This is the third in a series of essays on Islam and religion in general, which the author wrote to his daughter many years ago, while she was a teenager studying in the UK. There are six essays in total written roughly a week apart over a period of about two months. Surkhyian is pleased to publish them exclusively.
Three: The Divine Mercy
In my first message in this series I talked about the issue of ‘to believe or not to believe’. In the second, I talked about an ‘eternal message’. The religions appear to have an amazing continuity. It is as if the same message is repeated again and again tempered by the requirements of time and location.
If there is a single common theme that pervades the Quran it is mercy. This is not the mercy of a ruler for his subjects or a court for a criminal. The word used in Arabic is: ‘rahma’. This is derived from the Arabic word for womb – ‘rihm’. So it is the mercy of a mother for her baby. It has a connotation of tenderness, love and concern that only mothers experience. It is how the Quran characterizes God’s mercy for His creatures. And indeed, the Quran opens with the words: ‘In the name of the Rahmaan, the Raheem’. These nouns, ‘Rahmaan and Raheem’, represent intensifications in meaning of someone who is ‘merciful’. Notice the reappearance here of the same root used in ‘rihm’ – womb.
I remember reading the story of the Persian mystic, Abul Hasan Al-Khurqani, who was travelling at night in the desert. A voice called to him, as he was getting ready to sleep, and said: O Abul Hasan, shall I tell the people what I know about your inner thoughts so that they may stone you to death? Abul Hasan replied: And shall I tell them, My Lord, what I know of your Mercy and perceive of your Grace, so that none may bow to you in prayer again? There was a moment of silence. And then the voice replied: Keep your secret, Abul Hasan, and I shall keep mine.
The story may or may not be apocryphal. But the message it conveys is absolutely in keeping with the spirit of the Quran.
You ask: Is it not ok just to believe and not be a part of any organized religion? We, as humans, cannot place limits on the Divine Mercy. So, the answer to your question cannot but concede the possibility of its premise. In fact, the Quran seems to suggest that whoever dies with ‘tauheed’ in his or her heart will not be denied the Mercy of God.
But remember that the great religions have been revealed to guide humanity. They are like ships that carry travellers across, a sometimes dark and stormy sea, to an inevitable shore. Aboard ship, on a rough sea, you stand firm. You don’t jump overboard. Yes, nothing prevents you from opting to swim to the shore yourself. But, at best, this is a risky strategy.
In Islam we talk about the ‘Shariah’. This is the code, based on the Quran, and the life and sayings of the Prophet by which we live our lives. In Arabic, the term ‘Shariah’ is used to mean a high road by which animals find their way to a watering hole. So, the question is: Would you rather walk this ‘high road’, paved byGod’sMercy, that will take you surely where you have to go? Or, would you rather pull out your pen knife,and cut your own path through the forests and the hills using your worst enemy, your nafs,as your guide?
And to those who walk this ‘high road’ the Quran makes a promise: لَا خَوْفٌ عَلَيْهِمْ وَلَا هُمْ يَحْزَنُونَ. ‘No fear shall come upon them and neither shall they grieve’. Who in the Universe, other than its Creator, can keep such an extraordinary promise?
There are a few more things that need to be said. I hope to come back to these, God willing, in my next message.
To be continued
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