"Stand at the Door"
A few minutes ago I was searching through the audio files in my Realplayer Media Browser and I came across a beautiful Arabic song entitled, “Qif `ala Al-Bab”—a quick translation of which would be “Stand at the Door” (meaning the door of Allah). I knew I hadn’t heard that song in a while, and I certainly knew that I hadn’t heard it with an open heart in an even longer while.
With the heart in the right ‘receiving’ condition, this song—like anything sincerely written about our Maker—has the power to bring one back into a state of bliss: one of remembrance of Allah, subhanahu wa ta`ala (the Exalted and Glorified), of tranquility, and one in which we are courageously able to detach ourselves from desire and in which we feel deeply content with the presence of Allah (swt) in our hearts. Mind you, I don’t claim to be in such a state while I write this! I am only reminiscing with you about how this song affected me once upon a time.
This subtle state I speak of has become a rare commodity in the post-modern world we live in; a world in which, as one scholar put it, “the nafs1 is king.” Perhaps I am reminiscing about this now and yearning for an open heart because I am in bed as I write, attempting to recover from a heavy cold I caught a few days back. You see, we remember Allah (swt) more when we need Him, and unfortunately for us, less when we don’t. Or should I say, when we think we don’t. Allah (swt) says that the human being begins to transgress and disobey Him when he sees himself as sufficient and as having no need. But are we ever in ‘no need’ of Allah (swt)? Could that ever happen?
I’ll tell you why I feel like writing about this; you see I never finished the story about the song. So here I am, lying in bed with that song in the background, and suddenly a new track starts to play. I am unfamiliar with it, but there’s the sound of a shaykh2 answering someone’s question at the masjid3 and suddenly I hear people screaming and others crying. The shaykh then exclaims, “Subhan Allah (Glory be to Allah)! One of the people praying with us has just died. The Angel of Death has come into this masjid and we were unaware!” Could that person have known that he was about to die? Well, it’s possible.
We’ve heard stories of people who shared such an intimacy with their Lord that they informed their families of their nearing end. It is also possible that this man had no idea of what was about to befall him. He may even have had an infinitely long to-do list in mind. Now there’s obviously nothing wrong with writing to-do lists nor is there anything wrong with pleasing ourselves, but the problem comes in when the to-do list incorporates things that displease our Maker—The One who gave us our ability to be ‘pleased’ and to write to-do lists! Or, when the to-do list is all halal4 and permissible but a list that makes us completely unaware of why we are here in this world and appropriately makes us forget about death.
One of the ways to test whether we have become too pre-occupied with means and forgotten about ends (or should I say the end, excuse the pun!) is to see what our initial reaction towards death is. Ask yourself. Just now, as you were reading this little piece, when the part about death came up, what was your gut feeling? Was it like, “Oh no, that horrible thing that I keep postponing and do not want to remember now!” If so, this means that you have been sub-consciously running away from death. When we feel this way, it means that our priorities in life haven’t been set straight yet. We’d rather enjoy the here-and-now and forget about the life to come, or at least, think about it later! Remembering death, of course, means that our little ‘plan’ will not work, so… we’d rather forget about it—hence our running away from it—and the vicious cycle goes on.
Needless to say, of course, the blissful state that we were talking about earlier is one that we cannot enjoy in this condition because, instead of courageously detaching ourselves from desires, we are moving at full-speed in the direction of fulfilling them. We have full certainty that our lives will be better once we do, and so we must move on. “If I don’t get what I want, I will become depressed” we say to ourselves… and the media oh-so-willingly agrees! “Their hearts are distracted” says the Qur’an. I told you the post-modern world is rough. It hands over the reigns to our nafs, and kills our hearts until we become selfish slaves of instant-gratification.
But what can we do about it? Well for starters, we must completely abandon our all-or-nothing perfectionist attitude. The next time you get an opportunity to do something good—say you just heard the adhan5 and can get up and respond to it—do not think to yourself “but I won’t be able to maintain my prayers” or “I will commit such and such a sin later, how can I pray now?” or “I’ll be a better person at everything all at once.” Dream on. Really, it just doesn’t work that way! The whole point is to give something up when your nafs does not feel like giving it up. So get up and pray at that moment while your nafs is thinking, “let me get some rest now, I’ll pray before the next adhan.”
When we say such things, we’re just giving ourselves an excuse to get back into ghafla6 and give in to unawareness. It is just like when you used to say to your mom when she woke you up in the morning for school, “give me 5 more minutes.” You know it never really worked, you say 5 minutes then you try to get right back into that deep sleep! And so what happens is, instead of making use of that merciful moment of awareness that we are given, we take ourselves right back into the lethargic state we were in earlier—and again, the vicious cycle goes on.
So here’s something practical you can do: kill the all-or-nothing approach. Get up and pray when you hear the adhan and tell yourself, “I’m taking a break from the ghafla! The more breaks I get used to taking, the more I will become used to the being awake–to being aware.” Your nafs will try to deter you by convincing you that you can’t keep it up. But you know what? It doesn’t matter. This is a good deed in and of itself, and going against your nafs at this moment is one of the greatest deeds in the Sight of Allah (swt), so do not allow your nafs to downplay what you are about to do. Tell yourself: “Allah (swt) says that ‘you will not attain virtuousness until you spend from what you love’ and I just love to be lazy, so I am spending that laziness for Allah (swt) and I don’t care if I’m afraid of not being able to commit to praying on time later. This worry is in the future, and I am in the present right now.”
Psychologists say that very few people live the present moment in time. Most people are in past grieving over it, or in the future worrying about it—nobody is here-and-now experiencing life as it should be, and seeing the created things around them as they are: signs that point our hearts towards Allah (swt). Oh the bliss in experiencing that intimacy with Allah (swt) and seeing Him speak to you through everything around you! May we live like that!
Anyway, I digressed—we need more practical steps, and that’s what the next little piece will be about, in sha’ Allah (God Willing)! Until then, let’s work on killing Mr. or Ms. All-or-Nothing and let’s trust that Allah (swt) will change our hearts and cause us to love iman7 and hate laziness and all that sends us away from Him. ̹