Creating A Plan: Fighting Stagnation

Green action plan 2010 1

Tarbiyyah Series: Step 1: Capture | Step 2: Creating A Plan: Fighting Stagnation | Step 3: Actions: Being Present


Ask yourself three questions:

  • What do I really want (result)? -Iradah
  • Why do I want it (purpose)? -Niyyah
  • What do I need to do (action plan)? -Riyadah

Let me begin by quoting one of the most famous women of our collective history, Râbi'a, a saint who died sometime in the eighth century, in the second century of Islam. She is universally respected as one of the greatest spiritual teachers of the early tradition. One of the shortest of the many sayings that have come down from her is this: "Everything has a fruit, and the fruit of recognition is coming forward to God. "

Unhappiness occurs because of stagnation. The only way to fix this is by becoming an active person. It may be difficult at first but if you get involved with little activities each day you can move your mind, soul, and body into action and begin reaping the benefits. Sitting at home, watching TV, playing video games or surfing the social media sites may be things that seem innocent but over time will lead to unhappiness. If you aren’t accomplishing, learning and expanding you will feel stagnant and depressed.

All unhappiness and stagnation result from a feeling that you are at the mercy of the world and the people in it. But what a joy it is, what a major shift to strength and power, when you recognize you are at the mercy of God and his Strength & Power. No longer waiting around for others to favor and love you, for others to flatter and reward you. Reward and flatter yourself, favor and love yourself, by Knowing or recognizing your self as a means to approach God. Ibn Ajiba in his Tasharuff said “without foundational knowledge (Usul) in the beginning there is no arriving (Wusul) at the end.” My high school football team slogan was, “What you will be, you are now becoming." It was drilled into our adolescent subconscious in the months of weight training and grueling summer two-a-days, having a huge impact how each of us viewed ourselves.

Let’s look at Râbia’s statement closely and reflect on various references that it makes to the Qur'an and the sayings of the Prophetﷺ. Let’s begin with the word "recognition" (ma'rifa). What does Râbi'a mean when she uses this word in the sentence, "the fruit of recognition is coming forward to God?" The Arabic word is commonly translated as "knowledge" or "gnosis", but, especially in its verbal form, it is more likely to mean "recognition", that is, to recall knowledge. We can derive some help in understanding what Râbi'a means from a saying of a famous Prophetic statement constantly cited in spiritual works, "Be mindful of Allah, and you'll find Him before you." [Tirmidhi]. This is further elaborated by the righteous predecessor, Yahya ibn al-Mu`adh al-Razi who said, "He who knows himself knows his Lord", or "has known his Lord." I would rather translate it, "He who recognizes himself has recognized his Lord." I understand the saying to mean that all those who truly come to know themselves and who truly recall the knowledge that they have of their true selves will truly have come to recognize God. When Râbi'a said, "the fruit of recognition is coming forward to God," she certainly had this Prophetic saying in mind. She meant by "recognition" true knowledge and awareness of self and God.

As for "coming forward" (iqbâl), she undoubtedly had in view the use of this word in the Qur'an. Probably the best way to understand its significance is to look at story of Moses and the burning bush. The Qur'an tells us that Moses became frightened after he threw down his staff and it turned into a serpent. God said to him, "O Moses, come forward and do not fear. Surely you are among the secure"(28:31).

In short, by using the word "come forward " Râbi'a is suggesting that those who recognize God will come forward to Him, be embraced by Him, and be delivered from fear, anxieties, and insecurities. Once they have been released from fear, they will be secure. Then they will be among those whom the Qur'an calls the awliyâ' or "Friends of God”: "Surely God's friends – no fear shall be upon them, nor shall they sorrow" (10:62). Who are these “Friends of God”?

Abu Hurayrah, may Allah be pleased with him said, the Messenger of Allah, may Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him, said:

Verily Allah has said, the one who hurts my waliy I have declared war against him. And there is nothing better for the slave as a means of coming closer to Me than performing the compulsory deeds. And the slave never ceases to grow closer to Me by the performance of extra acts (nawafil) until I love him. And when I love him I am his hearing that he hears by and the sight that he sees by, and his hand that grips with, and his legs that he walks on. If he asks Me I will give and if he seeks My refuge I will give him refuge. (Bukhari)

A second saying of the Prophet provides more context for Râbi'a's statement. In fact, I am reasonably sure that she is simply restating this Prophetic saying in different language. The Prophet said. "Knowledge without practice is a tree without fruit." When Râbi'a said. "Everything has a fruit, and the fruit of recognition is coming forward to God," she is speaking of the knowledge and practice that were mapped out by the Qur'an, the Prophetﷺ, and his companions. The goal of all religious knowledge is to recognize God, and the goal of all practice is to go forward to God, to find Him, to become His friend, and to live in security from fear. The right practice is to imitate the Prophetﷺ by following the Shariah (the revealed law) and observing the Sunnah, the exemplary model that he set down during his life.

In short, Râbi'a is saying that by commanding people to seek knowledge, the Qur'an and the Prophet are telling them to search out and recognize God in themselves and in all things and to achieve full awareness of what they are recognizing; and, by commanding them to practice, they are telling them to go forward sincerely to God and to turn away from the distractions of this world. This, I submit, is practically a definition of Islamic spirituality, because it designates the one-pointed concentration on God that all true seekers have tried to achieve, a concentration that combines both understanding the true nature of things and appropriate activity. Next we discuss the final step regarding actions, and cultivating presence.