بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
والحمدلله رب العالمين والصلاة والسلام على أشرف الأنبياء والمرسلين
In the name of Allah, the Most Merciful the Most Compassionate
All praise be to Allah, and may peace and blessings be upon the most noble of the Prophets and Messengers
There once lived a man who had worshiped Allah for 70 years. He was known amongst the people for his piety and sincerity; so when their lands one day became drought-stricken, they decided to go to him and to ask him to pray for rain. The old man made du’a, yet no rain fell; he asked Allah again, but still to no avail. At this, the man began to weep and then he asked himself: “What is wrong with me that my heart is not pure?”
Upon uttering these words, Allah sent a prophet to this man to tell him: “Asking that question was better than all of your 70 years of worship.”
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As we pass through this brief and busy life, we often forget to ask ourselves such simple yet profound questions. But if we think about our inevitable meeting with Allah, we realize that it will be “a Day in which neither wealth nor children shall avail, except the one who comes to Allah with a sound heart” (Surah Ash-Shu’ara: 88-89). We should all shudder when reflecting upon these words, for how many of us can truly say, “My heart is pure”?
A pure heart can only be achieved by striving our utmost to rid ourselves of any kind of ostentation, pride, or any of the other myriad spiritual maladies which affect our core and ultimately, our relationship with Allah. If we tell ourselves we are totally free of these, then most likely we have not understood how extremely subtle some of them can be: they are the blemishes upon our character that so often go unnoticed by our own selves; rare is the person who has conquered his or her nafs.
Acting with good intentions for Allah’s sake is part and parcel of purifying the heart. After all, actions are the manifestations of intentions. Imam Shafi’i, whenever he was sitting in a gathering or discussing some matter and he had something to say, he would ask himself if he would be pleased if his words were to to be spoken by someone else: if yes, then he would speak; but if not he would remain silent as a tarbiya for his soul. In the past, the great men and women of Islam were able to accomplish so much and do such extraordinary things for the Ummah because they truly had pure hearts. They were not working for this world; they understood what the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) meant when he said, “Allah does not regard your externals or your riches but rather your hearts and your deeds” (Muslim). As a result, civilization witnessed some of Islam’s greatest minds and most noble figures: their work reverberated through history and their legacy still endures.
Yet, we look around today and we see such chaos in the world: constant war and famine in Africa, continued occupation of Palestine, global economic recession; even incessant bombardment of popular & material culture – the vast majority of which is without any real use or benefit. How do we make sense of all of this? How can we reconcile ourselves with the constant turmoil around us? We pray for our Muslim brothers and sisters, we pray for ourselves, we pray for humanity; but like the old man praying for rain, Allah has not yet answered us…
Imam Mawlud – in his famous poem *Matharat al-Qulub* (Purification of the Hearts) – “realized that the weakness of society was a matter of weakness of character in the heart.” So we must ask ourselves again, ‘Are our hearts pure?’ In Shaykh Hamza Yusuf’s commentary on this poem (which is indispensable in recognizing and inshAllah remedying many of these otherwise subtle afflictions), he notes that “If we examine the trials and tribulations, wars and other conflicts, every act of injustice all over earth, we’ll find they are rooted in human hearts.”
The problems of the world are thus in many ways the symbols or “symptoms” of our own collective state. This should compel us to look inwardly and ask what we can do to purify ourselves, to realize our purpose, and to better ourselves and humanity. It was Socrates who said, “The unexamined life is not worth living” and this still rings true today, except that as Muslims we must also strive to change and grow as a result of this self-examination; we must continuously assess our relationship with Allah and work to improve our character such that it is in line with what the blessed Prophet (peace be upon him) brought. To know Allah we must know ourselves – including all of our shortcomings – and we must try to learn and live the sunnah of the Prophet (pbuh). Only then can we begin to understand and appreciate how important it is to have a sound heart.
A sound heart is firm with knowledge and trust, and it is devoid of doubt and anxiety. As with all things in this world, however, there are levels (darajat), and Allah tests different people in different ways. Sidi Ahmad al-Zarruq said, “Never assume that anyone in this world can really understand your circumstances other than from the perspective of his own circumstances.” In other words, inasmuch as any of us can repeat words of wisdom or advice to another, each one of us really must experience life on his or her own terms, in our own unique way.
There is wisdom in each affliction or trial we face. Whether we are experiencing personal hardship, hunger, poverty, the loss of a loved one, or perhaps Allah is delaying his response to our du’a like He did to the old man: such times can in fact a blessing if we realize that it is an opportunity to grow, purify oneself, learn patience, and draw near to Allah. Perhaps what is most amazing though is that every single person – no matter his or her tribulation – can find guidance from the Prophet’s (pbuh) blessed life. And if we strive thusly, we will truly understand his (saws) words: “Fulfillment is not plenty of goods; rather, it is self-fulfillment” (Bukhari w Muslim). We should remember that the Prophet (pbuh) chose poverty, but he lived contented; he experienced more than any of us could ever imagine – and still he stood in the last hours of the night offering prayer to Allah, crying out of gratefulness.
* * *
There is an Arab proverb that says: “You can sometimes find in rivers what you can’t find in oceans.” We tend to look at the awesomeness of the ocean forgetting that all rivers eventually lead to it… To change the ocean we must change ourselves. It is not without pain at times, but it is how one grows, how one finds solace. In this vast sea of time and history, we are each of us rivers: our bodies flowing with blood, our hearts palpitating with life – yearning for tranquility, for peace, for a Home called Paradise. May we be granted that Abode by Allah’s infinite Mercy and may He awaken our hearts with love of the Messenger of Allah (saws), may it permeate our character and spring forth from our tongues and limbs by following his sunnah. And as we wind our way through this life, may we find contentment in knowing: “Most surely in the remembrance of Allah do hearts find calm” (Surah Ar-Ra’d: 28), for indeed, everything is from Him. Ameen.