worship of beings & the practice of “no-deity”


وَلَا تَدْعُ مَعَ اللَّهِ إِلَهًا آخَرَ لَا إِلَهَ إِلَّا هُوَ كُلُّ شَيْءٍ هَالِكٌ إِلَّا وَجْهَهُ لَهُ الْحُكْمُ وَإِلَيْهِ تُرْجَعُونَ

and dont call upon any other deity side by side with God. There is no deity save Him. Everything is bound to perish, save His face. With Him rests all determinations and unto Him you are in a state of return [if you but understand]


وَلِلّهِ الأَسْمَاء الْحُسْنَى فَادْعُوهُ بِهَا وَذَرُواْ الَّذِينَ يُلْحِدُونَ فِي أَسْمَآئِهِ سَيُجْزَوْنَ مَا كَانُواْ يَعْمَلُونَ

AND GOD’S are the attributes of perfection [or the beautiful names], invoke Him, then, by these, and stand aloof from all who distort the meaning of His attributes, they shall be requited for they do! 

When I admire someone’s courage, for instance, is it silly to think I am worshiping them? I pick courage because I find it common and unsettling that people admire other people for their amazing courage (standing up for justice for instance) all the time. I am surrounded by people who admire courage and aspire to courageous action. Here is what I understand.

Admiration is worship. Period. It is to find something good, beautiful, praiseworthy. To admire is to extol something as worthy of being extolled. And human beings are, in my view and in my own experience with myself, worshipers in this sense. Admirers of what is beautiful. I find myself admiring and loving beauty. This is not so much a claim about the origin of admiration in the “I” as it is about the state in which I find the “I” existing. This admiration for beauty is a pair, the other half of the pair is an aversion to and grief about what lacks beauty.

The choice that I have is not whether I fell admiration for courage or not. I am a creature who feels admiration for courage. What I need to choose is whether courage belongs to a created being or their actions so that when I admire courage, I am admiring the courageous person. OR does courage not belong to them and does not inhere in them as some kind of stable character virtue but rather belongs to the one who creates and sustains things and the relations between them and whose praiseworthy majesty and almightiness I witness and admire when I love courage. In short, do I love courage or the courageous man or do I love in the name of the eternal One who owns all power, justice and compassion?

I have to look into myself as a human being and decide how to admire something beautiful, for instance courage: in the name of the thing or relation or person where it appears or in the name of the One to whom the beauty and power and sublimity of courage eternally and perfectly belong, the One who is my source and from whom I can expect no weakness or lapse.

Am I better off as a human being admiring courageous people for their courage or courageous laws and institutions and cultures and courageous deeds and words of created beings or am I better off admiring courage as the compassionate and wise action of the eternal sustainer of the universe? Am I better off thinking my need for courageous action is something I just happen to have or am I better off (again, as a meaning-seeking human being) realizing that my need is given to me by my maker so that I could realize that I can only be the creature and admirer of the One who is the owner and possessor of absolute power and justice and whose power and justice can right all wrongs and stop all injustices. This One i find indicated in my need for courage and justice IF i do not attribute the need to myself, if I don’t own the need but instead read myself in the name of my Lord.

I do not find myself created to admire courage as a limited and passing trait of mortal and imperfect men, however much courage their actions or words may have shown. Such appreciation leads me nowhere but to separation from what I admire. I find myself created to admire all courage (anywhere in the world at any time and in any amount) to overcome some adversity or lack as the manifestation the compassion, power and justice of the One who must be the source and eternal possessor of these qualities. He gives them, in whatever measure He wills (for the measures do differ as I can see) to creatures so that I may not feel that my life and worth and existence depend on the courage of mortals but is tied to my ever-living source. Here and now, with the perspective of bi-ismillah, I find myself adoring Him in what I adore and realizing my need/longing for Him in what I am made to need.

I constantly admire things for the qualities they display. I witness this everyday in my life. This is why la-ilaha makes sense and is necessary for me all the time. If there were no deity I were given to a thing, there wouldn’t be need to negate the thing as diety in order to be left with the One. God is described (define?) in the Quran as that necessarily existing possessor of the attributes I admire and need, which I am left with when I negate all other things as the owners or possessors of those beautiful qualities. I find myself with the One who is beautiful when I consciously negate that the beauty manifest in my son’s or wife’s desire to spend time with me today is not their “natural” desire and the beauty does not belong to my sons or my wife or their intentions or decisions. How can it? They have no power over beauty, no ability to create it or produce it. They display it and it comes from my beauteous sustainer.

So why do I believe my sustainer is beautiful? Well, because I experienced beauty in my son’s desire to spend more time with me AND (crucially), I negated my son or his desire or my perception of his desire as sources of this praiseworthy beauty. If and when I do that, I find myself in the presence of my beauteous sustainer. It is in this sense then that I know that my relationship of “belief” in the God that the Quran teaches me is an entirely dynamic one. Like Said Nursi says, non-denial is one thing. I may walk around and live in this state – I may not say that I deny that I am created or that there is some creator. But this is not the security or connection that the word belief/Iman means. Iman is a practice, a daily practice of finding beauty and finding the utter lack/need for beauty and then negating the deities that I falsely create and worship and unifying the source of beauty, so that both in what I find and what I find lacking, I find the One glorified and sought.

This is interesting because those not guided by the Quran’s teaching about how I get to God but who desire piety sometimes imagine that to negate false deity, one has to say something like “This desire or thing is not beautiful. God is beautiful!” This creates a dichotomy: as if only One can be beautiful, man or God. This makes the beauty in the world a problem of sorts. This is the classic this-world / next-world or dunya/din dichotomy that is the product of well-intentioned, perceptive but, to me, Quranically unguided perspective. This is not how I understand Quran’s way of teaching the unity of beauty or the worship of the One.

The Quran’s way of teaching says to me: look at how beautiful this desire or thing is! The thing is not the source of this beauty! Reflect and you will see it is not! If you give this beauty to the thing, this beauty will die and be limited to this thing and it will become ugly for you. This beauty is, rather, divine! This same beauty is a sign to the One who owns all beauty. So don’t turn your eyes away from the beauty to turn to me. Turn yourself to the “face of that same beauty” that looks to me. This face/wajh does not die – you can see around you that this One brings beauty into being and there is no passing source of this beauty in the created world. Enjoy the beauty in the name of the beautiful One so that when the thing or relation passes, you can be sure that the beautiful One you love and admire, lives. In this moment of beholding beauty in His name, I return to Him. I am near Him and in His presence. There is no long and difficult wait for me to find Him in some obscure, far-off place and after self-denial or other ascetic struggle. The One is right here for me if I follow His guidance and see the beauty as His. For this, my ongoing task is to become aware and become sure that the beauty of a beautiful thing does not belong to it but belongs to the One who is endowing it to it. My job, my practice, my effort is la-ilaha every moment. The result, God, is the gracious divine presence I find myself in to the extent and as often as I remember to practice (not just say) la-ilaha.

Published by Faraz Sheikh

Faraz Sheikh

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