Peace, one and all…
In the Holy Quran, we read the following verses:
‘O you who believe! When the call is proclaimed to prayer on Friday (the Day of Assembly), hasten earnestly to the Remembrance of Allah, and leave off business (and traffic): That is best for you if you but knew! And when the Prayer is finished, then may you disperse through the land, and seek of the Bounty of Allah. and celebrate the Praises of Allah often (and without stint): that you may prosper’ (62:9-10, trans. A Y Ali)
These verses refer to the Friday prayer (Salat al-Jumu`ah) and to the need to leave aside all else except remembrance of God, for at least a short while. And so, with these verses in mind, I took myself off to a local masjid.
Of late, I’ve been struggling with a number of issues in my life, all of which basically disolve into the large question of oneness: how can I live in that oneness? How can become more truly myself, more truly human? How can I become a fuller servant of God? These questions have been turning and turning round in my head for a while now, growing in power as though they were some kind of psychic tornado. And, just at the point when I thought my head might spin so fast it might actually leave my shoulders, I read this verse a few days ago:
‘I have put my trust in Allah, my Lord and your Lord. There is no creature He does not hold by the forelock. My Lord is on a straight path’ (11:56)
I was given further insight into these questions in a recent Facebook conversation. A fellow wanderer responded to the question of trying to live in oneness with these words:
‘What will happen if you take out the word ‘trying’? .. whether the fish tries or not it is in the ocean.. is it not?’.
Allah! These words hit me like a thunderbolt. It doesn’t matter what I do or don’t do: my growth, my life, my very soul is in the Hand of One Mighty and Merciful. And so it was that this afternoon’s trip to the mosque proved to be such a beautiful event.
After struggling with the ablution facilities, I took my place in a quiet corner of the mosque (which was, in years past, a church). Because of these delays, as I joined the service a little later than I had hoped – just as the Imam was reciting a dua. As the salah itself began, I felt relaxed, calm and open. In the first section, the Imam recited the following verses from Surah al-Rahman (the Chapter of the Most Merciful):
‘[He is] the Sustainer of the two farthest points of sunrise, and the Sustainer of the two farthest points of sunset. Which, then, of your Sustainer’s powers can you disavow? He has given freedom to the two great bodies of water, so that they might meet [yet] between them is a barrier which they may not transgress. Which, then, of your Sustainer’s powers can you disavow? Out of these two [bodies of water] come forth pearls, both great and small. Which, then, of your Sustainer’s powers can you disavow?’ (55:17-23)
These verses spoke powerfully to me. God sustains the very limits of creation by His mercy. Indeed, all that exists moves within that mercy. Or, as Shaykh Kabir put it during the recent retreat: ‘God is the context of everything’. The imagery of water formed a powerful link with my friend’s comment: our life, movement and being take place within the ocean, within the whole context of life. Realising this, we can dive into the depths of our beings and bring forth pearls, ‘both great and small’. And the key to such watery treasures? Gratitude. Or, the grateful acceptance that these things come to us as gifts.
In the second section, the Imam recited from one of my very favourite chapters of the Quran, Surah al-Ala (the Chapter of the Most High):
‘But those will prosper who purify themselves, and glorify the name of their Guardian-Lord, and (lift their hearts) in prayer. Nay (behold), ye prefer the life of this world; But the Hereafter is better and more enduring. And this is in the Books of the earliest (Revelation), The Books of Abraham and Moses’ (87: 14-19)
I have loved this chapter since the first time I heard it, for reasons I am not fully aware of. But, in today’s context they spoke strongly to me of method, of practical path. In other words, in order to become a true human, a true fish in the oceans of life, I must strive to purify myself as far as I can – whilst remembering that God alone grants success. Through seeking to glorify God’s name in my own soul and life and by striving to truly pray, I can learn to swim in these strange waters – I can become a pearl-diver within my own soul.
After the completion of the prayer, the Imam made a beautiful dua. Some of it was in Arabic (which I could broadly understand) and the rest of it was in Bengali/Sylheti (or, not knowing either language, at least I think so). Although I didn’t understand any of this section, it was one of the most sincere dua’s (supplications) I have heard in a long, long time. Once it had finished, I sat in quiet reflection of a little while, in silent company with the two brothers who had earlier prayed next to me. We exchanged no words, but I sensed a subtle bond between us – as though we had all been blessed to have been present for this occasion. Allah!
I walked back to my office feeling life course through me, and feeling refreshed and lifted. Whatever problems I may have will be resolved in time – or as soon as I surrender myself to God, as a fish surrenders to the vastness of the Ocean.
Wa akhiru da’wana an il hamdu lillahi rabbil alameen.
Surah al-Rahman (recited by Shaykh Abdur Rahman Sudais)
Surah al-Ala (recited by Shaykh Salah Bukhaatir)