When we are asked a question, we must respond with a reply. Right? Simply repeating the question over and over is not the way to respond to a question. Right? If we ‘reply’ to a question by repeating it over and over, it may even be seen as impertinence and disrespect. Right? But what do we do? Allah asked us a question:
أَلَيْسَ ٱللَّهُ بِكَافٍ عَبْدَهُۥ وَيُخَوِّفُونَكَ بِٱلَّذِينَ مِن دُونِهِۦ وَمَن يُضْلِلِ ٱللَّهُ فَمَا لَهُۥ مِنْ هَادٍ
Az-Zumar 39: 36 Is not Allah Sufficient for His slave? Yet they try to frighten you with those (whom they worship) besides Him! And whom Allah leaves to go astray, for him there will be no guide.
I ask myself, what is my response? What is my answer to Allah’s question? It is not what I say, but what I do and what that shows about my real belief, which counts. They say, “Actions speak louder than words.” I say, “Only actions speak. Not words.” Even people don’t care what we say until they see what we do, so what about Allah who sees and knows everything. What is our answer to Allah’s question? As I said earlier, simply repeating the question over and over, which is what we do when we recite this Ayah and others like it, which are questions that Allah asked us, is not only not enough but defeats the purpose of the question. We must reflect and answer the question for ourselves. In that lies the secret of our happiness.
Allah didn’t ask us because He needs to know. Allah knows already. Allah asked us to remind us, so that we can think about this. It is like saying to us in the midst of our worries, fears, apprehensions, depression and despair, “Hello! Wake up!! Why are you afraid? What do you fear? What can that (whatever you fear) do to you? Don’t you know who you are? Don’t you know who is with you?” Do we? Do we know ourselves? Do we know who is with us? What does that do to us?
See what Allah tells us. Reflect on the majesty of the address. He said:
هُوَ ٱلَّذِى خَلَقَ ٱلسَّمَـٰوَٰتِ وَٱلْأَرْضَ فِى سِتَّةِ أَيَّامٍ ثُمَّ ٱسْتَوَىٰ عَلَى ٱلْعَرْشِ يَعْلَمُ مَا يَلِجُ فِى ٱلْأَرْضِ وَمَا يَخْرُجُ مِنْهَا وَمَا يَنزِلُ مِنَ ٱلسَّمَآءِ وَمَا يَعْرُجُ فِيهَا وَهُوَ مَعَكُمْ أَيْنَ مَا كُنتُمْ وَٱللَّهُ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ بَصِيرٌ
Hadid 57: 4 He it is Who created the heavens and the earth in six Days and then Istawa (rose over) the Throne (in a manner that suits His Majesty). He knows what goes into the earth and what comes forth from it, what descends from the heaven and what ascends thereto. And He is with you (by His Knowledge) wheresoever you may be. And Allah all that you do.
We understand the meaning of the words, but do we feel that in our hearts? That is what gets reflected in our decisions and actions. That is what I remind myself and you to reflect on, the effect of the Qur’an. Not only the meaning of its words. The Kalaam of Allah speaks to the heart.
My question is, “Can we hear it? What is my experience with Allah? What is my knowledge of Allah? Who is Allah to me? Not the words of description, glorious though they are but to me, personally, reflected in my life.” I remind myself to reflect and I remind you to reflect on this. Sit somewhere quietly and playback your life and look at those scenes with the eyes of your heart. Look at what happened and then ask, “What does that mean? What is the message that I need to take from what happened to me?” The incidents in themselves may be happy memories of successes or sad memories of failures. Use the incident only as a step to take your mind to reflecting on what it means. What does that incident tell us about Allah and our connection with Him. In the words of Sayyidina Ali bin Abi Talib (R), “Araftu Rabbi bi fasqil adhaaim. I recognized my Rabb by the failure of my aspirations.” Easy to repeat. Tough to live.
My brothers and sisters, there are no shortcuts to building relationships. The hunter relies on his weapon because of the time he spends with the weapon. Not just walking with it in the forest, but after returning, the time spent in cleaning, taking it apart, oiling, polishing, and putting it back safely in its locker. Good hunters do all this with great enjoyment, not as a chore to be completed and ticked off the list of chores. They do it because they know that their life could depend on their weapon working properly when they need it the most. As they say, ‘Honor the one who packed your parachute, because what happens when you pull the rip cord, depends on how your parachute was packed.’
Relationships depend on two things: how well we know the one we want to have a relationship with and what our experience is, with that entity. As Sayyidina Omar ibn Al-Khattab (R) asked someone who vouched for another person, “Are you related to him, or did you deal with him in a financial transaction, or did you travel with him? If not, you can’t vouch for him.’ I reflect on my ‘travels’ with Allah in my life and I invite you to do the same. What situations did you face? How did Allah solve them for you? Our problem is that we see the rope and not the One who ensures that the rope keeps the camel safe. We must ask if we have Tawakkal Al-Allah or Tawakkal ala hablil jamal – reliance on Allah or reliance on the rope of the camel. I know what the so-called right answer is. The real right answer however is not what we say but what is in our hearts and our actions which reflect our real belief.
A good diagnostic tool is to watch our language and actions and see what is the first word or action that happens when we face a difficulty. Is it Allah or something material? Is it dua or Dawa? Dawa is Halaal. To use material means, Asbaab is Halaal. To have the means in our hand is Halaal. To have the means in our heart is Shirk. Tawakkul ala-al-asbaab, hua Ash-Shirk. Tawakkul ala Musabbib-ul-asbaab, hua Tawheed. (Reliance on material means is Shirk. Reliance on the Creator of the means is Tawheed – Monotheism and Islam). Only we know, what is in our hearts. It is about what my hearts tells me FIRST. Not after arguing with it. That is my diagnostic tool to check the strength of my connection with Allah. I have a headache. What do I do first? Make dua or reach for Tylenol? And remember that Allah knows the truth. To build our relationship with Allah, we must spend time with Allah, in Ibaadah, especially Tahajjud and in reflecting on our connection with Him.
If you think about it, all the stories that Allah told us in the Qur’an about His Anbiya are about their connection with Him. Take the story of Nuh (AS). It is about a man who continued to warn his people about the danger of disobeying Allah, the chief of which is Shirk. He did it consistently for 950 years. Then when the punishment of Allah came upon his people thanks to their refusal to change their ways, Allah saved Nuh (AS) and those who followed him, while everyone else perished.
وَلَقَدْ أَرْسَلْنَا نُوحًا إِلَىٰ قَوْمِهِۦ فَلَبِثَ فِيهِمْ أَلْفَ سَنَةٍ إِلَّا خَمْسِينَ عَامًا فَأَخَذَهُمُ ٱلطُّوفَانُ وَهُمْ ظَـٰلِمُونَ
Ankabut 29: 14 And indeed We sent Nuh to his people, and he stayed among them a thousand years less fifty years [preaching Tawheed], and the Deluge overtook them while they were Zalimun (wrong-doers, polytheists).
فَكَذَّبُوهُ فَنَجَّيْنَـٰهُ وَمَن مَّعَهُۥ فِى ٱلْفُلْكِ وَجَعَلْنَـٰهُمْ خَلَـٰٓئِفَ وَأَغْرَقْنَا ٱلَّذِينَ كَذَّبُوا۟ بِـَٔايَـٰتِنَا فَٱنظُرْ كَيْفَ كَانَ عَـٰقِبَةُ ٱلْمُنذَرِينَ
Yunus 10: 73 They denied him, but We delivered him, and those with him in the ship, and We made them generations replacing one after another, while We drowned those who belied Our Ayat (revelations). Then see what the end of those was, who had been warned.
We know the story of Ibrahim (AS) where the decision to have Ibrahim (AS) burned at the stake was affirmed by the temple priests and the king of Babylon, Namrood (Nimrod). The news spread like wildfire in the kingdom and people came from everywhere to watch the execution. A huge pit was dug, and a large quantity of wood was piled up. Then the biggest fire people ever witnessed was lit. The flames were so high up in the sky that even birds could not fly over it for fear of being burnt. Ibrahim (AS)’s hands and feet were bound, and he was put in the cup of a trebuchet, ready to be thrown in. At this time, Jibril (AS) came to him and said, “O Ibrahim! Is there anything you wish for? Is there anything that I can do for you?” Ibrahim (AS) could have asked to be saved from the fire, but he replied, “Allah is sufficient for me, He is the best disposer of my affairs.” The trebuchet was released, and Ibrahim (AS) was thrown into the fire. When the Abd refused to take the help of Asbaab, his Rabb directly addressed the fire:
قُلْنَا يَـٰنَارُ كُونِى بَرْدًا وَسَلَـٰمًا عَلَىٰٓ إِبْرَٰهِيمَ
Anbiya 21: 69 We (Allah) said: O fire! Be you coolness and safety for Ibrahim!
When I reflect on this story the obvious question is, ‘How did Ibrahim (AS) get there? Where did he get the kind of reliance on Allah to be able to say, “Hasbiallahu ne’mal wakeel”? The answer is once again in the Qur’an, where Allah described a very beautiful incident from the childhood of Ibrahim (AS). I want you to reflect on what this Ayah symbolizes. Not just its meaning. What does it say about the relationship between Ibrahim (AS) and his Rabb? I see here a relationship of great love and such complete comfort that when Ibrahim (AS) asked Allah to show him His power of resurrecting the dead, Allah says to him, “Don’t you believe I can do it?”
Ibrahim (AS) says, “Of course I believe but this is to strengthen my faith.” Rasoolullahﷺ said, “If Ibrahim (AS) could say that we have a greater right to say it.”
وَإِذْ قَالَ إِبْرَٰهِـۧمُ رَبِّ أَرِنِى كَيْفَ تُحْىِ ٱلْمَوْتَىٰ قَالَ أَوَلَمْ تُؤْمِن قَالَ بَلَىٰ وَلَـٰكِن لِّيَطْمَئِنَّ قَلْبِى قَالَ فَخُذْ أَرْبَعَةً مِّنَ ٱلطَّيْرِ فَصُرْهُنَّ إِلَيْكَ ثُمَّ ٱجْعَلْ عَلَىٰ كُلِّ جَبَلٍ مِّنْهُنَّ جُزْءًا ثُمَّ ٱدْعُهُنَّ يَأْتِينَكَ سَعْيًا وَٱعْلَمْ أَنَّ ٱللَّهَ عَزِيزٌ حَكِيمٌ
Baqara 2: 260 And (remember) when Ibrahim said, My Rabb! Show me how You give life to the dead. He (Allah) said: Do you not believe? He [Ibrahim] said: Yes (I believe), but to be stronger in Faith. He said: Take four birds, then cause them to incline towards you (then slaughter them, cut them into pieces), and then put a portion of them on every hill, and call them, they will come to you in haste. And know that Allah is All-Mighty, All-Wise.
What is clear from this ayah is that this is not a single stand-alone incident. It is clear that Ibrahim (AS) used to talk to Allah and be with Him and Allah was his constant concern and companion. Allah told us the whole story. And what a lovely story it is. As Allama Iqbal put it:
Aaj Bhi Ho Jo Ibrahim Ka Iman Paida
Aag Kar Sakti Hai Andaz-e-Gulistan Paida
(Even today if the Iman of Ibrahim can be produced
The fire can create a beautiful garden of flowers)
There are three things we must do if we want to strengthen our Imaan to a level where it becomes a source of comfort for us. They are as follows:
- Learn about Allah, reflect on His Glory and Majesty, make Istighfaar and Tawba and increase our Dhikr and Ibadaath.
- Reflect on and remind ourselves about Allah’s blessings and thank Him for them.
- Take risk on Allah – do what Allah told us to do especially when people are advising us to do the opposite.
Trust is a factor of knowledge and risk taking. Without knowledge the risk seems too high. Knowledge is reinforced by reflection and gratitude and the threat perception of the risk becomes manageable. Then when we take risk and win, it increases our faith until taking risk becomes fun. After all, you are relying on the Creator of the Heavens and Earth. How risky can that be?
I want to close with a definition of ‘Faith’ that I love, by Barbara Winters.
“When you come to the end of the light of all that you know and are about to step off into the darkness of the unknown, faith is knowing that one of two things will happen; there will be something firm to stand on or you will be taught how to fly.” I hope you will be taught how to fly.