The Ocean of the Soul: Man, the World, and God in the Stories of Farid Al-Din 'Attar

By Hellmut Ritter; John O'Kane | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FOUR
THE RELIGIOUS SITUATION

1

The Islamic religion, as was that of the Jews before it, is first and foremost a religion of law. The Lord of the Worlds sends His creatures and slaves, i.e. mankind, a quantity of commands and prohibitions through His messenger and sets before them, depending on whether they obey the issued commands or not, the prospect of reward or punishment in the hereafter, both of these in the most extremely intensified form of eternal pleasures in Paradise and fiery torment in Hell. The content of the issued laws partially concerns the ethical behavior of people towards one another. But in the foreground stand the demands for recognizing God's oneness and the mission of His prophet Muḥammad, as well as proscriptions for acts of worship, ritual duties, commands and prohibitions regarding food, and individual proscriptions of various kinds, which together take up a good deal of room.

God Himself, however, stands above the law He has decreed as an absolute ruler who is in no way bound by His promises and threats, who can do whatever He wishes with mankind, regardless of whether they have been obedient or not. Moreover, the idea of omnipotence is taken to such an extreme that the deeds which are to be rewarded or punished appear to be a direct outcome of God's will, are in fact brought about by God Himself.

Yet regardless of how man's action comes about, whatever God does with him in the hereafter is fundamentally independent of man's action. If God wishes to send all the believers to Hell and confer Paradise on all the infidels, He can do so without anyone being allowed to call Him ẓālim "unjust" because of it. If it has pleased Him to promise the believers Paradise and to hold up the prospect of Hell to the infidels, if there were particular groups of people to whom, even during their lifetime, the Prophet could promise Paradise, this is an act of God's free disposal which one should have knowledge of but the causes and reasons for which

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