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
EYES ON THE PRIZE- THE HUMAN STRUGGLE- part 1- why should we struggle?
1. The gap between knowledge and comprehension- do we even understand what we were created to be? We all know the beginning of the story of Iblis “And behold We said to the angels: “Bow down to Adam”; and they bowed down.”2:34, we know that Allah (swt) tells us that “We have honoured the sons of Adam; provided them with transport on land and sea; given them for sustenance things good and pure; and conferred on them special favours, above a great part of Our Creation.” 17:70 But do we really comprehend this? Comprehension is a different state to knowledge- We know simply with our brains, our intellect suffices as a tool for knowledge. However comprehension is when something is understood by both the head and the heart- there is a feeling of the weight of that knowledge, what it actually means . Why is this important? Because only if we can comprehend, if we can really feel what it means to be created by Allah (swt) to be the best of his creation- having the latent ability to rise above the angels- only if we can really feel in our hearts the honour that Allah (swt) has bestowed upon us can we even begin to fulfill our purpose and our place on earth as Allah’s (swt) khalifa. Do you feel in your heart the beauty of being created to serve Allah (swt)? Do you feel thanks worthy of Allah’s (swt) blessing on you? Because until we do, there is no way we can rise above what we are and strive towards what we were created to be. The importance of comprehension is to recognise of what it means to be an ennobled human being, what it means to carry the banner of Islam, of human dignity, in a world of corruption. As Imam Zaid Shakir observed “we can be pulled down very easily if we lose sight of what it means to struggle to uphold the dignity of the human being.”
2. OK. So what does the best of creation mean?
“[On] the day no amount of wealth or children will be of any benefit. [The only one benefited] will be one who comes before Allah with an upright and rectified heart.” [26:89].” What does it mean to have an upright and rectified heart? An upright and rectified heart is one which is full of taqwah, the consciousness of Allah (swt). – A heart which worships nothing but Allah (swt) and lives for Him alone. To rise to the level which Allah has enabled us we should strive for Ihsan (perfection) in our Islam. The Prophet (pbuh) defined ihsan as a state of being where you “worship Allah as if you see Him.” Believers should thirst after this success, not “success” as it is defined by the CEOs of this world, or by the rulers, or by the celebrities, but success as it is defined by Allah (swt). Allah (swt) tells us, referring to believers, that He “has exalted in rank those who strive with their wealth and their persons above those who sit still. And to each Allah has promised good. And Allah has exalted those who strive above those who sit still, by a great reward.”(4:96) This verse tells us two things- firstly that Allah (swt) has created us as people of action- as people of struggle, and that Allah (swt) values those who constantly battle to better themselves. Secondly that even the believers who don’t struggle, who do sit still and do the bare minimum are promised good.
3. Sorry, remind me, why were we striving again? Sitting still looks like a lot of fun….
So the question is, why aim higher? Why strive when you can sit and still avoid the Hellfire? There are two answers that can be proposed to this. Firstly, if we truly are believers, if we really do know that we have a creator and we understand the blessings that Allah has given us, surely we will want to strive harder? If you love Allah (swt) then you yourself will not be happy to float along doing the bare minimum, you will not accept to be among Allah’s (swt) lowest believers- when you love somebody you want to be amongst their most loved, you want to be closest to them, you don’t just want to be in their neighbourhood. When we read Surah Al-Waqia (56) and Allah tells us “7. And ye shall be sorted out into three classes. 8. Then (there will be) the Companions of the Right Hand― what will be the Companions of the Right Hand? 9. And the Companions of the Left hand― what will be the Companions of the Left Hand? 10. And those Foremost (in Faith) will be Foremost (in the Hereafter). 11. These will be those Nearest to Allah:” our hearts are filled with longing to be those nearest to Allah. We need to always remember this feeling because this is what will make us strive. There is no higher level of human struggle than the one who struggles consumed by love of Allah (swt) and even at our lowest level of iman; our hearts should always be filled with love of Allah (swt). Think about it, when you came to the LSE, what was your aim? Did you want to graduate with 40%? Or did you want a first? Did you want to compete with the best or were you aiming for a 3rd? If we love the best for ourselves in this world, if we want to be the best in this dunya, then why should we settle for any less in the Hereafter, when being the best really matters? We should wake up every morning and tell ourselves that we want to be closest to Allah (swt). We should sit down every evening and think about whether we are on course for a first in the Akhira (hereafter) or whether we will struggle to get a 3rd. We should write ourselves targets and assessments, like we have to do for our essays. We cannot expect to get anywhere without vision and we cannot afford to be competing without our eyes on the prize.
This brings us on to the second reason why sitting still just isn’t good enough. The Prophet (pbuh) said that “there will come a time on my people when holding tight to religion will be like holding onto a burning coal.” This statement is particularly chilling when we observe the times which we are in. These are times where looking at pornography is seen as normal. Where men and women are mocked for believing in Allah (swt). We are living in countries full of people who have no purpose whatsoever except to serve their desires, and we are constantly bombarded and pressurized to do the same. If we sit down in these times, if we don’t struggle now, we’ll be spiritually annihilated. Sit still and before we know it, we’ll get run over. We need to struggle in this society, we need to be constantly aware of what we are here for and what we are aiming towards- because if we forget our purpose, if we stop striving for even a little while, then we risk being swept up by society into their collective state of heedlessness. Imam al-Junaid sums this up and warns us that “the real root cause of all sin, crime and evil in the world is heedlessness.” Falling into this trap is a very real danger, and the seriousness of doing so can not be over exaggerated. Allah (swt) describes this situation of heedlessness “Then seest thou such a one as takes as his god his own vain desire? Allah has, knowing (him as such), left him astray, and sealed his hearing and his heart (and understanding), and put a cover on his sight. Who, then, will guide him after Allah (has withdrawn guidance)? Will ye not then receive admonition?” 45:23
4. The importance of the struggle for the purification of the soul
Our struggle in this world is centred on the soul. On Judgement Day we will be grouped according to the purity of the soul. “ When the souls are sorted out, (being joined, like with like);” (81:7) “7. By the Soul, and the proportion and order given to it; 8. And its enlightenment as to its wrong and its right; 9. Truly he succeeds that purifies it, 10. And he fails that corrupts it!” 91:7-10
These verses show us how absolutely the human struggle is centred upon the soul. Anything we do in this dunya(current life) will not help us in the akhira (hereafter) if we leave the world with corrupt souls. No amount of material achievements can compensate for purity of the soul, no matter how good the deeds would be otherwise. Sheikh Hamza Yusuf emphasized this, and said that this shows how important the process- i.e. the struggle in this world is, rather than the end product. He explained that even if we freed Palestine (an amazing end product!) but did it in a way which corrupted our souls and went against the orders of Allah (swt) our achievement would be worth it, because the struggle was not for the sake of Allah (swt). It is the struggle for the sake of Allah that purifies the soul, not the end product (as is explained in Surah Aal-e-Imran, “you have nothing to do with the outcome of this affair”, Allah controls the end product.) This shows us that not only should we struggle, but that this struggle should be our focus. In a sense, it is the struggle itself which is the prize.
One of the Persian poets tells the story of a man who was making doaa, and kept on calling to Allah and praying. A sceptic walked past and asked “how long have you been calling on Allah?”
“Years,” answered the worshipper. “Have you got what you’ve been calling for?” the sceptic asked
The worshipper answered “no.” “Then why are you still calling?” the sceptic sneered.
The sceptic walked past, but this played on the worshipper’s mind, he too began to question, like the sceptic. When he fell asleep, he dreamed that a man (some say it was Khadr (RA)) came to him and asked “Why did you leave your prayer?”
The worshipper answered “I’ve been calling and calling and I didn’t get the answer.” The man replied “Your prayer WAS the answer.”
In the same way, it is our struggle itself which is the blessing from Allah (swt), not the results yielded from it. Because it is the struggle for the sake of Allah (swt) which develops the soul by bringing it closer to Allah, by maintaining its purpose on the earth, and by keeping it pure and free from the distractions of this dunya. And it is only through development of the soul that we can strive to attain ihsan, an it is only through striving to attain ihsan that we can even hope to be among those who will be nearest to Allah in the Hereafter.
Anything good I have said is from Allah. All errors and shortcomings are inevitably mine.