Recently, on a trip to the mountains, I understood just how true this was.
I remember looking ahead as our car drove up the narrow highway; the mountains loomed large in front of us. Signs warned of steep inclines and increases in elevation. We looked ahead as the highway disappeared around the bend. In the distance we could see a bridge high above us showing where the road would eventually lead.
We began driving along the road back and forth along the sides of the mountain. Looking out the window, I noticed how few trees there were. The ground was covered with jagged rocks and small shrubs with leathery leaves.
For a moment I imagined centuries before me, the hundreds of people who had probably climbed these mountains. The climb would have taken days and would have been very strenuous in the direct heat of the sun, with little in the way of shelter.
What must they have been feeling as they journeyed?
How would they have stayed motivated to carry on?
After a while, I noticed the road began to flatten. We were nearing our destination. From the top, the view of the valley below reminded me of just how high we had come.
I looked around and noticed something amazing. Here, at the top of the mountain, we were suddenly in the middle of a beautiful forest. Again I imagined what it would have felt like to undertake this journey on foot. How happy would the climbers have been to finally reach the top, and to be able to sit in the shade of such a beautiful forest!
Like climbing a mountain, the journey to purify our hearts is not easy. Sometimes we may feel weak as we try to scale the tests and trials that we face in our lives. Sometimes we may get discouraged. But Allah has not left us in the dark. He has given us the perfect guidance for our journey, a roadmap, so to speak, to help us along the way. If followed correctly, this roadmap leads us to the most beautiful of destinations, one will worth the effort of the climb.
This article lays out that roadmap, as it is described in the Quran, the Hadith and by scholars that we can use on the journey our hearts take to Allah.
The Journey Begins
The journey begins with our intention. Allah tells us:
And I did not create the jinn and mankind except to worship Me. (51:56)
Realizing that everything we do in our lives is a part of our worship of Allah helps us maintain focus. It helps us put one foot in front of the other as we continue upwards in our climb.
When our hearts are oriented towards Allah and doing what pleases Him, then whatever hardships we face, whatever effort we must exert, is done as a part of that worship. And remembering to renew our intention in everything we do helps turn otherwise mundane acts—like sleeping, eating, studying, and working—into acts for which we will earn Allah’s pleasure and reward.
Fulfilling our worship of Allah requires that we strive, not only with our physical limbs, but with our hearts. We must cleanse our hearts and purify them so that they are sound and healthy.
As mentioned in a previous article, ensuring that our hearts are sound and healthy is of paramount importance, for Allah tells us that only those who arrive on the Day of Judgment with such hearts will be successful.
The heart was created to know Allah, to love Him, and to carry out the best and most perfect worship of Him. However, if left to the influence of the nafs, the heart will never be able to fulfill the purpose for which it was created. Its journey to Allah will be stunted, and it may harden and even die.
Navigating Our Nafs
Consequently, the next step in the journey toward Allah after having the correct intention is realizing that our hearts can only be sound and healthy if we discipline our nafs, when we learn about it and learn how to navigate it.
An undisciplined nafs can wreak havoc upon the state of the heart. It will surely cause it to lose its way because it gravitates towards base, worldly desires: the desire for wealth, food, and entertainment; the desire to be seen, heard and praised by others; the desire for leadership and power, even if through corrupt means.
And although, as we will cover insha’Allah (God-willing) in future articles, there may be different types of nafs, in general, the undisciplined nafs will always pull a person towards evil.
And so our roadmap on the journey towards Allah must outline the process by which we navigate our nufoos.
Knowledge, Repentance and Perseverance
Drawing on the work of scholars before him, contemporary scholar Sheikh Mokhtar Maghraoui, identifies the first and most key element of navigating or disciplining the nafs is equipping oneself with the right kind of knowledge. He states the believer must have, “a regular diet of knowledge.”
Regular, that is, meaning it is consistent, not just once-in-a-while, or occasional. “Diet” here referring to that kind of knowledge that is healthy for the heart, just like a good diet of food is healthy for the body. The right diet of knowledge would allow the heart to know and worship Allah better.
As we grow in knowledge about our hearts and about how to navigate our nufoos, we appreciate the difficulty of the task at hand. That is, we realize that achieving a sound heart is not easy and that we cannot do it alone; we are reminded of our absolute need for Allah’s help and guidance. Thus, the natural consequence of gaining this type of knowledge is that we turn to Allah.
We repent, not only for our sins but for previous states of unawareness. We call upon Allah, admit our reliance upon Him and ask for His aide as we continue our struggle.
Allah is Al-Hakeem, the Most-Wise; as such, He answers our call for help in the way that is most perfect for us. And as wonderful as it might be to just wake up one day with a pure, sound and healthy heart, the change in our hearts will not necessarily be like the flip of a switch or the push of a button.
Allah tells us that a pure heart requires perseverance. We must be patient as we struggle to have sincerity in our actions, to fight against the desires of the nafs, and to purify our hearts so they are sound and healthy.
Learning From Life’s Tests
Life’s tests are not meant to discourage us. They are just as their name suggests they are, tests. They are meant to help teach us lessons so that we may achieve our ultimate success.
And as a dear friend once shared with me: “The test will keep repeating itself until we get the right answer”. Thus we must try with each test to extract lessons that will help us in our journey toward Allah.
Allah’s Promise for Those Who Strive in His Way
As with any map, our roadmap will only help us if we choose to follow it. We must choose to start with the right intention, ask Allah for help along the journey, and be prepared to guide and discipline our nufoos with beneficial knowledge, repentance and perseverance. We must also be patient in the face of life’s ups and downs and realize that there is in everything we experience a lesson for us.
Although the journey sometimes seems long when we look up at the mountain in front of us, if we patiently continue our climb and strive in the way of Allah, we can rest assured that Allah will be with us.
(This article is from Reading Islam’s archive and was originally published at an earlier date.)