#1 in the forthcoming Ramadan Series…RAMADAN KAREEM! May we make the most of every minute of every day during this blessed month, for we know not if we will live to see another one… may we maintain the good behaviours we adopt during this holy month throughout the years..may we also practice humility and empathy and as we fast, may we be mindful of the millions who don’t have the option of breaking their fasts as the sun sets…
All is from Allah … and a little from Abdullah
Excerpted from “The Inner Journey” essay by Carol Ring.
Kullu min Allah… u’shwaya min Abdullah. (All is from Allah… and a little from Abdullah.)
The first part of this saying is frequently spoken by elder Bedouin, usually in cases of misfortune, and is accompanied by a shrug of the shoulders. All is from Allah: fortune and adversity, joy and suffering, life and death. All is determined, all is written. There is an Intelligence at work that keeps this vast universe in order and determines the role and path of each particle of its infinitude. Like the cells in a body, we live and die in service of something incomparably larger.
And yet, we have become an odd type of cell that believes unshakably in its own existence as apart from the whole. Today, the “Kullu min Allah” view seems quaintly fatalistic and a disclaimer of personal responsibility. We have come to value above all else our power and our right to determine, if not the outcome of what we do, at least the direction and content of our lives. We believe firmly that we form our own fate. If things seem to go contrary to our wishes, it is because we have not been vocal enough in asserting them, or strong enough to conquer obstacles.
We are not ones to trust in blind forces, and certainly not in any divine representatives of those forces.
If “Kullu min Allah” were the whole story-and until about the end of the Middle Ages it seemed to be the whole story-the only empowerment that could manifest in our lives would come through the all-powerful One, and, on a lesser scale, through His representatives on earth: kings, priests, and other beings high in the hierarchy. When these were true representatives and their moral influence spread throughout society, the earth flourished, and presumably humankind’s suffering was alleviated (although a large part of our suffering seems to be inevitable, no matter how well the earth is yielding). But slowly humanity removed the crown from the hierarchy and placed it on its own head, giving consummate authority first to human will, and then eventually to human impulses, unhampered by either reason or conscience. And so, from the old belief in fate and invisible forces, we have swung around to a belief in ourselves as the sole force at work in the universe.
Throughout the ages the debate on fate versus free will has been ongoing, and each tradition has had its say on the way things work. Most have struck a wise compromise, giving the individual a chance to improve his or her lot by doing good while leaving fate in place for the big questions. But the compromise suggested by “and a little bit from Abdullah”-an addition uttered after an appropriate pause, and in a lower voice, generally by younger Bedouin-is particularly apt for all of us. First of all, it gets the relationship right. Everything is from Allah–not most things, not only the important things or the good things, but Everything. The grandeur and omnipotence of the Invisible retain their priority: we are under the influence of forces that we neither control nor see, but we have our place as an integral part of the whole. But though everything is still determined from above and perfect submission is our role, there is the addition of “a little bit” that is our own theater of action. It is as if the Everything expands just a little and makes room for a personal effort, which still remains part of the All. The exact nature of the little bit is not specified; each can project his own understanding.
And who does this little bit? Abdullah. The name is a joining of two words, “abd” and “Allah,” and means “servant of God.” It is not just any one of the myriad personages that inhabit our bodies who is called upon to contribute his share, but the part of us that truly tries to serve something higher.
It is difficult to know whether or not our lives have been determined in advance, whether it is foretold where and when we will be born, when and how we will die, and what we will do in the interim. Some believe, some guess, and some ignore the question. It is even more difficult to stand at one of life’s many crossroads, or even one of the little alleyways that are always running across our paths, and wait one second before turning left or right. Is there someone steering the course? Is it the winds of fate or only a momentary impulse? Perhaps it is Abdullah who holds the compass.
Carol Ring has a doctorate in Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Pennsylvania. She lives and works in the hills of Galilee.