Nearness to Allah
Teachings of the Quran and Experience of Muslim Saints
by Rafi Yahya Abdullah Sharif, USA
The Light & Islamic Review (US), March/April 1992 Issue (Vol. 69, No. 2, pp. 5–9)
Editor’s Note: The author, an American convert to Islam having Sufi inclinations, is an active member of our U.S.A. branch and attended our central annual gathering [Jalsa Salana] in Lahore in December 1988. The article presented below was written in June 1991, and is very timely for this issue as the chief object of fasting is to attain nearness to Allah.
Seekers may find themselves considering the nature of the Divine and the human, and pondering over their relationship. The Kalima (creed of Islam) comprises two parts representing Divinity and humanity. Declarations of belief in true God and perfected man are required for one to become a Muslim. We recognize that Allah the One is without limit and that our Master, Prophet Muhammad, upon whom be peace, presents us with belief in unlimited human possibilities. With the perfect Guide in both Divine and human form, we bind ourselves to the path leading to perfection.
During his spiritual journeys in centres of Islamic learning, Hazrat Maulana Hakim Nur-ud-Din (d. 1914), who was to become the first head of the Ahmadiyya Anjuman, offered his baiat [pledge] to the renowned Sufi Shaikh, Hazrat Shah Abd-ul-Ghani. For his spiritual practice, Nur-ud-Din received a single verse of the Quran, and later received a second verse. They were:
نَحۡنُ اَقۡرَبُ اِلَیۡہِ مِنۡ حَبۡلِ الۡوَرِیۡدِ ﴿۱۶﴾
“We are closer to man than his jugular vein” (The Holy Quran, 50:16),
وَ ہُوَ مَعَکُمۡ اَیۡنَ مَا کُنۡتُمۡ ؕ
“He is with you wheresoever you may be” (The Holy Quran, 57:5).
Through his absorption in these verses for several months, Hazrat Maulana Nur-ud-Din was blessed with frequent visions and dreams of the Holy Prophet [Muhammad (pbuh)], upon whom be peace. He said of his experiences that his awareness increased and he gained insights into improving his own spiritual life.
Within the tekke (Sufi house) where he remained for some time, the entire Quran was recited daily. Many of the dervishes recited the Kalima 19,000 times daily. Someone complained that Nur-ud-Din was not regular in performing this dhikr, whereupon his Shaikh replied on his behalf:
“Show him some authority for this and I am sure he will comply.”
This shows that Nur-ud-Din already shared the view of Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad that the pursuit of tariqat (the mystical path of Islam) was within the Shariah (lawful authority based on Quran). He was definitely particular about observance of prayer and most likely performed his meditation upon the verses given him while performing the ritual prayers.
God to be found Near, not Far:
These two powerful verses of the Quran inform us that Allah is very near to each human being, ever-present. Beloved Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, al-Insan al-Kamil, our perfected Master, directs us to look within ourselves if we want to know Allah in these words:
“He who knows himself, knows Allah”.
He directs us to
“Develop in yourself such qualities as are akin to the attributes of Allah.”
The friends on the path of tariqat convey the experience of the great Bistami who, in a beautiful vision, spiritually ascended to the very Throne of Allah, whereupon he exclaimed,
“Are you the very place where Allah settles Himself?”
The throne replied,
“Around here, we are told that Allah can be found in the humble human heart.”
This is affirmed in the Holy Quran.
How does the believer get near to the One Who is all and everywhere? One thing is certain from the verses examined, you do not have to go any place. While travel is a recommended spiritual practice when undertaken with the right intention and under appropriate guidance, to go here and there is not necessarily going to take you closer to finding Allah. His Holy abode will not be found in the furnishings of a particular culture. Where did our exemplar, the Light of our age, Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad go? He remained his whole life in his little village of Qadian, at times going to neighbouring towns as his affairs required. He knew well that Allah is near and His throne is within. Where must you go?
Many believing people tend to think of Allah as far, perhaps on a throne above the clouds, beyond the galaxy. Their approach to God is up and outward. Of course, it is true that the Rabb al-alamin is far and near, governing all of the worlds, close and distant, visible and invisible. But which focus can be most helpful to the individual’s spiritual growth? Though it may be insignificant, a knock on the door will get your immediate attention, more than a catastrophe a mile away. Only when your house shakes does the quake get your serious attention.
Three Stages of attaining Divine Closeness:
Allah has blessed every century with the means of proper spiritual focus through an Ahmadiyya Movement. Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, the initiator of our century’s movement describes three stages for increasing our awareness of the nearness of Allah, the ever-present. These are stages of human development through the perfection of yaqin, certainty of faith.
Emanating from the human heart centre, love follows belief, shaping the whole person.
الَّذِیۡنَ اٰمَنُوۡۤا اَشَدُّ حُبًّا لِّلّٰہِ ؕ
“Those who believe love Allah the most” (The Holy Quran, 2:165).
The first stage is awareness of the mercy, grace and bounty of Allah flowing to the creation. This inspires the qualities of sincerity, faith and obedience. The believer responds with love for Allah, self and others. This is the station of Abdullah, the one serving Allah the Great Master.
In the second stage, says Hazrat Mirza sahib, one becomes closer to Allah, the Source, and the Master takes on the colouring of a parent. Love is intensified and personalized, and purified of selfish motives. It becomes natural and effortless as in a filial bond. The Quran says:
فَاذۡکُرُوا اللّٰہَ کَذِکۡرِکُمۡ اٰبَآءَکُمۡ اَوۡ اَشَدَّ ذِکۡرًا ؕ
“Remember Allah as you remember your own fathers, with even greater remembrance” (2:200).
In the third stage, we are given the opportunity to comprehend just how close the Divine and human can come. Hazrat Mirza [Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian] explains this stage as the inner manifestation of the Divine — the soul of light, the real you looking at your own reflection in a large clear mirror and seeing nothing but Allah!
When the great Sufi saint Mansur al-Hallaj reached this ecstatic state, he declared ana al-Haqq — “I am God!” (lit. the Truth) — whereupon he was murdered by the maulvis [clerics] of his time and merged fully into the ocean of Divinity. The maulvis were (and are) so frightened by the empowerment of the individual soul. Petty tyrants seeking control over others cringe in horror before spiritual liberation. We have received this knowledge directly from Hazrat Mirza sahib, and those of his followers who are blessed with insight will see deeply into that sea of Divine knowledge where he has taken us to dive for gems.
Shariah and Tariqat:
It is appropriate to comment upon two aspects of Islam. Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad gave due attention to both in his writings. The Shariah law which was derived from the Quran itself, but presently includes substantial input from the scholars, governs for its followers, social activity to include human rights, property, and principles of governing. The Shariah, like the laws of other faiths, becomes the focus of strife and fighting, not because of the religion, but because people use it to satisfy their lower instincts. They depict religious law as their exclusive and selfish end, even while professing that Allah is One and for all. The essence of all true religions is the same. Yet fanatics cut each others’ throats in their zeal for advancing their particular version and are filled with veneration for false objects of worship much as human leaders or their tombs, in which they commit the foulest deeds.
The main highway is called shar, hence shariah, the main road of Islamic faith. It legally binds the community. There is also the charming pathway tread by the Sufis. It is the inner path called tariqat. While it is narrower than the main road, and more difficult to follow, it fosters a dependence upon Allah alone and an increasing awareness of Him. It is the path to destruction of the false ego, the inner idol, to liberate the true soul and grant it union with Allah. Hazrat Mirza sahib was the reformer for Shariah and tariqat. Many of his teachings can most clearly be understood in the light of tariqat and greatly resemble the writings of former mujaddids (reformers) and Masters of the Path (Sufi Saints). Understanding this work of the Founder of the Ahmadiyya Movement may help his followers to grasp the truly spiritual emphasis given by the great muhaddas in his own time.
Sense of using the Word ‘Prophet’:
One example of the usefulness of attaining this understanding is the controversial issue of nabuwwat (prophethood) with reference to the position of Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad. Taken in the Shariah, or legal senses, his use of the term for himself would be objectionable and clearly outside what is possible within Islam. Of all of the Muslim schools and sects, only one group of misguided followers of Hazrat Mirza sahib [i.e., the Qadianis] take the word nabi (prophet) appearing in his visions, in the real sense of the Shariah, though they jump through hoops to qualify it. However, if instead, the word is taken in the tariqat sense, there are hundreds of precedents among the great and respected Sufi masters who have been seen as having the colourings, the characteristics, the qualities of a prophet.1
Prophet Moses was a great lawgiver. The Torah was given to him and all of the people of Israel. He was, like Prophet Muhammad, upon whom be peace, the master of religious law. But unlike Prophet Muhammad, when it came to following in the inner path, Moses was an infant. He asked to journey, but could not keep patience according to the Quran. He was a courageous man. He had many qualities but see his difficulty on the Path. The world sees the man of law, the politician, the ‘leaders’ of religion. The master of the spiritual path, the great spiritual guides, may be virtually unknown until they leave this world. Such luminaries as Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad cared little for this world. He never took a cent from his followers’ subscriptions for his own use — one matter in which he resembled the prophets who always declared to their peoples:
“We seek nothing from you for ourselves”.
The writer has seen him vividly in a dream and he surely belonged to higher realms of spiritual life.
Concept of Taqwa:
The key to progress is best expressed in the Quranic concept of taqwa, or Allah-consciousness, as the scholar Muhammad Asad translates it. As you become more constantly aware of the presence of Allah, your entire reality shifts. You acquire a different sense of priorities and a different view of the world. You begin to listen within and pay attention to the signs manifesting in your life. You become more mindful, as the Quran says of those who ponder and reflect. Hazrat Mirza sahib stressed taking time in prayer, meditating — going deeply into the verses and their meanings.
In the Risala-i-Qushairiya, a collection of Sufi writings, we find a few examples of what it is like to be fully Allah-conscious.
Ali ibn Husain was in sajda (prayer prostration) when a fire broke out in his home. He did not stir and eventually completed his prayer. Later, when asked about it, he said:
“A fire of greater proportion than that had engrossed my attention”.
Even now, one can observe some souls who are constantly engaged in dhikr [zikr] — Divine remembrance. One can observe that their lips are moving while they are sitting or walking and their attention is not on worldly affairs.
During a fierce battle, Hazrat Ali ibn Abi Talib, may Allah exalt him, was struck in the leg by an arrow which penetrated right through to the bone. His companions tried their best to wrench it loose, but the arrow was firmly pinioned. What should they do? They decided to wait until the time for prayer, as it was observed that while praying Hazrat Ali was totally unconscious to the world around him. While he prayed, they proceeded to pinch the flesh, split the bone, and loosen and remove the arrow. Afterwards Hazrat Ali said:
“It seems as though my pain has lessened somewhat”.
They explained the operation, and Ali said:
“When I pray, if a shower of arrows were to rain upon me, or the whole world turn upside down, I would not be affected because at that time spiritual ecstasy so occupies me that I am lost to the world around me” (From Tafsir Irfani wa Adab al-Quran, by Ansari).
The result of the desired state is as though you are beholding yourself in a mirror as complete, perfect, well-pleased with Allah and most pleasing to Him. You come to see Divine in your own being — your body becomes a sacred mosque. Suppose, even beyond that, you begin to see the same in others, not just some particular figure clothed in pomp and show, but in each other, in those around you and those who, by chance, come before you. Suppose you see all beings as their true soul selves instead of as their gross material perishable bodies. If you see the Divine in each other, prejudices and hatreds, arrogance and superiority will diminish and vanish, and love will fill the void. We can nurture that divine light with which we are born, and we can perceive it on the faces of others as described in the Quran.
How did the early Ahmadi Muslims come to the Movement? Was it a wholly intellectual process? Mostly they just came to Qadian and experienced the light emanating from between the brows of the Founder [Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian] and his joyful companions. They learned from his example by spending time in his company.
The Chord between Two Bows:
The lofty station of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, who repeatedly said,
“I am a man like you”,
was described by Allah Himself in the Quran as a chord or bowstring placed between two bows representing the realms of the Divine and the human. Was he at once in heaven on earth, at one with Allah and the people? Was he one mirror facing in two directions? He certainly lived constantly in this mystical state — the bowstring.
ثُمَّ دَنَا فَتَدَلّٰی ۙ﴿۸﴾ فَکَانَ قَابَ قَوۡسَیۡنِ اَوۡ اَدۡنٰی ۚ﴿۹﴾
“He approached close to Allah and then leaned towards mankind and it became the case of one chord between two bows” (See the Quran, 53:8–9).
In his spiritual ascent, there was no veil between himself and Divine realization. He, says Hazrat Mirza sahib, became the drop which had made its way back to the Ocean, and in his descent there was no veil either. He spoke the simple language of the people. Taking the chord as a line, or the curved line of yin-yang in Oriental understanding, the Holy Prophet is the very central point. However, it is important to note that there is an infinite number of points on the line, infinite possibilities for an infinite number of souls to be elevated. Further visualizing that chord or line again, the name Allah is the centre point while all other attributive names and cosmic sound names also appear on the same chord line. Hazrat Mirza Sahib said:
“It is obvious that on the higher side of the chord (upper half of the circle) is the bow of divinity so that when the whole soul of Muhammad, on account of his intense clarity, advanced from the chord (line), it fell into that limitless ocean of Divinity and his particle of human-ness was lost in that ocean.”
If you understand that Allah is the ocean and you are a drop, coming from a drop of sperm, the true path (Tariqat Ahmadiyya) can be seen as a pure stream or river in which the drop travels to the ocean. Allah is our beginning and in the end we return to him. All of this life has been understood on the Path to be a journey of return to Him after our soul has been placed here in our bodies. Remember, the real journey is within — your own heart centre is the ocean gate. Allah is not simply within your grasp, but within.
So then, who is God? Who is man? What is divine? What is human? Where is the chord of meeting? How do the two become one? What are the obstacles to unifying humanity? What are differences? Someone pointed out that, in Pakistan, no one would dare claim to be a prophet. In India however, one will not receive the slightest attention or have any spiritual credibility unless he is at least the incarnation of a minor deity. Muslims and Hindus go on butchering each other over their differences. Perhaps the One God is seen by all, but in one culture His attributes are pictured in graphic form. In the other, the names are sufficient. Perhaps it is best to seek Allah within and not in the outward forms that divide us all.
Relationship of God with Man’s Physical Body:
The human body has been called the temple of the soul and described as the microcosm of the universe. The heart resembles the sun within; the pathways for the blood are like planetary orbits. Allah is the Creator of the human body as well as the universe; the same Hand nurtures and sustains both. Allah Almighty says in the Quran:
اِنَّ الَّذِیۡنَ یُبَایِعُوۡنَکَ اِنَّمَا یُبَایِعُوۡنَ اللّٰہَ ؕ یَدُ اللّٰہِ فَوۡقَ اَیۡدِیۡہِمۡ ۚ
“Those who swear allegiance with the Prophet, Allah’s Hand is above their hands” (The Holy Quran, 48:10).
Yad-ullah, the hand of Allah, is a hand after all. In the Ahmadiyya view, such things are objectively true, but not physically. The Quran is a spiritual book.
What can we learn from this? It was the Divine power acting in and through the agency of the hand of the Prophet that was, in fact, the Hand of Allah, receiving the baiat [pledge].
How near, how far? Allah is nearer to you than your jugular vein, the passage of the life force from the heart to the brain. Allah is causing the life force to circulate in your body. He inspires the heart-mind connection, the dance of inner harmony:
وَ اِذَا سَاَلَکَ عِبَادِیۡ عَنِّیۡ فَاِنِّیۡ قَرِیۡبٌ ؕ اُجِیۡبُ دَعۡوَۃَ الدَّاعِ اِذَا دَعَانِ ۙ
“And when My servants ask you about Me, say, I am near; I answer the prayer of the supplicant when he prays.” (The Holy Quran, 2:186)
اَللّٰہُ نُوۡرُ السَّمٰوٰتِ وَ الۡاَرۡضِ ؕ مَثَلُ نُوۡرِہٖ کَمِشۡکٰوۃٍ فِیۡہَا مِصۡبَاحٌ ؕ اَلۡمِصۡبَاحُ فِیۡ زُجَاجَۃٍ ؕ اَلزُّجَاجَۃُ کَاَنَّہَا کَوۡکَبٌ دُرِّیٌّ یُّوۡقَدُ مِنۡ شَجَرَۃٍ مُّبٰرَکَۃٍ زَیۡتُوۡنَۃٍ لَّا شَرۡقِیَّۃٍ وَّ لَا غَرۡبِیَّۃٍ ۙ یَّکَادُ زَیۡتُہَا یُضِیۡٓءُ وَ لَوۡ لَمۡ تَمۡسَسۡہُ نَارٌ ؕ نُوۡرٌ عَلٰی نُوۡرٍ ؕ یَہۡدِی اللّٰہُ لِنُوۡرِہٖ مَنۡ یَّشَآءُ ؕ وَ یَضۡرِبُ اللّٰہُ الۡاَمۡثَالَ لِلنَّاسِ ؕ وَ اللّٰہُ بِکُلِّ شَیۡءٍ عَلِیۡمٌ ﴿ۙ۳۵﴾
“Allah is the Light of the Heavens and the Earth. A likeness of His Light is as a pillar on which is a lamp — the lamp is in a glass, the glass is as a bright shining star — lit from a blessed olive tree, neither eastern nor western, the oil whereof gives light though fire touch it not — light upon light. Allah guides to His Light whom He pleases, and Allah sets forth parables for men, and Allah is the knower of all things” (The Holy Quran, 24:35).
In conclusion, we will share a few thoughts of an American friend, Shaikh Nur Lex Hixon, Khalifa of Shaikh Muzaffer, head of the Halveti-Jerahi dervishes. Meditating upon the above verse, Shaikh Nur says he received the following from the Holy Prophet [Muhammad (pbuh)]:
“The Light of Allah is the window that opens beyond all creation. On the sill of this shining window rests the precious lamp of the human soul, whose flame is pure and steady, protected by the transparent crystal of the heart that glistens delicately, like a star with the soul’s light. This lamp (your soul) is ignited by a Divine Light alone and burns aromatic oil from the Tree of Life — that transcendent tree found nowhere on earth, neither East nor West. This fragrant oil of wisdom radiates illumination spontaneously, not needing to be touched by any earthly fire. Thus, the light of the soul and the source of light behind it blend, merge, and re-appear in the mystery of eternal companionship as the Light of Allah within the Light of Allah.”
For Allah’s Grace, which carries us on its wings, al-hamdu lillahi Rabb-il-alamin.
- Editor’s note: Hazrat Mirza himself made this abundantly clear; for instance, he wrote: “Sometimes the revelation from God contains such words about some of His saints in a metaphorical and figurative sense; they are not meant by way of reality. … The epithet ‘prophet of God’ for the Promised Messiah, which is to be found in Sahih Muslim, etc., from the blessed tongue of the Holy Prophet, is meant in the same metaphorical sense as that in which it occurs in Sufi literature as an accepted and common term for Divine communication. Otherwise, how can there be a prophet after the Last of the Prophets?” (Anjam Atham, footnote, pp. 27–28) ↩