Every once in a while, I wonder at my irrationality in writing these letters that you never read. What is the point of talking to someone who doesn’t want to listen to what you have to say? And then I remember the reason why I made a promise when I started off this series. It was because I knew that when I wanted to chicken out or give up, the weight of that word would bind me.
When that happens, I am reminded of the fact that these letters may have a lot to do with what I want to say or how I feel, but they are also firmly embedded in the desire to share the treasure of knowledge I am tapping into with every letter. The Prophet of Islam (pbuh) also spoke to people who weren’t willing to listen, right? Some listened in time, some never did. But the loss was theirs and never his.
So what do I have to lose in continuing with these letters? Some pride maybe, a little ego at the thought that you might be snickering when you see the tag pop up in your feed and then simply deleting it. Perhaps the doubt that the others reading this might be thinking, “What? She’s *still* at it?”
And what do I have to gain? Everything. In every letter I write, I see something new in the world around me. I learn something and I am inspired to change a part of me for the better. Every time I sit down to put these words together, I find I am once again overwhelmed by gratitude at how much God has provided for my guidance out of the darkness I was in, towards a place of light.
And perhaps also, with every time I finish one of these letters, I feel a little bit sadder because I no longer know how much further from that light you have walked away….
Remember my son, the best of my advice is tell you to fear God, to concentrate and to confine yourself to the performance of those duties that have been made incumbent upon you by Him and to follow in the footsteps of your ancestors and your pious and virtuous relatives. Verily, they always carefully measured their thoughts and deeds, as you must also try to do.
This kind of deliberation made them take from life what was really the best and forsake that which was not made incumbent upon them.
Fear God. How often has that phrase been repeated in religious circles? And how often it has been misunderstood or misinterpreted. Is God an entity to be afraid of? Are we supposed to live as serfs – bound by a feudal Lord – to obey Him under the threat of a hell we have not seen, but whose terrors we have been told we cannot imagine? Are we to be subdued by dread and promises of the worst kind of fate for an eternity. Is that truly what we were created for and what is meant to motivate us to worship and follow His Laws?
How can you love a God you are afraid of? How can you be intimate with an entity that threatens you? How will you ever turn to Him in times of need if you live constantly looking over your shoulder in fear of His Wrath?
I don’t deny that there is a Hell and that we can end up in it because of our sins, but perhaps it is because we begin with that as the basic premise of belief that religion seems such a difficult, limiting and oppressive system to so many.
What if we started with love instead? What happens when you love someone? Truly love them with all your heart and soul. Doesn’t it become the most natural thing in the world to want to impress them, to gain their respect and admiration? To please them?
As we move from new-love to mature-love, there is a subtle transition in our attitude. We begin with being afraid of doing or saying something silly or something that will make the other person think less of us (or worse leave us). And because we can no longer imagine life without them, this fear keeps us on our toes – we need to look our best, to sound our best and always be at our most perfect possible infront of them.
With time, when we trust them enough to believe they’re with us for who we are and not what we do – when we realise the otherperson isn’t going anywhere – we find a place of comfort where we know the occasional idiotic thing said will not drive them away.
In a really good relationship, however, we are aware of the danger of complacency, the possiblity of destroying the relationship if it isn’t nurtured, so we still try to surprise them with something clever or special all the time. We strive to become even more beautiful than what we are – for them.
Isn’t that the way it should be with God? At first, we want to be obedient servants and make it to Heaven / stay out of Hell. We’re afraid of not being able to measure up to the requirements so we feverishly perform all our duties, sometimes getting so caught up in the technicalities that we kill the soul of the action.
As we get to know Him better, we realise that of course we’ll never be able to match His Standards because He is Infinitely Perfect! With that knowledge, we also understand the limitlessness of His Love and His Kindness, His Gentleness and His Ever-Forgiving Essence. We accept that we may be flawed, but that He is willing to embrace us into His Mercy despite that. After all, He didn’t create us flawed with the purpose of punishing us. We are flawed because there can only be One Perfection and for us to be able to realise that, there exists the difference between us and Him.
Yet, because He is so Beautiful and Amazing, we live in a delicate balance of hoping that everytime we do something good we’ve pleased Him and fearing that everytime we slip up, we’ve disappointed Him. The fear we then have of disobeying Him stems from our awe of His Power and His Grace and not from an oppressive burden of guilt.
This is the kind of fear we need to have, where we are so in love that we are afraid to an opportunity to earn His Love pass us by.
…Remember that before you start deliberating over a problem, seek guidance from the Lord and beseech Him to give you a lead in the right direction. Avoid confusion in your ideas, and do not let disbelief about the truth of the teaching of religion take hold of your mind, because the first will lead you to agnosticism and the others towards errors and sins.
When you are thus prepared to solve any problem and you are sure that you possess a clear mind, a sincere and firm desire to reach the truth, to say the correct thing and to do the correct deed, then carefully go through the advice that I am leaving for you.
If your mind is not clear and free from doubts as you wish it to be, then you will be wandering in the wilderness of uncertainties and errors like a camel suffering from night-blindness. Under these circumstances it is best for you to give up the quest because with such limitations none can ever reach the truth.
Who do we turn to when we have a problem or need to make a decision? Friends, family, ourselves. And when none of them can help? Aah, then we turn to God, so really He is our last resort when all else fails….
Ask yourself who you would turn to at 3 a.m. if you had a dilemma you needed a way out of. That person is a usurper in your heart who has taken the place that rightfully belongs to your Creator. As a Muslim, you are already committing what is called ‘subtle’ shirk (polytheism) by inviting a ‘partner’ to God into your priorities.
The most famous and comprehensive verse quoted with regard to the relationship between God and man in the Qur’an is “When My servants ask you about Me, [tell them that] I am indeed nearmost. I answer the supplicant’s call when he calls Me. So let them respond to Me, and let them have faith in Me, so that they may fare rightly.” (2:186)
Can you see any conditional element to that statement in terms of when, how or where? If we truly love God as we claim, then together with love comes trust and dependency and loyalty. We claim to be loyal to God by our obedience to Him, but do we not believe that He is loyal to us? Has He not promised that if we depend on Him, He will suffice for us? Do we not trust that promise to be true at all times and in all cases?
And if do trust Him and ask for guidance, how then do we know what the answer is? That’s where the rest of the advice comes into play: clear your mind and then set yourself the aim of reaching the truth and doing / saying the right thing. In Islam, the guidelines to discern right from wrong are already present in the Shariah and so all you have to do is filter your decisions through them.
Is what you’re planning to do going to hurt someone? Will it involve anything haram (forbidden) by the law? Are the consequences going to harm others? Does it involve immorality? These questions usually eliminate a lot of our choices.
Of the ones that remain…well, by the time you have gone through the entire process, you’ve pretty much achieved the goal of submitting to His Knowledge and Will, you’ve fulfilled your end of the covenant and I don’t think it matters which option you then coose. Since you started by relying on Him, He will suffice you and lead you to the place of your trust in Him by whichever path you pick.
How many of us have made choices based on our own emotional judgement instead of on what is right and true? How many of us have been afraid of going forward when we should have simply trusted Him and forged ahead? You can know exactly where you’ve come from by looking at where you are right now.
Are you in a place where you might not know what lies ahead, but you are confident that the next step will open up because you are equipped with faith, knowledge and trust? Do you feel safe where you are? Or are you lost and wandering, feeling surrounded by a wilderness from which you cannot discover a way out? Do feel adrift in a choppy sea, stomach slightly churning because there is no land in sight, you don’t know which direction to steer in and now you’re wondering if you should have taken a train instead…?
The Will says that in such cases you should give up on your current path, but how do you do even that if you’re stuck where you are? How do you find your way out? How do you go back and start over?
My dear son, carefully, very carefully remember these sayings of mine, that the Lord who is the Master of death is also the Master of life. The Creator is the Annihilator. And the One who annihilates has the power to bring everything back again to existence again. The One who sends you calamities is the One Who will bring you safely out of them.
We started off by saying that we needed not to fear God in Himself, but rather be in awe of Him and fear His Displeasure. We started off by saying we needed to be in love with God. What do you do when you’ve hurt someone you love? Do you give up the situation as hopeless and abandon your relationship? Do you run away from your mistakes and leave behind something that added value to your life? Can you honestly – if you have claimed to love – go on with life and build happiness in the future knowing you have left un-accounted for pain or disappointment in your past?
How then can you abandon the best relationship in your life? How can you give up on the only one and true love you will ever have? Real Love is selfish by nature. That’s why God always wants us for Himself only. And we need to be selfish as well. We need to want to hang on to the relationship with God, no matter what happens.
So we make mistakes, Love forgives. So we walk away, Love waits for us to come back. So we commit sins, Love forgets. So we bring back excuses and apologies, Love tolerates. So we cry out of shame, Love embraces us with acceptance.
No matter how far we go, the thread binding us to Real Love never breaks. It anchors us to the One who Loves us even when we forget that we love Him. He might let us wander off, but sometimes it’s only when you’re cold and lost and terrified that you realise how much you need Him and how safe He makes you feel.
I don’t know where you are right now. But I do know that when you left, you were going off in the wrong direction. That’s why I gave you the things I did: a book in which are the answer to the questions you are so afraid to ask, a number to call if you don’t know where to start, a promise to be there whenever needed and a prayer that you should use any or all three helplines some day.
Perhaps you’ve already found your way back, but incase you haven’t…reach inside your self, somewhere there’s an empty torch (batteries included) simply waiting for you to pick it up and turn it on so it can show you the way back.
After all, the dark wilderness and the choppy seas belong to His Kingdom as much as the lush hills and the clear waters and who knows the easiest paths out of them better than Him?