Our religion has a higher purpose than just avoiding Hellfire and attaining Jannah.
These rules of halaal and haraam are not empty rules; they serve a higher purpose.
“We’re not just here to obey Allah and save our skins,” said Sheikh Faraz Rabbani. “There is a higher purpose to religion.”
But what could be a higher purpose than avoiding Hellfire and attaining Jannah?
The reason we were created is to seek nearness to Allah, right here, right now, and for all eternity.
Ihsan: Awareness of Allah’s Constant Watchfulness
This idea is not new. It was mentioned in the hadith Jibreel by Prophet Muhammad.
“What is ihsan?” Angel Jibreel asked Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him).
“That you worship Allah as though you are looking at Him…” He (peace and blessings be upon him) replied.
Brothers and sisters: if we are not at that level, if we are not worshiping God as if He were in front of us, we are missing out on our highest purpose in this life.
We must strive to make ihsan a living, breathing art. We must live, submit, and pray with total consciousness of Allah.
What is this life? Who determines the Ultimate Reality? Who is more real? Us or God? Our reality is a dependent reality. We are only in existence because Allah created us.
We should not settle for empty rules and robot-like prayers, checking them off our to-do list.
Unless and until we are living in a near-constant state of awareness of God’s unwavering watchfulness of us, we are not living to our full potential.
That is the purpose of the religion. That’s what we should strive for. That is the driving reward we should seek beyond the pearls and virgins and riches of Jannah.
Ihsan through Self-Awareness and Time Management
We will show them Our signs in the universe and within themselves until it becomes clear to them that this Quran is the truth. Is it not enough that your Lord is a Witness over all things? (Quran 41:53)
Allah makes Himself truly known to us only when we are known to ourselves. He presents signs of Himself both within us and around us.
Spirituality, then, requires self-awareness and this requires higher time-management.
This is the ultimate wisdom behind Surat al-Asr:
In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful: Time is witness that, surely, mankind suffers loss, except for those of faith, who do good, and become a model of truthful living, and together practice patience and constancy (Al-Asr, Translated by Kabir Helminski).
Rather than trying to fit prayer into our lives as an afterthought, we must schedule our lives around the prayers.
If we have any hope of meeting our goals, we must actively plan, and we must be vigilant of ourselves in ensuring we keep to those plans.
True Love for Allah
How can we claim to love Allah when we don’t think of Him, don’t draw near to Him, and don’t strive to seek that level of nearness that we can feel Him always beholding us?
Watchfulness, or muraqabah, means to watch over your inner states and actions, knowing very well that Allah always sees you.
Imam Al-Ghazali said:
“The reality of watchfulness is awareness of the One who is Watchful–Allah–and then directing one’s concern to Him.”
Through that, you’re watchful over your actions because of your awareness that God is watching you.
This reality, that God is always, always watching, should not create fear, but should create gratitude, hope and love, and it should translate into actions.
The Steps Toward Inner-Awareness and Ihsan
The first step toward developing ihsan is in being careful and conscious of Allah so you don’t disobey Him, and making sure you obey Him.
Then, because you know that Allah is watching, you strive to avoid whatever displeases Him, and you strive to please Him.
Finally, and this could take a lifetime: you constantly strive to remain conscious of Allah and strive to avoid heedlessness of Him.
Constant consciousness of Allah is a gift and a reward for self-awareness and dedicated self-watchfulness.
Consider the consequences of your thoughts. Thoughts become intentions and intentions become actions.
Ask yourself, “If I implemented this thought, would it preserve and promote guidance with gratitude for the sake of God?”
If not, abandon the thought. This will prevent the intention from forming in your heart, which will prevent you from acting on it.
However, be real. You must cultivate this awareness of God in a sustainable way. Don’t let yourself get out of hand.
Excess is from Shaitan
Excessiveness is not sustainable.
It is easy to feel like if I have excelled in this or that, this means that I must always excel in this or that.
Or, we can easily assume that success in one area this means that I must always excel in everything.
This can lead us to avoid excelling in anything for fear that we would then be expected by God to excel in all things!
Abu Huraira reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:
Take up good deeds only as much as you are able, for the best deeds are those done regularly even if they are few. (Sunan Ibn Majah 4240)
If an action is not sustainable, it is against the Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad.
When it comes to attaining the ultimate nearness to Allah, the constant awareness of His watchful gaze, remember: consistency is the key.