We, human beings, of past, present and future, are in absolute need of Divine grace and the opportunity to earn His pleasure. Our human power — no matter how great — can’t give us immortality and eternal bliss. With or without our consent, we are heading to the clutches of death. But as we all know, death is not the end. Death is simply the start of a journey from this world to the Divine presence. To God is our ultimate return and on the Great Day of Final Judgment, we will be asked about, and held accountable for, our thoughts, intentions, feelings, motives, and actions. Not one human soul can escape this reality, no matter how much he denied during his lifetime this meeting with the Lord, the Almighty God.
Yet how many of us lead our lives with full consciousness of this reality? Why can’t we keep this awareness as we ought to do? Why do many of us fail to elevate ourselves? God Almighty, our creator who knows all of our affairs—hidden or manifest — tells us in the Quran: “Verily, he truly prospers who purifies himself and glorifies the name of the Guardian-Lord, and (lifts his heart) in prayer. But you prefer the life of this world, whereas the life hereafter is better and ever- lasting. This indeed is what is taught in the former scriptures, the scriptures of Abraham and Moses.” (87:15-20) These verses of the Quran are very revealing and eye-opening, and therefore require further elaboration so that we might deeply contemplate and comprehend their meaning.
Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him (pbuh), said, “If someone wants to know what position he enjoys in the eyes of God, he has only to look at what place he gives to God [in his heart and life].”
The first and foremost point is the emphasis on purification—cleansing ourselves from all manner of defilement. We are created in a very complex fashion and our minds, hearts, and physical bodies are in constant fluctuation and vulnerable to imbalance. Likewise, our faith increases and decreases, and so our manners in dealing with other people can be of greater or lesser quality. Therefore, it’s a matter of ongoing struggle, to engage in the process of contemplation and self-examination, continually striving to perfect our manners in our relationship with ourselves, with others, and above all, in our relationship with our Lord. This battle of our inner forces, of the heart and the ego, is the scene for the “testing period” here on earth.
As God the Almighty states in the Quran, it is “He who created death and life in order to test which of you is best in deed.” (67:2)
Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) also reminded us: “Be heedful! There is a piece of flesh in your bodies that when it is well, the rest of you is well, and when it is sick, the rest of you is sick. Know that it is the heart.” Veritably, a heart is healthy when it is cleansed of wrongful concerns and heedless impulses, those being put right by the practice of good morals and genuine surrender to God.
Every soul is created in a pure form, but as we live and engage in human society, our personalities are shaped by multiple influences. Some are positive and some are negative. Therefore, we have to consciously strive to discern what elevates us and what debases us, and use our God-given faculties to cultivate the best elements within ourselves and eliminate the rest. Only a sound heart will find entry into Paradise.
The second point we can glean from the above verse is that the constant remembrance of God is the key to spiritual elevation and success. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said: “If someone wants to know what position he enjoys in the eyes of God, he has only to look at what place he gives to God [in his heart and life].” Indeed, a God-oriented life for man starts by his remembering God and following His commandments in every sphere of his life. The remembrance of God should never be absent from our hearts and minds no matter where we are and whoever or whatever we are dealing with. Indeed, successful will be the ones who earn God’s grace on the Day of Judgment, whose balance of good deeds will be weightier than that of their bad deeds; and that only proceeds from a cultivated habit of remembering God and what He has ordained.
The third point is that the attitude and approach toward this worldly life must be proper. We should not sacrifice the hereafter which is permanent and real, for this worldly life which is transitory and illusionary. As Hasan Al-Basri so rightly and eloquently stated, “What is this world but a dream that a sleeper sees—he delights in it for a few moments, and then wakes up to face reality.”
The “reality” he refers to is accountability in the Hereafter. Along these same lines, the Prophet (pbuh) advised us that we should have “an indifference towards the abode of delusions.” Indeed, “disconnecting one’s heart from the life of this world,” as Imam Ghazali has pointed out, “is not fully achieved unless one also possesses a balanced character and a sound and upright heart.” Another prophetic tradition reminds us, “Good character and morals transform errors as water melts ice, while bad character alters good deeds as vinegar cuts honey.” Therefore, when we err, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that every mistake is an opportunity and a signal that it is time to grow in our relationship with God. And as we turn to Him walking, He turns to us rushing. May God help us experience this spiritual awakening and enable us to beautify our hearts and lives with His Divine Light. Amen.
Reprinted, with permission, from The Message International.