As we reflect upon our current circumstances, let us collectively pray for the easing of our difficulties. Inshallah, as we undertake this journey, we will find peace in our hearts and the strength to overcome adversity.When faced with problems, we often ask: Why did this happen to me? What did I do to deserve this?
Sufi mystic Jalāl ad-Dīn Rumi prompts us to instead think of our body as a guest house. Every day we have a new visitor – sometimes it is grief; at other times, joy. “Be grateful for whoever comes,” says Rumi, “because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.” Crucially, for Rumi, “the wound is a place where the light enters.”
According to this logic then, challenges and difficulties are invitations for reflection. They can illuminate, for us, our true selves.
Let us participate in this reflection by turning to the Qur’an, a source of endless inspiration and guidance. The Qur’anic message is universal because it speaks to the human condition. It begins with the here and the now, but goes beyond it to the infinite and the eternal.1 Imam Ali has therefore referred to the Qur’an as a self-disclosure of God.2 Engagement with the Qur’an can thus be imagined as an engagement with the Sacred Presence flowing from Divine self-revelation.
The Qur’an teaches us about our origin. In Surah As-Sajdah, Ayat 6-9, Allah says:
“Such is the Knower of the Unseen and the Seen, Almighty, Compassionate to each! He Who perfected everything He created, and fashioned man’s creation from clay, Then made his progeny to issue from a sordid fluid, Then gave him shape and breathed into him of His spirit, Then granted you hearing, eyesight and hearts – but little thanks do you give in return.”
Surah Al-Baqarah, Ayah 31 alludes to “the names” that Allah imparted onto us when He created us.4 Some scholars have understood these names to be the attributes of Allah.
Thus, our origin is rooted by the breath of Allah and with His attributes imprinted upon us, Allah is not only all around us but also within us. This understanding of Allah as within and beyond, as the One, a united force that cannot be separated from His creation, is one important meaning or interpretation of tawhid, which we affirm in Surah Al-Ikhlas, Ayat 1-4, as we recite: Qul huwa’l-lahu ahad “Say: He is Allah, the One and Only!”
Yet, engrossed in our daily lives, we often forget Allah’s ever-presence. From school to work to family, we get captivated by the minutiae of life as if that is all there is to us.
The Qur’an warns against this. In Surah al-Hadid, Ayah 20, Allah says:
“Know that the present life is but amusement, frivolity and finery, And mutual boasting among you and the accumulation of wealth and progeny. It is like rainfall whose vegetation pleases the sowers, But then goes dry, and you see it yellowed till it becomes chaff.”
Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah (a.s) alludes to this in his Memoirs, when he says, “it is my profound conviction that man must never ignore and leave untended and undeveloped that spark of the Divine which is in him.”3
It may therefore be prudent for us to not get enchanted by this world and lose sight of the Divine within and around us. Such constant consciousness of Allah, and the pious conduct it inspires, is alluded to in the Qur’an as taqwa.
Taqwa is regarded as one of the essential interior dimensions of our faith or iman. Prophet Muhammed (s.a.s) is reported to have said: “Submission is public and faith is in the heart.” Pointing to his chest, he then repeated thrice: “consciousness of God is here, Consciousness of God is here, Consciousness of God is here.”4
As an element of faith, taqwa is a purely internal and contemplative attitude of the heart. It is our response to tawhid – Allah is One, we are within Him and are conscious of Him. This is a powerful awareness that can not only help us confront our mushkilaat (difficulties), but also gives us courage during times of ethical ambiguity and humility in moments of success.
In our next article, we will continue our study of the Qur’an by exploring the connection between taqwa and love.
1 The Qur’an and its Interpretations, Secondary Curriculum, Institute of Ismaili Studies, p. 128
3 Muslim Devotional and Ethical Literature, Secondary Curriculum, Institute of Ismaili Studies, p. 57