Praise be to Allah.
Many significant events have already occurred from the start of this year. Some were joyful experiences, while others may have had life events that led to more questions than answers.
Global events, such as the threat of climate change, the pandemic, the ongoing political conflicts, radicalism, and other happenings have shaped our world and influenced our perspective. On top of that, our individual lives too may have taken some surprising turns in recent days.
This is indeed a lot for us to reflect on. Some of us may have faced rejection, feeling stuck or unsure of where we're going in life. This can lead to several confusing emotions, such as feeling demotivated, insecure or even anxious.
As we are about to embark on another uncharted Hijri year ahead, it is apt to equip ourselves with some points of reflection. Attempting to dig deep into our questions in life can help us align some missteps or inconsistencies we may be unconscious of. Here are some key points for us to think about:
Finding meaning is essential to being Muslims and even as human beings in general. Our attempt to set the direction and priorities in life is greatly influenced by our existential knowledge.
What is most important to us? What am I looking for? What do I want to do in life?
If left unanswered, these questions may lead to an existential crisis. For some, it can even lead to a medical condition which requires professional intervention.
However, it is not uncommon to search for meaning. Our faith, for example, demands a certain exertion of rational thinking to make sense of why we fully submit to God wholeheartedly. In fact, all the six tenets of faith (Rukun Iman) are also there to help us achieve a sound faith with reason.
Hence, it is important that we strive to search for meaning.
As a start, let us look into how life is understood within the Islamic paradigm. Where are we now? and what is life in this world?
We often associate the term journey with our travels and occasional trips. These are long-distance travels which only cover one aspect of the wider meaning of the word 'Journey'.
The word 'Journey' can hold multiple meanings for us to ponder upon:
1. Progress: For as long as there is progress, there is a journey from one preceding point to another. A journey is then a movement or an act of travel by itself.
2. Purpose: There is always a destination or a target.
3. Discovery: A journey is also the act of exploring or moving into the unknown.
If we were to reflect on all these meanings of a 'Journey', we would surely be able to see much resemblance to what 'Life' has to offer. Hence, life is a journey.
Every second is a moment to pass. There is a beginning and an end. At every corner, we discover life and its purposes. It is the greatest journey we have ever embarked upon.
So life in this world is not the objective. There is a higher purpose to every experience. Our beloved Prophet s.a.w. said:
كُنْ فِي الدُّنْيَا كَأَنَّك غَرِيبٌ أَوْ عَابِرُ سَبِيلٍ
"Be in this world as though you were a stranger or a wayfarer"
But the question is, what or where is the objective then? Which point of our life is the beginning and which point marks the end?
Every day that passes by marks a progress. There is always an end to a day or to a certain phase before another one begins. This means that after every ending is always a new beginning. In truth then, life is not just a single journey. Life is, in fact, a compilation of multiple journeys.
There is always a new beginning and a new opportunity to right what is wrong or to achieve what we've lost. This is the hopeful mindset of a believer. The Prophet s.a.w. mentioned in a Hadith:
إِنْ قَامَتْ عَلَى أَحَدِكُمْ الْقِيَامَةُ وَفِي يَدِهِ فَسْلَةٌ فَلْيَغْرِسْهَا
"If The Day of Resurrection were established upon one of you while he has in his hand a seedling, then let him plant it."
Shaykh Amru Al-Wirdani, a renowned scholar from Egypt, commented on this Hadith, saying that it is as though our Prophet s.a.w taught us to never look for life to end but to always look for a new beginning. Judgement day is a clear end to life in this world. Even so, we were taught to plant a seedling should the opportunity to do so arises. Journeying or moving forward is then an essential part of life.
There are times when the obstacles and challenges feel like its squeezing the life out of us as if we’re stuck at a dead end with no where else to move forward to. When this happens (and may Allah protect us), we often feel like raising the white flag and calling it quits.
Shaykh Amru Al-Wirdani explains that the reason behind our tendency to give up is because we have lost sight of our purpose or our objective. If a person lives without a purpose, it is as if he is lifeless even when he's still breathing.
A person tends to have more patience when he has a clearer view of the end or objective. He loses patience if his vision of the end becomes cloudier and more obscure for him to see.
Knowing when to quit or where to pick our battles is indeed important. Not everything is worth striving for. However, if the matter truly demands our focus, we must strive for it to the best of our capability.
Hence to move forward, we need to find our purpose. But what if we're unable to look for our objective or purpose in life?
Life’s challenges can blur our vision of reality. It can even drag us into deeper pit holes as we lose sight of our purpose in life. A local religious teacher that I am personally inspired by, Ustaz Nasrullah Refa’i, once shared with me that in the state of searching for a purpose or a stronger conviction in life, we should take a walk, wander into the incredible creations of nature and do random Sadaqah (charity). In sya Allah, we will be able to see the next path to move forward.
Now, what do these small and random good deeds have anything to do with finding purpose?
In a Hadith, it is reported that the Prophet s.a.w. said:
مَنْ عَمِلَ بِما عَلِمَ أَوْرَثَهُ الله عِلْم ما لَمْ يَعْلَمْ
"Whoever acts upon what he knows, Allah will bestow upon him knowledge of what he has yet to know"
(Hadith narrated by Abu Nu’aim)
This is also in accordance with the Quranic verse:
وَالَّذِينَ جَاهَدُوا فِينَا لَنَهْدِيَنَّهُمْ سُبُلَنَا
"As for those who strive in Our cause, We will surely guide them along Our Way. And Allah is certainly with the doers of good."
(Surah Al-’Ankabut, 29:69)
In other words, we should start small. Smaller and achievable goals can help pave the way forward and gradually open more insights to see the bigger picture. Strive to the best of our capability within our respective circumstances while we ask Allah to continue to guide and lead us into a better place.
With much said, we can conclude that life means moving forward in our respective journeys, as we attempt to close the distance with our objective and purpose.
If life in this world is but a temporal journey, why waste time investing in it? Shouldn't we move ahead to get on with our objective as quickly as possible?
Many of us have had this question repeatedly running over our heads already. It is not about how fast we get there, but how well are we able to walk the journey.
Life, according to Islamic belief, is both this worldly life and the life of the Hereafter. It is the whole journey from the point of our creation to the point of return to The Creator. Hence, this world is part of the life we're presented with. To disregard this life is to disregard the fabric of Allah's creation.
However, this life is the minor journey compared to the bigger journey.
وَمَا هَٰذِهِ الْحَيَاةُ الدُّنْيَا إِلَّا لَهْوٌ وَلَعِبٌ ۚ وَإِنَّ الدَّارَ الْآخِرَةَ لَهِيَ الْحَيَوَانُ ۚ لَوْ كَانُوا يَعْلَمُونَ
"This worldly life is no more than play and amusement. But the Hereafter is indeed the real life, if only they knew"
(Surah Al-’Ankabut, 29:64)
This verse shows that this worldly life is a temporal phase that will lead us to the everlasting life in the Hereafter.
There are those, however, who see such verses as an excuse to forsake or disregard their life here in this world and as such, cause us to loathe or hate this world. It is as though this worldly life is not just temporary, it is excluded from the definition of ‘life’ itself.
The inability to understand what 'life' is may lead to two possible confusions:
1. First is to see the worldly life as being insignificant in comparison to the Afterlife. This may lead to a confusion of viewing this world negatively as if we should negate our worldly responsibilities as servants of Allah s.w.t. In truth, this is defying reality. This erroneous perception of life has even led some radicals and extremists to justify their motives through undignified means. In the Quran, Allah s.w.t. says,
وَابْتَغِ فِيمَا آتَاكَ اللَّهُ الدَّارَ الْآخِرَةَ ۖ وَلَا تَنْسَ نَصِيبَكَ مِنَ الدُّنْيَا
“Seek the life to come (the Hereafter) by means of what God has granted you, but do not neglect your rightful share in this world.”
(Surah Al-Qasas, 28:77)
Shaykh Ali Gomaa's book 'Fiqhu Hub Al-Haya (Understanding The Concept of Loving Life)' states that these people choose “to hate life because they hated this world and therefore, hope for death”. This is due to their erroneous belief that it is imperative for Muslims to hate the world and exclusively aspire for the hereafter.
He continued, "In truth, we have been commanded to savour the worldly life appropriately instead of refraining from its delights and to turn it into a place to establish our footings in the hereafter."
2. The second confusion is to see that life is only limited to this worldly life, which will lead to forsaking the life of the Hereafter. This is another calamity that will avert a person from his ultimate purpose, the pleasure of our Creator, Allah s.w.t.
When we neglect the reality of the Afterlife, it becomes even harder to find meaning. On this note, Shaykh Ramadan Al-Bouti reminds us:
"A person who sees this world as the sole opportunity for life, that there is no life that follows it, does not understand any meaning of the necessity to have patience with tests (trials in life). He sees no reason to be grateful for whatever blessings he has in this world. Therefore, he cannot make himself bear any difficulty with patience or to be grateful for any good"
In essence, life in this world, if seen as an opportunity to do righteous and good deeds for the sake of the Hereafter, is part of the definition of true life. It is a form of respecting what is ordained by Allah s.w.t. upon us.
A Muslim understands the concept of life and upholds the responsibilities of this world. For example, working with the intention to sustain a good and healthy life for ourselves and our family, in gratitude for Allah’s favour upon us and as a means to receive His pleasure. These intentions and deeds are not blameworthy but are praiseworthy.
Shaykh Ibrahim Al-Bajuri's book 'Hasyiyatul-Bajuri ‘Ala Ummil-Barahin (Imam Al-Bajuri’s commentary on the Sanusi Creed)' states that the definition of ‘Dunya’ refers to worldly manifestations which are based merely on worldly purposes. Subsequently, it refers to whichever distracts one from Allah s.w.t. However, worldly manifestations that were intended for the pleasures of Allah s.w.t. are not considered as ‘Dunya’ per se.
Alhamdulillah for Muslims, many of these existential questions have already been answered by the Quran and the Prophetic sayings (Hadith). It becomes the guiding-base point to help us make decisions in life.
Loving life is praiseworthy. It means to love the journey of life set by Allah, for Allah and by the guidance of Allah s.w.t. May we be granted with wisdom, guidance, ease and the strength to endure life’s challenges with brightness and hope to display patience and gratitude at every corner.
And Allah knows best.
 Man and Allah’s Justice on Earth, Imam Muhammad Sa’id Ramadan Al-Buti, translated by Mahdi Lock, Nawa Books, (pg. 39)