Allah the Almighty endowed humanity with special qualities like reason, logic, and the ability to reflect. He elevated humanity above all creation. The noble Qur’an explains everything by examples, and it has made clear that it only addressing rational people. Allah always asks his servants to engage in reflection, to consider all beings with an eye toward gaining wisdom, and to take lessons from them. This is why Allah invites us to contemplation in many verses in the noble Qur’an, by saying “Do not you think?”, “Do not you apprehend?”, “…so that you may reflect,” “… maybe you will reflect,” “Take heed!”
The noble Qur’an indicates that reason, guided by revelation, is the proper faculty for reflection, and addresses human beings with the expression “O possessors of a center!,” which is interpreted by the wise as, “O people of reason!” This is why rational people who wish to pursue a life in accordance with human dignity must enter into the world of contemplation illuminated by the noble Qur’an.
We Muslim would not have hit upon many truths through reason, if Islam had not displayed before us a certain horizon of contemplation. Worse, we might have employed our reason exclusively in the pursuit of worldly desires. To protect ourselves from that disaster, we need the guidance and warnings of the noble Qur’an and the Prophetic tradition. In fact, these are the only guides that can turn human contemplation in the right direction, and that can explain the principles of living according to the straight path.
Contemplation is one of the most important acts of worship. In order to pursue a life proper to servants of Allah, we should search out the wisdom and secrets of the cosmos and study the events that occur in it. In order to achieve that goal, we must deepen our hearts through contemplation. It must be an ideal and an aspiration for every believer to reach agreement between all the thoughts in our minds and the good pleasure of Allah, between the feelings of our hearts – even the breaths we inhale or exhale – and divine acceptance. This is because Allah the Almighty created us in order to serve His grandeur. Anything that contradicts the fundamental reason for our existence falls within the definition of extravagance.
The faculty of reason, which is one of the most awesome gifts bestowed upon humanity, is not sufficient in itself to lead people to truth. The value of human contemplation depends on the harmonious functioning of both mind and heart. The mind by itself may be enough for worldly affairs and pursuit of one’s own interests. But in order for us to become mature in faith, the heart, which is the center of feeling, must be educated in spiritual matters, so that it may provide guidance to reason. In fact, the heart governs reflection, and reflection governs intention. This means that the power behind all voluntary actions is the heart and the feelings rooted in it. Thus insuring that one’s heart is educated according to the divine commands is more important than training all the other faculties.
The rational faculty of a person whose heart is lit up by the noble Qur’an and the Prophetic tradition acquires familiarity with the truth. Reason and the heart are created in such a manner that they lead people to goodness and truth on the condition that they receive the light of divine guidance. True contemplation emerges at the crossroads where reason and the heart, illuminated by revelation, come together.
Attempting to puzzle out issues beyond the capacity of reason is contemplative extravagance of another sort. We are called upon to reflect on the disclosure of the divine attributes and the particularities of the noble Qur’an, the cosmos, and human beings. However, attempting to contemplate matters that are beyond human grasp, such as the divine essence or the secrets of destiny, is a waste of our mental abilities. Such attempts are prohibited by the noble Qur’an and the Prophetic tradition.
Just as there is a limit to the range of light that eyes can see, and a limit to the range of sound that ears can hear, so there is a limit to the range of truths that reason can grasp. This is why reason is in need of guidance by revelation. Just as it is a disaster not to contemplate the divine realities, so it is also a disaster if we ignore our intrinsic limitations and try to push the mind beyond its capacity. This wasteful effort is profligacy of intellect, and can result in disappointment in the Hereafter.
Human reason often operates under the influence of worldly desires and diseases of the heart such as pride and arrogance. When reason lacks the guidance of a peaceful and healthy heart, it goes astray. Contemplation undertaken in such conditions may lead to savage and perverse conclusions. Mawlânâ Jalâluddîn Rûmî ŞÏÓÓÑåsaid, “If Satan had had as much love as he had intellect, he would not have fallen into the situation of damnation he is in now.”
Thus reason is neutral: it has no positive value on its own. It must be guided by the sensitivity originating from the heart. If the feelings occurring to our hearts can assume a spiritual character through spiritual education, then they may properly govern our reason.
Managing one’s feelings is extremely difficult. However, we are obliged to work continuously to bring our feelings into accordance with the good pleasure of Allah. Our method is to engage in contemplation according to the Qur’anic precepts and the Prophetic example. Once our horizons have been expanded by such contemplative activity, by Allah’s kindness and grace our thoughts and feelings will come to meet with His acceptance.
The same heart which is the abode of feelings is also the abode of faith. Indeed, faith is a noble feeling, a high sensation. Accordingly, faith is said to be the affirmation of the heart, not the affirmation of reason. The divine secrets in the cosmos can be discovered only by an intellect that operates under the guidance of a heart filled with faith. This is why the most important and the most sensitive issue concerning religion is the issue of faith. Faith does not survive when concessions made to worldly ambitions. Even a tiny crack in a glass will grow bigger and bigger, until eventually the whole glass shatters. In the realm of the heart, we must always be watchful for apparently small damages. It is necessary to head off the formation of even the smallest stain on the heart.
Reverence in worship increases the reward a servant receives for worship. Carelessness in worship decreases its reward. However, if a person reflects only upon his personal interests and a crack forms in his heart, his faith will be in danger. Carelessness in matters of faith, may Allah protect us, leads people to destruction.
There are so many cases. Qârûn makes a good example. Qârûn at first was a virtuous person. After Allah bestowed upon him a large amount of wealth, he became spoiled and arrogant. He began to feel that he had accumulated his wealth entirely by his own efforts. He became so proud and blind that he attempted to oppose the Prophet Moses (pbuh). Finally Allah the Almighty buried him underground, with all his wealth. In the noble Qur’an his end is described in the following manner:
So We caused the earth to swallow him and his dwelling-place. Then he had no host to help him against Allah, nor was he of those who can save themselves. (Qasas, 28/81)
A heart that loses its grounding in faith is like a knife that slips while one is cutting bread: just a moment of negligence and there is injury. The knife slips in an instant, and our feelings manifest in an instant.
The heart where feelings emerge is the freest organ in the body. Its inclinations can shift at any time. The Prophet (pbuh) said, “The heart is between the two fingers of the All-Compassionate, and He turns it howsoever He pleases.” The heart has a share of the divine attribute the Guider, and also a share of the divine attribute the Misguider. No one knows when either of them may dominate the other.
Another example is Bal`am ibn Bawrah, whose story is mentioned in the noble Qur’an. His inclination toward the worldly cravings originating from his lower soul destroyed him. At first he was among the virtuous servants of Allah. He even manifested miracles, and his prayers were granted. But ultimately he inclined toward his selfish desires: he entrusted the control of his reason to his ego, and this resulted in his destruction. The noble Qur’an tells his story as following:
Recite unto them the tale of him to whom We gave Our revelations, but he sloughed them off, so Satan overtook him and he became of those who lead astray. And had We willed We could have raised him by their means, but he clung to the earth and followed his own lust. Therefore his likeness is as the likeness of a dog: if you attack him he pants with his tongue out, and if you leave him alone he pants with his tongue out. Such is the likeness of the people who deny Our revelations. Narrate unto them the history (of the people of old), that haply they may take thought. (A’râf, 7/175).
As I have explained above, attempting to use reason outside the control of revelation and for the sake of realizing selfish desires makes human beings stupid, and leads them into the kind of confusion mentioned in the preceding Qur’anic verse. This is why the Prophet (pbuh) used to pray saying: “O my Lord! May you not leave me to my self even if it is only for the blink of an eye.” This saying displays the spiritual state of the ideal believer.
Thus in order to save our faith, we must undergo an education of feeling that keeps us poised between fear and hope, and directs our contemplation accordingly. If we aim to die with believing hearts, we must keep our hearts sensitive and aware throughout our lives. Indeed Allah the Almighty states in the noble Qur’an:
O you who believe! Observe your duty to Allah with right observance, and die not except in a state of Islam.(Âl-Imrân, 3/102).
For example, if we do not love and hate for the sake of Allah, we will love that which we should hate and hate that which we should love, and spiritual disaster will ensue. One must learn to direct both love and hate where they belong. The company of servants who are mindful of Allah draws a believer into happiness. In the noble Qur’an Allah declares:
O you who believe! Be careful of your duty to Allah, and be with the truthful. (at-Tawbah, 9/119).
On the other hand, to attach oneself to an enemy of religion is a prelude to disaster. In this regard, Allah says:
…sit not, after your remembrance, in the congregation of evildoers.(An’âm, 6/68).
Thus in order to engage in sound contemplation, our feelings must be illuminated by light from the divine source.
In a different verse in the noble Qur’an, Allah declares:
Lo! We offered the trust unto the heavens and the earth and the mountains, but they shrank from bearing it and were afraid of it. And the human being assumed it, who has been a tyrant and a fool. (Ahzâb, 33/72).
Since humanity has not been able properly to appreciate the weight of the trust we assumed, in this verse we are characterized as zalûm (tyrannical) and jahûl (violently ignorant). These expressions are meant to underline the importance of the trust and to call people to pay attention. In order to get rid of the characteristics zalûm and jahûl, we must do praiseworthy deeds and be able to turn our inner and outer knowledge into direct recognition of the presence of Allah via contemplation. In this regard, our Lord informs us n the Qur’anic chapter `Asr that in order for humanity to free itself from disappointment we must have faith, do praiseworthy deeds, and advise each other toward truth and forbearance – which is an act of worship that
results from serving the wellbeing of the whole community. Pointing out the depth and density of meaning in the verses of this chapter, Imam Shafi’î remarked, “If people were to reflect upon Surah `Asr and analyze it properly, it would suffice for them.” (Ibn Kathîr, Commentary on Surah `Asr).
In the noble Qur’an, our Lord opens for us a wide horizon of contemplation. One of the verses that must be considered in this regard is the following:
They remember Allah standing, sitting, and lying on their sides, and reflect upon the creation of the heavens and the earth, (saying): Our Lord! You did not create this in vain. Glory be to You! So preserve us from the suffering of the Fire.(Âl-Imrân, 3/191)
The beautiful manifestations of divine power in the realm of space (such as the wonders manifest in the earth and the heavens) and the realm of time (such as the changes related to night and day) –all these invite people of reflective intelligence to draw closer to Allah. Allah the Almighty wishes us to be acquainted with the cosmic language. Indeed all beings speak to those who are available for the divine illuminations. All things, from atoms to the planet, can remind humanity of the glory of our Lord.
When servants contemplate the disclosures of divine glory in the cosmos, we are led to humility and finally to the realization of our nothingness. The maturity of a believer rests upon his comprehension of the fact that he is weak and limited before his Lord. Only the acceptance of the fact of our smallness and incapacity in the face of the grandeur and immensity of Allah can do away with the rampant diseases of pride and self-admiration.
In this regard the Prophet (pbuh) used to pray, asking Allah for forgiveness, “O my Lord! We are not able to know You as You should be known…” (Munâwî II, 520).
The ego of anyone who has never tasted impotence and despair is like a wild stallion. Pharaoh, Nimrod (persecutor of Abraham), Qârûn, and Haman were all like this. Such people enjoy the suffering of others. For them, the cries of the afflicted are like pleasant melodies.
On the other hand if a person suffers some disease, disaster, or tragedy in the world, but is able to take heed of it, the pain he has lived through will turn out to be good for him. This is because the experience of inability, despair, and nothingness leads such a person in the direction of modesty and humility, and causes him to cry “O my Allah!” from the depths of his heart.
Again, people reach levels of maturity that are commensurate to the sufferings they undergo and the difficulties they overcome. This is why Allah the Exalted made His prophets and virtuous servants subject to ordeals according to their various spiritual levels. Such ordeals turned out to be manifestations of divine grace, and served the perfection of their spiritual status.
Sheikh Sâ`dî of Shirâz declared, “For those who reflect, every leaf of every tree, no matter how thin it may be, is like a thick detailed book providing knowledge of Allah (that is, the heart’s recognition of Allah). For rough fools, all the trees on earth do not amount to a single leaf.”
In order for our sense-organs and intellect to be able to perceive the divine secrets in the universe, our reason must be shaped by contemplation and our heart must have spiritual depth. The course of divine power through the cosmos is like soundless and wordless divine poetry. This divine poetry gains profundity only insofar as the heart perceives it.
The Friends of Allah contemplate the works of divine art throughout the cosmos as if gazing into a deep well. They depart from there to the realms of spirit. Words fail to express the situation of a heart that feels and sees; tongues fall short of articulating it. Those who gaze upon the cosmos with such sensitivity of heart taste the joy of the wonders manifested by divine artistry.
Such people turn their attention to the marvelously diverse leaves and flowers of plants, which all grow out of the same soil; upon their fruits that differ in terms of color, smell, taste and form. They look at the butterfly, displaying extraordinary patterns in its wings despite a lifespan of only two weeks. They listen to the secret messages that all things announce in the language of their natures. For such people, the universe is a book waiting to be read.
Meanwhile, ignorant people in whom the seas of intellect and heart run shallow or dry watch only the outer covering of things. They remain unaware of the spiritual pearls within. Mawlânâ Jalâluddîn Rûmî describes them:
Those whose hearts are filled with the love of the world are like hunters of shadows. How can anyone possess a shadow? Indeed, a foolish hunter took the shadow of a bird to be the bird itself, and attempted to catch it. Even the bird perched on the branch of the tree was amazed by the action of this foolish hunter!
A Friend of Allah stated, “For the intelligent, this life consists of watching divine beauties. For the foolish, it consists of satisfying selfish desires.”
The people of heart consider this world with the intention of taking heed and learning the wisdom behind all things. They recognize a subtle disclosure in everything, and so obtain wise insights from the world. Those who are ignorant say, “Take it easy, and try your best to enjoy whatever you can: we come to this world but once!” Such an attitude increases the darkness and fragmentation of their hearts.
Mawlânâ Jalâluddîn Rûmî invites us to come to our senses, think about our situation, and consider the wisdom behind our existence in the universe.
Observe the human community wisely! … Why do you consider your bodily desires and individual interests as important as great mountains? And why do you consider a man with sound contemplation as unimportant as an ant? Why are you blind and foolish, although you see the course of divine greatness and power running through the universe? O you who fall lowest of the low! Just as a stone knows nothing, you know nothing of contemplation. How unfortunate you are! Since you have lost contemplation, you are deprived of the greatest bliss.
It is very sad when the divine bounty of contemplation is subjugated to selfish desires. To live without reflection is a sign of laziness and rough ignorance. To lose one’s sensitivity is to let one’s heart go blind and deaf, and for the heart to remain indifferent before all these divine disclosures is not compatible with human dignity. There is no question about it: to stare uncomprehendingly at the cosmos with stupid and glowering looks is a spiritual disaster. This situation is described In the Qur’an:
(O My Messenger!) Do they (those who oppose you) not travel through the land, so that their hearts (and minds) may thus learn wisdom and their ears may thus learn to hear? Truly it is not their eyes that are blind, but the hearts that are in their breasts.(Hajj, 22/46)
Mawlânâ considers using the faculty of reflection improperly to be like “putting trash in a golden bowl.” That is a perfect image for wasting the bounties of contemplation and awareness by using them for sake of mundane and base desires.
One must practice reflection properly, and in a proper environment. Otherwise, thinking goes off course, and may lead the unwise to spiritual disappointment. Those who do not take the divine warnings into account shall be regretful in the Hereafter for wasting the divine bounty of contemplation by directing it toward the satisfaction of their selfish desires. The noble Qur’an explains this :
Therein will they cry aloud (for assistance): “Our Lord! Bring us out: we shall work righteousness, not the (deeds) we used to do!” “Did We not give you long enough life so that he who would, should receive admonition? And (moreover) the warner came to you. So taste you (the fruits of your deeds): for wrongdoers there is no helper. (Fatir 35/37).
Thus we must use our reason properly in order to reach salvation in the Hereafter. We must illuminate our feelings and thoughts with light from the divine source, not with grandiose satanic suggestions or selfish desires. Mawlânâ states that one must be very careful in this regard. “The devilish thoughts, imaginations and misgivings that emerge in us are like thorns in our hearts. These thorns come not only from one single person, but from thousands of people, and pierce into our hearts.”
We must protect ourselves from misgivings that originate in our animal souls or in the Devil, since these destroy the spiritual attunement of our hearts and ruin our faculties of contemplation and sensitivity. A radio tuned to the wrong channel cannot receive the transmissions of another broadcasting station, and so it is with the heart. If it remains in misapprehension and ignorance, it will pick up no guidance and its destination is destruction. Fish live best in the sea, and creatures of land live best on the earth. Similarly, the human soul reaches happiness within the illuminated climate of the noble Qur’an and the Prophetic tradition.
The most important horizon of contemplation is certainly contemplation of death. It saves us from the deception of devilish temptations and intoxication with bodily pleasures, and so makes a human being the possessor of a cognizant heart. In the noble Qur’an, Allah says:
And the stupor of death comes to him. (And it is announced to him:) “This is the thing which you were trying to escape!”(Qâf, 50/19).
In a tradition, the Prophet (pbuh) declares: “Remember death as much as possible, since it destroys the pleasures.” (Tirmidhî, Qiyâmah 26).
Mature people are those who decode the hints concerning life after death and get ready for the next life while they live this one. Unless one contemplates life after death, one cannot know the secrets of our common future. It is necessary for anyone who has a sound intellect to reflect properly, in a climate of awareness and attention, upon the meaning of our short journey between the cradle and the grave.
To untie the knot concerning the future is not possible through simple human reflection. One can achieve this only if one submits oneself to the guidance of revelation. Otherwise we will merely exhaust ourselves in the vain attempt to escape from death.
Allah the Almighty invites us to His Paradise. That is why He warns us against heedlessness. In the noble Qur’an, Allah says:
Did you then think that We had created you in vain, and that you would not be brought back to Us (for accounting)? (Mu’minûn, 23/115)
In this regard, the Prophet (pbuh) asked Allah for protection from losing our contemplation and sensitivity under the intrusion of worldly affaires, and prayed, “O my Allah! May You not make the world our greatest thought and purpose, and the peak to which our knowledge can reach!…” (Tirmidhî, Da’awât, 79).
Again our Prophet (pbuh) invited us to contemplation even through the prayers he offered before going to sleep. Through his own example, he commended a gratitude and glorification that are simultaneous with a keen awareness of the state of the poor: “Praise belongs to Allah who feeds us and quenches our thirst, who protects and shelters us, for how many there are who have no protection or shelter” (Muslim, Dhikr, 6). It is a significant responsibility of the servants of Allah to contemplate the divine bounties received during each day and to thank Allah the Almighty for them. One must think about the importance of being able to get into bed with a full belly while so many people in the world fall asleep without food and water; to lie down to sleep with a feeling of satisfaction and security, while so many people are subject to poverty and danger; and to rest comfortably, while so many people spend the night without a roof over their heads because of disasters that have fallen upon them.
Great bounties mean great responsibilities. Thus making a reckoning of what we have received each day before going to bed that night has an indispensable place in the life of contemplation. Indeed `Umar, the second caliph who said, “Reckon up your soul before the accounting is required of you,” used to painstakingly evaluate his conscience. He took his position as leader extremely seriously. “If a sheep should drown in the Tigris,” he once remarked, “Allah will question `Umar about it.” And he would address himself, “Umar, what have you done today for Allah?”
How many times, I wonder, have we experienced such feelings? We tire ourselves out in pursuit of a livelihood, but how many nights have we subjected our hearts to a reckoning? How much time do we spend thinking about why we are created, where we have come from and where we are going, and to what extent our lives are acceptable to Allah? How much time do we devote to examining how fully we have implemented the requirements of our religion? To what extent do we shape our lives according to the commands of our Lord? How deep can we go into the cultural and spiritual world of the noble Qur’an, which is Allah’s message communicated to us? And how far might we imitate the beautiful examples in the life of the Prophet (pbuh), whose life was the animate Qur’an? How much do we care about our shortcomings in these matters? Or have we lost our best treasury of contemplation?
The Qur’an relates to us the story of Habîb an-Najjâr, who suffered stoning by the members of his tribe but saved his faith; the story of the people of Uhdûd who were burnt in ditches; and the story of the magicians who were subject to Pharaoh’s torture after they reached the guidance of Allah. We are given all these exemplary cases. But how much are we aware of the value of Allah’s gift, our faith?
May Allah the Almighty keep us away from being deprived of contemplation, as well as from becoming wasteful of this great divine bounty! May he make our hearts, minds, and senses follow a course suitable to His divine approval!
. Jâmi` as-Saghîr, v. I, p. 58