Nov 8, 2013

Breaking Free of the Shadows

Guest Post


We take the time out to understand many things in our life. If it was a poem for school, we turn to various analyses. If it was an issue in our life, we turn to our friends. Yet when it comes to Islam and the Word of Allah Subhanahu Wa Ta’aala, we do not attempt to find the guidance within the text or the relevance of Islam in our daily lives. We forget that the purpose of Islam is to guide us through our tests and bring meaning to our experiences. Why do we forget this and rely primarily on external sources for advice? How did we fall into this trap in the first place? We forget due to our failure to actively think about our daily experiences in terms of a higher purpose. Instead, many of us have reduced our daily activities into a series of deadlines for this dunya (world) such as, “when do I have to attend the next meeting” or “how long do I have to finish studying for my test?” So even though we may be thinking actively on how to do our best in this dunya, we do not relate it to how it’ll affect our akhira (hereafter).

The Allegory of the Cave by Plato describes this concept beautifully. He begins by asking us to imagine a situation in which a group of prisoners have been chained in a cave since childhood, facing a blank wall, and are only able to see the shadows cast on the wall by objects behind them. It is these shadows that the prisoners believe to be reality since they have been exposed to nothing else. The analogy of the cave illustrates how everything mankind perceives is just a “shadow” of its true essence. These shadows are a reduced form of reality. Plato says that until we make the commitment to see the light, we will remain shackled by our ignorant beliefs, and feel that they are the truest forms of reality. What we need to realize is that we can easily be shackled by our experiences in this dunya to the extent that we begin to believe that this world is our ultimate reality. Similarly, when we do not do our actions for the right intention, it is not that we are not fulfilling a reality, but a reduced form of it. Unless we pursue knowledge and perform our daily activities with the right intention, we will be no better than those prisoners in Plato’s analogy, believing that the shadows in this dunya are the only things worth pursuing.

In order to bring the relevance of Islam back in our daily lives, we must begin to actively think about our experiences. This is exactly what Ibrahim Alayhi Salaam did when he began his search for which god to worship in the polytheistic society he lived in. Allah Subhanahu Wa Ta’aala describes Ibrahim’s Alayhi Salaam quest for truth when He states:

And when he saw the sun rising, he said, "This is my lord; this is greater." But when it set, he said, "O my people, indeed I am free from what you associate with Allah.” (Quran 6:78) 

This ayah illustrates how Ibrahim Alayhi Salaam refused to be a slave to his society’s beliefs about the nature of the divine. He was able to see the signs around him and once he recognized the inferiority of his prior beliefs, he was able to recognize a greater reality. By seeing the signs around us and enlightening our minds, we too can understand how to bring meaning back into our daily activities. All we need to do is connect our knowledge of Islam with whatever we are doing. For example, it may take people years to assess, analyze and comprehend a single process produced by the brain that only took seconds for Allah Subhanahu Wa Ta’aala to create. Love grows with understanding, so by continually keeping ourselves in awe of Islam, we can grow a profound love for Allah Subhanahu Wa Ta’aala.

Sometimes though, we may be too engulfed with our daily activities to see the beauty of Islam. At times like these, it is necessary to separate ourselves from this dunya to refocus as the Prophet Muhammad Sallallahu Alayhi Wa Sallam did while contemplating the issues of his time. He would go to the Cave of Hira to truly isolate himself physically and mentally from his daily routine because he knew how difficult it is to think with the burdens of our daily responsibilities on us. He recognized the danger of misjudging situations in which you are too fully immersed. This teaches us how isolating ourselves from the shadow-like realties of this dunya is the first step to enlightening our mind. We can do this as we pray salah, but also by taking as little as 5 minutes, free from all the distractions, to ask ourselves how our work relates to the purpose Allah Subhanahu Wa Ta’aala wants us to fulfill.

All it takes is the simple act of thinking about our activities on a daily basis to renew our intentions and bring the relevance of Islam back in our lives. Allah Subhanahu Wa Ta’aala emphasizes the importance of this concept when He says:

Say: "He it is Who has brought you into being, and has given you hearing and sight, and has given you hearts to think and understand. How seldom do you give thanks!" (Quran 67: 23) 

This shows how we have been gifted with knowledge and intelligence, sight and hearing to build a relationship with our Creator. Allah Subhanahu Wa Ta’aala even tells us that enlightening our minds is possible, but its just mankind who chooses to “obstinately persist in unbelief” (Quran 17: 89). In order to truly break free of the shadows, we must learn to give the dunya and akhira significance proportional to the time we will spend in it.

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