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What I put forth in this chapter is not quite new. I did put forward a few ideas about it in an early book of mine, Until They Change What Is in Their Souls. It is a discussion of two readings of the Qur'an.

We may read the Qur'an on the assumption that the events of history are brought about by God; and we may read the Qur'an on the assumption that the events of history are brought about by humankind, and that what happens is their responsibility. A scholar as distinguished as Muhammad Arkoun declares that the Qur'an asserts that history is shaped by God and not by humans, not even by prophets and reformers. When the confusion has reached this level I feel the urgency of taking it up.

So let us begin with this example from the Qur'an, "Do you see that seed that you sow in the ground? Is it you that cause it to grow, or are We the Cause?" (56:63-64) and "Do you see then the human seed that you throw out? Is it you who create it, or are We the Creators?" (56:58-59)

Indeed, it is God who created the trees, but then it is a human who arranged the orchard. And again, it is God who created humans, but without marriage, we would not have children. There is here something that belongs to God, and something that belongs to a human; in one aspect the thing is done by God, and in one aspect it is done by a human.

It is God who has laid down the law, and it is a human who puts the law to use.

So let us move from this to the events of history. About any historical event, and about any change we may notice, we say that it is God who creates the events of history, but He does that as men choose to apply His laws. Here again, in any event, there is one aspect that belongs to God, and there is an aspect that belongs to humankind. God does bring about the change, but upon a human doing the causes.

It is something that Muslims should learn, these two readings of the Qur'an, and they should teach them to their children. We need this so that our children and we ourselves do not hold some people as holy. Unless people understand, they will hold some false and bad ideas about God and His signs, and will hold some persons as having a special relationship with God. Deluded, they will undervalue their own efforts.

We have locations in the Qur'an where both aspects to events are mentioned together, as in "Because Allah will never change the Grace which He has bestowed on a people until they change what is in their own souls," (8:53), and "Verily never will Allah change the condition of a people until they change what is in their own souls." (13:11)

About any blessing that people enjoy, good health, wealth, a life of cooperation in what is pious and good – all such bounties follow laws; and people do well by abiding by the laws to enjoy the blessings. When the verse says, "Verily never will Allah change the condition of a people until they change what is in their own souls," (13:11) there is something to be done by humans for God to bring about the change they desire. Holding very tightly to the above verse is vital, as it does away with much of our blundering and confusion.

We need to fully understand the relationship between the two sides in the verse. If you say that God has granted health, wealth, and cooperation to a people, we must understand that all that has come about since the people concerned had acquired the attitudes, concepts, values, and convictions that merit God's endowing them with what He endows. And, in the same way, when God afflicts a people with poverty, disease, hatred and the like, it is not without their having had the attitudes, concepts, values, and convictions that match the afflictions that have hit them.

In other locations of the Qur'an, we may have one aspect only, as in "Say: 'O Allah! Lord of Power and Rule, You give power to whom You please, and strip off power from whom You please: You endue with honor whom You please, and You bring low whom You please: in Your Hands is all good. Verily, over all things You have power." (3:26) Let us not imagine that God gives status, wealth, and fertility haphazardly. Whenever we read the above verse, for instance, let us simultaneously remember, "But Allah did not wrong them: nay, they wronged their own souls." (16:33)

And so on. When we read that God brought together the Prophet's companions' hearts in love, let us understand that they realized the qualities that deserved that bounty.

It may be useful to admit that the effort that humans put in is so tiny in comparison with the bounty that God endows them with; and that is as it should be, for we know how immense God's bounty is. But notwithstanding the modesty of people's effort, it must be done before the sometimes astonishing result is granted. See for instance the creation of an infant – how marvelous it is! And how humble a human's part is in comparison with the result! But that small part that is a human's should be done before the infant is conceived, which does not prevent the Qur'an from marveling at the splendor of God's creation.