The Christian God versus the Muslim God
Question: I was wondering if Muslims feel like Allah loves them? Christianity is based on love - the love of God for His people and the love of Christ, who died for all, and the reciprocated love of Christians for their God. Is there any concept of such love in Islam? If so, can you explain it to me? And if not, what is Islam based on?
Answer: Certainly, in Islam, the pre-dominant motive for people to come closer to God is love. There is certitude of His Love, Mercy and Kindness that is always there for humans to experience and benefit from, should they reflect.
The Qur'an itself begins by the expression: 'Bismillah al-Rahman al-Rahim'. Al-Rahman and al-Rahim, being the attributes of God Almighty, convey belief in a God who is Extremely Merciful, whose Mercy is Ever-Lasting. Verse 2:165 of the Qur'an says that 'those (who are) of Faith are overflowing in their love for Allah' - that as human beings, despite being equally capable of loving others as much, their strongest love is unquestionably reserved for God. Given the context of the passage, this is because when an intelligent human being looks around him, he finds that every creation is for his benefit, brought at his disposal by none other than the Master, who keeps providing out of Love. An intelligent observer inevitably finds himself over-whelmed by this extreme display of kindness and compassion.
In short, the Islamic spirit is pre-dominantly the spirit of love from God, and for Him. But the love that the Almighty reciprocates is far stronger than all the love that we can all ever feel for him. The Qur'an says, for instance:
And He is the Oft-Forgiving, Full of Loving-Kindness. (85:14)
These attributes are mentioned all throughout the Qur'an. His Mercy pre-dominates all other virtues that belong to Him. However, one thing needs to be mentioned. The Qur'an gives a complete understanding of God, which is not exaggerated towards any one particular attribute/understanding of His, at the expense of others. God is a complete and perfect Being, and therefore, has attributes that are all complete and good. And what is important is that understanding God through His attributes as mentioned in the Qur'an, one can relate them to our living lives, day in and day out. You do not end up having a utopian understanding of God, which although is very romantic, is far from reality and brings disappointments as a result. Because when you have an understanding that is primarily and singularly of a Caring and Loving God, you will be at a loss to understand the sufferings and pain one finds in this world. How would you, for instance, comprehend the fact that He allows some people to unleash their desires and ambitions of greed and terror upon others?
It is when you understand God in the complete sense that you are able to accept the goings-around in the world today. Although love, mercy, compassion, forgiveness and sympathy are His most significant attributes, yet, He is much more than that. He is simultaneously Loving, Fair, Wise, Strong... All His attributes put together make a complete picture; emphasis on one distorts the image. Love alone may help you when in need of a utopian understanding, but it will cater to a disability in reconciling it with the world around us. It is Islam that will tell us that His Love and His Sympathy results in providence and forgiveness, and at the same time, His Strength, Wisdom and Forgiveness, renders forgiveness available to only those who seek it with utmost sincerity. Here lies the difference between the Christian God and the Muslim God.
In Christianity, belief in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ is enough to provide access to the Love of God; in Islam, God is most certainly Loving and Caring, but His Love is available to only those who seek it – if you don't, you miss it; if you do, it overwhelms you.
What is 'Moderate Islam'?
Question: Nowadays a new term seems to have been introduced: 'Moderate Islam'. Is this a new concept? I tried looking for it many times but did not get an answer. I would be happy if you could kindly give me information about the topic.
Answer: The expressions fundamentalist, extremist, moderate, or liberal Islam are meaningless when viewed from the point of view of a person who is trying to understand and follow the message of God sincerely. However, it is a fact that the same message of God Almighty can be interpreted and understood differently by different people. Their interpretations differ because human beings have their limitations. We cannot know perfectly everything that is in the Qur'an and Sunnah. One of the trials we are going through in this life is the trial of knowledge. We are expected to always be open to the truth wherever it comes from. No one person or a group of people can claim to know the whole truth about Islam, after the last of the prophets, Muhammad (sws) left this world. It is the Qur'an brought by him and the Sunnah which he has meticulously arranged to leave behind for the Muslim ummah to follow, that forms the basic foundation of all Islamic learning. However, learning from these basic sources is an ongoing process and that's how it should remain for all students of Islam. The one who claims that he has learnt the final word about everything in religion is hopelessly ignorant.
If a person is an extremist or a moderate in the sense that he has already formed his opinions about Islam from an outside source (family traditions, scholars, or others) and is not prepared to change them despite knowing clearly that the true message of Islam is different from his views, he has certainly deviated from the right path. The one who despite trying his best to learn the truth finds himself an extremist or a moderate is not to be blamed for his views.
When Confronted with Differing Opinions
Question: Where can we get the correct Islamic responses from, given that we are confronted with various responses and diversity of opinions on every issue that bothers us? The layman is at a loss as to the correct viewpoint.
Answer: It is a struggle that you will always have to endure. All scholars base their opinions on their relative education, experiences and opinions. The diversity should be understood as an asset rather than a liability. In my opinion, it would not be desirable for all scholars to present a unanimous opinion; in doing so, one would artificially withhold a diverse set of opinions that could potentially cater to the intellectual, moral and spiritual needs of different segments of society. If it were decided that one opinion be presented to the general public as the only opinion in conformity with Islam – no disagreements, no arguments – then we would naturally run the risk of discomforting and even repelling many Muslims and non-Muslims who may genuinely disagree with the given edict. So instead of allowing room for debate, we will be curtailing thoughtful discourses, and presenting opinions as facts.
Please do not be disappointed by the wide array of opinions you may be confronted with on various issues. They are a blessing in disguise.
The important thing for scholars to ensure is that every time an opinion is given, it ought to be accompanied with all arguments in support, because it will be on the basis of these arguments that a common, intelligent person will choose the opinion that he/she finds most convincing. If one opinion doesn't appeal to your intellect, he should be able to look for others.
And the important thing for you to ensure is that you should not deem one opinion as more suitable on the basis of its convenience to yourself. Rather, you should look for arguments that appear to you to be closer to the letter and spirit of Islam, as you sincerely understand it. It is true that people's interpretations vary; that should again not be treated as a problem; it should be appreciated as a natural result of diversely creative and capable human intellects.
Keep your mind and options open. Always be true to yourself, so if you should need to revise your understanding in the face of more convincing opinions and arguments, do not hesitate. This life is a trial, and our struggles encompass all areas of our functioning: intellectual, spiritual, moral, and practical.