Fine Address, Openness and Objectivity, Unnatural Wish

Issue 958 » August 4, 2017 - Dhul Qida 12, 1438

Living The Quran

Fine Address
Al-Zumar (The Throngs) Sura 39: Verse 53

"Say: [Thus speaks God]: You servants of Mine who have transgressed against their own souls! Do not despair of God's mercy: God forgives all sins; He alone is Much-Forgiving, Merciful."

It is divine mercy that will erase every transgression, whatever it happens to be. It is an invitation to all those who have gone far into error and led a life that has taken them far astray, telling them hope still remains available and God's mercy and forgiveness are not far from them. God is most merciful to His servants. He knows their weaknesses and the factors that work on them, whether these are within themselves or in society. He is aware that Satan sets traps for them at every corner, using a great variety of forces, never tiring of his attempt to seduce them. Moreover, God knows that man can easily fall when he lets his bond to the truth weaken, and that his desires and aspirations can easily disturb his equilibrium, pulling him this way or that, leading him into error.

As God knows all this about man, He provides him with ample help, opening the gates of His mercy. He does not take him to task for his sin until He has facilitated for him all the ways and means to rectify his error and mend his ways. Nevertheless, when man goes deep into sin, thinking that he is totally rejected by God and that all is lost, he hears at this point of utter despair a fine address expressing the unlimited mercy available to him

Compiled From:
"In The Shade of The Quran" - Sayyid Qutb, Vol. 14, pp. 359, 360

Understanding The Prophet's Life

Openness and Objectivity

The story of the "sons of Arfida" — a familiar Arabian linguistic reference to Ethiopians — provides a telling illustration of the place of culture (here, of course, Black African culture) within the Prophetic dispensation. In celebration of an annual Islamic religious festival, a group of Black African converts began to beat leather drums and dance with spears in the Prophet's (peace be upon him) mosque. Umar ibn al-Khattab — one of the chief Companions — felt compelled to interfere and stop them, but the Prophet intervened on their behalf, directing Umar to leave them alone and noting to him that they were "the sons of Arfida," that is, not his people. The Prophet invited his wife Aisha to watch the dance, took her into the crowd, and lifted her over his back, so that she could watch them clearly as she eagerly leaned forward, her cheek pressing against his. The Prophet made it a point to dispel the Ethiopians' misgivings about Umar's intrusion and encouraged them to dance well and, in one account of this authentic story, reassured them to keep up their drumming and dancing, saying: "Play your games, sons of Arfida, so the Jews and Christians know there is latitude in our religion." [The story is related in Bukhari and Muslim, the concluding references is taken from Musnad al-Humaydi]

The Prophet's intervention to stop Umar made it clear that the Ethiopians were not to be judged by Umar's indigenous Arabian standards or made to conform to them. The "sons of Arfida" had their own distinctive cultural tastes and conventional usages. The fact that they had embraced Islam did not mean they were also required to commit cultural apostasy or become subservient to Arab customs. The Prophet allowed Muslim Arabs agency in their social expression and extended a similar right to non-Arabs. By his affirmation of the "sons of Arfida," he established an overriding sunna and abiding legal precedent for respecting different ethnic and cultural traditions and acknowledging the emotional needs, tastes, and cultural inclinations of all who embraced his teaching.

The Prophet cultivated openness and objectivity toward others — this was also part of his lesson to Umar — and such openness enabled his Companions to acknowledge the good in other cultures even when they were not only hostile to the rise of Islamic power but constituted Islam's most formidable enemy.

Compiled From:
"Islam and the Cultural Imperative" - Umar Faruq Abd-Allah


Unnatural Wish

While affirming the greatness and dignity of man in general, Islam is very realistic. Islam never strives to nurse properties which are not rooted in human nature. It does not attempt to make us angels, as this is impossible. It tends to make us what we are: human. Although it knows a kind of asceticism, Islam has never tried to destroy life, health, intellect, sociability, or desires for happiness and pleasure. A certain degree of asceticism is here only to counterbalance our instincts or to provide a balance between body and soul, between animalistic and ethical urges. Through ablution, prayer, fasting, jamaah, activity, observation, struggle, and mediation, Islam carries on nature's work of shaping man. There is no room for opposition to nature. The continuity is maintained even when objectives do not coincide.

It is just this attitude of a religion which has caused misunderstandings that have lasted until this very day.

Some attacked Islam for its ostensible sensuality, backing their claims with quotes from the Quran and examples from Muhammad's life. We must clearly and openly say: yes, Islam pleads for a natural life and against asceticism, for richness and against poverty, for man's power over nature not only on this planet but if possible also in the universe. Yet, to understand Islam properly, we should look at these ideas of nature, richness, politics, science, power, knowledge, and joy in a somewhat different way than the people of Western civilization do.

Islam requires that man takeover all responsibility; it does not impose the ideal of poverty, asceticism, and sufferance. It does not forbid man to taste "the salt of the earth and of the large salty sea." It postulates for man a complete and full life. This life is charted by two coordinates: one is the natural desire for happiness and power; the other is moral perfection, "the permanent creation of oneself." These desires contradict and exclude each other in logic only; in real life, they have come together in innumerable ways in our own life and before our eyes. Such a possibility has only been given to man, and man - this controversial being - can be defined by it.

The Gospels condemn instincts and speak only about the soul. The Quran brings them back, for they are true and real, although not so noble. The Quran mentions them with understanding, not with blame. The angels' bow to man implied the superiority of the human over the angelic. Men are not gentle and graceful beings solely oriented toward good. They are physical, coarse, contradictory, stretched between desires and temptations. In an unnatural wish to make them sinless and infallible, we suddenly realize that we have obtained bloodless, sentimental, and false personalities incapable of both good and evil. Separating them from mother earth, we separate them from life, and where there is no life, there is no virtue either.

Compiled From:
"Islam Between East and West" - Elija Ali Izetbegovic, pp. 224, 225