Hope springs eternal in the human breast
Man never is, but always to be blest…
SO writes Alexander Pope, the famous 18th century poet, in his poem An Essay on Man. In these few poignant lines, he successfully encapsulates the human condition, as we understand it in Islam. Indeed, Pope may not have been a Muslim, but who can deny that he has not touched the universal truth?
For surely, without hope there cannot be life, and without life, there cannot be knowledge of God’s Mercy?
The scholars teach us that our souls have to present themselves to our Creator in a fluid state, in a state hovering between fear and hope – between al-khawf and al-raja’. To understand this better, it is like a scale. We tip towards hope through our fear – which in this case is much broader than the English meaning, for khawf has elements of awe and humility, as well as possessing an element of sabr, or forbearance.
In other words, we approach our Most Merciful Creator in a condition of fear with the hope that he will grant us His Grace.
Our scholars remind us that hope, and a good opinion of Allah Almighty, is the key to success. There is a verse in the Holy Qur’an that encourages hope in Allah, and even reproaches pessimism. The Qur’an prompts us:
O, my servants! (Those of you) who have acted extravagantly against your own souls, do not despair of Allah’s mercy… [39:53].
On his deathbed, the Prophet – peace rest on him – whispered to his Companions that none of us should pass on, except that we should hope for the good from Allah. The blessed Prophet’s optimism is bolstered by the Qur’an explaining itself further in the above verse, in emphatic terms:
For Allah forgives all sins (yaghfiru thunuba jami’an). He is the Forgiver, the Merciful… [39:53].
There is a sublime unconditionality here, for Allah – the Truthful – does not lie. Every single believer has a chance of redemption. Of course, as we have already said, we have to understand that it will depend upon our approach to Allah, the Hearer.
A Hadith Qudsi – an explanation related directly to the blessed Prophet from the Divine Throne – tells us that Allah, the Highest, is to his slave what his slave thinks of him. If we see a merciful God full of hope, that is what He becomes. In fact, classical scholars frown upon Allah being seen as wrathful.
The well-known Hadith, that Allah’s Mercy always precedes his wrath, is the supportive maxim.
Allah’s Mercy, and Hope, is reflected in a moving account related by ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab when captives were brought to the Prophet after a battle. There was a woman amongst them whose breasts were full of milk. She saw a crying infant in the midst of the captives and took it to her bosom.
The Prophet – peace on him – asked the Companions if this woman would ever throw the child into the fire. When the Companions said no, the Prophet said that Allah, the Exalted, was more merciful to His slave than this woman.
To this effect, I can remember a well-known Sufi Shaykh on my travels in the US always repeating: “remember Allah’s Mercy Oceans, my beloveds, remember Allah’s Mercy Oceans.”
Not once did he ever resort to hellfire preaching, or disaster mongering. Because he exuded so much hope and light, I saw countless people from all walks of life – from the Bronx to the United Nations – becoming Muslim at his hands. Unlike us, he never judged anybody.
For charity and Zakah, the giving and the taking, there is much to learn from the above.
For the downtrodden person, who benefits from Zakah, it is their God-given right to receive with grace and to benefit with grace. It is the result of their du’ah – of prayers offered in the spirit of hope that there will be relief, and that Allah – the Compassionate – will not test a person beyond their endurance.
For the giver of Zakah, there is the element of khawf and the element of hope, that the cleansing of wealth in obedience to the Sacred Law will tip the scales, and that Allah – the Supremely Gracious – will accept this small gesture.