“Hoping” to Meet God and How to Achieve Such “Hope”
As mentioned in our earlier articles, there exist two opinions about “meeting the Almighty” and what this otherworldly encounter entails. Some scholars believe that this meeting will be a universal affair, experienced by all believers and non-believers alike when they enter the realm of the Hereafter. Others assert that this meeting will be a special encounter, wherein the most pious and righteous of God’s servants will exclusively savor the enrapturing pleasure of His true vision and divine company.
Similarly, we explained that the second of these standpoints is not directly compatible with the apparent and literal meanings of Quranic verses. However, it is admissible if one deems it to be the product of connotative implications stemming from the literal meanings conveyed by these divine texts.
Anyhow, according to the apparent and evident meanings of verses within the Holy Quran, the idea of “meeting the Almighty” signifies that humanity will become fully cognizant of God’s divine presence upon entering the Hereafter. Nevertheless, this consciousness will not necessarily be accompanied by felicity or spiritual gratification. This is similar to the experience of a blind person who, while being fully aware of the presence of other people, draws no visual pleasure from their company. Interestingly, the Holy Quran says that on the Day of Judgement, the infidels will be resurrected in a state of blindness.
قَالَ رَبِّ لِمَ حَشَرْتَنِي أَعْمَىٰ وَقَدْ كُنتُ بَصِيرًا قَالَ كَذَٰلِكَ أَتَتْكَ آيَاتُنَا فَنَسِيتَهَا ۖ وَكَذَٰلِكَ الْيَوْمَ تُنسَىٰ
“He will say, ‘My Lord! Why have You raised me blind, though I used to see?’ He will say: ‘So it is. Our signs came to you, but you forgot them, and so you will be forgotten today’.”
The Meaning of “Hope”, “Expectation” and “Assumption” in Quranic Verses Regarding the Hereafter
At this point in our discussion, the only thing that stands to challenge our preferred interpretation is the existence of certain verses within the Holy Quran that speak of “hope” or “expectation” with regards to “meeting the Almighty” on Judgement Day. One such verse is as follows:-
فَمَن كَانَ يَرْجُو لِقَاءَ رَبِّهِ فَلْيَعْمَلْ عَمَلًا صَالِحًا وَلَا يُشْرِكْ بِعِبَادَةِ رَبِّهِ أَحَدًا
“So whoever expects (or hopes) to encounter his Lord – let him act righteously, and not associate anyone with the worship of his Lord.”
Based on our notion of the “inevitable and universal meeting”, the idea of confronting God in the afterlife constitutes a matter of absolute certainty and definitive knowledge. As such, why use words like “hope” or “expectation” in reference to the divine encounter in question? Is it even possible for someone to not “expect” such a meeting given its inescapable eventuality? What is God’s true purpose and intention behind the employment of such words?
Are Such Quranic Verses Evidence in Favor of a “Special and Exclusive Meeting”?
Some might argue that such Quranic verses represent evidence in support of the opposing theory that postulates a “special and exclusive meeting” between God and His most faithful servants. They may claim that the verses at hand speak only of those chosen and purified people who actively “hope” and “yearn” for God’s spiritual and mystical encounter; contiguity that lies far beyond the “expectations” and “hopes” of common men and women. However, this argument is flawed, simply because the Sacred Quran often uses words that are semantically similar to “hope”, such as “assumption” and “supposition”, when referring to the Hereafter.
قَالَ الَّذِينَ يَظُنُّونَ أَنَّهُم مُّلَاقُو اللَّهِ كَم مِّن فِئَةٍ قَلِيلَةٍ غَلَبَتْ فِئَةً كَثِيرَةً بِإِذْنِ اللَّهِ
“Those who assumed that they would encounter Allah, said, ‘How many a small party has overcome a larger party by Allah’s will!”
Some Quranic exegetes claim that the word “assume”, in contexts like the one quoted above, actually signifies “to know”. This, they contend, is because such Quranic verses speak exclusively about true believers, and without doubt, true believers do not merely assume or suppose things about the afterlife but are totally sure and certain about its existence and characteristics. To corroborate this point of view, they cite verses from the Holy Quran showing that belief in the Hereafter needs to be absolute.
وَبِالْآخِرَةِ هُمْ يُوقِنُونَ
“…and about the Hereafter, they are indeed certain.”
وَإِنَّ الظَّنَّ لَا يُغْنِي مِنَ الْحَقِّ شَيْئًا
“…and supposition is no substitute for the truth.”
This interpretation, however, seems to be an instance of forcible imposition of an idea upon the Quran’s text. “Assumption” or “supposition”, signified by the Arabic word ẓan, is conceptually different from “knowledge” or “certainty”, which is signified by the Arabic term ‘ilm. As such, using one to mean the other runs contrary to the most primary of linguistic principles. Furthermore, in the Holy Quran itself, we find several instances of the word ẓan being clearly used to convey “a lack of knowledge and certainty”.
وَمَا أَظُنُّ السَّاعَةَ قَائِمَةً
“…I do not suppose the Hour will ever come…”
إِن نَّظُنُّ إِلَّا ظَنًّا وَمَا نَحْنُ بِمُسْتَيْقِنِينَ
“We know nothing beyond conjectures, and we do not possess any certainty.”
Therefore, we must conclude that these terms are indeed employed within the Holy Quran in their own proper meanings.
Why Has God Used Such Terms When Speaking of the Hereafter?
Having said this, we need to analyze why God elected to use this particular type of expression when speaking about the Hereafter and the Day of Judgement. An incisive look at the Arabic word ẓan (which, if translated accurately, means “to deem something probable”) shows that this term actually represents “a minimum degree of perceived possibility, regarding any given thing or situation, that is significant enough to influence human behavior”. Ẓan, in reality, is “admissible probability”, and as such, it forms a concept more general than “certainty” or “definitive knowledge”. Therefore, the idea that the Holy Quran seeks to convey through the utilization of this particular term is that “admissible or acceptable probability” is enough when dealing with the concept of the Hereafter. This means that in the eyes of Islam it suffices for a person to perceive the existence of Judgement Day as “probable”, albeit in a manner that is strong enough to motivate his actions. “Definitive knowledge” and “absolute certainty” is not a requirement, even though it is deemed to be a desirable and coveted state of mind and belief.
The Holy Quran argues that if a person deems the existence of the Hereafter to be admissibly probable, then such a person’s attitude and behavior will drastically change. The sheer possibility of divine accountability on the Day of Judgement suffices for us to reconsider our lifestyles and to engage in meticulous scrutiny of ourselves and our actions.
In short, the Quranic verses in question use the term “ẓan” to signify “admissible probability” which indicates a general concept that encompasses all states of minds spanning from mere hope, expectation and assumption all the way up to definitive certainty and absolute knowledge. Therefore, these verses do not contradict nor conflict with the interpretation we have presented earlier regarding the unavoidable nature of “meeting the Almighty” on Judgement Day.
The Allegorical Indication Within These Quranic Verses
It is possible that these verses may also have an allegorical significance. Sometimes a given text contains several layers of meanings. In the beginning, the apparent or outer most layer meets the eye, and we cannot deny, nor place into abeyance, this primary strata of denotation. However, a deeper analysis reveals that this principal and basal level of meaning can lead us to more sublime connotations which we may consider to be allegorical or even anagogic in nature.
For instance, when we take into account the apparent and literal meaning of the term “worship”, we conclude that anyone engaging in ritual prayer is indeed a “worshipper”. At this level of understanding, we may recite the following Quranic verse several times daily:
“You [alone] do we worship”
However, during such a recitation we simply intend to say that we perform ritual prayer only for God, and not for any idol or effigy, even if our prayer is devoid of devotional attention and spiritual discipline. This meaning of the word “worship” is superficial, but nevertheless correct.
However, a more penetrating review of the same concept reveals that there exist inner and more sublime layers that demand further exploration. For instance, we come to appreciate that when engaged in prayer, a person’s entire sentient being must be immersed in a state of solemn worship. If the body is praying while the mind wanders elsewhere, then such an act is more akin to impertinence than it is to devotion. Indeed, “worship” can carry within itself many profound levels of meaning.
لِيَعْبُدُوا اللَّهَ مُخْلِصِينَ لَهُ الدِّينَ حُنَفَاءَ
“…to worship Allah, dedicating their faith to Him as men of pure faith…”
The complete existence of an ‘Abd (or servant of God) must be an absolute manifestation of pious servitude. Indeed, any other preoccupation or motivation would be at odds with the very spirit of worship. Therefore, worshipping God, in the true and comprehensive sense of the word, must go beyond ritual prayer and effectively encompass all aspects of a worshipper’s life. Each and every one of his actions must be aimed at attaining God’s divine pleasure, just as prophet IbrÁhÐm (a) said:
قُلْ إِنَّ صَلَاتِي وَنُسُكِي وَمَحْيَايَ وَمَمَاتِي لِلَّهِ رَبِّ الْعَالَمِينَ
“Say, ‘Indeed my prayer and my worship, my life and my death are for the sake of Allah, the Lord of all the worlds.”
However, if a person follows his heart’s cravings and obeys his egoistic desires, then he is in fact worshiping his own carnal-self.
أَرَأَيْتَ مَنِ اتَّخَذَ إِلَٰهَهُ هَوَاهُ
“Have you seen him who has taken his desire to be his god?”
Only those of us can truly claim to exclusively worship God who do not submit to the whims and fancies of their own carnal-selves nor submit to the base desire of other people. Indeed, if we examine our own actions incisively, we will release that many of our apparently virtuous deeds are, in reality, motivated by worldly inclinations. Even students of religious sciences may be inflicted by this spiritual disease. They may study meticulously day and night, believing that they are serving God Almighty, while in truth their inner most motivation may be nothing but a petty thirst and craving for popularity and fame. Anyhow, at least some of the verses within the Holy Quran have such an allegorical or anagogic implication and deeper meaning.
Now, returning to our original discourse, if “meeting the Almighty” on Judgement Day be deemed a universal matter, then every individual who believes such an encounter to be at least probable must automatically strive to put his affairs in order. Firstly, he must seriously endeavor to avoid all forms of polytheism, and secondly, he must perform good deeds while staying clear of sin and transgression. The primary and superficial meaning of “meeting” is to come face to face with someone or something, even if we cannot see or hear this other entity, or even if this other being decides to pay no attention towards us. However, such an encounter does not constitute a “true meeting” in the deeper and anagogic sense of the phrase. When we speak of “meeting the Almighty”, we actually wish to indicate an intensely profound and existential cognizance of His divine presence. This cognizance is not intellectual in nature; it is not a mere construct of mental concepts and rational perception, rather it is an essentially existential and spiritual witnessing of divine proximity achieved only through the highest levels of innermost vision. Consequently, this most sublime of experiences is reserved only for the most sincere of God’s pious servants; those who enjoy the greatest honor of being considered the Almighty’s confidants and intimate friends.
وُجُوهٌ يَوْمَئِذٍ نَّاضِرَةٌ إِلَىٰ رَبِّهَا نَاظِرَةٌ
“Some faces will be radiant on that day, looking towards their Lord.”
Imam Zayn al-Ābidīn (a) speaks of this unique spiritual pleasure by saying, “O’ Lord, I seek your forgiveness for every form of pleasure apart from the ecstasy of your remembrance, and for every type of leisure except the peace derived from your company”. People of such a beatific disposition endlessly yearn for God’s pleasure and continuously long for His divine proximity. Indeed, they express this sacred and unquenchable thirst in these words: “Reuniting with You is the joy of my eyes, and meeting You is the ultimate desire of my entire entity”. In a “true meeting” no distance or separation must remain between the lover and his Beloved. It is as if a love-smitten admirer, after years of excruciating and anxious anticipation, finally and suddenly finds himself in the warm embrace of his one and only truelove.
How Can We Achieve This “True Meeting” With the Almighty?
The Holy Quran informs us of the path that can lead us to a “true meeting” with Almighty God.
فَمَن كَانَ يَرْجُو لِقَاءَ رَبِّهِ فَلْيَعْمَلْ عَمَلًا صَالِحًا وَلَا يُشْرِكْ بِعِبَادَةِ رَبِّهِ أَحَدًا
“So whoever expects to encounter his Lord – let him act righteously, and not associate anyone with the worship of his Master.”
However, what does “righteous action” actually mean? In the apparent sense, helping and aiding the needy and downtrodden, supporting widows and orphans, engaging in altruistic and philanthropic activities, performing ritual prayers etc. all qualify as “righteous actions”. Nevertheless, if we scrutinize these various deeds in a meticulous and perlustrating manner, we realize that they are seldom exclusively and purely motivated by a desire to please God. Indeed, many people who believe their actions to be truly sincere and righteous are in fact mere victims of self-deceit and prisoners of self-illusion. If a person were to incisively review his own actions, he would clearly observe that if certain factors and incentives were to be removed, he would no longer feel the urge or motivation to engage in those activities. At the very least, we all yearn for the appreciation and approval of our peers and friends. Undoubtedly, this is one of the most natural desires to exist within the hearts of all young people. As such, one might often see a young person diligently engaged in praying, fasting and helping those in need, only to earn the respect and admiration of people within his own social circle. Even older and more mature individuals are susceptible to this problem. For instance, if a senior religious scholar, having spent several decades striving to learn the tenets and teachings of Islam, was to be invited to speak at a meager gathering of no more than a handful of listeners, would this scholar truly feel enthusiastic towards such an invitation? Would he feel the same motivation while delivering this sermon as he would have felt while delivering one to a larger more significant crowd? Similarly, what would his reaction be if he knew that his words would be met with violent disapproval, lewd and insolent ridicule and even severe physical abuse? Surely, if his actions were exclusively aimed at winning God’s divine pleasure, then none of these factors or considerations would make even an iota of difference to him. Indeed, if we were to involve ourselves in such a precise self-evaluation and accountability of our own intentions and conducts, we would find that we are gravely in need of God’s mercy and forgiveness for all the insincerity and impurity that plagues most of our so-called virtuous deeds!
In one narrated tradition, we are informed that God Almighty has termed Himself to be the best of all partners. He, in His endless generosity and compassion, calls upon us to enter into an exclusive partnership with Him while conducting all our affairs and actions. He invites us to rely solely on Him and to purify our intentions in order to act only for His pleasure. However, if we pollute and desecrate this unique and sacred relationship by including other people into our partnership, then the Almighty promises to abandon His association with us, while handing it over completely to those whom we impudently considered fit to be His equals. Even if only one percent of our ritual prayer be aimed at pleasing anyone apart from God, then the Almighty will step aside and will forsake the remaining ninety-nine percent of our action, as if to declare, “I desire only sincerity and purity! I shall discard this tainted deed, handing it over in its entirety to your other partner! Go and seek your compensation and reward only from him!” Having understood this fact, we must ask ourselves this question: How many of our prayers and acts of worship are truly fit and deserving of Allah’s approval and acceptance?
This is exactly the reason why a narrated tradition states, “The virtuous acts of the pious are nothing but sins for God’s closest servants”. Obviously, the common pious believer lacks the intellectual and spiritual capacity to comprehend and appreciate such daedal intricacies, and therefore God’s judgement with regards to him and his actions will naturally be proportionate to his own caliber and ability. As such, he and others like him will be rewarded for their good deeds and will enter Paradise. However, these same actions, when viewed from the standpoint of people bestowed with a greater degree of intellectual and spiritual acumen and insight, are not only bereft of value but might even constitute instances of sin for which one must repent and seek absolution from God. Indeed, many a times we perceive ourselves to have worshipped God Almighty in all sincerity, but upon revisiting our innermost intentions and purposes, we come to realize that our actions were nothing but vilely polytheistic in their quintessential essence! While only a mere portion of our motivation and focus is dedicated to our Lord, the rest of our attention is usurped by worldly and banausic concerns including our own temporal desires, familial connections, peer acknowledgment, partisan endorsement, clan loyalty and a myriad of other mundane fixations. Is this not the very definition of polytheism?
Thus, if our yearning for a “true meeting” with God is sincere and unfeigned, then our actions must become genuinely righteous in nature. They must qualify as deeds that the Almighty finds deserving of approval. In other words, they must be rendered pure, unblemished by any intention other than the devout wish to attain His pleasure.
وَلَا يُشْرِكْ بِعِبَادَةِ رَبِّهِ أَحَدًا
“…and not associate anyone with the worship of his Master.”
Firstly, the idea of “meeting God”, mentioned within the Holy Quran, primarily denotes a “universal encounter” wherein all human-beings, believers and non-believers alike, will find themselves face to face with the Almighty upon the plains of divine judgement. Secondly, having accepted the aforementioned interpretation, we can also acknowledge that these Quranic verses bear allegorical indication towards a “special and true meeting” that shall take place exclusively between God and His most sincere servants. Consequently, all those who desire to experience this “special meeting” must strive restlessly to purify their faith, while cleansing their motivations and actions of all polytheistic contaminations. However, this colossal endeavor invariably requires the spiritual intercession of Allah’s chosen saints. We must beseech them in all humility to aid us in this venture, so that their prayers may enable us to achieve absolute monotheistic virtue in all aspects of our lives.
 The Holy Quran, Surah Ṭā-Hā, verse 125-126
 The Holy Quran, Surah al-Kahf, verse 110
 The Holy Quran, Surah al-Baqarah, verse 249
 The Holy Quran, Surah al-Baqarah, verse 4; Surah Luqmān, verse 4; Surah al-Naml, verse 3
 The Holy Quran, Surah Al-Najm, verse 28
 The Holy Quran, Surah Fuṣṣilat, verse 50
 The Holy Quran, Surah al-Jāthīyah, verse 32
 The Holy Quran, Surah al-Ḥamd, verse 5
 The Holy Quran, Surah al-Bayyinah, verse 5
 The Holy Quran, Surah al-An’ām, verse 162
 The Holy Quran, Surah al-Furqān, verse 43
 The Holy Quran, Surah al-Qiyāmah, verse 22-23
 Biḥār al-Anwār, vol. 91, pg. 151 Mifātīh al-Jinān,
 Munājāt Khamsat ‘Ashar, Munājāt al-Murīdīn
 The Holy Quran, Surah al-Kahf, verse 110
 Al-Mustadrak, vol. 1, pg. 100
 Biḥār al-Anwār, vol. 81, pg. 256
 The Holy Quran, Surah al-Kahf, verse 110