Striving to become people of effort

[Following is a transcript of a talk delivered by Shaykh Kamaluddin Ahmed on February 1, 2010].

Allah (swt) has given every human being an emotional aspect and everything that we have; our spiritual self, our intellectual self, our emotional self, has to be used to draw us closer to Allah (swt). Last week I talked about this mujahida of striving; making effort to be closer to Allah (swt). And part of that is attending a talk, listening to a program in order to get in ourselves a desire and sort of having a pep talk and being motivated.

But when you look at the earlier Muslims and the truest Muslims, whenever they would listen to something or go to a gathering to hear some naseeha, it wasn’t for a pep talk. Even the Sahaaba karam (ra) did not go to Syedna Rasool Allah (saw) merely to be motivated.

They were people who were already motivated before-hand and when they went to Prophet (saw) they went their to recieve and acquire something. And what happens with many of us; because we are so weak, we are so caught up in our worldly affairs and some of us may have fallen prey to shaytaan and our nafs.

The function of any regular activity or, let’s say, when we take our program on air, is bascically we come online every week to re-motivate ourselves, to re-juvinate ourselves. And now that we have been doing this for 1 year, and if they are some people who have been so kind to us that they have been listening regularly, then I would suggest so the next level now is that you should think that Ok I need the motivation not just from the program but I need to be motivated in the rest of my life and I need to come to the program or any gathering that a person may go to, any Qur’an Al Kareem or Hadith that a person may read and understand and that is that I need to change my life according to this. I need to start making progress. And that is something which is very difficult for us to do.

In fact there was an Ayah from the Qur’an Al Kareem that Allah (swt) gradually lowers people and they don’t realize it.

I think that’s something that happens to a lot of us that over time we don’t realize and all of our amaal, our actions, our taqwa, our jazbaat, our kaifiyaat they just taper off.

The need for focus 

No matter how slow that progress may be, but we need to continually keep making that progress. That is something that I think is critical and I think that is one way, and again tasawwuf is not the only way to make that progress, but those features of tasawwuf that how to make that progress is that there are many different fuels for that engine.

How to make progress?

Two fuels that can drive our movement on this path towards Allah (swt) are

1. Ilm i.e. knowledge and
2. Ishq i.e. love

Here by knowledge we don’t mean the technical knowledge of finer points of shari’ah. We mean knowledge about Allah (swt). Knowledge about His zaat, His sifaat, Asma ul Husna, the different things He has mentioned in the Qur’an Al Kareem about His mercy, knowledge of Qur’an Al Kareem, knowledge of Nabi e Kareem (saw) and knowledge of the teachings of Prophet (saw) which is the sunnah.

Let’s, for example, take this concept of sunnah. I think many of us don’t properly understand what Sunnah is. And we think that Sunnah is a legal catogory that comes after fard and wajib or we may think that Sunnah is something that is mentioned in Hadith.

Nothing of that is incorrect. But today I want to put forth another possible understanding of Sunnah that will motivate us. Not just be motivated, but be motivated to become people of action.

Following the Sunnah

If you understand it this way then you will not think that Sunnah is something optional. Just like it’s not optional that I’m his (saw) ummati, just like it’s not optional that I’m his follower, it’s necessary for me. For me it’s the most necessary thing that I am his ummati, that I am his follower and he is my nabi. Just like that if it’s necessary for met that he’s my nabi, how can it be optional for me to make myself the way he wants me to be?

Obviously if it’s necessary for me that he’s my nabi then it should also be necessary for me to make myself according to his muraad, according to his wish, according to his will. The type of ummati that Nabi (saw) wants, that’s the type of ummati that I should become. That’s what it means to follow the Sunnah.

Now when we look at this definition and we use it to assess ourselves, we can ask ourselves a question ‘am I following the Sunnah?’ That doesn’t mean… it’s not just a check list. This question means that have I made myself the ways Nabi Kareem (saw) wants me to be? Have I made myself the type of ummati that Prophet (saw) wanted to have? If I don’t have that yet then I’m not following the Sunnah.

In terms of progress, that’s the real progress.

Even for our program, if someone has learnt interesting terms of tasawwuf that itself is not any progress. If there’s anyone who would be so blessed to say that because of this or any other gathering, I have made myself more like how the Prophet (saw) would want me to be, that’s progress. That’s what we have to track in ourselves. Sometimes we are so stagnant that we don’t even make 1% progress. For example, there maybe some of you who could say since last thursday to this thursday, I haven’t made myself even 1 percent more of the way Prophet (saw) would want me to be.

Even if just 1 percent, we have to have that progress.

Otherwise what happens is that the person starts drifting. For example, when you are afloat in the ocean and you have no movement, then you will start drifting away with the waves. Even without movement you are not stationary. That’s why the mashaikh refer to this as salook and they call the person a salik, a traveller. Salook means a journey because we have to keep making the journey. We have to keep travelling. We have to keep making that progress because if we stopped the progress it doesn’t mean that we’ll be stationary; we’ll start drifting away.

This is something that we are supposed to fear. And a lot of us we don’t have that fear. We are too arrogant. We don’t fear drifting away from Allah (swt). We don’t fear drifting away from the deen of Islam. We don’t fear drifting away from Syedna Rasool Allah (saw). We should have a fear of this. And we should use that fear to motivate ourselves to make progress. We should think that if I don’t make progress it’s not that I will be able to stand still, I’m going to drift in the other direction. And the effort I’m going to put in to increase myself even if by 1 percent is still less than if I allow myself to drift away the amount of effort I will have to make to come back.

That’s why it is so critical that we keep moving; we keep having this movement. We have to make ourselves the way the Prophet (saw) wants us to be. Just like that, being a true believer of Allah (swt) means that we have to make ourselves the way that our Rabb wants us to be. And this is the way that Allah (swt) has taught us. There’s a Hadith of the Propher (saw).

“Whomsoever makes themselves Allah’s, Allah (swt) makes Himself theirs.”

This is when we move from the ilm to the ishq. This is what a person is thinking. A person should think I have to make myself more Allah’s because I want to make Allah more mine. So you move on that ishq. We want to have more love for Allah (swt). That’s the second thing that we are lacking.

1. We are lacking the knowledge
2. And we are lacking the love

That’s why we don’t make the movement. We can listen to different things we can be regular in different things. But gradually we start to drift. Once we drift, it’s very difficult for all of us. We have to snap out of it. Otherwise, before we know it we would have drifted far away. Before we know it, we would have gone through so many days without doing our mamoolaat. Before we know it, we have gone throught months, and years without praying our tahajjud. We don’t realize when this drifting thing happens it’s a phenomenon that leads us very far away from our goal.

We have to keep moving. That’s the mujahidda, that’s the struggle, the effort; keep moving, keep striving. The fuel that’s going to enable us is ilm and ishq.

The more and more knowledge we have about Allah (swt) and the deen, the more fuel we will get for travelling.

And you will find that we don’t do that. People don’t do that who are weak; we don’t increase ourselves in knowledge. A few ayah, a few Ahadith, reading a few pages of a book; if you do this you would be amazed that even if you just do that every day or every night one sentence will sometimes leap out at them from the pages. Because Allah (swt) does the hidaya.

Allah (swt) says that those who strive in our path I will certainly and surely guide them through multiple ways that lead towards Me.

Even if we do something small like reading a good islamic book for 5 or 10 minutes a day, Allah (swt) makes that book speak to us. He will make things leap out from there and He will put the nafa or the benefit in that ilm. All we have to do is simply get it.

Just like that on the path of ishq, when we have this love for Allah (swt), love for the Prophet (saw) in our heart, then we would want to become more like them.

We would want to make ourselves more like the way they want us to be. Now, this is another problem that we have; we have the love for ghairullah in our hearts. Unlawful love. Any love that Allah (swt) has commanded or any love that Allah (swt) has permitted, any love that is in the name of Allah and for the sake of Allah, that is something different. That is all religious love, a permissible love.

Unlawful love in our hearts for ghairullah; if we have that in our heart then Allah (swt) won’t come in. This is the number one reason why we don’t have that love.

You know there’s a saying in tasawwuf,

1. sometimes a student is an aqeedat student
2. sometimes he is a muhabbat student.

The aqeedat student is the one who likes the shaykh but doesn’t really love them. It means that he takes the shaykh forgranted. In tasawwuf we can use this for people that we have become so distant that we have become the aqeedatmand ibaad of Allah. This means that we have aqeedat in Allah (swt) and Alhamdulillah we are not atheists but we don’t have the muhabbah. We are the aqeedatmand Ummati of Propeht (saw); we all are at a level that we believe in Prophet (saw) as our prophet and believe ourselves to be his followers but we don’t have that muhabbat.

In other words it means we take Allah (swt) forgranted, we have taken the deen of Islam forgranted. We have taken Syedna Rasool Allah (saw) forgranted. When we start doing that, sometimes it’s unconscious. And that makes us drift, then we go further and further away. We maybe continuing in a habitual way in whatever level we ended up at, but we make no further effort.

So lack of progress is actually going to lead towards our decline.

Whenever we are on the path of deen, we are either moving up or we are going down; we are getting closer, or we are getting farther. We can’t think like that no I’m just kind of stuck. Anybody who says I’m stuck, they are just fooling themselves. They are not stuck. There is not stuck.

If we think we are stuck, actually we don’t realize but we are going backwards. We call the absence of progress being stuck, actually our absence of going further means we are going backwards.

This is one way where I think tasawwuf is very helpful, at least for me personally, because it keeps pushing you. The whole philosophy of sulook, you are travelling, you keep going, keep striving, keep the suhbat, keep the dhikr, go back again. No matter what happens just keep trying keep, keep doing it. You fall into sin then do taubah and keep doing taubah; it’s this thing that keeps pushing you. And that’s what we need in these modern times; we need something to push us.

We need to get that drive. We need to keep that movement. If not momentum, then atleast have some movement. And the way it pushes us, Alhamdulillah, is through exactly these two things; ilm and ishq. Through knowledge of Allah (swt) and through love for Allah (swt). And that’s why all of the talks, all of the gatherings, and majalis by the mashaikh it’s all to fill the people up with that fuel that they need to travel, to push them to increase in their ilm and their ishq and to use that ilm and ishq to draw themselves closer to Allah (swt).

So the 2 things that make it difficult for us to draw closer to Allah (swt) are

1. if we have the love for ghairullah in our heart, that’s going to make it very difficult.
2. the second thing that makes it difficult for us is our sins.

Sometimes, some of us get the fuel. We put the fuel of the ilm and the ishq in our tank. But every sin that we do, and we continue to do it without doing taubah for it, is like putting a hole in that tank.

If somebody has a hole in his tank, you can keep putting the fuel in that tank, it doesn’t matter because it is going to keep going out of the hole.

But if we do taubah i.e. if we make sincere taubah that we genuinely don’t want to do that sin ever again, and we really try not to do that sin again, that is taubah and that is enough to plug the hole. But again if we still get into the sin, then we should try again our best not to do it.

If we can plug these holes up by making true taubah, if we can try to increase in our ilm and our ishq then we are going to autmatically, naturally make movement. We will naturally and easily become people of mujahida.

In fact this is something that in English they call the “labor of love”

They call it that because it’s labor, it’s mujahida, it’s juhd, it’s effort but because there’s muhabbat there, it becomes very easy for the person.

That is why Syedna Rasool Allah (saw) said that the deen is ease.

But instead of translating it as this, if we try to look more at the spirit of this it means deen is the labor of love. For the person who is a lover, the labor is easy. So this is what we would want, and this is why we gather together so we can all increase in our knowledge, and our love for Allah (swt) and we can try to find ways to become truer and truer to our taubah. And by doing that we can continue our progress to Him.

May Allah (swt) accept this dua from us. May He remember us when we forget Him. May He guide us when we ourselves try to go astray. May He grant us the knowledge that benefits even when we are stubbornly ignorant.

 وَآَخِرُ دَعْوَانَا أَنِ الْحَمْدُ لِلَّهِ رَبِّ الْعَالَمِينَ


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