Originally published on Issue 40, October 2016
What we mean by God’s plan
want to say a little bit about what God’s plan is – although I am very insignificant and I could not begin to say for sure what God’s plan is. But at the same time I think there is something in God’s plan that He wants us to understand. I will therefore try to say to God and to you believers in God what I think is God’s plan. My understanding of God’s plan, based on philosophical thinking and on the Holy Qur’an, is that He wants humanity to be united around the truth, but not by force. He did not want us to be created as united people by force. He wants us to choose freely to be united. Unity is something that cannot come by force; it has to come by love. The Qur’an says: ‘And should their aversion be hard on you, find, if you can, a tunnel into the ground, or a ladder into sky, that you may bring them a sign. Had God wished, He would have brought them together on guidance. So do not be one of the ignorant.’ (6:35) Had he wanted he could have put all people together under His guidance. He helps us and guides us to move towards unity, He inspires us, but He does not force us to establish this unity. Therefore, God has done two things: 1. In creation, He has created us from the same mother and father. The fact that God is our creator should be enough for us to feel united, but on top of that God has created us from the same father and mother, and this should give us the sense of being from the same family. Even if we were not from the same mother and father we should have still been united as human beings created by God, but with the same mother and father we have more emotional feelings that we are all children of the same father and mother. 2. The Qur’an says the reason behind giving us different colours and languages and being in different nations and tribes is so that we know each other, and so that we gain mutual knowledge and recognition. If we all looked the same it would be boring. This diversity makes life better and makes the forging of relationships I Understanding God’s Plan islam today October 2016 11 easier, as you can identify who is who. If we all looked the same we would just need different fingerprints, and whenever you met someone all you would need to do is to check the fingerprint to identify with whom you are talking. This is the beauty of the colourful mosaic or carpet that we have – different colours in different places. But unfortunately some human beings did not get the message, and they thought God has created people in different colours for them to claim they are better than others and cleverer. Some philosophers even did not understand this and they justified slavery by saying that some people are physically stronger and some are intellectually stronger, but this was not the plan of God. His plan was for us to be one family with different colours, so that there is more beauty, and so that it is easier to identify with one another and have relationships.
When it comes to revelation, what we understand from God is that God has not sent prophets with different messages. To every nation He has sent messengers and these messengers have brought the same message. Perhaps the details are different, and it could be that there are some variations in the conditions in order to address different issues, but the essence is the same. One of the beautiful things we find in the Qur’an is the use of ‘book’ – we say ‘people of the book’ for Christians and Jews, and perhaps even Muslims are ‘people of the book’. This means we all believe in the need for divine guidance and revelation. In the Qur’an we have many verses in which God talks about the book in singular form, for example: ‘If they impugn you, those before them have impugned [likewise]: their apostles brought them manifest proofs, [holy] writs, and illuminating book.’ (35:25) This verse mentions not ‘books’, but ‘book’. But in some verses we have for example that Mary believed in all of the ‘books’ of God, or believers believe in all the ‘books’; so is it ‘books’ or ‘book’? My understanding is that God has sent one book but it has manifested to us in books; it is one book but different editions or versions of the same book. If you read these books carefully you will realise it is one book from one source, not different books. So the Qur’an says that God sent messengers and prophets to all nations and provided them with law after they started differing. There was revelation but then law came when they were divided. But, unfortunately, what happened was that the people who were given these messages and books to be saved from differences and conflicts started differing on the books; this means that there were differences before and also differences afterwards. For example, Islam brought unity. In Medina, there were tribes killing each other and they were tired of this. They invited the Prophet Muhammad to come to Medina to bring peace. The Prophet brought unity to them, but then after he died again there was disunity. This is unfortunately a common practice among human beings: God gives us something to unite us but after some time we learn how to fight over that unifying thing. Look at what happened in Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and all religions: first we have something that unites us then we start fighting about this unifying factor. A leader comes but then after he passes away people start fighting over what he was teaching them. God has a plan that we should be united but he does not force this; He keeps sending prophets and books calling for unity. The plan of God was not to have different religions but one religion and that is the submission to the absolute truth, beauty, and love; and that is one religion but we have given it different names. Then, even in the same religion we sometimes fight; we say ‘you are not Christian, I am a real Christian’, or ‘you are not Muslim, I am Muslim’ and we fight each other, kill one another, and excommunicate each other. Why is this so? We are all supposed to be believers in the same religion and that is submission to God, the absolute truth. Such a practice is going to continue, but finally this world will reach a point that we will be united by our will and not by force. This world will not end without us being united around truth. Who is going to be the pioneer to take humanity to this unity? This is something we can hope to be qualified for, if we work hard. And if we do not do this and our generation does not manage to achieve this then another people and another generation will. But it will definitely happen. Humanity will be united and at the end of time we will no longer have different religions, different schools, and different orientations. We will be able to understand how we all should really focus on God, the one absolute truth, and how we can love each other. I can learn from my prophet and from another person’s prophet and I can see beauty in all of them, and for us these things will be nothing but different signs of the same God and different manifestations of His. We need to move in that direction. What I have witnessed after so many years, and now it is perhaps nineteen years since we first met Focolare, is that I think the Focolare spirituality is a very important gift of God to move in that direction. And now, I think after nineteen or eighteen years, because since last year I have been saying this in public, I think with full trust that this is a right type of approach to unity. And now I know why these people are so nice – they are really and truly nice! These are people who have tried to empty themselves of ego; they do not have hidden or selfish agendas; they want to serve God by being the voice of unity and love. This is what makes the Focolare very special. Of course, thanks to God, I have seen other Christian and Muslim groups like this but for me Focolare are very special as I have spent more islam today October 2016 13 time with them and I have seen what they have done. So, whilst not denying or underestimating the efforts of other people, I can say with confidence that this is a movement that has been inspired and is helping us towards the direction of unity. When work for unity is done properly, by its very nature it is not be confined to any tradition or denomination or religion. It is impossible to work for unity and be just Catholic or Christian or Muslim or Shia or Sunni. Unity is such that if you work on it people will be happy to be with you; whereas if you stress on differences people will increasingly leave you. When we work on unity and on God Who belongs to everyone, then we will see more and more people coming to us. It is interesting, as we heard today, that even Chiara at the beginning did not feel this spirituality will be for people outside the Catholic Church, but then she gradually realised how the spirit is working, and this is something that started in Northern Italy with some Catholic girls but it is not going to remain there, and God will take it to other places. It is our responsibility to help this message spread and I think this is the message of all people who truly believe in God and the people who are well-informed about their faith, not ignorant or short-sighted or narrow-minded ones. Furthermore, any person who causes division, tension, conflict, or violence is someone who has not understood his faith. This is the least we can say, i.e. if there is no mischief in his heart then at least we can say there is ignorance. How can faith lead towards killing? How can belief in God bring tension, disorder, and conflict? It is impossible! Either the faith is not a real faith and is just a kind of mask to cover the reality or it is ignorance. True faith should always bring peace and unity to individuals, families, and local communities, as well as national and international stages. We have to build unity over unity. There is no way to confine unity to one space; unity spreads all over the world and we have to be voices and ambassadors for that.
I want to thank God again for this gift of knowing the Focolare movement and knowing my Focolare brothers and sisters, and I pray that our journey be inspired all the way by God so we can better understand and fulfil our responsibility towards this unity.
Thank you very much.
Video of Q&A session available below:
Islam Today issue 65 (Special Issue) is dedicated to the interfaith work undertaken by the Islamic Centre of England over the past few years. Download the full pdf here: