Friday, March 18, 2011

Islam of Worthiness

As salaam alaikum,

Behold, in the heavens as well as on earth there are indeed messages for all who [are willing to] believe. And in your own nature, and in [that of] all the animals which He scatters [over the earth] there are messages for people who are endowed with inner certainty. 45:3-4. (Asad)

I was just reading a piece that someone wrote about saving the spirit of Islam from the individualist, self-promoting society we got going on today. She expressed the importance of our recognizing our insignificance before Allah (swt).

And I was afraid of mentioning for a while because I've heard it from so many people that I just believed it to be part of the theology...but recently, I've begun to question it. I think I know where it's coming from, but I don't find it to be helpful to me, at all.

Before God, we are insignificant. Is that really the spirit of Islam we want to embody? Sure, there are billions of us and countless humans have existed before us. We can't say that we are the best of God's creation as we exist right now nor can we say we are the worst. We should be humble before Allah (swt), yes, who is greater than any great we can imagine...but should we think ourselves insignificant?

Maybe the word insignificant helps other people attain humility before God, and if so, power to you. However, for me insignificant carries the connotation worthless. So, if not completely worthless, we are of little worth to God. Okay, I can see how someone would arrive at that, too. As Muslims, we don't believe that God needs our worship, prayers and devotion. That is for us. God knows what is best for us, and that is why he calls us to pray, and give charity, and all of those things. God doesn't need us.

But that's not the same as being of little worth.

I guess the argument about whether we are worthless or worthy comes from the perspective you place yourself. Worthy of what? I feel like so many of us Muslims do not feel worthy of God even when we are trying our best. Even Muslims that we at least outwardly know for their piety, in days past and present, cite others as those who were precious to Allah (swt) and aspire to be like them. And those of us regular people are left saying, masha'Allah, even with all that he or she is, she still considers herself not of those closest to God.

But this helps me out zippo.

I'm not trying to be flip, I'm being honest. Maybe for others, this gives them impetus to try harder, to try to really approach God, to be true submitters, to be cognizant of one's errors and try to live the straight path...but for me, it's paralyzing. As soon as I start approaching God, I feel like I'll never be good enough, and I give up. And then I have to up and try again.

This is the emotional and mental equivalent of flogging oneself, and it's painful for me, so I'm going to stop doing it.

I also look at it this way. When I look out at a single, female sparrow at the bird feeder outside of my mother's house, I watch as she turns her head from side to side, unable to rotate her eyes, looking for the next seed to peck. She's beautiful...cute, brown and slender. Soon she'll be joined by several other sparrows, male and female, and she'll be indistinguishable from the bunch. But I don't think of her as insignificant.

She's a sparrow. She probably has had a nest of her own last season and had little sparrows who, once again, are indistinguishable from the flock. But I don't see her as insignificant. She's one of God's creation, beautiful and wondrous...wondrous in the fact that I wonder why He created birds like this, that fly high daily from trees to food to mating places those special times of the year. They have few predators, so they're not a major food source. There are so many birds like this one, but if I'm in the city I do stop when I have time and watch their antics on their little stick legs, hopping and flying along the brick path, picking up pieces of potato chip carelessly dropped earlier. These city birds are more round because they've developed the taste of fat that the city fast food garbage allows. But I still consider them precious.

I love birds. My mother used to feed them, so I learned a few of them by name. I struggle to say that the birds are insignificant before Allah (swt) or that they are worthless. Any bird lover would feel the same way. Any lover of animals would probably feel the same way if I said of a cat, for example, that they are insignificant or of little worth to God. I mean, He created them with purpose, yes? And through following their instincts they are obeying Him, submitting to Him as we human beings are supposed to strive to do?

The little brown sparrow is creation, is of the excellent creation of God, and like the little brown sparrow, so am I.

Admittedly, yes, human beings are different. Unlike other animals, in order to submit to God we have to go against some of our natures and instincts. We are held to a higher standard. We can't go all animal kingdom in this piece. While there are such terrible stories, our men cannot kill of the offspring of a female to be able to copulate with her anew. As females, we do not just wait with our legs agape when ovulation time comes to be fertilized. We are humans created by God with languages, cultures, societies, and through His revelations He helps us form us into more sound societies...

But that doesn't convince me I am insignificant or of less worth than the little brown sparrow I spy beyond the window in my mother's house. That doesn't convince me that I'm less significant than the blades of grass that crunch under my feet in the warmth of early summer, or less significant than the mosquito I smash between my fingers, my own blood fresh in its body. Like all of those things, I am creation, I am excellent creation, and I serve a purpose that none of us can understand, though I have more capacity than those other things to come closer to understanding it.

As a Muslim, I definitely believe in humility before God, yes. To compare myself to God's greatness seems a futile exercise. That's like comparing a quanta to the entire universe. But God does not consider us insignificant...which is the amazing thing, even as tiny as we are.

And no matter how you slice it, when someone says, "Before God, we are insignificant," it sounds like you're saying that God finds us insignificant. I guess that's not what people mean...but as a young Muslimah, I took it that way, and that didn't help me move forward in Islam, at all.

I'm not like the sparrow. I don't submit to God in everything I do as I should as someone who is Muslim. I make mistakes, I stray from the path, I doubt, I flounder sometimes. I'm not like the sparrow in that I can think and I have free will. I can make decisions that can either fortify or destroy my spirit, this spirit that God breathed into us, the spirit which bore witness to God before we were born, the spirit that will return to God in spirit form from this physical state either strong and ready for what God has in store for us or broken and unready. Heaven or Hell as I understand it.

I've read a lot of Muslim texts that says the purpose of life is to serve God. Yes, I mean, I guess. I mean, that's the purpose of everything's life, from the sparrow to the blade of grass tot he mosquito to all of us, I suppose, but why then is the sparrow the sparrow and we are humans? That's the overarching theme, but what does God want from us? That's what I define as the purpose of life.

And that purpose for me while I am on this earth is that we help each other through this life. I've heard other people say that the purpose of life is love and I feel like that's just part of it, because you can love someone and not do crap diddly for them other than loving them from a distance. God put us here together to help each other out, to help build ourselves up, to strengthen our spirits to return to Him. To help out each other when we are in need, to help promote the health of each other, to help each other through tough social situations...that I chose a service career was no accident. We are on this earth to become greater than our nature dictates by being more charitable than we would be at baseline, more cognizant of the Creator than we would be at baseline...

If we were insignificant to God, we wouldn't exist. To say that we are insignificant just feels like he doesn't particularly care for His own creation. But the fact that we are His excellent creation as I cited in the last entry...means that we are significant. We are worthy. I can feel the same self-love, then, as the love I feel for the little brown sparrow that has since flown away, for the grace which will one day soon be green again, for yes, even the mosquito that I despise as it buzzes in my ear and leaves a welt on my forearm but that I marvel at, still, in its power to propagate deadly disease.

I find the sparrow precious creation, and so do I see myself as precious. And anyone who does not appreciate the other living and non-living on this earth, big and small...maybe that's how they can see themselves as insignificant. But if I'm insignificant, what of the entire earth.

I don't find it insignificant. Even though I know that God says that he could wipe this entire existence clean and replace it if He so desired...I guess that's not my definition of significance. I don't see myself as special, or having the overarching right to life over anyone else...but I see myself as blessed that can remember God and realize His will. One so blessed is not insignificant.

Have we forgotten how we were created?

And lo! Thy Sustainer said unto the angels: "Behold, I am about to establish upon earth one who shall inherit it." They said: "Wilt Thou place on it such as will spread corruption thereon and shed blood - whereas it is we who extol thy limitless glory, and praise Thee, and hallow Thy name?" [God] answered: "Verily, I know that which  you do not know." (2:30)

And these angels, who truly praise God, which we here on earth do a poor job of, were made to bow to us. Iblis didn't, and in his arrogance aims to set us, God's creation, astray. We continually stumble out of a state of grace because of Satan but:

"[For although] We did say, "Down with you all from this [state]," there shall, none the less, most certainly come unto you guidance from Me: and those who follow My guidance need have no fear, and neither shall they grieve." (2:38)

We are born into a state of grace and by our nature, we stumble, falling into the arrogance that is Satan. We should remain conscious of God and maintain humility, but we must also recognize that we are special in that we were given reason, we were given voice to speak languages to communicate with each other, helping each other find God. We have no space to be arrogant, but being humble does not mean we have to consider ourselves insignificant.

It made me depressed and it made me feel more like a pawn than excellent creation.

I henceforth begin this, my foray into an Islam of worthiness.

1 comment:

  1. Yes I agree. I remember years ago when a friend of mine commented on a khutbah of a fellow med school brother who kept going on and on about how insignificant we were. She told me later how disgusted she was with the khutbah. I don't know why we insist on continually putting ourselves down(which is different than humility as you noted). Don't we have ENOUGH self-esteem problems with Fox News and the whole bandwagon of extremists on the right trying to destroy us? I think this misfortune comes out of the fact that we really do not read the Quran. Where in the Quran does it say we are insignificant? Yes it reminds of our humble beginnings. Yes it tells that we are prone to mistakes and losing our way if we don't continue in God's remembrance. But it does not says we are insignificant.
    In my xanga I copy and pasted this beautiful set of notes my friend shared with me from a Dr.Umar lecture. The notes are too long for this comment section but there is one poignant piece of it I am going to share. It is quite long but I love how Dr. Umar points out that as we become more and more beautiful as humans we have to attempt also to be humble. It is a contrast to this idea that we are "nothing" because we are something.

    Dr. Umar's notes
    Hikmah #1: Whenever you have a shortcoming and stumble, if you lose hope, it’s a sign that you a relying on what you do.
    •Deeds are extremely important to us, but the path of moral perfection means you must not be attached to your deeds.
    •Just be thankful when you do good. Witness your deeds as God’s blessing to you. He chose you to get knowledge, pray, to be a light for the people.
    •If you become attached, your deeds or n’aimah become nikmah – (a curse) poisonous
    •To worship God as if you see him, all your deeds must be freely given: “Allah, I did this for You.”
    •You become closer to Allah and become more and more humble
    •All this beauty and wonderful things you are doing in your life is from the Mercy of Allah, so be thankful.

    If you made a mistake, all you have to do is on tawbah. Don’t be broken.
    •God is powerful. He wants you to make mistakes, to be weak, so you can know Him.
    •Don’t lose hope. If you do, your trust is in the wrong place. It means you are dependent on YOU, not ALLAH.
    •If you horse stumbles, get up and keep going. You are on a critical path.
    •You will do wrong, without meaning or trying to. It is written. It’s one of the secrets of guidance.
    •The Prophet (PBUH) always made istighfar.
    •Now that you’re on the path of light and you become light to others, you become susceptible.
    •Say the du’aa for looking in the mirror. On the path, you don’t want to see yourself because you are becoming more beautiful all the time.
    •God’s trial continues to the very end.
    •You have to always reduce yourself to the minimum