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Monday, February 7, 2011

Who missed the train?

I followed an interesting discussion on Al Jazeera this morning (Thurday 3 February 2011), The host was speaking to Tariq Ramadan, the grandson of Hassan Al Banna, founder of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and another gentleman whose name I did not get, but it sounded Eastern European. I shall call him Eastern European Gentleman (EAG).

Both were very impressive, and in their own way, supported what the other was saying about the happenings in Egypt and the need for political change.

EAG then went on to make a point about the need for for peole to act and  to take responsibility for their actions, and used the following anecdote to make his point.

He was with a Persian philosopher in a cafĂ© in Iraq drinking tea, and the thinking man mentioned that it is only foolish people who on getting to the station and finding that that had missed the train, blame fate or destiny. He then added that they must look at their role in their misfortune.

I cannot say for sure whether he was representing the philosopher’s thoughts correctly; neither can I tell what Tariq Ramadan was thinking, but his mood was pensive, having lost the smile that creased his face a minute earlier.

Listening to him talk I felt that this man probably had not yet found God.

The Almighty created us with free will. There is no limit to what we may plan. We do not always act on our plans. There are no consequences for planning, or just thinking about things, whether good or bad.

We may choose to act on our plans. When this happens, our intention is either “good” (do not wish to harm anyone) or “bad” (we wish to harm someone for no good reason). We do not have the power to actually give effect to our plan of action. God decides whether our action will be carried out as we had planned. He does not revoke our free will, but gives effect to our intention or vetoes it. This He does through His absolute control over all things that He has created without free will (and God knows best).

When we choose to act with good intention, God rewards us tenfold the benefit such an action will produce (and we receive this benefit whether God gives effect to our intended actions or not, and whether the actions produce our desired effect or not).

When we act out bad intentions, (or act contrary to good advice) our actions result in negative consequences for us, some in this life and some in the next. And they occur whether we believe in God or not, and whether we are aware of the association between the act and the consequence or not.

When our intended actions are contrary to God’s guidance we end up with consequences that God was helping us avoid (for eg. the Jews who fled Egypt with Prophet Moses (PBUH) wandered through the desert for forty years as a result of failing to act on Gods guidance to attack the inhabitants of a particular area. They brought this consequence upon themselves). It is these negative consequences that we bring upon ourselves that is commonly referred to as “God’s punishment”, and God knows best.

God helps us along in life in a silent and “hidden” manner. We are not aware of Him acting because it is a continuous and lifelong process. His involvement with us is there all the time. We either learn to recognize it or are blind to it. It is much like someone in an airplane; we feel the initial acceleration and then nothing even though the plane is still traveling at a great speed. The initial acceleration occurs at conception.

He does this by selectively giving effect or not giving effect to an intention of ours. Consequently He, and by implication His help, is always with us (we are told He is closer to us than our Jugular Vein). When a train is missed, it is because God had intended it to be so, and there is usually an important reason underling this decision.

Sometimes we discover the connection between the missed train and the benefit this confers, but not always. God knows best. But things happen for our overall benefit, if only we can put our trust in God, become accepting of His decisions, and learn from them, instead of obstinately fighting against them and constantly trying to find someone to blame for our perceived mishaps ( either by way of demanding apologies or pursuing lawsuits).

As an aside, we should note that when we hold others responsible for what happens, we are saying that it was in the exclusive power of that individual to do things in a certain way and must therefore bear responsibility. We are attributing to them the power that is the domain of the Almighty alone. This is an example of how we attribute partners with God, called shirk, in Arabic. No one is worthy of such honor.

Getting back to what I was saying. Let me share one experience with you. I had a meeting to attend at my son’s school (it was compulsory!) and it was scheduled during my consulting hours. I was getting late, and the last patient was taking much longer than I had expected. The conversation was drifting to matters none medical. Towards the end I was made aware of an educational institution which my son was looking for, but which I did not know existed. My delay had a purpose and by being “patient” I enjoyed the benefit. Such things have happened before, and they happen to all of us all the time if only we practiced identifying them. Incidentally, I was 10 minutes late, the other parents having already arrived, but for some unknown reason, the meeting also started 10 minutes late. Coincidence? I didn’t think so.

There are two important lessons we can learn from this.

Firstly, God provides assistance.

Secondly, This assistance is provided to everyone, the pious and the ordinary, those who worship Him and those who deny His existence; and proof of this is the fact that I, who has no claim to any distinction as a Muslim, can feel God’s help in my life. All we need to do is learn how to interpret it and allow it to benefit us. Without the correct mental foundation, we misinterpret every action we experience, and instead of learning from them and drawing closer to God, we force ourselves further away.

We may protest that if everything is in God’s power, and that all actions must be sanctioned by Him, why does he not intervene and block our actions and in so doing make the world a better place? Why do we have all these wars and bloodshed?

To intervene to this extent would mean totally over riding our free will. There will be no possibility of freedom, or accountability. We will have lost the essence of what it means to be human. It would be saying that in order to make the world a better place, God will have to destroy us first..

God is telling us that the world will be a better place if this is what we seek, and if we choose to act with that intention. Then He will make it happen. God does not change the condition of a people until they change it themselves. What we see happening in the world is a manifestation of our intentions or lack of it.

We need not fear death, since that can only take place at its allotted time. What we need is to fearlessly champion liberty and freedom, and God will take care of the rest.

Only foolish people who on getting to the station and finding that that had missed the train, blame fate or destiny. The wish person does not blame himself, he thanks God for His intervention and seeks the benefit he knows this is meant to bring him.

I think EAG may have missed the train on this one.

How many trains do we have to miss before we realize that in some instances this is necessary, and in others, there was probably no train to begin with?

Until next time.

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