“Do you not see that Allah has sent down rain from the sky and the earth becomes green? Indeed, Allah is Laṭeef and Khabeer (Acquainted)” (Qur’an 22:63).
AL LATEEF AND OUR GUIDANCE
Within every human being, Allah instilled an instinctive propensity for faith which Islam calls the fiṭrah (original disposition of man). To facilitate people’s guidance, without compromising the test of faith in the unseen, al Lateef hardwired in us all a vague but irresistible conviction in a higher power, and a burning passion to discover Him and somehow connect with Him. Even people whose fiṭrah has been corrupted by socialization or otherwise, remain incapable of fully denying the unseen world, since a part of their very nature is unseen – the rūḥ (spirit/soul). Every honest person accepts that there is an enigmatic difference between a living person and a corpse which the physical sciences cannot explain. It was none other than al Lateef who curated that mystery, to serve as a stealthy wedge preventing the door of metaphysical possibilities from being shut in our minds, and a nexus between us and the major existential truths that al-Ḥaqq (the Ultimate Reality) wants us to perceive. This represents the subtle beginning of our guidance, and life represents the chance to enhance that perception through reflection on the natural world and refinement of the spiritual inner-self until the insight of our hearts becomes sharper than the sight of our eyes.
The aid of al Lateef towards our guidance does not end there, leaving the rest entirely up to our efforts. He will sometimes kindle lamps in the distance to help us see through the fog; a line our eyes fall on, a verse we needed to hear, a dream we needed to see, or a simple realization that swooped in for the rescue. Other times, He erects invisible rails along our path to keep us from swerving: a fearless scholar who reminds us of unpopular truths, a friend who refuses to let us succumb to our demons, a critic that unearths our unrecognized flaws, or a hiccup in our piety that deflates our swelling sense of conceit. Other times, He causes the greatest gifts to await us in the smallest packages; fortunes that we would never imagine can carry us the length of the journey. As the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ is reported to have said in Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhāri. 1:132, no. 652, “While a man was walking along a path, he found upon it a thorny branch so he set it aside. Allah appreciated this of him, so He forgave him [of his sins.” Think of the hadith of the prostitute at the well; a woman whose harm on people’s hearts and homes was beyond measure – forgiven for simply descending into the well once more, filling her shoe with water, then climbing out with it between her teeth to quench that parched dog’s thirst. Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim, 4:1761, no. 2245. While appreciating her kindness is a given, we must consider: Who sent that dog there at that moment? Just like the examples before it, and everything the spiritually blindfolded may consider a mere coincidence, this is but al Lateef reminding us when we forget, rinsing us when we slip back into the mud, and writing the story of our guidance when our pens falter.
Another way that al Lateef guides us aright is by surrounding us with supports that are disguised as struggles. At face value, we may see our inability to improve, while in reality memories are being forged to help us cherish the straight path once it is gifted to us. At face value, they are our loved ones dying or our friends disappointing us, but behind the scenes, the problem of evil is stoking the flames of longing for Allah and Paradise like nothing else can. Just like with the plants that shoot up from the ground each spring, endless intricacies need to first occur “underground” for the trees of faith to bloom within us. In both cases, we are oblivious to what is happening beneath the surface, while al Lateef knows and engineers it all. Allah invites us to better appreciate this, saying, “Do you not see that Allah has sent down rain from the sky and the earth becomes green? Indeed, Allah is Laṭeef and Khabeer (Acquainted)” (Holy Qur’an 22:63).
A third way that al Lateef guides us aright is by infusing us with increased faith at times of adversity, to mitigate its painful brunt and shift our focus to the reward of this suffering. Ibn al-Qayyim (d. 751H, Allah grant him mercy in his, Madārij al-sālikīn fī manāzil iyyāka naʿbudu wa-iyyāka nasta‘īn, writes, “…for his perception and anticipation [of the relief] lightens the weight of the burden. Especially, when the hope [in Allah] intensifies, and he is positive of the relief, he detects the comfort and breeze of the [impending] relief while still in the midst of the distress. This is from the hidden forms of luṭf (kindness), and a [dose of] solace that is bestowed in advance, and through it and otherwise can the meaning of His name al Lateef be understood.”
AL LATEEF AND OUR SAFETY
In a desperate attempt to save her baby from slaughter, the mother of Mūsā (Moses) (peace be upon him) cast him into the river. Her heart was then unable to bear the anguish of separation, and this nearly drove her to disclose to people his true identity, which would have meant a death sentence for the infant. Had al Lateef not seen her heart about to crack, none else would have been able to pre-empt that disaster. Allah says, “And the heart of Mūsā’s mother became empty [of all else]. She was about to disclose [his identity] had We not fastened her heart that she would be of the believers” (Holy Qur’an 28:10). And when Allah wished to return Mūsā to his mother, to ease her distress and fortify his faith at her hands, He did not cause a national uprising against the tyranny of Pharaoh to free the oppressed. He simply caused the tongue of baby Mūsá to find the milk of every wet nurse distasteful, until his own mother was hired and paid a royal salary, to breastfeed the child she passionately longed for – all compliments of al-Laṭīf, Glory be to Him. Allah says, “And We had prevented from him [all] wet nurses before, so [his sister] said, ‘Shall I direct you to a household that will be responsible for him for you while they are to him [for his upbringing] sincere?’ So We restored him to his mother that she might be content and not grieve, and that she would know that the promise of Allah is true. But most of the people do not know” (Holy Qur’an 28:12-13).
Dangers constantly scale the walls of our lives, and al Lateef constantly averts their raid while we are entirely oblivious. Nobody else knew – not even you – that an eruption was brewing inside you, and that your jokative friend calling you at this random hour was just the destresser you needed. Nobody else knew that you were about to quit on yourself or others, and that a traffic jam was necessary for you to linger on that car’s inspiring bumper sticker. Nobody else knew that your speeding vehicle was about to skid off the mountain, pulverizing you inside it, and that stopping to photograph the baby deer is what thwarted the deadly momentum from building. We usually do not recognize the perils facing us, let alone how to escape them, but al Lateef certainly does recognize them and reroutes us to safety each time.
As individuals, modern medical research has enhanced our ability to reflect on our anatomical vulnerabilities; an exclusive opportunity to realize the extent to which al Lateef actively protects us physically each and every millisecond. Humans have approximately 10 billion capillaries in their bodies, and each of these micro vessels must be guarded against clogging. There are nearly 120 million rods in the human retina, and each rod must be maintained to be a functional photoreceptor. There are an estimated 100 trillion bacterial cells in the human microbiome, and keeping the fine balance that allows for robust immunity and not cancer is unending work. Thus is the meticulous grace of Al Lateef in action.
THE SERVANTS OF AL-LAṬEEF
The deeper one’s internalization of Allah’s name al Lateef becomes, the greater its impact on one’s interaction with Allah and with His creation. The following are but a few qualities that will necessarily manifest in a believer once this blessed divine name has crystallized in his or her heart.
- Receptiveness to Divine Messages
Due to the certainty that the knowledge and gentleness of al Lateef permeate every atom, and accompany every moment, believers live with a heightened sensitivity to Allah and His messages. They see that scientists are correct in that the scenes of nature uplift our spirits, but see through that as well; it was Allah who beautified the universe with stars and breezes and sunsets – a subtlety and kindness we often take for granted. They see that rain does indeed follow the patterns of the water cycle, but see through that as well; it was Allah Who first started it, and Who redirects the clouds each time, and Who recreates every raindrop for His servants whose well-being He cherishes. Anas b. Mālik (Allah be pleased with him) narrates that during a rainfall, the Messenger of Allah Muhammad ﷺ uncovered some of his body for the rain to reach it, and said, “It has just recently come from its Lord.” Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim, 2:615, no. 898. They see that it was a strong urge to drink at an unusual hour that awakened them from sleep, but they also see through that; it was Allah who wished for them to rise and stand before Him, so they spend moments of intimate conversation on the prayer mat, before returning to bed feeling privileged that He chose to wake them. (Al-Fīfi, Li-Annak Allāh 57).
This perceptiveness of the believer does not just allow for understanding of al Lateef in some austere conceptual way, but delivers us beyond that to instinctually loving Him. After all, human beings irresistibly love those who treat them kindly, so it’s only natural to love al Lateef most upon realizing that nobody has actually ever been kind to us but Him. Everyone else, in reality, was but a conduit of His affection and grace. The believer never conflates the source with the medium, and hence Allah says, “And among humanity are those who take others as equals to Allah, loving them as they should love Allah. But those who believe have more intense love for Allah [than anything]” (Holy Qur’an 2:165). . (To be concluded next week in sha Allah).