Come closer. It’s so plain, it could pass you by without realization; so dear, you could take it for granted; so intimate, you may only recognize it if you surrender your entire being. “…We are closer to him than [his] jugular vein”(Qur’an 50:16). If you want to understand you must listen, with a heart undistracted, attentive, and directed at Him. “…And remember your Lord much…” (Qur’an 3:41)
When Yusuf alayhi as-salaam (peace be upon him) was cast out of his father’s home by his own brothers, he was ordained to grow up in the palace of the King. As he grew older, the wife of the King developed a lingering passion for Yusuf and tried luring him into her arms. She even tried to use force. Yusuf too was attracted to her, but his heart was always focused, always attentive, and he never allowed it to become preoccupied with the pleasures of dunya (worldly life). “And let not your eyes pass beyond them, desiring adornments of the worldly life…” (Qur’an 18:28). His heart was always present, and entirely focused. He never viewed the moment as an end, but always as a means; a means to a great reason, a means to an ultimate moment, and an ultimate day.
Today, we hear the phrase “live for the moment” used often, but somewhere along the way, it turned into a term justifying the lower nature of man. The moments that the pious saints and figures from east and west spoke of in the past, were moments that brought about greater purpose, far outweighing the mere moments of the lower self. It was this clear understanding that led Yusuf (as) to make the right decision at a very tempting point in time. “…and he would have inclined to her had he not seen the proof of his Lord” (Qur’an 12:24). As a matter of fact, one of Prophet Yusuf’s most well-known and documented attributes was his insight and ability to interpret the signs of Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (glorified is He). His dreams foreshadowed his fate and the revelation that came to him saved an entire nation from the onslaught of a major famine. His heart was filled with the Oneness of God. Prophet Yusuf (as) knew his circumstances and those around him were never simply a coincidence. He knew that every situation, every thought, and every feeling was connected to something much greater—the will of The only existing Truth—Al Haqq.
Many of us search for His signs hoping He will guide us, yet we remain lost. There may be moments when we witness His absolute infinite wealth of guidance (tawfiq) and blessings, still most of the time we persist in a world of emptiness and neediness. We search endlessly for His messages. But if God were to answer your call, would you know it? Would you heed His guidance? Is it possible that you are repeatedly shown signs, and dismiss them as simple coincidences?
Understanding His will and receiving His call requires closeness (taqwa). It requires a tearing of the veil between you and Him. It requires a love and intimacy so powerful and so consuming, that only the vessel of one’s heart can carry this one love. The great poet said:
“Gamble everything for love. If you are a true human being. If not, leave this gathering. Half-heartedness doesn’t reach into majesty. You set out to find God, but then you keep stopping for long periods at mean-spirited roadhouses. Don’t wait any longer. Dive in the ocean, leave and let the sea be you. Silent, absent, walking an empty road, all praise.” (Rumi)
If we desire His guidance, it’s critical that we first learn how to fill our hearts with Him alone. This is a condition expressed in the Qur’an. “Indeed, within the heavens and earth are signs for the believers,”(Qur’an 45:3). This verse refers to the mu’min (believer). The root of the word mu’min is (ا م ن ). This root has many interpretations but some of these interpretations encompass the following:
- Tranquility triggered by a strong sense of faith
- Being present, in the higher dimensions of a moment, without expectations
- Emptying one’s heart from everything except for the trust one instills in Allah (swt)
Allah (swt) tells us that paying heed to His signs is the benefit, indeed the essence, of being a mu’min. Nothing is real outside of Him, and if we are able to fill our heart with this reality, if all circumstances and all conditions become a manifestation of His will in our eyes, than His guidance will come regardless of how heavy or complex our affairs may seem. “For indeed, with hardship [will be] ease.” (Qur’an 94:5)
Believing in the Oneness of God’s purpose and design is critical to the way we view the events that take place in our lives. This is especially true if we desire His guidance. Ibn Qayyim radiAllahu `anhu (may God be pleased with him) in his book Madarij as-Salikeen discusses guidance as being a primary benefit in achieving a true internal state of tawheed (Oneness of God). The states are articulated in four stages:
- Tawba (Repentance): Ibn Qayyim suggests that in order to achieve the greatest and most insightful state, one must start with a constant (and never ending) state of tawba (repentance), and recognize the heart’s thirst to seek the truth. It’s through the deep thirst for truth that light enters one”s heart. And once light enters the heart, seeking the Source becomes a deeply rooted cause within the individual.
- Awakening Level (Fikra): This is the level of thinking and pondering. In this early stage, the heart starts to stare in the direction it wants to go in and after recognizing, it desires a wakeful state. In this phase the heart starts to understand and distinguish truth from falsehood. It starts to determine what is good and what is bad.
- Bassera (A light in the heart): Bassera becomes a form of revelation for the mu’min. Bassera is very powerful, because it places ferasa (insight) in the heart and it makes the believer aware of the good and evil in life. It removes all forms of shock in dunya. It helps one ease the need to set expectations. In this state, the believer is aware of what others can’t see or understand.
- Azim (Determination): The ultimate by-product and fruit of the previous stages lead to Azim. To reach this state a mu’min must set a qada (goal). The goal must be a path towards God. Once you have ferasa (insight) the believer is able to set a goal that will lead them on the right path. Once the goal is set, and one pursues it, his determination increases (Azim). This determination will create a sustaining bias towards action in the believer. He will constantly and without tiring struggle on the path to reach his goal: God.
Of all the states listed by Ibn Qayyim, the most important one is repentance. Tawba isn’t a phrase we say at the end of each prayer, nor is it just a gesture. Tawba in its deepest sense represents humility and God-consciousness. It means, before doing something, we ask ourselves whether it will bring us closer to Him. It means, every time we incline towards a sin, our heart aches for forgiveness. It means, loving Him with a sincerity that penetrates the deepest aspects of our wants, desires and hopes, because we can’t have the love of dunya and His love in the same vessel.
So start with tawba. Let your life become completely consumed by it. It will bring you so much closer to Him, His signs, and His revelation. Even if you don’t have the chance to reach the higher stages in this life, tawba will protect you, guide you, and reassure you in moments of weakness and in moments of need. “…ask forgiveness of your Lord and then repent to Him. He will…increase you in strength [added] to your strength.” (Qur’an 11:52)