Monday, January 19, 2009

Divine Guidance and Human Responsibility

Between Divine Guidance and Human Responsibility

Waleed Ahmed Najmeddine

 Question: I know a boy who is Muslim but he is not strong in his faith. In fact he sometimes claims to be an atheist but seems confused. He doesn't practice Islam. In fact he's a drinker etc. Although he's lived in a Muslim country and his parents are Muslim, he does not wish to practice Islam and say I'm backwards and not with the times because I practice Islam. My mother has said that until Allah opens a person's heart to Islam, they will not embrace it. But does that mean he's not responsible for not trying to understand? I'm confused.

In the Name of Allāh, Most Gracious, Most Merciful;
All praise and thanks are due to Allāh, May Allāh blessings and peace be upon His Messenger.

Narrow Understanding

It is very rare to find people born into Muslim families who have these attitudes and beliefs. Unfortunately, there are too many who are far from having a solid understanding of God and Islam.

Islam is more a way of life than a religion, we often look to those who were raised in Muslim countries for guidance and leadership. We assume that because they grew up in a society where Muslims are the majority, they had an opportunity to live and breathe Islam in their daily lives.

There are many people in Muslim countries that realize this to be a blessing, but there are many that are mesmerized by the advancements of the secular world and find religion to be an obstacle to achieving their goals in life.

They have a very narrow understanding of life in general. Their attitude is along the lines of, "This must be good because it makes me feel good; what makes me feel bad, is bad."

They merely follow what their hearts and desires tell them and are not open to truth and reason. They are only happy when they receive what they want, not caring if it is harmful or not. They only follow the urges of their appetites for food, wealth, power, and so on.

“But if they hearken not to thee, know that they only follow their own lusts: and who is more astray than one who follows his own lusts, devoid of guidance from God? For God guides not people given to wrong-doing.” [Al-Qasas, 28: 50]

This leads them to follow one thing one day, and something else another day. What is good today may be bad tomorrow because their mood has changed or because what other people are practicing has changed.

Easily Misled

These types of people are easily influenced by others and unfortunately can be misled just as easily.

“Many are the Jinns and men we have made for Hell: They have hearts wherewith they understand not, eyes wherewith they see not, and ears wherewith they hear not. They are like cattle, nay more misguided: for they are heedless (of warning).” [Al-A`raf, 7: 179]

They justify their actions to themselves in many ways but it all boils down to doing only what makes them feel comfortable and avoiding what makes them uncomfortable. If everyone is doing it, it must be right. When your mother says that Islam only enters the hearts of people by God's Will, she is absolutely correct.

“Is one whose heart God has opened to Islam, so that he has received Enlightenment from God, (no better than one hard-hearted)? Woe to those whose hearts are hardened against celebrating the praises of God! They are truly wandering (in error)!” [Az-Zumar, 39: 22]

I doubt your mother is trying to say there is no responsibility to act correctly for those who are not guided. What is right is right and what is wrong is wrong.

Most people understand the difference. Each one of us is responsible for our own actions and God will hold us to account for all that we have done in this life. Until a person's heart is opened to Islam, there will be no change in their behavior or attitude, no matter what we advise them.

“… On the contrary their hearts became hardened, and Satan made their (sinful) acts seem alluring to them.” [Al-An’am, 6: 43]

When the Light of Guidance Comes

What harden their hearts are the choices they have made. Unless God wants to guide them, there is no one who can do or say anything to change their minds. Islam is not inherited. It must be taught continuously.

Every year there is a new crop of people who, believers and non-believers, whether born into Muslim families or not, need guidance. We need to learn from a young age the skills we will need to survive and to thrive in the world around us.

We also need guides and reminders to help us stay on the straight path, the path that leads to true success in this life and the life hereafter.

Unlike animals, we do not automatically become what our parents are. Some animals teach their offspring some basic skills for survival but most animals depend a great deal on the instincts that God gave them; they do not rely on their powers of reasoning and thinking.

As human beings we have some instincts, but we have been blessed with the powers of reasoning and intellect. With these we can rise above leading a life of merely eating, drinking and sleeping.

Some of us have strong convictions about what is right and what is wrong. It is not easy to sway our hearts and minds because we have been blessed by God with understanding and wisdom.

Our Role

Some of us do not have strong convictions and are easily swayed by our desires or by the society around us. If we see results of our efforts to guide people to what is right, that is a great blessing because we are impatient by nature. But if we do not see immediate results we should not give up hope.

A good word always leaves an impression on others. Sometimes the truth of what we say is preserved in the hearts of others until the right circumstance comes in their lives when they are ready to understand it. It is at that moment that God shows them the reality of what you said and they realize the truth, by His Grace.

“Truly you will not be able to guide whom you love; but God guides those whom He wills and He knows best those who follow guidance.” [Al-Qasas, 28: 56]

Some will be guided, some never will. But only God knows who they are. We need to set good examples for people to follow. If people see us as successful, well-rounded individuals, they will want to follow our example.

They would then be open to our suggestions and guidance. If we do our best to guide people, we will have lived up to our responsibilities to God to improve the world around us.

If we act according to the best of our abilities, we can stand before Allah with a clear conscience on the Day of Judgment. We know that we did our best and we left it up to God to open their hearts.

May Allah guide us all to what pleases Him and open our hearts to wisdom and understanding.

And Allah Almighty  Knows Best.

( Excerpted with minor modification from QA published in Islam Online -- Ask About Islam, 23 Jan 2008.)

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