Friday, July 27, 2012

Seeking Hira

Over 1432 years ago, in the blessed month of Ramadhaan, a man climbed the Mountain of Light, seeking his private sanctuary, the Cave of Hira. He is a handsome man, solidly built; his wavy hair is moist from his exertion in the desert heat and drops of sweat slip from his forehead like glimmering pearls. His fair face, which would shine like the full moon when he smiled, is thoughtful now, with a faint sadness and pain at the corners of his bright eyes.

This man is Muhammad ibn Abdullah, sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam. He is abandoning his society for a few days, maybe a few weeks – he carries food and drink with him, for he does not intend to leave solitude for some time – but not because he is a social outcast. In fact, he is the darling of Makkan society: the grandson of one of its greatest Hashemite chiefs, the husband of one of the wealthiest and most powerful businesswomen in a merchant community.

He is here, in the middle of the desert, miles away from any civilization, because he is sick at heart. Sick of the overwhelming ills that have drowned the Makkans in constant intoxication, outrageous gambling, and endless tribal feuds. Pained by the exploitation of orphans, the poor, the helpless; horrified by the common burials of newborn girls, the mistreatment of women, the destruction of their dignity. He seeks something else, something better, something which seems just out of his reach. He seeks God.

Finally, he reaches his destination. It is here, in the cool shade of the cave, surrounded by solid rock, whispering sands, and endless sky, that he feels some peace of mind and tranquility of soul. He bends his head and surrenders himself to God, a million questions running through his mind, his heart aching for his lost people, crying out for that which will save them from the destruction they are wreaking upon themselves. Is there no hope? Is there no solution?

The answer appears, suddenly, shockingly. The Angel Jibreel, mighty and huge, with six hundred wings that span the horizon for as far as can be seen.

“Read!” The command is from God, an answer to those months of reflection, searching, praying. But Muhammad {sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam} is terrified, he does not understand. “I cannot read!” he cries, for he is illiterate, yet the Angel seizes him so tightly that he feels as though his bones will shatter.
“Read!” comes the order once more. “I cannot read!” he protests, and once again he is embraced by angelic limbs, overwhelming and unbearable.
“Read!” A third time, and this time he weeps, for his heart is full and he feels as he has never felt before. He submits himself to his Lord’s command. “What shall I read?”

{Read! Read in the Name of your Lord, Who created; created man from a clot of blood. Read! And your Lord is the Most Generous… Who has taught by the pen, taught man that which he knew not.}
(Surah al-‘Alaq, verses 1 – 5)

That night was Laylatul Qadr – the Night of Decree, of Power.

{Indeed, We sent it (the Qur’an) down during the Night of Decree! And what can make you know what is the Night of Decree? The Night of Decree is better than a thousand months; the angels and the Spirit descend therein by permission of their Lord for every matter… Peace it is until the emergence of dawn.} (Qur’an 97:1-5)

Over 1436 years later, it is the blessed month of Ramadhaan. We are in the last 10 nights, the nights in which we were commanded by the Messenger of Allah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) to seek that beautiful, incredible, life-changing moment that he himself had experienced so powerfully on that fateful night. Every year, he would seclude himself from the world to relive the majesty of Laylatul Qadr… and so too should we follow in his footsteps.

Where is our Hira? We may not have desert caves in abundance, but we don’t need them. Location is convenient, but not necessary. At work, at home, at the masjid, in our own minds, there is space and there is time. We need to seek it, create it, use it. 

The seclusion we need is more than just that of relocating oneself; it is the I’tikaaf of the soul that we require, not merely the physical. It is so easy to be caught up in the raucous, demanding minutiae of the material world; so easy to be plugged into our devices and be distracted by bits and bytes in the cyber universe. It is so much more difficult to withdraw within oneself, to spend time connecting with our Lord rather than the closest Wi Fi. Yet our souls crave precisely that – to experience the discomfort of breaking away from those things which are constantly tempting our physical senses, to feel the strain of spiritual discipline, to demand a shifting of the paradigm through which we view the world.

There is a wisdom behind Allah withholding knowledge of Laylatul Qadr’s exact timing; truly, He is the Most Wise. These nights are a challenge, an opportunity, an invitation to turn back to Him the way His Messengers did before us. We often wonder why we are so overwhelmed by life; the environment is suffering, wars are raging, morals are disappearing, people are dying by incomprehensible numbers – in body and soul. What have we done? What can we do? Usually, we shrug and turn back to our daily distractions before even beginning to answer these questions.

Yet today… tonight… and every night of Ramadhaan after this, do something different. Isolate yourself from the pundits and celebrities convincing you to think about the shallow and the vapid, and instead go back to the ultimate source of wisdom, the only true answer to all our problems: the Magnificent Words of Allah, the Criterion, the Revelation, the Qur’an.

This Ramadhaan, discover your own Hira.

{Behold! In the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the alternation of night and day, there are indeed Signs for men of understanding. Men who celebrate the praises of Allah, standing, sitting, and lying down on their sides, and contemplate the (wonders of) creation in the heavens and the earth. Our Lord! Thou hast not created this in vain! Glory be to Thee; save us then from the chastisement of the fire!}
(Surah Aal-‘Imraan, verses 190 – 191)

{Then contemplate the signs of Allah's Mercy! How He gives life to the earth after its death: verily the same will give life to the men who are dead, for He has power over all things.}
(Surah ar-Room, verse 50)

{And who does more wrong than he who is reminded of the Signs of his Lord, then turns aside therefrom? Verily, we shall exact retribution from the trangressors.}
(Surah as-Sajdah, verse 22)

True reflection leads to true submission: the essence of Islam. Just as Muhammad {sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam} surrendered himself to the command of Allah, even when he first thought he was unable to do so, so too must we overcome our reluctance, our own self-constructed obstacles towards obedience of our Lord.

On the Night of Power, a man became a Messenger of God; on the Night of Power, we too seek transformation with our Lord.

This Ramadhaan, let us find our Hira, and read.