‘So…is God really big?’, my son, about five years old and growing mischievous by the minute, asked me yesterday. ‘Yeah….I think so’, I answered very very carefully, trying to gauge the race track his mind was galloping on. ‘Is He bigger than me?’ ‘Yup…certainly’. ‘Is he bigger than our house?’ ‘Ahan…’ ‘Is he bigger than everything?’ ‘Oh yeah….!’ I breathed a sigh of short lasted relief. That was easy. ‘Will he burn me in fire if I am a bad boy?’ Huh! ‘Why do you say so? Who said that to you?’ The overprotecting father in me sprang to the front. ‘Qari Saab’, he answered nonchalantly. Okkaayyyy….., let him come again and I will clear his doubts. My silent fury was interrupted as he asked again, ‘so is He going to burn…..’. ‘Hey buddy…you know what….God is just like your mom’, I hurriedly cut him short. ‘Fat…?’, he asked with a glint in his eye. ‘No…..not fat….’, I answered while desperately looking around to check if the lady of the house was within earshot, ‘He is kind and loving and…’ ‘Okay!’, was the only response and the matter was solved. I looked at him playing happily with the water pistol and thought, ‘you don’t know it yet little man. But most probably that’s going to be the biggest question, you’ll ask yourself one day’.
When I was young, I thought it was Him Almighty promising hellfire from the loudspeakers of the nearby mosque on a hot Friday afternoon. However, a quick and stern admonishment by my nearly amused but horrified mother put that straight. Okay…..so the voice on the speaker did not belong to Him. A while later, I attributed the same protocol to a majestic old man appearing in a frequently televised Egyptian hymn. But this time the correction of this innocently blasphemous idea did not require efforts of my mother rather the credit went to some Italian artist whose expert and explicit rendering of Him, Adam and Eve supplied me with the perfect candidate. So the ‘who?’ was almost solved. That left out the ‘what?’ part.
In the later years, the dilemma for my near adolescent brain was deciding amongst my long bearded Islamiat teacher and the scholarly maternal grandfather. According to the former, God was the personification of anger and retribution with a very few nice gestures thrown in for flavor. Conversely, the later believed him to be an embodiment of love and benevolence. Naturally, it was easier to believe my grandpa but it was only during the later half of my life that I realized the significance of those two different schools of thought.
The teacher, basing upon a sense of virtuous superiority and a sufferer of the ‘holier than though’ syndrome, wanted everybody else in the world to be the victim of God’s fury. On the other hand, my grandpa, though a real good man in every sense of the word, was devoid of any affection for ritual religion. His formal commitment to the Almighty started and ended with the Eid prayers. I think this disinterest made him a bit guilty and led to overconfidence in His infinite mercy for himself and all others. The same phenomenon is visible in every human being. The devout normally become strict with rigid demands for Godly justice whereas the normal ones like to believe in his mercy.
And I am no different. Being an old fan of small sinful pleasures, my God is kind and affectionate with an understanding of my weak human nature. He is more a friend than a master. My God is beautiful when I feel Him in the sonorous voice of Pavarotti and the eyes of a pretty woman. My God is love concentrated when I sense His warmth in the kisses of my loving daughter and the dotting attention of my mother and wife. My God is an artist when I witness His work in the dark billowing clouds and the intoxicating fragrance of the rain drenched brownish black soil. And my God is my perfect companion for life as I feel him all around and inside me.
Like the early Sumerians and Babylonians whose rich carried the jeweled statues of their personal favorite gods in their pockets, I carry mine in my heart. Except that in addition to being God, He is also the best of my few true friends. He quietly whispers in my ear when I am going wrong and then bends His head in knowing sadness when I still go ahead with pleasure driven stubbornness. He fills my heart with compassion for a fellow being in need and then appreciates my goodness when I give more than I can. He gifts me patience to bear the pressures of life and then springs up surprises out of thin air to give me hope. He lends a sympathetic ear to my problems with utmost patience and presents perfect solutions to apparently unsolvable issues.
After interpreting his existence on purely personal basis, my only quandary remained comprehending His role for everybody else. A few years ago, I remember, a religiously transformed and hence ex friend of mine was explaining the proprietary rights for heaven and hell. His claim was simple. Heaven for only virtuous Muslims and hell for all other sinners, Christians, Jews etc alike. Though he bent his head in humble supplication every few minutes, I could clearly detect the dancing images of seventy hooris in his pious eyes. Well, apart from envying his future harem, my point of view was principally different.
‘So what will happen to the tribes of Africa and the Australian Aborigines who have no knowledge of Islam?’, I asked him feeling perfectly logical. ‘Hmmm…..’, there you see, I thought, logic appeals to everybody, ‘its bad luck but they will all go to hell.’ I couldn’t believe my ears. ‘You see, Islam is going to appeal to them through their conscience……’, he continued seemingly unabashed by my exaggerated exasperate gestures, ‘if they listen, its okay, otherwise….’, his sentence ended in a casual shrug. ‘But isn’t it goodness and not religion which appeals through conscience?’, I tried to crack that heart of stone. He merely disregarded my sinful presence and got up to embrace a new found bearded friend. That was my last meeting with him and so far as I know, he is still acquiring prime property in heaven to accommodate all seventy of you know who.
Without going into any details, it is enough to say that further attempts towards clarification of this issue nearly got me branded as a kafir. So considering the fact that a man of my humble background can ill afford private protection, I now restrict myself to personal boundaries and believe in His friendship towards a better life and a possible resident visa to heaven.
I strongly believe that He made me and therefore knows the inner mechanics of my soul intimately. He may laugh or even frown upon my follies, but till the time I continue striving to be a better human being, we both are on fairly good terms. My two children are going to inherit this friendship, no matter what, and I hope it works out for them too.