Allah’s creation is an incredible array of diversity and variety. When we see the world through the eyes of duality rather than unity, however, we can easily miss the mosaic of Allah’s creative genius. Despite the beauty and wonder of creation, it seems as though the world is becoming more and more a place of intolerance. In spite of the lip service being paid to globalization and its supposed breaking down of barriers, human beings seem to be less accepting of one another. There appears to be a major disconnection between word and deed when it comes to accepting others, especially if they are different from us. Sometimes even within our own families, we have trouble accepting the glorious variety on which Allah’s creation is patterned.

Living Islam With Others vs. Using Islam Against Others

A friend of mine once said that “true Islam implies a constructive spiritual stability that is non-antagonistic and consoling to all people of all faiths.” How about Islam within our homes? Is our Islam within our families representative of “constructive spiritual stability that is non-antagonistic and consoling?” Better yet, in our relationships with our family members, do we act from a constructive spiritual stability, that is, a living state of Islam, a state of being at peace with the will and command of Allah in all matters and in harmony and cooperation with loved ones? Or do we use Islam as a tool for dominance and power? In the latter case, Islam becomes something outside of us rather than part of who we are, an objectified “thing” used to push a “me”-based power agenda.

Living Islam means living, modeling, guiding, teaching, and counseling with loving care and concern. It is a life of trust, struggle, and noble effort. Using Islam often takes the form of holier-than-thou judgmentalism that is used to oppress and keep others in line. It often shows its ugly side through allegations that others are not “Islamic” or “obedient” enough. In actuality, the obedience that is demanded is not obedience as a result of taqwa, that is obedience to Allah, but rather obedience to the tyrant and his own fear-based self. When Islam becomes objectified in such a manner, the state of inner unity (that leads to outer unity, i.e. peace and where ‘it’, i.e. Islam, is ‘used’ to achieve an objective other than its divinely inherent goal of bringing peace and goodness to people’s lives.

Family as a Microcosm for Acceptance

Acceptance of others—especially if they are our husbands, wives, and children—is based on a loving trust of Allah that is derived from living in full surrender to the will and command of Allah. Because of Allah’s desire to be known, He created creation and honored man as the highest of all creatures. By bestowing upon us the gift of reason (`aql), Allah made us knowers with the capacity and latent desire to know our Creator, from Whom we came, through worship (`ibadah).

Loving trust of Allah therefore rests in this simple truth: that Allah created us for a very important purpose, and at all times and in all places through His different acts, Allah teaches us and guides us to know Him and His greatness. What we often call “tests” are reminders of His greatness that are manifested in our lives to prod us towards repentance (tawbah), that is, turning back to His eternal greatness and mercy, and remaining there through our taqwa.

Everyday life, however, often tends to blind us to the inherent blessings that exist in the form of those closest to us. For example, Allah says in the Qur’an (Ar-Rum 30:21) that the love in our hearts for our spouses is from Allah, placed in our hearts as a sign from Him, Al-Wadud (The Ever-Affectionate). The toils of daily life, however, tend to create a veil over our hearts and distract us from seeing the special gift that is our families. Instead, we harp on the negatives, on those things that annoy us, on what was not done the way it should have been, and so on. Moreover, we tend to be blinded to the wonderful variety that each member of the family brings to the whole, the uniqueness in character and personality—the gifts that Allah has placed in each of us.

Equal but Different

There is no doubt that although men and women were created equal in terms of our humanness, they differ in many ways. We have different tastes, different features, different potentials, levels of knowledge and understanding, different tendencies towards right and wrong and toward others. Yet, despite these differences, we share an equality that goes beyond mere flesh and blood:

It is often said that “all people are created equally”, yet some are crippled, some are blind, some are deaf… so where is the “equality”? The equality is in the gifts of the heart. The physical world is full of differences and distinctions, yet there burns in every heart the same One Flame. Spiritual awakening is the process of realizing this One Flame, bringing it forth into the world in all of its glory. (Shelquist)

The ways that men and women differ are highlighted throughout the Qur’an:

(O you men! Surely We have created you of a male and a female, and made you tribes and families that you may know each other, surely the most honorable of you with Allah is the one among you most careful (of his duty); surely Allah is Knowing, Aware.) (Al-Hujurat 49:13)

(Surely! The men who submit and the women who submit, and the believing men and the believing women, and the obeying men and the obeying women, and the truthful men and the truthful women, and the patient men and the patient women, and the humble men and the humble women, and the almsgiving men and the almsgiving women, and the fasting men and fasting women, and the men who guard their private parts and the women who guard, and the men who remember Allah much and the women who remember Allah—has prepared for them forgiveness and a mighty reward) (Al-Azhab 33:35)

To view others as equals—[We have created you of a male and a female]—but different [and made you tribes and families ]—is to honor Allah and His Word: [the most honorable of you with Allah is the one among you most careful (of his duty)]. To fulfill the rights of others without prejudice, while at the same time treating them according to their level of understanding and need, is to act from a place of mercy and justice. This is the great example of the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him), whose way was to value others by giving them all that was due to them (and usually more), and to treat them according to their needs and states. With some he was gentle and with others stern, but at all times his actions originated from a place of love and respect for the uniqueness of man as Allah’s highest creation.

Overcoming Barriers to Acceptance Through Self-Discovery and Surrender

Ultimately, our inability to honor others as manifestations of Allah’s divine wisdom starts with our own lack of self-understanding. Being born into Islam does not mean being born into surrender to Allah. True surrender must be discovered, realized, and accepted by each of us through the quest for true self-understanding (Ansari). This is one reason why converts to Islam often seem so impressive to those born into the faith. Many converts have undergone this deep soul searching and self-discovery and have arrived at Islam—surrendered themselves—freely and voluntarily out of sheer desire to be closer to their Lord. There is no reason, however, why people born into Islam cannot undergo the same process of self-exploration and discovery to achieve a truly voluntary surrender of the heart to Allah.

The quest for self-understanding can only be achieved through sincere intention to know and experience Allah, and by learning from those who have already walked the path. The result of this quest brings us to the knowledge of Allah by being tuned in to His multitude of gifts manifesting both inside and out: “He who knows himself, knows his Lord,” the Sufis say. If we can subsist in such a state of perpetual gratitude, we will be ever aware of the Divine Oneness that encompasses all things. This awareness produces a state of deep humility and harmony with the divine will.

There is no shortage in the spiritual world, the One Flame encompasses all of creation in abundance. And, paradoxically, burns ever brighter as it is used and as it is given away. In the terminology of the Qur’an, there is the initial radiance of the Beneficence (ar-rahman) with which all are blessed, and the more we give it away, the more we live in harmony with the Divine Will, the more we receive from Mercy and Compassion (ar-rahim). There is no shortage. The deeper you are willing to go, the more you will receive. And if you deny the existence of that One Flame, then you are lost and bewildered. (Shelquist)

In the state of harmony, the ego is powerless to play king and become judge, or to think less of others or seek to rule them. In this state, we see the eyes of humility, compassion, and wisdom and thus seek understanding of others rather than condemnation. The acceptance that results is thus an appreciation of the divine act of creation itself and an overwhelming reverence for Allah’s wisdom in manifesting such diversity.

Conclusion: Life Is Discovery

Like everything else in life, when viewed from the worldview of Islam, the issue of accepting others starts with ourselves and our relationship with Allah. When this relationship is sincere and given top priority in our lives, our relations with others will fall into place. To see the world as a place of discovery and as a means to know our Lord, is to view others less as a threat and more as a key to unlocking the secrets to Allah’s creative genius. To embrace Allah is to embrace all of life, for life itself is never separated from Him. Be right with Allah, be right with life, and be right with others. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? If only

By Abdul-Lateef Abdullah