A Painful Experience
When reading the 11-page surah most Fridays, the verses of the last page never fail to call my attention to a disturbing event. Allah says in Surat al-Kahf:
Say, [O Muhammad], “Shall we [believers] inform you of the greatest losers as to [their] deeds? [They are] those whose effort is lost in worldly life, while they think that they are doing well in work.” Those are the ones who disbelieve in the verses of their Lord and in [their] meeting Him, so their deeds have become worthless; and We will not assign to them on the Day of Resurrection any importance. (Qur’an, 18:103-105)
It is difficult to read these verses without feeling a little pained at the loss of the “deeds [that] have become worthless.” Ya Allah! Can you imagine leading a full life, being satisfied that you achieved your goals, believing you were a constructive member in society and gained “good karma” through your philanthropy, only to find that on the Day of Resurrection, it all counts for nothing in your account of good deeds?! May Allah protect us from standing in such a situation.
Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due
Subhan’Allah (glory be to Allah), looking at these verses out of context may bring doubt into some hearts about the ultimate justice of Allah; however, in the next verses, Allah immediately explains why, in this situation, He does not reward “good deeds” with goodness:
That is their recompense – Hell – for what they denied and [because] they took My signs and My messengers in ridicule. Indeed, those who have believed and done righteous deeds – they will have the Gardens of Paradise as a lodging, wherein they abide eternally. They will not desire from it any transfer. (18: 106-108)
Here, Allah contrasts the believers and disbelievers in three ways:
- Their faith: “denied” the Truth from Allah vs. “believed” in it;
- Their actions: “ridicule[d]” Allah’s signs and messengers vs. “believed” in them;
- Their final abode: “Hell” vs. “Gardens of Paradise.”
The believers referred to in this ayah (verse) maintained an essential level of justice, that is to “give credit where credit is due,” as many professors emphasize when assigning a research paper to their students. It is astonishing how some take “academic integrity and honesty” to heart, strongly opposing plagiarism, and yet they do not care to give credit where it is due for things greater than a mere research project: our living bodies, our free-to-choose minds, and the infinite blessings Allah bestows on us. In college, we accept the justice of the academic system that punishes plagiarizers or cheaters with failing grades, permanently marking their academic records and possibly even suspending or expelling them from school or academia, all for taking credit that is not due to them or for attributing it to another who does not deserve the credit. Yet when Allah says that the act of kufr is the one sin He never forgives, some people find that hard to accept.
The act of kufr, or covering the truth of Allah’s right to be worshiped alone, is similar to the act of cheating or plagiarism. Allah states, “Then do those who disbelieve think that they can take My servants instead of Me as allies? Indeed, We have prepared Hell for the disbelievers as a lodging.” (Qur’an, 18:102)
Takin’ it Easy Early in the Game
In the verses discussed so far, Allah (swt) describes the disbelievers. Some believers, however, read these verses without much reflection, as they do not pertain to them. But how true is that?
The Prophet ﷺ said:
Whoever has the following four (characteristics) will be a pure hypocrite and whoever has one of the following four characteristics will have one characteristic of hypocrisy unless and until he gives it up.
- Whenever he is entrusted, he betrays.
- Whenever he speaks, he tells a lie.
- Whenever he makes a covenant, he proves treacherous.
- Whenever he quarrels, he behaves in a very imprudent, evil and insulting manner. (Sahih Bukhari, Hadith 33, Book 2, Vol. 1)
In this hadith, the Prophet ﷺ said that a believer can have some characteristics of a hypocrite without actually being a hypocrite. So, by extension, can we also say that believers may have some characteristics of disbelievers? According to Ali (radi Allahu `anhu – may Allah be pleased with him), the description of the “greatest losers” is applicable to anyone who worships Allah (subhanahu wa ta`ala – exalted is He) in a manner that displeases Him while thinking they are pleasing Him (Tafsir Ibn Kathir). Pondering on the verses discussed above with this thought in mind may bring into question some of our priorities and actions.
“… Do those who disbelieve think that they can take My servants instead of Me as awliya’?” (Qur’an, 18:102)
Could we, as believers, also take other servants of Allah as awliya’ (allies, supporters) instead of Allah? The Prophet ﷺwas asked about a similar verse in Surat at-Tawbah, where Allah describes the deviation of Jews and Christians from the monotheistic faith:
They have taken their scholars and monks as lords besides Allah, and [also] the Messiah, the son of Mary. And they were not commanded except to worship one God; there is no deity except Him. Exalted is He above whatever they associate with Him. (Qur’an, 9:31)
The Prophet ﷺ recited this verse in front of `Adiyy ibn Hatim At-Taa’iyy, who was a Christian at the time. `Adiyy asked, “But they [the Jews] did not worship them [their scholars],” since Jews claimed to worship the One true God. The Prophet ﷺ responded,
Indeed [they did], didn’t they make prohibited what was made permissible for them [by Allah] and they [scholars] made permissible what is prohibited, and [the people] followed them [the scholars]? That is how they worship them [their scholars]. (Tirmidhi)
We see examples of this today, where many actions in the Torah and Gospel that are explicitly forbidden by Allah have become sanctioned by many Jewish and Christian religious leaders. We also know of historical events, like the First Council of Nicea (325 AD), where bishops convened in the presence of Constantine I and established the Creed of Nicea, which stated that the Mesiah was the son of God who was “begotten, not made” – this became the uniform position of the church, subhan’Allahi `amma yushrikun (Allah is more glorified and far from what they associate with Him).
By the explanation of this verse in Surat at-Tawba, the Prophet ﷺ extended the definition of monothiesim from mere ritualistic prayers (done as Allah prescribed) to a comprehensive way of life, in which Allah’s legislation (Qur’an and Sunnah) is above all standards of right and wrong set by humans without divine guidance. In other words, Allah does not accept that we blindly follow anyone, even if it’s a “sheikh” or “da`iyah,” without checking their statements’ validity according to Qur’an and Sunnah.
Taking a step back and reflecting on verse 102 of Surat al-Kahf, as illucidated by the Prophet’s definition of monothiesm, I wonder if we do not sometimes share this characteristic of disbelievers, who idolize humans, for instance, by taking their opinions into greater consideration than Allah’s guidance. Do we get pressured by our parents, friends, or social norms into doing things that displease Allah? What about following our own desires? If our materialistic interests or egos conflict with something Allah legislated, which do we choose? Is Islam really our deen (way of life), or is our deen a mix of social norms, some of which are Islamically acceptable and others that are not?