By Leila Adam
“The meaning of life is to find your gift.
The purpose of life is to give it away.”
My teacher asked us to reflect on the above quote. It reminded me of this quote by Rumi that I have on my study wall:
“Everyone has been made for some particular work
And the desire for that work has been put into every heart.”
There is so much profundity in this notion. If each person pursued the concept with honesty and determination and found his or her own answer to it, each life could become a joyous outpouring of gratitude to the Divine!
Imagine finding the time and the ‘silence of mind’ to sit and ponder on what this means for oneself. Imagine then having the courage to make space in one’s life to nurture the talent that is your own special gift of Divine favour. Imagine how generous God is, that He gave everyone a special gift that only they are aware of inside themselves, and then on top of that He gave them the love for its development!
Most of us hide this inner knowledge from ourselves and others. It is a kind of kufr (denial). Just as we are prone to deny God, so we are prone to shy away from acknowledging His gifts to us. Those who are more creative by temperament sometimes cannot hide them (it would drive them crazy to do so!), but even so, they often do not develop them to the point of their being useful to the soul and beneficial to others.
Sometimes other people, or life itself, metaphorically beat the love of our gift out of us. We end up so spiritually downtrodden that we forget what used to make our hearts come alive. (The Qur’anic phrase ‘wronging themselves’ comes to mind.)
Did you love to draw/paint/dance/ride/build/explore when young? Are you a people/animal/nature lover? Did you always know that you were good at making others feel at ease or feel good about themselves? Do you love to ferret away at finding interesting facts, or meticulously manufacture things of beauty? All these things are gifts and all these things can be used for benefit of the self and others.
Whether your God-given talent becomes a career or remains a hobby, it is your intent and joy in it that matter. How can you use your talent to better the world? How can this talent that is from the Divine be utilised to make you grow closer to its Giver? The first answer leads to the second. If you can spend some time pondering and then implementing a way to do good with your special gift, and if you carry this out with sincere intent for God and concern for the world – and if you do it all with joy and gratitude – then the result will be His drawing you closer to Him.
It is really a win-win situation. Do what you love to do, with a focused and joyful intent, and travel up through the spiritual ranks to reach God. How can we even resist such a bargain when He only asks us to do what He has instilled in us to love to do anyway? Could He have been any kinder in His Benevolence?
There are too many people around these days who seem to take delight in telling us that what we love to do is haram (forbidden). They seem to draw pleasure from frowning and killing the joy. This is because their own joy has been stifled for so long that they cannot let others have some of it.
The voice of my teacher comes to mind. There are very few things that are haram, he says; a few foods and drinks, gambling, riba (usury), and anything in the arena of illicit sexual encounters. These are all things that people whose hearts are joyful would not find pleasure in engaging with anyway. Perhaps it is because the haram are so few that some people seem to delight in hunting around for more things to add to the list!
What if the frowning and finger-wagging people turned into smiling people (it is sunnah – tradition of the Prophet ﷺ – after all!) and said to you, “Follow your heart and worship your Lord through the gifts and talents that He gave you.” Imagine how empowered that could make you feel. There is no ‘one size fits all’ to the extramural parts of religious life. When we look at the lives of successful worshippers of the past that is what we see.
In days gone by, pious Muslims would acquire some knowledge or a skill and then travel and ‘seek their fortune’ just as people of all faiths did. They would set off without fear, completely relying on God. They would do some work or trade along the way, and have great adventures—all the while learning about life, purifying their characters and making the internal journey to travel closer to their Lord.
Or, they might stay put and become craftsmen and artisans, making their daily toils an expression of love for the Divine. They would have the mindset of gratitude for the skills they had learned and would offer up their effort of beauty to God, knowing that when people benefitted from them, they would have fulfilled their own divine purpose.
People have moved a long way away from such lofty mindsets. Work, careers, craftsmanship, artistry; they have all become a means to material gain or to building egos. They have lost the soul that was originally imbibed within them.
Yet it is possible to return to and revive the soul of our endeavours, with a fairly simple tweak of orientation. Turn your face towards God and realise that He gave you talents. Take some quiet time to sit and think deeply about what you love to do and what you are good at. And then take it a step further and think how you can better the world with it. Find your place with your Lord, and see what He has given you to do. Put a Rumi quote up on your wall, and begin. The journey is guaranteed to be joyful!