Peace, one and all…
Eid Mubarak! My family and I have just returned from my in-laws just outside London, where we spent a lovely Eid weekend. Praise be to God in every condition and state. It was lovely to be able to celebrate this blessed day with family.
As Eid fell on a Friday this year, I went to the local mosque twice: once for the special Eid prayer in the morning and again for the regular Friday prayer at 1:30pm. As I listened to the Mu’adhdhin (prayer caller) offering the adhan (the call to prayer), I had a sudden insight. Tradition dictates that as the prayer caller recites each part of the adhan the congregation quietly repeats each phrase to themselves. So, when he recites ‘I testify that there is no god but God’, the assembled congregation repeat the phrase to themselves. However, when the prayer caller recites ‘Come to prayer!’ and ‘Come to success!’, tradition directs us to intone: ‘there is no power or might except with God’ (la hawla wa la quwwata illa billah).
Quite why this specific phrase should be said at this specific moment has long intrigued me. At any rate, as I was listening I had a sudden insight into why, though of course Allah knows best (Allahu A`lam). These phrases require our active response; that is they ask us to act. Whilst the other elements of the call to prayer ask us to affirm a metaphysical reality, these two phrases direct us to respond. La hawla wa la quwwata illa billah is an appropriate phrase in such a context because it underlines the fact that true agency rests only with the Divine. As human beings we only a very limited, derivative ability to act. We possess no intrinsic power of our own, we merely borrow it from God, for a short time. The power to do things, either good or bad, is merely lent to us.
I find this particularly important where specifically religious acts are concerned. We are often apt to forget that our acts of religious devotion are in themselves a gift to us from God. Moreover, we can also sometimes feel a certain sense of misplaced pride whenever we perform a supposedly ‘religious’ act: ‘look at how religious I am!’ I have certainly fallen into this trap myself in the past. Indeed, I still do at times, I am sure. Being reminded of my utter dependence, even as regards my ‘own’ acts, is a useful corrective to this kind of unhelpful attitude.
I am reminded of some powerful verses in the Quran, from Surah al-Insan (the Chapter of Humankind – surely an important ‘coincidence’):