Dr. Abou El Fadl begins with a reminder that we remain committed to the truth that everything is from Allah, and everything will return to Allah. One of the central narratives of the Quran, that many Muslims learn and often repeat, is Ayat Al Kursi (Chapter 2, Verse 255). It is a monumental reminder of the truth of our existence and our relationship to our Maker. The wisest of Muslims are the ones who reflect even just on this verse, for the amazing amount of insight it yields into our Maker and what we as Muslims believe.
Ayat Al Kursi starts, “There is no God but Allah”. Allah is the one reality outside the natural laws of our existence and is not confined by the logic of time and space. Although God is outside the laws of time, space, and creation, this does not mean God is not intimately involved with us. Ayat Al Kursi states that Allah is ‘alive’; not alive in the sense that humans are, but God is fully aware of the way that we live and our affairs, struggles, emotions, and problems.
God reminds us repeatedly in the Quran that the heavens and earth are not all of existence, but all of existence that human beings can be aware of. Modernity has secularized the human mind, and made it drift away from the Divine, but it also has allowed us to see glimpses of the truth that the Quran has described to previous generations. Allah is the Sustainer of our created reality. Modern science tells us how fragile this reality is and without God, the Preserver, the Sustainer of this existence, it would collapse.
God reminds us that everything in the heavens and earth belongs to God. We are only guests. Nothing in this creation can fulfill its potential or serve its purpose without God. While preserving the heavens and earth may seem like an arduous task in our minds, it is not arduous for God. Allah is not overcome neither by slumber nor by sleep. Allah does not need to rest; that is a concept among created things, not a concept fit for The Creator.
The ethics that could follow from understanding that we are but guests in what we do not own would produce a revolution in our world. When you cut a tree, when you kill a plant, when you even kill an insect, you are not acting in something that you have sovereignty over. So if you do, you can only do it in Allah's name and with Allah's permission, because if you don't have Allah's permission, you will answer for it in the Hereafter. Can you imagine if we fully internalized this as to everything from the relationships we have, to the homes that we have, the cars we drive, the jobs that we hold?
Nothing has a compulsory force or power over Allah. God knows everything that is apparent, and everything that is hidden. It is critical that we understand that none of human knowledge progresses without Allah's direct involvement and permission. All advancements in knowledge are stages that Allah regulates and permits, because everything we learn is new to us, but was forever known by the Maker.
Imagine, for how many centuries we lived not knowing about electrons, neutrons, molecules, and cells; none of that was news to Allah. And yet, the wise person would study history and the progression of knowledge in human history, and recognize the fact that in an age in which atheism has become acceptable, Allah has also allowed us--in that same age--to understand things like black holes or realities about the cosmos that could aid those who want to believe.
It is not possible for a Muslim to be a Muslim without reflecting upon Ayat Al Kursi. To understand that you are in an existence in which nothing unfolds without a purpose; and nothing escapes the awareness of your Maker; and that, in fact, whatever knowledge you will achieve, you achieve with the permission of your Maker. And whatever you remain ignorant of, it is because your Maker has not permitted for that knowledge to unfold. That every step you take, you are stepping in a universe that belongs to its Maker. Every act with every human being or non-human being, is in light of full gaze of your Maker. And every word and action is done in full view of your Maker. The past unfolded with the full awareness of the Maker, and nothing in the present eludes your Maker. To be fully aware and fully internalize that, is a healing to the heart because we live at a time where humans are increasingly deceived by the mirage of independence and autonomy; at a time where we have ejected the Divine from so much of our lives, and yet we wonder, where is the Divine?
Ayat al Kursi is not just a verse to recite as a talisman for protection, but it is a verse to reflect upon. This single ayat in the Quran can completely transform one from an anxiety-ridden, disturbed, and addicted spirit; to a powerful, flourishing, healthy, and beautiful spirit.
Shaykh Muhammad al Ghazzali, in all of his years as a teacher, would remind students that a Muslim is a human being with dignity and intelligence, ie. always well-read. To be otherwise made no sense. When students would tell him that they were scared because they lived in an oppressive country, Egypt, he would tell them that God is the owner of everything from beginning to end, and we are only guests; that one’s faith will either give you inner courage to overcome the fear, or it is incumbent upon you to migrate to a place that allows you to maintain and preserve your dignity. Shaykh Al-Ghazzali would lament the lack of intelligence, courage or both, among the Muslim leaders of his time, reminding that Allah will only help those who help themselves and those who desire justice; and that Muslims must demand their rights as a matter of entitlement from creation, not as a favor from the rich or powerful.
There has been absolutely no reaction by any Muslim country to the now nearly weekly violations of the Aqsa Mosque by Israeli settlers, who have made it clear that they plan to re-establish a temple where Al-Aqsa sits. Much like the planned dam in Ethiopia from the early 1990’s and the planned immigration of Zionists to Palestine in the early 1900s, both of which are now a reality, Muslims continue to deny the reality of a situation until it is too late. American Muslim organizations, with rare exceptions, have chosen to sell out all the major issues that concern the Muslim Ummah: Palestine, Al Aqsa, Kashmir, Myanmar, China, even justifying the Muslim ban, to the point that they do not stand up for anything. Allah has told us, God will only help us if we help ourselves. Allah repeatedly tells us to establish justice, using our intellects and bodies to create a just society, not just sitting passively and waiting for change, which is what is being advocated as “sabr” (patience). Allah emphasizes patience in persevering as you work to make change, not simply waiting for Allah to miraculously create justice in your midst.