In the Name of Allah, Owner of all True and Perfect Praise
May Divine Benediction rain upon its most praiseworthy Locus of manifestation
In Israa' (the Night Journey) and Mi'raaj (Holy Ascension), we are told that Allah, the Most Glorious:
... did take His servant for a journey by night from the Sacred Mosque to the Farthest Mosque, whose precincts We did bless in order that We might show him some of Our signs.. (Qur'an 17:1)
The Qur'an further narrates:
For indeed he (the Messenger) saw him (Archangel Gabriel) at a second descent, near the Lote tree beyond which none may pass: near it is the Garden of Abode. Behold the Lote tree was shrouded (in mystery unspeakable!). Sight never swerved nor did it go wrong, for truly did he see of the signs of his Lord the greatest! (53:13-18)
The experience of seeing lie at the core of mi'raaj. What kind of seeing? A kind that penetrates shrouds and mysteries without wavering - that penetrates the veils of human limitation to see "the greatest" of "the Signs of the Lord." But with what did the Messenger, may divine benediction and peace shower upon his noble soul, see those Signs? With his physical eyes? Did he just see them, or was there an element of hearing, as well? According to a hadith, the Messenger said that during the Ascension,
I was taken straight to an open place wherein I heard the sound of the Pen.
Such hearing and vision surpass our comprehension. But as hard as it may be to fathom the experience of the Ascension, one lesson seems clear: in it, we find a model of coming to see in new ways, to observe and hear Allah's Signs clearly; to overcome distractions and be fully present in the Presence of the Divine.
2. Being present in the Presence
Being present in the Presence brings to the topic: IHSAAN. The definition of Ihsaan is given in the Hadith Jibreel, a narration of the Prophet where Archangel appeared in human form to the Messenger and his companions and an exchange were made.
One day while we were sitting with the Messenger of Allah, there appeared before us a man whose clothes were exceedingly white and whose hair was exceedingly black; no signs of journeying were to be seen on him and none of us knew him. He walked up and sat down by the Prophet.
Resting his knees against his and placing the palms of his hands on his thighs, he said, "O Muhammad, tell me about Islam? The Messenger of Allah said: "Islam is to testify that there is no god but One God and Muhammad is the Messenger of God, to perform the prayers, to pay the poor-due, to fast in Ramadan and to make the pilgrimage to the Kaba if you are able to do so." He said, "You have spoken rightly," and we were amazed at him asking him and verifying it.
He said, "Then tell me about imaan." He said, "It is to have faith in God, His angels, His revealed Books, His sent Messengers and the Last Day, and to have faith in Divine Destiny, both good and evil thereof." He said, "You have spoken rightly."
Then the stranger again asked, "Then tell me about Ihsaan." He said: "It is to worship God as thorugh you are seeing Him, and while you see Him not yet truly He sees you."
He said, "Then tell me about the Hour." The Messenger replied, "The one questioned about it knowns no better than the questioner." He said: "Then tell about its signs." He said: "That the slave-girl will give birth to her mistress and that you will see the barefooted, naked, destitute herdmen competing in the construction of lofty buildings."
Then after the stranger left the presence the Messenger informed his companions that it was indeed archangel Gabriel who came to teach others about the Way.
So what is IHSAAN? To strive to create a real and sustainable living consciousness of the presence of God in our lives - consciousness so strong, so clear, so vivid, that when we live it, we feel as if we were actually seeing God.
Ihsaan along with imaan and islaam is an essential part of the Way (Deen), for the Messenger said, "... That was Jibreel, who came to teach you your Deen." Indeed, we might say that Ihsaan is the pinnacle of the Dee. It is the vertex or nodal point of Islam. How can we surrender, if we are unaware of the Divine Presence to which we are surrendering?
Ihsaan is a catalytic agent that allows submission to come about. Ihsaan also deepens our Imaan (faith). It is difficult to maintain faith if we have no sense of seeing or knowing Allah. On the other hand, once we have ihsaan, it becomes difficult not to have imaan.
3. Reflecting back in Response to the Bond of Love
Allah doest not tell us that we have to be an 'alim or a hafiz. He does not say we have be a shaykh or an ustadh. Instead, Allah tells us that we can be and should be people who pursue insight. Allah tells us that the only thing He wants from us is to know Him.
Remember Me, and I will remember you... (Quran 2:152)
And when My servants ask you concerning Me, then verily I am near... (Quran 2:186)
It is said that during the Holy Ascension or Mi'raaj, when the Messenger ascended to the highest heaven, Allah showed him an endless line of humanity walking from the beginning of time. The Messenger was told, "This is humankind. From the first moment to the last minute of creation, there have been and always will be human beings in this endless line, passing in front of Allah." These are all the souls, each soul in existence long before its physical body, each existing in the Presence and the Light of Allah from the beginning of time.
Allah asks in the Qu'an:
Has there ever come upon a human being any period of time in which he was a thing unremembered? (Quran 76:1)
There never was a time in which we could not be remembered. We were always in the "mind" of the Creator. We were not even in the minds of our own parents before we were conceived, but we were in the "mind" of the Divine.
Allah has been always aware of us. Through Ihsaan, we strive to become aware of Allah being aware of us.
It is reflecting back in response to the bond of Love.
How do we strive to become aware of Allah being aware of us?
(to be continued)
~ adopted from Shaykh Ahmed Abdur Rashid's APPLIED SUFISM: Classical Teachings for the Contemporary Seekers (WingSpan Press)