The Humble "I"

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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.

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?

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