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Forgiving and kind

To God belongs the kingdom
of the heavens and the earth.
He may forgive whosoever He please
and afflict whosoever He will.
Yet God is forgiving and kind.

Al-Fath, 48:14

Some thoughts

No-one is as merciful as the one that could destroy everything but eventually shows forgiveness and kindness. The grandour of God therefore doesn’t lie in His overwhelming power but in His gentleness.

The surah says that both heaven and earth 'belong to God'. That's because they are His creation. He could, if He pleased, destroy all that is found within the heavens and the earth - which means He could destroy everything. But he does not and allows everything to have a place within His creation. And if everything has a place within His creation, everything has a place within Him, for he surrounds all of that creation. In other words: there is nothing outside of God and everything within God is treated with kindness.

It might take some time for some to be able to perceive this in the world, but it can actually be seen everywhere you look. Everything you can see in the heavens and the earth might eventually wither and die but if you reverse that thought, you can see that  everything is also granted a time of existence. It is given the possibility to take shape and to become a part of the beautiful whole.

What Christians can learn

We are not to rule the world – God is. The beautiful whole exists by grace of the divine but we often forget it. A lot of Christian societies have therefore come to the point that they have overestimated their ‘guardianship’ of creation. Instead of dealing with our planet and nature as if it were a gift to treasure, we started to decide that we could mould it, change it and extract it in any way we pleased. And now we reach the limits of this thoughtlessness. Species are going extinct at alarmingly high speed, heavy changes of the climate cause calamities and natural resources deplete too quickly for too often we destroy without restoring.

There can be but one reason why God lets us still continue such a way of life: he is indeed very forgiving and kind. The limits of the divine are very wide and allow us many mistakes. So if God is always called a Father in Christianity, perhaps it is time we discovered more of his ‘embracing motherness’. It might teach us that, just like a mother, He’s forgiving and kind because He keeps more faith in us than we in Him.

What does it mean to say “God has faith in us”? It means that the deeper divine love is still with us and that, if this is so, there still is enough goodness in mankind. It must mean that there still are enough people who do strive for a new world full of peace and balance. And that should give us hope.

Questions for Muslims

Striving for peace and balance is not something we should only do in our society and in the way we deal with nature. It should be an aspect of our daily lives and personal relationships as well. Spiritually speaking this is rather self-evident. But sadly enough I often see a lot of insistence on harsh power in many Muslim families. (Well, certainly not only in Muslim families, but let me perhaps say: also in Muslim families.) Whether it is a matter of culture or religion is of little concern here, but I simply state what I see: often a strongly conservative mind-set of certain fathers and mothers limits the lives of their children and blames them harshly when they do something wrong – or even when they’re simply a bit different than the norm.

If even the heaven and earth belong to God, how much more than do our own lives and those of our children belong to Him? Should we not take it as an example then, how God rules the heaven and earth? He does so with forgiveness and kindness. Whatever your own specific style of education, should forgiveness and kindness not always be the norm to raise a family? That seems to me to be the basis of true guardianship – whether it is guardianship of the world as a whole or of a small family.

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Comments

Firstly, I'd like to commend

Zara

Firstly, I'd like to commend you for this blog. Often times, historically and presently, it seems that Christianity and Islam are the great rivals always ready to strike at each other's throats... This blog is impressive. Specially since you have the blessed opportunity to interview (in my opinion) one of the vessels of wisdom of Western Islam - Sh. Abdal Hakim Murad.

The Qur’an encourages civility instead of a ‘black-and-white’ generalized picture of Christians:

They are not all alike: among the followers of earlier revelation there are upright people,
who recite God's messages throughout the night, and prostrate themselves [before Him].
They believe in God and the Last Day, and enjoin the doing of what is right and forbid the doing
of what is wrong, and vie with one another in doing good works: and these are among the
righteous. (3rd chapter, verses 113-115)

Now. Coming to the topic of forgiveness, I would love to know: how do you contend with the Christian concept of original sin? Isn’t that collective guilt or blame? I surely don’t intuitively find it reasonable for me to pay for the sins of my father. Isn’t it cruel of a merciful God to make us enter into the world destined for damnation (only through accepting the blood price that was payed by Jesus are we “saved”)? Otherwise, we are born doomed.

Whereas, as you probably know, Islam offers quite a different picture, and one that actually makes sense to me and one which manifests the mercy in one of God’s name, Ar-Rahman: The Most Merciful. Islam has a concept of the “fitrah,” which states contrariwise that God has actually made us enter into the world destined for the divine Garden, but it is we falling enslaved to the dunya, or this lower world, change this compass and direction. That is why all schools of thought in Islam have always believed that children who die enter heaven regardless of the religious background of their parents because they are without sin.

The Qur’an acknowledges we are capable of sin (the passage where angels question 'will You create a creation that will shed blood...'), but it’s not due to inherited sin from Adam, and anyways, we believe that God forgave Adam and Eve because when a newly-born naive child disobeys a command from his mother, his mother acknowledges her child’s condition and if she’s truly fair, she doesn’t leave a curse on him and his progeny. She forgives. Adam’s story is the human story. It’s our condition. We sin but He forgives, and that doesn’t detract from his Glory or Justice because true repentance (tauba) is so much more powerful than that. As the great Ibn ul Qayyim stated: “Satan rejoiced when Adam came out of Paradise, but he did not know that when a diver sinks into the sea, he collects pearls and then rises again.”

In a way, God made Adam’s sin to represent not a tragic fault but part of the vulnerable condition of man (Quran: "Man was created weak"). This vulnerable condition, not a tragic fault, can be utilized to reach an even higher spiritual state than one in which he hadn't sinned, or in Adam’s case, where he was unaware of his nakedness. Thus, it’s not worthy of a curse (original sin) but an opportunity. We don't see Adam coming out from the Garden as a "fall."

I am trying to wrap my mind across this part of Christian doctrine. I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Dear Zara, I will gladly try

Jonas Yunus

Dear Zara,

I will gladly try to answer your question and I'm sure that you will find quite a lot of agreement with most of what you're saying. Yet let me first remark that the concept of 'original sin' in many ways isn't a much discussed topic anymore - at least in the part of the Christian world where I come from. It has become a somewhat faded aspect of Christian theology and spirituality, I guess for a big part because of some obvious aberrations like - as you mention - the idea that babies would be damned to hell if they weren't baptised in time. Nonetheless, if properly understood, the spiritual idea behind the concept of original sin can be of much worth to people's understanding of Christianity.

As I was recently reading a book about Carl Jung's life, I came accross this quote: "When one lives one's own life, one must take mistakes into the bargain; life would not be complete without them." It immediatly gave me a starting point to answer your question for as Jung implies, everyone is inevitably confronted with pain, problems and mistakes in his or her life. Perhaps it might theoretically be possible to live life without making mistakes, but in all factuality of life, humans simply make mistakes and sin. It's a spiritual fact we better take for granted. As you quoted the Qur'an "Man was created weak".

So like this Qur'an quote doesn't say anything about innocent babies, neither does original sin. Yet it also refers to the 'vulnerable human condition' as you called it, because a Christian interpretation of 'the fall of Adam' is that somewhere along the evolution of the human race, we developed 'ego' - that is to say, egocentrism and egoism - and as we have all experienced ourselves, this self-centered ego is inclined to sin. It has simply become a part of our human constitution and we have to learn to deal with it. Calling it 'original sin' is, in a way, one side of the coin, whereas calling it 'an opportunity' like you do, might be another side.

Yet however you view it, one thing is clear in the Christian tradition: because of our stuckness in ego, we will always be in dire need of grace. For our own egos can't untangle themselves. By definition we need to be pulled out of them. The divine hand needs to be mercifully stretched out to us to pull us out of the merely human condition and into a state of deeper 'soulfulness'. But again, this focus on the need for divine mercy to be able to transcend our egos, coincides with much of what you write. 

We can however look at the concept of original sin in yet another way. And this might explain more of what is indeed commonly felt to be some sort of 'having to pay for the sins of our fathers'. For in a way we actually do. Not even as a spiritual idea, but as a matter of fact since it is difficult to deny that the human race for a long time now disrupted many God-given balances of human society as well as the world at large. Worldwide economic disparity and the global ecological crisis are the most prominent examples thereof. 

Of course, these imbalances are not strictly speaking the 'sin' or 'fault' of any particular generation but the sad reality is that we also can't get rid of the 'collective burden' of these imbalances. Even more so, they aren't just a burden, they're also a constant moral question because the way all of us personally choose to live, will determine whether we perpetuate these imbalances or slowly try to solve them.

The importance of the message of Christ, then, is the idea and teaching that this 'original sin' of a self-centered ego and the imbalances produced by the collective self-centered egos isn't the final word. Christ's life and message show that there are ways out of it. That is why He 'saves' us from the stuckness of original sin. So the message of original sin isn't that we're doomed, but quite the reverse: that there is a way out of the perpetual mistakes of the human condition. For Christ's example shows that the ego can be transcended and that the balance between God and the world can be restored.