The nature of God in Islam

Can I consider Allah as my friend?

Can I consider Allah as my friend?

In the Quran God calls Himself the mawlā of the believers (8:40 and elsewhere), which is usually translated as “protector”. But it actually also means “friend”, “companion”, “supporter”, “master”, “chief”. So it contains all of these meanings.

However, in modern usage “friend” implies that the person is equal in status to you, which naturally does not apply to God. So God can be a friend in that He is our companion in life, that He supports us and cares for us. But He is not just a friend, He is also a master and a mentor, so focusing only in His being a friend leads to a biased understanding.

Does God really laugh? A study of the hadiths on God’s laughter

A review of Livnat Holtzman’s article “Does God Really Laugh? Appropriate and Inappropriate Descriptions of God in Islamic Traditionalist Theology.”1

There are a few hadith narrations that mention the laughter of God, which is something not mentioned in the Quran. One of the best-known hadiths mentioning God’s laughter is the following from Abū Hurayra:

So Allah will bring him near to the gate of Paradise, and when he sees what is in it, he will remain silent as long as Allah will, and then he will say, 'O Lord! Let me enter Paradise.' Allah will say, 'Didn't you promise that you would not ask Me for anything other than that? Woe to you, O son of Adam ! How treacherous you are!' On that, the man will say, 'O Lord! Do not make me the most wretched of Your creation,' and will keep on invoking Allah till Allah will laugh and when Allah will laugh because of him, then He will allow him to enter Paradise, and when he will enter Paradise, he will be addressed, 'Wish from so-and-so.' He will wish till all his wishes will be fulfilled, then Allah will say, All this (i.e. what you have wished for) and as much again therewith are for you.' " Abu Huraira added: That man will be the last of the people of Paradise to enter (Paradise).

Sahih al-Bukhari 6573

As part of my review of Livnat Holtzman’s article, I decided to do a quick survey of the major hadith collections (including the Musnad) for hadiths that mention the word yaḍḥaku (“he laughs”), I then gathered all of the hadiths that use this word in reference to God. Below is the result:

According to my probabilistic hadith verification methodology, here are the reliability indicators of the hadiths:

  • Abū Hurayra 22.7%
  • Abū Hurayra 26.5%
  • Jābir b. ʿAbdallāh 10.88%
  • Abū Razīn 5.85%
  • Abū Saʿīd al-Khudrī 1.94%
  • Nuʿaym b. Hammār 4.66%

The strongest hadith is the second one at 26.5% which falls between ḥasan and ṣaḥīḥ in my methodology (ṣaḥīḥ starts at 30%).

We can then do a final step to combine all of these probabilities. Since we are combining different hadiths, each probability is first halved.

1−((1−0.227÷2)(1−0.265÷2)(1−0.1088÷2)(1−0.585÷2)(1−0.0194÷2)(1−0.0466÷2))

= 0.50236594

The result is that all of these hadiths together have a probability of 50.2% that the crux of their meaning is authentic, which is much higher than the 30% necessary for ṣaḥīḥ. So the conclusion is that the support for God’s laughter is quite strong in the hadith literature. Note that this is only a partial survey, a complete survey will likely enhance this probability upwards of 60%.

Interpreting God’s laughter

The Ashʿarite theologians considered it problematic to attribute laughter to God, so they reinterpreted God’s laughter as a reference to His mercy. The traditionalists (the major group of them being the Ḥanbalites), however, considered reinterpretation unacceptable, so they taught that God’s laughter should be interpreted literally even if we do not exactly understand its nature.

Below is a statement of creed (ʿaqīda) attributed to Aḥmad b. Ḥanbal (d. 855 CE, after whom the Ḥanbalī school is named) and mentioned by Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya in his Hādī al-arwāḥ (The guide of souls):

We believe that God sits on His throne. However, He is not confined to limitations of space. We believe that God sees and hears and talks and laughs and is joyful.

The hadith scholar Muḥammad b. ʿAbd al-Wāḥid (d. 1149 CE), when asked about God’s laughter, said that it is hypocrisy and apostasy to attempt to interpret it.

The Ḥanbalī scholar Ibn al-Jawzī (d. 1201 CE) criticized members of his own school for believing that God laughs until His molar “teeth” can be seen (as is narrated in a weak narration). He says that the anthropomorphic descriptions of God found in the Quran and Hadith (such as God having “hands” or laughing) were only intended to help new converts to Islam connect with God. Had God been described to them theologically as not being a body, not being in any place, having no dimension, and not moving, the new converts would have become perplexed and unable to relate to Him.

So Ibn al-Jawzī takes a path similar to the Ashʿarites in interpreting God’s laughter metaphorically, as referring to His mercy and grace.

Ibn Taymiyya’s interpretation of God’s laughter

The most interesting contribution of Holtzmann’s article is her discussion of Ibn Taymiyya’s views on the issue. Whenever we see Ibn Taymiyya apply his vast intellect to a question, we can be sure to hear something original and interesting.

According to Ibn Taymiyya, it is wrong to consider laughter an imperfection in God as the theologians do. A person who laughs is more perfect than a person who cries. And a person who is capable of both love and hatred is more perfect than a person who is only capable of love. Part of perfection is to have the ability to respond to each situation in the most appropriate way possible.

Here he uses the same technique that he used to overturn Islamic theological orthodoxy and show that a God who acts in time is superior to a God who does not (see my essay Reconciling Free Will and Predestination in Islam with al-Māturīdī and Ibn Taymiyya). As Jon Hoover shows in his Ibn Taymiyya’s Theodicy of Perpetual Optimism, Ibn Taymiyya is dedicated to a juristic agenda whose first principle is to always seek to find ways to think of and describe God in the most perfect way possible.

So according to Ibn Taymiyya, while we should not attempt to exactly understand God’s laughter, we should also avoid the theological mistake of thinking that something that is imperfect in humans is imperfect when applied to God. Laughter can be a perfection for God. It is just one of the numerous ways in which His perfection becomes manifest to humans.

Does referring to God as “He” sexualize Him as a male?

Salaam,please don't get me wrong,I can't speak English goodly but I want to tell you something,I just saw some of your posts and I saw your posts sexualizing Allah,like this "By the amount that you honor God, glory to Him, He will honor you" Allah has no gender,Allah is a miracle not a men or women,posts like this always makes me uncomfortable and y'all think if Allah has a gender God would be a man? That's sexist and uncomfortable,please don't get me wrong just a friendly reminder.

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

The Quran itself uses the male pronoun to refer to God. In gendered languages “he” can either be male or non-gendered while “she” always has a connotation of femininity. People intuitively understand that “He” in the case of God does not refer to gender. The vast majority of people have no problem with it, including the vast majority of women.

Is it blasphemous to imagine God not being male or female?

assalamu aleikum, is it blasphemous or am i wrong for imagining God as neither male or female?

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

That is actually the correct view. The Quran says:

There is nothing like Him. (The Quran, verse 42:11)

Things like gender do not apply to God since God is above such categories.

There are billions of non-Muslims, so how can Islam be the one true path?

It’s hard for me to imagine that there are populations and populations who barely have clue what Islam is and yet it is the one true path. What will happen then to these people?

God’s purpose in building this universe was to make it possible for humans to exist who love Him and believe in Him without having hard evidence for His existence. That purpose could only be achieved if the universe was vast enough to hide its edges from us. And it could only be achieved if the world functioned according to reliable laws of nature. And that means that it should be possible for humans to think of themselves as abandoned in a vast universe without anyone caring about them, thinking that they have come into existence randomly and that there is no purpose for their existence.

These things are part of the setup of this universe. The universe should feel completely natural and should make almost perfect sense to an atheist, so that belief in God becomes a choice rather than being forced on us through too much evidence for His existence. God has designed the universe in a way that makes atheism possible. I discuss this in more detail in my essay on reconciling the Quran with evolution: Al-Ghazali’s Matrix and the Divine Template.

If a nation decides to abandon God, God will not intervene to save the day unless He wants to. He may allow things to take their course. The existence of non-believers is simply part of the background of the universe for us, similar to the existence of the trillions of other galaxies around us. It does not take away anything from God’s power to allow billions of humans to exist who do not believe in Him. They are all part of the story.

From God’s point of view, it is the story of His believers that is the main purpose of this universe. He wants them to believe in Him and follow Him in a world that is apparently controlled by secular powers. He wants to guide them through history and help them survive, grow and prosper regardless of the non-believers around them. The story of this world is the story of God’s believers, it is like a film directed by God, everyone else is part of the stage.

As for what happens to them, we have no certain knowledge about this. We know that God is kind and just and that He does not hold humans responsible except for that which they are able, therefore if a person’s circumstances make it impossible for them to believe in God (maybe they never learned religion properly), God will not blame them for that. He deals with each person individually, according to their own level of knowledge and responsibility. There is nothing preventing God from letting these billions of people all enter Paradise. God says:

And race towards forgiveness from your Lord, and a Paradise as wide as the heavens and the earth, prepared for the righteous. (The Quran, verse 3:133)

When the Quran says “the heavens and the earth”, that is what we call “the universe”. If Paradise is as large as the universe, God could easily give the non-responsible non-Muslims (who neither believed nor disbelieved, because they never had chance to choose either way) a star system or galaxy of their own to enjoy life there as they wish. It does not take anything away from God’s power to do that, and if that is the fair and just thing to do, then we can be sure that God will do that since God is fair and just.

I should clarify here that we do not believe that it is only Muslims who are the believers. A believer is anyone who believes in God and does his or her best to serve Him to the best of their knowledge and ability. Islam is one tool, and the best tool, for accomplishing this purpose (of serving God), but it is not the only tool. There are deeply spiritual Jews and Christians who also believe in God and try to serve Him, and the Quran does not tell us that their worship will be rejected. The Quran says:

113. They are not alike. Among the People of the Scripture is a community that is upright; they recite God’s revelations throughout the night, and they prostrate themselves.

114. They believe in God and the Last Day, and advocate righteousness and forbid evil, and are quick to do good deeds. These are among the righteous.

115. Whatever good they do, they will not be denied it. God knows the righteous. (The Quran 3:113-115)

Many Muslim scholars have interpreted what the Quran says about God’s rewards for Jews and Christians as only applying to those who followed these religions before Islam in light of certain hadith narrations and the opinions of certain Companions of the Prophet PBUH. But the Quran’s evidence suggests otherwise; that God deals with each human according to what they really believe in their hearts. When it comes to a Christian who really believes Christianity to be true and tries to serve God as best as they can, then it is much closer to the thinking of the Quran to think that such a person will be rewarded by God.

The Quran tells us that God accepts no religion other than Islam…except that it is talking about Muslims when it says that:

85. Whoever seeks other than Islam as a religion, it will not be accepted from him, and in the Hereafter he will be among the losers.

86. How will God guide a people who disbelieved after having believed, and had witnessed that the Messenger is true, and the clear proofs had come to them? God does not guide the unjust people. (The Quran, verses 3:85-86)

Verse 85 above tells us that God will not accept any religion other than Islam. But verse 86 tells us that verse 85 is talking about Muslims, those who have “witnessed that the Messenger is true”. What the passage tells us is that even though God may accept the Christianity of Christians, Muslims are not allowed to convert to Christianity because they have already accepted the better religion that supersedes it. A Muslim who has accepted Islam but who converts to Christianity out of personal desire (maybe they are a politician in a Western country and think they are more likely to get elected if they are Christian), then such a person’s faith will not be accepted by God because they have knowingly rejected a better religion for a worse one out of personal desire.

Islam is not exactly the “one true path”, it is simply a re-statement of the religion of God’s previous prophets. God constantly sent prophets to different nations to call them to His way, in order to help humans attain the status of being God’s friends. It is not God’s purpose to make every human a believer. The Quran tells us in many places that God is capable of guiding all of humanity, but that it is not His wish to do that:

If you find their rejection hard to bear, then if you can, seek a tunnel into the earth, or a stairway into the heaven, and bring them a sign. Had God willed, He could have gathered them to guidance. So do not be of the ignorant. (Verse 6:35)

Had God willed, they would not have practiced idolatry. We did not appoint you as a guardian over them, and you are not a manager over them. (Verse 6:107)

Had your Lord willed, everyone on earth would have believed. Will you then compel people to become believers? (Verse 10:99)

We are free to ask if there wasn’t a better way of doing things. Why did the world have to be this way? We have no answer. We are thrown into this universe and have no choice but to play by God’s rules whether we like them or not. We have the choice of acting like Satan, telling God He is wrong that He made things in this way. There are some people who make this choice, they are angry at God, at society, at the universe, at the fact of their own existence. But that path only leads to our own destruction. We cannot harm God. Even if we do not understand why things have to be this way, we have no choice but submit to His decrees, knowing that He is infinitely wiser than ourselves, and that we cannot think a single thought that He Himself has not already thought. If we question God’s decisions, it means we think ourselves somehow superior to Him, as if the God who designed us somehow knows less than we know or is less wise or intelligent than ourselves.

So I agree that there are things we can wonder at, but since God is infinitely wiser and more intelligent than ourselves, we have to believe that He knows what He is doing. If we dislike His choices for us, we are doing what Satan did in disliking His choice in preferring Adam over him. The wise thing to do, for which God will reward us, is to always seek to please God, to trust His wisdom and to admit that He can do whatever He wants, since He created all of this and no one has any power over Him.