Sin, repentance and reform
When you spoke of sin and the fact that we are all sinners, I feel I have to add something to this. Christians believe that Jesus was sent for the sinners. Muslims also believe this and that Muhammad was also sent for the sinful. In this much we agree, but upon taking this further, we part. For the Christian, it seems to me, this is the end of it: you’re a sinner, there’s nothing you can do about it, so rejoice in the fact that you have been granted salvation from the consequence of your sins. As I read it, for the Muslim, this is just the beginning. Yes, we are sinful, but the point is that we can change. The difference is that for the Muslim there is an acceptance that righteousness is within human potential. Of course we will all commit sins from time to time, and it is for this reason that God taught us to repent. In the Qur’an, this becomes patently clear. After a mention of the consequence for those people who commit the gravest sins, we read, “Except for those who repent, believe and do righteous work. For them God will replace their evil deeds with good. And ever is God Forgiving and Merciful.”
Islam is a religion of reform, as I know very well. I know that it is hard for anyone in my family to see that I have changed in any way for the better by my association with Islam. That is because what was, and to some extent still is, my biggest problem relates to the matters of the heart – those hidden things, deep inside, such as insincerity in intention, dishonesty and other things I need not mention here. For many other people, though, the reform may be mainly in the actions, and I know of people who having once indulged in all sorts of dubious activities are now the most kind, generous, charitable, well-mannered and sincere people you could ever wish to meet. When we sin, we should turn to God in sincere repentance, and never become complacent with our sin, for that is a trick of the devil who wishes to convince us that we will never be good enough to worship God as He asks us to.
Making people unhappy by my belief
Now, finally, coming to an end of my marathon effort, let me address the last things you wrote to me with regards to my religion. You wrote that you believe “that God is always sad when we do anything which displeases Him and I feel that He must be very sad to see how deeply unhappy you are making your parents…” In Islam, respect of and obedience to our parents is commanded to every believer. He is told not even to say “hmmth” to his parents. This applies to all spheres of life and in all circumstances, except one. The one exception is where obeying one’s mother or father, grandmother or grandfather, means disobeying the Creator. Obedience to God always come first. I do not actually always manage that; sometimes I compromise, against my better judgement, and do things which displease my Lord, simply because I do not wish to offend my parents.
I cannot escape from the fact that my belief in Islam as the one and only way causes deep unhappiness to all close to me who do not share this belief. I cannot ignore that fact and nor do I ignore it. I know that every one only wants what is best for me. Of course I know that. But as I have now explained, I hope satisfactorily, my belief in Islam is one which I hold sincerely. It is not something which I can turn on and turn off like a light bulb. People may assume that because of this I do not care about my family, but nothing could be further from the truth. Just as you pray that I may be guided to what you consider to be the truth, I also pray for everyone that they may be guided. On both sides, we believe that we have a hold of the truth, and on both sides we fear that our loved ones will die without a hold of that truth. Unfortunately, this is just one of the things which comes with the territory of believing there to be a definitive truth and a reason for our existence.
The nature of guidance
On the question of guidance, I hope that we can acknowledge that we all need to seek this treasure. As I have already written, this request for guidance is part of the Muslim’s “worship” prayer. Of course, being sincere must accompany these words, but I hope that you can see what an important part of my life, as a Muslim, seeking guidance is. I believe that this is something to reflect upon. There is another aspect which I feel we should consider about what we mean by guidance. A Muslim’s actions are based upon knowledge founded on the teachings of a Prophet sent by God. The Muslim believes that God sent Prophets in order to teach mankind the Straight Path and the way to worship Him. This, for the Muslim, is guidance.
I do not know of any comparable approach in Christianity. The “taught” guidance familiar to the Prophets is replaced in Christianity, it seems to me, by what people “think” is right. I do not wish to cause any offence by mentioning these things. Rather, I am simply suggesting that there is a need to define what we mean by guidance. From my own perspective, I find the idea of guidance without a basis in knowledge rather problematic. For example, a few centuries ago no practising Christian would have dared take interest on a loan, for it was considered a grave sin. Today, however, the majority of practising Christians freely invest in interest in one way or another. Now, the problem with regard to guidance, as I see it, is, who is guided? Are modern Christians now guided closer to the truth? If so, does that not mean that the previous sixteen centuries worth of Christians were misguided? Or vice versa? The same could be said about the establishment of Protestantism breaking from Roman Catholicism. Of course, it is possible to argue that only belief in the crucifixion is a salvation issue and that all these other points are side issues. As it now stands, however, from a personal point of view I am not sure that I would be able to decipher what is guidance and what is not, for, unlike in the supplication for seeking guidance I mentioned before, the issue to be guided upon has not been defined.
Let us continue to pray with true sincerity that we, each and every one of us, may be guided to follow the right path, particularly at this stage in our lives (the life of the present, before the awesome Day of Judgement) when our whole future is at stake. I know those were words which were meant only for me, but if finding the truth and acting upon it is genuinely our aim, I know that you won’t be offended. I have written all of this; this long, long letter; in the hope that you will better understand what I believe and why I cannot now abandon it, purely to make life easier for myself with respect to my family and my career.