Rabi’a Al-‘Adawiyya, born around 717 CE, was a prominent figure of early Islam.
She was orphaned at an early age and then sold as a slave in Baghdad, where she was utilised as an entertainer due to her beautiful singing voice. When she was thirty-six years old she was awakened by a feeling of complete adoration for her Lord which enveloped her heart. From then on Rabi’a gave up worldly pursuits and dedicated herself completely to worship. She was attracted to a life of material poverty and lived simply for a yearning of God motivated by love, and not by any desire of reward. One could catch a glimpse of her spiritual immersion by hearing her heartfelt prayers:
“Everyone prays to You from fear of the Fire; And if You do not put them in the Fire, This is their reward. Or they pray to You for the Garden, Full of fruits and flowers. And that is their prize. But I do not pray to You like this, For I am not afraid of the Fire, And I do not ask You for the Garden. But all I want is the Essence of Your Love, And to return to be One with You, And to become Your Face.”
Through her piety, love and humility, Rabi’a Al-‘Adawiyya became a model and spiritual guide for others.
In 2009, an atheist bus campaign was inititated, carrying the message: ‘There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.’ This campaign drew support from groups such as the British Humanist association and individuals such as Richard Dawkins. Its message epitomised the attitude and belief that God is solely a source of fear, and thus detrimental to people’s emotional wellbeing, and a distraction from attaining worldly pleasures. Whilst the campaign attempted to convey the message that liberating oneself from God relieves ones fears, in reality numerous individuals throughout history have demonstrated attitudes of indifference towards faith, and yet in moments of impending doom, they become crippled with fear and cry out, praying aloud to be saved from the spiritual fire that is upon them. As the saying goes, ‘there are no atheists in foxholes.’
Throughout mankind, it is evident that the spiritual dispensation of people has been so diverse, with some like Rab’ia, possessing a deeper love for God than for any worldly desire, whilst for others spirituality is dwarfed by a yearning for material pursuits. With this in mind, I often used to wonder how the Holy Qur’an, described as a book for all mankind, could cater for such a vast range of individuals, for people young and old, for people brought up in different circumstances and with different natural traits and tendencies. I wondered whether it was possible for people like those responsible for the bus campaign, who evidently had little natural spiritual inclination towards God, to nevertheless find salvation through the Holy Qur’an.
I found my answer in the first chapter of the Qur’an, Surah Al-Fatiha, with just seven verses, which acts as a blueprint for the entire book. Just as within the sperm and egg lie latent the entire design of every cell and organ of the emerging human body, similarly the first chapter of the Holy Qur’an contains profound secrets, which encompass the overall message of the rest of the book. Possibly the most central message of the Qur’an is the necessity for establishing a relationship with God. In order to attain this, one must consider in human affairs the ways in which any kind of bond is forged. Sometimes one may form an attraction towards another through genuine love, such as with marriage. Sometimes one may be inclined to another due to rewards that they will attain as a result of that bond – such as the intellectual rewards that a student will gain from sticking close to his professor. Sometimes, like the relationship between a servant and his domineering master, the bond formed will be one based on fear. These three root sentiments – love, reward, and fear – create and guide our human relationships and attractions.
The same is true with respect to God. The second verse of Surah al Fatiha reads ‘All praise belongs to Allah, Lord of all the Worlds’. This verse appeals to those, like Rabi’a Al-‘Adawiyya, who seek nothing but to praise God, understanding His majesty and glory and beneficence. However, for others the attraction and love is not so heartfelt, and many seek God only for the rewards which they may obtain by believing in him. In this regard, the chapter goes on to state ‘Ar-Rahman – The Gracious’, a phrase which draws attention to the blessings and bounties that God has bestowed upon the whole world, inviting the reader to gaze in awe at the rewards He has given to mankind. For some, however, this is not sufficient, and they seek a relationship based on personal, rather than general reward. God answers this by calling himself ‘Ar-Rahim – The Merciful,’ calling those towards Him who seek His favours. Finally, such as in the case of atheists, some individuals do not even possess the innate spirituality to forge a connection based on reward. Therefore, for all those yet to embrace belief, God refers to Himself as ‘Master of the Day of Judgement’ – a verse which incites the fear of the consequences of disbelief. Through these three verses alone – one appealing to love, one to reward and one to fear, God’s message and invitation to believe in Him encompasses the whole of mankind, taking into account every individual’s state of heart.
From a personal perspective, I find my own journey identical to that described in Surah Al Fatiha. When I was younger, I would pray to God due to my own fears of entering hell, both in this life and in the hereafter. I would pray only to be saved from this punishment. As I grew older, I realised the material blessings and favours that God was capable of providing me, thus I used to supplicate, asking Him to help me in every endeavour. I continued this, and do so to this day, though now my prayers have changed. After fearing His wrath, then pleading to Him to grant me reward, I finally began to realise the real beauty of worship – not simply as a means of gaining worldly blessings – but to find God truly and attain a relationship based on love. As my journey continues, I reflect upon the fact that every human, depending upon their spiritual capacity, lies somewhere on this spectrum between love and fear. If, like humanists, we fail to get to know that which we fear, then all too often we end our lives in flames, consumed by regret. But if we make an effort through prayer, then the God that we initially feared can save us from this fire and forge inside us a love for Him that we previously could never have imagined.
“Allah says, ‘I am as my servant expects Me to be, and I am with him when he remembers me… If he draws closer to Me by an arm’s length, I draw closer by a distance of two outstretched arms nearer to him. If my servant comes to Me walking, I go to him running.” (Al-Bukhari)
The header image was originally posted by Free Pictures 4K, and can be found here