June 16, 2016

Where is the Beloved? On Finding God in a Godless Age

Tooba Khokhar

We search for Him here and there
while looking right at Him.
Sitting by His side we ask
“O Beloved, where is the Beloved?”

-Rumi, ‘One Whisper of the Beloved’


The children’s class at our local mosque was as usual, equal parts bizarre and delightful. I sat in a circle of young Muslim girls aged between 2 and 10, their colourful dupattas framing their eager and lively faces.  Our conversation had fallen on to the topic of atheism which one 7 year old couldn’t quite comprehend. She asked me, her little brows rather adorably furrowed in thought, if there are people around who “don’t think that God’s there”, “why doesn’t God just show Himself to them?”

She captured in her innocence, one of the questions which has riddled mankind for centuries and mankind has for ever been so very close to reaching the answer. Why did the ancients worship the sun? Why do pagans bow before the moon? Why do poets write verse upon verse, ode upon ode in veneration of nature? Because in the words of Muslim poet Attar “His Essence all the world pervades” and in the heart-wrenching beauty of the natural world we truly do find traces of God’s own Essence. After all, how can we separate the art from the Artist? Persian poet Ahmad Jam captured it perfectly when he remarked

Wherever I see, I see the Beloved’s beauty;

Wherever I look I see His creation…

Every form that is beautiful in the world

Is only a sign to the Beloved’s beauty

-Ahmad Jam, ‘Wherever I Look’

The Holy Qur’an, itself the most dazzling jewel possessed by mankind, speaks of those “who remember Allah while standing, sitting, and lying on their sides, and ponder over the creation of the heavens and the earth”[1] for indeed the creation of this vast and intricate universe and the deep wisdom which underlies the laws of the natural world are Signs of Allah. Equally, so is the exquisite beauty with which He fashioned the universe a Mark of His handiwork. A garden of flowers in bloom, the vastness of the ocean, sunlight streaming through a forest- does all this not affirm the words of Sufi poet Mansur Hallaj

Which place on earth is devoid of Your presence

That they search for You in the skies?

-Mansur Hallaj, ‘Which Place on Earth?’

For indeed God does show Himself on this very earth. Since all Beauty is but His, forms which in this world are beautiful reflect in their purity the image of God. As Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as), the Promised Messiah and Imam of this age wrote “the God of Islam is the same God Who is visible in the mirror of the law of nature and is discernible in the book of nature. Islam has not presented a new God but has presented the same God Who is presented by the light of man’s heart, by the conscience of man, and by heaven and earth.”[2]

So God is not just to be found without as in amongst the wonders of the universe, but also within us, in “the light of man’s heart”. Indeed as God states of man in the Holy Qur’an, “We are nearer to him than even his jugular vein” (50:17). So the Lord of the Worlds is not simply to be found “in the skies”, sitting upon His heavenly throne, watching from above; no, instead we are told that He is nearer to us than even our jugular vein. His Presence is both within us and around us. Indeed as Islamic mystical poet Attar so perfectly put

All is God, and but a talisman are heaven and earth

To veil Divinity…

Thou all Creation art, all we behold, but Thou;

The soul within the body lies concealed,

And Thou dost hide Thyself within the soul,

O Soul in soul! Myst’ry in myst’ry hid!

-Fariduddin Attar, ‘All-pervading Consciousness’

So finding our Beloved is no Herculean task, it only asks that we open our eyes to the world He has created outside of us and to the world He has created within us. He is indeed not very far at all.

And when My servants ask thee about Me, say: ‘I am near’

-Holy Qur’an, 2:187

[1] The Holy Qur’an, 3:192

[2] Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, The Essence of Islam vol. I, p. 39

Tooba Khokhar is studying Arabic and Persian at the University of Cambridge. She blogs at closetothesourceblog.wordpress.com

Where is the Beloved? On Finding God in a Godless Age