Fi Sabilillah

footprints


 

Sorrow prepares you for joy. It violently sweeps everything out of your house, so that new joy can find space to enter. It shakes the yellow leaves from the bough of your heart, so that fresh, green leaves can grow in their place. It pulls up the rotten roots, so that new roots hidden beneath have room to grow. Whatever sorrow shakes from your heart, far better things will take their place.

Maulana Rumi

I’ve been having a bad week. I don’t like to complain much about it because I know good times tend to follow bad times, and vice versa. I think it’s always been my nature to understand that life is never linear, and often we have to maintain a mental balance between the good and bad. I try my best not to let my worst days weigh me down while tempering excitement during joyous periods. Being as balanced as possible is one my personal trademarks and it has served me well over the years.

Nonetheless, I have been feeling very low this week. I’m reeling from a sharp, heartbreaking disappointment and feel very alone. Loneliness was part of the deal when I moved here from Montreal. It’s unavoidable. In Toronto, I’m surrounded by plenty of good people who do care about me, but the solitude of the path I’m on rears its head from time to time. As good as the people I meet are, it’s always disheartening to realize that I’m not a critical priority. Toronto itself is full of people who are wayfarers, just passing through for the opportunities. I find both comfort and grief in them. There’s an understanding between us, knowing that we come from elsewhere and are trying our best to make it in a new place. But there’s also the dreary reality that it’s all very temporary. We will all move on eventually and one of us will be left behind. I’ve made friends – but few have been truly meaningful relationships.

In a little while, I’ll be even more alone. The day-in day-out cycle of my life was made enjoyable and reassuring by coming home to warm souls and the few meaningful relationships I’ve had. Even that, now, is pending departure. My excitement about taking on this city by myself, completely independently, is tempered by the sobering anticipation of complete seclusion. There will be so many more days where between the moment I wake up and the time I go to bed, I’ll have exchanged open words with absolutely no one. Those days will be the hardest. With these thoughts swirling in my mind, my growing sense of remoteness has beckoned the guidance and security of God.

This week, Muslims celebrated Eid ul-Adha. It honours the sacrifice made by the Prophet Abraham, who was willing to take his own son’s life after misinterpreting a dream for a Divine Command. God prevented the action itself, but blessed Abraham and his son for their unwavering commitment to acting for the sake of God. The occasion made me reflect on my own commitment to God, and whether my actions are largely fi sabilillah (for the sake of God). It’s something that I definitely have become more conscious of over the last couple of years, but I’ve improved only in small increments. Acting and thinking for the sake of God is really at the core of this religion. It comes back to a point I made in an earlier post about conceptualizing and applying the shahada. The entire religion of Islam is summed up in those two sentences which we have all have known since we were children: “I bear witness that there is no god but God. I bear witness that Muhammad is the Messenger of God.” Despite knowing and reciting these words every single of my day life, I fail at applying them in their true sense.

It’s well known to most of us that people who freely convert to Islam are among the most pious and conscientious Muslims. The journey they took to come to Islam brought them to those two sentences, and they represented a path that they could never turn back from. There was an incredible heaviness to those words. For that reason, the oath they took to become Muslims became a conceptual reality for them in a way that we “born Muslims” take for granted sometimes. The individual who takes that oath after considering the spiritual and practical significance of it understands that every thought and action becomes conditional on upholding the meaning of those words. It means that the name and thought of God should accompany every breath and step we take. The foundation of imaan (faith) is niyah (intention). And if your niyah does not concern the sake of God, then your imaan is incomplete. That is the position I find myself in.

At the core of my principles is serving and bringing happiness to others. I take my responsibility and duty to my family, friends, and society very seriously. I find a sense of nobility and fulfillment in that, but it still leaves something to be desired. The trouble with finding happiness in other human beings is that we are all temporal, mortal beings. We live separate, distinguishable, short existences. We disappoint through our personal shortcomings and societal failures. While our relationships with each other are definitely important, we cannot be omnipresent in the lives of each other. To put it bluntly, people are unreliable. Loving others is rewarding, but also very painful. That’s why many of us turn to the Love of God for something constant. For a believer, God can never disappoint. Even in the face of calamity and tragedy, the comfort we receive in the form of God is incomparable. His Mercy knows no bounds. Where human beings cannot be present, God is closest to us. God tells us in the Qur’an that He is closer to us than our jugular veins (50:16) – on one hand speaking to His physical proximity and also a nearness that extends beyond our mortality. In my loneliness, I find comfort in knowing that and wonder what I can be doing for my Provider, my Master, my Lord, and my Preserver. In the same way that I seek to invest in my mortal relationships, I’m making an effort to be more conscious of my immortal relationship with God. This immortal relationship, above all else, deserves consideration, thoughtfulness, and maintenance. This is striving fi sabilillah.

In God, there is no sorrow or suffering or affliction. If you want to be free of all affliction and suffering, hold fast to God, and turn wholly to Him, and to no one else. Indeed, all your suffering comes from this: that you do not turn toward God and no one else.

Imam Al-Ghazali

As much as my commitment to my education and career is for my parents, family, and future generations – I find myself falling into the trap of lending too much importance to money. I’ve often seen pursuit of wealth to be the solution to many of the problems I grew up with, but I know that thinking and acting for the sake of wealth is as far away from God as one can get. The fear of poverty and social invisibility has driven me, but it is exactly that which God warns us of: “Satan threatens you with poverty and orders you to immorality, while Allah promises you forgiveness from Him and bounty. And Allah is all-Encompassing and Knowing,” (2:268). One entire chapter of the Qur’an is called “The Abundance of Wealth,” and condemns the competition for material wealth. It calls for a reorienting of my niyah towards taking care of my family for the sake of God whether in wealth or in poverty.

I’m turning 25 in less than a month and I’m keeping an eye on the future. Tired of being alone, I’m growing more hopeful of meeting someone I could spend the rest of my life with. True companionship is something that has eluded me for a very long time. I’ve been taking a confusing and misguided approach to this also. In trying to determine “what I’m looking for,” I consider physical attraction, ambition, political and social views, family background, etc. All of these things are important to a certain degree, but they’re all superficial pieces to the puzzle. They have little do with the substance of a marriage and the ability to maintain a relationship. Again, it’s a question of niyah. I’ve been forgetting that God has created everything in pairs – in both a general and particular sense. The mate that is destined for me is out there somewhere, God willing. Exercising patience and trust in God’s plan is the best thing I can do. I also know that the two people in a relationship have very strong pulls on each other. If my goal in life is to please God and to have entry into Paradise, I am best off being with someone who will help rally me towards a righteous path. Someone who reminds me of the presence of God and keeps my niyah pointed in the right direction – and vice versa.

The biggest challenge in correcting my niyah is maintaining its purity in the smaller, day-to-day aspects of life; refraining from what is prohibited and engaging in that which is encouraged. Directing my intentions is one half of the process – the other is converting it into direct action. One thing many of us struggle with is waking up for Fajr prayers at sunrise. Even with the niyah, it’s a challenge to make it a reality. For myself, it’s an even more basic matter of praying at all. I have so many missed prayers to make up for. Prayer is the bedrock of Islam and the greatest gift the Prophet Muhammad left us – and I don’t even have that down pat yet. Back-biting and gossiping these days is easier and more dangerous than ever. You don’t even have to be within physical proximity of anyone else to do it in the era of the smartphone. Even if we refrain from speaking ill of others, we entertain the thoughts without repentance and let our bitterness consume us. The discipline to hold our tongues is one matter, erasing the original sin in our hearts is another. Refraining from disliked and forbidden activities with my friends is another matter I struggle with. As much as I set my niyah to be sin-free, I fall into the same bad habits from time to time and I never stop beating myself up for it.

In a way, perhaps this feeling of loneliness is a good thing. In pin-drop silence, my direct line with God is never more audible. With an uncertain future awaiting me, I find myself relying on the guidance and presence of God more than ever. To reap His promised blessings, I know that I have to give more of myself. The wings of His Mercy are infinite, but only shade those who seek its refuge. The world is a distracting and beguiling place – rife with demonic whispers. This crack in its appeal, borne of defeat and discontent, is an opportunity for me to speak honestly with God and return to a life for His sake.

In the silence of the heart God speaks. If you face God in prayer and silence, God will speak to you. Then you will know that you are nothing. It is only when you realize your nothingness, your emptiness, that God can fill you with Himself. Souls of prayer are souls of great silence.

Mother Teresa

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