Yet, just as our father came back to his Lord, it is never too late to come back to Ours. He has given us so much, not the least of which is life when we were dead nothing. The Qur’an reminds us of this fact: “Has there not been a period of time when humanity was nothing to be mentioned at all?” (76:1) Indeed, there was probably a long period of time when we were nothing. Yet, the Lord our God gave us life. For this fact alone, we should be coming back to the Lord and apologizing to Him every single hour for our sins against Him.

All the same challenges with apologies apply here, as well. It may be difficult to show to admit that you were wrong. It may be difficult to swallow your pride and come back with humility to the Lord. Yet, it should not be. There is no more Beautiful Being to which to come back. The Lord will never say, “Too little, too late” as long as we come back to Him while we are alive in this world. The Lord will not chastise us for all that we did. He will not make us feel terrible for the wrongs we have committed. In fact, we can never delude ourselves by thinking that our sin is bigger than God’s mercy. Never. When we come to Him, He will simply open His arms to us and let us into His soothing mercy.

There is a Sacred Hadith, which is a saying of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) in which he relays what God has said, that illustrates this perfectly:

“A man sinned greatly against himself, and when death came to him he charged his sons, saying: ‘When I have died, burn me, then crush me and scatter [my ashes] into the sea, for, by Allah, if my Lord takes possession of me, He will punish me in a manner in which He has punished no one [else].’ So they did that to him. Then He said to the earth: ‘Produce what you have taken – and there he was!’ And He said to him: ‘What induced you to do what you did?’ He said: ‘Being afraid of You, O my Lord (or he said: ‘Being frightened of You’),’ and because of that He forgave him.”

The hadith literature is full of stories like this, of the immense and truly immeasurable mercy of the Lord. It is out of His Love that He is like this. In fact, the Lord says in another hadith: “My Mercy prevails over my Wrath.” What a Beautiful and Awesome God we have. So why not come back to Him as many times as we can? Why not say “Sorry” as often as possible and receive the warmth and healing of His mercy? We will not regret it in the least.

Yes, human beings can be spiteful and cruel and unforgiving when we say “I’m sorry” to them. It may be that they are truly hurt, and it is hard for them to “forgive and forget” right then and there. But, that is not the case with the Lord. When we sin against Him, we do not harm the Lord one iota. We only harm ourselves by estranging ourselves from the Face of God. And when we come back to Him and say, “I’m so sorry, Lord,” He will forgive on the spot. He told us so. And as long as we live and breathe on God’s green earth, it is never too late.

The Day I’m Happy to Fast

In the Name of God, the Kind, the Beautiful

Of all the ritual practices of Islam, I find fasting to be among the most difficult for me. For some reason, going all day without food or drink takes a tough toll on me. I think it’s because I’m weak. But I am who I am. I pray the Lord forgives my weakness.

But on this day, the Day of Arafat, I’m happy to fast. That’s because it is in solidarity with my brothers and sisters who were blessed to be able to go to Mecca to perform the once in a lifetime pilgrimage. I was blessed to go on that sacred quest in 2003.

The Day of Arafat is when pilgrims, who number 2.5 million this year, stand in the plain of Arafat and plea for forgiveness from God. It is one of the most emotional and powerful days of a most powerful spiritual experience. I remember sitting down – with tears of shame flowing down my cheeks – and thinking about all the ways I fell short of God’s way. And then I begged Him to look past them and take me into His arms. The moment is one I will never forget as long as I live.

For those who are not on the Hajj, it is encouraged to fast this day in solidarity. And so I’m happy to fast and remind myself of that day when I came to my Lord’s House and He let me in with smiling Face. Arafat was yesterday.

Thanks to Him, the day is short this time of year and thus fasting is easy. But even if Arafat is in the midst of summer – which it will be in a few years – I will fast with a smiling face. Because that day was such a happy day for me.

Let me also send to everyone a prayer for a blessed Eid ul Adha today. May the soothing mercy of the Precious Beloved cover all of us today and every day His Face shines over the world.

In Your Most Holy Name I ask You. Amen.