By the grace of Allah, as believers we are experiencing a divine coincidence as the Islamic Hijri calendar and the Gregorian calendar intersect at an opportune moment for engaging in deep critical self-examination (muhasaba as it is known in our spiritual tradition). Rabbi al Awwal brings us the joyous month of the Mawlid — commemoration of the birth of our beloved Messenger ﷺ. And, January, of course, commences for us the year 2015. As we reflect on these momentous occasions, we must ask ourselves, as the Qur’an asks us, “Where, then, are you going?” (81:26).
The Mawlid is a celebration of that human being in human history who most lived up to the aspirations of his blessed name — Muhammad, meaning “the praiseworthy one,” for the Lord of the heavens and earth singles him out for special praise and celebration in the Final Revelation. Allah (subhanahu wa ta'ala) testifies to the exalted and noble character of the Prophet ﷺ saying, “For, behold, you (O Messenger) are upon a most sublime plane of character” (68:4). Furthermore, Allah (subhanahu wa ta'ala) gives the honorific title to the Messenger ﷺ as being a “Mercy to all the worlds” (21:107). Allah (subhanahu wa ta'ala) even commands the believers to join in the heavenly celebration of the Prophet ﷺ, saying: “Verily, Allah and His angels bless the Prophet. O you who believe, send blessings on him and salute him with a worthy salutation” (33:56). To really praise the Messenger ﷺ means to strive to follow in his blessed way and footsteps. Allah (subhanahu wa ta'ala) says, “Verily, in the Messenger of Allah you have a most beautiful role model for anyone who longs for Allah and the Last Day and remembers Allah abundantly” (33:21). And, Allah (subhanahu wa ta'ala) tells us that the door to loving Allah and receiving divine love is none other than the door of the Sunnah: “Say (O Messenger), “If you love Allah, then follow me. Allah will love you and forgive you your sins for Allah is oft-Forgiving, most Merciful” (3:31).
As such, this moment of commemoration begs the introspective question of where we are in our relationship with Allah (subhanahu wa ta'ala) and how closely we are striving to follow the Sunnah of Allah’s Beloved? And, in asking this question we come to our New Year resolution — a resolution to be more like the Messenger ﷺ.
Muhasaba begins with honestly taking a survey of our deeds and character, and figuring out what are the biggest changes that need to be made so that we may truly become the servants of the most Merciful (ibaad ur Rahman). As Caliph Umar, the great companion and sage — may Allah be pleased with him — would remind the people, “Take yourself to account before you are taken to account.” The scholars of the spiritual path would advise that every night a believer takes a moment to evaluate his or her day -- the good of it and the bad of it. And, when they find good they praise Allah and ask for acceptance; and when they find bad they ask Allah’s forgiveness and seek refuge. Sometimes we cannot be honest with ourselves and, therefore, part of muhasaba is seeking those sincere companions in life who, upon asking them, will tell it to you as it is out of their love for you.
Toward Self-Transformation: Repentance, Faith, and Good Deeds
So, after critical self-examination comes the important effort (mujahadah) of self-transformation — converting ugly, wrong, and unhealthy patterns of behavior into beautiful, righteous, and healthy ways of being in the world in accordance with the Sunnah. There are many wisdoms from our tradition that we can point to that give us guidance on how to change our old ways. One of those is a short but profoundly instructive passage in the Qur’an found in Surah al-Furqan: “...Except (illa), for those who repent (tabaa) and attain to faith (amana) and do righteous deeds (amila amalan salihan), for them Allah will turn their wrongdoings into beautiful deeds -- truly, Allah is ever-forgiving, most merciful” (25:70).
The clause “except” (illa) is a very important clause that Allah (subhanahu wa ta'ala) uses throughout the Qur’an to turn depressing news into hopeful news. In this particular passage, Allah (subhanahu wa ta'ala) mentions how those who engage in associating partners with Allah, commit murder, and fornication will have a double and extreme punishment (25:68-69) — but then it gives a way out of this ordeal with the clause of “except.” This is critical in understanding self-transformation, because the first thing we need to do is actually believe that change and transformation is possible. Satan tries to depress us into hopelessness — into thinking that we can’t change and that we have gone too far astray to ever get back to the right path. But, Allah counters this false perception by proclaiming, “...O my servants who have transgressed against your own souls, do not despair of Allah’s mercy, for Allah forgives all sins…” (39:53). Similarly, in a hadith qudsi Allah assures us that even if we come with a mountain of sins and ask Allah’s forgiveness, Allah will forgive us. Our wrongdoings, no matter how many or how severe, can never outweigh the infinite Mercy of Allah (subhanahu wa ta'ala). So, with hope we move forward.
Then, comes a remorsefulness over our wrongs and a commitment to return to Allah (subhanahu wa ta'ala) — what is known as tawbah. This is a recognition that we’re headed in the wrong direction and it is the making of a u-turn back to our pure and primordial soul (fitrah) that is inclined toward the Creator. Tawbah consists of (1) feeling sincere remorse and begging Allah for forgiveness; (2) making a firm resolve to never going back to old ways and doing everything possible and necessary to actualize that resolve; (3) and, finally, seeking the forgiveness of those we have wronged along the way and asking them to ask forgiveness for us.
In order for tawbah to be realized and sustained, we need a deep and unabiding faith in the reality of the awesomeness of Allah (subhanahu wa ta'ala) and in the awareness of Allah’s presence in our lives, that not only does Allah watch us but that Allah also watches over us. This is called imaan — of which there are many degrees. The highest station of faith that we should strive to attain is love for Allah and His Messenger. And, when this love settles in the heart, then that love overwhelms any desire or pleasure that we got from our old habits. As the Pakistani rock band Noori, who often veer in the direction of the spiritual, say in one of their songs, “The one who does not realize the power of Truth, will not be given the courage by our Lord (to follow it).”
Imaan is truly a light that is cast into the breasts of Allah’s servants as a gift from the Generous One. Its path of attainment is (1) through the worship of the eyes in contemplating the innumerable signs of Allah (subhanahu wa ta'ala) in the heavens and on earth (Qur’an 3:190); (2) through the worship of the tongue in reciting Allah’s Book and making abundant repetition (dhikr) of divine names and praises which polish the heart and make it fertile for the growth of true faith (Qur’an 13:28); (3) and, through the worship of the limbs in acting righteously and following the Shariah to one’s utmost capacity (Qur’an 29:69).
The final piece of self-transformation is to take it to the next level by filling the void created by what we have abandoned and filling it with something that is righteous, virtuous, beautiful, and pleasing to Allah in what is known as amalan salihan. In reality, the ways of doing good are innumerable. Undoubtedly, one of the greatest ways to engage in good deeds is by increasing our worship, spending more time studying and memorizing Allah’s Book and Sunnah, and so on. In addition, striving to fill our time and fill the void with service (khidmah) toward Allah’s creation is one of the surest ways to bring Allah’s grace into our own lives. The Prophet ﷺ taught us through many hadith that the one who shows mercy is shown mercy by Allah (subhanahu wa ta'ala).
Dua’ and Divine Grace
Finally, for self-transformation to be something positively enduring in our lives and something that keeps us humble it is essential to know for certain that upon making our efforts through repentance, faith, and good deeds it is by Allah’s grace alone that ugly states of being can be transformed into beautiful states of being. It is Allah who actually transforms us. And, therefore self-transformation necessitates our constant petitioning and begging Allah to change our condition and to strengthen our resolve and to protect us from ever going back (dua’). With our sincere efforts and dua’ we find divine grace (rahmah) pouring into our lives like blessed rain after a drought.
We ask Allah in this season of change — in the month of the Mawlid and the first month of 2015 — that we find within us the sincerity, desire, and strength to move ever closer to a life of moral, ethical, and spiritual excellence in the way of our beloved Messenger ﷺ whose life and teachings continue to inspire us to till the end of times. Ameen!
By Sohaib Sultan , 05 Jan 2015