Have you ever thought about whether God is close or far? Where exactly is God?
Our Christian friends, at least some of them, will say that God lives inside of them and so they feel a close attachment to God. How do Muslims feel? Do we feel that God is too far away and that we can't reach Him?
Sometimes we see problems occurring on earth. We see sin, crime, and cruelty, and we wonder, where is God in all of this? Let's look into the Quran to see what the Quran says about the closeness of God to human beings.
The Quran shows us that God is very close to us. God is always watchful and attentive to everything we do and say, and apart from the fact that angels are set to be recording whatever we say, God is shown to be quite closely aware. He knows all things that He's informed about. More than this, in the second chapter of the Quran, in the 186 verse, we read, “(Prophet), When my servants ask you about me, say I am near. I answer the call of whoever is supplicating towards me. So let them respond to me and believe in me so that they may be rightly guided” (2:186). Incidentally, this verse is in the middle of another verse, dealing with the task of fasting during the month of Ramadan. We may infer from this that there is a close relationship between fasting and closeness to God. This verse is assuring us that we are very close to God and that God is very close to us. He's responding to our prayers.
In the eighth chapter of the Quran, in the 24th verse, we read a passage that says that God is in some way between a human being and the heart of that human being. If we speak about God being internal to us, we get the sense that in the Muslim understanding and theology, God is transcendent. He's not imminent in the world. The world is separate and distinct from the almighty God who is transcendent.
Here, however, we are assured that despite that transcendence of God, He is nonetheless close to human beings -- close enough that He can be described as hovering between a human being and that human being's heart. In Quran 50:16, we read that God is closer to a human being than that human being's jugular vein. So we should not think of God as being so far as to be unreachable. We should think of God as being close by and understand that He's paying attention to what we say and do. We can always reach out to God as our creator, as our fashioner, our supporter. In some way, we can also see God as our friend, without being disrespectful and without taking anything away from the majesty of God with which we should stand before God.
Now, how do we get closer to God? One way is by fasting during the month of Ramadan. We read in a hadith that when we fast the reward for that is God Himself. The hadith says that God will give the reward. One way of interpreting it is that God Himself will be the reward. I am going to give the reward or I would be the reward for it. When we are fasting, we are aware that we are fasting for the sake of God. No one else matters. We could be in our privacy but still maintaining the rules of fasting because we know that it is between us and God.
We can also draw closer to God by voluntary actions. The Hadith says that when we do voluntary deeds for the sake of God, we draw closer and closer to God until God becomes the hands with which we touch and the feet with which we walk. Thus, he almost becomes the limbs of our body, in a symbolic way to mean that whatever we are doing with our limbs is going to be in harmony with the good pleasure of God.
More generally, doing things for the good pleasure of God helps us draw closer to Him. The Quran says, for example, that the believers feed the needy for the sake of the face of God. The hadith says that God is going to ask people on the Day of Judgment, “Why didn't you feed Me when I was hungry?” The people will say, “You are the creator of the world. How could You have been hungry?” God will reply, “Didn't you know that a servant of mine was hungry? Don't you realize that had you fed them, you would've been feeding Me?” That shows that we can achieve this closeness to God by taking care of the poor and the needy, which is one of the traits we try to cultivate during the month of Ramadan.
During this month, let us all try to get closer and closer to God. One of the bases for doing that is by repenting. One way of speaking of repenting in Arabic is returning to God. In the Quran 24:31, God says, “Return all of you together to God, believers you are.” By returning to God He means asking God for the forgiveness of our sins. All of these are ways in which we can draw closer and closer to God. Let's do that today. Let's do it for the rest of Ramadan and the rest of life.