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August 2008

2008, An-Nahar, Articles

Death / 16.08.2008

From the beginning of creation death is inevitable. You surmount any event through hope except this one, though you might be hoping for “the resurrection of the dead and the life everlasting”. Whenever you place your head on a pillow, you do not know if you would wake up in the morning or no. Then, you would pray, if you were from the believers. The question that poses itself is that God “gives life and He causes death” as the Book [the Quran: Al-Tawbah 9: 116, or the Old Testament: 1Sam 2: 6] says, in the sense that God is the cause of both departure and survival. We do not find this verse repeated in the New Testament. However, the best that is said in this concern is: “For the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6: 23). Here, the apostle speaks of death in two senses: the physical and the spiritual deaths. The rest of the verse proves this: “but the free gift of God is eternal life”.

In several Qur’anic verses it is mentioned that the Lord gives life and He causes death. Does this mean that God is the direct cause of the death of every person, or the causality of God is a general saying, in relation to the whole humanity, due to the fact that death is a law? However, what does Sūra 39 [al-zumar], v.42 mean, “God receives the souls at the time of their death”? According to the interpretation of Imām Al-Rāzī, God receives the souls, at the time of their death, means that God takes hold of them and does not return them to the body. Thus, this great commentator does not consider a difference between taking life [i.e., God’s reception of the soul] and death. Here, the commentator has considered the relative pronoun ‘and’ as joining two synonyms, while ‘and’ might have the sense of the option of choice as saying “she has distanced herself, thus, choose for her patience and morning”, i.e. one of them. From this point of view, there is no linguistic reason that prevents [the consideration] of divine reception of the soul as the work of God, while death as a biological event concerning the human being. Nevertheless, I understand that Al-Rāzī could not move away from divine causality.

Evidently, divine address does not treat the contrast between the divine and the biological. And if we cling to the natural law, that does not prevent Christians to maintain that the human being was created to live eternally and that death is a punishment. Thus, nothing invalidates the truth that God has revealed through Paul that “the wages of sin is death”. That is why Orthodox Christians say that the natural law appeared after sin and that God watches over this order. Therefore, from a divine perspective, nothing prevents the death of the body, because of this deficiency, which has entered this chemical laboratory, which is the body.

Yes, because of purposes God has, God prolongs the life of this or that person, improving the biological functions as God wills, and I am completely confident that this improvement in the case of the elderly is a chance to repent. In this sense, God cares about the particulars, since the calling is for eternal life. Yet, to say with the common people that the age of this person or that is written down in eternity, by God, and that God sends the diseases, until the end of time comes, this is what I do not think, as it is affirmed in the Book, in which I believe.

[It is possible to explain death as] a human situation and a divine favor, in order that the human being dies with blessings, contentment, and readiness for departure. This seems to me to be a possible configuration between that which is in heaven and which is on earth.

It is incorrect what most Christians say that God has reconciled us with death, since Paul says, “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” (1Corinthians 15: 26) Christ has reconciled us with God through His death, not ours, and the final reconciliation will be accomplished at our rising from the dead, for Christ’s death is life for us. This is the paradox, that the second Adam had to die in order that His life might work in us.

As to why do we escape the physical extinction, through food, sport and medicine? That is because life on this earth is a responsibility and care about those surrounding us, since “every person is a guardian” as Imām Alī Ben Abī Ṭāleb said. The service that we do to ourselves and to others is the fulfillment of this responsibility. It is not prohibited to seek death, but it is impermissible to be disappointed from the difficulties of life. God might want you sick or disabled and broken. That is not of your concern; you need to cure yourself as if you would live eternally, whenever the means of life were available to you. As to surrender to poverty, sickness, and idleness, whenever you could overcome them, that would never be the will of God.

God has granted us life and called us to keep it and preserve it with all the earnestness and the sincerity we have, toward God and the beloved ones, whom we consider seriously.

We are called to contend against death in all possible ways, until we witness that God is alive, and that God’s will is that we live until the time of our departure to God comes. Then, we would recommend our soul to God with contentment, because of our knowledge that God is in control of the world and wants to save us from suffering. The Creator responds to contentment with compassion, since compassion is the only entrance to the Kingdom. There we would meet those whom God has liberated from the oppression of this world and has filled their hearts with divine mercy, and this is the full joy.

If this is the condition of our relationship with God, then, there is no room for wailing. This is so, since our wailing would mean inherently that we opt for the dead person to remain in life, while the truth is that we feel sorry about human love and consolation, i.e., we opt for an unveiled face, rather than a face covered from our sight by compassion.

Natural grieves continue to exist and the Lord does not reject them, and Jesus Himself cried for His friend Lazarus. What is important is that we do not cut our relations with anyone and that we continue the service and we perform the benefactions and the holy recitations until wholeness descends upon us. Wholeness is our connectedness with the one taken from us to the abode of the saints and we truly hope for his/her salvation and the final liberation from the burden of this world. The union between those, whom God has received, and us is peace [that is possible through the bond of wholeness.].

Further, we inherit the virtues of those who have departed us, in the sense that we might perceive those values today, while they were concealed from us [earlier]. Thus, we might be sanctified through the dead ones. There is the remembrance of the virtues that we perform in the worship services. And in these services of remembrance communication takes place, until God brings us together on the Last Day.

Hence, we do not live this remembrance with irritability, but with prayer and imitation of the virtues of those whom God has concealed from the sights. You do not live with those asleep in the Lord unless with the one wholeness, which God has bestowed upon them and us. In this sense, they have not been separated [from us].

Furthermore, there is the cultural aspect, which makes you the inheritor of writers, intellectuals and scientists, whose legacy provides you with whatever they have achieved through their research, poetry, literature and the different sorts of art. From this perspective, you could say that Al-Mutanabbi, Shakespeare, Dostoevsky, Beethoven and others have not die. Their [own] articulation is present in the Kingdom and the extension of their articulation on earth.

Once, as I was walking with a great friend, who was knowledgeable in music, and he asked me, what remains from the Ninth Symphony? I said, the timbre vanishes, but the essence remains.

These are different features of receiving [God], the Lord, in the world beneath, with the hope of meeting God in heaven. This makes [the acceptance of] death easier and enhances your contiguousness to the dear Lord. And if your soul has become a bride of God, then your soul and the Spirit would say, Come. At that time, the kingdom of death vanishes within you.

Translated by Sylvie Avakian-Maamarbashi

Original Text: “الموت” –An Nahar- 16.08.2008

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2008, An-Nahar, Articles

The Light and You / 10.08.2008

I do not want to go deeper into the theological controversies, which have divided both the Muslim world and the Christian one, each in itself, concerning the subject of the word. In Christianity, which is historically precedent [to Islam], the major statement is: “In the beginning was the Word” [John 1: 1]. Which beginning was this? There is no doubt, for most commentators, that John the Evangelist as he opened his Book with this statement he pointed to the beginning of the Book of Genesis, which says: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” [Gen.1: 1] If John has said that in the beginning of this creation the Word was, then, the Word would be previous to creation, and he supports this interpretation at the end of the first verse, saying: “and the Word was God.” The term [Word] indicates Christ before His descent to the world. And this has remained the used designation until Arius, in the fourth century, said that the Word is the first creature and the mediator between God and the universe. And the Church’s objection to Arius was about his claim concerning the createdness of the Word or the Son. This was – in my perception of the history of heterodoxies – the major heterodoxy which has divided the Church for the following decades, and it has not returned strongly, to my knowledge, unless with the emergence of Jehovah’s Witnesses, in similar terms or meaning.

It is neither my intention nor within my capability to show the debates that took place in Islam concerning the createdness of the Qurʼan, or its uncreated nature as the words of God. In order to identify the eternal nature of the Qurʼan, it should have been settled that the words of God are ancient, since they come from the Eternal Existent, and consequently they are not temporal. Large group of Muslims maintained the necessity of relating the eternal words with the Qurʼanic verbal template, and thus the ‘Knowledge of the Occasions of Revelation’ [ʼasbāb al-nzūl] has emerged which is about the circumstances in the life of the Prophet, nevertheless, [it maintains that] they were in the knowledge of God and thus, it does not abolish the eternity of the divine word.

The eternity of the Qurʼan and the eternity of the Word (or the Son), for the Christians, are two similar issues which the believing mind had to encounter. Those who maintained the eternity of the Word, for the Christians, and the eternity of the Qurʼan, they faced two real questions, which is the same question for the believing mind.

However, the problem is more complicated in Islam, since it is the problem of the relation between the word and the words which revealed to the prophet and are expressed through his voice, and then these words were written or preserved, heard and recorded. The question is: what is the role of the prophet in the embodiment of these words, whether verbally or by reciting them? Was he merely a man who received the words and transmitted them, or the meanings [of the words] were revealed to him and he had to find their verbal expression? All this has raised much inquiry, and schools have varied upon them.

However, as I maintained earlier, this is not my concern in this hasty work. Today, I am not arguing with anyone, yet, I presented the dilemma in order to reach at a human objective, starting from the sayings of the ancient Christian Fathers that the Word incarnated (from the Holy Spirit and Mary) in order that the body (and they mean human existence) becomes a Word. I ignore now the consideration of the eternity of the human image in [the form of] energy, based on the words of those who say that every creature is [originally] a word, which later on took the form of a creature. Both the people of the East and the West have addressed this question. However, for the intricacy of the subject I will not wade into it.

What concerns me is that you might become a divine word, in simpler terms. I want you to imitate God’s word, to become God’s utterance, or a reflection of God in work, speech, intention, and that you might be free from every human word, which derives of human inspiration. In reality, the American translation of the Bible which maintains that the Scripture is inspired by God carries, in my opinion [in Arabic], the adoption of the Islamic word ‘inspired’, ‘inspire’ and its derivatives. However, the Greek term carries the meaning that there is in all the Scripture the whiffs of God. Hence, the problematic is not about a disagreement between Christianity and Islam, since each has a statement concerning God’s relation to the text. In Christianity, the Word of God is Christ, himself, and not a compilation of books; and the Spirit has provided the evangelists, and the prophets before them, by the Spirit’s power in order to write words about Christ, before His incarnation, or after it.

What I want here is to talk about the human relations in the light of the divine power that is within the human being. If your behavior was fully identical to that of God, and to what God has said, you become God’s word, since you reveal God to the people, hence, whoever sees you sees God. In this sense, you are the son of God, and you call God Father not because you have emerged from God’s essence, and in the essence God has no partner. Rather, God’s light has been reflected in you, and there are no two lights in existence. God provides you with God’s light. In this sense, you alone, in creation, are a divine light. Irrational creatures might inspire you about God’s existence, as our Fathers have said; however, they are not the vision [of God]. The light, in ancient physics, is in the eye. And when you behold God you perceive the light. This is the relationship between God and the human being.

Nevertheless, if your soul becomes gloomy and the light of your eyes extinguishes, you would not see God. God, in existence, is independent from you. And if you disobey God you would perceive nothing at all, as it is mentioned in the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” [Matt. 5: 8] And heaven, as we call this encounter between God and the human being in Christianity, is that the light of the Lord meets the light in the person, so that at the end “God may be all in all” [1Cor. 15: 28], as Paul says. It is not that God’s Being becomes confused with yours, but God’s eternal power intersects yours and embraces it to itself. Heaven is, then, a sea of light, through which all the lovers of God move. This starts here, whenever God dwells in your heart. Hence, the “here” and the “there” do not really differ, though the Hereafter is better for you than the First [life] [cf. Sūrat al-Ḍuḥā 4]. However, in the divine depth, i.e. is in God, God is willing to receive you, and no mark of disgrace will remain upon you, and your sins will not be recalled, and God will not recall them. Heaven is not only the eradication of transgressions, but also the eradication of their memory in God and in you. The demise of sins here is the repentance. However, repentance is about toil and diligence every day and every moment, until there is no trace of sin. And whenever sin is eradicated from you your soul becomes a mirror for those who behold God, and hence, they see themselves in you. Thus, slavery, which is the drift between your light and your Lord’s, vanishes in you. I know that there is a drift between the Creator and the creature, in relation to the essence or the being. And I know that obedience is required. However, in the heavenly junction, which is your heart, the beloved does not call for other than the beloved, and God becomes contiguous to you.

You would experience this whenever you were from the lovers. I do not call you to neglect the word descending upon you from God, through interpretation or through other means. However, I call you to the state of love, in which there is no speech. And in heaven the tongues of angels invalidate the words which have been poured upon us, for a reason of teaching. Reminding is the outcome of knowledge. God does not disappear in the higher Kingdom, however the reminding of God will fade away, since you would not need human words, and the language of the angels is silence.

In the world, there are means of subsistence and means of learning. However, all this remain at the level of mediums. As for love, love is not a medium [or instrument], rather it is the baptism of luminance, after which there is nothing other than its layers. Then, you will live of the blessed face of God, and the vision will grow in your spiritual eyes and God will exceed in brightness, since God is not a rigid picture. The living one does not have a portray. In the world, the living ones are subject to time, which hardens them. God is complete luminosity. God’s light oscillates in God in order to make you alive, and you walk not following this light, since it is within you, in order that you might live forever in an indescribable lucidity.

Translated by Sylvie Avakian-Maamarbashi

Original Text: “النور وأنت” –An Nahar- 10.08.2008

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