THE SECRET OF SALVATION
Some verses of the Glorious Qur’ân begin with an oath in order to focus the audience’s attention on a subject of import. At times, the oath introduces a matter relating to the existence of Allah’s servants. There are occasion when the number of oaths increases in harmony with the increased importance of the subject in question. For example, Allah the Exalted begins the ninety-first chapter, al-Shams, with seven oaths. Each introduces one of the wonders of creation—the sun, the moon, the alternation of day and night, the skies, submission and the nafs—until, finally, Allah speaks of man’s internal struggle and affliction, showing him the only way to salvation: ‘By the Soul and the proportion and order given to it. And it’s inspiration as to its wrong and to its right; Truly he succeeds that purifies it, and he fails that corrupts it’ (Shams, 91: 7-10).
The Qur’ân makes clear that the human nafs has the capacity to be led by its carnal desires and the urge to sin while on the one hand, whilst on the other it possesses the capacity for taqwâ. The former tendency is the nafs’ desire to degenerate in the filth of the world, while the latter is characteristic of a soul that has the desire to spread its wings and take off into the skies.
Rûmî says the following regarding this subject:
“O traveler of truth! If you want to learn the reality, neither Pharaoh nor Moses is dead, they both live in your body, hidden in your existence. They continue their battle in your heart. Hence you need to search for these two enemies in yourself!”
Thus, we can see that taqwâ is essential when seeking protection from this enemy of man who confronts him at each and every moment of his life. The Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) asking Allah to bless him with taqwâ is an example for believers: “O Allah, Give my soul taqwâ and my conscience purity. You are the Master of my soul and the Guardian of my conscience” (Muslim, Dhikr, 73). The believer will only be successful in the struggle with his nafs if he continues to strive in every aspect of his life; he must live within the boundaries of taqwâ in every affair in life, from faith to worship. According to this, one of the main necessities of religion is:
TAQWÂ IN FAITH
If faith is not nourished with taqwâ many of the defects inherent in a person’s actions will remain; this will result in a weakening of faith and may even render it ultimately useless; a person after this will fall into ignorance and superstition. This is why taqwâ is of such great importance.
Taqwâ in faith begins by protecting the tawhîd (Divine Oneness) of Allah. The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said: “Whoever utters lâ ilâha illallâh during his last moments in this world will enter Paradise” (Hâkim, Mustadrak, I: 503). Yet, how is tawhîd protected? The first step in achieving this begins with a true comprehension of the Oneness of Allah. By saying lâ ilâha, all idols are removed from the heart in order for the attributes of Beauty to manifest. The attributes of Beauty cannot blossom when the heart is confused, under the influence of sordid ideas, lies in the turmoil of meaningless thoughts or dwells in an alley of blindness. The heart must be purified of negative feelings, negative dispositions and negative habits. Allah the Exalted says: “Do you see such a one has taken for his god his own passion (or impulse)?” (Furqân, 25: 43) pointing to the dangers of adhering to negative sentiments and desires of the heart.
The purification of the soul and the perfection of the self are important because the heart is the seat of faith. The roots and essence of faith bloom when the heart is nourished. This is why embedding faith into the soul is essential. Hence believing in Allah is the responsibility of the heart not that of the mind.
The mysteries and the secrets of the cosmos are untangled in accord with the strength of the heart and not the strength of a person’s intelligence. Abstruse realities are discovered by the heart. Rûmî says: “It is impossible to understand the never-ending depth of religion; an enlightened soul can only admire it.” The soul that is open to the discovery of infinite truths is itself a universe full of realities and secrets. Due to the soul’s unstable nature and easy change, the greatest difficulty in religion is keeping one’s faith after believing in Allah and other divine things. The Prophet (pbuh) said, “The heart is like a feather that is being blown about by the wind in a desert” (Ibn Mâjah, Muqaddimah, 10; Ahmad, IV: 408, 419). Changes in the heart can cause a diversion in faith. Protecting the heart with taqwâ is the only way to preserve faith. Hence, we must be aware;
NOT TO COMPROMISE OR BE INCLINED
TOWARDS WHAT IS WRONG
There can be no compromising of faith: one should not incline towards the unbelievers or sinners. One of the characteristics of the heart is that it is influenced by those for whom it feels affection. Thus, Allah Almighty says, “Incline not to those who do wrong, or the Fire will touch you” (Hûd, 11: 113), indicating that a believer must protect his soul from the affection of tyrants and sinners. We must never forget that Allah does not want our hearts to be associated with anything other than Himself. The unification of Allah means that we must allow nothing else into the heart; we must not entertain egoistical desires or feel any sympathy for tyrants and sinners. May Allah protect us, particularly from the enemies of belief and against harboring feelings of affection for those who are opposed to Islam for this can only harm the soul. Imâm Ghazâlî says: “Affinity with the ideas of unbelievers over time turns into an affinity of the heart; this affection will become the destruction of a person.”
The following warnings of the Prophet Muhammad are of utmost important: “When a sinner is praised Allah becomes angry and the earth trembles” (Bayhaqî, Shu‘ab, IV: 230).
“Do not call a hypocrite master, because that would make that disbeliever your chief (superior), and you will attract the Wrath of your Creator by so doing”(Abû Dâwud, Adab, 83; Ahmad, V: 346).
“Whoever resembles a nation is considered as one of them” (Abû Dâwud, Libâs, 4: 4031)
Taqwâ in faith and the protection of the heart is of such importance that the Prophet ordered his companions to participate in fasting on the 10th of Muharram including the day before or the day after in order to differentiate Islamic practice from the practice of the Jews (in Judaism there is a fast only on the 10th of Muharram). Thus, the Prophet Muhammad established a unique basis for the character of Islam and provided us with guidance. To confirm this practice is a requirement of faith, therefore we must take great care in girding our hearts with taqwâ. Estrangement of the heart can be compared to mistakenly cutting a main artery with a knife; one would die from the loss of blood. Indiscriminately acquainting the heart with inappropriate people will lead to a loss of purity of the soul and cause it to be absorbed in darkness. The heart is considered the most independent organ in the body as it will keep on beating even after the brain, the “command center”, has died. Since this is so, the warning to avoid careless actions is of even greater importance, as Allah the Almighty says in the ninth chapter of the Qur’ân, Tawba, ‘O ye who believe! Fear Allah…’ (9: 119) In order to protect ourselves from influences that may mislead us we have been given the Divine order:
BE WITH THOSE WHO ARE TRUTHFUL
It is a natural aspect of being human that we are influenced by those with whom we are familiar. Thus, it is necessary to have an awareness of the negative and positive aspects of our environment and of those with whom we spend time. If one is unaware of the influences they face this can lead to a weakness in taqwâ and even guide to destruction.
Taqwâ is protected by guarding the heart against the negative energy of people and by constantly filling the soul with positive energy. There is a current flowing between one heart and another. A simple glance from another person carries a degree of energy sufficient to effect change within us. The energy of the heart, however, is much greater in comparison.
Human beings can be devoted to both the truthful and to those who are oppressors; thus, the protection of truthfulness is achieved by being with those who are truthful and devoted, not with those who are cruel and oppressive.
A dervish once asked Bâyezîd Bistâmî: “Advise me of an action that will bring me closer to Allah.” The advice given was: “Love the friends of Allah! Love them so that they will love you. Strive to enter their hearts; Allah looks into the souls of the enlightened ones three hundred and sixty times a day, and if He sees your name in the hearts of just one of them He will forgive you.”
The special virtue of the Companions was that they were continuously in the company, or sohbet, of the Prophet thus obtaining something of his spirituality and bounty due to Prophethood. The word sohbet and sahabah (Companions) carry the same meaning; that is sahabah are those who were in the company of the prophet, hence, the physical and spiritual consolidation of the Prophet exalted the Companions. This consolidation has continues on from the time of the Prophet until today.
Sâdî Shirâzî,, explaining the benefits of being with the truthful ones, said: “The dog of the Companions of the Cave (Ashâb-i kehf) was granted a great honor because he was among the devoted ones; he has been mentioned in the Qur’ân and in history books.”
Rûmî made a similar remark: “That dog chose to be with the Companions of the Cave. Due to this pleasure he found in their company he will remain in front of the cave until the Day of Judgment. He will be without a dish to eat from but will instead drink the water of compassion and feed on the food of mercy.”
If the soul abandons the truthful ones and instead becomes familiar with sinners and being heedless of Allah then it is doomed. No one of any intelligence, understanding or perception will emerge from these groups or communities. Lût, for example, though he was a prophet, was confronted by the negative energy of his people and thus there was no one in his community able to understand the revelation he received; as a result Lût exclaimed: ‘… is there not among you a single right-minded man?’ (Hûd, 11: 78)
In another place, the Qur’ân (Tahrîm, 66: 10) mentions the wives of Nûh and Lût, who chose to be among the sinners rather than with the Prophets, thus being condemned to Hell. Even the wives of the Prophets will not be saved from Divine punishment for their sins. Thus, while at one place in the Qur’ân a mere dog has been given a place of importance, at another two rebellious wives of Prophets have been eternally damned.
Taking this into consideration today where there is little loyalty, in a time when we are approaching the end of the world, taqwâ gains even more importance, because holding on to true faith now is
LIKE GRASPING AN EMBER
In a hadîth, the Prophet Muhammad said: “Woe to the Arabs, for a great evil is approaching them. It will be like patches of dark night. A man will rise in the morning a believer and become an unbeliever by nightfall. People will sell their religion for a small price. The one who clings to his religion on that day will be like one who is grasping on to an ember.” (Ahmad, II: 390; Muslim, Îmân, 186; Tirmidhî, Fitan, 30: 2196).
In many verses of the Qur’ân good actions are mentioned alongside faith because the lantern of faith is worship and actions; it is for this reason that the second most important degree of taqwâ is
TAQWÂ IN WORSHIP, ESPECIALLY IN PRAYER
We will draw closer to taqwâ the more that we put care into performing the duties of worship required of us by the fact of our very existence and as part of our servitude to Allah. Only worship that is free of heedlessness and performed with the intention of obtaining the approval of Allah will result in perfection. For example, we know the practical aspects of the prayer; but the real truth of its wisdom is to bring man before Allah. This is a meeting granted to us so that we conquer our spiritual and material needs. Just how close is our prayer to that which has been described and is expected from us by Allah the Merciful? As revealed in the Qur’an, “Indeed prayer restrains from shameful and evil deeds” (Ankabût, 29: 45) Are our prayers like this? The following was revealed in the Qur’ân to demand that the heart of a believer be in a state of reunion with Allah when prostrating: “Prostrate in adoration, and bring thyself the closer (to Allah)!” (‘Alaq, 96: 19) At what level of perfection is our prostration?
The state of our family, our business, and our official duties are all reflections of how we pray. If we pray properly we will have a pious family life, an honest business life and fulfill our official duties in the best way. Allah revealed the following concerning those who do not benefit from the prayer, and whose hearts are full of error: “Woe to those who pray.” (Mâ‘ûn, 107: 4) The Qur’ân focuses our attention on protecting the prayer, its continuity and on submission during its performance. In the same way that physical and spiritual purification is necessary before prayer, submission of the heart is also necessary—the heart must be sensitive and aware that we are standing before Allah. The Prophet Muhammad said, “Allah the Exalted loves every heart that is full of reverence (to Allah), sadness (due to the feeling of not fulfilling the obligations as commanded) and mercy, He loves those who teach people good and call them to obey Allah” (Daylamî, I: 158).
The Prophet (pbuh) once saw a man who was fiddling with his beard while praying; he exclaimed, “look and consider, if this man’s heart had true submission his limbs would also submit” (‘Alî al-Muttaqî, VIII, 197: 22530).
Another example of taqwâ in worship is,
TAQWÂ IN FASTING
Fasting is the practice of asceticism, or the minimum use of permitted things, refraining from lawful foods and actions during the day (from dawn to dusk). Perfection and taqwâ in fasting requires expanding the conditions of the fast into our daily lives, living in abstinence from greed, avoiding extravagance and abstaining from what is forbidden or doubtful. The fast shows us how dependant we are on a slice of bread or a glass of water; this is another way that Allah reminds us of just how dependant we are on Him. Those who attain to taqwâ in worship also gain the same spiritual feeling from the fast. They are able to contemplate the value of the blessings Allah has given them and feel affection for those who have been deprived in some way. A feeling of mercy and compassion for the hungry increases during the fast and, as a result, this mercy is reflected in charity.
TAQWÂ IN GIVING CHARITY
When giving in charity we should be aware of who this wealth really belongs to. Believers should attain a level where they look at the creation with the eyes of the Creator, that is, with compassion and kindness. This is what we call attaining taqwâ in giving charity.
Communists say, “wealth belongs to the community” while the capitalists say “wealth belongs to the individual.” Islam declares, “wealth has just been entrusted to human beings; everything is only a temporary provision, the true owner is Allah”. Merit comes when the wealth is delivered to its rightful owner. So within these limits, the entrusted one does not have the right to be miserly nor extravagant.
“Do they not know that Allah accepts repentance from His servants and takes the alms, and that Allah is the Oft-returning (to mercy), the Merciful?..”(Tawba, 9: 104) This verse should remain constantly in our minds as the measure of taqwâ in aid and charity; this measure is giving without any expectation or seeking compliments or honor, and with no feeling of pride in the heart. Rather, one should say, “Lillah, O my Lord, this is given only for Your sake”. These are the true measures of charity. Allah the Merciful revealed the measure of taqwâ and kindness in charity as follows: “Cancel not your charity by reminders of your generosity or by injury” (Baqarah, 2: 264). This clearly states the taqwâ one should have when giving charity.
Abû l-Layth Samarkandî said: ‘The truth about giving in charity is that the person who gives should show gratitude to the one who receives, as with this acceptance the receiver has saved the giver from many kinds of egoistic attachments, as well as strife and calamity; above all, he has gained the pleasure of Allah.”
My dear father, Mûsâ Efendi, was very sensitive about the kindness he showed when giving; he wanted to prevent any suffering or shame that the recipients of the charity might feel, and thus he would write on the envelope: ‘Dear Mr so-and-so, we thank you for accepting this’. This sincere gratitude from his heart for the receiver was because what was being given was with the hope that Mûsâ Efendi would receive the Divine pleasure and approval of Allah.
May Allah grant us this level of taqwâ when giving to charity. Âmîn!
As we have explained previously, taqwâ is like a Divine concoction that should be at the base of every religious duty; therefore, the first state we should seek in our worship is taqwâ. Hajj is another of the physical religious duties, like charity, which is carried out under the same conditions. The ‘wealth’ needed by a pilgrim is that which, when he is faced with difficulties whilst in ihram, his heart continues in a refined state so that it gains the blessings of Allah.
TAQWÂ DURING THE HAJJ
The Hajj is a demanding duty, both financially and physically; and apart from the financial and physical aspects of the Hajj, the pilgrimage of a person with taqwâ, consists of being spiritually present in this holy place and in gaining spiritually. Remembering the days that are experienced while wearing a cloth resembling the death shroud and keeping alive this spiritual feeling is an essential part of the Hajj. We must contemplate the devotion of Ibrâhîm when we stone the Devil. During the Hajj there is to be no unnecessary speech, no sinning and no conflict! We have to avoid situations and actions that distance us from Allah; distancing ourselves from aggressive behavior and arguments and putting this into practice in our daily lives are all the result of attaining taqwâ during the Hajj.
While on Hajj it is forbidden to hunt or to pluck a leaf from a living tree. It is even forbidden to tempt a hunter by pointing him in the direction of a potential catch. The purpose is to teach us to extend kindness, gentleness, grace, compassion and sensitivity into our everyday lives. Thus, our religious duties on the whole, including the prayer, fasting, giving charity and performing the Hajj must be performed in a sincere and genuine manner with taqwâ, not just on occasion; these qualities must set root in our hearts. If we are not capable of achieving this, this means that the heart has not reached the level of taqwâ. A believer must analyse their ego and thus recognise the obstacles that have prevented them from achieving this.
THREE IMPEDIMENTS OF TAQWÂ
The first of these impediments is pride; that is, egocentrism. This means that we ascribe our abilities and aptitudes to ourselves though they have actually been granted to us by Allah. We thus act like the Devil, the Pharaoh and Qârûn who also attributed everything to themselves. Hâjî Bayrâm-i Walî said that pride is like a stone tied around the waist; with it you can neither swim nor fly.
The second impediment is miserliness; that is, acting parsimoniously, withholding time or energy for religious duties and daily actions. We should take into consideration the fact that “Paradise is for the generous and Hellfire is for the miserly” (Imâm ‘Alî).
The third impediment is foolishness. A person who abandons the Hereafter preferring to accept the blindness of the world, choosing the present life of heedlessness over the eternal universe, can only be a fool.
Concerning those things that can harm taqwâ, the Prophet Muhammad said the following words: “There will come such a time when nothing will be dearer than these three things: lawful earnings, true brotherhood and my Sunnah” (Haythamî, I: 172 ). Earning lawful money, enjoying brotherhood based on sincerity and living by the Sunnah is only possible with the guidance of truth and good actions. This is why another aspect of taqwâ is
TAQWÂ IN CONDUCT
Taqwâ of conduct and sensitivity in every aspect is necessary to ensure bliss and contentment for the individual and the environment. For instance, taqwâ in compassion means giving of what you possess to the deprived and less fortunate. In other words, compassion means struggling to help those who have been deprived in the community. Compassion is a believer’s conscience of mind in this world and is cause for glad tidings of eternal happiness in the Hereafter. Having mercy is a great blessing from Allah, because it is the result of compassion. Those who pity others are generous, humble and conscious of their duties towards others.
Thus, when in good health, we should contemplate the situation of the disabled, the orphan and the deprived. We must realise that they have been entrusted to us by Allah the Exalted; Allah has sent this people as a trial for us, because a believer is responsible for his brother in faith and humanity.’ This is the understanding of Islam.
This is why a believer should hold himself to account at all times and question the degree of compassion that he has. Compassion is the sweetness of faith. Rahmân, the Compassionate, and Rahîm, the Merciful, are the two most oft-mentioned names of Allah in the Qur’ân; this indicates to us that Allah wishes for the believers to be perfected with the attribute of compassion.
Inspired by a hadîth, Rûmî advises the use of compassion by a believer:
“Be compassionate to those less fortunate than you so that those more fortunate than you will show you compassion.” The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said, “I swear by He who holds my soul in His hand, you will not enter Paradise until you believe, and you will not believe until you love each other.” The Companions replied, “O Prophet of Allah, we are compassionate,” in consideration of the compassion they showed towards their children and families. The Prophet replied, “The affection of which I speak is not just for you own kind; this affection includes the whole of creation, yes the whole of creation” (Hâkim, IV, 185: 7310).
It is recorded that while the Prophet was on his way to Mecca together with the Muslim army, he came across a dog at the road-side feeding her puppies. He ordered his army to cross to the other side of the road so as not to disturb the dog and her puppies. On another occasion, when he saw an ants’ nest that had been burned out, he cried out: “It is not becoming that anyone except Allah should punish with fire!” (Abû Dâwud, Jihâd, 112). If compassion is to be embedded in the soul a person must attain a
STATE OF ALTRUISM (ÎSAR)
The next stage of compassion is altruism; this means thinking of others before thinking of oneself. This is the ultimate level of compassion. It is the state in which Allah loves to see believers. In the Qur’ân, Allah has commended the Ansâr who had shown preference for the Muhâjirûn over themselves. “Those who before them, had homes (in Madinah) and had adopted the Faith,- show their affection to such as came to them for refuge, and entertain no desire in their hearts for things given to the (latter), but give them preference over themselves, even though poverty was their (own lot). And those saved from the covetousness of their own souls, they are the ones that achieve prosperity.” (Hashr, 59: 9)
This is the great tribute paid to those who have achieved taqwâ in compassion and altruism. One of the most significant virtues of the companions of Allah is that they consider others before themselves and their nafs is protected against the evil pitfalls of the world by true taqwâ.
‘Ubaydullâh Ahrâr reported: “A man came and said, ‘I am hungry, can you feed me?’ I was also hungry, but I had no money or any means to feed myself or him. I took the poor man to a cook and said, ‘I have no money but the turban I am wearing is clean. You can use it to dry dishes and in return for this piece of cloth feed this hungry man with some bread.’ The cook gave the man a dish of food and even though I was hungry I just sat with him while he ate. Taking off the turban, I gave it to the cook. At first, he refused saying that he did not want it. So I told him: ‘I gave you my word, so take it’. After this Allah blessed me with wealth. I had two thousand workers on my farm. Then I took on the responsibility of looking after two men who were unwell. They began to soil themselves due to the severity of their illness. I brought water to clean them; after a while I caught the illness, but I continued to tend them.” Look at what a great level of altruism and compassion he showed.
They are the ones who abide by the order ‘Spend of your substance!’ (Baqarah, 2: 195). They remain on the path of taqwâ with actions of kindness towards all of the creation of Allah. They are the ones of true perfection and benevolence. Thus the essence of taqwâ in actions is
TAQWÂ IN IHSÂN (KINDNESS)
The word ihsân occurs in various forms over a hundred and ninety times in the Qur’ân. In light of one of its primary meanings, to show kindness, a believer must show kindness in the best possible way in every aspect of his life, whether in his heart, environment, business, or at home. Another of the meanings of ihsân is the awareness that every movement is being observed; thus taqwâ in kindness and generosity is necessary in every step we take in life.
Finally, the state of a believer should be one of beauty, excellence and perfection at all times. This is achieved through faith and taqwâ in submission, and this means that a believer continuously compares his submission to Allah with his submission to humans. Allah describes the condition of a believer’s heart in the following verse: ‘For, believers are those who, when Allah is mentioned, feel a tremor in their hearts, and when they hear His revelations rehearsed, find their faith strengthened, and put (all) their trust in their Lord.’ (Anfâl, 8: 2)
O Allah! Strengthen our faith and deeds with taqwâ and grant us a degree of taqwâ which is to Your approval. Place us among those whose souls tremble on hearing Your name, those whose faith increases with the reading of every verse of the Qur’ân, and among the ones who worship You alone!
(From the book of; IKHLÂS AND TAQWÂ SINCERITY AND PIETY)