What Do You Believe? (Part 1)
On April 4th, during our regular meetings in New York City, we discussed Chapter 33 from Dr. Abdulhameed’s book entitled "The Quran and the Life of Excellence."
The chapter is based on the Sura 16 Aya 35:
Those who ascribe divinity to other than God say: “Had God so willed we would not have served anything other than Him – neither we nor our forefathers; nor would we have forbidden anything without His sanction.”
Thus also said those who went before them. Yet what is the mission of messengers except to communicate clearly.
This chapter explains that the above quoted ayas address 4 questions that deeply impact everyone’s life:
1) What do we think about God?
2) How do we relate to what we have been taught by the previous generation?
3) How do we decide what we can and can’t do; i.e. what prohibitions are important?
4) What is the role of a teacher?
1) It is important that each of us examine what we are thinking about when we think about God. The reason for that is that depending upon what we think about, those thoughts shape our lives and our lives will develop according to the beliefs that result from our thoughts. Many people have believed in God for thousands of years, but often in ways that have limited them. The first aya cited above refers to the argument put forth by those who ascribe divinity to other than God and it states that if God is in charge of everything, why doesn’t He make everyone believe in Him? This argument is based on the notion that God controls people. If that is the case, then we don’t have the freedom to choose and we are told by God Himself that we are free to choose what we are going to believe in.
2) It is of utmost importance to our lives to pay attention to what we are thinking about when we think of God in order to improve our notion of Him. This needs to be an independent examination as we work through the process of clearing out our previous ingrained notions of God that we heard from others as we were growing up. Each of us alone builds a relationship with God in an effort to raise his/her life above commonality and traditional views of what we should believe. Our spiritual power begins to gather when we focus on improving our personal view of God. We must recall Hadith Qudsi in which God says: “Whatever My servant assumes of Me, that is how I am to him, and I am with him as he remembers Me.”
3) The second part of the first aya cited above states: “...nor would we have prescribed prohibitions other than His.” This is where the limiting aspect of an unexamined belief clearly comes to forefront. Precisely because our families and people that make up the culture we grew up in believe that, for example, smiling is forbidden, or that music is forbidden, or that a man without a beard cannot lead prayer, or that we should never speak of a good thing that happens to us because it can bring bad luck, we now have a sense of God, and consequently of religion, that is contrary to everything that is natural which in turn causes strain in our minds. It is clear that this aya is asking us to reflect and examine what it is that our forefathers believed in and question the taboos prevalent in our surroundings.
The next aya cited above states: “Thus also said those who went before them”. If we allow superstitions and prejudices of those who lived before us dictate how we will live our lives, then we ascribe divinity to other than God. It cannot be stressed enough that this aya, along with so many others, ask us to reflect on what we believe so that we may reflect on what we are doing. Without examining and reevaluating ideas and notions that we have been told by previous generations, we are not really living, but stifling our own nature and our own individuality and by the same token, we are closing the door to one more expression of God’s wishes for the humanity that He expresses through the potential of human beings, His vicegerents, on Earth.
4) The last aya refers to the role of the messengers. The aya explains that the role of a teacher is to explain to the best of his/her ability and not to control or judge people who do not respond in the way a teacher thinks they should. Each person understands in accordance with his/her own capacity and responsibility lies on each individual soul.
Some of the thoughts that were expressed during this meeting include the idea that we try our best to be the highest selves and that each day we need to understand that He helps us raise the standard. One considerably damaging aspect of following practices we were taught by prior generations without our reexamining the same is the fact that it can be quite difficult to discard those ideas because they become ingrained within us. We don’t realize to what extent we labored under a false notion that those ideas are what God means to us without us coming to any conclusion as to what God means for us. Beliefs have great power even over thought. Faith is expressed by challenging our beliefs.
The exercise for this chapter states:
1) Is there an experience or an aspect of your life that shows that God is helping you?
2) Consider a prohibition that your parents believed in but you have discarded it. What are the reasons for this change?
The benefit from doing these exercises increases greatly if you not only think about them but also write down your responses. It is very useful to keep a journal for this purpose. Reading what you wrote over a period of time will make you aware of the insights you have gained.
We will be discussing the same chapter during our next meeting in NYC on April 18th. Stay tuned!