Monday, July 16, 2012

Allah's Flexibility

...God makes things easy for those who are mindful of Him. Quran 65:4
We shall show you the easy way. Quran 87:8
Allah tells us that he chose to reveal the Quran to an Arab in Arabic (instead of Jesus's Aramaic or Abraham's Hebrew) to make it easier for the prophet to spread the message among his people. Allah doesn't want the language of revelation to be a barrier to its adoption:
Yet the scripture of Moses was revealed before it as a guide and a mercy, and this is a scripture confirming it in the Arabic language to warn those who do evil and bring good news for those who do good. Quran 46:12
We have made it easy, in your own language [Prophet], so that you may bring glad news to the righteous and warnings to a stubborn people. Quran 19:97 similar 12:2, 13:37, 14:4, 16:103, 19:97, 20:113, 26:195, 39:28, 41:3, 42:7, 43:3, 44:58

Allah does not expect all of us to speak Arabic, proclaiming that our diversity of languages is a sign of his presence:

Another of His signs is the creation of the heavens and earth, and the diversity of your languages and colours. There truly are signs in this for those who know. Quran 30:22
Allah is so focused on making the lessons of the Quran easy to understand that he repeats the same refrain 4 times in Surah Al-Qamar (Chapter 54):
We have made it easy to learn lessons from the Qur’an: will anyone take heed? Quran 54:17,22,32, and 40
Allah not only wants the Quran to be easy to understand, he shows great flexibility with the rituals of devotion. Allah defines goodness to be a person's ability to give to those less fortunate and honoring pledges made to others (Quran 2:177). Beyond those core principles, Allah shows great flexibility to make devotion easier, continually reducing the burdens of religious rituals:
[Prophet], your Lord is well aware that you sometimes spend nearly two-thirds of the night at prayer—sometimes half, sometimes a third—as do some of your followers. God determines the division of night and day. He knows that you will not be able to keep a measure of it and He has relented towards all of you, so recite as much of the Qur’an as is easy for you. He knows that some of you will be sick, some of you travelling through the land seeking God’s bounty, some of you fighting in God’s way: recite as much as is easy for you, keep up the prayer, pay the prescribed alms, and make God a good loan. Whatever good you store up for yourselves will be improved and increased for you. Ask God for His forgiveness, He is most forgiving, most merciful. Quran 73:20
The theme of making devotion easy for those who have belief repeats itself throughout the Quran. When Allah retells the story of  Dhu ‘l-Qarnayn, the ruler explains:
Nearby he found some people and We said, ‘Dhu ‘l-Qarnayn, you may choose [which of them] to punish or show kindness to.' He answered, ‘We shall punish those who have done evil, and when they are returned to their Lord He will punish them [even more] severely, while those who believed and did good deeds will have the best of rewards: we shall command them to do what is easy for them.' Quran 18:86-88
Allah also shows responsiveness to our desires with our rituals. Although the prophet originally faced Jerusalem for prayer, the prophet really wanted to face the Mosque at Mecca. So Allah changed the prayer direction from Jerusalem to Mecca (see my post on 'goodness' for a full treatment of the qibla change):
Many a time We have seen you [Prophet] turn your face towards Heaven, so We are turning you towards a prayer direction that pleases you. Turn your face in the direction of the Sacred Mosque: wherever you [believers] may be, turn your faces to it. Those who were given the Scripture know with certainty that this is the Truth from their Lord: God is not unaware of what they do. Quran 2:144
Although Islam imposes a dietary code for followers, he makes it clear it is only a subset of kosher rules, and then includes exemptions to make them easier to comply with:
He has only forbidden you carrion, blood, pig’s meat, and animals over which any name other than God’s has been invoked. But if anyone is forced to eat such things by hunger, rather than desire or excess, he commits no sin: God is most merciful and forgiving. Quran 2:173 similar verses at 5:3, 6:145 and 16:114-116.
Allah also provides exemptions and alternates to Fasts during the holy month of Ramadan (which will have its own post):
You who believe, fasting is prescribed for you, as it was prescribed for those before you, so that you may be mindful of God. Fast for a specific number of days, but if one of you is ill, or on a journey, on other days later. For those who can fast only with extreme difficulty, there is a way to compensate—feed a needy person...God wants ease for you, not hardship. He wants you to complete the prescribed period and to glorify Him for having guided you, so that you may be thankful. Quran 2:183-185
When I am discussing the devotional aspects of Islam with my family, I focus on the recognition of Allah's centrality and his desire for Muslims to build a charitable society. Although we conduct prayers in Arabic, I explain that Arabic is simply the language of revelation and not intended to be a barrier for understanding. I also understand that Allah is extremely flexible and forgiving with adherence to dietary laws, fasting, and prayer. Allah repeatedly offers dispensation from the rules of ritual because of his mercy. Allah tells us that his goal is to use these rituals to reinforce his glorification and increase our thankfulness for our blessings, not to inflict harm or burdens upon ourselves. Allah wants our faith devout, while keeping our religion easy.