The Humble "I"

Knowing, Doing, Becoming

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The Soul of Islam is a Vigilant and Mindful Heart

Revelation tells us that muraqabah, vigilance of Allah, is one of the sublimest spiritual stations. We are told too that habituating our heart to such vigilance requires training the heart gradually and step-by-step. Masters of the heart instruct us to accustom ourselves to being mindful and shy of Allah, even if it be for short periods at a time – persevering in this even in our day-to-day affairs, let alone when engaged in acts of worship – until such mindfulness or vigilance becomes part and parcel of our nature; a habit of our heart.

Vigilance, muraqabah, is to be mindful of Allah in all our states, realising that: وَهُوَ مَعَكُمْ أَيْنَ مَا كُنْتُمْ – He is with you wherever you are. [Q.57:4]

It is to feel His reassuring presence, being aware that: وَنَحْنُ أَقْرَبُ إِلَيْهِ مِنْ حَبْلِ الْوَرِيدِ – We are closer to him than his jugular vein. [Q.50:16]

It is to know that nothing is ever hidden from Him, thereby feeling reverently respectful and shy before Him: فَإِنَّهُ يَعْلَمُ السِّرَّ وَأَخْفَى – For He knows what is secret, and what is yet more hidden [Q.20:7]

Above all, it is to know that His care, help and loving concern are ever near: وَإِذَا سَأَلَكَ عِبَادِي عَنِّي فَإِنِّي قَرِيبٌ أُجِيبُ دَعْوَةَ الدَّاعِي إِذَا دَعَانِي – When My servants ask you about Me, I am near; answering the prayer of the suppliant when he prays to Me. [Q.2:186]

The more we interiorise such core realities of faith, the profounder will be our vigilance of Him, and presence of heart whilst worshiping Him. For a heart in which vigilance of Allah firmly takes root, is a heart that becomes occupied with Him above everything else.

That vigilance of Allah be ingrained and be made a habit of the heart is paramount, in order for its fruits to appear on us. The least of these fruits is that one does nothing, when alone with Allah, that he would be ashamed of doing should a person of virtue and rank be watching him. If, say our spiritual masters, when one calls to mind the fact that Allah sees us, we find a shyness in our heart which prevents us from disobeying Him or spurs us on to obey Him, then something of the lights of vigilance, the anwar al-muraqabah, have dawned on the heart. Eventually, as the heart becomes accustomed to vigilance, and as the awareness of Allah’s nearness deepens within, the heart begins to be totally immersed in Allah; being now raised to the degrees of mushahadah – of worshiping God as though seeing Him.

Conspiracy Theories: Do You See Shadows At Every Turn?

Are the various conspiracy theories that have etched their way into popular culture true?

Maybe.

Have the powerful elites of every age sought to band together to control, manipulate and exploit the masses?

Probably.

Can any of these conspiracies be conclusively proven?

Unlikely. 

Is God in full control of history and human destiny?

Absolutely!

Yet many people forget this last fact and instead are obsessed with chasing shadows! Not only can conspiracy theories become an addiction, they can rapidly become a source of intellectual arrogance too. For once someone has plunged deeply into this toxic mindset, and filled their head and heart with such paranoia, balanced thinking becomes almost impossible. The theorist now thinks himself to be one of the enlightened elite who know what’s really going on, while the rest of us are seen as naive or dumb sheep that can’t see beyond the tiny patch of grass under our noses. Seeing the world through the conspiracy lens can foster a sense of empowerment, which can be hugely intoxicating.

But worse than the vanity or self-conceit is the untold amount of hours and energy that is squandered – time which might otherwise have been spent growing in knowledge of God, knowledge of Self, and knowledge of Sin. For how many Muslims do we find who know the intricacies of certain wild conspiracies, yet their knowledge of Islam is embarrassingly infantile.

Perhaps the biggest conspiracy at work here isn’t 9/11, the assassination of JFK, the death of Princess Diana, the fraudulent Protocols of the Elders of Zion; nor the re-engineering of global systems by the Illuminati or Bilderberg Group; and nor the various plots to control the population and its behaviour, like the spread of HIV, the fluoridation of our drinking water, or jet engine chemtrails. The biggest conspiracy may simply be how Satan, the arch conspirator, has employed this mixed bag of facts and fiction to distract us from growing in God’s obedience and remembrance.

Are conspiracy theorists all irrational or pathological? No, not really. The millions of them that there are around the world are too diverse to be put into one box. Some, for sure, are hooked on conspiracies because of a pathology. Some are obsessed with blaming others for the world’s woes. Some just enjoy the thrill and empowerment of ‘knowing the truth.’ For others, it can be more negative. Some can become so anxious about the supposed fact that certain powerful, elite puppet-masters in the shadows are pulling everyone’s strings that they are paralysed by fear; and feel that they can do nothing to change the world, or even their own life.

The Qur’an praises the believers, when it says: Those to whom men said: ‘The enemy has gathered against you, so fear them!’ But this only increased their faith, and they said: ‘Allah is sufficient for us! He is the best Guardian.’ So they returned with bounties and grace from Allah, and no harm touched them. They followed the good pleasure of Allah, and Allah is of abounding bounty. It is only Satan who would make [people] fear his followers. Fear them not; but fear Me, if you are indeed believers. [Q.3:174-6] To fear Allah is not a suggestion; it’s a command. It is also a reminder that Allah is in full control of His creation: no-one has rested control from Him; not even for a nanosecond. And knowing for certain destiny is unfolding according to His plan assures the believer’s heart and allays his fears.

The Law, the Path, the Reality

SCHOLARS AGREE THAT the actions of religion may be divided into two broad areas: the outward actions of the limbs, and the inward actions or states of the heart. Some describe the outward actions as shara’i‘a’l-islam – “the laws of islam” and the inner as haqa’iq al-iman – “the realities of faith”.

Other scholars describe these outward laws as shari‘ah, and the inner realities of faith as haqiqah. The method by which one internalises the outward teachings of Islam – such as prayer, fasting, pilgrimage, etc. – so that they become deeply rooted realities in the heart, they call tariqah (lit. “way”, “method”, “path”). It is to this three-fold categorisation of the religion – shari‘ah, tariqah, haqiqah (also equated with iman, islam and ihsan) – that the following passages speak:

The Law (shari‘ah): that you worship Him. The Path (tariqah): that you intend Him. The Reality (haqiqah): that you spiritually witness Him. 

Shari‘ah: the sturdy ship. Tariqah: the shimmering sea. Haqiqah: the priceless pearl. One who desires the pearl must board the ship and sail the sea; only then can they arrive at the sought after goal. 

Shari‘ah: what’s yours is yours and what’s mine is mine. Tariqah: what’s yours is yours and what’s mine is also yours. Haqiqah: neither yours is yours nor mine is mine.

Shari‘a is a side of God’s mercy. Tariqa is a sign of God’s mercy. Haqiqa is a sigh of God’s mercy.’ – Abdal Hakim Murad, Contentions, 4/7.

Anxiety, Liquid Modernity & the Assault on Our Primordiality

THE MODERN WORLD IS RADICALLY different to anything and everything that has gone before it. Defining what modernity actually is tends to be elusive, even to philosophers and to those in the social sciences. But it does have certain traits.

Modernity – this ‘brilliant series of distractions,’ as it’s been called – is the great leveller: Where once there was meaning, there is now anomie and meaninglessness. Where once there was optimism, there is now discontent and despair. Where there was religion and spiritual ambition, there is now a yawning gulf. And where there was direction, there is now a maelstrom of confusion and a lack of inner purpose.

To mask this bleak reality; to anaesthetise us, modernity offers us a plethora of gadgets and technology so as to distract us like kids with their new toys. A basic religious insight Islam offers us is that sa‘adah – human ‘happiness’ is to do with the soul. It’s to do with hope, optimism, security, and of having a sense of direction, purpose and meaning. And this is something modernity simply cannot supply.

Another religious insight concerns the fitrah, this primordial nature of man, in that it views some things as immutable. For modernity, though, all is up for grabs. Nothing is constant or unchanging. ‘Forms of modern life may,’ Zygmunt Bauman writes, ‘differ in quite a few respects – but what unites them all is precisely their fragility, temporariness, vulnerability and inclination to constant change.’ He explains that to be modern means to obsessively modernise; not ‘just to be’, but forever ‘becoming.’ He goes on to contend that what was not too long ago dubbed post-modernity, which he terms ‘liquid modernity,’ is the growing belief that ‘change is the only permanence, and uncertainty the only certainty.’1

All this stands in contrast to what Islam teaches about the fitrah. The Qur’an states: So set your face to the upright religion, the primordial nature which God has instilled in man. [Q.30:30] So as the assault on the fitrah – the Adamic norm that God created us upon – intensifies; and as we see war waged against traditional Abrahamic ethics grow ever more robust, where inversion of values seems to be the name of the game, the believers must ask God for the grace to remain firm on the upright religion. To not see that the monoculture is set on course to further corrupt the fitrah, is to be blind to the nature of the age, or to the way of living God’s purpose for us. As the Qur’an puts it: It is not the eyes that grow blind, but the hearts in the chests that become blind. [Q.22:46]

1. Bauman, Liquid Modernity (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2012), viii-ix.

Sincerity: Is Our Motive Purely for God, or for Others Too?

The Qur’an says: And they have been ordered no more than this: to worship God sincerely, devoting religion purely to Him. [98:5] According to Imam al-Raghib al-Asbahani, sincerity or ikhlas requires the heart ‘to be emptied of all else besides God.’1 This emptying is never that simple, for it involves struggling against the lower self so as to strip away the heart’s love of praise or its undue reverence of created things. It demands that the heart’s motives or intentions are purified from conceit, deceit, showing-off or self-aggrandisement so that acts of worship are done exclusively seeking God’s good pleasure.

Imam al-Qushayri’s words of the topic are not only one of the most authoritative and most cited in the Islamic tradition, they get to the very heart of the matter too. He wrote:

اَلْإخْلاصُ إفْرادُ الْحَقِّ فِي الطَّاعَةِ باِلْقَصْدِ، وَهُوَ أَنْ يُرِيْدَ بِطَاعَتِه التَّقَرَّبَ إِلٰى اللهِ تَعَالى دُوْنَ شَيْءٍ آخَرَ، مِنْ تَصَنُّعٍ لِمَخْلُوْقٍ، أَوِ اكْتِسَابِ مَحْمَدِةٍ عِنْدَ النَّاسِ، أَوْ مَحَبَّةِ مَدْحٍ مِنَ الْخَلْقِ، أَوْ مَعْنًى مِن المَعَاني سِوَى التَّقَرُّبِ إِلى اللهِ تَعَالى. وَ يَصِحُّ أَنْ يُقالَ: الْإِخْلاصُ تَصْفِيَةُ الْفِعْلِ عَنْ مَلاحَظَةِ الْمَخْلُوقِيْن

‘Sincerity is to single-out the Real [God] as the sole object of devotion. Meaning that one desires by their obedience to draw closer to God, exalted is He, to the exclusion of all else, such as making a show [of one’s piety] for people; seeking their praise; taking pleasure in their compliments; or other such things besides drawing closer to God, exalted is He. It is right to say that sincerity is: Purifying the act from creation having any share in it.’2

Abu Umamah al-Bahili relates that a man came to the Prophet ﷺ and said: I saw a person who fought for reward [booty] and renown: what will he get? The Prophet ﷺ said: ‘There is nothing for him.’ He ﷺ then went on to say: ‘God does not accept an act, except if it is done sincerely seeking His face.’3 Ikhlas – doing an act of worship seeking to draw closer to God, or seeking God’s face – undoubtedly had degrees or depths. The lowest is to do an act of worship with the sole intent of pleasing God, seeking some worldly or otherworldly reward from Him. Deeper than this is when the act is done, as above, with the sole aim of drawing closer to God, but not desiring any reward; doing it purely for the love of God and nothing else. Deeper still is when the act is done purely for the love of God, but such is the depth of faith, such is the purity of devotion, that one doesn’t see their act as emanating from any effort or achievement on their part, but from God’s unmitigated grace. Masters of the inward life tell us that this is the degree of sincerity where the devotee is oblivious to their sincerity, for the heart is beholden only to God.

O Lord! make our actions correct and sincere,
seeking nothing but Your face;
and let no one have
a share of our
worship of
You.

1. Mufradat Alfaz al-Qur’an (Damascus: Dar al-Qalam, 2002), 293.

2. Al-Risalat al-Qushayriyyah (Jeddah: Dar al-Minhaj, 2017), 476.

3. Al-Nasa’i, no.3140. Al-‘Iraqi declared its chain to be hasan. See: al-Mughni ‘an Haml al-Asfar (Riyadh: Maktabah al-Tabariyyah, 1995), 3; 1177; no.4299.

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