Immigrants, Piercing Sights, Divine Gender

Issue 967 » October 6, 2017 - Muharram 16, 1439

Living The Quran

Al-Baqara (The Cow) Sura 2: Verse 218

"Those who believed and those who emigrated and exerted themselves in the path of God, these have hope of God's Mercy. God is All-forgiving, Compassionate to each. "

In this passage, those who are persecuted for their belief and are forced into exile are given hope. There is an obvious historical context: the people 'who believed and those who emigrated and exerted themselves in the path of God' are the early Muslims in Mecca. They had no option but to migrate to Medina along with the Prophet Muhammad.

The Quran sees migration as an option for all those who suffer religious intolerance, or other forms of oppression and persecution. This is not just the way of the Prophet Muhammad, but most prophets. Prophet Abraham, who was threatened by his own people, had to go into exile. Moses and the Israelites had to flee the oppression of the Pharaoh.

The Quran sees migration as a beneficial exercise. It is encouraged not just to escape oppression but also in the pursuit of learning. Migrants and refugees are to be helped and supported. They add intellectual and economic capital to a community, fill gaps in the labour markets and contribute to the economy of both countries: the one they have left behind and the one they have made their new home.

The moral imperative to oppose oppression and persecution as well as to aid those who flee its clutches should remind us that we still can be one community, a community of common humanity. Such a community must exert itself in practical, humane ways to protect the weak, the needy, all those who suffer, whatever their origin, belief or identity, because they are, just like us, God's creatures: part of the sacred trust that is our duty to sustain and nurture.

Compiled From:
"Reading the Qur'an: The Contemporary Relevance of the Sacred Text of Islam" - Ziauddin Sardar, pp. 159-160

Understanding The Prophet's Life

Piercing Sight

A believer who is active and has performed some extra acts of worship may feel a certain spiritual awakening. Then, he may think that he is able to feel or see the unseen or have the piercing sight about which the Prophet said: "Beware of the piercing sight of the believer, for he sees with the light of God." [Tabarani] Therefore, Ibn Ata warns us by saying: "Attempting to discover the flaws within you is better than attempting to discover the spiritual worlds hidden from you."

If one thinks that he is free from flaws, then surely there is a problem. Flaws are part of the nature of human beings. Only God has the attributes of perfection, glory to Him. And as much perfection as God has, this is the imperfection we have. God is the Generous, while humans are misers. God is Almighty, while humans are weak creatures. God is always Merciful, while humans can be cruel. God is Most Forbearing, while humans have limited patience. God is All-Forgiving, while humans do not forgive easily. God is All-Wise, while humans are prone to hasty judgments. God is the Knower, while humans have very limited knowledge. God is the Just, while humans are often unjust.

In addition to these imperfections, we should strive to discover specific flaws within ourselves. This is much better than trying to discover the spiritual worlds hidden from us. One cannot have true insight into the spiritual world before purifying himself, in any case. Know that a person can never purify himself completely, but he should do as much as he can. Trying to mend one's inner self eventually helps in realising the quality of humbleness. A certain degree of self-purification and humbleness elevate us and bring about divinely bestowed knowledge and spiritual insights.

Compiled From:
"A Journey to God: Reflections on the Hikam of Ibn Ataillah" - Jasser Auda


Divine Gender

A pronoun is only a function of language. It does not convey or express gender politics. The trouble is, of course, when we choose one pronoun of the English three, some people take it literally. I don't believe God/Allah is female. On the contrary, I think God transcends gender. So the only way to remind myself (and others) of this is to use all of the English pronouns, but especially to use 'She'. We are so comfortable with using 'He' with Allah that we slip into thinking Allah is male, a literal 'He'.

If we take 'He' unquestionably, then we should be able to take 'She' equally unquestionably — but we don't. That's why we need to use 'She' more often. A pronoun is a certain kind of marker in language, not the essence of the divine.

Arabic-speaking people take the gender of "things" literally: they start giving social or anthropological characteristics to inanimate objects. The table is feminine and they start making a social analysis of why it is feminine. Oddly enough, in Arabic, the sun is feminine and the moon is masculine. Think about that for a minute. We tend to think in opposite gender terms about the sun and the moon in English. But it is not literal; it's a metaphor.

It's true the Quran only uses the Arabic masculine (singular) pronoun and not the feminine. But that's not literal either. The Quran uses the first-person singular, 'I' and 'Me' for Allah, and also uses the first-person plural, 'We' and 'Us'. However, no one ever takes that literally, proposing that Allah is more than one! In fact, they make excuses for this occurrence in the sacred text. They give reasons for not taking it literally ("It's the royal we"). However, many people get literal about the pronoun 'He' — they get crazy about it.

The Quran says laysa ka mithlihi shayun: "there is no thing like Him." It also says wa min kulli shayun khalaqnaa zawjayn: "(from) all things We have created (in) pairs." Thus pairedness is a characteristic of that which is created. Here the word shay means "created thing or the thing-ness of creation." But Allah is not created and does not share in this paired reality; either by the dualism of it or even by being one part of a pair, implying the relationship of being in opposition. This is not a characteristic of the Creator. Pretty straightforward if you think about it. But since we as human beings have been affected by patriarchy, then we reflect that onto God/Allah. The divine cannot have gender.

Compiled From:
"The 99 Names: Allah is not He or She" - Amina Wadud