Al Ghazali on our Path in Life

    Know, my brothers and sisters, that ‘Ibadah, or Service for Allah, is the fruit of knowledge, the benefit of life and the currency of the righteous. It’s the aim and object of people of noble aspirations having sharp inward understanding. It’s their reason for being and their everlasting paradise. "I am your Creator," says Allah in the Qur’an. "Serve Me. You will have your payback and your efforts will be rewarded."

‘Ibadah then is essential for people but at the same time it is filled with difficulties and hardships. It has stumbling blocks and pitfalls in its tortuous path which is haunted by cut-throats and goblins while helpers are scarce and friends are few. But this path of ‘Ibadah must be dangerous, for as the Blessed Prophet says, "Paradise is surrounded by sufferings and covered by trials, while Hell is surrounded by easy things and unlimited enjoyment of passions."

The poor human! He is weak, his responsibilities are heavy, times are hard and life is short. But because the journey from here to the hereafter is unavoidable, if he neglects taking the necessary supplies for the trip, he will be sure to perish. Think over the importance of the situation and the seriousness of our condition. By Allah, our condition is sorry indeed, for many are called but few are chosen.

When I realized that the path of ‘Ibadah was so difficult and dangerous, I wrote certain books, chiefly among them, "Ihya Uloom-id Deen" in which I pointed out the ways and means of getting over those difficulties, facing the dangers boldly and crossing the path with success. But certain people, who didn’t see what I was trying to do in my writings, failed to understand the meaning and purpose of it and not only rejected the book, but treated it in a manner unbecoming of a Muslim.

But I was not discouraged for these were the same types of people who used to ridicule the Holy Quran, calling it "The Stories of the Ancients." Nor was I offended by them. I felt pity on them because they didn’t know what they were doing to themselves. I hate conflicts even now but I feel I must do something for them. So out of compassion for my brothers and sisters I prayed to Allah to enlighten me on the subject (of difficulty in living the Deen) in a new manner.

Listen, then, and know that the first thing which awakens a person from the sleep of forgetfulness and turns him towards the straight path, is Allah’s grace which stirs the mind to think the following thoughts:  "I am the receiver of so many gifts- life, power, reason, speech- and I find myself mysteriously protected from so many troubles and disasters. Who is my benefactor? Who is my savior? I must be grateful to Him in a fitting manner otherwise the gifts might be taken away and I will be finished off forever! These gifts reveal their purpose like tools in the hands of an artist and the world appears to me like a beautiful picture leading my thoughts towards the painter."

These thoughts take the awakened person into the Valley of Knowledge where the Messenger of Allah leads the way and tells him:
"The Benefactor is the One Who has no partner with Him. He is your Creator Who is everywhere though you can’t see Him, Whose commandments must be obeyed both inwardly and outwardly. He has decided that good will be rewarded and evil will be punished. The choice is now yours because you are held responsible for your actions. Seek knowledge from teachers who fear Allah with an unshakable conviction."

When the Valley of Knowledge is crossed, a person then prepares for ‘Ibadah, but his guilty conscience assaults him saying, "How can you knock at the door of Heaven (when you are so filled with bad ways and behavior)? Away with the immorality and bad deeds first!"

The poor sinner then falls down into the Valley of Repentance when suddenly a voice is heard crying, "Repent, repent! for your Lord is Forgiving!"
He asks for repentance sincerely and cries to His Lord for mercy. He now takes heart and rises up with joy and proceeds further on the path.

Then he enters into a Valley Full of Stumbling Blocks, chief of which are four in number: 1) the tempting world, 2) the attracting people, 3) the old enemy Shaytan and finally, 4) the weak inner-self.

So let him have four weapons he can use to defeat the four main enemies. These four are: 1) Choosing a simple lifestyle. 2) Avoiding mixing with all sorts of people. 3) Fighting the old enemy, Shaytan, with increased learning. 4) Controlling the inner-self with the overseer of Taqwa.

Let it be remembered that these four weapons, themselves, have to face four other psychological troubles. They are: 1) Worrying over money due to living a simple lifestyle. 2) Doubts and anxieties about our private affairs disturbing our peace of mind. 3) Worry, hardship and embarrassment because of not meeting new people all the time. Indeed, when a person wishes to serve Allah, Shaytan attacks him openly and secretly from all sides! 4) Unpleasant happenings and unexpected suffering happening out of nowhere.
These psychological worries throw the poor traveler into the Valley of Trials and Troubles. In this plight, let a person protect himself by: 1) Dependence on Allah in the matter of his earnings. 2) Calling for His help when he finds himself helpless. 3) Patience in suffering. 4) Joyous submission to His Will.

Crossing this fearful Valley of Trials and Troubles makes a person think that the path will not be easy, but to his amazement, he finds that ‘Ibadah is boring, prayers are mechanical and contemplation has no pleasure. He is lazy, depressed, gloomy and stupid. Puzzled and perplexed, he now enters into the Thundering Valley. The lightning flash of Hope dazzles his sight and he falls down trembling when he hears the deafening sound of the thunder of Fear.

His eyes, brimming with tears, imitate the clouds and his pure thoughts flash with the lightning. In a moment, the mystery of Human Responsibility, with its rewards for good actions and punishment for wicked deeds, was solved. Afterwards, his ‘Ibadah will not be just lip service and his daily work will not be just drudgery. Soaring on high he will go forward on the wings of Hope and Fear.

With a light heart and in a happy mood, he now proceeds further until suddenly the Abysmal Valley presents its dreadful sight. Looking deep into why he does things, he finds that people who do good are motivated either by the desire to show off to their fellow people or they are simply trying to impress themselves.

On one side of the Abysmal Valley he sees the ten-headed monster of hypocrisy lurking and on the other side he sees the bewitching Pandora of Conceit with her box open. In despair he doesn’t know what to do when, suddenly! the Angel of Sincerity emerges from the depths of his heart and takes him by the hand and carries him through the valley.

While expressing his thanks for the mercy of Allah, he proceeds further until the thought of Allah’s numerous favors to his unworthy self and his inability to do full justice in giving thanks overwhelms him.

And thus he enters into the Valley of Hymns where, mortal as he is, he tries his best to sing the songs of praise to the ever-lasting Allah. The Invisible Hand of Divine Mercy then opens the door to the Garden of Love. He is ushered inside with his body and soul because both had played their part directly or indirectly.

Here ends the journey. The servant of Allah now lives among his fellow travelers, but his heart lives in contemplation of Allah, waiting to carry out the last order, "O soul at Rest! Return to your Creator well-pleased and well pleasing. Then enter among My Servants and enter into My Paradise." (89:27-30)

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