Reflection by Dawood Vally
Man imagines himself to be an existence alongside Allah, albeit by Allah’s permission. This means man has autonomous existence for a moment, with a moment having the duration of a lifetime. Herein lies the source of all angst, for this is an existential plane mired in lack. Since man is a limited material being with mind and body, he has an intrinsic lack requiring the employ of both mind and body to fulfil his needs, placing the burden of continued existence on his shoulders. When he has excess, he fears loss. People’s opinions are an essential need too, for man measures self worth by how he “stacks up” against others, acquiring validation and value through their adulating, though fleeting, views. Rarely is any good work authentic; it is either for good opinion, to assuage some guilt or to subside feelings of sympathy for those less fortunate. More importantly, self worth is not an intrinsic quality borne of who you truly are but is conferred by material or reputational capital and therefore coveted. Finally, even selfless works come at a cost of expending, of having to give of the self and are therefore depleting in a sense.
Yet man has been made to be Khalifa: Divine Representative. But how can man ever represent the Divine when he identifies his self as an existence alongside Allah, logically requiring him to act in his and the collective’s interests? It is only by the realization that man’s self – this very experience of limited separate existence – is meant to be a vessel to vehicle Divine Fullness and Overflowing into the Dunya, a vessel to transmit and resplend Divine Will, not an existence to be claimed. It is by this recognition that man’s self is a vessel and not his true Self, that man is truly freed from a “lack paradigm” to one of Abundance. To this effect, the Quran informs us that man’s essence is the “breath of Divine Substance” termed Ruh. The Quran teaches that “of it (Ruh) man has been granted but little knowledge” meaning man lacks the capacity to fully comprehend his essence. Of the little knowledge that man has been granted is the knowing that his essence, being of Divine Substance, is an Inexhaustible Fount of Abundance that overflows without any diminishment. As such, authentic giving is never sacrificial but a joyous celebration of Truth’s Inexhaustible Abundance. By extension, morality insofar as it is selfless is a natural attribute of Ruh’s Overflowing Fullness. Practically, by way of analogy – the beggar is not be fed out of sympathy, neither is vocation to be approached as a pursuit of daily bread, but each provides the context for Ruh’s Abundance to express.
In this way does man become Abd Allah instead of an Abd to his nafs, at once a Khalifa to the Ard. Yet, this requires identification with Ruh over Nafs, Divine Substance over “vessel” as it were, and in doing so does man move toward True Nature. It must be emphasized that man cannot truly and authentically become subject to Allah, thereby rendering his very self a vessel, except by identification with Ruh. Herein lies the deeper implication of the Deen’s exhortation to transcend the Nafs, more precisely to transcend the paradigm of Nafs. It is within this context that terms and phrases like “return to Allah” and “Hereafter” are to be understood. They allude to a return to True Nature, the nature of Divine Substance or Ruh. Every facet of Deen, from Quran, Salaah to Muraqabah (meditation), is meant to shift the “seat of being” from Nafs to Ruh, enabling Abd Allah and Khalifatul Ard, and are therefore powerful, transformative practices. Idolizing these by rendering them the purpose of Deen, as opposed to the mandatory means to avail ourselves to True Nature is to spurn the opportunity and suffer the penury of hollow worship.
Worship is not meant to patronize Allah by lamenting man’s insignificance, rather the remembrance of Allah as Patron is to recognize that insignificance is not your essence. This is not to be mistaken for arrogance, deriving from a mindset which from the get-go shortchanges “self-hood” by defining it as an entity of lack, having to acquire value and worth through accumulation of social, material or “thawaab” capital. Such accumulation then signifying a haughty claim of “more than” other creatures of lack, yet wholly dependent on them as a reference of lesser value to be of more value. It reflects a lack mindset all the same, using the same standard of lack as a base reference. To the Nafs, value and worth are never an intrinsic attribute, but to be acquired externally and therefore entirely contingent. This defining of self by a lack mindset is best characterized by Shaytaan through his statement, “I am better than him”. He reflects the fiery stubbornness of a mind’s intelligence by refusing to believe that Adam, a creature of limited proportion symbolized by clay, bears a potential greater than the mind’s capacity to comprehend, reducing Reality to fit his narrow lens and therefore precluding his attaining of it, sentencing “self-hood” to no more than the minds limited purview. Worship is supremely empowering through recognition that man’s Ruh is of his Rabb, man’s self is not his true identity, the self meant to vehicle the overflowing Graciousness of an Inexhaustible Abundance, by identifying with it. InshaAllah.
“Undoubtedly We have given you Kawthar (Inexhaustible Abundance). So stay steadfastly connected (Fa Sali) and in servitude to your Rabb. Undoubtedly, he (ego) who taunts and threatens you with perishing, he faces perish-ment.” Surah Kawthar