Purify your heart if you want to learn Islam

Everything successful has careful preparation behind it. Without that preparation, there can be no success. A good and easy way to understand the importance of preparation is to think of a farmer who has the best seed. What is the first thing he does? He prepares the soil because he knows that toxic soil will kill the seed. He detoxes the soil, treats it for pathogens, adjusts the pH value and organic content, digs irrigation channels, makes fences, and secures boundaries. Only when all this is done, will be plant the seed. The best seed is the Book of Allahﷻ and the teaching of His Messengerﷺ. But if we want that to take root in our lives and enrich us with the fragrance of its flowers and shade us with its branches and bless us with its fruit, we must prepare the soil to receive it. Then when we plant it, it will take root and change our lives. Without that, it will remain dry words alone, and we will not feel its blessing in our lives. That soil and garden is our heart.

Sahl ibnʿAbd Allah ibn Yunus, Abu Muhammad al-Tustari (d. 283) ® who Al-Dhahabi called Shaykh al-Arifin (Master of the Knowers) says that when he was three years old, he would wake up at night to watch his uncle Muhammad ibn al-Sawwar ® pray. He spent his early years with his uncle and Dhu al-Nun al-Misri ® whom he met during Hajj. Al-Qushayri ® narrates from ʿUmar ibn Wasil al-Basri ® that Sahl ® said, “My uncle once told me, “Remember Allahﷻ Who created you.” I asked, “How should I remember him?” He replied, “Say in your heart, whenever you are alone at night, three times, without moving your tongue: Allahﷻ is with me; Allahﷻ is looking at me; Allahﷻ is watching me.” This is the meaning of Tarbiyya. Ask, if this is something we do for our children. Ask, why not?

Why say it without moving your tongue? Because then it is your heart speaking. That is when you start to feel the power of the words. What does it mean to feel, Allahﷻ is with me; Allahﷻ is looking at me; Allahﷻ is watching me? It means tears of gratitude and love for Allahﷻ in our eyes when nobody is watching. It means total freedom from all fears. It means complete acceptance and happiness with whatever Allahﷻ decreed for us. Ridha bil Qadha. It means to focus on only one thing i.e., how can we please Allahﷻ? Nothing else matters. It means to fear and be ashamed of committing any sin, no matter how ‘small’, Shaytaan tell us it is. When I am aware that Allahﷻ is watching, I am aware of who Allahﷻ is. Allahu Akbar. So, no disobedience of Allahﷻ can be considered small. It means that if I commit any sin, no matter the reason, I will immediately seek Allahﷻ’s pardon and seek to have that sin wiped off my slate.

What is the meaning of Allahu Akbar? I don’t mean the translation. I mean meaning. What does it mean to me? What does it do to me? Let us ask that.

It is necessary for us to have the Aqeeda that Allahﷻ is Al-Akbar. But what does that mean? It means that if we are afraid, safety is with Al-Akbar. And if we need anything seek out Al-Akbar (The Greatest). And if we need to trust someone and rely on him, then turn to Al-Akbar. And when we need to ask, we ask Al-Akbar. When we have access to Al-Akbar why would we ask anyone else? If you ask others, then ask if you really believe that Allahﷻ is Al-Akbar. When we want a pillar to rely on and lean against, then the strongest support and pillar is Al-Akbar, Allahu Subhana. Because when every ‘great’ thing is put against Him, it humbles itself and diminishes until it is nothing. So, what are we afraid of? When something happens to us that you are afraid of, that causes us anxiety, depression, stress, and panic and we turn right and left searching for influential people to help us while we are heedless of Al-Akbar. Instead do what the Sahaba did. Call on Him, Allahu Akbar and beg Him for protection and help. If you relied on a person and they left you, seek out the One who will never leave you, Allahu Akbar. Al-Akbar will open His door for you, and He will never let you down and He will never shut His door on you – for anyone seeking Him truly and sincerely. It is He who asked, “Is there anyone who calls Me, anyone who seeks My forgiveness, anyone in need, anyone who seeks My protection?” Do we answer? Whatever you may need or desire, you know that your Rabb will never drive you away. He will never get tired of your asking. He will never say, “You asked me for this just yesterday and you are here again?” He is happy when you beg him. The more you beg Him, the more He will reward you. We get tired when people ask us again and again. Not Allahﷻ. He never gets tired. Remember, He told his Nabi, Muhammadﷺ: ‘Wa ammas saalila fala tanhar – Don’t turn away the one who comes to you to ask.’ What do you think the One who gave that order to Rasoolullahﷺ, will do when you go to Him? I ask Allahﷻ not to leave us to rely on ourselves. But to grant us honor and dignity with Him. That is the meaning of believing that Allahﷻ is Al-Akbar. Not merely words. But something that changes our hearts and our lives.

Sahl bin Abdillah ® said, “It is not lawful (possible) for light (Noor of knowledge) to enter a heart in which there is something that Allahﷻ dislikes.” The source of his statement is the statement of Allahﷻ.

سَأَصْرِفُ عَنْ ءَايَـٰتِىَ ٱلَّذِينَ يَتَكَبَّرُونَ فِى ٱلْأَرْضِ بِغَيْرِ ٱلْحَقِّ وَإِن يَرَوْا۟ كُلَّ ءَايَةٍ لَّا يُؤْمِنُوا۟ بِهَا وَإِن يَرَوْا۟ سَبِيلَ ٱلرُّشْدِ لَا يَتَّخِذُوهُ سَبِيلًا وَإِن يَرَوْا۟ سَبِيلَ ٱلْغَىِّ يَتَّخِذُوهُ سَبِيلًا ذَٰلِكَ بِأَنَّهُمْ كَذَّبُوا۟ بِـَٔايَـٰتِنَا وَكَانُوا۟ عَنْهَا غَـٰفِلِينَ

A’raf 7: 146   I shall turn away from My Ayat (Qur’an) those who behave arrogantly on the earth, without a right, and (even) if they see all the Ayat (signs, revelation), they will not believe in them. And if they see the way of righteousness (monotheism, piety, and good deeds), they will not adopt it as the Way, but if they see the way of error (polytheism, crimes and evil deeds), they will adopt that way. That is because they have rejected Our Ayat and were heedless (to learn a lesson) of them.

When the righteous hear this Ayah, they fear that they will be the ones to be turned away from the Light of Allahﷻ’s guidance and seek His Forgiveness and make Istighfaar. Sufyan bin Uyayna ® in his Tafsir of this Ayah, said, “Allahﷻ will deprive them from understanding the Qur’an.” Muhammad bin Yusuf al Firyabi ® said, “Allahﷻ  is saying that He will deprive them from reflecting on the Qur’an and taking lessons from it.” Ibn Kathir ® in his Tafsir of this Ayah said, “Allahﷻ punished them with the terrible punishment of ignorance because they were arrogant.” That terrible punishment was that the understanding of the Qur’an was taken away. Do we make effort to understand the Qur’an?

 Whoever allows jealousy, envy, hatred, greed, malice, resentment, arrogance, and ingratitude into his heart, Allahﷻ will turn him away from His Qur’an. To be turned away doesn’t mean that you will not be able to memorize the Qur’an. Ibn Al Haajj Al Maliki in his book Al Madkhal said, “I have seen a lot of Mutakabbireen (arrogant people) memorize the Qur’an. But their hearts are turned away from it. They have not been given any understanding of it and don’t act upon it.” It is like a stone compared to a sponge. If water is poured on these two, which one will absorb the water? That is not because the sponge is stronger than the rock but because it has the capacity to absorb water. It is not physical strength, or memory power or anything like that which is important but the hidden strength of Ikhlaas un-Niyyah and Tazkiyatun Nafs. A heart which is pure from all that Allahﷻ dislikes and yearns for knowledge that can take him closer to Allahﷻ is the one which Allahﷻ will grace and bless with the knowledge of His Book and the desire to live by it. If the heart is purified from arrogance, Allahﷻ will open a door of understanding for him which He doesn’t open for others. And if the heart is not purified of these evil characteristics, Allahﷻ will prevent him from the Light which can open his heart and give him a beautiful life. Allahﷻ said:

وَٱتَّقُوا۟ ٱللَّهَ وَيُعَلِّمُكُمُ ٱللَّهُ وَٱللَّهُ بِكُلِّ شَىْءٍ عَلِيمٌ

Baqara 2: 282… So have Taqwa of Allah; and Allah will teach you. And Allah knows everything.

Taqwa comes before Ilm (Knowledge). It is a pre-condition of Ilm. That is why when Tarbiyya was separated from Ta’aleem, Noor left Ilm and only words remained. Today we teach Islam like we teach anything else. We examine our students like we examine students of anything else, by their random-access memory at a specific time. That is like teaching someone all about swimming in a classroom and then examining them on what they can recall of the class. Then take them to the pool and let them jump in and watch them drown. Because they never learnt to swim. They only learnt ABOUT swimming. There is a world of difference between the two. The difference of life and death. The knowledge of the A’alim must be visible in His behavior. That is why Allahﷻ praised the Akhlaaq of Rasoolullahﷺ, not his oratory. The first sign of true knowledge of Islam is Tawaduh (humility). Knowledge that creates arrogance is the knowledge of Shaytaan who considered himself better than Adam (AS). Rabbani (Divine) knowledge shows the person who has it, how small and insignificant he is and so he lowers himself before Allahﷻ‎. Ibn Al Qayyim al-Jawziyya ® said, “When Allahﷻ wants to favor someone He reminds him about his sins.” That’s Allahﷻ’s favor because the person is saved from arrogance and makes Istighfaar again and again. The benefit of making Istighfaar often is that Allahﷻ accepts his dua, forgives him, provides him from sources he couldn’t imagine, solves his material needs and problems, and becomes sufficient for him. Abdullah Ibn Abbas (R) reported that Rasoolullah  said, “If anyone constantly seeks pardon (from Allah), Allah will appoint for him a way out of every distress and a relief from every anxiety and will provide sustenance for him from where he expects not.”
[Abu Dawud]

In another hadith, Abdullah bin Abbas (R) reported that Rasoolullah said, “The one who (regularly) makes Istighfaar for the sins he committed, Allah will open a path for him out of poverty and difficulties. All sorrow and hardship will be removed, and prosperity and contentment granted. He will receive sustenance from unimagined and unexpected sources.”

Let’s ask ourselves what the Kalaam of Allahﷻ and the Kalaam of Rasoolullahﷺ does to our hearts. When people find sweetness in the words of their beloved and listen to poetry and songs and their hearts are affected and they are moved to tears. Even abuse and curses, which are false and we know they are false, affect us and create measurable physiological changes in us. When we watch a movie, we are affected emotionally by it, though we know that the actors are acting out a script and that it is all make-believe and false. Let us ask what happens to us when we listen to the Qur’an. Not the tune of the recitation but the effect of the meaning of the Ayaat. The purpose of knowledge is not to get degrees and Ijaazaat or professorships and chairs of honor and position in society. The purpose of knowledge is only one; to get us closer to Allahﷻ. There is no other purpose. But knowledge will take us closer to Allahﷻ only if our hearts are pure and pious and free from the evil of arrogance and the other negative characteristics that I mentioned earlier. The sign of righteousness is that we purify our hearts from all the (Najasa) impurity and filth because if they settle in our hearts then we will be deprived of the Light of Knowledge.

It is not important for a person to regret not having memorized Qur’an or become a Mufti but rather to fear a situation where he finds in his heart a corruption which he has not been able to clean yet. If the vessel in which knowledge is to reside is impure than it will corrupt knowledge and make it ineffective. That is why we must strive to purify our hearts and to keep them pure if we want to benefit from knowledge.

Indeed Allahﷻ never turns away a slave who has turned towards Him. Rather, it is the arrogant one who turns away from Allahﷻ even though he pretends to be seeking Allahﷻ. If someone says, I am seeking the light of the sun, what will you tell him? You will say, ‘If you want to see the light of the sun, open your eyes. If you shut your eyes, you can’t see the light.’ If you seek knowledge for name, fame, money, position, authority, or any worldly benefit, Allahﷻ will turn you away from Himself. For the one who seeks knowledge only for the pleasure of Allahﷻ, He opens doors for him and gives him understanding from Himself and helps him to practice what he knows so that the knowledge becomes a proof in his favor and not against him. The one who turns to Allahﷻ sincerely, Allahﷻ will accept him. If he asks, Allahﷻ will give him. The one who has hope in Allahﷻ and relies on Him, Allahﷻ will honor him. Learning, reading, memorizing and so on are helpful but they are not the goal. The goal is our relationship with Allahﷻ. If we have the Qurb (closeness) of Allahﷻ, then everything else will help us. So, focus on Ta’alluq Ma’Allah above everything else. And that comes only through total obedience to Allahﷻ and living according to the Sunnah of Rasoolullahﷺ. There is no mystery. Allahﷻ doesn’t love the disobedient and rebellious slave. He loves the obedient slave who lives by the Sunnah of Rasoolullahﷺ. To be Muslim is to submit. Allahﷻ told us clearly:

قُلْ إِن كُنتُمْ تُحِبُّونَ ٱللَّهَ فَٱتَّبِعُونِى يُحْبِبْكُمُ ٱللَّهُ وَيَغْفِرْ لَكُمْ ذُنُوبَكُمْ وَٱللَّهُ غَفُورٌ رَّحِيمٌ

A’al Imraan 3: 31   Say (O Muhammad to mankind): If you (really) love Allah then follow me (emulate me), Allah will love you and forgive your sins. And Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.

The beauty of the Sunnah is that not only does it please Allahﷻ but because of that it makes us supremely content, happy, honored, influential, and beloved. That is the power of the Akhlaaq of Rasoolullahﷺ. We ask Allahﷻ to join us with those on whom He showered His Mercy.