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God as King, Man as Trusted Servant: An Exploration of Islam, Part VII

June 4, 2012

VII.  Conclusion: The Alternative of the Christian Narrative of Love

            In Islam, we have a unified narrative that, proceeding from the understanding of Allah as Creator and King, offers a cohesive understanding of humanity.  Why do I exist?  To serve Allah as servant and representative.  What is my purpose?  To be His viceregent on earth.  What is my nature?  I am both clay and divine Spirit and am capable of choosing which I will obey.  What is my destination?  Based on my allegiance—expressed by actions—I will be rewarded with Paradise or punished with Hell.  My relationship with Allah is one of King and servant or Creator and master.  Islam is a truly cohesive worldview and I hope that this essay expresses the Islamic faith in its best possible light.

As a Christian, I see many similarities between my faith and that of Muslims.  I see that I, too, am created from dust but breathed into by the breath of God.  I see that I am made in the image of God, and as such, am given the task (and privilege) of reflecting God in the earth; I am His representative.  However, with the similarities in mind, I believe the Christian narrative offers a distinctively different understanding of God and humanity than does Islam.  This is nowhere more apparent than in the concept of relationship.[1]

Though as we have mentioned there is a relationship between Allah and humanity, even when rightly understood, we must admit that such a relationship hardly contains any mutuality or the possibility of mutual affection.  That is, humanity cannot affect Allah in any way.[2]  Thus, intimacy between God and man is not possible in Islam.  This is because the concept of relationship is not essential to the being of Allah; before creation there was no one for Allah to be in relationship with.  In the end, the best humankind can hope for is for Allah to be pleased with their actions and reward them accordingly.  They can never hope for an intimate relationship expressed most powerfully by reciprocal love.

Christianity affirms that reciprocating, sacrificial love is the very foundation of a doctrine of God, and therefore, is the very goal for all of creation, and thus, for humanity as well.  The doctrine of the Trinity—though radically rejected by Muslims—asserts that intrinsic to the very nature of God is the idea of relationship defined by love.  Though I cannot begin to adequately explain the mystery of the Triune God, it is enough to say that from all eternity, God has existed as a divine community of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and that this community has always existed in loving relationship.  In the Christian faith, God does not create a world where people may serve him; rather He creates with the purpose of expressing the love that has always existed within the Godhead and inviting humanity into such relationship.  Participation in the divine life—of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—is the aim of humanity.  It is not surprising then, to discover that God as King is not the primary way God seeks to be known in Christianity.  Instead, God most ultimately seeks to be known, God as Father.[3]  We can say then, that the primary relationship between humanity is not King and servant, but Father and son.  It just so happens that God the Father is also God the King, and is, therefore, also worthy of faithful service.  However it is as a son and not a servant.

This is the essential difference between a doctrine of humanity in Islam and Christianity:  in the Christian worldview, humanity’s existence is because God’s overflowing love pours forth in an act of creation.  Humanity’s purpose is to accept and reciprocate that divine love and eternally participate in the divine nature.  It just so happens that this also fulfills the role of bearing God’s image and being God’s representative in the earth.  Humanity’s ultimate goal and destination is to dwell eternally with the loving God of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and reflect the glory of this love for all eternity.  And in my mind and heart, this “story” is the one in which I find my existential longings most satisfied.


[1] I am indebted to Ida Glasar’s article, “The Concept of Relationship as a Key to the Comparative Understanding of Christianity and Islam,” Thermelios 11.2 (January 1986), 57-60, for the insights expressed.

[2] Behishti and Bahonhar write, “”Man’s relationship with Allah is not that of hostility or rivalry for Allah is self-sufficient and all-powerful.  Even if all men disobey him, he is going to lose nothing,” in “Man,” Philosophy of Islam.

[3] Glaser writes, “”Man can relate with God himself: indeed, it is for relationship that he is made.  He is to relate with his maker in mutual love as a son relates to a father,” in “The Concept of Relationship,” 58.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. kat permalink
    June 5, 2012 3:22

    Intimacy—
    Surah 50 verse 16. “It was we who created humans, and we know what suggestions his soul(nafs) makes to him: for we are nearer to him than his jugular vein.”

    There are 3 levels of “Submission”—it begins with Islam, then Iman (faith/trust) then the level called Ihsan—this is explained in the hadith Qudsi as….. He (the Messenger of Allah) answered, ” It is that you should serve Allah as though you could see Him, for though you cannot see Him yet He sees you.”

    This highest level—to feel the presence of God at all times—-perhaps may be understood by Muslims as the level of spirituality of Jesus Christ (peace be upon him).

    The daily prayers aim to increase God-awareness (Taqwa) so that an individual Muslim can strive to increase his spirituality. This is because in Islam there is no one or thing between God and the indivdual—therefore, the relationship is direct, intimate, and private.

    Thankyou for making so much effort to understand Islam. I appreciate your sincerity. Despite my own best efforts—Christianity still remains a mystery to me…but perhaps this is God’s will…..the Quran explains that God, most compassionate, most merciful has given us guidance we can understand/relate to so that we can all find our way to him—-Surah 5 “…to each among you have we prescribed a law and an open way, if God had so willed, he would have made you a single people, but (his will is) to test you in what he has given you: so strive as in a race (competition) in all virtues. The Goal of you all is to God….”

    Surah 2 verse 186 ” When my servants ask you concerning me, I am indeed close (to them). I respond to the prayer of every suppliant when he calls on me. Let them also, with a will, listen to my call and believe in me: that they may walk in the right way.

    ….May you and I both walk in the right way as God wills…….

    • July 13, 2012 9:54

      Kat,

      I never got a chance to respond to your last comment…sometimes I don’t get around to the comment part of blogging. 😛 In any case, I just wanted to thank you again for taking the time to read and all the valuable feedback you gave. You’ve really helped me to continue to understand Islam better. This has been a very rewarding blog and dialogue. I, too, hope that you and I will continue to seek God and be found in Him. It was truly a blessing talking with you.

      Blessings,
      Jonathan

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