Prayer is the most important conversation of your day. Take it to God before you take it to anyone else. –Unknown
Regardless of our level of belief in God or ourselves, we all have struggles at one time or another. Things are not going our way or we are not sure about a major decision; we want to “do the right thing,” but we do not always know what the right thing is; we have questions.
We need answers.
If a person is religious, they might turn to God in prayer. If we have a religious questions, we might turn to a person we believe has more knowledge for advice.
Too often, people feel they lack knowledge about religion and feel completely stuck, not knowing where to turn or what to do.
It is even worse when they feel they are so far removed from the religion that they create a barrier between themselves and God.
Nadeen, a woman I know, was considering whether to have a second child. Her struggles were normal: Can we afford it? Do I have the energy for two? Will I love both equally or enough?
Nadeen wanted to ask God for guidance.
As a Muslim, she wanted to perform the special supplication, Salat Istikharah, to call ask God for guidance in her decision.
However, Nadeen did not pray regularly, so she was unsure whether she had the right to perform an extra supplication asking for God’s guidance.
Nadeen contacted someone she considered knowledgeable about Islam and asked whether she, while not praying regularly, could still perform the special supplication.
She was told she could not perform the extra guidance supplication prayer because she did not pray regularly, but that she had two options:
- Successfully pray regularly for a period of time, or
- Ask someone else who is practicing all the rituals in Islam to perform the supplication on her behalf.
When Nadeen shared the story with me I was completely floored — shocked to my very core, really.
I will state without hesitation or reservation that the person Nadeen asked may have knowledge about Islam, but completely lacks understanding of Islam or even God.
There are several very concerning issues with the response:
God is Always Available to Those Who Seek Him
Nadeen was effectively told, “You cannot seek God’s guidance until you become worthy.”
Every concept of God, whether in Islam or any other religion, includes God inviting his creations to seek Him for everything — guidance, love, support, help, protection, etc.
Nowhere does God say, “become worthy and then I will be there for you.” Just the opposite. God constantly says, “Turn to me,” in one form or another, without qualification.”
God does not require his creation is “worthy” before turning to Him, but rather promises that He will help you be better once you turn to Him. The most God asks for is sincerity. Not perfection, just sincerity. People who desire to communicate with God should be encouraged, not discouraged.
But that is exactly what the answer Nadeen received did — discouraged her from communicating with God.
God wants people to turn to him. God even guides people to turn to him. God may have been guiding Nadeen to turn to him.
It’s my opinion that God will show mercy to Nadeen for failing to turn to him because she sought knowledge by owning up to her inadequacies and sincerely asking a person she thought had knowledge for information. She wanted to turn to God but sought guidance during a time of confusion.
Nadeen admitted she did not know the answer, that she did not feel she knew enough about her religion, and then tried to find the answer.
I am equally sure the person who gave her the absolute worst answer possible, will be questioned for guiding Nadeen away from God.
The person was not only recognized by Nadeen as having some level of scholarly knowledge, but also answered as if actually having that knowledge.
We are held accountable according to our knowledge and understanding.
The person might even be responsible for any sins Nadeen commits after the answer because, had Nadeen sought God’s counsel, Nadeen might have avoided those sins.
Having turned to God through the special prayer, Nadeen might even have become more interested in communicating with God more regularly through prayer.
We not only receive rewards for our good deeds, we are also accountable for our bad deeds — including sins that are a continued result of our bad deeds.
Placing a barrier between a person and God is a very serious, bad deed.
Separation of Judgment
Within Islam, intentions and acts are judged separately. A person can have a good intention and perform an act that is actually bad.
The good intention will be rewarded, while the bad act will be judged. The opposite is also true. A person will be judged for a bad intention, but can still be rewarded for a good act.
If the intention and act are judged separately, then everything, including rituals and religious requirements, must also be judged separately.
Everything a person does will be judged separately — Nadeen’s religious inadequacies will each be judged separately, and her good deeds, all the way down to aspects of her character, will be judged separately.
I recently heard a story about a man in my city who died. He was at the hospital and his heart flatlined. During this time, he had a vision that he went before a review committee who were reviewing his life.
They were pleased. He assumed it was because he always tried to be a good husband, a good father, and a good boss to his employees. The committee asked if he would like to see the one event that pleased them. He said, “yes.” They showed him a time he was at a bus stop and saw a lady he did not know crying. He walked up to her, placed his hand on her shoulder, and told her it would be okay. Out of all the “good” things he believed he had done, he was surprised that this was the one that had pleased the committee.
The hospital was able to revive his heart and he is walking around alive today. Whether it was a random dream, a vision from God, or an actual “afterlife” experience is immaterial.
It has changed his perspective on what is important in life — and is completely in-line with what God has told all people through all messengers and prophets.
Be good to each other.
Islam has a similar story.
A prostitute went to an oasis in the desert. There she saw a dog near the water that was so dehydrated and exhausted it could not move even the few steps to the edge. The prostitute used her shoe to gather water and took it to the dog to drink. The Prophet said all her sins were forgiven for that one act of kindness to another living creation of God.
The use of a prostitute and dog in the story are both significant — but only in their labels. God wanted us to imagine a person with assumed massive sins and a creation that was “less than human.” Two extremes.
If a prostitute can have all sins forgiven for simply being kind to an animal, the rest of us, who are not extremes, have even more opportunities for forgiveness through our kindness and mercy to a variety of God’s creations — including other humans.
Worthiness is Subjective
Islam accepts that people are human, that humans are not perfect. God asked only for sincerity, never perfection.
During the time of the Prophet (PBUH), when people arguably had the most sincerity because they believed in God and saw the Prophet with their own eyes — even the closest supporters and companions of the Prophet committed sins or were not perfect in all their practices.
A person who perfectly follows all the rituals within Islam still may struggle with negative emotions and character traits — anger, jealousy, dishonesty, etc. The rituals are to help people work to continuously improve those characteristics, but few (if any) humans will be 100 percent successful in all things all the time.
As a result, how could Nadeen have chosen someone who was “more worthy” than her to ask for God’s guidance on her behalf?
A person who appeared on the outside to be “pious” might hold anger or jealousy in their heart — also a sin. Their flaw might even be more of a sin than failing to pray regularly.
And who is to say a person appearing to do all the “right” things isn’t only doing those things to look “pious” to others?
No one can know another’s person’s true intentions.
A person might be more knowledgeable, but that does not mean they are more “pious.” A person might have a lot of degrees, but little understanding.
Worthiness is subjective and we humans do not have the capacity to determine who is more or less worthy than ourselves.
God gave us a brain and specifically told us to seek knowledge — but to never blindly follow the practices of our ancestors.
Islam Rejects the Concept of a Middle-Man
Within Islam, God distinctly rejects the concept of a middle-man between his creation and Him. Since the beginning, Muslims have been told to go directly to God. Muslims can go to scholars or other learned people for information and explanations, but Muslims speak directly to God.
There is a surrogacy concept within Islam, but it is very limited. You can ask another person to pray for you, to perform a ritual (such as Hajj) on your behalf if you are physically unable, to make a request for you in prayer or during Hajj, or even to stand in your stead for an oath or declaration.
But other than through prophets, nowhere in Islam do Muslims rely on other people to relay personal messages from God to them.
This is a completely foreign concept within Islam.
Have you ever played the Whisper Game (also called the Chinese Whisper Game or the Telephone Game)?
Five or more people are in a circle. The first person whispers a sentence, phrase, or unusual word into the ear of a second person. The second person whispers what he or she hears in the ear of the third person, and so on down the line until the last person repeats it out loud.
It is often hilarious to hear what the last person says — rarely is it exactly what was originally said.
As the sentence, phrase, or word cannot be repeated by the same person; a person has to pass on whatever they think they hear or remember. If it is a word unfamiliar to them, they may mess up the word or the pronunciation. If they hear only part of the sentence, they will either intentionally or subconsciously fill in the blanks.
Group events often use it as an ice-breaker or just for fun, but it has a serious message.
We interpret what we hear, and we fill in the blanks for what we are unsure.
God is like that whisper. Even when a person is speaking directly to God, the person may not hear or understand God’s message.
Can you imagine the confusion if a person is asking a question on someone else’s behalf and then trying to listen for a reply?
- Maybe the person does not ask the question clearly or even messes up the real question.
- Maybe the person has their own issues that they are dealing with that interfere with either the reply or the interpretation.
- Maybe God decides another message, to either of the people, is a higher priority.
- Maybe the person has their own judgments about what the other person should do or not do and hears/relays their own opinion, thinking it is from God – or worse, knows it was not a message from God but thinks it is the most needed response based on their own judgment.
Allowing another person to speak to you on behalf of God is a slippery slope — very similar to going to a fortune teller.
The bottom line is, if you feel you want to seek God, do so. Don’t worry about whether you are worthy.
Everyone is worthy of seeking God — with no exceptions.
God created you. God loves you. God is waiting for you to make the first move.
You can seek knowledge from others, but never check your brain at the door. That is true for all things, not just God.
Gather information, evaluate it, feel it. If it feels wrong, analyze it.
Maybe you have some growth to do around the information. Maybe you need more information to truly understand it.
Or maybe the information is wholly or partly wrong, and this is your message to not blindly follow it.
There are no barriers to God for those who seek him with sincerity. So above all, never create a barrier between a person and God — even for yourself.
Written by Deedra Abboud. She is the founder of the Global Institute of Solution Oriented Leadership, a “rising tide raising all boats” resource on the art and science of finding solutions, not fault — at work, at home, and in the community. She is an author, keynote speaker, lawyer, and frequent media resource. When she’s not helping clients or speaking at organization events, she’s traveling the world. At last count, she’s been to over 15 countries including Bahrain, China, Egypt, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, and the United Kingdom.