Spiritual Condition

[CONTENTS] It has already been stated that the source of the spiritual conditions is the nafs al-mutma 'inna (soul at rest), which takes a man onward in his moral progress and makes him godly, transports him from the moral to the spiritual field:

"O Soul that art at rest, return to thy Lord, well pleased, well-pleasing, so enter among My servants, and enter My Garden!" - (89: 27-30)

These verses have a plain bearing upon the spiritual conditions of man.

Heavenly life

In discussing the spiritual conditions, it is necessary to comment upon the above verses in some detail. The highest spiritual condition to which man can aspire in this world is that he should rest contented with God and should find his quietude, his happiness and his delight in Him alone. This is the stage of life which we term the "heavenly life". The pure and perfect sincerity, truth and righteousness of a person are rewarded by the Almighty by granting him a heaven upon this earth. All others look to a prospective paradise, but such a one enters paradise in this very life. It is at this stage, too, that a person realizes that the prayers and worship, which at first appeared to him as a burden, are really a nourishment on which the growth of his soul depends and that this is the basis of his spiritual development. He then sees that the fruit of his efforts is not to be reaped in a future life only.

The spirit which, in the second stage, although blaming a man for the impurities of life, was yet powerless to resist evil tendencies or to blot them out wholly, and too infirm to establish a man upon the principles of virtue with firmness, now reaches a stage of development in which its efforts are crowned with success. The sensual passions die out of themselves and the soul no more stumbles but, strengthened with the Divine spirit, is ashamed of its past failings. The state of struggle with evil propensities is left behind. An entire change passes over the nature of man and his former habits undergo a complete transformation. He is perfectly estranged from his former course of life. He is washed of all impurities and perfectly cleansed. The Lord Himself plants the love of virtue in his heart and purifies it of the defilement of evil. The hosts of truth encamp in his heart and righteousness controls all its powers. Truth is now victorious and falsehood lays down its arms and is reduced to subjection. It is to this state that the following verses of the Holy Quran point:

He has impressed faith, and strengthened them with a Spirit from Himself... " - (58 : 22.)

"The Truth has come and falsehood vanished. Surely falsehood is ever bound to vanish"- (7.81.)

"Allah has endeared the faith to you and has made it seemly in your hearts, and He has made hateful to you disbelief and transgression and disobedience. Such are those who are rightly guided a grace from Allah and a favor. And Allah is Knowing, Wise" - (49 :7-8.)

Such are the words of the Quran relating to the third stage of the advancement of the spirit! The person who has not realized this state is without true sight. We must mark the words that God engraved faith upon the hearts of believers with His own hand and strengthened them with the Holy Spirit. These words can bear no other significance than this: that the attainment of true purity and righteousness is impossible except through heavenly help.

In the second stage of the soul, which we have termed the "self-accusing soul", there is a struggle between good and evil tendencies. A person feels the compunctions of his good nature for a time but evil propensities again get the upper hand. He is conscious of his fall and sometimes even despairs of reformation and of complete victory of his good nature over evil tendencies. When the period of his spiritual struggle is over, a light descends upon him accompanied with Divine strength. The descent of this light works a wonderful transformation in his soul and he feels a strong, invisible hand leading him onward. A new world discloses itself to his sight and he then witnesses the existence of God. His eyes are brightened with a new light and things are revealed to him, which he was hitherto unable to see.

Divine blessings

But how can we discover this path and how can we acquire this light? No effect can be produced without a cause, no end is attained without adopting the means thereto, and no knowledge is obtained without treading along the path leading to it. The laws of Nature cannot be broken. They amply testify that to achieve a result there is a right course, and that its attainment is dependent upon the adoption of that particular course. If we are sitting in a dark room and need the light of the sun, we are to open the door facing the sun. In like manner, there must he a door through which the blessings and favors of the Merciful can be received and a method by which the spiritual state can be attained. Therefore, it is our duty to seek this right path for our spiritual welfare, as we are engaged day and night in search of means, which are calculated to better our physical and temporal state.

But the question is whether that path can be discovered by the efforts of reason alone, and whether we can successfully seek a union in God by the sole ingenuity of our own mind. Is it true that mere logic and philosophy can open for us the doors which experience tells us can only be opened by the powerful hand of God? No, mere human devices can never reveal to us the shining face of the living and supporting Almighty. Let him who would walk on the right path completely submit himself with all his faculties and powers to the will of the Beneficent and then pray unceasingly and untiringly for the Divine union and thus realize the reality of the existence of God through Divine assistance.

The most excellent prayer in this respect, put in appropriate words, and adopted best to meet the requirements of human nature - drawing at the same time a faithful picture of the natural zeal of the soul - is that taught by the Holy Book in its opening chapter, called al-Fatiha:

"In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful. Praise be to Allah, the Lord of the worlds, the Beneficent, the Merciful, Master of the day of Requital. Thee do we serve and Thee do we beseech for help. Guide us on the right path, the path of those upon whom Thou hast bestowed favors, not (the path) of those upon whom wrath is brought down, nor those who go astray''- (1:7.)

The use of the plural "we" indicates that all the faculties are engaged in Divine worship and working in complete submission to the Lord, for man, considered with reference to his internal faculties, is regarded not as an individual but as a class. This total resignation of all faculties to the will of God is the true significance of the word Islam.

It is clear from these verses that the blessings of the Beneficent descend upon persons who sacrifice their lives and all their interests in His path, make a complete submission to Him and resign themselves wholly to His will and then supplicate Him to grant them all the spiritual blessings to which man can attain of nearness and union with Him, and of speaking to, and being addressed by Him. These persons engage all their faculties in devotion to God, eschew every form of disobedience and prostrate themselves before Him. They shun every evil course and avoid occasions of His wrath. They seek the Creator with true sincerity and exalted magnanimity and their efforts are, therefore, crowned with success, and they are made to drink of the cup of Divine knowledge.

This first chapter of the Quran further refers to constancy in the path of God, thus indicating that the Divine blessings, which bring about the spiritual state, do not flow in their fullness until a person shows firmness and sincerity unshaken under the severest trials. He must have a union which cannot be cut asunder by a sword nor burnt by fire: adversity cannot loosen the tie, the death of the nearest relatives has not the slightest effect upon it, the separation of dear objects does not interfere with it and the most fearful calamities do not shake it. Narrow is the door indeed and difficult the path. Ah, what a mountain to ascend! The following Quranic verse calls attention to this very difficult point:

"Say: If your fathers and your sons and your brethren and your wives and your kinsfolk and the wealth you have acquired, and trade whose dullness you fear, and dwellings you love, are dearer to you than Allah and His Messenger and striving in His way, then wait till Allah brings His command to pass. And Allah guides not the transgressing people" - (9:24.)

This is the third stage of advancement and it is on reaching this stage that a person becomes godly, provided he is willing to subject himself to every affliction for the sake of the Lord, and turns to Him with such exclusive devotion and sincerity as to regard all beside Him as dead.

The truth is that it is impossible for us to see the Lord unless a death comes first over all our passions and desires. The day on which such a death overtakes our earthly life is the day of the triumph of spirituality and the day of the Divine revelation. We are blind so long as we are not blind to all other sights, and we are lifeless so long as we are not lifeless under the hand of God. The uprightness, which enables us to overcome all carnal passions, is granted to us only when we are directly facing the Creator. Uprightness deals a deathblow to all carnal desires, and it is to this state that the following words call attention:

"Nay, whoever submits himself entirely to Allah and he is the doer of good (to others), he has his reward from his Lord, and there is no fear for such nor shall they grieve" - (2 :112.)

This stage of uprightness is not attained until all the members of our body and all the faculties which sustain us begin to work in total submission to the Almighty, and our life and death have no other object but the pleasure of the Merciful:

"Say. My prayer and my sacrifice and my life and my death are surely for Allah, the Lord of the Worlds" - (6:163.)

When man's love for the Creator is so great, when his life and death have no interest for himself but are solely for the sake of God, then the Lord, Who loves those who love Him, causes His love to descend upon that person. From the union of these two loves springs up a light which cannot be perceived or realized by those who are bent low upon this earth. Thousands of the faithful and righteous have been murdered in cold blood by the worldly-minded because the world was blind to the light which had descended upon them. They were looked upon as covetous and deceitful contrivers, for it could not see their bright faces. The Word of God attests to this spiritual blindness in the following words:

"And thou (the Prophet) seest them looking towards thee, yet they see not" - (7:198.)

An earthly person, therefore, becomes a heavenly being when illumined by the celestial light. The Author of all existence speaks with him and illumines him with the luster of Divinity. His heart, which overflows with the love of his Divine Master, becomes God's habitation and the throne of His glory. From the moment that such a man is renewed, having undergone a pure transformation, the Almighty also becomes new to him for His dealings and laws with him are changed. Not that the Creator becomes new or His laws and dealings are new but that these laws and dealings are distinct from those displayed in connection with the mass of men, and are such as the worldly wise are not cognizant of. It is to such transformation that the following Quranic verse refers:

"And of men is he who would sell himself to seek the pleasure of Allah. And Allah is Compassionate to the servants" - (2:207.)

Such is the case of the person who has attained the spiritual stage of perfection! In the above verse, we are told that the mercy of the Almighty encompasses such a person and, consequently, he alone is delivered from all suffering and sin who gives himself away in the right path and Divine pleasure and, with this sacrifice, gives proof of his exclusive devotion. He regards himself as having been created for no other purpose but obedience to the Lord and sympathy for His creatures. When he has thus submitted his will and intention to the will of God, every faculty is engaged in the performance of pure virtue, not formally or coldly but with sincere interest, zeal and pleasure as though actually seeing his Master in the mirror of his obedience and submission. The will of God becomes his will and he has no delight but in obedience to Him. He does not perform good or virtuous deeds simply on account of their goodness but his very nature is drawn in that direction and he finds his highest pleasure and bliss in them. This is the paradise upon earth which is granted to the spiritual man, and the promised heaven in the next world is only an image of the present paradise, being an embodiment of the spiritual blessings which such a man enjoys down here. Referring to this, the Holy Book says:

"And for him who fears to stand before his Lord are two Gardens" - (55: 46.)

"And their Lord makes them (the righteous people) to drink a pure drink " - (76:21.)

"The righteous shall truly drink of a cup tempered with camphor - a fountain from which the (faithful) servants of Allah drink, making it flow in abundance" - (76:5-6.)

In this verse, the word kafur (camphor) is derived, as already indicated, from kafr (to suppress; to cover), and refers to the total extinction of worldly love and the complete suppression of all worldly desires of those who have drunk of the cup of the love of God and severance of all other connections with true sincerity. It is clear that passions take their growth in the heart, and if the heart is removed farther off from impurities, passions gradually lessen and ultimately die Out. The more a man leans towards the Almighty the farther off he 15 from the control of carnal passions, and therefore the righteous who trust in Him alone for support have their hearts cleansed from the fire of passion, and their sensual desires are as completely suppressed as poisonous matter is washed Out by camphor.

"And they (the righteous) are made to drink therein a cup tempered with ginger (Zanjabil) - (of) a fountain therein called Salsabil " - (76: 17-18.)

Zanjabil (ginger) is a compound of zana and jabl. Of these component parts, the first means "to ascend" and the second "mountain". The compound word zanjabil therefore means "he ascended the mountain."

Now, from a severe attack of a poisonous disease to perfect restoration of health, there are two stages. In the first, the poisonous germs are completely destroyed, the violence of the attack is mitigated and the danger which threatened life itself is over. But the weakness, which is the result of the attack, does not vanish with the poison. The patient, though out of danger, cannot be said to be in sound health until strength is restored to him. If he stumbles and falls, he is not yet a healthy person. The second stage of restoration is that in which the patient regains his strength. The body is again full of life and vigor and he is not only able to walk with firm legs upon even ground, but has courage and strength to try the ascent of a steep mountain and scale the heights cheerfully and without fear. This is the spiritual state which a person attains in the third stage of development. It is in reference to this stage that God says to the righteous that they are made to drink of a cup tempered with zanjabil.

The two above quoted verses in which kafur and zanjabil are spoken of call attention to the two stages through which a person must pass in order to make an advance from the low position of slavery of passion to the heights of virtue and righteousness. After the first movement which a man makes to rise, the first stage is that in which poisonous matters are suppressed and the flood of passions begins to subside. This we may term the kafur (suppressing) stage for, in this stage, what is effected is only the suppression of poisonous matters just as kafur has the property of nullifying the effect of poison. But the strength which is required to overcome all difficulties is only acquired in the second stage, called the zanjabil (strengthening) stage. The spiritual zanjabil, which has the effect of a tonic on the spiritual system, is the manifestation of Divine glory which afford nourishment to the soul. Braced with this manifestation, man is able to traverse the dreary deserts and climb the steep heights which the spiritual wayfarer must pass to reach the goal. The wonderful deeds of self-sacrifice that he is then able to perform are beyond the comprehension of those whose hearts are devoid of the zeal of love.

"Surely We have prepared for the disbelievers chains and shackles and a burning Fire" -(76:4.)

This verse signifies that those who do not seek God with a pure heart are, by Divine law, repaid in their own coin. Their entanglements in worldly affairs do not allow them to move a step as though their feet had been enchained; they are bent so low upon the mean cares of the world that they appear to have collars round their necks which do not allow them to raise their heads heavenward; their hearts burn with carnal desires and greed to gain property or to overthrow a rival. Since the Almighty finds them indulging in low desires and unfit for higher and sublimer pursuits, He makes these three afflictions their constant companions: chains, collars and fire.

There is also allusion here to the fact that every deed which a man does is followed by a corresponding act of God. If a man, for instance, closes all the doors of his room, the darkness that follows is a Divine act. In fact, whatever we term the natural consequences of our deeds are really the deeds of the Lord, for He is the cause of causes. The taking of poison is a man's own deed but this is followed by Divine punishment with death. As in the material world, so too in the spiritual, the law holds good that whatever is done is followed by a necessary consequence. The following verses are quoted to show how this law is referred to in different instances:

"But when they (people of Moses) deviated, Allah made their hearts deviate..." - (61: 5.)

"And those who strive hard for Us, We shall certainly guide them in Our ways..." - (29:69.)

"And whoever is blind in this (very world) he will be blind in the Hereafter, and further away from the (right) path" - (17:72.)

This clearly indicates that it is in this life that the righteous see the Merciful, and that it is in this very life that He appears to them in all His majesty and glory. In short, it is down here that a heavenly life begins and it is in this very world, and not hereafter, that the basis of a hellish life is laid in the impurities of this life and blindness to spiritual realities. Another verse runs thus:

"And give good news to those who believe and do good deeds, that for them are Gardens underneath which rivers flow..." - (2:25.)

In these words, God compares belief to gardens beneath which rivers flow. They reveal a secret indicating the connection between faith and good deeds. As trees would wither away if they were not watered, so faith without good deeds is dead. Faith without deeds is useless, and good deeds not actuated by faith are a mere show. The Islamic paradise is a true representation of the faith and good deeds of this world. Every man's paradise is an image of what he has done here below. It does not come from without, but grows from within a man himself. It is his own faith and his own good deeds that take the form of a paradise for him to live in, and its delight is tasted in this very life. The tree of faith and the streams of good deeds are even here discernible though not manifest; but in the next life all veils that hide them from the eye shall be uplifted and their existence shall be palpably felt. The teaching of the Quran tells us that true, pure, strong and perfect faith in God, His attributes and His will is a delightful orchard, while the good deeds which a man does are, in fact, the streams flowing in the orchard, giving life and fruit to its trees. The same idea is elsewhere expressed in the following words:

"A good word (being) as a good tree, whose root is firm and whose branches are high, yielding its fruit in every season..." -(14:24-25.)

By comparing a good word of faith to a good tree that ever yields its fruit, God has called attention to three facts: firstly, that its root, which indicates its true significance, should be firmly fixed in the earth which represents the heart of man. The firm fixture of the root indicates the unqualified acceptance of the reality and truth of the faith by the nature and conscience of man; secondly, that its branches should be in heaven, that is, reason should attest to its truth and the heavenly laws of Nature, being the work of the Almighty, should agree with it; that arguments of its truth should be deducible from the laws of Nature and should be so high as if they were in heaven, being above every objection, and thirdly, that it yields its fruit without ceasing, that is, its influence and blessings are never intercepted and are felt in every age and every country. It is not true that they exist for a time and then cease. Another verse then follows:

"And the parable of an evil word is like (that of) an evil tree, pulled up from the earth's surface; it has no stability" - (14:26.)

It is neither supported by arguments nor by the laws of Nature and is a mere assertion or an idle tale.

It will be noted that, as the Quran has compared the words of faith to plants bearing delicious fruits as being embodiments of what is enjoyable in this world, it has also described the evil tree of unbelief under the name of zaqqum. Thus it says:

"Is this the better entertainment or the tree of Zaqqum? Surely We have made it a trial for the wrongdoers. It is a tree that springs forth in the bottom of hell - its produce is as it were the heads of serpents" - (37:62-65.)

The cursed tree is the tree of zaqqum. According to the Quran, every good action is a good tree and every evil action is an evil tree. In these verses, we are told that the eating of zaqqum brings damnation and destruction as the result.

"Taste (the fruit of this tree) - thou art forsooth the mighty, the honorable!" - (44:49.)

"Surely the tree of Zaqqum is the food of the sinful; like molten brass, it seethes in (their) bellies like boiling water" - (44:43-46.)

These words indicate that if the sinner had not been self-conceited or had not turned his back upon the Truth for the sake of his pretended honor and greatness, he would not have had to taste that fruit and affliction.

In short, God has likened the words of faith uttered in this world to the trees of paradise, and the words of faithlessness to zaqqum, the tree of hell, and has thus shown that a heavenly or a hellish life commences in this world. Regarding hell, the Holy Book also says:

"(It is) the Fire kindled by Allah, which rises over the hearts (of men)" - (104 : 6-7.)

This is an allusion to the fact that the grief sorrow and affliction which overpower the heart really kindle the fire of hell.

"Be on your guard against the fire whose fuel is (of) men and stones..." - (2:24.)

"Surely you (idolaters) and what you worship besides Allah are fuel of hell..." - (21: 98.)

From these remarks, it would appear that Heaven and Hell are not material worlds like the present one but that spiritual facts are their source and origin. This requires to be qualified in one way: that the blessings and tortures of the next world shall be the embodiments of the spiritual facts of this one but, notwithstanding this, they shall not be things of this world.

Stage of perfection

Returning to the subject, the Quran has taught us two means for a perfect spiritual union with God: complete resignation to His will, which is known by the name of Islam, and constant prayers and supplications as taught in the opening chapter- of the Book, known as Fatiha. These are the two channels which lead to the fountain of salvation and the only safe guides which take us to the Lord. These are the only means to attain the desired end of the highest spiritual advancement and ultimate union with the Almighty. They only can find the Merciful who realize the true significance of Islam by actually entering into it, and who pray as taught in the Fatiha.

What is Islam? It is the burning fire which consumes all our low desires and, setting fire to false gods, makes us offer our life, honor and property as a sacrifice before the Master. Entering into this state, we drink the water of a new life. The spiritual powers within us are united together as strongly as the links of a chain. A fire, resembling that of lighting, flashes out of us and a fire descends from above. These two flames, uniting with each other, consume all low motives and carnal desires and the love of others than the Lord. A sort of death comes over our previous life, and this state is signified by the word Islam.

Islam brings about the death of the passions of the flesh and gives new life to us. This is the true regeneration. The holy Word of God must be reveled to the person who reaches this stage, which is termed "union". His connection with the Almighty is so strong that he, as it were, sees Him. He is granted strength from above; the internal faculties are all brightened and the magnetism of a pure heavenly life works strongly. Upon reaching this Stage, God becomes his eye with which he sees, his tongue with which he speaks, his ear with which he hears, his hand with which he defends himself, and his foot with which he walks. It is in reference to this stage that the Holy Book says:

"(Those who swear allegiance to Muhammad do but swear allegiance to Allah). The hand of Allah is above their hands..." - (48:10.)

"And thou smotest not when thou didst smite (the enemy), but Allah smote (him)..." - (8:17.)

This is the stage of the perfection of man and of his union with the Benefactor. The will of God predominates over every desire and the moral conditions, which were at first defenseless against the passions of the flesh, are fortified so as to be proof against every attack. With this holy transformation, reason and understanding are also refined. The Quran refers to this condition:

"These are they into whose hearts He (Allah) has impressed faith, and strengthened them with a Spirit from Himself..." - (58:22.)

The love of such a person for his Lord knows no bounds. To die for the Creator and to suffer persecution or disgrace for His sake, however strange the expression might sound to other ears, is to him a matter of course. Being drawn, he flies towards Him, but does not know what attracts him. An invisible hand supports him under all conditions, and to fulfil the will of God becomes the principal object of his life. He finds himself close to his Master, as the Quran says:

"(And certainly We created man) and We are nearer to him than his life-vein" -(50:16.)

As no effort is required to pluck a ripened fruit from a plant, the low connections of such a man, in like manner, are severed of themselves. He has a deep relationship with the Almighty and is removed far off from the creatures. He speaks with God and is spoken to by Him. To reach this stage, the doors are as wide open now as they were in times past. The Divine grace does not withhold this blessing from earnest seekers now but vouchsafes it to them as bountifully today as it did in the past:

"And when My servants ask thee concerning Me, surely I am nigh. I answer the prayer of the suppliant when he calls on Me, so they should hear My call and believe in Me that they may walk in the right way" - (2:186.)

Difficult is the way and dangerous the path, and one cannot walk in it as long as one does not set one's foot with true sincerity upon the burning fire which others flee from!