Note to the reader: Please read "subhanahu wata'ala" (Glorified and exalted is He) for swt after each mention of Allah's name. Read 'sallallahu alayhi wa sallam' (May God's peace and blessing be on him) for saws after each mention of the Prophet's name.
You need three essential things in order to be able to live by Islam in a satisfactory manner. They are:
a. genuine conviction,
b. sharp and acute senses, capacity for feeling, and active imagination,
c. and a ready heart.
Without these, you run the risk of finding Islam a burden or at least an inconvenience and of always remaining an easy prey to Iblis and his agents. Everything is difficult unless you first meet its basic prerequisites. Allah (swt) Himself testifies to this: "Seek help in patience and prayer; and truly it is hard save for the humble-minded, who know that they will have to meet their Lord, and that unto Him they are returning" (2:45-46).
You have to have the genuine conviction that Islam is true. There are two aspects to this. First, you have to be absolutely convinced that the Qur'an is the word of Allah (swt) and that Muhammad (saws) is a true messenger of Allah (swt). The Qur'an survives intact and is available to us, and whatever we need to know about Muhammad (saws) can be known. Without this conviction there is no way one can advance any further. This is all that needs to be said on this point.
The second aspect of this conviction follows from the first: you must accept the fact that together, the Qur'an and the Sunnah provide guidance for mankind. The Qur'an in its entirety is Allah's (swt) guidance for you, and Muhammad (saws) in all his words and deeds is your only model to follow. You cannot pick and choose which parts of the Qur'an or which aspects of the Prophet's (saws) life to accept. You cannot allow your personal likes and dislikes to dictate what you choose from the Qur'an and the Sunnah. There may be parts of the Qur'an that appear to you incomprehensible or unnecessary, but remember that the Qur'an has its own architecture, each part of which supports and sustains the rest. The same is true of Muhammad (saws) himself: every aspect of his life is integral to his totality as a prophet. He is the believers' model in an organic way. Every part of his life is informed by his consciousness of Allah (swt) and reflects his eagerness to please his Lord. So take Islam as a whole.
Resist all temptation to do what Allah (swt) has warned us against in Surah Baqarah (2:85): "Then is it only a part of the Book that you believe in, and do you reject the rest?" You are required to submit. You have to let the Qur'an and the teachings of Muhammad (saws) be the judge, rather than your presuming to be their judge. This requires a humility of heart that, sadly, man has to strive hard to acquire and then constantly nurture with tremendous effort. You have to subdue your enormously powerful sense of self-importance in order to achieve this humility and remain perpetually on your guard against its capacity for sneaking back. It is in this effort that Iblis failed. Because of the presence of this danger, Allah (swt) has taught us this prayer in Surah Ali Imran: "Our Lord! Cause not our hearts to stray after Thou hast guided us, and bestow upon us mercy from Thy Presence. Lo! Thou, only Thou, art the Bestower" (3:8). Even the Prophet saws used to make this du'a. The best safeguard is to remember the greatness and glory of Allah (swt) and the immeasurable superiority of Muhammad (saws) over any other human being. How superior Muhammad (saws) is, no one has the capacity to measure. Remember Allah's (swt) warning: "He (Allah) cannot be questioned for His acts, but they will be questioned for theirs" (21:23). It was this fundamental fact that Iblis forgot and so he began questioning Allah (swt), and you know the result of that. Remember who you are, a mere created being - so puny and imperfect. Be on your guard and stay humble. Try to be among those who wholeheartedly say," I am pleased to have Allah as my Lord, Islam as my deen, and Muhammad as my Prophet" (Tirmidhi).
When the two aspects of this conviction are in harmony, the effect will be readily felt in your heart. Your heart will be willing to engage with Islam in a really meaningful way. Without the engagement of the heart you can never have the essential motivation or urge to strive to live by Islam. The role of the heart is crucial. It propels and guides. It is your commander.
Secondly, you need to sharpen your senses and your faculty of feeling and your imagination. You must travel in your mind's eye to the Akhirah. Envision yourself at that great final gathering on the Day of Judgment, naked and entirely helpless, lonely in a vast crowd. Try to feel the anxiety of that moment. Enter Jahannam: feel its heat, torment and ignominy; feel the fright. Step into Jannah: feel its peace, joy and honor.
You must shake off any suggestion or temptation to think of Akhirah, Jannah and Jahannam as mere symbols. Only recall what Muhammad (saws) took them to be. Look at this dua with which he started his tahajjud prayer every night: "O Allah! All praise is for you, You are the Holder of the Heavens and the Earth, and whatever is in them. All praise is for You; You have the possession of the Heavens and the Earth and whatever is in them. All praise is for You; You are the Light of the Heavens and the Earth, and all praise is for You; You are the King of the Heavens and the Earth, and all praise is for You; You are the Truth and Your Promise is true, and the meeting with You is true. Your Word is true. And Paradise is true. And Hell is true. And all the Prophets (Peace be upon them) are true; and Muhammad is true, and the Day of Resurrection is true. O Allah! I surrender (my will) to You; I believe in You and depend on You, and repent to You, and with Your help I argue (with my opponents, the non-believers) and I take You as a judge (to judge between us). Please forgive me my previous and future sins; and whatever I concealed or revealed, and You are the Expediter and You are the Deferrer. There is none to be worshipped but you" (Sahih Al Bukhari, Book 21, Hadith 221).
However, you should fear the Jahannam even more than you aspire for Jannah. Fear, fear of the real, is essential to safety. If a deer in the jungle was without fear, it would be devoured by the tiger. With fear come alertness and concentration, enabling one to stay on the course of safety. Like the tiger, Hell is lying in wait at every turn. For Muslims, what is there more real than Hell? Staying safe from Hell ensures entry into Jannah. Fear is the beginning of wisdom.
You should fight your hardest not to let this duniya dull your senses, feelings and imagination so as to make you indifferent to the reality of Akhirah and make you think that they are only a distant possibility or at worst, a very far-off event.
Come to the Qur'an and to Muhammad (saws) with these same sharpened senses, feelings and imagination. While reading or listening to the Qur'an, do not think that you are just reading from the pages of a book or listening to some mechanical device. Picture yourself beside Muhammad (saws), watching the Qur'an being revealed to him, and then hearing it from him. He is explaining the ayahs to you. When reading or hearing a hadith, imagine that you are with him and he himself is telling you what to do and not do, what you should be and not be. Make all these experiences direct and immediate for yourself. You will feel their impact by the grace of Allah (swt). Impact is what you need most in order for the guidance of Islam to sink deep into your heart and take root there.
Can man transport himself in such a way, cross this huge gap in time and space? Of course he can. Man is imminently suitable for this. There is nothing he can do better. Most of the time we are engaged in just this kind of thing; all our plans, hopes and fears rely on this capacity of ours. It all depends on what our hearts desire. When something possesses our hearts, we get automatically transported to all kinds of worlds and situations, which become more real than anything else. We do not know, or we do not care to know, how far we travel into the realm of the most ridiculous and the most grotesque without feeling the least bit surprised.
Knowing is not enough. To be of any benefit, it needs to be transformed into a feeling, a felt experience. Only then can knowledge move you to do whatever you need to do or to become. Only then can knowledge be a shaping force for you. This can never happen unless you can bring your senses, feelings and imagination to fulfill their rightful function.
The message of the Qur'an and the teachings of Muhammad (saws) have to remain fresh and alive in your heart with all their irresistible dignity, beauty, and power to move. There is an ayah in the Qur'an in which Allah (swt) warns man against a loss of the impact of His guidance: "...they should not become like those to whom was given revelation aforetime, but long ages passed over them and their hearts grew hard...for many among them are rebellious transgressors" (57:16). When this happens, you lose sight of what is valuable and get distracted by all that is destructive. Truth appears false, falsehood appears true. In other words, a complete reversal of values takes place. The heart loses its proper orientation, concentration and alertness. It loses its sensitivity to the things that really endure. Where Allah's guidance is concerned, man's senses get dulled, feelings blunted and his imagination becomes dormant. He becomes nothing more than an inert mass; he eats, drinks, sleeps and frolics, and one day dies in his heedlessness. This is a terrible danger to which all human beings are subject. Islam can be kept fresh and alive in the heart only with much effort; it is a hard task, but it can be done.
With your sharpened senses, feelings and imagination, the everyday aspects of your life will be transformed. You will be able joyfully to discover in Nature around you the varied manifestations of Allah's (swt) power and glory, to see through the deceptive appearance of this worldly life, and to perceive death's constant companionship with you. You will know what is of real value and what you really need.
Thirdly, your heart has to be ready. As the heart is moved, it becomes eager to obey, so that it can say with other true believers, "We hear and obey" (2:285). The ready heart is eager to please Allah (swt). It will seize every opportunity to please Him and rejoice when able to do so and likewise feel miserable at every missed opportunity. This heart is grateful, humble and obedient. You are grateful to Allah (swt) because you realize what a blessing Islam is for you. You are humble because you realize your own insignificance beside Allah (swt) and the smallness of your own understanding beside that of His Messenger (saws), and also because you know you are subject to lapses and forgetfulness. You are obedient because you know that only through obedience can you receive and hold the treasure that has been offered you in Islam and hope to please Allah (swt). Such a heart will constantly be supplicating to Allah (swt) for ever greater levels of sincerity and taqwa (God-consciousness) for itself and tawfiq (ability) from Him (swt) to abide by Islam. It knows that without tawfiq nothing can be attained, and tawfiq comes from Allah (swt) alone. It places all its hope in Allah's (swt) mercy and forgiveness.
Islam will be a source of joy and contentment and no longer appear burdensome or inconvenient. You will find the chambers of Islam opening before you one by one, where you will find shelter, sustenance, clothing, rest and comfort, a safe base from which you will be ushered into your permanent abode in eternity where you will be greeted with the greeting of salam by your Lord Himself: "'Peace!' - a word of salutation from a Lord Most Merciful" (36:58).
A. K. M. Mohiuddin is a retired university professor of English literature living in Bangladesh. He can be reached at this address: akmm45yahoo. com
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