“Tujhe aadam nahin miltha Khuda ki justajoo kaisi
Thu hai begaana apna, Aashna ki justaju kaisi”
“You have trouble seeking humans to connect with , how do you expect to find God?
You are unaware of yourself, how do you expect to find the Most Aware?”
Some seek God in silent solitude and meditation. Some seek Him through scholarly discussions and animated debates. Some through meticulous accounting for prayers and prostrations. Some seek Him through their reverence of saints whose tombs they frequent. Clearly different members of the same faith have different approaches, as they go about seeking God. How successful are we in all our efforts? How can we ever know? Does the guidance in the Quran provide us some clues? Coming out of another Ramadan boot camp, perhaps it is a good time to ask this question and try to find out which path to pursue.
For millions of Muslims Ramadan is not just a time when their physical endurance is tested, but also a time for reconnecting with their faith and spirituality. As the month concludes, there is a certain sense of accomplishment and gratification among many, at having fulfilled our obligations and completed our religious duties. Even, at having met the demands of piety, in accordance with the guidance from the Quran.
“Oh you who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that you many learn piety and righteousness” Quran 2:183 (Baqara)
No mention of endurance here and certainly no mention of collecting funds or meeting financial goals for the year ahead.
But piety, as beauty, is often in the eyes of the beholder. Although the Quran emphasizes the practice of saum and salath as aspects of piety, it repeatedly also remarks on certain key values as foundational to the concept of piety. Such values as integrity, courage, humility, patience, compassion, accountability, charity and chastity.
It invites us to constantly appraise ourselves through reflection and introspection, to know our capacities and our potentials, our talents and our endowments, so we may know our strengths and our weaknesses, in order to overcome our deficiencies and become better people. In the language of the Quran, we are encouraged to adopt His colors and acquire His attributes, so we can perform His work and become His foot soldiers in making the earth a better place for all.
It repeatedly reminds us to ponder, to reflect, to question. It inspires us to engage, to involve and to strive in the causes of justice. It motivates us to serve the other, especially the other who is ignored, who is oppressed, who is suffering. It asks us to let go our fears and fight for the freedoms of those who are trapped in poverty, shackled in the misery of cruel oppressions or enslaved by the tyranny of human bondage. We are prompted to raise our voices for the victims of racial violence, religious prejudice, sexual abuse and to question the passage of laws that deny the logic of divine guidance.
So when our poet philosopher mocks at our desire to find God, without even knowing the humans all around us, he is not alluding to seeking God through prayer and meditation but through a different path. He is drawing his inspiration from the Quran. The path to God as the Quran would describe it, is a “steep climb”. In Quran’s terminology, it is “to free a slave, to feed the hungry, to lift up some destitute, from down in the dust.” Quran 90:12-16 (Balad).
Back then when the Quran was revealed, slaves were favored possessions. Today we cling to our worldly possessions, our money, our homes our cars our luxuries, our vanities stemming from our jobs and positions, which define our status and our identity. If we are in search of God are we expected to let go these alluring possessions which feed our egos?
That attitude of total commitment to God’s Will then, maybe what is required for our search to bear fruit. It would imply not only knowing what that Will is but more importantly pursuing it with actions to evidence it. Unfortunately, the mullah’s stranglehold for centuries on our faith has so silenced the faithful into submission, that the Hijazi spirit which once propelled the early Muslims to go beyond their desert homes to establish a glorious civilization in the world, in pursuit of that Will, is rarely to be found anymore.
Again as Iqbal would say:
“Gala tho ghont dia ahle madrassa ne thera
Kahaan se aye sada La ilaha illallah”
“Your throat has been so strangled by the inhabitants of the madrassa
Where can the cry of true imaan be heard anymore?”
Today we build magnificent mosques for prayer and meditation, seeking His countenance in them. We make huge investments of our times in memorizing the Quran, hoping to receive His pleasure and His blessing. We engage with followers of other faiths over nicely planned banquets and seminars , believing with them, we will find our common path to God.
The Quran is quite clear that God is everywhere and is neither confined by space nor time. To believe that He inhabits some sacred enclosures of our creation, however magnificent they may be, might work for our human needs but not for the quality of His transcendent omnipresence. While millions seek Him through prayers and prostrations, the Quran seems to ask for a higher price. One in which we are invested in serving God’s people, not merely in our own devotional practices.
Could it be that the God we seek has long left the places we seek Him in? Could it be that He has abandoned our sacred spaces, angered by the hypocrisy of our purported beliefs, the disappointing reality of our defiant behaviors?
We dare not look too far to view this sad picture in our mirrors, to witness the conflicts within our mosques, the ego battles, the court cases, the disillusionments, that have become so common in our religious lives.
Maybe now that the days of fasting and feasting are over, we can look for Him in places that we have ignored before. Maybe we do things that we haven’t done for long; spend some time serving the homeless, feeding the hungry, comforting the ailing. Maybe God is waiting for us in a homeless shelter to see if we show up and touch a troubled soul. Maybe God is looking for us in a crowded nursing home, where a lonely resident is longing for a visit from family or friend or anyone to talk to. Maybe God is watching us speed by in our fancy cars, as one of His less fortunate creatures is looking for scraps to eat, from a trash can on the street.
Yeah, He probably likes to be around the ones who need Him the most. The grieving, the struggling, the voiceless, the forgotten. If we are to ever find Him we will need to leave our warm and cozy places of worship and seek him among the poor, the destitute and the deprived.
That will require a journey of self awareness, which we may not have taken before, but must. It will require character, which demands much more than a life of fasting and praying, which we are so often taught to follow. It will require sacrifices much greater than what we are used to make. If we truly seek God, a much bigger price will need to be paid.
“So give the relative his rights and the destitute and the wayfarer. That is the best for those who seek God’s presence. Those are the prosperous.” Quran 30:38 (Rum)
The Quran talks about a grand bargain for the believers to make. A bargain with God, with a promise for Paradise in return:
“God has purchased from the believers their lives and their wealth in exchange for Paradise. They shall fight in God’s way and shall slay and be slain. It is a promise which is binding on Him in the Torah and the Gospel and the Qur’an. Who is more true to His promise than God? Rejoice then in your bargain that ye have made, for that is the supreme triumph.” Quran 9:111 (Tauba).
Clearly His offer is open for all people, if they seek His favor, His presence, His paradise. The choice is ours to make.
“Wo ek sajda jisey thu giraan samajhta hai
Hazaar sajdaon se deta hai aadmi ko najaath.”
“That one prostration (commitment) that you believe is so difficult to make
Is the one that frees man from all the prostrations he is making, in search of salvation.”
That one sajda is the sajda of tauhid about which the Quran makes the case, verse after verse, surah after surah and we heard recited night after night in Ramadan.
Tauhid is the belief beyond any conditions over God’s Singularity, His Message, His Messengers, His Program for life. Tauhid is what breaks down the barriers between man and fellow man, replaces hate with compassion, arrogance with humility, prejudice with understanding. Tauhid is what instills in us the fear of God and gives us the courage to speak truth to power, rally against injustice, fight oppression, go to prison, get killed. Tauhid is what inspires us to serve the under served, care for the sick, embrace the immigrant, house the refugee. Tauhid is what enables us to overcome adversities through the power of patience and perseverance. Tauhid is the glue that binds communities together across racial, ethnic, national and yes, theological divides. Tauhid is what informs us of our purpose in being. It is the compass that gives us direction to navigate through the unchartered waters of societal improprieties, when they clash with Divine directives. It is the lens which provides us the clarity of vision we need, to stay on “the path”, the straight path.
It is the awareness and pursuit of tauhid that results in a civilized world where justice, compassion and peace are possible. Tauhid is the only truth, the only promise, the only path to paradise. Deny the lesson of tauhid, the Quran warns us, and we will be left with the certainty of injustice, insecurity and conflict in the here and endless agony in the hereafter.
What better sajda to make above all other sajdas? What better way to seek God?
May He whose countenance we so ardently seek, help us find our way in the wilderness.
Chicago, June 19, 2018
Azher Quader is a thinker, writer and Founder President of Community Builders Council, (www.cbc7.org) )a non profit tax exempt organization, whose mission is to promote empowerment through education and engagement.