There was a time when I struggled to believe I had any power over my own life, or any power at all. My faith was built on the premise that I had to drive my sense of self into the ground, and what could be more convincing proof of that than turning to God to confirm that I was indeed small and worthless in front of His Might and Power? I was using faith to reinforce my own sense of self-worthlessness and incapability.
I was not basing this conclusion about myself on any truth I had learned, but on a decision I had made about myself based on a selective understanding of my self and the world around me. I thought my humility before God was because I was worth nothing and He is Everything, and it was a reflection of how I saw myself in the world; what I had missed was that He created me, and by virtue of that if nothing else I was imbued with an innate sense of dignity, standing, and power.
We are extraordinarily privileged as humans, for we are not only created by God, but are the highest of His Creations, and He gave us knowledge He gave to no other creature. Because of that, we have a greater capacity than the rest of creation to know God and serve Him both directly – through worship, prayer, acts devoted to Him, remembrance of Him etc – and indirectly – in our conduct, behaviour, words, deeds, actions towards not only others but ourselves.
I think I decided that I was small because I was scared of being powerful. Not only because of the responsibility it brought, but the freedom – because for all the debates around free will and whether it is compatible with faith in an all-Knowing God, we are free to choose. Our faith is all the more powerful because we choose to respond to God’s call, and we choose to recognise Him in the signs around us. But despite the glory of that blessing from God – the freedom, the power, the dignity – it was easier for me to tell myself I was small, and had limited space to ‘be’, to choose, to act and to create. I disempowered myself, and my faith shaped itself around that.
I don’t know how and when exactly I recognised the power of the Divine in me. Now, I only need to think of myself as God’s Creation and I automatically am present to it. I am in awe of the power that God has given me: the ability to create as a glimmer, a tiny sliver of His Creative Power. But for us humans it is more than enough; it means we can create our universe, and who we are in it. We can create love, peace, understanding, livelihoods, families, relationships, something where there was nothing.
I think part of the shift lay in recognising that I am not fixed; I am not a static being defined by circumstances around me and then destined to live in that mould forever. Believing this certainly gave me a convenient, albeit dissatisfying, excuse to not be bold and take on the unknown in my life – new paths, new ways of being, new conversations, even – but the emptiness it left was an indication that it was not true. In a way, I had been using my creative power to craft a story in which I was small and unchangeable, instead of using it as designed and pushing for my greatness. When I read the Qur’an, I can only listen to it as the being God made me to be: great, bold, powerful. That is what God gave me my creative power for, to be the highest version of myself.
This awe-inspiring saying by Imam Ali (AS) – the cousin, son-in-law, and closest companion to the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) – reminds me of that greatness that lies in each one of us as God’s Creations. We are not meant to be small; He didn’t make us that way. God speaks to us in the Qur’an as our potential to be the highest, most powerful version of ourselves, and that is reflected in the conduct encouraged of us: forgiveness, standing up for what is right, standing against what is wrong, loving our parents, helping the needy, orphaned, and destitute, controlling anger, persevering in God’s Way…
We create that in our actions, our words, our deeds, and intentions. And we have the power to create more besides. Our power and freedom is a reflection of the Divine Hand that shaped us and gave us life, and it is in our greatness that our submission to Him becomes truly meaningful and sincere.