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Seven Steps for Salvation

Noahs-ArkThe Qur’an says: Whoever is removed from the Fire and admitted into Paradise has surely triumphed. The life of this world is nothing but the comfort of illusion. [3:185]

Contrary to shallow-minded people – whose measure of success is determined by the size of their wallets or houses, or how far they’ve climbed up the corporate ladder, or what celebrity circles they currently move in – those with sound faith know that what counts as true success is: success in the Afterlife. Yet given the sheer pull of the dunya, or the human tendency for distraction and heedlessness, let’s remind ourselves what we must do to best attain salvation (najat). Among the major and most important of these salvic matters are:

1. Affirming God’s Oneness (tawhid): The Prophet, peace be upon him, said to Mu‘adh b. Jabal: ‘O Mu‘adh, do you know what the right of God is over His servants and what their right is upon Him?’ He replied: God and His Messenger know best. The Prophet, peace be upon him, said: ‘The right of God over His servants is that they worship Him and not ascribe any partner to Him; and the right of the servants upon God is that one who do not ascribe partners to Him shall be saved from punishment.’1

2. Fear of God (taqwa): The Qur’an promises: And God will save those who feared Him to their triumph. No harm shall touch them nor shall they grieve. [39:61] Now taqwa (here translated as fear of God; but can equally be translated as piety, God-consciousness, mindfulness of God, or guarding against sin) is explained by the learned as: ittikhadhu wiqayatin min ‘adhabi’Llah – “erecting a barrier against God’s punishment,” by doing what is commanded and avoiding what is prohibited.

3. Remembrance of God (dhikr): One sound hadith declares: ‘A person can do nothing better to save himself from the chastisement of God than the remembrance of God.’2 The hadith underlines the virtue of dhikr, and that it is one of the sublimest means for a person’s salvation.

4. Reverent Fear of God (khashyah): The Prophet, upon whom be peace, stated: ‘There are three salvic matters (munjiyyat): reverent fear of God in private and public; justice in a state of anger and pleasure; and moderation in poverty and opulence.’3 Reverent fear of God in both public and private is nurtured by vigilance (muraqabah) – that is, a continued awareness that the Divine Gaze observes us, causing us to be vigilant about our limbs and their obedience to Him; and our hearts and their sincerity or purity to Him. The degree of our khashyah is, as the masters of the inward life say, proportional to the degree one’s heart feels shy of being seen by God where one should not be seen by Him. They also tell us that if you find, whenever you call to mind the fact that God observes you, a shyness emerging in your heart which prevents you from disobeying God and spurs you on to obeying Him, then you are in possession of something of the realities of muraqabah.

5. Safeguarding the Prayer (salat): One hadith has this carrot and stick communiqué about the five daily prayers: ‘Whoever guards their performance, it will be a light and a proof and salvation for him on the Day of Judgement. Whoever does not safeguard them, he will have no light and no proof, and on the Day of Judgement he will be with Korah, Pharaoh, Haman and Ubayy b. Khalf.’4

6. Controlling the Tongue (hifz al-lisan): ‘Uqbah b. ‘Amir once asked God’s Messenger, peace be upon him: In what does salvation lie? He responded: ‘Control your tongue, keep to your house and weep over your sins.’5 Controlling one’s tongue is to restrain it from foul and forbidden speech – lying, slander, backbiting, swearing, cursing, giving false witness, etc. Having a loose tongue, being gossipy, or too chatty, and thoughtless speech, often sends us into sin and is a sure wrecker of relationships. So safety lies in speaking less and being more mindful of what we say. Man samata naja – “Whoever is silent, is saved”6 – is what another piece of prophetic wisdom advises.

7. Worldly Renunciation (zuhd): The Prophet, peace be upon him, said: ‘The first part of this ummah shall be saved by certainty (yaqin) and renunciation (zuhd), whereas the latter part will be destroyed by greed and prolonged hopes.’7 Cultivating a healthy, responsible sense of zuhd is built on three things: (i) Remembering that the world is temporal and ephemeral and will soon pass out of existence. (ii) Realising: the Afterlife is better and more lasting. [87:17] (iii) Knowing that zuhd (which isn’t about abandoning the dunya, but about gradually untangling ourselves from it in a responsible way) does not prevent what is decreed for us of provisions from reaching us in the least.

Muslim scholars have long quoted these lines of poetry, which poignantly sum-up the affair: tarju’l-najata wa lam tasluk masalikaha / inna’l-safinata la tajri ‘ala’l-yabas – ‘You hope for salvation, but traverse not its paths. A ship cannot sail on dry land!’

1. Al-Bukhari, no.2856.

2. Al-Tabarani, al-Mu‘jam al-Kabir, no.2296. It was graded as hasan due to supporting chains by al-Albani, Sahih al-Targhib wa’l-Tarhib, no.1497.

3. Abu Nu‘aym, Hilyat al-Awliya, 2:343 and it is hasan. See: al-Albani, Silsilat al-Ahadith al-Sahihah (Riyadh: Maktabah al-Ma‘arif, 1998), no.1802.

4. Ahmad, Musnad, no.6576, with an excellent chain (bi isnad jayyid); as declared by al-Mundhari, al-Targhib wa’l-Tarhib, no.838.

5. Al-Tirmidhi, Sunan, no.2406, who said: ‘This hadith is hasan.

6. Al-Tirmidhi, no.2501. Al-Munawi wrote the following: ‘Zayn al-‘Iraqi states that al-Tirmidhi’s chain is weak; but al-Tabarani relates it with an excellent chain.’ Consult: Fayd al-Qadir (Beirut: Dar al-Ma‘rifah, n.d.), 6:171.

7. Ibn Abi Dunya, Qasr al-Aml. It was graded hasan by al-Albani, Sahih al-Targhib wa’l-Tarhib, 3340.

Are You Seeking with the Seekers or Sleeping with the Sleepers?

6005159607_7484bcfe47It is said that: ‘Every person is either a traveller, an arriver, or a non-traveller.’ That is, one is either journeying to God through acts of faith, devotion and loving submission, desiring to being drawn closer to Him; or has spiritually ‘arrived’ at God and has been led to true God-conciousness; or has yet to make that sharp turn away from the lower concerns of this material world (dunya) towards the sublimer concerns of the akhirah or Hereafter: ‘O my people! The life of this world is nothing but a passing comfort; but the Hereafter, that is the everlasting abode.’ [40:39]

To this end, the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, exhorted: ‘Be in the world as though you were a stranger or a traveller.’ [Al-Bukhari, no.6416]

In Islam’s scheme of things, human life is presented as a journey to God. Life is an on-going quest to draw near to God so as to abide in His presence. The Qur’an speaks of an occasion where human beings have already experienced nearness to God, in their pre-earthly existence and pre-bodily forms, when He gave to them an audience on the “Day of the Covenant”. This great covenant (mithaq) is mentioned in the verse: When your Lord brought forth offspring from the children of Adam, from their loins, and had them testify about themselves [saying]: ‘Am I not your Lord?’ They responded: ‘Yes, to this we testify!’ [7:172]

The Qur’an further promises believers a more intimate nearness to Him, in Paradise, at the end of time – to be raised in His presence and to be given the Beatific Vision of Him: On that day some face will be radiant, gazing at their Lord. [75:22-23] But while on this earth, Man (his spirit now wrapped in a physical body) must strive to retrieve the consciousness of that initial nearness, through observing God’s will and living out his earthly existence in constant recognition of God’s presence.

In practice this means training and taming the nafs (the “lower self” or “ego”) through the appropriate measures and provisions set-out in the Qur’an and in the Prophet’s example. This entails cultivating the heart’s purity by internalising acts of obedience, fostering in it worldly detachment (zuhd), illuminating it with constant recollection and remembrance of God (dhikr), and continually perceiving in it God’s activity upon earth through vigilant observation (muraqabah).

At the heart of this spiritual journey or wayfaring (suluk) is realising our own inability and indigence before God, whilst acknowledging Him to be the only true actor. Only by turning the reigns over to God, say the masters of the inward life, can one become a seeker or wayfarer (salik) and take their first real steps in the journey to Him. With this said, what each of us should ask ourselves is this: Am I seeking with the seekers or still sleeping with the sleepers?

Dhikr: To Be in the Presence of the One

GlassesMasters of the inward life say that remembrance of God, or dhikr, is the cornerstone of the spiritual path, the key to sanctification (wilayah) and the weapon of the seeker. In fact, it is the goal behind all acts of worship, as the Qur’an itself teaches: Establish prayer for My remembrance. [20:14]

Dhikr is for the heart to feel the presence of the One being remembered, by freeing it of distractions, maintaining its constant attentiveness and making it aware of what the tongue is uttering. For the best dhikr, and the one yielding the greatest fruit, is one that involves the heart and tongue together; if not, then the heart; and then just the tongue.

In his customary minimalist fashion, Ibn Juzayy (whom we encountered in a previous post which can be read here) distils for us the reality of dhikr. While commenting on God’s words: Remember Me and I shall remember you [2:152], he wrote:

 ♦

‘Know that remembrance of God (dhikr) is the best of all works in general, even if in some hadiths other acts, like the prayer, are given superiority. For this is only due to what they contain of the meaning of dhikr and of being present (hudur) with God. The proof for the superiority of God’s remembrance can be seen from the following three angles:

Firstly, the texts that are related about its merits over all other works. The Messenger of God ﷺ said: ‘Should I not inform you which of your deeds is best? Which purifies you most before your Sovereign? Which raises you higher in rank and is better for you than giving away gold and silver; better than facing your enemies that you might slay them or be slayed by them?’ They said: O Messenger of God, inform us! He replied: ‘The remembrance of God.” [Tirmidhi, no.3377]

The Messenger of God ﷺ was asked: Which deed is best? He replied: ‘Remembrance of God.’ It was said: Is remembrance better even than jihad in God’s path? He said: ‘Even if he should smite the non-believers until his sword breaks and blood flows, the one who remembers God is of a loftier rank.’ [Tirmidhi, no.3376]

Secondly, God, exalted is He, wherever He instructs us with remembrance, or extols it, stipulates that it be done profusely and abundantly: Remember God abundantly. [33:41] Those who remember God abundantly. [33:35] This is not the case for any other deed.

Thirdly, remembrance has a quality particular to it and it alone: being present in the loftiest Presence (hudur fi’l-hadrat al-‘aliyyah) and arriving at closeness – expressed in hadiths that speak of “sitting” and “being with” God. God says: ‘I sit with the one who remembers Me.’ Also: ‘I am as my servant thinks Me to be, and I am with him when he remembers Me.’ [Bukhari, no.7536]

People intend by their dhikr one of two stations. For the general Muslims, it is to earn rewards (iktisab al-‘ujur); for the elite, it is to draw near to God and be in His presence (al-qurb wa’l-hudur). What a tremendous gulf there is between the two stations. What a difference there is between one who takes his reward from behind a veil, and one who is drawn close and becomes of the elite lovers!’1

1. At-Tashil li ‘Ulum al-Tanzil (Beirut: Maktabah al-‘Asriyyah, 2003), 1:159-60

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