The Complacency of “God is Merciful”

Over the past couple of days a common phrase is being propagated amongst a number of Muslims that I’m surrounded by, which at first sounds accurate, but once the context is clarified it becomes immediately apparent how it is being used falsely:

God is All Forgiving and All Merciful

الله غفور رحيم

While these are in fact attributes of God in the Islamic tradition, there are also other attributes that need to be acknowledged, such as God is severe in His Punshiment. He is the Vengeful, and the All Powerful. He is the God of nice sandy beaches with palm trees and 25oC sunny weather and a cool breeze. He is also the God of Hurricane Katrina and tsunamis that destroy whole cities and disasters that could cripple economies. We are told in the tradition that God has promised us that His mercy will supersede His punishment. Yet it doesn’t mean that His mercy makes His punishment obsolete. These are all real attributes of God according to the Islamic tradition, and they are to be recognized as such.

Despite the terrifying nature of some of God’s attributes, Muslims are taught to have a good opinion of God and hold a good assumption of Him. It is narrated in part of a Hadith in both Sahih Bukhari and Sahih Muslim on the authority of Abu Huraira may God be pleased with him that the Prophet PBUH said:

God Almighty says: I’m under the assumption of My servant of Me

يقول الله تعالى: أنا عند ظن عبدي بي

To understand the ramifications of this saying, one does not need to look further than to what the tradition says about a man that comes on the Day of Judgment, and due to his sins is ordered to be taken to Hell. The man turns his back on God before he’s taken away. God asks the man, while not needing to, for He knows: why did you turn your back on Me? The reply of the man is: I had a better opinion of You. God then orders the angels to take the man to heaven instead. Not only that, it also behooves one to mention what God said about His mercy. He has divided mercy into 100 parts; one was given to this world and that’s what the mother uses for her mercy on her children, animals on their young ones, and fellow human beings on each other (when they do!), etc. The other 99 He saved for the Day of Judgment to distribute amongst the people being judged. Reflection about God’s mercy alone is bound to make one realize how limited their intellectual capacities are, for it is quite an astonishing thing.

Having spoken of God’s mercy in a very brief and superficial way (it is a blog and I was told I tend to go overboard with how long my articles are being), it should be recognized that God’s mercy is not something to be taken for granted. God says in the Qur’an:

Whoever respects the signs of God, this surely is (the outcome) of the piety of hearts – Al Hajj 32

ذلك ومن يعظم شعائر الله فإنها من تقوى القلوب – الحج 32

Imam Al Qurtubi mentions in his Qur’anic commentary Al Jami’ Li Ahkam Al Qur’an about this verse:

The signs of God here are the flagships of His religion, especially those which deal with the acts of worship

The details of which acts of worship are meant here are differed on between the scholars; whether it’s referring to the acts as a whole, or to just major ones. Nevertheless, a really interesting comment is made by Imam Fakhr Ad’Deen Ar’Razi in his Qur’anic commentary Mafateeh Al Ghaib:

The one whose heart is empty of true piety and God-awareness will not be serious in their performing of acts of worship. But the truly sincere whose heart is engulfed by piety and God-awareness will exaggerate in their attention to their performing of acts of worship, which is a sign of sincerity.

What this entails is that sincerity is manifested in how one approaches their devotional acts to God. If one is coming in with a lax attitude, where they are satisfied with barely getting through the act, not even being interested whether what they’re doing is performed correctly or not, then there is a problem. This is a clear indication that how God perceives and receives their act is not a priority to them as much as it is to just get through it. But this is obvious. The less subtle is another type of individual. One who is interested in being sincere, but they have a different type of problem. The problem of: God is All Forgiving and All Merciful.

I have been told before by a few that I might be too strict when it comes to issues regarding the rulings of prayer, fasting, etc. It’s quite a puzzling accusation from my perspective. The approach I have to acts of worship is quite a simple one, and it’s based on the question:

Am I going to perform my acts of worship based on how “God” wants them performed or based on what “I” think is OK and should be alright?

The answer seems obvious, but apparently not. Many feel that if they were to perform an act and realize that it wasn’t done properly, that it’s OK and there is no need to make a big deal about it for God is All Forgiving and All Merciful. This is rather than looking into what the tradition says one should do in a case where a mistake is made. Worse yet, once they’re told what needs to be done to rectify the act of worship, the response is dismissive because “God is All Forgiving and All Merciful, and besides, ad’deen yusr (religion is ease)”. This last one is a very often quoted phrase that is hardly if ever employed in its proper place. Just about everyone who said ad’deen yusr around me did it to justify why they’re not going to rectify something they’re doing incorrectly. As if it’s a ticket to do whatever they want. Well, sorry to burst your bubble if you’re one to use this phrase, but here is what you should know about it. Islam is the religion of ease when you compare it to the previous revelations in their Laws. For example, the Children of Israel weren’t allowed to pray anywhere but in the temple in Jerusalem, which was a grave difficulty for them. In fact, the Rabbis got together and gave a ruling, a fatwa if you will, that allowed Jews to build and pray in temples elsewhere due to the hardship being imposed by the Law. In comparison, according to the saying of the Prophet PBUH, earth has been made a place of prostration and purification for Muslims:

جعلت لي الأرض مسجدا وطهورا

We can pray anywhere on this earth as long it doesn’t have impurities in it, and that’s how religion is ease. Another example is with repentance. In their early tradition, the Children of Israel could only repent by killing themselves:

And when Moses said to his people: O my people! You have surely been unjust to yourselves by taking the calf (for a god), therefore turn to your Creator (penitently), so kill your people, that is best for you with your Creator: so He turned to you (mercifully), for surely He is the Oft-returning (to mercy), the Merciful – Al Baqara 54

وإذ قال موسى لقومه يقوم إنكم ظلمتم أنفسكم باتخاذكم العجل فتوبوا إلى بارئكم فاقتلوا أنفسكم ذلكم خير لكم عند بارئكم فتاب عليكم إنه هو التواب الرحيم – البقرة 54

It’s related that after the Children of Israel took the calf as a false god, their repentance was to be split into two groups by Moses PBUH, and to take their weapons and charge against each other in the valley at night. Fathers killed their sons and sons killed their fathers. Nephews killed their uncles and brothers killed each other, and this continued until the break of dawn. That was their repentance from that sin! Islam takes a different angle on repentance from sins that is quite easy to perform. In Islam you just say astighfirullah (I seek forgiveness from God), and vow to not return to the sin again. And if you do return to the sin again, just seek forgiveness again. That’s how religion is ease.

Religion is ease doesn’t mean you do whatever you want, however you see fit, then when you find out it wasn’t exactly properly done just throw up your hands and say: God is All Forgiving and All Merciful. This is just another way Satan entraps people. If he can’t get you to commit the capital sins, he’ll turn his attention to the minor sins. If he can’t get you to commit the minor sins, he’ll turn his attention to your acts of worship and try to damage them. The ego plays a role here as well because it doesn’t want to be controlled. Rather, it wants to control the person.

If you happen to find out you prayed your obligatory prayer at the wrong time, i.e. before its time actually entered, or that you performed your ritual washing incorrectly thus deeming it invalid and in turn making your prayer invalid, you don’t get to say: God is All Forgiving and All Merciful and it’s my pure heart and intention that matters and inshallah khair (God-willing it will be OK). That’s Satan whispering to you and playing up your ego and lower self to follow your caprices. If a person who says that reflects for a moment, they would realize that if they were truly sincere in seeking God’s pleasure, they would correct what they missed and repeat the whole prayer with its proper conditions if it was invalidated due to ignorance of the rulings, and furthermore seek forgiveness for not having educated themselves properly in all the rulings entailed in performing a valid ritual washing and prayer. The same would go for fasting and other acts of worship.

This is not being too strict and difficult about religion. This is seeking to go about it the way God wants you to go about it, not the way you think or feel you should go about it. Interestingly, for example, even after having completed the prayer properly, the first thing a Muslim after they exit their prayer does is seek forgiveness for offering such a deficient and lowly thing to God. If that’s the case with someone who performs their prayer with knowledge, what is the position of one doing it without knowledge and yet is foolish enough to be lazy about it and continually says: God is All Forgiving and All Merciful when they’re told how to rectify it? But again, as I’ve mentioned before in other writings, studying jurisprudence (fiqh) is tedious to most people. Most would rather listen to uplifting lectures and many would even skip studying fiqh altogether for the sake of a nice talk that raises the spirits. However, there should be a balance.

I’ll leave you with something that Imam Al Ghazali says regarding those who are complacent and say that God is All Forgiving and All Merciful:

Beware of saying God is All Generous, All Merciful and forgives the sins of the sinners, for it is a true statement that is used in falsity, and the one who says it is described as foolish by the Prophet PBUH who said:

“The intelligent is the one who accuses himself and works for what comes after death, and the foolish is the one who lets his lower self follow its caprices and vainly hopes from God false aspirations”

So know that this statement is similar to the one who wants to become a knowledgeable person in the religion without studying, and occupied himself with idleness and said: God is Generous and Merciful and able to grant onto my heart from knowledge what He has granted to His faithful servants without effort and repetition and study. It’s also similar to the one who wants wealth, but left work and trade and sat idly and said: Surely God is Generous and He has everything in the heavens and the earths and can grant me wealth without working for it.

If you were to hear the talk of those two men you would consider them foolish and mock them, even though what they have attributed to God in abilities were real and true. Similarly, the people of insight in religion would laugh at you if you sought forgiveness without working for it and God Almighty says:

And that man shall have nothing but what he strives for – An’Najm 39

وأن ليس للإنسان إلا ما سعى – النجم 39

Finally, one should keep in mind the saying of the Prophet PBUH:

A single religiously knowledgeable person (faqih) is more overwhelming onto Satan than a thousand worshippers

فقيه أشد على الشيطان من ألف عابد

This is not a call to become paranoid and obsessive compulsive. It’s quite the opposite. It’s a call to abandon complacency in the religion. It’s a call to build up the greatness of God in our hearts, and to give Him what is humanly possible in reverence and respect. It’s a call to exalt His signs and increase our piety and awareness of Him when it comes to our acts of worship. It’s a call to accuse ourselves more and work towards what’s to come after death.

That, and God knows best!

UVic Cellular Neuroscience

2 thoughts on “The Complacency of “God is Merciful”

  1. Salam Alaikum Mohamed,
    Wallahi Jazak Allah wa khair. Mashallah I benefitted so much from your blog. I appreciate you writing this and taking the time to clarify the misuse of a frequently used concept. Habibi May Allah increase you in khair.
    – Rami Dawood

  2. Pingback: The Complacency of “God is Merciful” | Ramy Abdeljabbar's Palestine and World News

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