So Close

Posted on September 23, 2011

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The years are slipping away in the drudgery of routines that seem to control our very existence.  It is as if we are on auto-pilot and we cannot switch to conscious control of our lives. We seem incapable of introducing new, productive habits into our lives even as each day (maybe each year) we wake up with the intention to change. As the years trudge forward there is a feeling that something has been lost or forgotten but it is unclear exactly what it is.

Our routines are like this roller coaster ride that we get on every morning. We have been told that it will be “fun” and that we must ride it if we are to be “successful”. With great speed, and little reflection or enjoyment, we move from one task to another. And before we know it we are crawling back into bed exhausted from the toil of a day that we can barely recall. This roller coaster ride is not just physical, it is also emotional. Every day we swing between euphoric highs of happiness and simple hopelessness. A word of praise, not necessarily sincere, takes us soaring to the skies. One negligent comment from a spouse, a roll of the eyes from the kids, an unkind remark from a friend, an extra file on the desk at work and we despair of the mercy of Allah and begin to wallow in self pity.

“Indeed, mankind was created anxious:

When evil touches him, impatient,

And when good touches him, withholding [of it],” (70:19-21)

All this emotional upheaval is accompanied by constant noise. There is the continuous uproar of joyous partying or the din of incessant complaints, backbiting and slander.  Moments of solitude and renewal where we can reflect and savor the beauty of all that Allah (swt) has blessed us with are completely missing from our lives.

3:191

Who remember Allah while standing or sitting or [lying] on their sides and give thought to the creation of the heavens and the earth, [saying], “Our Lord, You did not create this aimlessly; exalted are You [above such a thing]; then protect us from the punishment of the Fire. (3:191)

On the turbulent roller coaster ride of our lives there is the rare moment in prayer or after listening to a poignant khutba when we are suspended at the highest point and everything on the ground appears insignificant. It appears as if the sky holds us in its embrace and the wind kisses our cheeks. But before we can internalize the experience and explore the insight the steep decline has already set in.

In the Quran we find the Messengers of Allah (saws) laboriously climbing mountains and surrendering themselves to silence and reflection. Wrapped in the sublime splendor of His creation they develop and nurture a relationship with Allah as they travel to the essence of their own souls. Not suspended in awe for a few seconds but continuously enraptured by the magnificence of everything around them and filled with humility and gratitude. The opposite is the condition of people who are heedless of the wonders that surround them.

59:19

And be not like those who forgot Allah, so He made them forget themselves. Those are the defiantly disobedient. (59:19)

If the time for reflection on the Universe is scarce, than there is absolutely no time to think about our place in it or to analyze the state of our hearts. Are they soiled or are they saleem? Outside the context of His Divine Words, we are just aimlessly adrift in the vacuum of the Universe. It makes no difference than, if we loop around in endless routines. It is only if you realize that you came from Allah and that you are to return to Him that a path opens up before your eyes, illuminated by the words of the Quran and marked by His Messenger’s footsteps.

The window of opportunity to follow this path is also brief. A finite number of days that are too precious to be wasted in whining and pursuing only worldly goals. Allah (swt) promised us in the Quran that He is near.

2:186

And when My servants ask you, [O Muhammad], concerning Me – indeed I am near. I respond to the invocation of the supplicant when he calls upon Me. So let them respond to Me [by obedience] and believe in Me that they may be [rightly] guided. (2:186)

He said He is near? Can you feel His presence? Have you called on Him lately?

8:24

“O you who have believed, respond to Allah and to the Messenger when he calls you to that which gives you life. And know that Allah intervenes between a man and his heart and that to Him you will be gathered.” (8:24)

One of the understandings of this verse is that Allah’s command intervenes when we delay a good action too long and the opportunity slips from our fingers. Allah and His Messenger have called to us many times in our lives but we have neglected to answer their call. We have blundered in acts of obedience, neglected opportunities to earn reward and complained about the blessings that we have been showered with. The signs in the Quran and the signs of the Universe constantly invite us to reflect but we are too busy trying to catch the next call, appointment or arrange the next meal. That uneasy feeling of having lost something that creeps into our hearts is actually a collection of such wasted moments. An estrangement from the connection with Allah.

13:28

Those who have believed and whose hearts are assured by the remembrance of Allah . Unquestionably, by the remembrance of Allah hearts are assured. (13:28)

The consciousness of Allah can transform the daily chores of life into acts of worship. But sadly we find our worship turning into a chore because we cannot feel the presence of the One who is closer to us than our jugular vein. The remedy is to add one or more of the following habits to your day: read Quran (with translation and tafseer) after Fajr, listen to tafseer podcasts, pray Tahujjud, check out this blog, and this one, go for a contemplative walk outside or watch a nature movie on PBS and at the risk of sounding cliched, watch the sun rise. There are also weekend courses, and courses that last a little longer which can bring the remembrance of Allah (swt) back into your life. The opportunities are many and the excuses are few.

The ride of this life can end at any moment. Do not wait for the Day when He  who was so near might turn away and refuse to talk to you or even look at you because when you had time you were not interested in His company. He is no longer interested in yours.  His pleasure and His company and the ultimate bliss of looking upon His face is reserved for those who desired it all their lives. Begin with that desire but be humble and remember you cannot will unless Allah wills it for you.  As you step off the roller coaster your feet will be unsteady and your mind unclear, so start with the prayer that our beloved Prophet (saws) used to make frequently:

Ya muqallib al Quloob, thabbit qalbee alaa deenik
O turner of the hearts, establish my heart upon your deen

[Tirmidhi]
Ameen.


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