I was asked a question by a mother who was looking for an adequate response to her nine-year old son, who has been questioning the eternity of Allᾱh. She asked me what would the most correct way be for her to explain this to him, and while I gave her a response at the time considering that as adults we struggle with this very concept at times, and that it is within time that he will learn to understand. Later, I realized that perhaps this was not an adequate response. Then, I thought of how would I engage my own child when teaching him this attribute. I suddenly feared the reality that perhaps he would not be satisfied with my answer as it is empty and provides no real answers.
Perhaps a teeny bit dramatic but needless to say, I was thinking of the many influences of this world and its portrayal of Allᾱh. The thing is, we live in an age that allows freedom in thinking and openness to various other belief systems as well as the infiltration of concepts of multiple gods on television and other forms of media. In addition, they are bombarded with so many controversies amongst the Muslims and various opinions amongst the learned scholars. More than ever, they feel that scholars make decisions based on their personal whims and fancies. In a growing ‘western’ society our children are taught that they do not need to be confined to certain ideologies but to explore various learning and social platforms. Just recently, I came across a young celebrity who defines himself as neither male or female but a third gender?!!?! Whaaat??! They are taught a ‘distorted’ freedom and are exposed to the fact that Islam is dogmatic and an oppressive religion that aims to restrict who they are. This drives them to a devastating way of thinking that religion has become cultural instead of a way of life or look for loopholes. The growing trend is the confinement of Islam- by some followers- to a certain month, a day, week, social gathering, etc. Because of this, we are faced with the reality that our growing youth at times find our beautiful religion to be much like a cult or as I have mentioned, confined to “cultural” gatherings. Why? The answer offers many factors such as poor role models, lacking in their connection with Allᾱh, lack in their understanding of what Islam is, perhaps their adult role models don’t understand certain concepts themselves, or media, and the list continues but more than ever, we simply don’t provide adequate answers that they are seeking, which leaves them to come to their own conclusion or seeking these answers elsewhere. While I am digressing a bit, it is here that I am reminded that Allᾱh provides answers to all questions.
This brings me back to the question posed? How do we explain to our young children and enquiring minds to believe in the Ever Living and Ever Lasting Allᾱh? As Muslims, we accept the belief that Allᾱh was and will always be and as we grow older the acceptance grows inevitably stronger. While at times it may boggle the mind, we continue to affirm this belief as Muslims and through observation of His Perfection and our imperfection we know this to be true and it becomes intrinsic in our core belief. The Qur’ᾱn speaks of Allah and His eternity and this provides enough proof, as it stands that the Qur’ᾱn is the most authentic of the divine scriptures. Allᾱh describes Himself in the Qur’ᾱn in more than one place:
“Allah- there is no deity except Him, The Ever-Living, The Sustainer of existence”.
Surah Ali Imraan: 2
“And (all) faces will be humbled before the Ever-Living, The Sustainer of existence. And he will have failed who carries injustice”
“And rely upon the Ever-Living who doesn’t die, and exalt (Allah) with His praise. And sufficient is He to be, with the sins of His servants, Acquainted-“
“He is Ever-Living; there is no deity except Him, so call upon Him, [being] sincere to Him in religion. [All] praise is [due] to Allah, Lord of the worlds”.
Surah al Ghafur:65
It is through these verses we find resolution and affirmation and yet, as I have mentioned before, it truly is something extra-ordinary for even the adult mind to comprehend. Here’s the thing, Allᾱh IS NOT LIKE US. Nothing compares to Him. This knowledge sets Him apart from us. He is elevated in every possible way. He has power over all that exists in the entire universe.
Let’s consider the following scenario, if someone was to build an artificial intelligence (AI) in the form of a human being, making it walk like one, talk like one, act like one and at the same time gain an understanding of the world such as a human being. But, over time AI realizes it is different from its creator. How? It knows that its creator has the power to shut it down at any given moment. Further, the creator knows upon creation that he needs to add some way of shutting it down, juuuuust in case it disobeys him or it goes completely bonkers and malfunctions. And in order to maintain this authority he maintains the right to destroy it, he leaves something behind that allows him superiority and control, for it to realise it is dependent on its creator to survive. So, in this way his AI will never be superior to him or think of itself being superior, realizing it needs its creator for survival. The AI knows it is different, it knows it is dependent on its creator. It will now serve its creator! Similarly, Allᾱh is our Creator, we cannot possess eternity and will never possess it because He is All-Powerful and Al-Ḥayy. Understand this, and we will want to be better servants and obey His very command.
Alternatively, we also know through the knowledge of this attribute that it doesn’t matter at what point of our lives we find ourselves, He will always be there for us. He is Al-Ḥayy. It is what comforts us and consoles us when we are grieving or experiencing loss in some form or other. It is the understanding, that He is everlasting in His mercy, forgiveness, sustenance, love and so forth. This remains truly the motivation for us to be grateful for His Mercy.
Allᾱh also reminds us in many places in the Qur’an of death, and that all life will has an ending, but He will remain Ever-Living. Therein lies our answer. This truth, is what makes us obedient and urges us to pray and worship our Everlasting Creator. All life has to come to an end, and in having this knowledge, we give life meaning. It is the knowledge that we will die, that we find meaning in life itself. It is the motivation for us and chance to prove that we belong amongst the righteous in Paradise, the chance to prove that we are worthy of His mercy, the chance to prove that we love Him more than we will love any other being on this earth. This is the reason we die and living with this knowledge that all life must end, gives us greater perspective of our duties.
Allᾱh is Al-Ḥayy. The Eternal. He gives life and He will be there when it is done. Live by this name, by having complete reliance on Him. This attribute motivates us to do good and know that when we are in need of any assistance, that we will only find it by turning to Him, because Allᾱh will always be there. He is an Eternal presence that will always console the grieving heart that turns to Him.