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If God Were Proud

In his timeless and celebrated volume of spiritual discourses called Futuh al-Ghayb, the venerable Shaykh ‘Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani (d.561H/1166CE) – the leading Hanbali jurist of Baghdad in his time as well as spiritual master par excellence of his age – commences the third of his orations with these words:

When the servant is tried with some difficulty, his first impulse is to try and cope with it by himself. If he is unable to extract himself from it, he looks to others for help, such as those in power, important officials, men of means or influence, or medical experts; if disease or physical ailment is involved. If he still finds no relief, he then turns to his Lord with prayers of petition, humble entreatment and offerings of praise. As long as he feels he can cope on his own, he will not turn to others; and so long as he can count on others, he will not turn to the Creator. [1]

It seems a poor thing to turn to God as a last resort; to remember Him when all else fails us; to lift our hands to Him only when the ship is going down. If God were proud He would never accept us on such terms. But God is not proud. Kind, Compassionate, Merciful – God will have us even if we have shown that we have preferred others over Him and that we come to Him only because we are now at a dead end. Indeed, it does not really proclaim the glory of God if we chose Him only as an alternative to Hell; yet even this He accepts. Such is God’s mercy and kindness; such is how He forgives and overlooks His glory’s diminution: When My servants ask you concerning Me [tell them] I am indeed close, I answer the prayer of the supplicant when he prays to Me. [2:186]

Further on in the very same discourse, Shaykh ‘Abd al-Qadir speaks about how, when the servant’s illusions of self-sufficiency are shattered – and for the servant’s sake they must be shattered – and as he is made to realise that none can help him or grant him relief except God, God responds to his servant’s humility and brokenness and shades him from distress. For God accepts His servants however they may come to Him – if not in loving submission, then by trials and troubles, or by simple fear of the eternal flames; unmindful, even, of His glory’s diminution.

[1] Futuh al-Ghayb (Cairo: Dar al-Maqtam, 2007), 22. My translation of the passage was based on M. Holland, Revelations of the Unseen (Florida: Al-Baz Publishing, 2007), 11.

If God Were Proud [The Humble "I"]