Seeking God Through Need and Thanks: A Reflection on Surah Ar-Rahman

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The All-Merciful
Who Taught the Qur'an
Who Created Man
Who Taught Him Eloquence
The Sun and the Moon (move) with husbaan (calculated order)
And the stars and the trees prostrate
And He raised the Heavens and brought forth upon them, the Balance
That 'they' not exceed that Balance
And establish the weight with justice without losing the Balance
And the Earth, He rolled out for creatures
Therein be fruits and palm trees
And grain having husks and scented plants
Then which of the favors of your Lord, shall you deny?!
(Qur'an, Surah Rahman 55:1-13)

It is worthy of note that this beautifully poetic and powerfully rhythmic chapter of God's Revealed Word begins with His Name Ar-Rahman, "The All-Merciful". This alludes to the reality that everything and anything discussed in this chapter is somehow intimately connected to the inner secret of this Revealed Name of God. That is, it is God as the "All-Merciful", Who reveals and teaches the Qur'an, creates man and teaches him eloquent speech; Who orders the sun and the moon to their movements, and creates the stars and trees to prostrate; and Who establishes "the Balance" of each and everything, starting with the Heavens. In other words, it is "The All-Merciful" Who engenders all existence, orders it, nourishes it, and keeps it within certain bounds or limits as a result of His Merciful Nature. This very Name of God is therefore the very substance and fabric of existence (wujud), and it is this Truth/Reality which this beautiful Surah compels us to remember and to live by. It is in this very context that as human witnesses to this Truth, we are called to recognize all of this as Divine "favors" and are asked by God in "rhetorical fashion" and through a compelling refrain, to never deny His favors: "Then which of the favors of your Lord shall you deny?!"

Furthermore, at the root of these favors is our very existence, and at the root of that existence, is God's Attribute, "The All-Merciful" (Ar-Rahman). In fact, all of existence "submits" itself—its very being—to this "name" or "law" of Ontological Mercy. This can be found in the following Qur'anic verse: "There is not a thing in the Heavens and the Earth that does not come to ‘the All-Merciful’ except as a servant" (19:93). Notice again God uses His Name Ar-Rahman, in this very same context, as above. Note also the verse : "…all that is in the Heavens and Earth submits to God, willingly or unwillingly, and unto Him they are ever-returning" (3:83). This brings me to consider that as God's servants (or creatures) we are all "involuntary submitters" to God's Mercy, Wisdom, and Creative Power. It is up to us as His servants to willfully accept the reality of our cosmic situation: that is, we can not help but be compelled into Divine Submission as an expression of God's Pure Mercy. To recognize this and to act accordingly—or voluntarily—with our intelligence, our will and our love, is to transition from being "muslims" in an altogether general sense, to "Muslims" in a very particular, holistic, and ultimately a salvific sense. Such recognition and acceptance of being in a "state" of islam (universal submission) should naturally compel us to attain to Islam (peaceful surrender) which results as a consequence of the biggest favor which God has given us as his servants: that favor being our very existence which we "borrow" from God's Existence (or Pure Being) since we are in need of "being" as he is "Rich" in Being. And God reminds us of this: “God is the Rich and you are the poor/needy” (47:38). To even think of "denying God's favor" then is to deny our very existence as human beings, created as we were through Ar-Rahman in order to seek Ar-Rahman.

In other words, as His servants who are "mercifully compelled" to servitude, we can only but existentially seek "The All-Merciful". We are in fact "damned" to this fate, even post-humously! Glory be to God for that! By now we should realize that it really can not get any better for the fate of human beings than to realize that in truth no matter what we do, we are actually being compelled by "The All-Merciful" (Ar-Rahman) to 'begin' and 'end' with Mercy (however long that may take in our post-humous lives)!

Allow me to assert at this point the following: this existential and cosmic "seeking" which is the privy of all creatures/servants from the Heavens to the earth—but the privy of human beings in a specific and special way—can only take on two general modes of seeking, and this without exception. These are: seeking God through a state of need and/or seeking God through a state of thanks (or thankfulness).

There are no alternatives to this. I challenge anyone to find our case as God's servants to be otherwise. Anything that you may say, I would venture to reduce or bring back to these two aforementioned categories (of need and thanks) as modes of existence, spiritual stations, or human attitudes. In other words, we are always and forever in a state of need and/or in a state of thankfulness before our Lord. In fact, all the virtues, stations and states acquired upon the path to God in Islamic spirituality can be reducible or realized fully in these two ever-repeating modes of being and knowing that are "need" and "thankfulness".

Seeking God through need and seeking Him through thankfulness are intimately connected, and perhaps this has been best demonstrated by God to me in my own life experience through the blessings of having children. As thankful as we are for our children now, all of this thanks is and has been preceded by a deeply rooted need within our marriage life: the need for children. For most married couples, having children is an automatic next step in their marriage, without any hesitation or a sense of need. And this is indeed something to be thankful for, and not to be taken for granted.

Before my wife and I could be "thankful" for having children, we were in a state of need for seven years in our marriage until God, in His infinite Mercy and Provision, blessed us with a Heaven-send in our daughter. The news of my wife’s pregnancy hit us like a lightning-bolt from above. I have to say it was rather unbelievable! In a time-span of seven years, after all the prayers and the blessings of saintly people and noble men and women (including our parents whose life-mission it has been to make the needs of their children their very own), after all our pilgrimages to holy sites and tombs, we had "almost" given up hope in having children. Our daugther proved our diminishing sense of need before our Lord entirely wrong. Alhamdulillah for that indeed. We will never be able to thank her enough for that. And then, 6 years later, we were blessed with a second daughter. Masha'Allah!

And yet I would never exchange such a long and drawn out seeking of God “through need” for anything else! There is a profound secret in patiently persevering for anything in God's Name—whether it be children, health, peace, wholeness, nearness to God, anything. The secret is found in the literal wording of the Qur'anic verse, "Verily, God is "with" (ma'a) the patient" (2:153). To know and realize that God is intimately "with" (ma'a) those who abide patiently in the state of their need before their Lord is to reach the Goal without attaining to the means!

This then is the secret of "with-ness" (ma'iyya) my wife and I have been blessed to experience. To bear witness to that "withness" was our station for 7 years, and then for 6 years until our second daughter came. I miss that spiritual station as it manifested itself in that mode, and would not exchange it for all of this world or even the hereafter, as we knew palpably God was "with" us in those moments! Surely, in Heaven we are "near" God, but not necessarily "with" Him! The servant patiently persevering in the state of need is guaranteed to be "with" God and "IS" with God, here and now! What a blessing! What a reward indeed!

I pray this reflection inspires all those out there who are still in a state of need. Whatever your needs are, I promise you, God IS with you! And I pray God gives you both His With-ness and the very thing you are in need of, so as to increase your thanks--as He did for us! For as long as we, “Call upon Allah or Ar-Rahman, whichever Names you choose, they are the most beautiful Names” (17:110), know that God promises, “He is with you wherever you are” (57:4)

Ultimately, to be able to find God’s “favors” within the very states of our need and our thanks, is to fulfill to the extent of human possibility, our spiritual response to the Qur’anic refrain: “Then which of the favors of your Lord shall you deny?!”

Walhamdulillahi wahdahu wabihi nasta'iin. And All Praise Belongs to God, He is the All-Inclusive One, from Whom we seek help.


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