Contemplation: The Key to the Truth and Salvation
Reaching the Truth is possible only through contemplation. How can a person who acts blind and deaf towards the glaring presence of Divine majesty find the right path? Not for no reason do they say, ‘That which does not awaken feelings is not knowledge’.
The mindsets of nonbelievers who cannot come around to finding the Truth are described by Allah, glory unto Him, below:
“Surely you do not make the dead to hear, and you do not make the deaf to hear the call when they go back retreating.” (an-Naml, 80)
A mind trained under Divine revelation, which assures security from coming under the grip of groundless fears, deliriums and desires, combined with an effort to emulate the heart thread of the Prophet –upon him blessings and peace-, guides one to the truth and good. The Prophet’s –upon him blessings and peace- all other miracles aside, just reflecting on his morals and life would suffice to convince one of his honesty and the goodness of everything to which he invited. As a result of this reflection and with Divine help, one is then saved from the clamp of the ego and the dead ends of reason.
The plight and remorse of those in Hellfire are depicted by the Almighty as follows:
“And they shall cry therein for help: O our Lord ! Take us out; we will do good deeds other than those which we used to do. Did We not preserve you alive long enough, so that he who would be mindful in it should mind? And there came to you the one who warns; therefore taste; because for the unjust, there is no helper.”(Fatir, 37)
That means man can reach the truth and eternal salvation through two avenues:
1) By either finding righteous Muslims and surrendering himself to their dependable hands and obeying the Real through the inspiration and spirituality received from them;
2) Or by using his ability to contemplate and sense in the direction of the Quran and Sunnah to find the truth, to which he is to submit his ego. Not obeying the ahl’ul-haqiqah and not training the mind and then following its unwavering lead is bound to conclude in a tragic end.
True Contemplation: Affirming the Necessary Existence
As expressed before, it is impossible for human beings to grasp the Essence of Allah, glory unto Him. The only means for knowledge open to humans are the five senses, reason and heart; yet all of their capabilities are limited. With limited means, there is simply no way of grasping the One who is Absolute, Primordial and Everlasting. Limited means only amounts to a limited understanding.
Engaging in activities that surpass man’s capability, like thinking of the Almighty’s Essence and seeking to solve the riddle and mystery of fate, has therefore been prohibited by the Quran and Sunnah. Just as failing to contemplate Divine realities is a an invitation for disaster, not knowing one’s place and plunging into thoughts that exceed mortal capability can also lead one down the path of destruction.
It is for that reason that the Blessed Prophet –upon him blessings and peace- says:
“Contemplate on Allah’s creation and blessings but do not think about His Essence; for you can never estimate His Might as befits Him.” (see, Daylami, II, 56; Haythami, I, 81; Bayhaki, Shuab, I, 136)
The great Ibn Arabi has said:
“Whatever thought may pass your mind regarding Allah, He is something else.”
Indeed, as taught by Islam and as has been aforementioned, one of the essential attributes of the Almighty is mukhalafatu’n-lil-hawadith, that is not to resemble anything of creation. That we ascribe to Him attributes like wise, just and many others in which human beings also partake, is secured from amounting to shirk, that is ascribing partners to the Almighty, thanks to our belief in Him being mukhalafatu’n-lil-hawadith.
In contrast to the impossibility of coming to an understanding of the essential reality of Allah, glory unto Him, it is indeed possible to come to an inner certainty of His Unity and Existence, based on the manifestations of His attributes in the universe and phenomena. That marks the boundaries of human grasp, which like that of all other creation, is limited. And that is sufficient in Divine Sight to be accepted as a mu’min, a believer. Muslim scholars have for that reason often said, “The peak of knowledge is the knowledge of Allah.”
Human beings have an understanding that only enables them to move from the attribute to that which is attributed of, from the work to its creator, from the art to its artist and from the effect to its cause. By gazing at created beings, each of which is truly a work of art, humanity can come to an understanding of the majesty, splendor and mercy of the Almighty, to the extent of his aptitude. One may only take as much from the ocean that is the knowledge of Allah as is allowed by the capacity of his bucket.
Mawlana Rumi says:
“One day a desire awakened in me to see the light of Allah on men. It was as if I wanted to see the ocean in a drop, the Sun in a speck.”
Reflecting on the attributes, acts and works of the Almighty with a pure heart and sincere intention would make it inconceivable for anyone to be a disbeliever. Disbelief only begins when intellectual activity stops and the sensitive balance of the heart is disturbed. It is impossible for one, whose predisposition of mind and heart is still in tact, to be led to disbelief; and given he or she has opened his or her eyes in a world of disbelief, the likelihood of her being led out of it is very high. A good example of this is Ibrahim –upon him peace- who, despite being born into an environment in which idolatry reigned, ultimately acknowledged the existence and unity of Allah, glory unto Him, simply by virtue of his intellectual and inner capabilities; an account of which the Quran gives plenty of mention.
Disbelief is therefore impossible for one who can think straight. Claiming something not to exist does not, in any way, settle a dispute. Strong proofs and clear evidences are required. What purpose does claiming something not to exist serve when the mystery of life, death and the universe remains to be solved? This is just like the case of those who are unaware that they are suffering from excruciating hunger, simply because their bodies are too frail to feel it. Being in denial of their hunger in fact only shows just how grave their illness really is. A person whose entire nervous system is paralyzed or who is sedated is never aware of a nail spiking his body or a knife cutting through his limbs like shredding paper. Those who bring diseases upon their spirits without being aware of it in the least are described by Allah, glory unto Him, as:
“Blind, deaf and dumb…”
The Almighty has placed in the predisposition of each human being both the need and the power to believe and the desire to search for the truth. Being oblivious to or detached from faith and the truth is therefore caused only by a spiritual blindness and deafness. Otherwise the spirit of a nonbeliever, too, is ready to understand or is at least at its threshold; but this feature of his is suppressed from rising to the surface by a spiritual impairment by which he is struck, just like the vague dreams one cannot remember after waking up.
The human spirit is naturally inclined to belief, a need that meets us as early childhood, like a hunger urgently waiting to be satisfied. A child who sees her father offer ritual prayer, for instance, does not ask any question pertaining to the details of ritual prayer. Instead, she tries to learn the greatness of the Almighty; and upon trying to express this ‘greatness’ herself, she resorts to physical descriptions, as she is not yet able to understand it in abstract terms. She asks how many Allah’s there are and curious of what awaits her after she dies, she eagerly asks questions to find out what kind of places Heaven and Hell are. She finds herself in a relentless search, for no other reason than that spiritual hunger is embedded in her predisposition. When this embedded aptitude rises to the surface, a person becomes a mu’min, a believer. When it is left incarcerated deep within consciousness, just like an encaged bird, it makes a person a nonbeliever. After long years in captivity, a bird forgets how to fly and cannot take flight, even if it were to be released; for its wings have become calcified. When the feeling of faith is held back from rising above consciousness, the ability to believe, too, in time, becomes blinded.
We must therefore seek to know Allah, glory unto Him, who created us out of nothing, to the best of opportunity and ability. To attain to wisdom and knowledge of Allah and thereby reach the Almighty, it is necessary we come to a correct understanding of His attributes and actions.
Had Allah, glory unto Him, infinitely Wise in all His acts, revealed first off to the Blessed Prophet –upon him blessings and peace- to ‘Read in the name of your Lord, who has no kin or partner’, it would have brought with it a ready made objection, reducing the possibility of guidance for minds inured to disbelief. But the Almighty instead began His Revelation with an emphasis on an indisputable attribute: the Creator – “Read in the name of your Lord Who created…” (al-Alaq, 1). Idolaters, who very well knew that idols were not creators of anything, then began coming to terms with the fact that it is Allah, glory unto Him, who is the real Lord, the only One deserving praise and thanks.
Baydavi, the prominent exegete, comments:
“The great Allah reminds in chapter al-Alaq that He delivered man from the lowest level to the highest. He thereby draws attention first to creation, an act that refers the mind back to the Almighty. Secondly, He underlines reading-writing, which refers the ability to hear the Almighty. In other words, He unites rational and narrative sciences.”
The Almighty has rendered contemplation on His creation a means for disbelievers to receive the honor of faith. For believers, on the other hand, it serves as a means to increase the certainty of their belief.
All Things are in a State of Flux and Change
If truth be told, everything in the in the universe is subject to constant change, alternating from one appearance to another. In the mother’s womb, for instance, a clot turns into a lump of flesh and that to flesh and bones. Change reigns over the vast array of every perceptible thing, from stars to planets, from minerals to plants, and so forth.
There is an enormous movement within a single atom. Electrons spin in a delicate dance, at a dizzying speed beyond the wildest imagination. The speed of protons and neutrons, on the other hand, being compressed in a lesser mass, revolve in an even more exhilarating speed of over 60,000 km per second. This gigantic speed makes them appear like the drops of a liquid boiling and frothing from immense heat.
The below couplet elegantly express how even a single particle is enough to highlight a link between the art and the Artist:
No need for the entire universe, to come to know You,
Enough proof is a single speck You made…
Remembering there are approximately 100 trillion atoms on a 1 millimeter square needle head will give us a better appreciation of the nature of the Might that sets all things in motion throughout the universe.
There is needed a Real Cause for all this change and motion to take place; and that is the Almighty Allah, the Supreme Creator. It is absolutely inconceivable for this awe-inspiring parade of events to be without a source or to stem from an unconscious cause.
Everything is Created with a Purpose
Evident is the fact that every single thing that exists in the universe has been created in line with a purpose. As expressed before:
-With rays coming from the Sun and reflecting from the Moon, organisms receive their light and flourish. Time comes to be with the Earth and Moon revolving around the Sun. Coming into being through the Earth revolving around its own axis are seasons, years, days and nights; and months as the Moon spins around the Earth.
-The air we constantly breathe infiltrates the lungs and cleans out the blood. Air is the most accessible, since it is the one thing our bodies stand in need of the most.
-Steering the clouds in front of them, winds take rain to where needed, fertilizing plants and trees, regulating heat and cleaning the air.
-The benefits of seas and oceans are, likewise, countless.
The importance of these benefits and the countless more we have not been able to mention in human life is glaring. A contemplative gaze upon these would be enough to reveal the enormous wisdom and purpose underlying every single creation. Supposing these to be merely a haphazard assortment of coincidence is simply to cancel all power of judgment and clear thinking. They are undoubtedly the workings of One Allah, glory unto Him, infinitely Wise, Powerful and Glorious.
Different Things are made from the Same Material
At their core, the seemingly different things we see around us are all the same. They are all made of matter. Different elements are but parts of the same content. Objects in space, for instance, are all made up from the very same matter, yet they each have a unique identity, position, density and life span. Some are cold, while others are extremely hot.
Plants and animals are made up of elements like nitrogen, carbon, oxygen and hydrogen, even though there is no connection between these elements and life, especially with characteristics like knowing, willing, power, hearing and seeing.
All these are Divine works of art. The diverse yet perfect range of organisms we see throughout the universe is the working of a Majestic Artist. It is inconceivable for a Being, who brings into existence so many works of masterpiece, to all of a sudden begin to resemble them. He is the Wajib’ul-Wujud, the Necessity of whose Existence comes from Himself.
In a word, it is really not difficult for a thinking person to find his Lord and admire Him. Through contemplation, a nonbeliever finds faith, while a believer perfects his or her faith and strides forth on the ladder of marifatullah and muhabbah.
The Marifatullah Road
Muslim theologians have said that the first obligation humankind is commanded with is to turn to a contemplation that will deliver them to a knowledge of Allah.
The most general and basic aim of the Holy Quran is to deliver minds and hearts from the invasion of every thought other than Allah, glory unto Him, and duly guide them to marifatullah.
Human beings were created to know and to serve the Almighty. There is no better way to fulfill this aim than dhikr and reflection. Worship is the essence of human life. Dhikr, on the other hand, is one of the best ways of worshipping Allah, glory unto Him. Dhikr and contemplation are like inseparable twins.
The most important thing for human beings is, without a doubt, attaining to eternal happiness and peace. Other desires should be trivial in comparison. By far, the most essential means of reaching everlasting happiness and peace is marifah.
Scientific knowledge is to grasp a given event with its causes and effects. Marifah, on the other hand, occurs with an additional understanding of Divine Will manifesting in that event. It is for that reason knowledge of Allah, glory unto Him, has been coined marifatullah, which is to understand the Almighty’s existence as much as allowed by knowledge.
Tadhakkur (remembrance-thought) has therefore been given a priority of mention over taqwa (piety) in chapter al-Muminun, in verses 84 to 87. For it is through contemplation and spiritual sensing that humans acquire knowledge of worth, through which comes a recognition of Allah, glory unto Him, instilling one with an awareness of the need to become pious and abandon opposing His Will. No deed is of any worth without knowledge of Allah.
There is thus not a shadow of a doubt that the noblest knowledge is marifatullah. Junayd Baghdadi says:
“Had I known of a better knowledge under the sun than that which the students of marifah chase, I would not have dealt with anything else and striven relentlessly to acquire it.”
Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya has similar words:
“In the Quran, Allah, glory unto Him, invites His servants to marifatullah through two ways:
1. By observing the things created by Allah, glory unto Him, and reflecting on them,
2. By contemplating and reflecting on the verses of the Holy Quran.
The first group consists of the Lord’s observable signs, while the second consists of the visible, audible and thinkable.”(Ibn Qayyim, Fawaid, p. 31-32)
Spiritually sensing and contemplating on these deliver one to an investigative faith (al-iman’ut-tahqiqi) and to the purpose of existence.
The poem says it beautifully:
The vast universe, a grand book of Allah, imposing,
Whichever letter you peer into, Allah is its meaning…
Contemplation Must Lead to Practice
To reach the truth through contemplation, dhikr and muraqabah, it is necessary to put all the knowledge one has learned to practice. However much one may think of Divine truths and the verses of the Holy Quran, his contemplation means nothing unless he properly practices what he learns; for practice is the external reflection of contemplating and spiritual sensing.
Imam Ghazzali says in this regard:
“Knowledge, the fruit of contemplation, is to acquire a state of mind (hal) and turn to doing good deeds. Once knowledge sets in the heart, the heart begins to undergo change. And when the heart undergoes change, so do the deeds executed by the limbs. Action therefore depends on the state of mind, the state of mind on knowledge and knowledge on contemplation. That means that contemplation is both the beginning and the key to all things good. True contemplation is that which delivers one from ugliness to beauty, from greed to abstinence and contentedness. This is the kind of contemplation that yields perception and piety.” (Imam Ghazzali, Ihya, VI, 47)
Through a contemplating and sensing that is conducive to practice, man becomes cured from the disease of looking on at the marvels of the universe simplistically.
An ordinary man, who is impressed with man made paintings, which after all are based on an imitation of nature, can not feel the same way when gazing at the universe in connection with its Creator. Things that should evoke awe are, for him, just ordinary happenings.
The pious, whose hearts are purified, on the other hand, have no business in acclaiming paintings made by artists with an interest of acquiring fame, and instead turn their interest and acclaim to the Real Artist and His masterpiece. They enjoy the zest of beholding the Divine art embroidered in the innumerable wonders of nature. They gaze at the multicolored flowers and leaves of plants, the inexhaustible difference of color, smell and shape each tree has, the unique taste of each fruit, even though they all spring from the very same soil, and look on admiringly at the wonderful patterns on the wings of a butterfly and the incredibility of human creation. They lend an ear to the mysterious words expressed through the silent language (lisan’ul-hal) of Divine wonders like eyesight and understanding, seen by many as just ordinary happenings.
For such people, the entire universe is like a book waiting to be read. Having surpassed knowledge of the written, they eye the knowledge of the heart; just like Mawlana Rumi, who as a scholar buried in his books and minding his own business in the Saljuk Madrasa, was suddenly ignited by the enlightening call of an enamored, mystic dervish named Shams, and found himself ablaze in the fire of love…Reborn in the atmosphere of love, it was the same Mawlana in whose sight the value of written books dropped to where they rightly belong, as he began reading the mysterious patterns of the universe with his very own eye of the heart. It was only after this stage that the masterpiece that is the Mathnawi, a cry exposing the mysteries of the Quran, universe and man, came to be.
How great a joy for the true servants who, through a refined heart and a reason guided and enlightened by the light of faith, lead their lives in the climate of contemplating and spiritual sensing, and are able to attain to marifatullah!…
In our times, many people alienated from their own history and culture seek peace in personal development programs of Western origin or in courses of yoga and meditation derived from the Far East. Little are they aware that the real peace humans desperately seek is only to be found in dhikr, tafakkur, tahassus and muraqabah, strongly recommended by Islam as the keys of unlocking Divine wisdom and truth.
A contemplation matured through inner, spiritual sensing is the source of spiritual expansion and inner peace. Only a contemplation of such nature can deliver one to wisdom. The beginning of wisdom, on the other hand, is the fear of Allah, glory unto Him, coupled by feelings of piety and awe. Contemplation, in a word, carries a believer to the pleasure and love of the Almighty.
A person who duly reflects on the universe and the events that take place thereon seeks answers to questions like ‘What is life?’, ‘Why was I created?’, ‘What is the truth behind these passing days?’, ‘Which path is it that leads to happiness?’, ‘What must I seek to be?’, ‘How must I live?’, ‘From where have I come and where am I headed?’, and so forth. These thoughts detach him from the passing desires of the world and take him to the right path that leads to eternal happiness.
In this humble book, we have tried to convey only some of the mysteries, wisdoms and truths contained in the universe, man and the Holy Quran, with some help from contemporary scientific findings. Who knows of the amount of mysteries and underlying wisdoms that are set to become unraveled in the near future to shed further light on the infinity of Divine Might and Majesty?
What we have touched upon here are, moreover, just a few examples proportionate to the modest size of the book. We sincerely hope that our dear readers will insha-Allah be able to reenact that horizon of contemplation, which we have tried to expand upon in the light of those examples, within the realms of their own hearts, in a way that can encompass all beings and events; and thereby derive many a pearl of secret and wisdom from the vast ocean of marifah.
May Allah, glory unto Him, grant each of us a horizon for contemplation! May He resurrect our hearts by giving us the ability to read the underlying wisdoms of the Quran, universe and man with a perceptive eye! May He include all of us among His blissful servants who live a life of muraqabah and are delivered to marifatullah!