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( Excerpt from "Living Islam – East & West" )
By: Shaykh Fadhlalla Haeri
Everyone is accountable.
Nay! Man is evidence against himself, Though he puts forth his excuses. (75:14-15)
We may give excuses, but we want to know Allah and it is Allah's promise that we will come to know Him. We will see nothing other than Allah, and this is the inner meaning of "There is no god but Allah."
The believer is always inwardly content with the Decree of Allah. Outwardly he is enslaved, doing his utmost with as pure an intention as he can possibly muster. A prophetic hadith relates that, "All actions are according to the intentions behind them and every individual receives what he intended." The message of Islam is simple, clear and direct.
Islam was spread by those who lived it, whose lives and actions reflected it; not by preaching, threatening or haranguing, nor by destruction. It was propagated by people who behaved totally in unison with their Creator's laws. Following in the footsteps of the Prophet, they were correct first with themselves, then with their families, then with their neighbors. A prophetic hadith relates that the near ones are more deserving of one's love. First,
one has mercy upon oneself. By doing so, one will see the Beneficent and will recognize His mercy. Then, one moves on to those closest: one's family, those for whom one is responsible; then, one's neighbors; then, one's society at large, and finally the entirety of mankind. This is how the process of Islam begins and increases. The center from which that beginning occurs is oneself. We cannot simply hope, superstitiously, that someone will arise to bring about an inner revolution of the heart, to create a heart that is not attached.
It is only through this inner revolution that all of us can evolve to become healthy, filled with love not pride. Outwardly a Muslim may be humble, but he is not oppressed because his humility is the product of knowledge. Outward oppression is not acceptable to a Muslim. Either Muslims rule, or else they are in enemy territory waiting for the day when they will rule. There is no compromise, for systems other than Islam do not provide justice. If Islam rules, then all who are under its umbrella and accept its rules are protected according to the injunctions of its Divine Law.
Surely they think it [this reckoning] is far off. And We see it nigh. (70:6-7)
The people of Allah see everything clearly. He who acts unjustly will be recompensed accordingly, sometimes in this life, sometimes in the next. One is lucky if the recompense is in this life. The true believer will always
receive his account immediately. He cannot get away with anything. This is a sign of Allah's love for him. The Qur'an tells us not to look at those who seem to get away with their transgressions. They may look well and wealthy, but we do not know what is hidden inside. Often we see homes that are palaces on the outside but tombs on the inside. Recently, while on a trip to Malaysia, we came upon a hut belonging to a poor man, a lover of Allah. It was a tiny hut, a shanty with no roof, but the man inside was a light of Allah. Immediately afterwards, we went to someone's palace where we had been invited. The limousines and sports cars were lined up at the entrance, but inside it was like a tomb. It was only by Allah's mercy that we managed to
escape quickly. If the inner is not there, the outer is of no use. If the inner is there, the outer does not matter. We will get what we deserve, not what we desire. It is a scientific formula, perfect. It is Allah's balance.
This world is cosmic, not chaotic. It does not depend upon our wishes. Did not the blessed Prophet wish the best for his people? Allah says in the Glorious Qur'an:
Surely, you cannot guide whom you love, but Allah guides whom He pleases, and He knows best the followers of the right way. (28:56)
So many of us have close relatives who are at a great loss. It is our duty to do our best to be available at all times to help them, but other than that there is nothing we can do. If we learn to allow our heart to turn freely,
then we will discover the truth behind our existence, and everyone else' existence. We will find the true meaning of:
And We created you from one self. (4:1)
All of us are the same, experiencing love, hate, insecurity, companionship, brotherhood, enmity. We are conscious of all these things, even sleep. What an incredible thing it is that we should say, 'I slept well.' What does this mean? What an incredible statement! 'I' -- who is this I? If we have not evolved spiritually, then that 'I' is Shaytan (Satan). It says in the Qur'an:
He (Shaytan) said: I am better than he; You have created me from fire, while him You created of dust. (7:12)
This is the rise of the ego. 'I am better than you because I accomplished this.' The rise of the ego hides Allah, and the ego will remain until one recognizes its presence at all times. That recognition itself will put the
Shaytan on a tether. But Shaytan is a great teacher because through him we suffer, causing us to grow into what is our actual potential. Look at the diamond. It is an ordinary pebble. The greatest suffering it can endure is to be cut by an expert hand. Yet that cutting brings out its potential as an incredible reflector of light. In reality it is just a stone made of carbon, but people will kill each other for it and turn countries upside down in order to obtain it.
Islam has always been the path, and there have always been great Muslims everywhere, where you least expect them. If the path of Islam is not practiced at every moment, opportunities are being missed. How long are we going to live? It is the remembrance of death which causes us to take advantage of the opportunities in this life. Death does not make us morbid or depressed, on the contrary it spurs us on at every moment. Life is our only capital. Every investment, every asset is replaceable except life. It is counted with every breath, and that count is registered subchromosomically in our cells. Every cell tells the entire story. This is the meaning of the Qur`anic verse,
On that Day We will set a seal upon their mouths, and their hands shall speak to Us, and their feet shall bear witness of what they earned. (36:65)
Every soul contains within it the entire genetic story and its unfoldment. Time is short but the opportunities are plentiful, so we must start from where we are. This is what is real, there is no superstition in it.
The Qur`an is the foundation of the path of Islam and one must immediately begin to work with it. It must not be left to the experts who study it for themselves. Everyone who has written an explanation of the Qur`an has tried
to fathom it for himself. Now we must do the same, not accepting blindly what others say. We must interpret it correctly and be convinced of what it says. If we are not convinced, then we are not connected to the source from which the Qur`an came, we are not in unity. At first, we accept what it says until a time will come when we know with certainty. If we take the Qur`an fully, we will recognize that it is unfolding within us, and that is the meaning of taqwa (fearful awareness). Taqwa is to avoid something that is not propitious. It is to take preventive action. This word does not translate readily into English. It is like fear, but it is the fear which wells up in one through the knowledge that when one transgresses into the unknown there will be trouble. It is like being on a highway -- If I deviate from the road, I have taqwa of the verge because if I hit it, I will suffer. It is we who will suffer from the consequences of transgression. Taqwa is not a fear caused by the oppression of a tyrant who may punish us. It is peculiar to taqwa and many other Arabic words that when they are translated into English, or any Latin-based Roman language, they usually become biblical, Christian and misleading in meaning.
Do not be intimidated by the Arabic of the Qur`an. Take whatever can help you and move on. Ask Allah for His mercy. The knowledge is already within us, but ignorance has covered it. Our situation is like that of a person who has to dig a well. Someone's help may be necessary to point out the right location.
When moisture appears, one feels encouraged and eventually the spring issues forth. Do not be afraid. It is there, it is ours, so we must claim it from the One and Only Source from which we have all come. We are sustained by the mercy of that Source, and we will return to it in great comfort and peace at the moment of the experience called death. The word for death in Arabic comes from the same verbal root that yields a word which means loyalty, honesty. The created being is loyal to its origin. His soul returns to his Lord and
his body to dust.
In many parts of the world, people are beginning to find that materialism is not producing the happiness that man thought it would. It is correct for us to have the basic tranquility attained when there is enough food to stop the stomach from aching and when the body is protected from heat and cold. But having achieved this, we get carried away by the idea that we need more and more. We become insecure. For instance, today, in many of the so-called oil-rich countries, it is more important than anything else to have a private plane. There are hundreds of them registered in Jeddah alone. One man may have three, two of them being Boeing 707s. The staff for his planes cost him something like 1.8 million dollars a year. And he only travels four or five times a year.
And the life of this world is nothing but a provision of vanities. (3:185)
One may spend an increasing amount of time accumulating wealth which will lead, necessarily, to a decrease in time spent in other areas of one's life. One may begin to spend so little time with one's family that, having brought up one's child, one may end up complaining, 'but I sent him to the best schools and gave him every opportunity. Look at the rascal, he is wholly ungrateful.' This poor fellow does not realize that his child wanted love, his time and attention. He did not want to be sent to a boarding school. He wanted to be part of a family.
O You men! Surely We have created you of a male and a female, and made you tribes and families that you may know each other. (49:13)
Man is a social being, but once every house becomes a villa, people lose touch with their neighbors. We are not denying comfort, or basic living, but the style must be conducive to a vital, correct way.
We must continuously thank Allah for this great gift of life, for the responsibility that He has given to man who is His representative on this earth. We must continuously thank Allah for the path of knowledge He has given man through the awakening of his intellect so that, in this short experience, he may behave in a godly manner. We must continuously thank Allah for the blessedness of the provisions he has given us on this short journey
so that we may become confirmed in our certainty and place our trust only in Him. We must continuously thank Allah for the opportunity to serve, because if we do not serve in the way of Allah, we will be serving other than in the way of Allah, for there is no stationary-ness in this existence. If we do not move upward, then we move downward. We have all come to this existence to experience the Creator's laws and to discriminate and decide, through experience, what to do and what not to do, in order to act safely, correctly, courageously and nobly in this short life in preparation for the timeless zone in the next. We are bound by that absolute Decree. There is no discussion. Either one is in submission or not, and if one is truly in Islam, then one will know the taste and the meaning of trust and faith. The rest is a lot of discussion, books and Islamic studies departments. If our knowledge does not become internalized and lived totally, we have missed the point.
Islam is the perfect way "to be", and "to be" implies that you are free and pure from yesterday, because you have done your best. It also implies that you have no fears, desires or expectations for tomorrow, for the true man of submission is and tastes being ness.
Those of us who have inherited our Islam, this great gift, do not realize its real value. We take it for granted, like a child who does not know the value of a gem. We are fortunate to have been brought up in an atmosphere where the name of Allah is recited and where the hearts of so many people throb with love for His Prophet.
Life has not been bargained for by us. We have not bought it in a market place. We have obtained it from our Creator and He may take it away at any time. Thus it is a great honor to be given this opportunity to be able to
share in it. We are here together in this existence in order to remind each other of the meaning of our existence, of the true inner and outer meaning of Islam, the glory, majesty and beauty that results from true abandonment with the awakening of the intellect. We are not here to remind each other by abandoning ourselves to ignorance, superstition, sentimentality and hypocrisy.
So often we see examples of people who have come to Islam through an existential bargain. They are good to God and God is good to them. However, God is good to all.
Any My mercy encompasses all things. (7:156)
His mercy encompasses everything, whether we recognize it or not. It is up to us to recognize Allah's mercy, even in circumstances that are very inconvenient, even in situations where we may find a great deal of injustice. That injustice is also a part of Allah's Decree. Allah has given man the license to live justly according to His laws, or unjustly according to His laws. We have that option. Allah also tells us that eventually He will
triumph. Eventually His light, meaning the knowledge of Truth, will encompass everything. Our existence is secondary. If our fundamental objective is not the One and Only Source of existence, then we will merely receive diluted versions of the message. These diluted versions, which we have witnessed throughout the few years of our life, can cause nothing other than dispersion, disagreement, argument, opinions and debate. If our objective is not to see unity in diversity, then we have missed the point.
Knowledge of this world, so-called scientific knowledge, is based on the understanding of causality. In fact, all materialistic advancement is based on causality. It is very simple and mechanistic. It is outward technology --
purchasable. One spends time and energy, but whatever one learns has no meaning unless it is made subservient to the all-encompassing knowledge of the Source of existence -- the Creator Whose way is manifest and non-manifest, visible end invisible; Whose creation is like a dot manifested on the vast unseen which is an environment of powers, forces and waves that are beyond physical perception. Any intelligent person who accepts the physical world will also accept the unseen. This physical world is but a gross manifestation of something that is subtle. A human being develops naturally through life from the subtle to the gross and then back to the subtle again.
A child is born programmed in submission, all ready to discover reality. That is the meaning of the Prophetic narration that every child is born a Muslim. Every child is born in submission to Allah, not knowing to what world he is coming to. Think of the environment of the womb. It is aquatic and well insulated, in such a way that the child hears nothing other than the heart of the mother which sounds like Allah, Allah, Allah. For nine months, this is what the child in the womb hears. Then, within a split second, it is cut off from that warm and protected environment and exposed to the air. It is a tremendous shock. All of us come into this world in shock and leave it in shock, except for those who long for the experience of death, and who do not look upon it in the normal way. This is the reason why the true believers give up their lives with a smile. They know there is something far greater ahead.
"What is the condition of my slave?" asks Allah in the sacred narration, "They seek ease in this life and I did not create it for ease." Allah created life in order to see whether we are wise enough to recognize what is behind it all; whether we are intelligent enough to discover that we can never control this world, no matter who we are, even if we are the most powerful kings or dictators. We have come to go. The worms are already waiting in the grave to nibble at us. This may be very inconvenient for us, yet it is the absolute reality of our condition. The knowledge and full acceptance of death leads to abandonment and freedom in life. It is all there for one to see and to glorify, so we may have a most wonderful time, expecting to have a better time in the next experience. One knows, however, that this can never last, one can never be in control. As soon as we have good health, wealth is lost. As soon as we acquire wealth, health deteriorates. As soon as one acquires
good companionship, one's wife falls ill or one's parents die. It is Allah's mercy upon us to remind us of the reality and objective of our existence.
One of the general faults or weaknesses to which a born Muslim is prone, is to think that Islam is for somebody else. He thinks that the Qur'an, the teaching and the way of the Prophet are for someone else because he imagines that these are things which he already possesses. But familiarity breeds contempt. The responsibility is actually greater for a born Muslim, for he has had more opportunity: the advantage of growing up in an environment where Allah was glorified, with warmth and affection, can also be a great disadvantage if one has not internalized and lived it.
So we are born in ignorance in order for us to increase in knowledge as we grow up into adults. We are programmed. Our agitations, insecurities, anxieties, loves and hates are all programmed by the One and only Creator who encompasses all, in order for us to move on from the world of gross physicality to the world of subtle meaning -- from the outer existential situation to inner abandonment, submission and contentment. Outwardly, we can never be content. Even if the whole world becomes our slave, we know that we will soon die. How can we be content? Although we may control the environment and pamper ourselves, still we will come to realize that, at any moment, our last breath may go out and never return. How can we be content knowing full well that at best we will be buried?
Many people throughout the world do not even receive such consideration. In Ecuador there is a public cemetery that systematically milks the Indians of whatever money they may have. Many Indians who live near the capital city have taken to drinking, and somehow they cannot take as much alcohol as the white man. In Quito, almost every day, people die from a heart attack, for the city is situated at about 11,000 feet above sea level. Since they drink excessively, many of them are destitute when they die. On the average, it costs the equivalent of $600 to buy a cemetery plot. The Indians are usually able to give a down payment, but in two or three months time they can no longer make the payments. The graves are then bulldozed and sold as new
plots. It is a great blessing to be buried by people who have affection for one.
Returning to the subject of grossness and subtlety, we notice that we are born concerned about our immediate environment. We are programmed to unify with it. Unification, known in Arabic as tawhid, means to see the cause and effect, to see the interrelationship of the self with the universe. We start with what is immediately in front of us, grouping with objects around us. The child puts things in his or her mouth, trying to connect with them. The act is assimilation, an aspect of tawhid, wanting to unify with what the thing is. Soon the child becomes more discriminating as the faculty of reasoning begins to develop. Often, however, the intellect does not evolve. Human beings grow in physical size but still act like children. Size is not necessarily an indicator of inner growth, wisdom and meaning. The normally evolving person moves toward the subtle. If one is protected environmentally, with the right companionship, and sufficient clothes, one should normally seek something higher mentally. This is natural. One wants to know more. Yet people get diverted, distracted and deflected from this goal.
Allah is the goal and the method is remembrance of Him. How do you remember Allah? First by accepting the laws that govern our existence, then by moving higher and higher. The Prophet advises us to know Allah's actions, to know Allah's attributes, and then one may come to know Him.
Surely We have shown him the way... . (76:3)
Everyone must determine how to act and do his best:
Allah does not impose upon any soul but to the extent of its ability. (2:286)
This Qur`anic concept, however, is often used by Muslims in a negative way. Allah does not expect a man to perform beyond his capabilities, but He does expect him to perform to the extent of his abilities. We as Muslims, because we take for granted Allah's forgiveness, do not always exert enough effort. Then we use the verse which we have just cited as an excuse for laziness.
We have developed habits which are basically good -- they are a part of the total culture -- but we abuse them. For example, we often use marriage as a 'spiritual' excuse by quoting the Prophetic tradition, "Marriage is half of the path of Islam." We fail to complete the tradition because the rest is not convenient. The remainder of the tradition says, "...so that one can pay attention to what matters." But we don't like that part, so we omit it. We do the same thing with the Qur`an. And all this has happened because there has been little exertion on our part. We have not suffered. We have been blessed by the bounty and the mercy of Islam, this great gift. But like all gifts, it is not preserved, revived, purified, and respected. If we do not truly and utterly unite with it, its value will be lost. Islam will then become, like all other religions, superficial, social, ceremonial and ritualistic. The responsibility is ours. No one else will come to our rescue. As the Prophet said: "Everyone of you is a shepherd and each is responsible for his flock."
We are forgetting the importance of the inner awakening within us, because the beauty of the outer situation, in material advancement, often distracts from the energy of being aware and watchful. We forget the prophetic
tradition which says, "He who knows himself knows his Lord." We neglect the knowledge of our inner self. Why do we do this? If this speaker had a motive in his speech here, then the outcome of it and the transmission of it would be as that motive.
The bounty of Allah is in every situation. His mercy can be found wherever we look. The believer firmly believes in this message. Often he believes blindly until it becomes a reality for him and he is not separate from it. It is not that every now and then he sits down to remember Allah. Rather he is --
Those who are constant at their prayer. (70:23)
He becomes fully aware at all times of Allah's mercy:
He it is Who sends His blessings on you, and (so do) His angels that He may bring forth out of utter darkness into the light; and He is Merciful to the believers. (33:43)
The believer is always inwardly content because he sees why the situation has arisen. Outwardly, he may be very discontent because there is injustice, abuse, ignorance and all the other things that man encounters. But when was there not injustice? We must not be romantic about the time of the Prophet. Ibn 'Abbas and several others relate that there were so many verses of the Qur`an and Prophetic injunctions concerning hypocrisy that they thought that none of the Companions would be spared from such a description. We should also reflect upon how the Prophet died, the confusion and disobedience surrounding him in the last days of his illness, and the political maneuvering for power just after his death. Those of us who truly love the Prophet will also go through similar experiences because we are his followers.