By A. Helwa
Allah is not an old man in the sky; He is not Zeus sitting in a cloud waiting to punish you. Allah is not Santa Claus, with a naughty list from which you cannot be redeemed. Allah is the Creator of the cosmos, the One whose mercy embraces all things, whose love embraces all hearts, whose hands heal all wounds, whose face is everywhere you turn—for He is with you wherever you are
“Take one step toward Me, I will take ten steps toward you. Walk toward Me, I will run toward you.” – Hadith Qudsi
We may be slow in repentance, but God is swift in His mercy, generosity, forgiveness, and grace. The following interaction between two great mystical masters beautifully articulates God’s mercy:
The eighth-century sage Salih of Qaswin said to his students,
“Keep knocking on the door of Allah and never stop, for by His mercy, Allah will eventually open His door for those who sincerely seek Him.”
The mystic Rabia Al-Adawiyya overheard this statement as she was walking by the mosque and said,
“Oh Salih, who said Allah’s door is closed to begin with?
Rabia understood that Allah’s love is not dependent on our actions, but that it is His love that inspires us to knock to begin with. Like the sun draws the plants to turn their face in submission to its light, God calls us to turn to Him so that we may grow through Him. Allah is the One whose speech lifts the dead from their graves, the One who can part the seas with a staff, the One who uses your hopeless situations as a platform to perform His next miracle. He is the One that transforms your mess into a message, the One that transforms your trials into a triumph, the One who takes the victim and makes them a victor (30:5). God is with you in the beginning, in the end, and in every moment in between. This is why the beloved grandson of the Prophet ﷺ , Imam Hussein, said, “Oh Allah, What did he find who lost You and what did he lose who found You?”
We do not worship God because God needs it, we worship God because we need it. Prayer is not you reaching out for God, it is you responding to God, who first reached out to you. It is only when our seedling hearts submit to God’s light that we can harvest the hidden fruits of love that He planted within our spirit. As the Qur’an says, “Whoever strives, strives only for his own soul, for Allah is entirely independent of all worlds” (29:06). No matter how many hundreds of millions of steps we take away from God, it takes just a single thought to return.
As Rumi says, “Each moment contains a hundred messages from God. To every cry of, ‘Oh God.’ He answers a hundred times, ‘I am here.’” Do not ever think that because you cannot see God that He cannot see you. “Do not lose heart or grieve” (3:139), because even in the depths of your darkest nights your Lord is with you always, saying, “I am near” (2:186).
He is only one, yet we always forget Him; whereas He has billions upon billions of creatures and never forgets a single one of us. God’s love has no fences or borders. His love has no conditions.
His love is not in a faraway Heaven, but with you in the holiness of this very moment.
Whereas we break our promises a thousand times, God is always faithful.
It is only through knowing how much God loves us that we can break free from our anxiety and fear around the uncontrollable and unknown future. The more we trust God’s perfect wisdom, the more harmony we begin to feel in our lives. The all-encompassing peace that comes from relying entirely on God is beautifully illustrated in the following Japanese story:
A samurai and the love of his life had just gotten married and were traveling by boat to their honeymoon, when a huge storm hit. The samurai’s wife began to tremble with fear; there was no shore in sight and their boat looked like it would capsize at any moment. When she ran to find her husband, she found him peacefully looking out at the sea, as if the sun was out and the waves were calm.
She ran up to him and yelled, “How can you be so calm when we are about to die! Do you not value your life?”
When the samurai heard her say this, he pulled out his sword and put it to his wife’s neck. His wife started laughing. He said, “Why are you laughing? Are you not afraid?”
She said, “Because I know you love me and would never hurt me.”
The samurai smiled and said, “Well, I too am in the hands of the One who loves me, so how can I be afraid?”
When we realize that Allah loves us beyond what can be fathomed and that He always knows what is best for us, our fear of the unknown transforms into faith. After all, as the Qur’an says, “To Him belong the keys of the heavens and the earth” (39:63). When we surrender to God’s will even when things do not go as planned, we are still grateful, because we know that God’s plan will always be greater than our greatest dreams. So long as we remain chained to this world and everything in it, including our own desires, we can never truly feel liberated. It is only in trusting the Divine and becoming a servant of Allah that the soul experiences true freedom.