They are those on whom are blessings from God, and Mercy, and they are the ones that are rightly-guided.” (24)
I got to the point where I was welcoming afflictions and was thanking God for them in the Sufi way I was accustomed to, for I followed their way and I would say, according to Sufi belief, that a disaster or affliction is just the punishment for a sin, which has been brought forward in this life as a mercy so that our slate will be clear in the next life when we face God! However, I had forgotten—or, perhaps, I pretended to forget, for I had an interest in neglecting to remember, as we shall see in a little while—that while disaster and affliction can sometimes bring man closer to God, it can, at other times, take him further away. Affliction is a path to God, but also a path to Shaytan!
I always used to praise God for my good outcomes and my protection from harm and illnesses. I used to say to myself, “Although God has not given me wealth, He has given me that which is much better: good health and wellbeing, for good health is very valuable!” How could I forget that value? For a rich person from our town had to travel to Europe and America for medical treatment, while I don’t have the financial means to travel to either— never mind to pay the doctor’s fees, or the cost of the medicines and hospital charges.
Praise God, my son; praise God! Yes, my son, that person is rich, but of what use will his riches and all that he has amassed be when Judgment Day comes? All of his wealth has gone into the accounts of doctors and hospitals, chemists and banks. The benefits that accrue upon them is enough, on their own, to cover the expenses of whole families who live in the slum areas of one of the shanty towns sprinkled around the edges of the major capitals in the countries of the Third World.
Remember, my son, also: that rich person who lives near you in the same district is afflicted with diabetes, and he wishes he could have a plate of hummus and foul medames. He is filled with rage every time he sees one of his workers going to eat this dish with great pleasure. So did all his money benefit him at all against God?
Praise God, and be of the grateful! Thus it was that I wasn’t able to do anything other than praise and thank God.
I forgot in the euphoria of my ascetic faith—and I still don’t know if I chose to forget—the innumerable number of people that God bestowed excellent health and wellbeing upon, along with great wealth, prestige, and comfort! Just as I also forgot that, while God had saved me from some illnesses, He afflicted me with others.
Suffice it to say that I had to have four operations on my eyes, the most serious of which was for retinal detachment, just as I had to have five operations on my leg before reaching puberty. After the death of my father, I took on the responsibility of that myself, and the last of these operations was in Leopold Blanc Hospital in Paris in 1951. These repeated delicate operations have left me with two feet that cannot bear any shock as a result, never mind that all these operations were not able to correct the disability. For that reason, I still, until now, find it difficult to walk very far, even though I have adapted to the situation by getting used to it and through habit. So if my state is thus, then what am I praising and thanking God for, exactly? We are all in the same boat as far as illness is concerned.
As for our rich neighbour who God had deprived of health but given wealth…well, there are other innumerable sick people who not only have been deprived of health, but of wealth, also. On top of that, they not only suffer from diabetes or cancer or high blood pressure—or all of them together, or from other debilitating diseases—but on top of that, they are so poor they can’t pay for an examination by a doctor, much less pay for medicine. They struggle on themselves, and they sit by the side of the road or at the doors of mosques, or they knock on the doors of houses if they can face the shame of doing that. And, if they cannot, they send out, on their behalf, their wives or their children to hold out their hands to people, begging them for help and charity!
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I remember I felt, during that time, a slight inclination towards Christianity. In fact, I even thought about embracing it, because it seemed spiritual and ethereal. However, I knew I could never believe in concepts such as the Trinity, Crucifixion, Atonement, Incarnation, Sacrifice, and the whole drama of Jesus’ humiliation: blows, slaps and spitting without showing any resistance. His sufficing with threats from his father who didn’t do anything to spare him. Where is the dignity of God when His only son, who He is supposed to love, is degraded like this?
I also didn’t understand Jesus’ complete silence in front of the rulers and Roman authorities, contrasted with his unrestricted verbosity with his disciples, pouring upon them promises, not just for this world but for the Kingdom of Heaven too. What was he afraid of, since he is one with God? Or, rather, the son of God, as they say? I don’t know which of the two—and neither do they.
An impotent demigod, unable to defend himself, sufficing with threats from his father. Nay! Having to call on others to spread his message for him, then fleeing to his father, who, earlier in this theatrical charade, had abandoned him! In what way did Jesus actually benefit humanity after coming to Earth, mixing with people, curing the deaf, dumb, and blind, and bringing the dead to life, and other such tall-tales of folklore and legend? Did any of that actually ease the suffering of the poor and the wretched in any way? Did it alleviate the hunger of the starving, the oppression of the downtrodden, or remove the tyranny of the tyrants? All that Jesus did was preach weakness and crying. He cried with those who cry. With him, they increased by one more crying person, without him actually bringing anything to stop the crying of humanity and wipe away our tears.
Nor was Jesus a man to put up a fight, to struggle or resist. Instead, he thrust his disciples into battles and wars, and then quickly rushed off to sit by the right hand of his father in heaven! Is this a good example for the struggles and ordeals mankind faces?
He never spoke one word in front of the rulers, and yet he advised his disciples not only to verbally confront them, which he himself dodged by remaining completely silent, but to physically confront them, and to fight to raise the word of truth. He shoved them into the furnace while he ran away to paradise. He informed them about the misfortunes and suffering that they will face on Earth, and then saved himself from it! How is this self-sacrifice? Where is his struggle and suffering in comparison to, for example, his disciple, Paul?
However, despite the fact that, in my opinion, Christianity is a religion that begins with myth and ends with myth, while its whole narrative moves within the sphere of myth (and perhaps this is why it spread widely), I had decided in all sincerity to submit myself to Jesus in the desperate hope I might find shelter and refuge with him.
Who knows? Perhaps all that is attributed to him in the official Gospels is not true. Jesus must be different from that, because the Jesus of these Gospels is a man surrounded by myths on every side, to the extent that it is not possible to discern his real character. In fact, many scholars have begun to doubt his historical existence entirely. However, I, personally, do not go that far, because there are many historical events that I could not understand or explain except by inferring his existence. But if there is another historical Jesus, how did he disappear, and how did this mythical Jesus take his place?
Regardless of whether the Jesus of the Gospels is the real Jesus or a mythical character, I turned to him with all my heart, and this is amongst my inconsistencies—but it is a human weakness! I asked him to relieve my affliction, raise me from my fall, lift me out of my despair after having related to him my story and told him about my affairs, and I cited the verse from the Gospel: “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you.” (25)
So I asked until my voice was hoarse, and I sought until my throat was dry, and I knocked until my knuckles bled. I repeated that verse time and time again, I cried and beseeched, I called and I pleaded for help—but all in vain. For the god of the Qur’ān and Jesus of the Gospels are equally bankrupt.
(24) Surah Al-Baqarah 2:155-157
(25) Matthew 7:7