Cosmic Cop or Loving Lord? The Influence of Parenting on Our View of God, Submission, and Contentment

Published: June 20, 2023 • Updated: September 5, 2023

Authors: Dr. Osman Umarji and Dr. Hassan Elwan

بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمٰنِ الرَّحِيْمِ

In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.


One of the most foundational Islamic beliefs is the acknowledgment of Allah’s sovereignty. Sovereignty refers to Allah’s absolute ownership, power, and supreme authority over the universe. Allah refers to Himself as ‘the Owner of Sovereignty’ (Mālik al-mulk), and Sūrat al-Mulk begins with the proclamation, “Blessed is He in whose hand is all sovereignty.”
“Indeed, your Lord is Allah, who created the heavens and earth in six days and then established Himself above the throne. He covers the night with the day, which is in haste to follow it; and the sun, the moon, and the stars are subservient to His command. Unquestionably, to Him belongs the creation and the command; blessed is Allah, Lord of the worlds.”
As the absolutely sovereign, Allah creates what He wills and commands as He desires. Thus, His sovereignty includes universal decrees (awāmir kawniyya) and legal commands (awāmir sharʿīyya). Universal decrees refer to Allah simply saying “Be” to bring something into existence, whether an object or an event. We generally have no choice regarding the occurrence of His universal decrees. Allah’s legal commands, meanwhile, inform us of what to engage in and what to refrain from. We have been given the volition to obey or disobey these legal commands. Allah’s sovereignty to create and command is not intellectually difficult for people to understand, but it can be psychospiritually difficult for them to accept. Just as people object to trying turns in life, from the loss of a job to a decline in health, so too do people sometimes object to God’s legal commands—such as inheritance laws or the prohibition of interest—and refuse to follow them unless they understand their underlying wisdom.
Why do some people accept Allah’s sovereignty intellectually, but not spiritually?  Why do they struggle to surrender to His decrees and commands? This spiritual struggle, which we refer to as submission reluctance, manifests in such responses to hardship as “Why did God do this to me? I don’t deserve this,” or, “Why did God allow that evil thing to happen?” Although asking ‘why’ out of a desire to better appreciate the situation is understandable; what we are referring to here are questions rooted in anger or resentment. The angels asked Allah why He would create humanity, but they asked out of curiosity, not hostility.

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We believe that at the core of submission reluctance is a distortion in people’s perceptions of Allah. A distorted image of God fosters misunderstandings of the intent behind His commands and decrees, and subsequently rebellion. In this paper, our aim is to unpack how divergent understandings of God develop and, in turn, impact our worship, surrender to Him, and religious doubts.

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