Friday Sermon: Allah burdens not any soul beyond its capacity

May 29th, 2009

Huzur cited verse 287 of Surah Al Baqarah. The translation reads: ‘Allah burdens not any soul beyond its capacity. It shall have the reward it earns, and it shall get the punishment it incurs. Our Lord, do not punish us, if we forget or fall into error; and our Lord, lay not on us a responsibility as Thou didst lay upon those before us. Our Lord, burden us not with what we have not the strength to bear; and efface our sins, and grant us forgiveness and have mercy on us; Thou art our Master; so help us Thou against the disbelieving people.’  

Huzur delivered today’s Friday Sermon in light of the elucidation of this verse as given by the Promised Messiah (on whom be peace).

Huzur explained that in the above verse the word ‘wus’aha’ (capacity) is used for humans to connote their limited capacity. However, generally speaking, for God the word Wasi (The Bountiful, the All-Embracing) is used to connote His boundless and limitless capacity. He is the Master of all powers, His knowledge is ceaseless therefore man cannot comprehend it. God does not give any such commandment which man cannot put in practice. It is man’s duty to abide by the commandments. In Islam the commandments are in accordance with man’s natural capacities therefore each person is answerable for his/her actions. Islam does not present the irrational concept that a pure Prophet of God was given an accursed death for the sake of negligent people. The Holy Qur’an declares that in accordance with the nature of man the commandments given are in line with human capacities and weaknesses. Man tries to do good works but that does not purify him completely as Hadith relates that the presence of Satan in us is like blood running through veins. As a result, any inadvertent sins, followed by genuine repentance and seeking God’s forgiveness lead man towards piety. Man has to continually endeavour to bring about pious changes in himself. God’s mercy is expansive and His forgiveness is all-embracing; He forgives. This is the teaching of the Holy Qur’an for which no penance is required.

In explaining the aforementioned verse Huzur gleaned/garnered twelve points from the elucidation of the Promised Messiah’s (on whom be peace) writings. He said that God does not burden beyond their intellectual/mental capacity. However, He also teaches us the prayer of ‘O my Lord increase my knowledge’ (20:115). This is a prayer that was taught to the Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) who was given knowledge the breadth of which even encompassed the Day of Judgement. At the time the Qur’an was being revealed God had full knowledge of the further treasures that were to be revealed. He therefore taught the Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be on him) this prayer so that he would continue to pray for increase in the sea of spiritual knowledge and cognisance that he already had.  When the Quranic revelations were complete the Prophet’s prayer was that his followers would be in great need of this particular prayer.  Without doubt God states that He does not burden a soul beyond its capacity, does not hold it accountable until He has granted the requisite capacity, however, the teaching also entails that a believer should increase his/her knowledge and should augment his/her capacities.

Huzur said from the kind of knowledge that God gives to His Prophets the best and the most was given to the Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be on him), yet he was also taught the prayer ‘O Lord increase my knowledge’. If seeking of knowledge did not entail endeavour then the Hadith relating travel to China in search of knowledge would have been meaningless. However, despite the implied endeavour, knowledge cannot be attained without God’s grace.

Mental capacity varies from person to person, depending upon one’s natural ability to childhood factors, environment etc. God has assigned grades in this matter. If one attains knowledge in accordance with one’s capacity, one will increase it. It must not be implied that one does not naturally or due to one’s circumstances attain knowledge.

God is aware of everything because of His expansive knowledge. Therefore when God makes man liable [for His commandments] He does so in view of His knowledge. If man does not utilise his/her God-given capabilities he/she will be answerable for this. The Promised Messiah (on whom be peace) explained that the words ‘Allah burdens not any soul beyond its capacity’ suggest that if man employs all his capacities to attain knowledge he will be the recipient of God’s pleasure. Knowledge that increases one’s perception of God causes one to further turn to Him. The Holy Quran states, ‘… Only those of His servants who possess knowledge fear Allah. Verily, Allah is Mighty, Most Forgiving.’ 35:29. Huzur explained that the term ‘who possess knowledge’ does not refer to the so-called religious scholars of today. Rather, it denotes those who increase in their insight of God with every single boost to their knowledge; those on whom the [Urdu] poetic verse of the Promised Messiah (on whom be peace) applies: ‘Whichever direction we look, it is a way [leading to] Your sight.’ Huzur said this explain the true significance of the verse ‘Allah burdens not any soul beyond its capacity’ from an intellectual perspective.

Huzur said the second point he has garnered from the writings of the Promised Messiah (on whom be peace) regarding the verse is that God only presents those creeds which are within the capacities of human comprehension. The verse before 2:287 cites the various beliefs; in angels, Books and Messengers. A Hadith relates that a white-clad person came to the Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be on him) and asked him what belief was.  To which the Prophet responded, ‘That you affirm your faith in Allah, His angels, His Books, His Messengers and that you affirm your faith in the Day of Judgement and in Divine decree.’ Huzur said if one is pious of nature one does not even have to look beyond this earth to affirm one’s faith in God. The Holy Qur’an is a compilation of the truths revealed in previous scriptures as well as a correction of any flaws/interpolation they had. God Himself declared to safeguard the Qur’an, strengthening one’s belief in its authenticity. He has also stated that there is nothing in the Qur’an that cannot be put in practice.  It was the misfortune of earlier people that they did not believe in the Prophets who came to them. Huzur said if the mental capacity of earlier people was less, the teaching that was revealed in their time was in accordance.

Huzur said God does not inconvenience anyone regarding the liability of the commandments of Salat and fasting. The ailing is allowed to offer Salat lying down; the traveller is allowed to shorten Salat. Similar concessions are in place for fasting. Indeed, Zakat is only obligatory on those with discretionary income/property and Hajj is also obligatory for those who can afford to travel, who have good health and can do so with peace. The commandments for all these aspects are in accordance to one’s capacity and people of all sections of life have put these in practice.

The third factor that the Promised Messiah (on whom be peace) has stated in this reference is that the practice of the Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be on him) is a blessed model for us. The Qur’an states, ‘Verily you have in the Prophet of Allah an excellent model, for him who fears Allah and the Last Day and who remembers Allah much.’ (33:22). The Promised Messiah (on whom be peace) said we should try and follow the Prophet in everything. He said that had God not granted us the capacities to adopt the model of the blessed Prophet on a subordinate (shadow-like) level He would not have ever commanded us as above. Huzur said the excuse that as we cannot attain the lofty standard of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be on him) we need not try does not free us from our obligations. There have been tens of millions in the ummah who have thus endeavoured and presented an example.  An ordinary believer can definitely follow the blessed model in accordance with his/her capacity.

The fourth aspect with reference to the verse 2:287 is that the advent of the Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be on him) took place for the entire mankind. It is thus commanded to accept his teachings and he alone is now the source for salvation. However, if his teachings are not conclusively comprehended by one then that person would not be held accountable.  Huzur said even if such a person is a non-believer in accordance with the verse 2:287 he will not be accountable. Indeed, we are not allowed to interfere in this matter, it is entirely up to God to forgive whomsoever He chooses. We are not aware of the inner feelings of anyone and therefore we do not know who has not conclusively comprehended the teachings of Islam.

The fifth matter in this instance is that God does not compel man to do anything irrational. The Qur’an repeatedly mentions the word ‘wisdom’. Each commandment is based on complete wisdom. In Quranic phraseology wisdom signifies to implement fairness and justice, to perfect knowledge and to present a proof for everything. Citing verse 220 of Surah Al Baqarah, the translation of which reads, ‘They ask thee concerning wine and the game of hazard. Say: ‘In both there is great sin and also some advantages for men; but their sin is greater than their advantage.’ And they ask thee what they should spend. Say: ‘What you can spare.’ Thus does Allah make His commandments clear to you that you may reflect.’ (2:220), Huzur said the commandment forbidding consumption of alcohol was revealed because intoxication prevents one from worship of God and it disturbs societal peace.  It is now a proven scientific fact that it affects brain cells. The addiction of gambling is similar in waste. Alcohol consumption and gambling also leads to volatility in temperament. When used in extremely low quantities for medicinal purpose, alcohol can be beneficial to man. However these amounts do not result in intoxication.

Explaining the sixth factor Huzur cited verse 174 of Surah Al Baqarah, ‘He has made unlawful to you only that which dies of itself, and blood and the flesh of swine, and that on which the name of any other than Allah has been invoked. But he who is driven by necessity, being neither disobedient nor exceeding the limit, it shall be no sin for him. Surely, Allah is Most Forgiving, Merciful.’ (2:174), and said that Islamic Shariah does not put anyone is needless difficulty. In a situation of life and death one is allowed to consume what is otherwise forbidden. 

The seventh point is that all commandments of God are well within human capacities. They have not been sent down to put man in difficulty. God is Holy and High far above than to have done this.

The eighth aspect is that the conditions laid down for the implementation of the commandments are in accordance with the physical and mental capacities of everyone. It is therefore the obligation of each person to put them in practice in accordance to his/her capacity.

The ninth factor is that the entire commandments of the Holy Qur’an are practicable and none is a burden. Hadhrat ‘Aishah (may Allah be pleased with her) said that the life and morals of the Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be on him) were a practical depiction of the Holy Qur’an. Each person must try and put them in practice according to his/her capacity.

The tenth aspect is that God shows true dreams to people so that they may have an insight into the claims of Prophets. Huzur said God has put a trust in the nature of every person to understand the message of a Prophet of God. True dreams can be shown to the biggest of sinners.

The eleventh point is that non-compliance to commandments during childhood and due to mental disability is exempt from accountability.

The twelfth aspect is that if God’s commandments are not put in practice in the prime of one’s youth one will be held accountable. This is the age when one is capable of doing one’s best, however, this is also the time when Nafse Ammara (the self that incites to evil) attacks one most frequently. Despite the fact that God does not burden a soul beyond its capacity if a person decides not to put His commandments in practice then he/she determines his/her own ‘limits’ or scope and is thus disobedient to God.

Hadhrat Musleh Maud, Khalifatul Masih II (may Allah be pleased with him) said, ‘from among evils only that evil will be punished which will have an implication of acquisition.’

Our Beloved God does not burden any soul and does not give difficult commandments, rather He forgives. He has thus taught us a prayer in the latter part of the verse 2:287.  Explaining this Huzur said despite the fact that the verse states ‘Allah burdens not any soul beyond its capacity’ a true believer should supplicate to God with reference to his/her humility and pray that no action of his/her should lead him/her to God’s displeasure. Huzur said we should pray for steadfastness and development of faith. We should pray that may we never be the cause of any loss or harm to our Community. Huzur explained that the prayers towards the end of the verse are made in the plural thus drawing our attention to our communal responsibility. Huzur prayed that may we continue to employ all our God-given capacities as we traverse progress and advancement.