Barakah: Blessings without numbers

You do that math.  Well, that’s how some people calculate the measure of reward, or punishment, from Allah.  For example, if you do ijtihad (critical reasoning in jurisprudence or fiqh) and you conclusions are correct, you get two barakat, or “blessing”.  If you do ijtihad and your conclusions are incorrect, you get one barakah.

I can’t remember if that is supposed to be a hadith of the Prophet since fiqh was not established until after he was long dead, but anyway it is supposed to have that same power of divine sanction and the math. People some times think in numbers when they calculate the benefits or harm of things, vis-à-vis the divine. The idea of course is whether right or wrong it is important to exert the critical reasoning. You are blessed either way.  Of course getting it right is twice as nice.

The fundamental idea of rewards and punishments in Islam starts with the Qur’an. It does clarify that there will either be recompense or forgiveness for doing wrong.  It is emphatic that the recompense for wrong cannot and will not be in excess of what was done. That would not only be unfair, it would be oppressive, zulm.  And Allah does not do zulm, categorically.

It elaborates in different, quasi-mathematical formula that the recompense for good can be twice the merit of what was done, or multiple times, numbers eventually trailing off in to abstraction.  Evidently some of the jurists had a field day with these basic formulas, as did ordinary lay believers. Then divine compensation became math.  That’s okay I guess, but here is what I think.

If wrong is compensated only one to one, but good is rewarded two, ten or innumerable times, then the power of good is greater than the power of wrong.

In a way it makes doing good easy because it expands upon itself in return.  But then I got to thinking a little like a mathematician myself. I wondered; what constitutes a two times only versus a ten times or thousand times over reward-able act?  I pondered this matter, while trying to stay away from simple math, for some time, and this is what I came to envision.

You know how a pebble thrown into a still pool of water ripples out from the center where the contact to the water is made?  How the circles that go out from it get wider and wider?  That’s the idea that I came up with to explain the merit of good deeds in increments. If the good you do benefits you, say at the point of contact, the one on one, then that is at least as good as that, times two.  But when the good you do benefits yourself and others, say one other person, or your immediate family, then the projection of the benefit indicates that the circle has gotten larger, therefore recompense would be greater.

If you do some thing that has benefit beyond your immediate circumstances, that last, say for generations, well of course, the recompense is greater. There is a hadith that talks about a person who plants a fruit bearing tree and for many generations after that person, others enjoy the fruit from that tree. That’s expediential, plain and simple.

That we perceive of God as far beyond our everyday ordinary, the idea that we can do something “for” God and then still put it in our own personal basket for recompense well that’s a pretty tall order.  But I thought if we do good things that benefit so many others, in our own generations and way beyond, and that is recognized and rewarded, then, what happens if we do good things and we do not immediately benefit from it ourselves; I mean, we really do it for the good of the thing alone? That is where those larger “numbers” would come in. That is what I would consider good for Allah.

Still the basic principle is that the good is more powerful than the not so good, so why not go with the winning formula?  In 2004 I participated in the international forum on HIV/AIDS and Islam.  Well it was one of the worst experiences of my public life as a Muslim but from it came with lots of good, by way of vital relations with the LBGTQ community of Muslims, so I won’t dwell on the bad part. I will leave that part and maybe it is only a one-on-one compensation, who knows.

A few things disturbed some of my literalists, brothers (and one sister).   I was emphatic that, women and children are more vulnerable to HIV/AIDS.  I was also emphatic that there is no such thing as a simple solution and no such thing as the Islamic solution.  The idea that “Islam” cannot solve the pandemic was incredible to some, but there you have it. I said, even if a person decides that he or she is motivated by their own perspective as a Muslim to work on this issue, and they come up with the cure, that cure would be for any one who is HIV positive or has AIDS. It would not be an Islamic cure as if only for Muslims.  There is no way around that.  The recompense will far extend beyond our own community.

I’ve already said, twice so far, some problems are bigger than any one person, any one community, any one nation-state or even one religion.  It stands to reason then that solving such problems or more accurately contributing to the resolve of such problems will exceed the tendencies of some to look for benefits exclusive to their own. Likewise the harm of such problems extends beyond just the so-called “bad guys”.

Don’t get me wrong, I still think we have to do some thing for our own souls, but I think the measure of a person extends beyond just that into the common good of all humankind. You do the math.

1 thought on “Barakah: Blessings without numbers”

  1. Montserrat Cifreno

    Indeed, it is important to exert the critical reasoning.
    Judaism had such tradition with the book of Job and the questioning of God. Indians had the Charvaka chool of materialism, and Greeks developed philosophical schools that questioned the religious myths with a methodical and logical argumentation.
    Muslims had some wonderful scientists and thinkers from Al Marri, Al Farabi, Ibn Rushd, and free thinkers as Rumi and Omar Kayyam. However, Muslim orthodoxy suppressed all critical thinking and the idea of cause-effect. After the fall of Baghdad and the destruction of its monumental library by the Mongolian invaders, the Muslim world declined and lost its world hegemony. The Ottoman Empire or the Mogul Raj relied on foreign technology and blocked their own development.
    In the XIX century, a group of Muslim thinkers took the impulse of the industrial revolution to relaunch critical thinking. However, after the discoveries of huge oil reserves in the Gulf, the orthodoxy suddenly became extremely rich and powerful, exporting its obscurantism to all the Muslim countries and suppressing all reformers. You can now see alien traditions in Malaysia and Indonesia and the same will to subdue both women and critical thinking.
    Although in a very conservative way for someone coming from a non-Muslim society, Mrs Wadud at least tries to bring some light to the Muslim world.
    You can find an inspiration from reformers such as Tahar Haddad (Tunisia), Muhammadi Begum (India) and Mahmoud Taha (Sudan).

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