Editor’s note: The first part of this series is The Revival: Releasing the Dynamism of Islam in Our Lives and in the World. That article examines the pressing need for Islamic revival and making a commitment to starting the journey. This article explores the foundational need to know the self in order to successfully navigate the journey.
There are many things that we need to do to bring about an Islamic revival, and there are many ways to go about that. The ultimate goal is to be in the state of ubudiyah (servitude to Allah SWT) and follow, to the best of our ability, every command that Allah and His messenger (s) have given to us in the Qur’an and ahadith. However, in a practical sense, our immediate focus should be on the deficits that are evident in the contemporary Muslim ummah. Only then can we utilize our limited resources most efficiently.
We are the vehicle for the revival of Islamic civilization. Allah tells us in the Qur’an, “Verily, never will Allah change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves” (13:11). As the vehicle of our own revival, we must have a clear understanding of ourselves. If we do not know who we are and what strengths and weaknesses we have, both as humanity and as individuals, then how do we begin to change ourselves? For that inquiry, who would be more knowledgeable than our Creator who has designed us and knows everything about us? In fact, He has pointed out human strengths and weaknesses in the incomparable source — the Qur’an.
Throughout the Qur’an, He has mentioned human weaknesses, and the following are some weaknesses that we should be aware of: human beings are creatures of haste, impatient (21:37); heedless of Allah’s signs (10:92); inclined to ingratitude (10:60); prone to disputation (18:54); desirous of wealth (3:14). Didn’t Allah, however, also mention that we are the best of creatures? Yes, He surely did: “We have indeed created man in the best of molds…” (Qur’an 95:4). So how do we reconcile the many weaknesses of man, as documented in the Qur’an, with Allah SWT saying we are created in the best of molds?
First, Allah has told us in the Qur’an that He created angels with the sole purpose of worshipping Him and celebrating His praises; and they do not disobey Him. However, humans are given the capacity of free-will which is absolutely unique when compared to the status of angels or any creatures in the animal kingdom on this earth. Human free-will brought about the amazing transformation of the jaheli (ignorant) Arabs who were in a debased state by worshipping idols, killing their own daughters, committing adultery, perpetrating injustice, engaging in perpetual tribal feuds, and more. Yet many were transformed into the best of human beings.
Take the example of Umar ibn al-Khattab or Khalid bin Waleed, for example. Umar (ra) became one of the khulafa-e-rashideen (the rightly guided khalifs) and ruled over half of the known world at that time. He rose from the lowest state in which he was torturing Muslims and wanting to kill the Prophet (s). Similarly, Khalid bin Waleed (ra) was the sworn enemy of Muslims and killed many companions of the Prophet (s) but transformed over the course of just a few years into a great disseminator of Islam throughout the Persian and Byzantine empires. So, let’s look at the weaknesses listed above and take them one at a time and see how we might know ourselves in a deeper way and, insha’Allah, turn weakness into strength.
Humans are creatures of haste; impatient
Allah reminds us through the story of Musa (a.s) and Khidr (Qur’an 18:65-82) that being patient is important to learn and practice, given that we, as humans, have limited knowledge of how or why events unfold as they do, or that the appearance of something might be different from the inner reality of it. Khidr said the obvious, “And how would you stay patient over something your comprehension cannot grasp?” After their journey ended, the lessons from the loss of a boat which was the only source of income for the poor people, the rebuilding of the wall, and the death of a child, made it clear that all the actions had future benefits even though it was incorrectly perceived by Musa (a.s.) as missteps by Khidr. So, how can we implement this realization in our lives?
When any calamity or challenging incident unfolds, pause and look at it through a different lens and keep in mind that you don’t know whether the ultimate outcome will be good or bad. It could be as simple as missing the exit on a highway or getting stuck in traffic, causing you to miss a very important meeting. Or maybe you miss a job opportunity or a desired promotion at work. We get impatient and stressed because we think these things will damage our success. But the story of Khidr shows that there are often layers of reality and meaning that we are not immediately privy to, that might only become apparent in the long run. In addition, Allah has promised in the Qur’an that the person who practices sabr, patience and perseverance, will be successful, in the deeper meaning of success in this life and the hereafter (3:200), will be able to recognize the Signs of Allah (31:31), will be loved by Allah (3:146), and will get a reward without measure (39:10).
The Prophet (s) has told us, “…Whoever would be patient, then Allah will make him patient. No one is given a gift that is better and more comprehensive than patience” (Sahih Bukhari and Sahih Muslim). This is evident in our day-to-day life. When you are patient in the face of frustration, annoyance, or difficulty, you demonstrate God-consciousness, love and fear of Allah, emotional intelligence, and self-restraint. And by practicing patience, you give the situation the best chance for you to come to a balanced and greater insight, and even healing through time. Some factors surrounding you and the situation might change which inevitably opens up new opportunities, or even sometimes makes that very incident, about which you were so worried or worked up about, irrelevant. So, whenever you are faced with an unexpected loss, a challenging situation, or are on the receiving end of someone’s anger, criticism, or difficult behavior, remind yourself of Khidr and Musa and let the instant knee-jerk reaction cool-off. Remind yourself of all the rewards promised by Allah for practicing sabr. This practice should be with small, daily challenges as well as the big ones. If we practice sabr in a committed way, we will slowly but surely experience an Islamic transformation in our lives, insha’Allah.
Humans are heedless of Allah’s signs
The signs of Allah are mentioned hundreds of times in the Qur’an. When reading Surah al-Mulk, for example, one is inspired to look at Allah’s creation and ponder. Allah has even challenged mankind to look again and again (i.e., investigate methodically) at His creation to find any flaw in it, but He promises we will be humbled. “Then look again and your vision will return to you humbled while it is fatigued” (Qur’an 67:4). The observable universe is rich in His signs, and we are reminded of this in the Qur’an: “Indeed, Allah is the cleaver of grain and date seeds. He brings the living out of the dead and brings the dead out of the living. That is Allah; so how are you deluded? He is the cleaver of daybreak and has made the night for rest and the sun and moon for calculation. That is the determination of the Exalted in Might, the Knowing. And it is He who placed for you the stars that you may be guided by them through the darkness of the land and sea. We have detailed the signs for a people who know” (Qur’an 6:95-97).
In another verse, 16:79, Allah points us to the example of a bird flying high and that it is through the Power of Allah that they stay aloft. If we are so inclined to read about the aerodynamics of bird flight, we realize that a bird uses its strong legs to thrust itself off the ground and then flaps its wings to stay aloft. This is the thrust and lift of aerodynamics which is the study of the way air moves around things, one of the countless facets of physical law fashioned by Allah. And He SWT made the shape of the bird’s wings curved so that the air moves above and below the wings in such a way as to maintain flight. With our current level of knowledge today we can understand so much of His signs, in such detail, and think about how the signs will be that much more clear and compelling as human knowledge progresses. So many verses in the Qur’an remind us to use our senses, to ponder the creation, and recognize Allah’s signs everywhere.
A way to ponder His signs and deepen eman is to focus on one sign at a time based on your point of interest and reflect on it. For instance, if you’re intrigued by the origin of life and the universe then ponder 24:45 and 21:30; if you are active in advocating for social justice, then ponder 49:11 and 5:8; if anthropology is your wheelhouse, ponder 30:22. These signs of Allah, all around us, humble us and increase our love of Allah.
Part 3 of this series will continue the focus on specific aspects of our transformation in our personal and collective lives that are required for revival.