by AbdelRahman Murphy
At a program that I recently attended in the Midwest, I asked the audience of 150-plus young men a question that would be telling of the Islamic identity narrative in the west: “How many of you were raised thinking that Allah was angry at you?” At least 90% of the room, in an unpleasant and uncomfortable manner, raised their hands in the air, confirming one of the worst possible realities that we are facing as Islamic workers in the west: the majority of Muslims, especially youth, see themselves as “Sinners in the Hands of An Angry God.”
The problem, as straightforward as it may seem, has far-reaching and complex implications. The most serious aspect, and the one I will address in this short discussion, is the erosion of faith into a sadly apathetic and borderline agnostic relationship between the worshipper and The Only One Worthy of Worship.
During that same talk with the youth, I mentioned a couple of Qur’anic verses that describe Allah, as well as some ahadith that beautifully narrate how Allah, in ways that befit His Majesty, smiles and even laughs out of His love for the believers. These narrations really shocked the attendees, showing them a “side” of Allah that they had never even heard of before.
I could feel the vibe in the room getting better, the love of Allah was increasing before my eyes – not because of the speaker, but because of the content of the speech. It became clearer than ever that the discourse about Allah that had been presented to these youth was one that distanced them emotionally, as well as spiritually. Subhan’Allah, briefly mentioning the description of Allah that He gives about Himself to these youth – descriptions that can be found in the two fundamental sources of our deen – changed perceptions in the room like the flick of a light switch.
It is this experience, as well as experiences very similar to this, that has led me to realize the importance of prudent guidelines for teaching Muslims about Allah. No one can appreciate and fear Allah’s anger until they have developed and felt His love and their love for Him first. If someone is told that Allah can punish them severely and that He is most harsh in His wrath, then they will perceive Him as a perennially angry Lord. On the contrary, if we emphasize the relationship between Him and us is based on love of Him and His love for us, then His disappointment and punishment will be seen as even worse of a punishment. Simply put, you would not care about disappointing one that you did not care about; disappointing one whom you love, however, is a terrible experience.
Imam Ghazali summarizes this point well in his book Ihya Ulum Ad Deen (Revival of The Religious Sciences): “Know that action on account of hope is of a higher order than action on account of fear, because the creatures who are nearest to God are those who love Him most, and love dominates hope.” As succinctly as Hujjat al-Islam has put it, the Prophet ﷺ put it best when he said, “Truly, not one of you will die, except he should have good expectations of Allah.” If we are to die with good expectations of our Lord, then one can only imagine how we are to think of Him during our life.
“Say, “Oh My servants who have transgressed against themselves [by sinning], do not despair of the mercy of Allah. Indeed, Allah forgives all sins. Indeed, it is He who is the Forgiving, the Merciful.” (Qur’an, 39:53)