"They Forgot Allah, So Allah Forgot Them"...But How Can Allah Forget?

Updated: Sep 9, 2018

"They hypocrites are allies of one another, promoting evil and stopping good. THEY FORGOT ALLAH, SO ALLAH FORGOT THEM" (9:76 Tawba). Hold on a second...can Allah forget?

This is a good example in which much misunderstanding and confusion about Islam stems from ignorance of its language, Arabic. Can a person go into the back end of a website without fluency in HTML or CSS? It's funny because whenever I go behind the Safina website, I see this line: "If you do not know code, leave this section alone." The tech folks implore me: "Please Dr. Shadee, don't touch anything; it'll crash the whole site." I am content at that point, to turn to them--since they know better--and make taqlid. I'm a blind follower when it comes to code. It got me thinking to myself: man we need a warning sign like this for Islam! ...For all those bloggers and tweeters out there who keep making a mess due to basic ignorance. "Unless you are educated and trained in Arabic and fiqh, do not offer commentary."

Well the answer about the verse above is that the word NASI (forgetfulness) also means "to intentionally discard or ignore." NASI is a type of word that has two meanings, a dominant one (zahir) and a lesser used one (mu'awwal). When the dominant one is impossible rationally or scripturally, the scholars then look at secondary meanings that also have precedent in the Arabic language. In this case, the word NASI has precedent for being used by the Arabs to mean "intentionally discarding or ignoring." Therefore, that is the meaning used to understand the verse.

Which brings up a second point. The need for fiqh. Fiqh (in its linguistic meaning) is when scholars bring *all* the texts together and extract the meaning that yeilds no inconsistency at all. With respect to this verse, there is the hadith, "Mistakes, forgetfulness and compulsion have been lifted from my umma." So based on this, "forgetting" is not a sin at all, so why should they be punished? For example, you honestly simply forgot to pray Asr. It totally skipped your mind. It's not good, but it's no sin either. So therefore, the correct interpretive translation of the above verse would be: They ignored Allah's commands & prohibitions (as well as belief and piety), so He ignored their pleas on the Day of Judgement, when it is too late for repentence.

The hadith itself requires ta'wil, interpretation, because on its face, its literal meaning is that the umma will never make mistakes, forget or be forced to do anything, which we know by observation is not the case. Therefore, the correct understanding is: Allah will not take to account someone who performs a sinful act as a result of an honest mistakes for which one immediately repents, forgetfulness or compulsion.

Lastly, this verse is a thorn in the throat of Literalism regarding the Divine attributes, since there is no doubt that the dominant meaning of NASI is to forget, which is a weakness. Allah cannot forget because He has no weakness. Therefore, TANZIH is required. Tanzih is, "pushing the meaning away from the literal wording." The scholar is forced to look at the secondary meaning (al-mu'awwal). Once he does that once, then he therefore cannot refute those who do it again for other inappropriate outward meanings, such as the hands: "The heavens We built with hands." The scholars therefore looked at how the Arabs used that word 'hands' and found that they used it to mean 'strength and power,' and so that is how that verse is understood: We built the heavens with strength and power. 

The ignorance of the Reformists and the Literalism of some of the pious faithful are both deadly poisons. Literalism looks like piety in the beginning, but in the long-run, it stunts growth, makes the religion look ugly and unintelligent and inspires a generation of Reformists who hate the deen. The umma never flourished when Literalism took hold. Find me one moment in Islamic history when such a group was dominant and the land flowered with victory, wealth and the arts. Never happened. In fact, one of the wisdoms of the rise of the Kharijites during the time of Sayyidna Ali was to show how disruptive they are to the umma. Namely, they are such a force of stagnation, that even if your leaders are the Companions, they will stifle the umma's growth. It's a fact that Sayyidna Ali was not able to do anything on his agenda due to the stubbornness and trouble-making of the Kharijite Literalists. ​ Literalism is waning in the umma, but that's not all good news. Because it's just being replaced by something worse: straight up jahl, ignorance. Jahl is our enemy. When jahl spreads far and wide, large swaths of people end up swallowing deadly poisons that kill one's iman at once. Beliefs such as 'Hadith is not reliable,' 'beliefs don't really matter as long as you're a good person,' or 'all those scholars were all just male chauvinists and we should discard everything they said.' May Allah make this umma fall in love with learning beneficial knowledge again, as it was once used to be...utterly obsessed with studying its Book and its Law. Ameen.

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