Many of you will know these verses I’m about to read as a song, but the words were written well over 100 years ago and the tune has only recently been added. The song is entitled Amazing Grace and the words were written by a man who was an atheist before he had personal experience of the existence and Grace of God. He was a slave trader and used to ship Negroes from Africa to the Caribbean and the Southern United States of America.
It was during one of these voyages that his life was to change completely. Carrying a cargo of slaves from Africa, his ship encountered storm conditions in the Atlantic, so much so that the vessel was in imminent danger of sinking and with no hope of rescue and death staring him in the face, he realised that there was no one to help him, so he started to pray. He sobbingly prayed with such fervent passion. He told God that if He did exist then he most humbly begged Him to save him and all those on board from certain and imminent death. He promised that if he was saved then he would abandon forever his employment in the slave trade and would seek to abolish it from Western civilisation.
Whether or not the man saw a vision or an angel, by the Grace of God, he was somehow comforted and all his anxieties were to disappear, as the ship and all on board were saved from destruction.
He truly believed in God from that moment on and he kept his promises. In all matters he turned to God for help and comfort and realised that there was a life after death as he reflects in the poem that even after ten thousand years he would sing God’s praises no less than the day he first believed.
The words of the poem are:-
Amazing Grace how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me,
I once was lost, but now I’m found, was blind, but now I see.
Twas Grace that taught my heart to fear, and Grace my fear relieved,
How precious did that Grace appear, the hour I first believed.
Through many dangers, toils and snares, we have already come,
Twas Grace that brought us safe thus far, and Grace will lead us home.
When we’ve been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise, than when we first begun.
How many times have we heard someone who professes to be an atheist or agnostic say ‘O, my God’, when something awful happens to themselves or others. I’m sure that when tragedy stares a person in the face, he or she feels so weak and powerless to escape from such circumstances. It is in this state that they turn to God. There are a number of verses in the Holy Qur’an which refer to these types of people and I’m sure at one time or another we have all been in such circumstances.
In the instance of this man in the ship, the Holy Qur’an states:-
Say, “Who delivers you from the calamities of the land and sea, when you call upon Him in humility and in secret saying, ‘If He delivers us from this we will surely be of those who are grateful’?” (6:64)
The important words in this verse are humility and secret. God always responds to a persons prayer when they are done in secret and especially when they are most sincere, humble and truthful.
This slave trader realised the true Majesty and Power of God. He realised that he had been so foolish and had deprived himself of reaping the Blessings of God all his life. God had saved him from death as a disbeliever and he vowed that whatever remained of his life he would devote it to winning the pleasure and love of God. He vowed, as the verse says, ‘to be of those who are grateful.’ This man was quite exceptional as most people when they ask for God’s help and receive it, completely forget about the One who saved them and identify their good fortune to their own power, intelligence or wealth. The Holy Qur’an also refers to these types of people and states:-
‘And when harm touches you on the sea, all those whom you call upon, except Him, become lost to you. But when He brings you safe to land, you turn aside; and man is very ungrateful.’ (17:68)
Such is in the nature of men that when they are in distress they become humble and pray to God, promising to lead a virtuous life if they were to regain their lost peace of mind. But when God helps them and the danger is over, they are as arrogant and boastful as ever.
This verse is also a warning for Muslims, that they should not forget God in their days of prosperity so that He may not forget them in their time of adversity. In other words, we should not wait until we are in dire straits before we pray to God.
The words, ‘How precious did that Grace appear, the hour I first believed.’ reminded me of how I found true peace of mind and soul. It seemed that my soul had been re-united with something valuable which had been lost and had been found again after a long time. That something precious was, by the Grace of God, the realisation of the purpose of my existence; that there was and is a living God, not a man as I had been led to believe, but an All Powerful, Loving and Merciful God, of whom I was able to communicate without any intermediary through prayer.
When you first come to know and believe in God and try to carry out that which He expects you to do, He showers so many blessing upon you that they are not possible to count. Your fears and worries soon disappear because you come to realise that He will protect and guide you all your life if your intentions and sincerity are honourable. Your life will not always be a ‘bed of roses’ because a believer in God will always be tried and tested. However as this man realised when he said:-
‘Through many dangers, toils and snares, we have already come, Twas Grace that brought us safe this far, and Grace will lead us home’, God will always look after and protect you in ways you could never imagine. It is only a foolish person who thinks that because they have accepted God they will not suffer from any trial. Look at the life of any prophet, especially the Holy Prophet (saw). He was and is nearer to God than any mortal, yet he had to undergo all manner of tests and trials more than any other person who has ever lived. Yet, even at the point of death his dying words were:-
‘To the Blessed Companionship on High; to the Blessed Companionship on High.’
Never, for one moment, did he forget God. He was his true and humble servant at all times and did not for one moment blame God for any misfortune that befell him. This is the same for all prophets and their Khalifas. The Fourth Khalifa of Ahmadiyyat Muslim Community, Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad (rh) had to migrate from Pakistan, he left his beloved homeland, his home his family and friends and came to London. At the time many people, including some Ahmadies, thought that it was a serious body blow for the advancement of Ahmadiyyat. How wrong they were. Far from a serious body blow it was a great blessing. The effect of Huzoor’s migration proved to be most beneficial for the Community as a whole.
We should look closely at these most righteous people and try to emulate their way of life. God will never forsake them, on the contrary He will always protect and bless them. Remembrance of God and working in the cause of a Godly Community is never a burden, it is a great blessing. It all depends on intention and sincerity. In the spiritual life as well as physical life, lack of effort will not produce good results nor should any be expected. For instance, we would not expect any wages for work that we have not done or completed, nor would an employer be legally bound to pay such wages.
Our main purpose in life therefore is to seek and win the Pleasure of God. We can achieve this with effort. The more you put into something, the more will be available to you.
The sentiments expressed in the poem by this man bear out the need for people to become aware of God. His prayers were accepted by God and God became his True Friend, his True Love and his True Guide. He remained totally loyal to God and God remained totally loyal to him. Who could possibly ask for or seek a greater friend. A verse in the Holy Qur’an states:-
Allah is the friend of those who believe: He brings them out of darkness into light. And those who disbelieve, their friends are the transgressors who bring them out of light into darkness. These are the inmates of the Fire; therein shall they abide. (2:258)
The religion of Islam not only brings light to practising Muslims, it also brings them success and happiness. Islam is the religion that brings about a transformation and God realisation in man. May Almighty God grant us the ability to bring about not only a transformation in our own lives, but a world-wide transformation of the whole of mankind, Ameen.
– By Bilal Atkinson