Skip to main content

Images

The night and day and the sun and moon are (only) some of His signs. So do not bow before the sun and the moon, but bow in homage to God who created them, if you truly worship Him.

Ha Mim As-Sajdah, 41:37

Some thoughts

It is easy to be overwhelmed by the immensity of a mountain, the grandeur of a river, the beauty of nature. But neither the mountain, nor the river, nor nature as a whole should be regarded as God Himself. In certain religions they are sometimes given divine qualities but that is only so because God shines through them just in the same way that he shines through qualities of the soul such as love, generousness and balance. No quality should be equated to God however – everything is simply a part of His creation in which He can be discovered. Even the saintliness of saints is but a remembrance of the One Divinity at the core of existence.

We shouldn’t, therefore, worship love as such, but recognize love as an act of worshipping God. We shouldn’t bow to the river itself but intensely marvel at it as a way to bow to the One Divine Life that flows through it.  

What Christians can learn

The Qur’anic request, which often returns in the Holy Book, not to confuse worship of God with worship of His images obviously poses one of the fundamental spiritual questions for Christians: is Jesus only an image of God or God Himself?

This question is of course centuries old and many Christian theologians as well as Muslim scholars have offered their answers to it. The great Al Ghazali put forward a very strong argument, for example. He wrote that “Christians are mistaken when they say Jesus and God or one and the same. They are as mistaken as the one who looks into a mirror and sees in it a colored image yet thinks that this image is the image of the mirror, and this color is the color of the mirror. Far from it! For the mirror has no color in itself; its nature is rather to receive the image of colored things in such a way as to display them to those looking at the appearance of things as though they were the images of the mirror - to the point where a child who sees a man in the mirror thinks that the man actually is in the mirror.” To Al Ghazali then, Jesus mirrors God but he isn’t God Himself.

Both historical and present day Christian scholars would of course refute Al Ghazali’s claim with similarly strong arguments. And I certainly do not want to reopen a discussion on the topic itself. I simply would like to point out that every Christian should, at least once in his life, reflect very thoroughly on the matter. And guided by what wise scholars had to say about it, Christians should formulate their personal answer. For even though many answers can be given, it remains relevant to ask the question.

Questions for Muslims

A very good Muslim friend of mine one day said to me: “A lot of Muslims are trying too much to be like the prophet. We should find solutions for our lives and society with our reason as well and we shouldn’t think we can solve everything merely by trying to act and look like the prophet and the first Muslims. Of course Mohammed can serve as a spiritual example. But we don’t have to imitate him in an absurd way. We should understand that Mohammed was indeed a prophet in his time. So when we understand his actions in their context, we can learn from him. But his prophethood finished when he died. Strangely enough it seems that Christians, who say of Christ that he lives forever, imitate him a lot less while some Muslim brothers and sisters, for who the prophet should be a person just like any other, attribute to him an almost divine status.” I believe there is much truth in what he said.

ShareFacebookTwitterGoogle+Linkedin

Comments

'Thank you....that was a

Anonymous

'Thank you....that was a super explanation for me..as I fly between faiths....this discourse helps immensely....'.love as an act of worshipping God'.....is where everything lies in the heart of the human regardless of faith..........x

I disagree with your Muslim

Anonymous

I disagree with your Muslim friend. A lot of Muslims *pretend* to be like the Prophet. How many Muslim zealots actually wash the dishes, fix their own shoes, give away their wealth, etc?

The sign of true selfless love is trying to copy every little detail of someone who you see as perfection albeit *human* perfection.

My friend was of course

Jonas Yunus

My friend was of course talking about an over-emphasis on external mimicry. (Like the way the prophet dressed, the length of his beard, etc.) Your words imply that true love mimics the selflessness of the beloved, but if 'copying every little detail' also implies every external aspect, it ceases to be love and becomes obsession and infatuation. 

I would actually argue

Anonymous

I would actually argue obsession can be a branch of deep love. Of course, they *can* have their toxic byproducts as they offset the balance by focusing on the external heavily, but this *can* be the result of love. Or it can be the result of many other things such as self-righteousness and false piety. But even obsession can *result* from a passionate love. We have several accounts of sahaba that died out of love of the Prophet. Indeed that was the case of the famous Imam Busiri.

It may be difficult for us to understand this in our context and society, where such things are either polluted or incapable of being experienced. Therefore, obsession is given a negative connotation based on failed trials and love stories.

Even following the externals (while maintaining a healthy dose of moderation of course, as moderation is commanded for us) is out of love for a good majority of Muslims. Many men actually keep the beard or part their hair how he parted his hair simply because of love for him (pbuh). This doesn't stem out of logic but a kind of love that goes beyond just mere admiration and is difficult to explain to those who haven't experienced it.

Agreed that love can take

Jonas Yunus

Agreed that love can take many forms and can inspire to different acts of devotion. Though I think you are very right in bracketing the need for moderation, for I believe this is indeed a crucial aspect in this matter. To find the right balance between self-expression of the soul and prophetic transcendence towards the divine whole, is one of the core aspects of the faith of any believer rooted in the Abrahamic tradition.

I agree. Of course I did not

Anonymous

I agree. Of course I did not intend to imply replacing one's self-expression wholly with details from another source. I was talking about incorporating those details to become 'better' (as we believe) selves of our selves. The extent of this, external or internal, of course varies. We have diverse personalities in the sahaba - they conformed yet remained distinctive.

During the Prophet's time, we had Abu Bakr - who was introverted, calm, collected. But we also had Umar, who was 'macho' and extroverted and everyone was afraid of him. 'Even Satan is afraid of you, O Umar' the Prophet joked once. And we had Nuayman ibn Amr, the ultimate prankster. And so forth.

The act of someone who pays attention to the length of his beard may on a glance seem like a dry ritual in and of itself, but that may not be the entire picture. Maybe this act represents an inner state. Our outer can often be a reflection of the inner. Of course driving ourselves mental defeats the purpose of why we conform to the Sunnah in the first place so moderation is important.

These are good questions though as they enter important areas (conforming to the sunnah, balance, moderation, the Prophet's role...). The key to understanding Islam after the doctrinal fundamentals (in my opinion) is understanding the Prophet's role. He is not just a utility for God. He is the intercessor on the Last Day even for some non-Muslims, as some scholars believe. He is the receiver of the verbatim words of God. Our mother Aisha (God be pleased with her) described that it would be a cold day and the Prophet's body would fill with sweat when the revelation descended to him.

Holy Prophet (PBUH) is the

Maryam Hameed

Holy Prophet (PBUH) is the practical example of how to lead a life... He is the "Live Tafseer" we have. This is actuallly the problems that when we start following religion we want to become Hazrat Ali .... Hazrat Umer ...and etc... what actually needed is to know their traits... the philosophy and the intellect behind their actions.... and from that polish our original nature... rather than developing a new one.

In addition to the

Jonas Yunus

In addition to the argumentation of Al Ghazali, some might perhaps also find it worthwhile to listen to the recording of an interview with the ever knowladgeable Abdal Hakim Murad looking at Jesus from an Islamic perspective. Food for thought for Christians and Muslims alike. You can find the podcast here: http://www.thingsunseen.co.uk/life-of-the-spirit/jesus-the-muslim/