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Picture of God 21 May 2006

Posted by EDITOR in ABUSHARIF, Politics, Theology.

“Do you want to see a picture of God?” That’s what a girl asked me in my first-grade classroom at O’Toole Elementary School in Chicago’s South Side, many years ago, of course.

We were standing in the aisle separating our old desks that were bolted tight into the floor and had deep rivers scratched on their surfaces. It was a typical public school classroom: An American flag in the front, green cards of cursive writing tacked above the blackboard, a door with semi-translucent glass about half way down, and a portrait of the president.

“A Picture of God?” I thought. “Allah?”

I was six years old at the time. My parents had arrived only seven years ago from a one-road village near Jerusalem. They often spoke to me about Al-Aqsa Mosque and the general spiritual temperament of the Old City. So I did wonder what He looked like.

“Well?” she grew impatient, apparently ready to offer the fantastic deal to someone else, a soul more deserving for no reason other than a faster response. “Do you want to see God or not?”

“Okay,” I said right away, shrugging my shoulders. But the more I thought about it, the more excited I became. I mean . . . wait a minute . . . a picture of God! Who wouldn’t want to see?

“Good,” she said. “Ready?”

I nodded my head. The performance began. She slowly took hold of a small locket attached to her necklace. She opened the locket with the pace of good drama. That’s where the picture was the whole time, unbeknownst to the world. This kid had around her neck a picture of the source of all, the Holy of Holy, the Glorious, depicted on oblique Kodak paper miraculously small enough to fit into a locket and light enough to be worn around a mortal’s neck, a tiny, pink, frail-looking girl to boot. She smiled like crazy, wild eyes, and who can blame her. She brought the locket closer to my face. A born sucker for drama, my heart now pounding. I was already thinking how I’ll answer my parents when they ask me, “How’s school today?” “It was ok, we learned some stuff about math and then I saw a picture of Allah and then learned a couple cursive letters. That’s about it. I’m hungry. Can we eat?”

The locket appeared before my eyes. Lo! there “He” was, right there in black and white, with faint purple hue and a halo effect.

I stared at it for a while before I said anything. I soaked in the whole thing and then said: “A man? This is some man! Where’s God?”

My reaction confused her, then disappointed her, then angered her, one right after the other. I saw the transition. Faces do not lie! But I didn’t care. As far as I was concerned, I was promised something and didn’t get it, even after all the dramatics.

“That’s God, I told you!” she repeated. She insisted that an artist’s image of Jesus, an image I had never seen before, was God Himself, pictured right there, kept in her little locket.

“But that’s not God. That’s some man,” I said more than once. “Where’s your picture of God? You promised!”

She closed the locket, turned away, and slid into the seat of her desk and looked straight forward. She never said a word to me again. I swear, never. Not the whole year. Had I ever choked on something in the days and weeks that followed and was about to die, she wouldn’t have looked toward me or alerted the teacher and possibly would have faked a string of coughs to cover the sounds of my asphyxiation.

So I stood there by my desk for a few seconds, not entirely sure what made her so angry. But this 6-year-old Muslim boy did learn something and he learned it then: Not everyone in the world believes in the same thing—not in my school, not even in one classroom. Before that day, I simply didn’t know that, and I wasn’t prepared to know either. For some reason, that memory ambushed me today as I was driving. I’m not sure what I was thinking of, but stay home, Sherlock. The tension in our world is so pathetic and thick, it’s as if differences were invented yesterday, which is nonsense. They were invented in my first-grade classroom.



1. The Turk - 22 May 2006

yes, little girls can be cruel. I have sort of similar story about same time too; first grade melissa mcain. She told me she had a magic pony and it took her places etc. I am the ever curious george; I ask to her show to me and she shows me with fanfare as well as – its a pink plastic toy horse. I’m like right; ok at least make grow and ride around. Obivously she couldn’t and I called her a liar.

However, we were 6 years old. We are not blaik(legally responsiable at the time) at that time. As we grow up; we may change. That girl you knew may be devout muslim or atheist punk rocker – who knows. Children don’t know any better. Hazart Musa(PBUH) put burning coal in his mouth.

However, as adults we are of age and can know better and should know better. I think one hadis goes something like us: All people will be informed of the truth in one way or another. We humans have been given smarts against all other creatures of Allah. The saddest thing when we have it all and we deny it.

May Allah have mercy on all of us

2. Ibrahim - 23 May 2006

Interesting comment, Turk. I made no value judgment about anyone in this vignette, nothing about responsibility or accountability, about childhood or adulthood, lies or deception. It is an event self-contained, a brief narration about two kids operating from their own innocence, bringing to school pencils and purity. That’s it really.

3. The Turk - 24 May 2006

“The tension in our world is so pathetic and thick, it’s as if differences were invented yesterday, which is nonsense. They were invented in my first-grade classroom. ”

These words made judgement I think. And I responded to that.

My things was tensions may be inherited by society/parents etc; but each generation really has its own responsbility to accept or deny them. A 6 year old weather you or the girl are simply pawns within a bigger game then.

The true judgement come when you older and able accept the diffrences and tell each other what you believe to be the truth and not delve in haterd because you each believe diffrently.

4. Ibrahim - 24 May 2006

There is tension in this world, true. This is not judgment, but the observation of billions. The piece was not about child-adult dichotomy nor about judgmentalism. That’s what threw me off in your comment.

5. ABD - 25 May 2006

excellent piece. i wonder how many of us (esp. as children) try to picture God. He is beyond all human conception, but how can you help it? put differently, how do you make something your object of attention and worship without visualizing it?

6. Abu Noor al-Irlandee - 31 May 2006

I don’t remember any time trying to visualize God. And I grew up Catholic with pictures of someone they were telling me was “God” all around me in the Church.

To me, it’s just the opposite. How can anyone worship something that they can visualize? Its like the Jahili Arabs who used to make an idol, worship it, and then eat it if they got hungry.

Perhaps I am forgetting, however, I can see how children might try to picture God because developmentally they may be at a stage where the idea of anything abstract is completely meaningless to them.

Allaah knows best.

7. Ibrahim - 1 June 2006

Really good point: “How can anyone worship something that they can visualize?” But I think wanting to know what God “looks” like is natural and, actually, coaxed by Islamic eschatological paradigms: like the glorious right of believers to behold the Countenance of God in the Hereafter. Also, we read in the Quran that Moses asked God to “show” Himself, to which a moutain collapsed to utter dust. So there’s something to it, something perhaps intuitive. The idea or curiosity is not necessarily connected with idolatry.

8. Abu Noor al-Irlandee - 1 June 2006

As salaamu ‘alaykum Ibrahim,

Excellent points raised by you as well. I often tell my daughters (6 and 3 years old) that if they are really good and go to jannah they can see Allaah in Jannah and that that is the greatest thing. This is partially because I realize they might have some questions about what Allaah looks like or why they can’t see Him (swt). At the same time I must admit that the whole idea of seeing Allaah (swt) in the HereAfter is mind boggling to me (I think that’s how it should be….its not that I have trouble accepting the idea that one can see Allaah in the HereAfter, it’s just that there’s no point trying to imagine what Allaah will look like then because whatever one imagines to be like from our dunya frame of experience, Allaah is far different from and above that.

I can’t say I fully relate to Musa’s request of Allaah, which is interesting because I’m Salafi/Hanbali in ‘aqeedah so a lot of Muslims would accuse me of being an anthropomorphist. :) (Of course I believe that this ‘aqeedah is far far from any such charge Audhubillaah.

Allaah knows best. I always feel nervous talking about such issues so I please ask forgiveness if I said anything mistaken or incorrect, I’m just thinking out loud and trying to learn something inshAllaah.

9. ABD - 2 June 2006

my question was actually sparked by a conversation with friends about their son’s questions/comments about what Allah was like. the example the mother gave me was a party balloon that was touching the ceiling, about which A had asked, “who can reach that balloon?” (A’s father is a tall guy, but this was maybe twelve feet high.) A’s answer to his own question was, “Allah can.”

10. akshay - 15 June 2006

Very good discussion and perspectives. I am an atheist myself so please bear with me and try to explain my doubts. What do you think would be the reason for god to hide his/her self from his folowers? Is god a male or female? Why do we fear god? Waht is the motive/incentive to believe in something that we do not perceive and have just been told/taught about?

Once again my questions are to enlighten myself from your opinions and are nto meant to hurt or cause ill will.

Thanks in advance

11. The Turk - 17 June 2006

What do you think would be the reason for god to hide his/her self from his folowers?

Well, when I was 6 years old I ask the same question from my Mom, and answered it myself. If he was in front of us, the asking line would 6 billion long. But, how do we know why does a God do anything. He is God. I am not and neither is anyone else.

I have asked that question in millions of forms. There is no answer until you are 6 feet under. However, Pascal advice seems the best. Believe b/c if you do not and He exists – situtation is awkward at best.

However, I believe and I have seen His hand in my life and I am not the greatest muslim out there. You can’t help but believe.
The problem I find in myself in others is not the believing part.
It the practicing part. Religon is not hard it just a chore.
And we are lazy, greedy and stupid. Thats basic problem.
We overcome that; we can be saints.

PS I believe you do not interpet God in male/female etc. God is has no partner, Single, indivisble. God probably can mathatically calculated ie infinty.; As I believe he is a being who is pure energy. Beyond I do not speculate. Thousands questions arise from this but we are told they shall be answered hereafter.

12. Abu Noor al-Irlandee - 19 June 2006


While we do not “see” God in this world, I would not say we don’t perceive Him. As The Turk alluded to, we see the results of God’s actions all around us constantly. God is The Creator and so all of creation testifies to God’s existence. In fact, one Muslim scholar expressed frustration at the whole concept of arguing with an atheist by asking “How can one debate with the one who denies something that every single thing in creation testifies to — the fact that there is a Creator?

God is not a male or a female. People are male or female. Animals are male or female. God is one and does not resemble his Creation as The Turk has mentioned. God does not have any partners, no children or no parents.

The word fear can mean different things in different contexts. No doubt we ‘fear’ God in the sense of awe, reverence, respect. No doubt God is all – powerful and we are wholly dependent upon Him. No doubt we are not grateful for all that God has given us. No doubt we all disobey God continuously despite the fact that His requests of us are few and are all in our own interest (God needs nothing from us!) All of these are reasons to ‘fear’ God. However since God is also so Beneficient and So Merciful and God is All-Just and is incapable of wronging anyone, we don’t have the kind of fear of God that one might have of a tyrannical or wicked human being.

God knows best.

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