Worship: Credits, injustice and forgiveness

Q714 :I have a friend who, as a young man, is a model of good behavior. He is God-fearing, and dutiful to his parents, keen to help others and hard-working. He is trusting and he feels that by doing good, he and his family will lead a happy life. One aspect of what he did to try and help his parents was to persuade a friend he had known for a short period of time to find a job for his father. They agreed to pay the man a sum of money which, to them, was large and could only be provided with much difficulty. However, he managed to raise the amount because they felt that a job for the father will ease the family's circumstances. The man took the money and disappeared. This has left a terrible effect on my friend. His attention to his Islamic duties seems to weaken. He asks why should one bother about being good, if a bad person can deprive a poor family of their limited resources and then obtain forgiveness later in life by repenting or going on pilgrimage? Please comment.

A714 : Your friend seems to be in confusion about a number of issues. The first thing is that of expecting immediate reward for his good behavior and his attending to his religious duties. Moreover, he wants a reward in a particular form, namely, protection from the scheming of others. Since this man whom he trusted and gave the money to find a job for his father was a bad person, then Allah should have revealed to your friend the nature of that person and what he had been scheming. This is what your friend expects, although neither you nor he has put that idea so clearly. This is unfortunately true of many people. Since they offer their prayers and fast and pay their zakah, they expect full protection against any evil perpetrated by other people and against any harm caused by natural phenomena. This is totally wrong. Look at the history of the Prophet himself. There never was and there never could be a human being more perfect in behavior than the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) himself. His conduct provides an example for everyone of us to emulate, not only to attain a high standard of perfection but also to earn the pleasure of Allah. Nevertheless, the Prophet himself was subjected to much harm by the non-believers in Makkah. Allah protected him from the non-believers who tried to kill him because Allah wanted him to complete his task of conveying His message. Otherwise, the Prophet suffered much harm at the hands of the non-believers in Makkah, the Jews and the hypocrites in Madinah and others as well. When you consider what the Prophet had suffered, you will find that losing an amount of money, large as it may be, is only a trivial matter. Your friend should ask himself from a very practical point of view. If Allah were to protect every well-behaved believer against the designs of others, how would the good distinguish themselves from the bad in this life? How will it be known that a particular person is corrupt or harbors ill-intentions? We must not forget that this life is a test for every one of us. We have to make sure that we pass this test successfully. Having provided us with enough guidance to show us the way to follow in order to pass this test and earn His reward in the hereafter, Allah leaves us alone to face this life with all its problems and difficulties. The loss of money as a result of deception by another person is only an aspect of the difficulties that we may encounter. If any of us loses a large amount of money as a result of deception by another person, would that mean that Allah has abandoned us, or that He does not take good care of us? Let us remember here that if we follow the guidance Allah has provided for us through His messenger, we only benefit ourselves. Allah does not benefit by our worship. Nor our disobedience would harm Him in any way. He says in a Hadith-e-Qudsi: "My servants, you will not attain harming Me as to harm Me, and you will not attain benefiting Me so as to benefit Me. My servants, were the first of you and the last of you, the human of you and the jinn of you to be as pious as the most pious heart of any one man of you, that would not increase My kingdom in anything. My servants, were the first of you and the last of you, the human of you and the jinn of you to be as wicked as the most wicked heart of any one man of you, that would not decrease My kingdom in anything. My servants, were the first of you and the last of you, the human of you and the jinn of you, to rise up in one place and make a request to Me, and were I to give everyone what he requested, that would not decrease what I have, anymore than a needle decreases the sea if it is put into it." (Related by Muslim, At-Tirmithi and Ibn Majah) Since our worship does not benefit Allah, why does He make it a duty which we are bound to fulfill? The answer is that our worship benefits us in making us better people. You speak of your friend as a man of exemplary conduct. In your detailed letter it appears very clearly that he is so because he is a good believer and he attends to his Islamic duties. He has made the error of trusting a bad person, but that error may be committed by anyone of us. [It has not been disclosed what necessitated advance payment of a large sum of money for procurement of a job. It is assumed that the deal was not dubious.] It seems to me that the problem with your friend is not so much the loss of his money, but the possibility that the person who defrauded him can get away with it by simply repenting what he did or going to pilgrimage or doing some good action. This is not so. The sins we may commit are of two types. They are either an aggression against what is due to Allah or an aggression against what is due to other people. When we are resurrected on the day of judgment, everyone of us faces the reckoning. We will have certainly committed numerous offenses against the rights of Allah or the rights of other human beings. What is due to Allah, He may forgive readily if the person concerned has earned his forgiveness through genuine repentance and through good action that he had made subsequently in this life. Thus, a person might have spent 10 or 15 or 30 years without offering a single prayer or fasting a day in Ramadan. If he has genuinely repented of all that and began to attend to his duties but he died before he could attend properly to his Islamic duties, Allah may forgive him all that he had committed or neglected in the past. But a person who comes on the day of judgment having done injustice to one person and stolen the property of another and got away with what was due to a third, will not find forgiveness so readily available. Allah will not forgive him those rights of other people simply because he turned to Him in repentance. Allah first asks the people who have claims against that person whether they are willing to forgive him or not. Allah does not write off the claims or the rights of people against any person unless they themselves consent. Everyone of us will be free to state whether he forgives what is owed to him by another person. If your friend states on the day of judgment that he does not forgive his defaulter, Allah will take away the credit of some of the good deeds that person had done in his life and credit them to your friend until he is satisfied. In other words, if a person cheats or commits injustice against another or backbites him or injures him in any way, he will give him of his good deeds on the day of judgment unless he is satisfied. If that person's good deeds are exhausted and the person who is entitled for compensation is not yet satisfied, then Allah will take away some of the sins he had made and add them to his defrauder or his opponent, until the scales are shown to be right and the aggrieved person receives his full compensation. Needless to say that this is a very tough prospect for anyone who has treated other people unfairly. To lose one's good deeds when one is in need of every little credit he can have is not the position anyone of us would wish to face. Therefore, when a person repents of his past deeds, he should try to identify anyone whom he had wronged and try to make amends. If he had got away with some money owed to him, he should return that. It may happen that a person has genuinely repented and that he is unable to return to other people the rights he owes to them. Allah may wish to forgive him, but Allah does not abandon what is due to other people he had wronged. On the day of judgment, Allah takes over compensating those people for the wrong they had suffered. Suppose that Allah wants to forgive the person who had wronged your friend. On the day of judgment, Allah will ask your friend to forgive him and He will credit your friend with as much reward as he wishes until he is fully satisfied. Therefore, the money he has lost in this world will be translated into enhancing his position on the day of judgment. Why should any of us be so aggrieved at what someone else has done to him when he faces this prospect of absolute justice on the day of judgment? If he neglects his Islamic duties or changes his good behavior, he is only adding a new injury to himself and he is the only loser.

Our Dialogue ( Source : Arab News - Jeddah )