Or rather how far or near is the Almighty? The first question with which this essay is prefaced was asked by a young boy who had become awed by all the stories he has been told of the existence of the Almighty and of His power and majesty. When that story came way, I immediately remembered the other story: the story of the Desert Arab who accepted Islam.
Known as Bedouin Arabs, desert Arabs were by nurture, orientation and experience different from city Arabs. They are closer to nature at its rawest, brutish and highly unforgiving texture. They are, like the ordinary Fulanis, nomadic; wherever their cattle led them, they peregrinate. The ordinary Bedouin living in the desert has no dwelling other than in movable tents. The tents too are usually by-products of their economic vocation- made of woven hair of sheep and goats. The hair is usually black, which absorbs the desert’s heat and keeps the inside cool. A curtain divides the inside of the tent into a men and women’s section. The women’s section usually features, among others, food stores and cooking equipment. It is deemed a forbidden space to all but the Bedouin himself- the rabb al-bayt (the landlord).
It happened that one day, the companions of the Prophet came in contact with one Bedouin. After having listened to the message of Islam, the Bedouin decided to abandon his idolatrous ways. He decided to accept Islam. When it was night time, the companions spread out their mats in preparation for sleeping. Then the Bedouin told them he had one question to ask. He said: “Does this entity who created the heavens and the earth, sleeps at night?” The companions were surprised. Quickly they responded: “Allah – there is no deity except Him, the Ever-Living, the Sustainer of [all] existence. Neither drowsiness overtakes Him nor sleep. To Him belongs whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on the earth. Who is it that can intercede with Him except by His permission? He knows what is [presently] before them and what will be after them, and they encompass not a thing of His knowledge except for what He wills. His throne (authority) extends over the heavens and the earth, and their preservation tires Him not. And He is the Most High, the Most Great. Neither sleep nor slumber overtakes Him” (Quran 2:256). Then the Bedouin said: “If He does not sleep at night, then how come you think it wise for you to sleep at night?”. Then the Bedouin asked again: “Is the Almighty close to us such that we can whisper our requests for His consideration or He is far away from us such that we have to shout on top of our voices in order for Him to hear our penitence and requests”? In response, the companions then cited Quran 2: 186: “And when My servants ask you, concerning Me – indeed I am near; I respond to the invocation of the supplicant when he calls upon Me. So let them respond to Me and believe in Me that they may be guided”.
This represents the known in the story of faith. But the one below of a young boy and his father takes us to another story.
The boy asked his father: “Dad, how big is Almighty”. The man then looked up in the sky, saw an airplane and then asked his son: “How big is that airplane?” The boy responded: “It’s small Dad! You can hardly see it!” Fully aware of the importance of making use of the opportunity the interaction now afforded him to teach his son such lessons his teachers would probably not teach him in school, the man then took his son to an airport hangar. Standing in front of one of the airplanes, the man asked his son: “Now how big is this airplane?” The boy responded: “Oh father, this plane is enormous!” At this point, the man then said to his son: “that’s how it is with the Almighty! How big He is in your estimation, depends on the distance between you and Him! The closer you are to Him, the bigger He is in your life!”