May 17, 2001

Listening to the Inner Voice

  • Author: Aisha Rafea
A Sufi once said, "if the Messenger of God were away from me for a twinkle of an eye, I would not consider myself as one of the alive".
For the Sufi, to listen to the guidance of the Messenger of Allah within and to be alive is one and the same thing. We can learn through him that the Messenger of God transcends limitations of time. The Messenger of God is not a mere historical person; he is a living truth, and a manifestation of Light that expressed itself in all prophets and faithful Servants of Allah. Thus, it is only the truly living person who can listen to him from within. Such a Sufi is in full harmony with the Divine's saying in the Holy Qur'an:
O ye who believe! Respond to GOD and His Messenger, when He calls you to that which will give you life; and know that GOD intervenes between a person and his heart (HQ:8: 24)1
The Holy verse says that when a person responds to Allah and His Messenger, Allah protects her/his heart from possible damage that s/he is expected to cause to it. This is just the truth because, as the Holy Qur'an also clarifies, God is the Protector of those who have faith: from the depth of darkness, He will lead them forth into Light (HQ:2: 257).
The holy verse implies that if one did not respond to Allah and His Messenger, her/his heart would not be protected from rust or disease. The Holy Qura'n terms such people as unjust to themselves because they do not make their hearts accessible to the Support of Allah. Being so aware of what a person might cause to her/his own heart, a Sufi also said, "the existence of 'you' is a sin incomparable with any other sin"
Then how can a human get her/his whole existence ready to respond to Allah and His Messenger? It is not an easy question to answer; it is a whole approach to life where a human being has got a clear Direction that saves her/him from being lost in the fogs of earthly life. Having a direction implies that a person is interested to know:
  1. Who s/he is truly,
  2. What for s/he lives,
  3. How to get her/his heart ready for receiving divine support.
Allah and his Messenger teach us to try to communicate with our spiritual origin within, and realize a deeper goal for our existence. They also give us the means by which we can purify our whole existence.

1. Who We Are

Guiding us to recognize ourselves as permeated with divinity, the Divine tells us in the Holy Qur'an that the humankind is highly distinct among other creatures:
"We have honoured the sons of Adam" "and conferred on them special favours, above a great part of Our Creation." (HQ:17: 70)
We did indeed offer the Trust to the Heavens and the Earth and the Mountains; but they refused to undertake it, being afraid thereof: but man undertook it; (HQ:33: 72)
Distinction of humankind is due to her/his divine origin:
"He fashioned him in due proportion, and breathed into him something of His spirit" (32: 9).
It is that divinity bestowed upon humankind, which made her/him capable of receiving knowledge:
And He taught Adam the names of all things; (HQ:2: 31)
That capability deserves respect from all other creatures, even angels:
We said to the angels, "Bow down to Adam
(HQ:2: 34; 7: 11; 17: 61; 18: 50; 20: 116)
The Holy Qur'an asserts that a human is created with the means by which s/he can realize that s/he is not mere matter.
And He gave you (the faculties of) hearing and sight and feeling (and thoughtfulness)!" (HQ:32: 9)
These are potentialities created in Man due to what is mentioned in the Holy Qur'an as the Grace of God, the Compassionate and the Merciful Al Rahman.
On the other hand man has the potentiality of going against the divinity within. Because s/he is created "from a quintessence (of clay);"(HQ:23: 12), s/he is sometimes confused between the twofold nature of her/his existence. S/he, under the fog of matter, cannot distinguish between her/his innermost part of her/him and the garment s/he is enveloped in as a means for being born on Earth. With no awareness of her/his essence, the material attributes grow into a savage nature. That is what Prophet Muhammad points to when saying, "the devil is the second nature of man", "no one is free from the devilish nature, even you the Messenger of God? Even me but God supported me, so the devil in me has surrendered".
The Prophet teaches us: "s/he who knows her/himself knows her/his Lord". The Holy Qur'an says that God is nearer to him than (his) jugular vein. (HQ:50: 16). It is natural that when a human feels the touch of divinity that God bestowed upon her/him, s/he would appreciate that God-given gift, and praises Allah for His Graciousness and Mercy. To praise Allah, and to be grateful to Him is an inner awareness and strong will to give a chance to that divine nature grow and flourish. It is because of that a Muslim starts her/his prayer by saying: in the name of Allah, praises Allah, the Gracious and Merciful, and s/he then expresses her devotion to Him and ask for His support and guidance. With such awareness, all her/his spiritual senses get revived; s/he can see, listen, and feel truly. The Holy Qur'an terms those who listen truly as having "heeding ears"(HQ:69: 12).
Those who listen to the Word, and follow the best (meaning) in it: those are the ones whom Allah has guided, and those are the ones endued with understanding.(HQ:39: 18)
On the other hand, when a person is not aware of her/himself as of a divine origin, all her/his tools of understanding decay. The Holy Qur'an says about those people:
: they have hearts wherewith they understand not, eyes wherewith they see not, and ears wherewith they hear not. They are like cattle, nay more misguided: for they are heedless (of warning).(HQ:7: 179)
They are heedless of the divine within, so they cannot listen or understand.
In this context one remembers Jesus Christ when he used to say, "Who hath ears to hear, let him hear" (M't: 13:9). Definitely he was not talking about the physical ears. He was inviting his disciples to revive their spiritual ears so that they might receive the power of divine light and wisdom he was carrying to them. The blessed Jesus Christ was also attracting their attention that they would not be able to hear him unless they listen to the Divine's voice from inside, and hence he told them "behold, the kingdom of God is within you. (Lu: 17:21).
When a person is not able to listen truly, s/he is termed as "dead" in the Holy Qur'an
Truly thou canst not cause the Dead to listen, nor canst thou cause the Deaf to hear the call, (especially) when they turn back in retreat. (HQ:27: 80)
Nor are alike those that are living and those that are dead. Allah can make any that He wills to hear; but thou canst not make those to hear who are (buried) in graves. (HQ:35: 22)
The graves seem to be the physical existence they are encased in, and that hinder their capability of listening. Some people are mentioned as also not capable of hearing the prophet because their spiritual potentiality is so blocked that they seem to be too far to hear.
Indeed they have been removed far from even (a chance of) hearing it.
(HQ:26: 212)
Awareness of the presence of the divine touch within a human, or lack of attentiveness, decides her/his approach to the meaning of life.

2. A journey of Learning

A human's awareness of her/himself as being of a spiritual origin would lead her/him to realize that s/he was not born in vain. S/he will naturally and simultaneously search for noble goals to fulfill, and s/he will be in full harmony with the wisdom of creation as God reveals it:
Not for (idle) sport did We create the heavens and the earth and all that is between! We created them not except for just ends: but most of them do not understand. (HQ:44: 38, 39)
Those who believe that they are created for just ends, would hear their inner voice telling them that life on Earth is a place and a phase of life where, as in a school, the soul is to learn things that it would not be able to learn otherwise. S/he would learn when s/he deals with the physical body as an instrument endowed to her/him by the Creator, and not an end in itslef. The difference is great. Without awareness that this life is a transient phase to learn in, and the physical body is a mere instrument, a human being would approach life from the perspective of matter alone. And the ultimate goal of her/his existence will be confined to satisfying her/his material goals by any means. Hence, the divine potentiality within them would degenerate, and thus, they turn into the lowest of the low:
We have indeed created man in the best of moulds, Then do We abase him (to be) the lowest of the low, (HQ:95: 4, 5)
S/he who is well aware that s/he is created for a purposeful life would think of how to make of her/his physical capabilities a means for spiritual growth. S/he would think of everything in this life as a gift from God that they need to make good use of. They would know that all physical, mental and emotional capabilities are not in vain. They would develop their skills of creativity in all fields, and feel responsible for improving the quality of life. They are aware that the earthly life is very valuable because it is a place to learn, not to be absolutely indulged in trnsient pleasures with no deeper focus. They are in harmony with what Allah and His Messenger say:
"O my people! this life of the present is nothing but (temporary) convenience: it is the Hereafter that is the Home that will last.
(HQ:40: 39)
Know ye (all), that the life of this world is but play and amusement, pomp and mutual boasting and multiplying, (in rivalry) among yourselves, riches and children. Here is a similitude; how rain and the growth which it brings forth, delight (the hearts of) the tillers; soon it withers; thou wilt see it grow yellow; then it becomes dry and crumbles away.(HQ:57: 20)
People, who have a focus in their life, will naturally seek guidance to how to find a righteous path that makes them capable of attaining spiritually. They will listen to the inner voice helping them handle everything from the perspective of giving service, love, cooperation, selflessness and honesty.
On the other hand, those who cannot see the more sublime goal of their existence on earth, use everything for the benefit of their egos with its limited and selfish goals. Their focus in life is to serve all material goals absolutely. The inner voice within them is so suppressed that they never respond to believers when they tell them that they need to work for attaining the real life that will continue after death. They respond by saying:
"Far, very far is that which ye are promised! "There is nothing but our life in this world! We shall die and we live! But we shall never be raised up again!(HQ:23: 36, 37)
Naturally, would not bother listening to what GOD and His Messenger call to. Those the Divine term as:
Those who rest not their hope on their meeting with Us, but are pleased and satisfied with the life of the Present, and those who heed not Our Signs,(HQ:10: 7)
Now, we can see two extremely different approaches of human beings to themselves and to their life on Earth. How would every approach affect its followers' response to what Allah and His Messenger call to?

Purification Leads to True Life

We can see now that a human who discerns her/himself as a spirit, and regards her/his earthly life as a journey for gaining truthful knowledge, will be ready to listen to words of truth, within and around. It is the degree of her/his truthfulness that would qualify her/him for receiving and understanding what GOD and His Messenger call to. That is why the Prophet teaches us to pray:
"O my Lord! let my entry be by the Gate of Truth and Honour, and likewise my exit by the Gate of Truth and Honour; (HQ:17: 80)
Being true in her/his attitude towards her/himself and the cause of life would result in a constant search for truth, and rejection of illusions. The inner voice would tell such a person that s/he needs struggle:
O thou man! Verily thou art ever toiling on towards thy Lord - painfully toiling - but thou shalt meet Him.(HQ:84: 6)
The Divine tells us in the Holy Qur'an that there are effective eternal laws according to which things go. "Everything single thing is before His sight, in (due) proportion" (HQ:13: 8). As such a person is either accessible to the laws of spiritual growth, or those of spiritual degeneration and loss. A person is accessible to the law of fruitfulness when s/he is aware of the divinity within and gives it a chance to flourish by being exposed to Light. S/he will naturally seek Light through guidance of the spiritually illuminated people. So, when they are guided to devote themselves to Allah, and obey His Messenger, they will rejoice. Others who are imprisoned in matter, would not be interested in listening or understanding. So many verses in the Holy Qur'an demonstrate how they feel.
when thou dost commemorate thy Lord - and Him alone - in the Qur-an, they turn on their backs, fleeing (from the Truth).
(HQ:17: 46)
The Holy Qur'an explains that those who are in full harmony with the law of spiritual gain, Allah openeth their breast to truthful knowledge; and those who are attuned to the law of spiritual loss, so He maketh their breast close and constricted, as if they had to climb up to the skies. (HQ:6: 125)
God and His Messenger actually they supply a person who is spiritually ready with the means that would support her/him keep her/his heart under the protection of Allah.
Divine Guidance explains to humans that their hearts are liable to get rusted because of the material garment they are encased in, and because of the earthly nature in general. The means of polishing the heart is to return to Allah and pray for His forgiveness Istighfar. This is not confined to repentance when committing a sin. Istighfar is a method for a spiritually alert soul who wants to revive the divinity within always and give away all taints of matter. The prophet says
Hearts get rusted as does iron. Praying Allah for forgiveness polishes them.
The prophet gives us an example of himself:
My heart is susceptible to run after desires unless I pray to God for forgiveness a hundred times a day. (In a vision Al Shadzli asked him, "are they desires of this world's occurrences, oh Prophet?" "No, they are those of lights," he responded).
The Prophet teaches us that a true soul would never assume that s/he is fully purified, s/he will seek purification all the time.
And in the hours of early dawn, they (were found) praying for Forgiveness (HQ:51: 18)
Means of Istighfar, in Islamic Sharia are many. All aspects of worship are actually means of cleansing and nurturing the soul to keep the divinity within fresh and inspiring. The prophet asserts that when a person is truly seeking being purified through them, s/he is born spiritually as a new baby.
People who aspire themselves as matter only, and who take life as a play, never think of Istighfar, because they never attempt to build a bridge between their souls and Allah in their hearts. They block the way all-together.
Deaf, dumb, and blind, they will not return (to the path).(HQ:2: 18)
Also, God and His Messenger call humans to pray to Allah for support and to receive guidance from the Messenger of God.
And your Lord says: "Call on Me; I will answer your (Prayer): but those who are too arrogant to serve Me will surely find themselves in Hell, in humiliation!"(HQ:40: 60)
Obey Allah, and obey the Messenger, and beware (of evil): if ye do turn back, know ye that it is Our Messenger's duty to proclaim (the Message) in the clearest manner.(HQ:5: 92)
Hence we can see the spiritually aware say,
"Our Lord! we have heard the call of one calling (us) to Faith, `Believe ye in the Lord', and we have believed. Our Lord! forgive us our sins, blot out from us our iniquities, and take to Thyself our souls in the company of the righteous.(HQ:3: 193)
Others are reluctant to pray Allah
For they, when they were told that there is no god except Allah, would puff themselves up with pride,(HQ:37: 35)
They cannot respond to a word of truth because the divinity within them is so veiled that they cannot see the divinity around. They say to whoever calls to truth:
"Thou art no more than a mortal like us, and indeed we think thou art a liar! (HQ:26: 186)
To conclude, humans are granted the potentiality of discerning God nearer to them than their jugular veins, and with them whersoever they go because their origin is basically divine. The Messenger of God is not afar either, he is an Apostle from amongst yourselves (HQ:9: 128). Because we, humans, are encased in matter, we are susceptible to forget, or lose awareness of that divinity within, still nobody is deprived from the ability to start a fruitful journey because nobody is void from an inner will and divinity. If s/he uses that inner will granted to her/him, s/he would be accessible to the law of spiritual growth. Namely, s/he is spiritually ready to listen to God and His Messenger within, and also through divine guidance. If, on the other hand, a person is imprisoned in the limitation of matter with all its taints, s/he is accessible to the law of spiritual loss instead. To take a step towards this way or the other, will be naturally followed by series of spiritual transformations either upward to the highest of the high, or downward to the lowest of the low. To seek life, is to seek spiritual support from the source of all Life; Allah and His Messenger. And to choose spiritual death is to build by a person's own hands barriers and barriers that deprive her/him from Allah and His Messenger.
  1. This is the translation of Dr. Ahmad Zidan, Mrs. Dina Zidan in "The Gorious Qur'an" Text and Translation, Islamic Inc. Publishing and Distribution. Cairo, 1996. Unless mentioned otherwise, the translation of all holy verses are from Ali Yususf's translation as copied from CD of Harf Company of Information Technology, Egypt, 1998.