A-lastu bi-rabbikum’ – Am I not Your Master?
A newborn has no knowledge. The Almighty God decrees:
وَاللّهُأَخْرَجَكُم مِّن بُطُونِ أُمَّهَاتِكُمْ لاَ تَعْلَمُونَ شَيْئًا وَجَعَلَلَكُمُ الْسَّمْعَ وَالأَبْصَارَ وَالأَفْئِدَةَ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَشْكُرُون
“God brought you out of your mothers’ bellies, not knowing anything; and He gave you the listening, and the seeing, and the hearts; that you may give thanks.” (An-Nahl/The Bee; 16:78)
The Almighty God decrees as the following about those who ignore God’s verses :
الَّذِينَ يَنْقُضُونَ عَهْدَ اللَّهِ مِنْ بَعْدِ مِيثَاقِهِ وَيَقْطَعُونَ مَا أَمَرَ اللَّهُ بِهِ أَنْ يُوصَلَ وَيُفْسِدُونَ فِي الْأَرْضِ أُولَئِكَ هُمُ الْخَاسِرُونَ.
“The deviant are those who have violated the commitment they have made to God after it is covenanted, by cutting what God has commanded to be kept joined and causing corruption on the earth. They are the losers.” (Al-Baqarah/The Cow; 2:27)
The verse mentions a commitment we have made. Since we are born without knowing anything, we should learn when we made that covenant. The following verses add greater importance to the matter:
وَلَا تَكُونُوا كَالَّذِينَ تَفَرَّقُوا وَاخْتَلَفُوا مِنْ بَعْدِ مَا جَاءَهُمُ الْبَيِّنَاتُ وَأُولَئِكَ لَهُمْ عَذَابٌ عَظِيمٌ . يَوْمَ تَبْيَضُّ وُجُوهٌ وَتَسْوَدُّ وُجُوهٌ فَأَمَّا الَّذِينَ اسْوَدَّتْ وُجُوهُهُمْ أَكَفَرْتُمْ بَعْدَ إِيمَانِكُمْ فَذُوقُوا الْعَذَابَ بِمَا كُنْتُمْ
“Do not become like those who keep away (from those proofs) and cause conflict (with each other) after those clear proofs came to them. There is a great torment for them.
On the day when some faces will turn white and some will turn black, those whose faces turn black will be said: ‘Have you ignored (God’s verses) after you believed (in them)? So, taste that torment because you have been ignoring’.” (Al-e-Imran/Family of Imran; 3:105-106)
The word ‘kafir’, translated as ‘those who ignore’ are the people who ignore God’s verses although they clearly understand and know that they are truly God’s words. The verse tells that those who ignore God’s verses deserve the punishment because they have indeed ignored God. Although God calls such people ‘ignorers’, everyone has a faith that is sound according to their own criteria.
We learn from the following verses the time when faith in God is acquired and when people make a covenant with God:
وَإِذْ أَخَذَ رَبُّكَ مِنْ بَنِي اٰدَمَ مِنْ ظُهُورِهِمْ ذُرِّيَّتَهُمْ وَأَشْهَدَهُمْ عَلَى أَنْفُسِهِمْ أَلَسْتُ بِرَبِّكُمْ قَالُوا بَلَى شَهِدْنَا أَنْ تَقُولُوا يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ إِنَّا كُنَّا عَنْ هَذَا غَافِلِينَ. أَوْ تَقُولُوا إِنَّمَا أَشْرَكَ اٰبَاؤُنَا مِنْ قَبْلُ وَكُنَّا ذُرِّيَّةً مِنْ بَعْدِهِمْ أَفَتُهْلِكُنَا بِمَا فَعَلَ الْمُبْطِلُونَ. وَكَذٰلِكَ نُفَصِّلُ الْآَيَاتِ وَلَعَلَّهُمْ يَرْجِعُونَ.
“And when your Master took their offspring from the backs (dorsum) of children of Adam, and made them testify about themselves: “Am I not your Master?” They said, “Yes, we testify.” Thus you cannot say on the Day of Rising, “We were unaware of this.”
Nor can you say, “It was our fathers who joined others (with God) before, and we were their descendants who came after them; will you destroy us for what the vain doers did?”
And thus We elaborate the verses, so that they may return (to righteousness).” (Al-A’raf/The Elevated Place; 7:172-174)
This incident, commonly known as ‘a lastu birabbikum’ is the occurrence when human clearly recognizes and admits the existence and oneness of God. The verse informs that this incident occurs when the offspring of children of Adam are taken from their backs (dorsum).
Human makes observations even when a child and begins to notice that all beings have an owner and creator. Then he/she asks many questions to the people around him. At the end, he/she comprehends that the owner of all beings is God.
During his/her observations, it is as if God is asking: “Am I not your Master?”
And he/she replies firmly: “Yes, you are my Master and I testify this.”
“Offspring being taken from human’s back” is having the seeds that provide the reproduction of human. This is the stage when he/she is able to have a child, namely puberty. The covenant being made at this stage means that human makes a firm decision during puberty. Since observations are carried on until death, similar incidents recur. Therefore, every human being comprehends that God exists and is one, and He is the Creator of all beings, and there are no equals to Him.
It is God with whom people join others. A person who knows the existence and oneness of God cannot find an excuse for joining others with Him; so he cannot say the following in the hereafter:
أَوْ تَقُولُوا إِنَّمَا أَشْرَكَ اٰبَاؤُنَا مِنْ قَبْلُ وَكُنَّا ذُرِّيَّةً مِنْ بَعْدِهِمْ أَفَتُهْلِكُنَا بِمَا فَعَلَ الْمُبْطِلُونَ.
“It was our fathers who joined others before; and we were their descendants who came after them; will you destroy us for what the vain-doers did?” (Al-A’raf/The Elevated Place; 7:173)
Puberty is important in human’s life. Religious liability begins at this time. Even though fathers or others say the opposite, a human at the age of puberty witnesses that Allah is one and only; and He is the owner and Master of himself and all other beings. Some people reveal this, while some others only admit it in case of significant incidents. Most people suppose that this much of faith suffices him. This is a trick of Devil. The Almighty God decrees:
“Let not the Deluder (devil) delude you concerning God.” (Luqman 31:33)
The matter is in which order of priority God is placed in human’s life. Those who join others with God are those who place the God second. They deify either themselves or others, and place them in a position similar to God’s, since they do not want God to interfere with them. However, they all know that there is none similar to God. So they become of “Those, who break God’s covenant after it is vowed and cut what Allah has ordered to be joined.”
Since human owes everything to God, His commandments must be in the first order. What is ordered to be joined is this. If He is placed elsewhere, others that are placed between human and God disconnect human’s relation with Him. That makes human join others with God.
Qur’an includes examples for all. The Almighty God decrees:
“And We have certainly presented for the human in this Qur’an from every [kind of] example – that they may use their knowledge.” (Az-Zumar/The Companies 39:27)
The example of this issue is Abraham (p.b.u.h.). Following verses present how Abraham, a child brought up in a polytheist family, makes his decision about the oneness, power and authority of God:
وَإِذْ قَالَ إِبْرَاهِيمُ لِأَبِيهِ آزَرَ أَتَتَّخِذُ أَصْنَامًا آلِهَةً إِنِّي أَرَاكَ وَقَوْمَكَ فِي ضَلَالٍ مُبِينٍ . وَكَذَلِكَ نُرِي إِبْرَاهِيمَ مَلَكُوتَ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ وَلِيَكُونَ مِنَ الْمُوقِنِينَ . فَلَمَّا جَنَّ عَلَيْهِ اللَّيْلُ رَأَى كَوْكَبًا قَالَ هَذَا رَبِّي فَلَمَّا أَفَلَ قَالَ لَا أُحِبُّ الْآفِلِينَ. فَلَمَّا رَأَى الْقَمَرَ بَازِغًا قَالَ هَذَا رَبِّي فَلَمَّا أَفَلَ قَالَ لَئِنْ لَمْ يَهْدِنِي رَبِّي لَأَكُونَنَّ مِنَ الْقَوْمِ الضَّالِّينَ . فَلَمَّا رَأَى الشَّمْسَ بَازِغَةً قَالَ هَذَا رَبِّي هَذَا أَكْبَرُ فَلَمَّا أَفَلَتْ قَالَ يَا قَوْمِ إِنِّي بَرِيءٌ مِمَّا تُشْرِكُونَ. إِنِّي وَجَّهْتُ وَجْهِيَ لِلَّذِي فَطَرَ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضَ حَنِيفًا وَمَا أَنَا مِنَ الْمُشْرِكِينَ . وَحَاجَّهُ قَوْمُهُ قَالَ أَتُحَاجُّونِّي فِي اللَّهِ وَقَدْ هَدَانِ وَلَا أَخَافُ مَا تُشْرِكُونَ بِهِ إِلَّا أَنْ يَشَاءَ رَبِّي شَيْئًا وَسِعَ رَبِّي كُلَّ شَيْءٍ عِلْمًا أَفَلَا تَتَذَكَّرُونَ. وَكَيْفَ أَخَافُ مَا أَشْرَكْتُمْ وَلَا تَخَافُونَ أَنَّكُمْ أَشْرَكْتُمْ بِاللَّهِ مَا لَمْ يُنَزِّلْ بِهِ عَلَيْكُمْ سُلْطَانًا فَأَيُّ الْفَرِيقَيْنِ أَحَقُّ بِالْأَمْنِ إِنْ كُنْتُمْ تَعْلَمُونَ.
“Abraham said to his father Azar, “Do you take idols for gods? I see that you and your people are away from the correct path.”
The way we showed this (heresy), We showed Abraham the governance of the skies and the earth, that he would be among those who reach the certain knowledge.
Then, when the night outspread over him, he saw a star and said: This is my Master. But when it faded, he said: I don’t like things that fade.
Then, when he saw the moon shining, he said: This is my Master! But when it faded, he said: I will be among the people who have gone astray unless my Master guides me!
Then when he saw the sun shining, he said: This is my Master. This is the greatest of all. Then, when it faded, he said: Oh my people! I am away from whatever you join (with God).
I have turned my face straight to the One Who created the heavens and the earth.
And his people argued with him. He said, “Do you argue with me concerning Allah while He has guided me? And I fear not what you associate with Him. Nothing happens unless my Master prefers. My Master encompasses all things in knowledge; then will you not use your knowledge?
And why should I fear those you join with Him, and you do not fear joining others with God for which He sent down to you no evidence? Which side is more entitled to be secure, if you know?”” (Al-An’am/The Cattle 6:74-81)
Let’s re-consider the expression above:
“…and (God) made them testify about themselves: “Am I not your Master?” They said, “Yes, we testify.””
This sentence has the same meaning as the following expression of Abraham:
“The way we showed this (heresy), We showed Abraham the governance of the skies and the earth, that he would be among those who reach the certain knowledge.”
Abraham was not satisfied with his father’s idol. However, he was still under the influence of their belief. They used to worship celestial bodies and take stars and the moon as deities. Abraham observed them and decided that they could not be deities, saying:
“I will be among the people who have gone astray unless my Master guides me!”
What he calls “my Master” here is “God”. God was the major deity, and the others were minor deities. Although he had said so, he was still under the influence of the society’s wrong belief. Thus, “when he saw the sun shining, he said: This is my Master. This is the greatest of all.”
When the sun also disappeared, He was left with no doubt that there was no other deity, but God. The onwards paragraphs show that Abraham’s society also had no doubt about God and that they did not have a basis to deify other beings. This is the common case already. People do not serve other deities because they believe they are gods, but because they do not want to be ostracized from the society. One of Abraham’s words on this matter is:
وَقَالَ إِنَّمَا اتَّخَذْتُم مِّن دُونِ اللَّهِ أَوْثَانًا مَّوَدَّةَ بَيْنِكُمْفِي الْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا ثُمَّ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ يَكْفُرُ بَعْضُكُمبِبَعْضٍ وَيَلْعَنُ بَعْضُكُم بَعْضًا وَمَأْوَاكُمُ النَّارُوَمَا لَكُم مِّن نَّاصِرِينَ .
“And he said, “You have taken idols before God, as a bond of love among yourselves in the worldly life. But then, on the Day of Rising, you will disown one another, and renounce one another. Your refuge will be the Fire, and you will have no helpers.”” (Al-Ankaboot/The Spider; 29:25)