It 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?