May 6, 2009

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Allah’s Unrestricted Grace

Commentary by Sayyid Qutb — Translated and Edited by Adil Salahi

Whatever grace God opens up to man, none can withhold it; and whatever He withholds, none other than Him can release. He alone is Almighty, Wise. (The Originator, Fatir, 35:2)

What we have in this second verse of the surah is an aspect of God’s power mentioned at the end of the first verse. When this aspect is instilled in a person’s heart and mind, he undergoes a complete transformation in his concepts, feelings, values, standards and life generally. It invalidates any thought of any other power having any control over the heavens and earth, and puts him in touch with God’s own power. It makes him abandon any thought of receiving grace from anyone else and links all to God’s grace. It closes before him every door and way in the universe yet opens for him the door and the way leading to God.

God’s grace can be reflected in countless aspects. Indeed man cannot even begin to record these. They are within him and the way he is created; the position of honor he is given; the blessings that are all around him from every side and from above and beneath him. It is also to be found in the favors showered on him

God’s grace is reflected in what man has been denied just as much as it is reflected in what he has been granted. When God opens it up to anyone, that person finds it in every situation, thing, condition and place. He even finds it within himself, his feelings, all around him, wherever and however he happens to be, even though he may be deprived of everything people consider to be important. Conversely, should God withhold His grace from anyone, that person will miss it in every thing, situation, place and condition, even though he may have at his disposal everything people associate with wealth and happiness.

Whatever favor a person is granted becomes a hardship if it is associated with the withholding of God’s grace; and whatever hardship or trial he undergoes becomes a favor once it is coupled with His grace. A man may lie on a bed of thorns, but, with God’s grace, he finds it very comfortable; while silk mattresses and cushions feel like hard nails if that grace is denied him. With divine grace the most difficult problem becomes easy and danger becomes safety, but without it, what is normally easy becomes insoluble and safe roads and ways lead to ruin.

Should you be granted God’s grace, you will not feel miserable even though you may be in solitary confinement, enduring torture or facing danger; while misery will be your lot if it is withheld, even though you are in the most luxurious and splendid of surroundings. It is from deep inside that happiness, contentment and reassurance flow by God’s grace, and deep inside you feel misery, worry and affliction when it is denied.

If the door of God’s grace is open, you will not care if all doors and windows are locked: you will find ease, comfort and happiness; and if it is closed, you will benefit nothing if all other doors and windows are left wide open.

God may give anyone plentiful wealth, and that person will find it a source of enjoyment, comfort and a means to a good position in the life to come, provided that it is coupled with God’s grace. If that grace is withheld, his wealth becomes a source of worry, envy and hatred. It may also mean deprivation, if the wealthy person is stingy or ill; and it may bring ruin if he is wasteful and careless.

The same can be said about children, health and high position. With God’s grace, any of these can be a source of goodness, enjoyment, delight, happiness and joy, as also a means to increase one’s reward in the life to come. Should God’s grace be denied, any of these will bring misery, distress, sleepless nights, or expose their owner to other people’s envy, hatred and hostility. Likewise, knowledge, long life and comforts can be associated with either situation of happiness or misery. Yet little knowledge could bring about beneficial effects; a short period of life could enjoy much blessing; and little comfort may mean happiness and delight. In all these respects, communities are like individuals, in all conditions, situations and circumstances.

One aspect of God’s grace is to feel it. God’s grace abounds for everyone of us, but it is your feeling that it is bestowed on you, your expectation, hope and trust that it is coming that is mercy and grace. By contrast, to doubt or despair of it is pure misery, but this is something that a believer will not suffer: “None but unbelievers can ever despair of God’s mercy.” (12: 87)

God’s grace will not be denied anyone who seeks it at any place and in any condition. Abraham found it when he was thrown in the fire; Joseph found it in the well where his brothers threw him and later in prison; Jonah found it in the whale’s belly, under three covers of darkness; Moses found it in the river when he was a helpless infant, as also in Pharaoh’s palace when Pharaoh sought to kill him. The young men who retreated to a cave, as told in Surah 18, found it there in the cave when it was not to be found in homes and palaces. They said to one another: “Now that you have withdrawn from them and all that they worship instead of God, take refuge in the cave. God may well spread His grace over you and make fitting arrangements for you in your affairs.” (18: 16)

Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and his companion, Abu Bakr found it in the cave of Mount Thawr, where they hid from their pursuers. Indeed no one who sought it to the exclusion of everything else, aware that only God grants strength, power and mercy, has been left lacking.

“Whatever grace opens up to man, none can withhold it.”  (35:2) All that people need to be assured of God’s mercy is to request it from Him directly, without intermediaries: “And whatever He withholds, none other than Him can release.” (35:2)

This single verse paints a totally different picture of life. It gives a new set of values and standards that are unaffected by any consideration or pressure, be it light or heavy. When this vision is firmly settled in a person’s heart, that person can stand firmly in the face of all events, people, situations, powers and consideration. Even if all people on earth as well as the Jinn were to range themselves against him, he would be able to resist them all knowing that they cannot control God’s grace.

It was with verses and images like this that the Qur’an produced that unique community of believers in the early days of Islam. It was a community molded under God’s own care, and through the Qur’an, so as to function as a means of God’s will and establish on earth the faith, values and systems He wanted to establish. In that first community we have a unique example of human life that seems to us today to belong to the realm of legends and dreams. That community did not deal with Qur’an as words, sentences and verses with superb meanings, but dealt with the truth those verses represented. Furthermore, they practiced it in real life. Yet, still today, the Qur’an is able to produce by means of its verses, individuals and communities that can achieve, by God’s leave, whatever God wills them to achieve. All of us can read the Qur’an seriously, implement it fully and live its meanings as though they are a tangible reality.


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