Closer than ‘this’ to what is right

18:23-24 (kahf)

I can only act on what I understand – whether I am aware of this understanding or not. My sense of what the best thing for me to do, thus, includes what I understand at “this” time i.e. at a given moment, as the best understanding or apprehension of truth. This attitude allows me a sense of stability, agency, self-affirmation and self-regard (I dont use these terms negatively): I can and do feel that what I understand and do today or at this time are the good and right thing to do. It gives me a sense of stability and empowers me to decide “I shall do this (whatever it may be). This is how I have found myself and others to be. But my sense of the stability of my apprehension of truth or my understanding of right carries a danger to which my maker alerts me. When I say that I shall do ‘this’ (anything) not only right now or today but that I shall do ‘this’ tomorrow except that God wills, I am saying something that does not make sense (and that is why the Quran asks me to not say it). So I need to understand why does it not make sense? One possibility is to add words in brackets between the two verses like Muhammad Asad, following others, does and so the verses reads “AND NEVER say about anything, “Behold, I shall do this tomorrow,” without [adding], “if God so wills.” If one reads it in this way, one might think saying “Inshallah” is very important and this is what the Quran is teaching me here – to say Inshallah when I want to talk about doing something tomorrow or in the future. There may be some truth to this but it is not satisfactory to me. More needs to be said. “Adding” Inshallah begs the question: what does saying inshallah mean? Once I understand this, I understand that I don’t actually need to say “without [adding]” and insert words into the translation that are not there.

Taking the two verses together and the message they bring, saying “I will do this tomorrow” is a claim that belongs a person who thinks ‘this’ i.e. whatever he apprehends as the right thing today/now is what will be right tomorrow. That is why he/she commits to doing it tomorrow. The phrase ‘except that God wills’ is a phrase that suggests the person thinks all things, including the person’s present apprehension of right, are the result of the will of God. The problem is that my apprehension of ‘this’ as worth doing tomorrow is not compatible with my apprehension of ‘this as worth doing’ is being sustained by a sustainer who I should not limit to what I have been given today. By saying I will do this tomorrow, I am close my soul off from something better than ‘this’, which leaves the soul without hope (hope is only possible when better than ‘this’ is possible from the agent’s perspective).

The Quran therefore asks me to bring to mind my sustainer if I had forgotten to take him into account when I look at my understanding of what is best for me to do – the One who has made an action worth doing in my eyes (and made the understanding on which that action is based, agreeable and right for me today) is the one from whom I can and should hope for something better than ‘this’, however good ‘this’ is for me for today. My spirit, the Quran seems to suggest, is such that it longs for and wants to be able to hope for something more fulfilling and better than ‘this’, where ‘this’ stands for an apprehension of truth at any given moment. In this openness, my soul finds a connection to its sustainer and hope of receiving something better even as it finds ‘this’ action or understanding or apprehension of truth to be adequate or good. It seems to me that the Quran asks me to take ‘this’ to be good without feeling oppressed by the finality of ‘this’ understanding or action. It suggests that even when something can be abstractly argued to be finally and absolutely true, my awareness and understanding of that truth will have limitless levels and degrees, each one closer and closer to the truth than “this”, any given understanding at any given moment.

How so? Again, because that understanding, the Quran as revelation implicitly asks me to check myself and decide, is not mine in any stable or permanent sense but is being given to me by the One who must be the sustainer of that understanding or perspective. It is on account of this sustainer of my actions and understandings, not on account of my own powers of greater comprehension or on account of my present understanding itself, that the Quran asks me to hope for something better than ‘this’. In this framework now, where God is the sustainer, it will make sense to say ‘Inshallah’ because one would be saying ‘this’ is from that One and what I will be given tomorrow of truth or understanding will also be from Him. To not do so is to imagine oneself or one’s present understanding to be its own source or cause. To limit the possibility of greater understanding is to implicitly declare oneself, a limited being with no ability to produce or sustain understanding, to be the source of one’s understanding and suffer from the stagnation and false closure it brings. The Quran argues that the ‘this’ is from an infinite source that sustains ‘this’ and can therefore bring me closer to what is better than this. It suggests that the compassionate and useful stability of a claim or understanding given to me today is enough for today but which I mistakenly use to commit myself to the some action/understanding for tomorrow (when I should have used it only for today). My implicit claim to be the source of my understanding is not compatible with the claim that whatever I find right/correct is God wills me to have such understanding. If I forget the sustainer of the present understanding (which is what I do when I claim ‘this’ will be good for me to do ‘tomorrow’) I cannot, in any genuine and discernable way, hope to be closer to truth than ‘this’. Hence I am asked not to say ‘i will do this tomorrow except that God wills.’ It is a contradictory statement. To take ‘this’ to be worth doing ‘tomorrow’ is to claim it is the best that can be done, not just now, but also tomorrow and thus implicitly claim that one is the source of it and one is sure that the same thing will be the best thing to do tomorrow. Instead, the Quran asks me to say “perhaps my sustainer will guide me closer to the right/good than ‘this’. It reminds me that my sense of what is right or true at ‘this’ moment (at any given moment) is from Him and I should not take it for granted, not take it to be my ‘own’ and not imagine it to be possible or ideal for ‘tomorrow’. My apprehension of truth here and now is a sustenance from the sustainer. And I hope for more and better apprehension from this sustainer for tomorrow. I expect sustenance from the sustainer. This is my way of acknowledging him as the source and sustainer of all my apprehensions of truth, today and tomorrow. This gives me hope and joy of greater and greater apprehension and realization and awareness of the truth.

Published by Faraz Sheikh

Faraz Sheikh

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