3. “When in privacy…”
It is said that the beating of one’s heart can only be heard in silence and solitude. The heart, like any other organ of the body, seeks to fulfill the role for which it was employed. The brain for example, is constantly seeking to learn and establish a logical perspective out of a seemingly unpredictable world. Similarly, the heart strives to fulfill a purpose behind its constant beating. The struggling heart moves us to ask a question that is ultimately manifested on our tongues: “What is the meaning of life, of my existence?”
If the heart’s call is repeatedly ignored, the neglected heart gradually atrophies and accumulates rust. Rather than allowing the heart to deteriorate into this lowly state, let us turn to the guidance that Allah, subhanahu wa ta`ala (the Exalted and Glorified), has provided us for more than 1,400 years. Allah (swt) clearly defines the purpose for our existence in the ayah (verse): “I did not create the Jinn and mankind except to worship Me” (51:56).
Pondering upon this purpose of life begins in seclusion. However, recognizing the importance of solitude may often be overlooked and omitted from our list of priorities. Constant societal distractions frequently infringe upon our thoughts, time and energy. As we become occupied with meeting deadlines and fulfilling daily commitments, taking the time out of our day to sit alone and reflect becomes a rarity. Soon, we grow accustomed to a fast-paced lifestyle devoid of true value and worth, and our vision becomes limited to this world of fleeting desires. Suddenly, no time is left for us to stop and listen to the sound of the calling heart.
Failure to reflect upon and engage in the very purpose of creation that Allah (swt) has set
essentially leads to a meaningless and disgruntled perspective on life, leaving behind an unsettled heart. However, as one takes some time to pull away from frantic daily distractions, the heart is able to relax from the congested anxieties of this dunya (world).
The yearning of the heart to find a purpose prompted the greatest man that ever lived to seek seclusion in the cave of Hira’. In this dark and lonely cave, the call of the Prophet’s heart, salla Allahu `alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings be upon him), echoed like thunder, seeking answers to the reasons behind its existence. There, in silence and solitude, he contemplated the meaning of creation and the human condition. Should we not take this act of our beloved Prophet (saws) as an example and motivation to amplify our contemplative nature?
Reflect upon the human condition. Generations pass by as societies, nations, and civilizations come and go. All have long since vanished and have been replaced, yet life continues. Though their spheres of influence fell and new generations replaced the old, the sun still rises at dawn and the stars still twinkle at night and none remains but the Creator of all things. In deep reflection, the heart realizes the ephemeral nature of this life and that nothing material will last forever. In its love for the Everlasting, it begins to detach itself from transient things.
Allah (swt) reminds us that the true life to come will surely be of benefit to us when He says, “The Day whereon neither wealth nor sons will avail, but only he (will prosper) who brings to Allah a sound heart” (26:88-89). The heart now begins to transcend to greater aspirations, to attain something that through the eyes of the heart, this world has failed to provide.
Observe the sea of creation that is submerged in the harmony of the earth and under the blanket of the serene heavens. In all this union and order, the heart identifies the One Creator who set this glorious system in place. Despite the insignificance of the human being in the vast universe, Allah (swt) has ordained this creation to His service. Allah (swt) reminds His servants, “…such are the similitudes which We put forward to mankind that they may reflect” (59:21).
Allah (swt) repeatedly makes clear to His Believers the ayat (signs) that He has set forth for us to reflect upon. Therefore, Allah (swt) commands us to engage in reflection, or tafakkur. This purposeful reflection is not merely a sound meditation, but a highly active and engaging process that requires the Believer to be deeply immersed in thought, striving to fulfill the purpose of creation.
Tafakkur contributes to the emergence of a newly purified heart and an entirely new perspective on perceived goals in this dunya as compared to those of the akhirah (Hereafter). Without this process, the heart deadens, and the Believer’s iman (faith) gradually deteriorates until even the slightest acts of worship become nothing but mundane chores dulled by superficiality and a lack of meaning and connection to one’s Creator.
The dying heart will not be able to live again until we are able to humble ourselves before Allah (swt). Imam Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyyah reminds us, “Being humble before Allah (swt) in secret is one of the keys to the life of the heart” (Haadi Arwah ila Bilad il-Afrah 45). Upon reflecting on the many attributes of Allah (swt), our thoughts become deeply rooted in His Majesty and we become aware of our helplessness without Him. With continuous tafakkur, we become inclined to praise and glorify the Creator in a humble state of mind. As a result, we are able to look into and evaluate the condition of ourselves.
While engaged in tafakkur, we must examine the direction of our thoughts and actions and measure our success in gaining the pleasure of Allah (swt). If our thoughts and actions do not express belief in the purpose of creation—to worship Allah (swt) and Him alone—then while engaged in muhasabah (self-evaluation) we must redefine our priorities and the goals behind pursuing them, thereby establishing this focus. It is through a continuous state of muhasabah that we are able to evaluate our accomplishments in this dunya and successfully prepare for the akhirah.
What have we done today? Have we given ourselves a purpose for our working, our learning, our striving? Was attaining the pleasure of Allah (swt) constantly on our minds with every thought, with every action that we took part in? Did the words that we uttered, the actions we performed, the people we interacted with take us even one step closer to Jannah (Paradise)? Muhasabah allows the evaluation of priorities.
Upon engaging is this process of introspection, we essentially reflect on the root of our actions and the condition of our intentions. This reflection and self-evaluation is a constant struggle that requires training and exercise like any muscle in the body. It is engaging in muhasabah that is essential to any Muslim who wishes to catch even one scent of the fragrance of Jannah—because with each waking hour we must be sure to take account of ourselves, before our account is taken.
When alone, it is easier for our intentions to be freed from impurities because no one sees us except Allah (swt). He is the only One with us, Judging and Measuring our sincerity. Worshipping Allah (swt) with sincerity and a devout frame of mind, frees the heart from the shackles of insignificant worldly powers and unbinds it from all motives other than pleasing Him. The once embellished and anemic heart becomes lively again while absorbed in remembering Allah (swt) by attaining His Nourishment and reaping His Pleasure.
Turn to Allah (swt) only and overlook the superficial aspects of this world that parasitically eat away at the hearts of mankind. Become more aware of what pleases and displeases Allah (swt). Seek His Forgiveness for all the wrongs we account ourselves for and for those that we are too heedless to notice. Fulfilling the role as the servants of Allah (swt) will become more apparent while sincerely obeying Him and abandoning disobediences.
The heart is not meant to be a distant relative who is occasionally visited, but a companion who is present at all times, constantly reflecting on and evaluating each moment that passes in life. Establishing this intimate relationship between our hearts and Allah (swt) will transform us into Believers who see not only with our eyes but through our hearts. We will then be able to read the signature and see the mastery of the Grand Artist in all that He has designed and created.
The beloved Prophet (saws) narrated that Allah (swt) said that some people come close to Him by their fara’id (religious duties, i.e., prayers and remembrance of Him) and nawafil (supererogatory works) until He becomes so loved by them that He becomes the eyes with which they see, the ears with which they hear, the legs with which they walk, and the arms with which they work (Hadith Qudsi 25).
May Allah (swt) help us strive to be of those people. May He Grant us a heart filled with the remembrance of Allah (swt) that sees the light of Allah (swt) in every falling leaf, in every drop of rain, in the alteration of night and day, in the well-organized structures of nature, in the silence of the grave, embracing the good in all things however small, and resisting the evil in all things however formidable. Ameen. ̹