Quranic Reflection No. 450. Āyat 41:23 – Assumptions about God

وَذَٰلِكُمْ ظَنُّكُمُ الَّذِي ظَنَنتُم بِرَبِّكُمْ أَرْدَاكُمْ

wadhālikum zannukumul-ladhī zanantum birabbikum ardākum
That thought which you assumed about your Lord ruined you
(Sūrat al-Fussilat, No 41, Āyat 23)

The human being’s assumption about Almighty God colors all parts of his relationship with Him. It affects beliefs, spirituality, and actions. When there is positive thinking about God there is a lot of inner peace and satisfaction, motivation and energy. But negative assumptions about God bring about inner disharmony and feelings of anxiety and loneliness. They can also lead to a nullification of deeds, leading to loss of this world and the Hereafter.

Imam al-Sādiq ‘alayhis salām when explaining the above verse said: A believer should fear Allah as though he were beside the Fire, and he should have hope in Allah as though he were from the people of Heaven. Because Allah the Almighty has said, ‘That thought which you entertained about your Lord ruined you’ (Imam recited the above verse). Then Imam continued: Allah is with His servants according to their assumptions about Him, if good then the result is good, and if evil then the result is evil (Tafsīr Majma‘ al-Bayān).

In another Hadith of Imam al-Sādiq (a) quoting from the Holy Prophet sallal-lāhu ‘alayhi wa-ālhi wasallam he says: When the last person will be ordered to be put into Hell (on the Day of Judgment) he will suddenly start to look around. Allah will order that he be stopped. Then he will be asked, ‘Why did you look around? What command were you waiting for?’ The person will reply ‘This is not what I had assumed about You.’ He will be told ‘What had you assumed about Me?’ The person will say ‘I had assumed that You will forgive me my sins and will give me a place in Your Heaven.’ Allah will then announce ‘O my angels, I swear by My Might and Honor, My blessings and My elevated status, this servant of mine never had a good assumption about me. If he had thought good about me anytime I would have not sent him to Hell. But even though he is lying, accept his claim of good assumption and take him to Heaven.’ The Prophet (s) continued, ‘There is no servant of Allah who assumes good about Him except that Allah acts with him accordingly.’ Then the Prophet (s) recited the above verse – That thought which you entertained about your Lord (Tafsīr-e Namūneh).

The assumption being referred to in this verse which led to the ruin of the assumers is that Allah subhānahu wata‘ālā was not aware of all that they did. This false assumption incited them to ignore the commands of God and sin. Apart from this assumption, there are many types of false assumptions that a human being can have about God. These include:
1. To despair of the mercy of Allah – Indeed no one despairs of Allah’s mercy except those who have no faith (Q 12:87).
2. To believe that God controls the human being completely – The polytheists will say, ‘Had Allah wished we would not have ascribed any partner [to Him], nor our fathers, nor would we have forbidden anything.’  Those who were before them had denied likewise until they tasted Our punishment. Say, ‘Do you have any knowledge that you can produce before us? You follow nothing but conjectures, and you do nothing but surmise’ (Q 6:148).
3. To think the world has been created without a purpose – We did not create the sky and the earth and whatever is between them in vain. That is a conjecture of those who have no faith (Q 38:27).
4. Having doubts of receiving sustenance – There is no moving creature on the earth but that its sustenance lies with Allah (Q 11:6).
5. Being miserly – Imam Ali ‘alayhis salām says: Miserliness with what is in the hands is a negative assumption about God (Ghurar al-Hikam, H. 6512).
6. Not marrying due to fear of poverty – If they are poor, Allah will enrich them out of His grace, and Allah is all-bounteous, all-knowing (Q 24:32)

Be careful about the assumptions you have about God. Let this verse remind you of the importance of staying away from negative assumptions about God. Although we may theoretically believe that God is watching us, our practical assumption – manifested in our willingness to ignore His commands and sin – may be that He does not. It is important that our assumption be correct, both theoretically and practically.

Sources: Shaykh Tabarsī, Tafsīr Majma‘ al-Bayān; Āyatullāh Nāsir Makārim Shirāzī (Ed.), Tafsīr-e Namūneh; Agha Muhsīn Qarā’ati, Tafsīr Nur; https://hawzah.net/fa/LifeStyle/View/47564/