People have an interesting fascination with con artists, so much so that their stories have generated billions from captivated audiences who get a thrill from seeing the lengths individuals go to in order to trick and deceive others. Most recently Netflix made a limited series based on the real-life con artist Anna Sorokin who from 2013 to 2017 pretended to be a wealthy German heiress under the name Anna Delvey in order to defraud banks, hotels, and wealthy acquaintances. In 2019, she was convicted for her crimes and later received over $350k from Netflix to obtain the rights to her story, which was promptly seized by the courts as part of the restitution to her victims. But in addition to this, we have movies like The Wolf of Wall Street which is based on another real-life con artist by the name of Jordan Belfort who sold fraudulent securities to unwise investors. Interestingly enough this movie about a con artist was largely financed in the tune of $100M by another real-life con artist by the name of Jho Low, who scammed billions from the Malaysian sovereign wealth fund 1MDB.
But what is it about con artists and their scams that make them so captivating? I think this is because this narrative is engrained in our history of being a human. That this is a tale that resonates so well with us because we can all relate to this story even before our arrival here on Earth. And to understand this we need to go back to the very first con artist in history, that of Satan. When God created our parents Adam and Eve and placed them in Paradise, He gave them a single command: to not approach this one tree.
One has to ask why would God have created such a tree in Paradise if the only purpose according to Adam and Eve was to not approach it. Wouldn’t have been easier to have not placed such a tree there and therefore the two could stay in Paradise without fear of being evicted?
A system that God utilizes for His creations is whatever innermost belief we have, God is going to create the conditions to bring out that conviction. For instance, God saw the arrogance and rebelliousness in the heart of Satan, so God created a scenario to bring out Satan’s true convictions. So Satan can see for himself why he was exiled from God. If God simply kicked out Satan then there would have been confusion among Satan and the other entities why God would have done such a thing, but by bringing Satan’s innermost thoughts to the surface there is no doubt why Satan ended up where he did by simply observing his actions.
Similarly, for Adam and Eve, God knew that there was a deficiency in their hearts so God created a scenario whereby their hidden evil will be exposed. But does God do this just to rub our noses in our deficiencies? No, God does this so that the reverent can learn from their mistakes and rectify their souls. Notice both Adam and Satan fell from grace by defying God’s commandments. In the case of Satan by not falling prostrate when commanded, and in the case of Adam by approaching the tree. Yet despite both of them falling and exposing their deficiency notice that Adam repented and reformed, while Satan doubled down on his arrogance. So while this scenario strengthened one allowing them to draw closer to God, it only repelled the other further away from God.
So back to Satan’s con, notice that God did not provide Adam and his wife a reason or justification for not approaching this tree. This was an essential part of Satan’s trap because a con always plays off the emotions of someone to try to obtain what they don’t have and in order to do this scarcity must be created. But there is also another motive that is utilized to deploy a successful con which is providing a person with confidence and certainty.
People are attracted towards people who have confidence people who have certainty. This is where the term “con man” or “con artist” comes from. It is a shortening of the term “confidence” man. Because it is through confidence that individuals are able to be swindled others, just like Satan did to Adam and Eve.
The devil offered Adam and Eve two things through his con. The first was that the devil offered them something that was scarce, the one thing in all of paradise that was off-limits. Secondly, the devil offered them confidence by providing them a reason as to why the commandment was given, and since they did not have a competing hypothesis they accepted the information.
[7:19] “As for you, Adam, dwell with your wife in Paradise, and eat therefrom as you please, but do not approach this one tree, lest you fall in sin.”
Through this command, God created both scarcity and doubt which was essential for Satan to be able to carry through with his con, firstly for making the tree prohibited and secondly for offering no reason for this commandment. This gave just enough wiggle room for Satan to pull off his scheme.
[7:20] The devil whispered to them, in order to reveal their bodies, which were invisible to them. He said, “Your Lord did not forbid you from this tree, except to prevent you from becoming angels, and from attaining eternal existence.” [7:21] He swore to them, “I am giving you good advice.”
Satan exploits this by providing them access to this scarce resource and confidence that he knew the reason for this prohibition and swearing to them that he is giving good advice.
[7:22] He thus duped them with lies. As soon as they tasted the tree, their bodies became visible to them, and they tried to cover themselves with the leaves of Paradise. Their Lord called upon them: “Did I not enjoin you from that tree, and warn you that the devil is your most ardent enemy?”
Satan exploited this vulnerability that the human being has, and this same trick that is being utilized on billions even today.
Humans have a deficiency that we are not comfortable not knowing. If something is not disclosed to us we very quickly begin making up all kinds of theories to the reasons and motivations. This is in stark contrast to the angels. This is apparent to the angel’s response when presented with Adam and commanded to fall prostrate
[2:30] Recall that your Lord said to the angels, “I am placing a representative (a temporary god) on Earth.” They said, “Will You place therein one who will spread evil therein and shed blood, while we sing Your praises, glorify You, and uphold Your absolute authority?” He said, “I know what you do not know.” [2:31] He taught Adam all the names then presented them to the angels, saying, “Give Me the names of these, if you are right.” [2:32] They said, “Be You glorified, we have no knowledge, except that which You have taught us. You are the Omniscient, Most Wise.” [2:33] He said, “O Adam, tell them their names.” When he told them their names, He said, “Did I not tell you that I know the secrets of the heavens and the earth? I know what you declare, and what you conceal.” [2:34] When we said to the angels, “Fall prostrate before Adam,” they fell prostrate, except Satan; he refused, was too arrogant, and a disbeliever.
Notice that Satan was the only one who refused when given this commandment. This is because Satan has the same deficiency as the human which is if he doesn’t understand something he is willing to object and rebel against a command even if it is from God. Consider the example of the Children of Israel and the commandment they were given to sacrifice a heifer and their objections to carrying out what they were told.
It is this lack of information and their senseless speculation that causes people to fall for such cons. But it is one thing to be conned out of money, but another thing to be conned out of our souls. These are the worst kinds of con artists.
Many are familiar with the religious con artists who guarantee their followers salvation if they follow them and give to them from their money and wealth. Yet they use the billions they earn only to fulfill their luxurious lifestyles and leave their followers hopeless, broke, and lost. One of the most famous of this kind of con artist was a person by the name of Jimmy Swaggart who had millions of followers generating hundreds of millions of dollars for himself, only to fall from grace when he was busted for numerous encounters with prostitutes. Ironically enough, in a famous debate with Ahmed Deedat, he claimed that proof that his message was the word of God was the fact that he was a perfect human being.
[63:4] When you see them, you may be impressed by their looks. And when they speak, you may listen to their eloquence. They are like standing logs. They think that every call is intended against them. These are the real enemies; beware of them. GOD condemns them; they have deviated.
وَإِذَا رَأَيْتَهُمْ تُعْجِبُكَ أَجْسَامُهُمْ وَإِنْ يَقُولُوا تَسْمَعْ لِقَوْلِهِمْ كَأَنَّهُمْ خُشُبٌ مُسَنَّدَةٌ يَحْسَبُونَ كُلَّ صَيْحَةٍ عَلَيْهِمْ هُمُ الْعَدُوُّ فَاحْذَرْهُمْ قَاتَلَهُمُ اللَّهُ أَنَّىٰ يُؤْفَكُونَ
[9:34] O you who believe, many religious leaders and preachers take the people’s money illicitly, and repel from the path of GOD. Those who hoard the gold and silver, and do not spend them in the cause of GOD, promise them a painful retribution.
يَاأَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا إِنَّ كَثِيرًا مِنَ الْأَحْبَارِ وَالرُّهْبَانِ لَيَأْكُلُونَ أَمْوَالَ النَّاسِ بِالْبَاطِلِ وَيَصُدُّونَ عَنْ سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ وَالَّذِينَ يَكْنِزُونَ الذَّهَبَ وَالْفِضَّةَ وَلَا يُنْفِقُونَهَا فِي سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ فَبَشِّرْهُمْ بِعَذَابٍ أَلِيمٍ
These people are like the Samarian who took the people’s wealth and molded it into a calf for them to worship. But there is also the other kind of con artist who swindles people out of their souls and these are the atheist con artist who convinces people that there is no God, that there is no good and no evil, that we are only here in this world for a finite time and when we die there is no Hereafter.
What is it about these con artists that captivates so many people such that they are willing to give up their souls over it? What these people provide is a sense of certainty. When individuals see someone unabashedly make a proclamation and believe it with such conviction they are drawn to it. People love to follow individuals who are confident and certain. They are mesmerized by their ability for being able to be so black and white on every topic. In a world full of ambiguity and doubt having someone who tells you that they can tell you the absolute reason for any question you have either that you are meant to suffer to draw closer to God, or that you are meant to suffer because their is no God people will blindly accept it so they can put their anxiety to rest.
God provides us lessons in the Quran that things are going to happen in our life that are not going to make sense. This is best depicted in the history of Moses and his teacher, who carried out acts that Moses objected to because he could not comprehend. But in addition to things in life, there are things in the Quran that are not going to make sense either e.g. why is the meat of pigs contaminated and prohibited to be eaten? How exactly are we making contact with God when we do Salat? Why do we have to recite the Fateah in Arabic during our Salat? Why are the units of Salat for dawn, noon, afternoon, sunset, and night 2, 4, 4, 3, 4? If God is doing everything how do I have free will? We can go on with the endless questions, but God gives us a general answer to these kinds of questions:
[5:101] O you who believe, do not ask about matters which, if revealed to you prematurely, would hurt you. If you ask about them in light of the Quran, they will become obvious to you. GOD has deliberately overlooked them. GOD is Forgiver, Clement.
يَاأَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا لَا تَسْأَلُوا عَنْ أَشْيَاءَ إِنْ تُبْدَ لَكُمْ تَسُؤْكُمْ وَإِنْ تَسْأَلُوا عَنْهَا حِينَ يُنَزَّلُ الْقُرْآنُ تُبْدَ لَكُمْ عَفَا اللَّهُ عَنْهَا وَاللَّهُ غَفُورٌ حَلِيمٌ
Satan uses these questions and the doubt they may cause as a way to dupe individuals into understandings that create contradictions in God’s system. He provides them with understandings that despite being wrong sound right just like they did for Adam and Eve in Paradise. These understandings only sow discord and division among the believers and cause infighting and secretarianism.
[3:66] You have argued about things you knew; why do you argue about things you do not know? GOD knows, while you do not know.
(٦٦) هَاأَنْتُمْ هَٰؤُلَاءِ حَاجَجْتُمْ فِيمَا لَكُمْ بِهِ عِلْمٌ فَلِمَ تُحَاجُّونَ فِيمَا لَيْسَ لَكُمْ بِهِ عِلْمٌ وَاللَّهُ يَعْلَمُ وَأَنْتُمْ لَا تَعْلَمُونَ
Rather than accepting there are certain questions that we do not have answers to because God did not provide them people want to extrapolate understandings. A lesson from Jesus is to be okay admitting there are certain things we do not know, and just like the angels we hear and we obey.
[5:116] GOD will say, “O Jesus, son of Mary, did you say to the people, ‘Make me and my mother idols beside GOD’?” He will say, “Be You glorified. I could not utter what was not right. Had I said it, You already would have known it. You know my thoughts, and I do not know Your thoughts. You know all the secrets.
وَإِذْ قَالَ اللَّهُ يَاعِيسَى ابْنَ مَرْيَمَ أَأَنْتَ قُلْتَ لِلنَّاسِ اتَّخِذُونِي وَأُمِّيَ إِلَٰهَيْنِ مِنْ دُونِ اللَّهِ قَالَ سُبْحَانَكَ مَا يَكُونُ لِي أَنْ أَقُولَ مَا لَيْسَ لِي بِحَقٍّ إِنْ كُنْتُ قُلْتُهُ فَقَدْ عَلِمْتَهُ تَعْلَمُ مَا فِي نَفْسِي وَلَا أَعْلَمُ مَا فِي نَفْسِكَ إِنَّكَ أَنْتَ عَلَّامُ الْغُيُوبِ
God has provided us everything we need for our salvation in the Quran. This means that we should be content with the information God gave us and not attempt to overextrapolate to what is not there, and implore God to increase our knowledge so we can either grow in understanding or learn to be content not knowing.
[20:114] Most Exalted is GOD, the only true King. Do not rush into uttering the Quran before it is revealed to you, and say, “My Lord, increase my knowledge.”
(١١٤) فَتَعَالَى اللَّهُ الْمَلِكُ الْحَقُّ وَلَا تَعْجَلْ بِالْقُرْآنِ مِنْ قَبْلِ أَنْ يُقْضَىٰ إِلَيْكَ وَحْيُهُ وَقُلْ رَبِّ زِدْنِي عِلْمًا
Once we confirm that the scripture is true, then we simply submit to God and trust what He has told us through His scripture. This requires us to be patient for God to reveal these answers or be at peace if God chooses not to.
[21:37] The human being is impatient by nature. I will inevitably show you My signs; do not be in such a hurry.
(٣٧) خُلِقَ الْإِنْسَانُ مِنْ عَجَلٍ سَأُرِيكُمْ آيَاتِي فَلَا تَسْتَعْجِلُونِ
The word Islam has two meanings. The first is Submission and the second is Peace. My understanding from this is that the only way we will have true peace is by submitting to God. So first comes submission then God will provide our hearts with peace.
[10:57] O people, enlightenment has come to you herein from your Lord, and healing for anything that troubles your hearts, and guidance, and mercy for the believers.
(٥٧) يَاأَيُّهَا النَّاسُ قَدْ جَاءَتْكُمْ مَوْعِظَةٌ مِنْ رَبِّكُمْ وَشِفَاءٌ لِمَا فِي الصُّدُورِ وَهُدًى وَرَحْمَةٌ لِلْمُؤْمِنِينَ