Incline, Test of Honesty, Simplistic God

Issue 937 » March 10, 2017 - Jumada al-Thani 11, 1438

Living The Quran

Al-Rum (The Byzantines) Sura 30: Verse 30

"Set thy face to religion as a hanif, in the primordial nature from God upon which He originated mankind—there is no altering the creation of God; that is the upright religion, but most of mankind know not—"

To set, "turn," or "submit" one's face to or toward religion means to orient one's whole being toward worship and obedience to God. The present verse is thus taken by most commentators to be a command to follow the religion for which God created human beings. It is addressed directly to the Prophet or to all who hear the message. Some commentators take the first phrase to mean, "Follow the religion as a hanif and follow the primordial nature in which God created you". In another interpretation, primordial nature (fitrah) modifies religion, which is referred to as "primordial" because human beings were originally created for religion. As a hanif is understood by most to mean in a straight and upstanding manner, neither inclining nor adhering to past religions that have been altered or abrogated. Hanif is usually employed in the Quran with reference to Abraham, but in general it indicates one who inclines away from misguidance and toward belief in the Oneness of God. The basic understanding of hanif may best be illustrated by a famous hadith qudsi: "God says, 'Verily I created My servants as hunafa. Then the satans came to them and distracted them from their religion'" (Ibn Kathir). Seen in this light, to be truly devout (hanif) and incline toward the worship of God and away from idolatry is to live according to one's primordial nature (fitrah), in which all human beings have been created. One cannot change this underlying nature as a servant or worshipper of God, because there is no altering the creation of God. This phrase is also understood to mean that there is no change in God's religion; that is, there is no change in the substance or universal truths of religion, only in the forms in which these truths are revealed in different religions.

The reference to the fi?rah is read by some to mean that human beings are born for Islam, so that anyone who follows any other religion is "astray" or "misguided". But al-Qurtubi maintains that it is impossible for the fitrah mentioned here to be Islam in its particular sense, because "Islam (submission) and iman (faith) are declaring with the tongue, embracing with the heart, and performing with the limbs," implying that if fitrah pertains to the original human nature, which is related to the spirit, it cannot pertain to the specific practices of a particular religious tradition because these can only be performed while a spirit resides in a body in this world. From this perspective, the upright religion could refer to religion as such and thus to any religious practice that accords with the fitrah. Nonetheless, most interpret upright religion as a reference to Islam in particular.

Compiled From:
"The Study Quran: A New Translation and Commentary" - Seyyed Hossein Nasr

Understanding The Prophet's Life

Test of Honesty

The Prophet (peace be upon him) was well-known for his honesty. The pagans of Makkah—who were openly hostile towards him—would leave their valuables with him. His honesty and reliability was tested when the pagans of Makkah abused him and tortured his companions and drove them out of their homes. He ordered his cousin, Ali bin Abi Talib to postpone his migration for three days to return to people their valuables. (Ibn Hisham)

Another example of his honesty, trustworthiness and reliability is demonstrated in the Truce of Hudaibiyah, wherein he agreed to the article in the treaty which stated that any man who left the Prophet would not be returned to him, and any man who left Makkah would be returned to them. Before the treaty was concluded a man named Abu Jandal b. Amr had managed to escape from the pagans of Makkah and rushed to join Muhammad. The pagans asked Muhammad to honor his pledge and return the escapee. The Messenger of God said: 'O Abu Jandal! Be patient and ask God to grant you patience. God will surely help you and those who are persecuted and make it easy for you. We have signed an agreement with them, and we certainly do not betray or act treacherously.' (Baihaqi)

Compiled From:
"Muhammad: The Messenger of God" - Abdurrahman al-Sheha


Simplistic God

There is no simplistic notion of God. This single deity is not a being like ourselves whom we can know and understand. The phrase 'Allahu Akbar!' (God is greater!) that summons Muslims to salat distinguishes between God and the rest of reality, as well as between God as he is in himself (al-Dhat) and anything that we can say about him. Yet this incomprehensible and inaccessible God had wanted to make himself known. By contemplating the signs (ayat) of nature and the verses of the Quran, Muslims could glimpse that aspect of divinity which has turned towards the world, which the Quran calls the Face of God (wajh Allah). Like the two older religions, Islam makes it clear that we only see God in his activities, which adapt his ineffable being to our limited understanding. The Quran urges Muslims to cultivate a perpetual consciousness (taqwa) of the Face or the Self of God that surrounds them on all sides. Like the Christian Fathers, the Quran sees God as the Absolute, who alone has true existence.

In the Quran, God is given ninety-nine names or attributes. These emphasise that he is 'greater', the source of all positive qualities that we find in the universe. Thus, the world only exists because he is al-Ghani (rich and infinite); he is the giver of life (al-Muhyi), the knower of all things (al-Alim), the producer of speech (al-Kalimah): without him, therefore, there would not be life, knowledge or speech. It is an assertion that only God has true existence and positive value. Yet frequently the divine names seem to cancel one another out. Thus God is al-Qahtar, he who dominates and who breaks the back of his enemies, and al-Halim, the utterly forbearing one; he is al-Qabid, he who takes away, and al-Basit, he who gives abundantly; al-Khafid, he who brings low, and ar-Rafi, he who exalts. The Names of God play a central role in Muslim piety: they are recited, counted on rosary beads and chanted as a mantra. All this has reminded Muslims that the God they worship cannot be contained by human categories and refuses simplistic definition.

Compiled From:
"A History of God" - Karen Armstrong