Issue 103 / January - February 2015
Divinely Granted Favors
Question: What is meant by the phrase "divinely granted favors"? What are their different dimensions?
Divine favors that are granted out of God's will refer to favors that are not dependent upon human willpower and choice. In this respect, everything that we possess may be and should be considered divine favors. That we come into existence from non-existence, that we exist as humans rather than as animals or plants, that we are born into believing families and communities, that we are given a healthy body, etcetera - you can extend the list as long as you want. All these are favors granted to us in return for nothing.
As for its diverse dimensions, we have to consider belief in God Almighty the foremost favor. Belief is a Divine favor. For while there are those who cannot benefit from the most convenient contexts of belief, there are other people in the most unlikely contexts who happen to meet belief and embrace it sincerely. Many examples around us prove that belief or faith is a blessing that comes through as divine grace. Many smart people with brilliant minds live without a compass and without a purpose, for they cannot free themselves from the past baggage of misguided perspectives. It is even harder for those who are in a position to lead their communities, for now they have to speak to their people to tell them that the path they took so far was wrong.
Another dimension of Divine favor is to grow up in a community where one isn't profiled for their associations or beliefs. If we happen to be in a community where individuals are welcomed regardless of their racial, cultural, or religious identities, where no one is discriminated against because of his family relations or social allegiances, then this is a manifest Divine favor as well. In such a community, other groups are not defamed for their way of life, but on the contrary they are praised for their respective methods of public service and engagement. The opposite would be to narrow down and shrink the otherwise expansive nature of faith that welcomes all and which does not segregate those who are different. Such exclusivist attitudes lead to misunderstandings and raise concerns about religious thought which by definition should be inclusive.
One more favor that is significant and must be mentioned is the feeling of contentment as opposed to seeking benefits and self-interest. Future conflicts that may possibly arise at times of new worldly opportunities can only be prevented when people take a step back in an altruistic spirit, just as in the example of Hasan, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him.
Hasan (d. 669) had an opportunity to seek political leadership, and though he had an enormous amount of popular support, he did not wish to risk people's lives or threaten social stability, and thus did not accept this opportunity. It is important to follow in his track and refuse any worldly gain when others are competing for such gains, and instead be prepared to even retreat into a cave, if this would be to the benefit of the community.
This attitude, which we may call contentment or abstinence, is a priceless virtue for a community. When, during a conflict, one party raises their hand to hit, they will not find a material form before them, for the contented party will already have vanished, avoiding any sort of fight whatsoever. The one who starts a fight is wrong, even if he is absolutely on the right side of the issue.
Perhaps the most important of all Divine favors is the consciousness that these gifts are divinely granted and that our willpower has nothing to do with them. Human willpower is a basic condition that is required for all matters, even for the most important ones. Yet, in the context of divine favors as described above, it is almost impossible to claim the intervention of human willpower. We have been created as human, the most honorable and superior of all creation in the universe. We are born into a world where we are given all opportunities to reveal our full potential to become "the perfect human" (al-insan al-kamil). In this life, we are given a whole infrastructure and the necessary dynamics to reach the horizons of being fully human as the giants of human history did. And these are no doubt "given" to us without us being involved.
What falls on our side is not to treat these favors as if we accidentally bumped into them, but as the most precious property entrusted to us and do our best to deserve their continuous bestowal. Each individual honored with these blessings should take all measures to keep them safe and to offer wholehearted thanks to the One in appreciation for all His favors.