May 9, 2004

Basic Principles On the Spiritual Path

 Introduction: When humans choose to make the ultimate goal of their existence to become servants of God, they actually choose a path of self transformation and change. But how can we undergo this path of change? Are there landmarks on the road that show us where we stand, and how we can proceed? Will there be a time when we achieve our ultimate goal? In this speech, Master Ali Rafea addresses these questions and explains how attributes and qualities of Servants of God can illuminate the path of those who aspire to the same goal. Read more about these issues in this speech of Friday, April 20th, 2001, Muharrem 26th, 1422 HC.
We seek the support of Allah and pray to Him for His protection that we may not be among those who speak falsehood, spread iniquity, and display arrogance. We direct ourselves to Him, rely upon Him, and start each and every thing in our life and our talks in His name the Most Gracious and Most Merciful.  We pray to Him to endow us with mercy, forgiveness and success in our message on this earth for which we were created, and for which we exist to fulfill. We know as well as learn that the talk of the Truth and His Signs are directed to those who fear God; who believe in the Unseen, are steadfast in prayer, and spend out of what God has provided for them
This is the Book; In it is guidance sure, without doubt, to those who fear God; Who believe in the Unseen, are steadfast in prayer, and spend out of what We have provided for them (HQ: 2: 2, 3)
It (the Book) is not touched except by the purified ones (HQ: 56: 79)
The verses refer to those who have purified their hearts, souls, minds and bodies so that they might become worthy of the graces of God and His benedictions, and be worthy of Allah’s words and signs.
Servants of God, there is a step that human has to start,  as we always learn.
And your Lord says: "Call on Me; I will answer your (Prayer): (HQ: 40: 60)
Whenever a human comes an arm's length closer to Me, I shall forward to him two arms' length. If he comes to Me walking, I shall come to him running," (DH)[1].
If he remembers Me in a gathering, I remember him in a gathering better than his (DH)[2]
All ideals, truthful knowledge, and righteous acts originate from within human. So, when human take their first step on the Path of righteousness, God supports them by His Mercy, and helps them by His wisdom and His Might to adhere to the Path.
When we reflect upon what takes place on earth in terms of the knowledge attained and the capabilities endowed upon humankind in their earthly existence, we find that humans learn most through their own experience, and  from their personal meditation and contemplation. No matter how many lectures a person may attend, or teachings he listens to, the knowledge that he attains will always be conditioned by his own capability to perceive and to grasp. Humans may sometimes think that they could be transformed just by being  negative receivers attending a group who gather in remembrance of Allah. However, they cannot be transformed unless they are interactive participants who work their minds and hearts by reflecting upon what they listen to and the knowledge presented to them.
Verily never will Allah change the condition of a people until they change it themselves (with their own souls)(HQ: 13: 11)
As such, it is man’s struggle in the first place that enables him to become a devoted Servant of God and to be transformed into a better being, a more elevated creature, and a more noble existence.
Do not wait for change that comes from without. Instead, you have to initiate change of the traces of darkness, ignorance and misconceptions that are hosted within your own selves.  All of this can be changed when you try to turn your sight inwardly and see what is within you; when you question yourselves about what it is you are doing, to which direction you are heading, whom you are truly seeking, whom you rely upon, and what you really aspire. These are questions that every human being has to direct to himself, and to find answers to. His answers will be the basis according to which he interacts with and handles everything.
Be what you will, whatever you will be I will be[3]
We learn in practical matters of earthly life, that when we want to accomplish some task, we have to define a goal, and then turn that goal into specific and tangible objectives that when achieved, will make us realize the main goal. Each of the identified objectives needs a set of actions and premises in order to be fulfilled. So, if your ultimate goal is to attain being a Servant of God, what then, are the objectives that you have to fulfill?
First, you have to be sincere in all what you do in this life for the mere sake of sincerity and perfection. You should not carry out an act just to please someone, then refrain from accomplishing it even if it were an act of goodness, just because he is not pleased with it. Rather you carry out an act for the sake of goodness, and because you see that it is within your capability and that it is a duty that you have to fulfill. In the meantime you will be subject to many tests.
Do men think that they will be left alone on saying, "We believe," and that they will not be tested?(HQ: 29: 2)
So, to accomplish this (attain sincerity in all that you do), there are many manners that you have to live out as a means for seeking God’s support against your lower self. Religion gives you those means through prayer which is embodied in all forms of worship.  In Ritual Prayers you pray, in fasting you pray, in pilgrimage you pray, and in almsgiving Zakat you pray.  All aspects of worship, all morals and teachings are means for accomplishing this goal. You act according to what you see as good, truthful, and gaining you life.
Second when you turn your sight inwardly, and ask yourself what your goal is, you find that you only want to gain a life in Allah. You see no other goal that you want to achieve. This requires struggle against the lower self with all possible means. Like in the first point, the means can be found in all forms of worship in which struggle against the lower self is clearly manifested.
Narrow the devil's passageways by hunger and thirst (fasting) (PH)[4]
That is, one should not follow the lower self that urges one towards atrocities, and should seek God’s support in order to succeed.
Third when you reflect upon the outside world, you see nothing and no one but Allah. You know that everything that you undergo is but from Allah and you know that all you accomplish is but from Allah. So, you never feel that you have done someone a favor, nor do you enslave yourself to anyone who has done you a favor; all favors are from Allah and all endowments are from Allah.  You do not despise someone (who has caused you pain or loss) as you realize that all (adversities) you undergo is but to purify and teach you. It is through dealing with people that you are trained to realize this state by putting those teachings into practice and actually living them. We often go through such situations, so we have to remember these words and turn them into a reality when we can. When we cannot, we should ask God for His support against our lower selves so that someday, we may.
Fourth:, you should not exhaust in vain what God has endowed you with; He has taught you that with those endowments, you can either be a means for goodness, or a means for evil.  The realization that everything is from Allah (as detailed in the third point) should not lead you to stumble along the path, go astray, and fall victim to confusion. Rather, you should be the kind of a person who can distinguish between what is true and what is false; what is good and what is evil. You should not waste all what Allah has gifted you with. Instead, you should make it a means of doing goodness and a means by which you walk along the path of goodness.
I have only created Jinns and men, that they may serve Me.(HQ: 51: 56)
… That they may learn, that they may exert themselves, that they may be constructive. You should appreciate God’s endowments and His will inherent within you and which He has lent to you in the form of the ‘Trust’ of life.
There are many other objectives that we would like to achieve in order to become servants of God.  These objectives are in fact embodied in all attributes and qualities ascribed by Religion to Servants of God.  All those attributes and qualities, of which we have mentioned only a few, can be identified by humankind, as they can know if they had actually attained them or not. As a matter of fact, realization of those objectives is relative; there is nothing that we see as perfect for which there does not exist a more perfect form before Allah.  We know that we’re only taking steps in the Way of Allah. If we achieve something, we know that we have to perfect it. We also know that we’re better today than we were yesterday. That is what we want always: for our present day to be better than the prior one, and for our coming day to be better than our present one. These are steps that follow other steps. This is the struggle in the Path of Allah.
And those who strive in Our (Cause), We will certainly guide them to Our Paths: for verily Allah is with those who do right.(HQ: 29: 69)
In the case of those who say, "Our Lord is Allah," and, further, stand straight and steadfast, the angels descend on them (from time to time): "Fear ye not!" (they suggest), "Nor grieve! but receive the Glad Tidings of the Garden (of Bliss), that which ye were promised!(HQ: 41: 30)
We pray to Allah to be on the Path of goodness and fruitfulness, to be on the Straight Way, and to be Servants of Allah who seek His Face, deal with Him, and seek only His reward.
Servants of God, the ultimate aspiration is for Allah’s Face and so our ultimate goal is to become Servants of Allah. To realize that goal, we need to transform ourselves into better and more upright beings.   What is better and more upright is that which has been ascribed to Servants of God.
And the servants of (Allah) Most Gracious are those who walk on the earth in humility, and when the ignorant address them, they say, "Peace!"(HQ: 25: 63)
..  men whom neither traffic nor merchandise can divert from the Remembrance of Allah (HQ: 24: 37)
Men who celebrate the praises of Allah, standing, sitting, and lying down on their sides, and contemplate the (wonders of) creation in the heavens and the earth, (with the thought): "Our Lord! not for naught hast thou created (all) this! Glory to Thee! Give us salvation from the Penalty of the Fire.(HQ: 3: 191)
And keep thy soul content with those who call on their Lord morning and evening, seeking His Face (HQ: 18: 28)
So many qualities do Servants of God have and so many states do they undergo because these qualities and states are related to life with all its dimensions; the mundane life as well as life in the hereafter.  Actually this life and the hereafter are nothing but one world, the world of Allah, the creation of Allah, the universe of Allah.
There are teachings that provide us with guidance regarding our life on earth:
Allah would like to see everyone of you seeking perfection in every work he is charged with[5]
Say: "Travel through the earth and see how Allah did originate creation; so will Allah produce a later creation: for Allah has power over all things.(HQ: 29: 20)
There are many holy words that urge us towards serious work and serious search for knowledge. However, we’re also guided not to make that distance us from being directed to the Unseen, or from remembering Allah through praying to Him earnestly, being connected to Him and seeking His support, strength, and mercy. We are tried in all aspects and on all levels.
Do men think that they will be left alone on saying, "We believe," and that they will not be tested?(HQ: 29: 2)
Those tests are but there for us to reform ourselves, and to recognize what we truly are and what we have become. When we find that we have succeeded, we direct our gratitude to God, and when we know that we have failed, we seek God’s support so that we might attain success the following time. We do not lose hope of being subject to the mercy of Allah, the grace of Allah and the generosity of Allah. We believe in what Allah has entrusted us with from His mercy, His secret and His power.  We believe that by the support of Allah, we will attain being Servants of Allah. Our hope in Allah is great, and our expectations from Him are even greater. Our support is the God-gifted Mercy and the God-rewarded Grace: the Messenger of Allah. We hope to be  worthy of his intercession, and of his support. To be worthy of the Messenger’s intercession is a matter of great significance. Intercession is not for those who are ignorant of its value; it is only for those who are aware of its value and effect.
If they had only, when they were unjust to themselves, come unto thee and asked Allah's forgiveness, and the Messenger had asked forgiveness for them, they would have found Allah indeed Oft-Returning, Most Merciful.(HQ; 4: 64)
The Messenger of God’s prayer for forgiveness was but for those who came to him and who asked for Allah’s forgiveness; those who recognized their faults and their darkness, and, hence, sought support for overcoming that darkness. Their seeking of support was their intercessor, and was the cause for the Messenger’s prayers for their forgiveness. Intercession is thus for them who recognize their wrongdoings, who truly aspire to become  Servants of Allah, and who undertake steps in that direction. To come unto the Messenger of God asking for Allah’s forgiveness is in itself a step in the righteous direction that makes them who take it, worthy of the Messenger’s prayers for their forgiveness. The Messenger’s prayers supply them with strength that would be added to the strength that was generated within them. This is the Law.
Verily never will Allah change the condition of a people until they change it themselves (with their own souls)(HQ: 13: 11)
So, start if even with but little for what is little can grow tremendously if carried out with sincerity.
  1. Narrated by Bukhari, Moslem and Ahmad
  2. This is part of the Divine Hadith: I am up to My Servant’s good thinking of Me; I am with him whenever he remembers Me. If he remembers me within himself, I remember him within Myself. If he remembers Me in a gathering, I remember him in a gathering better than his. If he comes an arm's length closer to Me, I shall forward to him two arms' length. If he comes to Me walking, I shall come to him running. It is narrated by Al Bukhari, Moslem, Al Tirmidhi, Ibn Maja and Ahmad.
  3. The origin of this saying is the Divine Hadith that says: I am up to My Servant’s expectations of Me;  his good thinking of Me will result in his own goodness, and his ill thinking of Me will lead to his own degeneracy. It is narrated by Ahmad Ibn Hanbal (Al Gam’ Al Saghir of Al Siuti P. 2, pp 82)
  4. The Prophetic Hadith is mentioned in Al-Ghazali’s famous book Ihia’ Ulum Al Din (Reviving Theology). The Prophet said to Aisha: Narrow  the devil’s  passage ways by  hunger.
  5. Narrated by Abu Ya’li and Tabarani  (in a book written by Imam Al Sakhawi in which he documents some of the most popular sayings of the Prophet).