Self-Realization: Our Ticket To Paradise

It is mentioned in Ibn Atha’illah As Sakandary’s famous work, the book of Al-Hikam: Abu Hurairah (RA) narrated: While we were in the company of Rasulullah, he (SAW) suddenly said, “There would be a member of Paradise who would be the one performing the solat with you at dawn”. Abu Hurairah hoped therefore that he would be the one whom the Prophet (SAW) referred to as the member of Paradise. When the dawn came, he prayed behind the Prophet (SAW) and still remained in his company even after the congregation.

Suddenly, a black slave with tattered clothing appeared and offered the customary handshake to the Prophet (SAW). And the Prophet (SAW) recited a prayer for him while all those in the presence of the black slave noticed that there was fragrance emitted from his body. The Prophet (SAW) acknowledged that he was a slave from a particular tribe. Abu Hurairah then asked, “Why did you not free him from slavery then, O Messenger of Allah?”

The Prophet then answered, “How can I do so when Allah would crown him as a King in Paradise? O Abu Hurairah, Allah adores His creations who are pure at heart; whose request to seek an audience with the King would be shunned, whose proposal to a woman of nobility would be rejected, whose presence is often ignored, whose absence is never questioned, who when sick is never tended to, and in fact, who is not prayed for when dead.”

The Prophet’s companions then asked, “Show us such a man!” The Prophet (SAW), indicating the black slave, answered, “That would be Uwais Al Qarany…whose head remains bowed whilst reading the Qur’an, unknown on this earth but renowned in the Heavens.”

What would this world be like if we all opened our eyes, hearts and minds to the likes of Uwais Al Qarany and so many others who are humble yet possess so many unique gifts? Do they really need us, or do we need them?

There is an office building in Jakarta, now lost among huge skyscrapers, built with many small donations from sincere religious people all around the world. Barely over a dozen stories high, was this building designed by a Muslim architect who followed a very precise vision of its dimensions, based on musical structures that were in turn based on precise mathematical proportions.

These proportions were once described by this very architect, who has now passed on, including how he had become aware of this design as a result of Solat Istikharah (the prayer for seeking guidance) he had performed when the task of its design had been awarded to him. After it was built, some well-meaning investors visited the home of the Ustaz who had encouraged this building’s construction, in spite of many sacrifices from the simple people who had donated the necessary funds.

They asked him, how did he feel now that the building (which bore his name) had been dwarfed by banks and other huge buildings all around? He laughed and said that when these simple religious people came to Paradise, they would find their building there, whereas the huge neighboring skyscrapers would be nowhere to be found!

The headquarters of the Music Department of the National University of Indonesia was also the residence of its head, a Dutch musicologist who had changed his name to Suryabrata, married a Sundanese wife, and taken Indonesian citizenship. This director had slowly gathered around him some of the finest traditional Javanese musicians, some of whom simply walked down out of the hills of West Java to join him there in his home in Jatinegara by some paranormal awareness. When asked whether he might not prefer a more modern facility, he laughed and said he was satisfied with this small property because he was confident it would also be his home in Paradise.

What faith these people must have today in modern times! It is such faith that we hope to emulate in the midst of so many natural and man-made disasters, so much suffering, so much political incompetence and widespread spiritual poverty. After all, what is our ultimate aim in life, if not the Afterlife itself?

One mechanical engineer for Toyota in Los Angeles reports that sales of Toyota’s SUV’s with gas-guzzling V8 engines are up 85%, while sales of Toyota’s hybrid models (which can run on either petrol or electricity) are down 50%. In the very midst of humanity’s panic that the world’s weather patterns are changing and bringing death and destruction everywhere, including here in Kuala Lumpur, Americans are insisting on their “unalienable right” to the ”…pursuit of happiness”. If and when these indescribably greedy and insensitive Americans ever visit Paradise, will they find their SUV’s there? Will they find their air-conditioned homes there? Will they find their five-star hotels there? Most of all, will they find their beloved “free market” there?

What about our Muslim so-called brothers in the Emirates, who are building incredibly expensive residential hotels and housing developments on artificial islands in the Persian Gulf? And then these Muslims mark the opening of such residences with fireworks displays even more ostentatious and gaudy then the opening of the Olympics in Beijing.

For us, it is not any amount of money that carries meaning. In the scale of Divine Justice, it may well be that the three Ajwa dates used to break one’s Sunnah fast on Monday or Thursday may have more value than all of those grand petrodollar high-rises and royal palaces put together.

Money can always be taken away from us by others, no matter how clever we are. However, what we achieve in the way of self-knowledge can never be stolen. And that is why one Uwais Al Qarani may die in total obscurity and yet be crowned in Paradise, if in fact his worship and works were indeed a true reflection of the being whom Allah swt gave him, loaned to him, in this life.

And so the best worship we can offer is not imitating others, even our own parents. Role models do exist in Islam – the Prophet himself (s.a.w.), along with his wives and close companions (r.a.), and even then, the most truly Islamic worship lies in uncovering our true spirit, or Ruh, in the midst of Satan’s sport in the region in which we find ourselves. Such is the real value of our brief lifespan on this earth. All parenting, all education, all wealth, all property, all children, all of everything in life is to this end.

All and everything in our lives is only of value if it reflects that which Allah swt WANTS us to have. Another word for what we seek is Ikhlas, complete sincerity that what we offer to Allah swt is our true self, our true talent, what we uniquely among believers can in fact offer, not imitation or role-modeling devoid of understanding or individuality.

And the best guarantee in our search-for-self, as well as in our search for nafkah (provision) in this world, or forgiveness and mercy in the next, comes first from rigorous practice of the Ibadah transmitted to us by our beloved Prophet (s.a.w.).

And then, the search-for-self must come from our best teachers, those who succeed in revealing to students their own riches, inner as well as outer. Coursework in self-expression and the arts, by means of which Muslim youth may truly explore the inner dimensions of their personalities, is woefully inadequate on Islamic university campuses. Perhaps ministries, administrators, and teachers can learn from Benjamin Disraeli’s dictum when he once said that “The greatest good you can do for another is not just to share your riches, but to reveal to him his own.”

11.25pm Tuesday, December 16 08

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