Saturday, February 23, 2008

The Hearts of Birds

Abu Hurayra reported that the Prophet (God bless him and give him peace) said: There will enter Paradise people whose hearts are like the hearts of birds. (Narrated by Muslim in his Sahih)

God says: Have they not looked to the birds above them, spreading their wings and folding them? Naught upholds them save the All-Merciful. He is Seer of all things. (Qur’an 67:19)

It is a blessing in these times that even though we find ourselves so cut off from the natural world, there are few of us who do not have the opportunity at least to witness the simple lives of some of God’s other creatures. Although we may go months and years without seeing such formerly ever-present companions to human life as horses, sheep, and cows, we have not yet contrived to deprive ourselves of close contact with the Kingdom of the Birds. Even from the highest of high-rise buildings, we can observe these fellow servants of God, and gain lessons for ourselves from their simple lives.

Birds are early risers. They begin their day with song, which apart from its value to them as a territorial marker (at least as far as we can surmise), has the welcome benefit to us of being endowed with great beauty. The sound of a solitary bird’s singing has a sweetness that is at once fragile, melancholy and yet joyful, and somehow mysterious, as though it were from another world. Indeed, in a sense it is, for the Paradise of the next world is a garden, and what garden would be complete without birdsong?

The Prophet (God bless him and give him peace) said: ‘The souls of the martyrs are in green birds, clinging to the fruits of the Garden of Paradise.’

A chorus of birds singing together creates a sound full of the majesty that is only found in Sacred Music. Anyone who has spent time in a city populated by starlings will be familiar with the quiet murmurings that begin to stir in the trees in late afternoon, building to a magnificent crescendo just at the moment when the call of the sunset prayer is sounded.

God says: The seven heavens and the earth and everything that is within them extol Him, and there is not a thing but hymns His praise; yet ye comprehend not their praises. (Qur’an 17:44)

Birds begin and end their days with song, praising God, their Creator. In between these prayers, they go out and seek God’s favour in the earth, and feed themselves and their offspring. They take sustenance from wherever they find it, trusting in their Lord to provide for them.

The Prophet (God bless him and give him peace) said: ‘If you trusted in God as He should be trusted, He would provide for you as He provides for the birds: they go out in the morning hungry, and return home in the evening full.’

Yet birds do not simply eat, drink, procreate, and sleep. They take time to seek repose and enjoyment in this world in ways that we cannot hope to fully understand. Magpies search for trinkets with which to line their nests, for no apparent reason other than it pleases them to look upon objects of beauty. Albatrosses spread their wings and allow oceans winds to carry them for hundreds of miles, for no apparent reason other than it pleases them to soar for hours on end, looking down upon God’s earth. At summer’s end, usually recluse loons gather on Appalachian lakes to swim together for a few hours, for no apparent reason other than that they want a little company before making their solitary journeys back to the North Atlantic.

Birds rise early and praise God, then go out and seek their God-granted provision. They feed themselves and their families on whatever they happen to find. They are content with their lot, and they seek comfort both in solitude and in the company of their own kind. When the day is over, they praise God in song, and settle down to sleep. Their routine is simple, but they stick to it. They live in balance and harmony with their environment, and take no more than they need. They waste nothing. They keep themselves clean, achieving this by means of dust if no water is available. They are gentle, and cautious. They trust in their Lord.

God says: There is not an animal walking upon the earth, nor a bird flying on its two wings, except that they are communities like unto you. We have left nothing out of the Book. Then, unto their Lord shall they be gathered. (Qur’an 6:38)

Friday, February 22, 2008

The Face of 'Ali

‘Abdullah ibn Mas‘ud reported that the Messenger of God (God bless him and give him peace) said: Looking upon the face of ‘Ali is an act of worship. (Narrated by Hakim in al-Mustadrak)

God says: Its oil almost glows forth, though no fire hath touched it. (Qur’an 24:25)

The scholars say that one of the meanings of this phrase from the famous Verse of Light is that the physical beauty of the Messenger of God (God bless him and give him peace) was of such intensity that one could be guided to Islam simply by looking upon him, without needing to hear the message he brought.

God has placed within the universe abundant beauty. To experience this beauty is one of the greatest joys of life. This beauty affects us in different ways, depending on our own states, yet to some degree we are all aware of it.

The effect of beauty upon the soul can be very difficult to describe. All of us have experienced times when we are utterly lost for words upon beholding some natural wonder; the view from a mountain peak we struggled for hours to reach, the empty expanse of desert or ocean stretching as far as the eye can see, the tiny fingers of a newborn child curled around the tip of one of our own. We cannot find the right words to express our feelings. Yet the believer will have no trouble in arriving at the appropriate response in such occasions: ‘Subhanallah, glory be to God!’

God says: Will they not look upon camels, how they are created? And the sky, how it is raised? And the mountains, how they are established? And the earth, how it is spread? (Qur’an 88:17-20)

Beholding such wonders of creation naturally leads us to marvel at the magnificence of the Creator, whose Divine Attributes are manifested therein. One of the significant characteristics of the Islamic faith is that Muslims have never felt the need to search for a locus for God, a single embodiment of Him, as other religions such as Christianity have found it necessary to do. God has no need of an avatar in which to manifest, by which we might know Him, and direct to Him our worship. God is already manifest in creation, not in the sense that He dwells within it, but by virtue of its very existence being a manifestation of His Divine Attributes. To facilitate our recognition of this, God has placed within His creation great beauty and wonder, and has created within us the ability to perceive this beauty.

Yet in His Eternal Wisdom, God has chosen to create certain focal points where the Divine Beauty can be beheld in exquisite clarity. All creation is beautiful, yet we are not equally moved by every part of it. Certain things stand out for us, and move us in a particular way. Every stone on the earth is equal to every other in their being creations of God, yet the ruby and the emerald move us in a way that ordinary pebbles do not. God has placed throughout His creation hidden gems such as these, which are all the more precious to us for their having been hidden. The view from the mountaintop shows us nothing we could not have seen from the ground, yet the particular perspective it gives us can only be obtained through special effort.

‘Ali ibn Abi Talib (Allah be pleased with him), the subject of this Hadith, is reported to have said: ‘What a fine reminder a rosary is!’ That is, to behold a tool of the remembrance of God causes one to remember Him. It has been suggested by many that the rosary is an innovation because the Messenger of God (God bless him and give him peace) did not use one himself. Commenting on this, our Shaykh al-Buzidi al-Bujrafi (God preserve him) said: ‘Why should the Prophet have had any use for a rosary? He himself was a rosary, an instrument of God’s remembrance.’

Those who have devoted every moment of their lives to God and His remembrance become themselves instruments of remembrance for others. When we behold them, we think of nothing but God. We do not see them as ordinary human beings who eat, sleep, and breathe, but rather as beacons of Divine Beauty that God has placed in the world to guide us to His remembrance.

The Messenger of God (God bless him and give him peace) said: ‘The Friends of God are those who, when they are beheld, God is remembered.'

Statement of Purpose

I have decided to make a simple blog in which I will post any reflections that happen to occur to me on various Hadith of the Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace). This is not a commentary; for that, we must turn to the rightly guided scholars of Islam, who devoted their lives to collating and explaining the Prophetic Hadith and the lessons and rulings that can be derived therefrom. Rather, these are nothing but reflections on what these Hadith mean to me personally, and what I have heard from others. In this way, I hope to do my best to follow the words of the well-known Hadith: 'A moment's reflection is better than seventy years of worship.'