On God, Good, Evil, Satan, and Our Beloved Lady Maryam

(I wrote fragments of this post in the beautiful Stephanie‘s comment section.)
So the people who read my blog–all, like, four of you–may or may not occasionally feel displaced with how many times I repeat the word God instead of replacing God with a pronoun. In Islam, God is strictly neither male nor female. You may have correctly guessed that I don’t believe in using pronouns to describe God, and definitely not masculine pronouns, because I believe that God originally gave us more information about God’s nature than we understand today, and through patriarchal practices we’ve picked and chosen to accept only “masculine” (by human definition) traits. I believe we’ve deluding ourselves into accepting a certain inaccurate image of God by dismissing/overlooking/under-emphasizing/and even erasing God’s “feminine” qualities, which tend to be more positive–loving, considerate, forgiving.
(Yes, I do realize this is almost self-defeating, because “God” itself is masculine since there exists the word “Goddess.” But I feel, still, that this makes a difference.)
Because language has an impact. This is the same reason that, when I speak English, I use the word God instead of Allah. Allah is Arabic. I say Allah when I speak Arabic. Now, I don’t have a problem with mixing languages. In fact, I am quite fond of mixing languages. Among a billion other examples, I refer to my mother as Ma (soft a) instead of Mom, even when I speak English. Most times I don’t even do it on purpose–I tell my friend I’m going for a walk and for some reason I end up saying it in French. My mind just goes there. But what I do have a problem with, is that whenever I say the word God, everyone–including my mother–feels the need to “correct” me.
And that needs to stop. Why? Because I’m afraid that we are creating a difference–a state of behaving as though there were two, and that one of them is correct because even while we know each term refers to one God, we elevate one term over the other and treat it differently as though it were different–a different being. And that is so sinful, in implying that there’s more than one God; it’s enough of a sin to make you stop being Muslim. Astagfirullah, God forgive us.
What also makes me uncomfortable is when Muslims suggest that God and Satan are opposites of each other. It doesn’t make sense to me and even feels sacrilegious, because God created Satan, and only gave as much to Satan as what was due to Satan, as with all creations. The way I see it, in order for something to be the true opposite of another, it would have to be a whole opposite–and while Satan is a “whole” as we can define “whole” I believe God is a whole that we are not capable of completely grasping. We can only understand a small fraction. Satan is not magnificent enough to be the opposite of God. Satan’s evil is not whole enough compared to God’s good.
God is a Whole that we can’t comprehend. God has said, after all, that God made us out of God’s spirit. If this is the same way jinn were created, then God created Satan with a fraction God’s own qualities. However, I do believe Satan is Evil and God is Not Evil, even though God may have those qualities to have created Satan, and that has to do with the way I see evil. I don’t believe someone can truly be evil unless they intend to be evil, and since jinn have free will, they can choose to be evil. Intention includes really truly consenting to be evil–without being pressured or threatened. So, while God may have certain characteristics, those characteristics themselves are not evil–but it is fully consenting to evil that makes a being evil, and I don’t believe God ever does anything to any soul that it did not deserve.
And so yes, I do see Satan as an actual physical being, (some Muslims believe he isn’t and that he’s a metaphor for our inner dark side) but I don’t believe that Satan is limited that way. If Satan can sway us, I don’t think we’re as inherently good and innocent as we believe we are.
A natural question arises then, of why God would allow evil to continue if God is Supremely Good. I don’t know if this helps, but for me, personally, I always feel that it is a test of character. Of course, my life hasn’t been nearly has difficult as most people’s in the world. I was physically abused for 16 years and witnessed domestic violence (which I’m certain messed up my head) as well as witnessed the abuse of my two little brothers. But this is really miniscule compared to the suffering that goes on in the world–acid thrown on women’s faces after they’ve been raped, sex trafficking, torture and murder, natural disasters–so I can’t comfortably say that it must all be a test of character, because that just sounds so unsympathetic and pretentious through implication that victims who had it much harder than me and were unable to stay strong “failed.” And that’s the last sentiment I would ever want to communicate.
Somehow though, in my relatively safe little world, I continue to believe that God both plays a role and plays a role of supreme good. I think this is a blessing. I do believe that the very belief in God contributes to the survival of the species as a whole, even though it seems that suffering is indiscriminate, because whenever I feel very very weak with pain, I think of this verse from the Qur’an:

“On no soul does God place a burden greater than the soul can bear.” (Qur’an 2:286)

and it actually gives me strength, so I do strongly believe that it is a belief in God that contributes to the survival of civilization through catastrophes.
Also, the way I see survival on an individual level, I believe that I’m alive as long as I believe in God, because I was made of God’s spirit and dwell with that existence of my soul, and death–actual biological death–is only a passing, and not a real death. As C.S. Lewis said, “You don’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.”
That quote also reminds me of an excerpt of a poem:
“All nature is but art, unknown to thee;
All chance, direction, which thou canst not see;
All discord, harmony not understood;
All partial evil, universal good;
And spite of pride, in erring reason’s spite,
One truth is clear, Whatever is, is right.”
–Alexander Pope
I can’t really explain why I’m at peace with this, but it gives me the strength to be persistent and carry on as God would want of me. I certainly would understand if others were not feeling as at peace. I’ve had more than my share of moments of anguish–tearing at myself, sobbing into late nights, questioning my own sanity, believing myself to be damaged, and even becoming angry with God.
Muslims are taught, I’ve noticed, that it is wrong to become angry with God. I think we as woman are taught this especially. But Maryam, Mary, when giving birth to Jesus, cursed God herself and questioned why God didn’t just create her to be something insignificant instead of someone who had to endure so much pain. She raged at God in her moment of agony.
And God said she is a perfect woman.
I don’t believe we should ever forget that things happen for reasons that only God knows and that there are things we are not meant to understand, but Maryam herself expressed her rage–and when she was done she sang lovingly to her tiny baby. We are not only capable of great rage but great love. I would even say that to become angry with God is to become more intimate with God. It is an expression of passion with our Creator.

23 thoughts on “On God, Good, Evil, Satan, and Our Beloved Lady Maryam

  1. Four readers, and I bet I'm the only atheist. :)Back when I was a very heretical Catholic, I believed that suffering was a natural result of free will: people must have the ability to choose evil if the ability to choose good is to have any meaning whatsoever; to choose evil is, essentially, to cause suffering, whether in another person or yourself. Dunno how that explains natural disasters, though.

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  2. Salam Nahida,I've been following your blog for a couple of months now. While I appreciate all of your insights and posts, this one is probably my favorite so far. MA thank you so much for sharing these thoughts with us. And that Pope quote is really just lovely. Oh wonderful.

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  3. @ Ozy You are special! I can definitely see how suffering is a natural result of free will. Makes all the sense in the worldI don't think any of us can explain natural disasters.@ Sara, I'm absolutely moved. I'm so glad you're here. Thank you!

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  4. "God is a Whole that we can't comprehend. God has said, after all, that God made us out of God's spirit."Your repetition actually didn't throw me off til that sentence. X___x But I agree with you.

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  5. Oh, does your post resonate with me, Nahida!I have a bit of trouble with a couple of details – I don't necessarily see Satan as an embodied being, and I have trouble with the idea that the things that happen to me are (solely, anyway) a test of character. But the gist of this article is pretty close to how I've come to approach God.I really like what you have to say about being angry with God as a form of intimacy with God. Being at times angry with God is something that I've been ashamed of. Now that I understand that Mary was herself angry with God (and also got over it and moved on so that she could love her son to the fullest), maybe I can move past that shame.

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  6. @Galla I don't believe everything is solely a test of character either. It's a tentative theory, and something that gets me through things. I'm certain there are a number of reasons, maybe multiple for each event, and that we can't understand them (not yet anyway.)I do hope you move past any shame you feel! You're a beautiful person and deserve to move past it and feel love and fulfillment.

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  7. I was actually thinking about the verse mentioned about only giving us as much as we can bear. Christians also say this, but I don't believe it's true. Human beings go mad from trauma, suffer mental illness for years, commit suicide. I'd say that's more than one can bear. Anyway, just like to hear your thoughts on that because I don't think I've ever really discussed it before,even though I realize it's slightly off topic.

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  8. Oh that reminds me. I've been meaning to write something about suicide. This is terrible… Because suicide is a sin, a lot of Muslims show real contempt for those who attempt to commit suicide, and are utterly and entirely disrespectful to the families who have lost someone to suicide. The families are shamed and everyone is downright cruel. And it pisses me off.First of all, because it's just wrong… and second, it's another example of people acting like God and doing the judging to that they have no right. Sins are only sins when the person who commits the sin is fully aware of the sin she/he is committing. Intentions count. And most people who commit suicide or attempt to commit suicide do so because they've changed due to all the trauma they've undergone in their lives, due to victimization, due to tragedy, changed in health mentally because people are being fucking assholes the same way our health can be damaged physically. And in that same way, they've changed in the very structure of their capabilities–most times, those capabilities that are invisible, forced to restructure due to the infliction of invisible (and visible) wounds. We cannot sin when we don't understand, or in this case when we are driven to stop understanding or to understand too much to function, and that is why children don't sin until they reach a certain level of cognition, and why people with certain "dis"abilities don't sin in certain areas.It is not for us to judge and differentiate those who have committed suicide because they have lost faith or those who have committed suicide for these other reasons–for the reason that they could not bear it.I strongly believe that we can recover from most traumatic experiences, and those who don't and do end up committing suicide have not sinned. It is, rather, a form of passing through any biological death for which they would otherwise not be held accountable. A plane crash. Getting too old. An accident or an act of nature… or murder. Murder by society: driven by oppressors to suicide.And since all biological deaths are, with a certain definition, something that one couldn't physically or emotionally bear—then I would say that the way the verb "to bear" is used in the verse is different than our immediate assumption, because God is obviously not saying that we can bear anything that would biologically kill us. And perhaps that—and for whom—is something that should be examined.

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  9. the soulI that's the keyword. It'll depend on your definition of soul, and where the brain ends and the soul begins. Trauma to a great extent can be considered part of the brain.

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  10. On this: "On no soul does God place a burden greater than the soul can bear" and its Christian equivalent (as Stephanie mentions) – I've actually had people in my church tell me this when I tell them about my mental illness (which is definitely related to past trauma). I don't entirely disagree with the thought – as a matter of fact, I agree that *God* does not place such a burden on people.What troubles me though, is when people use statements like this in a shallow manner, that totally ignores what burdens *people* put on people. In so doing, these people are (1) arrogating what should be God's judgment to themselves, putting their own fallible judgment ahead of that of God; (2) is fucking ableist and victim-blaming. Like you say, Nahida – if people and institutions drive someone to suicide, how can that be a sin? If the pain caused me by the actions of others is so great that I can't think straight to keep myself alive, where's the sin in that, and indeed, is this even suicide?There's this one guy in my church who believes that doubt (in the existence and/or beneficence of God) comes from sin. What he leaves unsaid, but implied, is that if you doubt, *you* have sinned. So if your physical or psychological pain causes you doubt, according to him, it's basically your fault[*]. Of course, that's a bunch of b/s, but I keep having to remind myself that – well, God's the boss, and the rest is details.[*] Believe me, I've been told worse, including the Mother Teresa-ish idea that bearing your pain with a smile makes you a better person.

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  11. as a matter of fact, I agree that *God* does not place such a burden on people.This! It didn't occur to me (I guess because I assumed God allowing it would be considered God placing it) but it does make a lot of sense.AlmostClever was reviewing a book on her site that said each verse in the Qur'an has 7 different meanings–the 1st being the most literal meaning and the deepest 7th being the one that only God knows. There must be so many different qualities of dimensions in religious verses.

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  12. And yeah, I don't think we should be so quick to say that it's even suicide. If you're being driven to kill yourself by invisible factors, it's not sucide any more than if someone were physically forcing you to kill yourself by threats with weaponary or placing you in a certain condition. One of my friends and I have discussed whether it would be okay to throw yourself in front of a bullet to save someone–whether that's suicide, because you know it'll kill you. You're not doing it willingly. That's not intending to kill yourself. It's being driven. There's a whole spectrum, it's like a massive gray area.Seriously, not for us to judge.

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  13. almostclever

    I agree there is so much that we must just accept we don't know. For example, usually mental illness (chronic depression, PTSD, Bi-Polar) are the underlying factors in suicide. Hence, a biological disease of the brain or a trauma that changed the way the brain works. Are these people accountable and going to hell? Well, considering my compassion, I say no. The minute we think we know God, we fail. I'll always error on the side of compassion.

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  14. I see creation as a tapestry, and each of our lives individual patterns in the weave. Our experiences change that pattern and change what we bring to creation. You would not be who you are without your sufferings and hardships to inform you, anymore than you would be without your joy. It's privileged as hell, even, temporally, in regard to myself, but I would not exist as the same person without those experiences, and I WANT TO EXIST.As an aside, what do you mean by disabled people not sinning in certain areas?

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  15. In Islam if you have a disability that keeps you from doing something mandatory or a disability that makes something that would otherwise be forbidden necessary, you will not be sinning.For example, we're not allowed to wear nail polish during prayers because we have ablution before each prayer, and the nail polish creates a barrier between the water and nails, and the ablution is incomplete. But my mother knew a woman whose nails were ALWAYS in pain, and when she applied nail polish to them, she felt relieved. For her, ablution in nail polish isn't a sin.

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  16. That makes a lot of sense. I've read for example while fasting during Ramadan is mandatory there are plenty of reasonable exceptions for disabilities, age, or circumstances where it would be unhealthy to fast.

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  17. Ive been struggling with this lately. My 4th child was severely brain damaged at birth. Its a struggle to undertsand why God allows this to happen. She had no sin. I dont know if i will ever find an answer really. Or what to say to her should she ever be able to ask 'why me?'

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  18. That is very difficult. She had no sin, and she won't have sin, Insha'Allah. I don't have any answers but I'll pray that she has a beautiful life and will feel happy and fulfilled and accept herself. And if she does struggle, that she grows strong from it.

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  19. Thanks sis. I think she will manage sin though ;-)She is 7 and gets told stories of strong disabled people, muslim women and feminists. What i need now is a disabled muslim feminist who changed the world for some positive role models.Big ask right!She is now my bullshit filter.

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