By Haadia Mumtaz
My definition of fearing God changed when I realized He was looking after me, and not necessarily surveilling my life.
When I was six, my Islamiyat teacher loudly pronounced, “Allah is always watching you. He knows everything you do”. Upon hearing this, I remember tightly shutting my eyes because that meant He saw me watch Looney Toons way past my bedtime. Was He going to punish me?
Years later, I wish I could sit my six-year-old self down and tell her that God isn’t always looking for reasons to punish His creation. His mercy prevails even when you carry with yourself the baggage of mistakes and shortcomings.
When I reel back the film of my life, I almost lose track of the number of times I did things out of mere fear of Allah SWT, and not because I loved Him more. I lose track of how many times I tried to utter something out of a book of Duas without having the least idea of what it meant. I lose track of how many times I was fearful of the idea of being watched by Him, rather than being at peace because I was being looked after by my Lord.
Some days, I wonder how I ever survived fearing my Best Friend more than loving Him.
Other days, I know I would have never let love overpower the fear, had I not feared Him earlier.
The co-existence of these two remains woven in the fabric of Imaan.
Allah SWT carefully chooses His narratives and words. In Surah Al-Haqq, He mentions, “God is the only non-changing reality. He is the Sure Reality and Truth”. My six-year-old self would have tainted this verse with hues of fear. The person writing this today finds nothing but reassurance in these words. In a world of constant flux, there is so much comfort in knowing that your Protector is the Only Constant.
When I was six, I equated the fear of God with the image of a greater, unfathomable being keenly looking at everything I did, only to pick out the wrong I would commit. Today, I equate the very fear with the awareness of Allah SWT. The fear isn’t always a reminder of Allah’s wrath, but more precisely the reminder of His presence- around me and within me.
If anything, this awareness has made me fear God more than the fear six-year-old conflicted Haadia experienced, as she deliberated on the thought of whether God was going to punish her for watching Looney Toons. This fear has gently moulded into the fear of earning my Best Friend’s anger. This fear has become more about getting excessively involved in the Dunya only to let miles seep in between me and my Lord. This fear doesn’t make me tepidly pronounce Duas out of a book anymore, but has inspired me to appreciate the meaning behind them. Instead of cultivating a relationship with my Lord out of fear, I know now that a bond sustained by the awareness of His presence is a better anchor for my self and soul.
As you get to know God better, you’re on your way to knowing yourself better. As you understand your own being better, you understand your God-given responsibilities more clearly. This understanding of responsibility for me made more sense when I chose to look through the lens of love and awareness- instead of terror and panic.
Someday, I wish I could sit all six years olds down, and familiarize them with the love of God too; softly make them aware of the presence of Al-Wadud (the Loving). Perhaps that would help them find their Best Friend a lot earlier in life than I did.