CHAPTER THREE: Relating to Allah
EACH day in our Salat, we repeatedly make one humble request to Allah, our Creator and Sustainer: `Guide us the Straight Way.' (al-Fatiha 1:4) It is only by seeking and staying on the Straight Way, that we can ever hope to attain true salvation and success. What then must we do to ensure that Allah accepts and grants our Prayer? The Quran explains: Whosoever holds on to Allah, he has already been guided onto a Straight Way. [Al-Imran 3:101]
What exactly is itisam billah or `holding onto Allah'? How do we develop a close attachment to and a close relationship with Allah? Let us explore the answers to these questions by reflecting upon the characteristics needed to `hold onto Allah' and thus be among those who are shown the Sirat al-Mustaqim or the Straight Way.
The first characteristic is being ever grateful and thankful to Allah for everything that you possess including your wealth, health, status, intellectual abilities and life. You should recognise that your very existence and your continuing sustenance are dependent on Allah. Whatever praise is due, therefore, it is due to Him alone, for nobody has the power or the resources to give you anything except by His will. His bounties and blessings are countless. Allah says:
It is for this reason that Allah commanded the Prophet Ibrahim to say: It is He who has created me, and so it is He who guides me; it is He who gives me to eat and drink, and whenever I am sick it is He who heals me; and it is He who makes me die and then will bring me to life. And upon Him, l pin my hope that He would forgive my sins on the Day of Judgment. [ash-Shuara 26:77-82.]
In many places in the Quran, Allah compares the terms shukr and kufr. [al-Baqara 2:152, Luqman 31: 12]. Iman implies shukr or gratefulness as opposed to kufr or ungratefulness. A kafir or unbeliever is ungrateful to the Being who has given him everything, whereas a mumin or Believer is one who is ever thankful for all that Allah has given him, for he recognises that his Lord is Merciful and Loving. [Hud 11:90.]
Iman, therefore, requires due praise and thanks to Allah. If you are ungrateful, Allah is unaffected. If you become grateful, then you have taken the first step towards becoming a true Believer. It is for this reason that the Prophet exhorted us to `love Allah as we benefit from His grace'. (Tirmidhi.)
In every moment and in every situation we see our Creator and Sustainer actively involved. He has not retired from this world. He is on His throne creating, distributing and administering everything. He governs and sustains all in the Universe. Not even a leaf can fall without His knowledge, His permission and His command. The Quran declares:
Everything that happens to us - even events that we may consider to be personal afflictions or natural disasters-'are from Him. So even in times of calamity and distress, there will be some good for us, provided we respond appropriately. The Prophet said:
Look again at the Quran, you will see that the very first introduction to Allah is ar-Rahman ar-Rahim.[al-Fatiha 1:1.] Allah Himself is saying that He is the Most Merciful, He is the Most Compassionate. He shows and gives mercy to all, even those who continue to be ungrateful and rebellious towards Him: Indeed God is the possessor of bounty for all people but most people do not give thanks. [al-Baqara 2: 243.]
Reflect upon your own life and you will find innumerable occasions when Allah's `hand' has been holding you and helping you. So often, we subconsciously use the expression `thank God for this and that', without realising the full implications of our words. The Quran even reminded the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, that in his early life, Allah's `hand' was holding him and guiding him:
This exhortation is not only for the Prophet but for all people. From the moment that we open our eyes in this world until the moment our souls leave our bodies, and even beyond, Allah's mercy, compassion and protection remain with us. Continuously remind yourself then that your entire existence is dependent on Him. He is your Lord and Sustainer. He is nourishing and sustaining all that exists. From morning until evening, your tongue must be moist with continuous praise of Allah. In return, Allah has promised increased rahma or mercy for you: If you are grateful, I will surely give you more and more.[Ibrahim 14:7]
This is the cornerstone of your faith and the Islamic way of life. If you learn this first lesson, you will begin the process of `holding onto Allah'. And whoever is grateful, he is only grateful for the benefit of his own self. [Luqman 31:12] for surely if it was not for the grace of God on you and His mercy, you would have been among the losers. [al-Baqara 2:64].
Out of that sense of receiving everything from Allah, comes another important character trait of those who `hold onto Allah' exclusive worship of Allah. The Quran states that true taqwa cannot be attained until all your actions in life are done exclusively to earn the pleasure of Allah:
You must ensure that your qalb or heart submits totally and wholeheartedly to the Creator. Allah says: O you who believe! Enter into Islam wholeheartedly, without reservation. [al-Baqara 2: 208.] The only [true] way in the sight of Allah is Islam [submission to the will of God]. [Ali Imran 3: 85.]
Your qalb cannot be compartmentalised. You cannot dedicate one piece of it to Allah and another to some other god, like wealth, status, career, spouse and so on.
There is a beautiful verse in the Quran which throws light on the absurdity of such a situation. It tells about some of the mushrikin or idol worshippers who sacrifice animals and then say that one part of the animal is for Allah and another is for their idols. The verse then states quite clearly that whatever is assigned to Allah is also, in reality, assigned to the idols, for Allah does not accept something divided between Him and others. He is One, indivisible and wants the human being to be undivided in service to Him. So long as our heart lies in a hundred places, so long as our eyes are set in a hundred directions, so long as we have many loyalties, we shall never be able to achieve that condition of 'holding onto Allah'.
Why should we allow divided loyalties to capture parts of our heart? Nothing in this world is going to be of use to us when we breathe our last, however hard we may have striven for it and however valuable it may seem to us. We must recognise that the prizes we seek are not the worldly possessions received from human beings like ourselves. It is only our Creator who can put a real value on our striving and bestow on us a real reward. Shall I tell you of a business that will deliver you from a tormenting punishment? [as-Saff 61:10] This 'business' amounts to you committing your whole undivided being to Allah alone, and selling yourself in order to earn His pleasure.
What does it mean to do everything fi sabilillah, for the sake of Allah, which should be the crux and substance of our lives? People are in the habit of classifying life's activities into those which are mundane and those which are religious. Remember, though, only those things done for the sake of Allah are the 'religious' things. Everything that is done for other than Allah however 'religious' it may seem - is a worldly act. If a person prays ostentatiously, it is a worldly act; if he fasts to expose his spirituality it is a worldly act; but if he earns thousands of pounds to support his family and to spend for the cause of Islam, seeking only Allah's pleasure, it is a highly spiritual act. The Prophet reminded us:
What is of most importance to us is not the outward form of our actions. Although we perform all our duties and conform to all the protocols, it is the sincerity of purpose and intention behind our actions that really matters. The Prophet Muhammad, upon whom be peace, emphatically stated: 'Actions are judged only by intentions and everyone shall have what he intended.' (Bukhari, Muslim.)
Remember that purpose and intention are like the soul of a body or the inner capability of a seed. Many seeds look alike, but as they begin to grow and bear fruit, their differences become manifest. The purer and higher the motive, the greater the value and yield of your efforts. For all your daily actions, remind yourself of the motives behind your deeds. This may be the best way to ensure the purity and exclusiveness of purpose and intention.
The next character trait of those who 'hold onto Allah' is that they love Allah. The Quran says that those who have iman, love Allah more than anything else. [al-Baqara 2:165.] It does not say that one must love only Allah. Love is a blessing given to us by Allah and is manifested in many aspects of life. In Islam, however, it must be foremost for Allah, our Creator and Sustainer.
What is love? Perhaps it cannot be defined in terms which adequately reflect its nature and importance in a person's life. It is not possible to define it by a formula in a manner we define a scientific fact. But still each one of us knows what love is and can tell from our own experience the powerful force that it is. It is the overpowering force in life. It captivates you, it grips you, it moves you and you are prepared to do anything for the sake of it. Once love is there, what you do is not something which has to be imposed upon you, because you need imposition only for the things you do not love. Iman is something which must penetrate deep into your heart and generate love for Allah and His Prophet more than anything else. Unless this happens, you cannot experience the real iman.
To develop this love for Allah does not require us to retire to or seclude ourselves in a monastery. This love makes us do our duty to Allah while we are out in the street, at home or in the office. With this love, we live as servants of Allah everywhere, willingly making every sacrifice required of us. In fact, it propels us to share actively in the service of Allah's other creatures. True love of Allah makes us care for people and their needs.
Whether or not you have that love is something for you to examine closely. If you love someone, one of your most intense desires will be to get closer to that person. In Islam, you have a way in which you can get closer to Allah and talk to Him and that way is through Salat. The Prophet said that when a person performs Salat, he actually comes nearer to Allah and talks to Him. If you look at how you pray five times a day, you will have a barometer in your hand to find out how much you love Allah.
Once you are praying to Him, you are in front of Him, you are near to Him, you are talking to Him, you are responding to Him in gratitude and you are asking for His forgiveness. Prayer is not just a ritual in which you go through certain postures. The soul has to surrender itself exclusively to Allah and love Him. This love is like a seed which, as it grows, envelops the entire personality.
To entice us to remember Him and to love Him even more, Allah has used the beautiful words in the Quran: Wajh Allah or the Face of Allah. He says:
Everything on this earth will perish except the `Face' of your Lord. His is the `Face' you must desire. The expression `Face of Allah' does not, of course, mean that Allah has a face like ours. But, again, if you love someone, you desire to look upon his face all the time, you always want to be in his company and you will make all the necessary sacrifices to earn his pleasure. So, when the Quran uses the expression `Face of Allah' it is really to make us conscious that Allah is looking at us and we should do the things which will please Him and abstain from things which will displease Him. Thus, when the Prophet was questioned about the true meaning of ihsan, he replied:
If you continuously remind yourself that Allah is looking at you when you are praying, when you are studying, when you are doing your job, when you are with your family and friends, when you are involved in dawa - then you are well on your way to attaining ihsan, the most excellent form of worship. Ihsan takes us to the highest station of nearness to Allah. This is what gives real worth to everything we do and makes our actions acceptable in the eyes of our Creator and Sustainer.
Those who `hold onto Allah' must also strive to become hanif Literally translated, it refers to one who is inclined or one who cuts himself away from everything that is false and belongs only to Allah. The term is used in the Quran in ten places, six times with reference to the Prophet Ibrahim, on whom be peace, and the rest for any one who is sincere and sound in faith. The term connotes sincerity, uprightness and single-mindedness in one's dedication and commitment to Allah.
The example of a hanif is beautifully expressed in the life of Prophet Ibrahim, on whom be peace. Let us ponder upon two of his outstanding qualities.
Ibrahim loved Allah. He forsook all loyalties and obedience to any object other than Allah. He said: ‘I have turned my face [my entire being] to Him who is the Creator of the heavens and earth, having turned away from all else.' [al-Anam 6: 79.]
He brought his entire life and being under Allah's rule, ensuring that he worshipped Him with heart and body. Ibrahim understood that Allah must rule everywhere: in homes as well as in hearts, in manners as well as in minds, in public life as in private. For him, the decision to surrender was personal and free. A ceaseless striving towards that end became the substance of his life so much so that Allah endowed him with the worthy title, Khalil Allah or Friend of God. [an-Nisa 4: 125] With utmost devotion and concentration, Ibrahim supplicated:
Ibrahim was tried and tested in every, conceivable way. Whenever His Lord called upon him to surrender, he would readily respond: `I surrender to the Lord of all the worlds.' [al-Baqara 2:131] `If you want me to go into the fire and be burnt alive, 1 am ready for that! If you want me to leave my home, I am ready for that! If you want me to take my son and wife and put them in a place where there is no shelter, no food and no one to protect them, I am ready for that! And if you want me to make the supreme sacrifice and put a knife to the throat of that which I love best, my son, I am ready for that!'
It is following his footsteps that millions of people go to the Baytullah, the House of Allah, during the Hajj echoing the words of Ibrahim:
Labbayk! Allahumma Labbayk! I am here! O Allah I am at Your command! I am always at your command! I am always ready to surrender! I am always ready to sacrifice!
Ibrahim accepted Allah as the only Lord and the only source of guidance. He had absolute conviction in the commandments of Allah. He was prepared to surrender and sacrifice everything at a moment's notice without any hesitation whatsoever. His tawakkul or trust in Allah was absolute. His example is reminiscent of the verse in the Quran: If anyone puts his trust in Allah, sufficient is [Allah] for him. [at-Talaq 65:3]
To become true servants of Allah, we must continuously echo and abide by the words of the Quran: Hasbunallah wa nimal Wakil [Allah is sufficient for us and He is the best Provider] [Al-Imran 3:173] in every circumstance of our lives.
To become a hanif, as exemplified in the life of the Prophet Ibrahim, on whom be peace, you must love Allah as he did, everything in life must be done to please Allah and you must trust and rely on Allah completely:
The next characteristic of `holding onto Allah' is to strive with all the means at your disposal to make the Word of Allah supreme within your heart and in the hearts of those around you. You must therefore bring all of mankind to Allah by witnessing to His guidance, so that you be witnesses unto mankind and The Messenger be witness unto you. [al-Baqara 2:143.]
In the Sira, we note that when the first ray of Divine Revelation reached Muhammad in Hira [al-Alaq 96: 1-5], the command of 'Iqra' or Read was impregnated with world-shaking forces. He trembled. The second Revelation made things clear: Arise and warn! And your Sustainer's greatness glorify! [al-Muddaththir 74:2-3.] The Prophet Muhammad, may God bless him and grant him peace, then took up his task with a single-minded dedication and encountered stiff opposition. The call to let Allah be the Greatest implied that all false claimants - and every claimant is false - to greatness, to unlimited power, authority and lordship to obedience, loyalty and servitude from Allah's creatures, must be challenged and dethroned. It is not difficult to see that this requires hijra, supreme sacrifices in `giving up' everything one loves and fighting with all that one possesses for the sake of that love of Allah which must be greater than all else. Allah says:
A life of jihad necessarily requires important qualities: knowledge of and devotion to the Quran, iman or deep and strong faith, sabr or resolve and steadfastness. Read the Quran and you will find every promise of success here and in the Hereafter conditional upon these qualities.
In order to fulfill your mission in life as the khalifa or ambassador of Allah in the establishment of His way of life, you need to arm yourself with ilm or knowledge of Islam. The Prophet Muhammad has said: 'Whoever Allah wishes good for, He bestows upon him a deep understanding of the Din.' (Bukhari, Muslim.) The Quran also exhalts those who possess useful knowledge and use it as an instrument to develop their closeness to Allah: Are those who know equal to those who do not? Only those with insight can keep it in mind [az-Zumar 39:9]. God will exalt those who believe among you and those who have knowledge to high ranks [al-Mujadala 58:11]. Of all His servants only those who know fear God. [al-Fatir 35:28]. The Prophet also said that there are countless rewards both in this world and the Next for one who seeks to educate and purify himself:
If one travels in search of knowledge, Allah will make him travel to Paradise. The angels, being highly pleased with him, spread their wings over the seeker of knowledge. Everything in the heavens and on earth, even the fish in the depths of water, seek forgiveness for a scholar. And the superiority of a learned man over one engaged in ritual worship is like that of a full moon over the rest of the stars. (Ahmad)
Consider the following guidelines as you set out on the path to educate yourself.
`Real' iman, once lodged in the heart and embedded at the centre of life, must flourish into a mighty tree of righteous deeds. True iman which resides in hearts, shapes lives, and finds acceptance with Allah is always differentiated in the Quran from outward, `legal' islam.
Similarly, mere verbal professions of faith, which are contradicted by actions, are rejected.
O Messenger, let not those grieve you who vie with one another in [the cause of] kufr from among those who say `We believe' with their mouths, but their hearts believe not. [al-Maida 5:41]
Even Believers are often called upon `to believe', that is, to attain true faith: O Believers, believe in Allah and His Messenger, and the Book He sent down before. [an-Nisa 4:136.] Or, Believe in Allah and His Messenger, and spend out of that in which we have made you vicegerents. [al-Hadid 57: 7.]
The connection between iman and actions is clearly manifest in the way both are almost always linked together: al-ladhina amanu wa amilus-salihat [those who believe and do righteous deeds].
The bond between true faith and ritual worship on the one hand, and a life lived totally in worship, which leads to justice and compassion in society on the other, is firmly established in many places in the Quran:
When we examine the body of hadith literature, we will also, immediately realise how the Prophet links a wide range of values and actions with iman in a very clear and defined manner. Just look at some of them:
Finally, remember that as a daiya or caller to Islam you need to set an excellent example and you need to practice what you preach. Those who do not follow their own advice have been strongly condemned by Allah. Keep close to you the following verses of the Quran:
There will be many obstacles and hardships that may prevent you from fulfilling your obligations to Allah and you therefore need to develop sabr or patience and perseverance. The Quran states: So [O Believers] endure hardship with beautiful endurance. [al-Ma'arij 70: 5] So, patience is beautiful. [Yusuf 12:84] And God is with those who patiently persevere. [al-Anfal 8: 66.]
Know that life is filled with tests and trials. Allah reminds us in the Quran:
The best of people therefore are those who bear their tests and trials with fortitude and optimism and who see in every difficulty an opportunity to turn to Allah in remembrance and prayer. Remind yourself constantly that Allah shall make ease after hardship [at-Talaq 65: 7], and that on no soul does He place a burden greater than it can bear [al-Araf 7: 42]. Remember that He has all the power. He gives everything. No harm can come to Him, and no benefit can come to Him. Everything that is happening in life is because of Him and comes from Him for no power is there save with Allah, the Most High, the Great.
There are some character traits that you must take care to rid yourself of as you strive to `hold onto Allah'.
One such evil and impediment is kibr or pride. This represents the antithesis of humility and is a devastating moral ailment. The efforts which we make for tazkiya, it is hoped, will make us successful. But if one is successful, the greatest cancer that can eat everything away, is kibr. The Messenger of Allah said:
The day you feel that you have attained something special is the day of your spiritual death. Thus, the entire effort which you make should continue to be permeated with humility. Always remember that whatever you have achieved is by the grace of Allah, not through your own efforts.
Secondly, know that the ideal for you to emulate is the uswa of the Prophet. His example is so high and exalted: And you [Muhammad] stand on an exalted standard of character. [al-Qalam 68:4.] One of the reasons the `ideal' standard is so high, is to ensure that we always strive to better ourselves. If the ideal is easily reachable, then once a person has attained it, he will feel content, and contentment will set him off on a downward slide. Because our ideal is high, we are always in a state of aspiration. We are perpetually in a state of effort, striving and spiritual development. Should kibr arise in this state, it can only be an act of Shaytan, who is there just to test whatever one has achieved in the field of knowledge or action. Kibr will destroy whatever you have achieved, so protect yourself against it. Remember that it comes in very attractive, very concealed and very deceptive channels and forms. So, be ever vigilant.
The characteristics of a Believer whose heart is free of pride and filled with ikhlas and humility are described in a hadith qudsi. Allah Most High has said:
You should thus strive to become like one who doggedly keeps on working for the cause of Allah. You may not necessarily read details of him in newspaper columns, nor does he appear on television screens, nor does he win applause by making beautiful speeches in large gatherings and commendations for writing good pieces. He is not plagued by doubts. He does not waver in the face of defeat and failure. He does not calculate the chances of success but he knows very well that the only chance of success for him is to do his duty, and do it to the best of his ability. He is the backbone of the Islamic work and the Muslim Umma.
Another evil that destroys all that the Believer has achieved, or is trying to achieve, is nifaq. Nifaqentails hypocrisy, showing off, and pretending to have what one does not possess. The Prophet condemned this in the strongest terms. He said:
He also said:
Hypocrisy serves only to cloud your consciousness of Allah. It is a moral ailment which eats away one's character as a moth eats away cloth. Nifaq is the opposite of ikhlas whereas ikhlas is the most essential ingredient of faith and good deeds. You should therefore assess your motives and actions frequently.
A third danger is that of qunut or pessimism. You must try to rid yourself of qunut, the feeling of hopelessness and pessimism. Allah calls qunut an act of kufr or disbelief and rejection: He says: who despairs of the mercy of his Lord, those who go astray? [al-Hijr 15: 56.]
If you have tried and failed a hundred times, your efforts would still have won incalculable gains. The feeling of disappointment and pessimism and of losing heart should never occur. The promise of Allah is true and will come to pass: And those who strive in Our way We will certainly guide them to Our paths. [at-Ankabut 29:69.] Always adopt a hopeful and positive outlook. Be an eternal optimist.
A fourth danger is that of uncontrollable anger. Once you begin to truly `hold onto Allah' you will find that life becomes pleasant and easy. To work for the cause of Islam becomes a joy. Inter-personal disputes, family problems and organisational problems will be resolved amicably. Most problems which persist in affecting our social relationships and organisations are due to lack of sincerity and lack of exclusiveness for Allah.
If you begin to do everything for Him, there is no need to be angry if somebody insults you since he or she cannot harm you at all. Only Allah's displeasure can harm you. Remember the words of Allah:
Why should you become angry? Uncontrollable anger and unnecessary rudeness and disputes that take place are counter productive especially when you are working in a jama'a, hand-in-hand with your fellow Muslim brother and sister for the cause of Islam. Remember that we are working only to seek the pleasure of Allah. Do not ruin your good deeds by corrupting your heart with kibr and letting your nafs or selfish desires get the better of you. Identifying a practical method of controlling anger, the Prophet advised:
The Prophet also used to make dua constantly in order to avoid negative emotions and behaviour:
There are many more Prayers and supplications of the Prophet for similar things. They are food for the soul, food for the qalb and a source of sustenance for living this worldly life, for doing business. for studying, for working, for bringing up children and for dawn. Remember, if we do things for worldly objects, these objects will perish and our own actions will also perish.
A fifth danger is abuse of the tongue. We should be careful how we use our tongue for its misuse is the fastest way to Hellfire. Lying, slandering, backbiting and obscenity should never be part of our speech. We should be exceedingly careful with what we say about others. The Prophet said:
Janna has been promised for those who are careful with their speech. The Prophet said:
The key to control of the tongue is to infuse our conversations with remembrance of Allah. The Prophet said in this regard:
The sixth and last impediment I wish to highlight is that of lustful sexual passions. Sex is a powerful driving force that Allah has blessed us with. In the Quran, Allah praises men who guard their sex organs [an-Nur 24: 30], and women who guard their sex organs [an-Nur 24: 31]. Despite great temptations, true Believers are able to control their sexual desires and in the process preserve their chastity.
The abuse of one's sexual organs leading to either fornication or adultery (zina) is described in the Quran as a great abomination:
The verse warns against approaching any avenue which excites passions, opens ways for illicit relations between a man and woman, and promotes indecency and obscenity. For this reason we are advised by Allah and His Prophet to observe the following regulations:
The Quran has laid down certain guidelines for staying on the Straight Way. The first is to `hold on to Allah' and life's journey will be easy.
`Holding onto Allah' means that you must be grateful to Him for everything, worship only Him, love Him more than anything else, strive to become a hanif, and make jihad only for Him.
Likewise, be aware of the following impediments in `holding onto Allah': pride, hypocrisy, pessimism, uncontrollable anger, abuse of the tongue and lustful sexual passions.