In the name of Allah, The Most Gracious, The Most Merciful.
A Hadith of Rasul (SAW) says that,
“Whosoever knows himself knows his Lord.”
“man 'arafa nafsahu faqad 'arafa Rabbahu”
This particular Hadith is highly focused, qualified for achieving and realizing closeness to Allah (S). What is meant by the idea of “knowing oneself” to achieve a close relationship with our Creator? What are the various entities of ourselves and the requirements of knowing oneself?
On examination of the Hadith, it communicates the design, way or method of knowing oneself through the understanding of knowing Allah.
Allah makes it clear in Surah 50 Al Qaf, Verse 16 that:
“It was We Who created man, and We know what dark suggestions his soul makes to him: for We are nearer to him than his jugular vein.”
This verse illustrates and beautifully explains the position of our relationship and the closeness to our Creator which must be realized for our guidance and transformation.
To be closer then the “jugular vein” relates to the core and the nature of ourselves. Let us examine the entities within ourselves to achieve and discover this close proximity to our Creator, the Lord of the heavens and the earth.
The entities of the self
We have a body, encompassing the various organs, senses and cognitive faculties which are guiding principle for our awareness and development. Although these faculties are foundational and guiding instruments, they are not sufficient for realizing a higher transcendental, contented and spiritual individual.
When one observes oneself, one sees a lower base self or nafs al Ammara bis-soo, which is always in anguish to please the desire and the material aspect of the self. This soul is inclined towards evil.
The Noble Qur`an describes this self in Surah 12 Yusuf, Verse 53:
“Nor do I absolve my own self (of blame): the (human) soul is certainly prone to evil, unless my Lord do bestow His Mercy: but surely my Lord is Oft- forgiving, Most Merciful.”
This lower instigating self follows its whims that is disruptive and can progress to a self-reproaching or blaming soul which is called nafs al Lawwama.
The Glorious Qur`an in Surah 75 Al Qiyamah (The Resurrection), Verse 2 describes nafs al Lawwama:
“And I do call to witness the self-reproaching spirit”
Sheikh Ibn Ata’illah Iskandri (R) a spiritual master of the Shadhiliyyah Sufi Order (Tariqa) who lived in Egypt in the 13th Century A.D. (died 1309) tells us that these two levels and the lower character of these nafs are not close to Allah (S) and are not accepted by Him.
The Witnessing of the self
These disruptive forces and evil tendencies must be witnessed from a clearer perspective within ourselves if an unveiling is to take place for a heightened consciousness that emanates from a contented self.
E.g. when we witness a particular characteristic as rancor, greed, anger, blaming etc. from within ourselves, then that negative aspect is realized for a healing and discipline by one’s watchfulness of them. Hence we have to be ever vigilant of these negative temperaments that arise within ourselves for their transformation.
Through reasoning, witnessing and disciplining of the beastly lower self and its various evil and blaming characteristics are the beginning of progressing one’s behaviour to experience the path of Tawheed (the unity or oneness of Allah) and to establish Taqwa (the consciousness of Allah (S)) and the Zikr (remembrance) of Allah (S), that will lead to a contented heart and self which will realize the ultimate closeness to Allah (S).
What is this path of Allah (S) consciousness?
The Purification of the self
The Qur`an declares in Surah 91 Ash-Shams (The Sun), Verse 9:
“Indeed he succeeds who purifies his own self…”
The purification of the self then leads one to know Allah. How can one know Allah (S) by Allah (S)?
The Prophet (SAW) of Islam said that there is an organ in the body that if it is ill the entire body is ill, and that is the heart. Some may understand this to be a physically conditioned heart, which may be true, but in this case the Prophet (S) was talking about a higher and healthy spiritual state of the heart.
If a healthy spiritual heart is the vehicle to know yourself which realizes the knowing of Allah (S), then the stages, degrees of knowledge to develop that awareness must be learnt, practised and taught to achieve such a station (makam).
There must be an entity within us, which is perfect and our objective. We have seen why a healthy heart is important and necessary for our wakefulness and development. The heart for mankind is as water is for fish. Therefore a seeker must watch his heart, nourish his iman and persevere towards righteous action, righteous deeds and establish patience for the pleasure of His Lord.
Surah 13 Ar Ra’ad (The Thunder), Verse 28 confirms that:
“Those who believe, and whose hearts find satisfaction in the remembrance of Allah. For without doubt in the remembrance of Allah do hearts find satisfaction.”
Therefore, within the heart must reside the perfect entity which is our goal - the contented self (the ruh).
Hazrat Ali (R) said that, he knew his Lord by His Lord.
“Araftu Rabi bi Rabi”
To understand Hazrat Ali (R) statement relates to the purest form of worship when something is enriched by Allah (S). He said the purest thing that is acquired by anyone is a heart nourished by Allah (S). He therefore knew Allah (S) by the light that was within him. This light can only be the soul (ruh) that resided within his heart.
Allah (S) asks the contented soul (the ruh) in the Noble Qur`an in Surah 7 Al Araf (The Heights), Verse 172:
“Am I not your Lord (who cherishes and sustains you)?”-They said: "Yes! We do testify!”
Alastu birabbikum, qaloo bala shahidna
It was when the soul (ruh) was created that the light of Allah’s (S) Words was reflected in the soul (the ruh). That is the perfect and the natural entity within us, which is described as the soul (the ruh). This perfect entity, the soul (the ruh) is the testimony to ourselves as to “Whom we belong and to Whom we will return”. This was the covenant that was accepted by the soul (the ruh) and who must finally return to its Lord in the original pure state.
The Qur`an al Kareem asserts in Surah 43 AZ Zakhruf (Ornaments of Gold), Verse 14:
“And verily, to Our Lord we indeed are to return!”
The example of the first man Adam (AS) and his wife Hawa (AS), who in heaven were disobedient to Allah (S), were removed and placed on earth. This story explained in the Great Qur`an of a soul that was to be disciplined and must make its return from the worldly to the hereafter. The Prophet Adam (AS) discovered that the vessel to return to heaven was through the world, but it was essential to return illumined, enlightened, righteous, groomed and contented to the true abode of this perfected soul. (Refer Surah 7 Al Araf (The Heights), Verse 19-29).
The following Surah 13 Ar Ra’ad (The Thunder), Verse 11 tells us how Allah (S) will expect our condition:
“Verily, never will Allah (S) change the condition of a people until they change what is in their hearts.”
At the time the soul (the ruh) was created, it recognized and acknowledged the position of its Lord, the Creator of the heavens and the earth. Therefore it is essential that mankind accept responsibility for its souls (the ruh) and fulfill the covenant that it made with its Creator.
For mankind to make this journey back to heaven it is imperative that we change the condition of our hearts and character towards that which is obedient, serves and submits to the will of Allah (S). Human beings, due to their forgetfulness and heedlessness must remember the original covenant that was made with the Almighty Creator which will set in motion the return journey to Him.
The seeker (salik) and the return journey
The individual seeker must be intelligent with a higher understanding of the divinely guided laws (the Shari'ah). He must develop a sharp watchfulness over his lower base self, inculcating values as sincerity (ikhlas), insight (basirah), patience (sabr), justice (adl) etc., including a higher education of belief (iman) and a cautious awareness of Allah (S) (Taqwa), which is characteristics of the Prophetic (SAW) worship and the remembrance of Allah (S) as in Ihsan (beauty and perfection) that will lead the seeker (salik) to the journey of the contented and conscious self.
The divinely guided laws (Shari'ah) and rationality must both be considered as a value and object for transformation. Without rationality or logic one will not be able to interpret the Shari'ah, and without the Shari'ah the rationality will not be guided.
The transformation of the heart is to develop the stages of one’s awareness, which brings us closer to Allah (S). To practise correct behaviour, worship (Ibadah) for the pleasure and remembrance of Allah (S). To be aware of the primordial state (fitri) is to live by the unconditional submission to the will of Allah (S), the Lord of all creation.
We must understand that rationality and the lower self must not be the basis for arrogance and haughtiness. Giving in to our lower self will mean we will perhaps never see what is within us or to fulfill the covenant with our Lord (Rabb). It is related that the Prophet (SAW) said that the lower self is the greatest of idols.
The Believers must transform themselves from their lower self to attain the higher understanding of the “Reality”, their Lord, which is the true journey of the self. It is from this world that we gain access and success in the Hereafter. The repulsion and bringing under control of the lower self will discover the original self, the soul (the ruh), which will lead to a character of spiritual steadfastness and the strength of an Allah (S) conscious person (a Muttaqee).
Therefore this potential that is within us is the vehicle for being one with Allah (S) in this world that extends into the Hereafter (akhiraa). When the lower self (nafs) is refined and groomed then it transcends with the perfect entity, the soul (ruh). The nafs is the shadow of the ruh. The lamp (ruh) is light upon light (nur alaa nur). The nafs is now the contented self.
When we understand how close we are to our Creator then it may be necessary at this point to clarify the position of a believer and disbeliever.
The noble Qur`an in Surah 2 Al Baqarah, (The Heifer), Verse 257 refers to the believers and disbelievers as follows:
“Allah (S) is the protecting friend of those who believe. He takes them out of darkness into light. As for those who disbelieve, their patrons are false deities. They bring them out of light into darkness. Such are rightful owners of the fire. They will reside therein.”
Obtainable levels of knowledge
The individual who transcends his lower self will see the light that is within him/her. He/she will see the soul who knows that it is timeless and boundless. He/she will swim the oceans of knowledge and fully submit to the “Reality” who is Allah (S).
The Glorious Qur`an enlightens us in Surah 29 Al-Ankabut (The Spider), Verse 69:
“And those that strive in Our (cause), - We will certainly guide them to Our Paths.”
Allah (S) is Inwardly Hidden and Outwardly Manifest. Your outer self must be balanced with your inner self.
Allah (S) says in the in Surah Al Baqarah (The Heifer), Verse 152:
“Therefore, remember Me always, and I will remember you; and be thankful to Me, and be you not ungrateful.”
This position of awareness, understanding and certainty is through the love of Allah (S). The truth of certainty (haq-ul-yakin) is the experience and love (muhabbah) by total submission for the love of Allah (S) the “Reality” who is behind the Cosmos. By Him, from Him, unto Him.
When we return to Him, He returns to us.
And this pragmatism of certainty (haq-ul-yakin) is essential for a watchfulness and wakefulness which immediately reveals a report card of the self for a personal assessment.
The stations of the truth of certainty (haq-ul-yakin) are as follows:
|Astaghfaar||Asking forgiveness from Allah|
|Sabr||Patience and to persevere|
|Shukr||Praising and thanking Allah|
|Dua||Supplicating to Allah|
|Sadaqaa||Charity for the needy to please Allah|
|Tawakkul||A cautious awareness of Allah|
|Salah||Prayer for Allah|
|Zikr-ullah||The remembrance of Allah|
|Ar Rida||To be happy and satisfied|
|Muhabba||To love Allah unconditionally and with awe|
Each of the above characteristics immediately establishes our state and position with Allah and helps us to develop and understand ourselves further. Each characteristic is appreciated in the manner that fully acknowledges the discipline required that will express a total submission and the affection of our Creator.
The Contented self is the path of Islam
A hadith al Qudsi informs us that the entire universe cannot contain Allah (S), but the heart of a (true believer) Mu’min can. When Allah (S) becomes the Protector of the heart then He does not allow any entity to enter it that will taint or blemish it. When we return to Allah (S) in our lives then we know that He will return to us and we will live forever. This is how the great companions (Ashaab) of the Prophet (SAW) lived and this is how the friends of Allah (S) (Awliyas) live.
The Noble Qur`an is the final testimony of this message in Surah 10 Yunus, Verse 62:
“Verily the friends of Allah do not grieve, nor do they fear”.
Ala inna awliyaa Allahi la khawfun AAalayhim wala hum yahzanoona
The groomed and perfected self is the friend of Allah (S) and accepted by Him. This self believes in the oneness of Allah (S), is truthful when it proclaims the Shahada (a testament of belief), is thankful and patient, is knowledgeable, is satisfied and accepts the rules of Allah (S), is secured against the fire of hell and is a contented happy soul.
Allah (S) speaks to this tranquil soul directly as presented in the Qur`an in Surah 89 (The Dawn), Verse 27-30:
27. (To the righteous soul will be said:) “O (thou) soul, in (complete) rest and satisfaction!”
28. “Come back to thy Lord, - well pleased (thyself), and well-pleasing unto Him!”
29. “Enter thou, then, among My devotees!”
30. “Yea, enter thou My Heaven!”
Therefore it is the heart that reflects the soul (the ruh), which is the meaning of the Qur`anic view that Allah (S) is closer to us then our jugular vein.
The Noble Qur`an presents a beautiful description of Allah’s (S) love, affection and the pleasure experienced by this pure soul. This soul has progressed and groomed itself to a perfect position that it is satisfied and tranquil in this world and in the Hereafter.
This is the journey of a righteous seeker who, from the lower nafs to the watchful, witnessing and remembering heart to the enlightened soul (ruh), realizing a closeness to Allah (S) from this world to the Hereafter (Akhiraa).
Many books have been written on the quest of finding Allah (S) in the world (Dunya) and learned scholars and enlightened beings are in agreement that the Qur`an al Kareem and the Prophetic (SAW) character is the guide and path that shows the perfect Shari'ah and this is the journey of life which must be emulated and traversed for a seeker to achieve this goal.
There should be no misapprehension for a seeker (salik) to search for this path to achieve closeness to Allah (S) during his/her lifetime as in the hereafter it may be too late to fulfil this objective. This level of knowledge is obtainable and the most important priority is to learn and practice the essential knowledge of the way of Islam (Din), which is the Prophetic way and character that develops a heightened and cautious awareness of Allah (S).
Allah (S) confirms this blessing in the Noble Qur`an in Surah 5 Al Maidah (The Table Spread), Verse 4:
“This day have I perfected your religion for you, completed My favour upon you, and have chosen for you Islam as your religion.”
As our Rasul (SAW) was taught by Allah (S) through His Great Angel Jibreel (AS), so must we sit with spiritual, learned masters and companions who teach and instruct us so that we may perfect and practice the Islamic Character which realizes the closeness to Allah (S) in our lifetime, Inshah-Allah.
Allah (S) is our Lord. All Praise belongs to Him. He is the Master of the Day of judgement. May He Forgive, Protect, Sustain and Guide us. May He show us the Straight Path. The Path of the Original, Living, Enlightened Islam.
JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA.