Freedom through surrender
“Why do you have all these restrictions in Islam? You fast for a whole month. You have to give to charity. You don’t drink. You don’t gamble. Your women are covered up, head to toe. You don’t have a boy/ girl friend. You don’t exercise your sexual freedom. You pray five times a day. You do… You don’t… you do… you don’t… what an oppressed miserable lot you are! Is there any thing that you are actually allowed to do? Where is your freedom For Gods’ sake?”
From where you’re standing, you are observing the picture from a different angle to mine; you are looking at one side of it. Hold on to my hand and come with me, just over here, to the other side, where I am standing, come for a moment, do not be afraid. I promise you that if you don’t feel comfortable you can leave me and go back any time.
From where I am standing; as a Muslim woman I must tell you, that all these restrictions that you think are imposed on us by some freak religious authority, in order to oppress or control us; this is not at all the case. These so called “restrictions” are in fact self-imposed by the individual, it is the choice of the individual to observe or leave these regulations. There is no state-police watching over our shoulders, following us with a stick to make sure that we abide by the rules.
“We showed him the Way: whether he is grateful or ungrateful (rests on his will)”. (76:3)
“If any one does a good deed, it ensures to the benefit of his own soul; if he does evil, it works against (his own soul). In the end will you (all) be brought back to your Lord” (45; 15)
“He that does good shall have ten times as much to his credit: He that does evil shall only be recompensed according to his evil: no injustice shall be done unto (any of) them” (6; 160)
“On no soul does God Place a burden greater than it can bear. It gets every good that it earns, and it suffers every ill that it earns…” (2:286)
Now if we break these points up and examine them closely one by one that might help you –my dear friend- understand them better.
Fasting and charity:
Let’s start with fasting for the month of Ramadan for example, while we are fasting there is no way that anyone would know whether we are fasting or not.
You can simply sneak to any private corner and eat as much as you like, nobody would ever know.
We see –however- in this act of fasting the ideal opportunity to practice self-discipline, and to grow in our awareness of the continuous presence of God in our lives. It is an intensive training course to help us develop within us the concept of God-consciousness. Through it we learn that a bad deed is a bad deed, whether it has been known or seen by people or not.
We learn that God knows that which might not be known to people. God watches over all of us, God knows all. We learn that deception is never an option, if we succeed in deceiving people how can we ever deceive The all Knowing.
While fasting your sensation of hunger will remind you of those less fortunate people who don’t have what you have, you are not only thinking or contemplating about their pain; you are living their pain, and what a perfect way to learn empathy.
When the rich Muslim is urged to give a portion of what he/she earns to charity, he is constantly reminded that he is not the true owner of the wealth that he has. The real owner is the Creator of every thing; the man is nothing but a trustee.
“By no means shall you attain righteousness unless you give (freely) of that which you dearly love; and whatever you give, truly God knows it well”. (3:92)
He will give willingly and out of love. He will give with deep understanding that he is giving the poor their due share and what is rightfully theirs. He is merely a facilitator and a link as God is the real provider for both. He shouldn’t boast about his good work nor should he injure the feelings of the poor.
The poor in return will not have any feelings of misfortune, jealousy, or envy, or the desire to harm or steal from the rich. As he is treated as a real brother with all the love and respect that he deserves.
“O ye who believe! Cancel not your charity by reminders of your generosity or by injury, like those who spend their substance to be seen of men, but believe neither in God nor in the Last Day. They are in parable like a hard, barren rock, on which is a little soil: on it falls heavy rain, which leaves it (Just) a bare stone. They will be able to do nothing with aught they have earned. And God guides not those who reject faith” (2:264)
What I am trying to say here can be better understood if I give you an example from my own experience.
Before coming to England and while living in Jordan, I used to teach in one of the high schools in Amman and it was brought to my attention that one of the girls in the school came from a very poor family. As teachers we used to help out in whatever way we could, and with my dear husband Khaled we used to go and visit her and her family and help with whatever God provided.
The family consisted of 10 children; the oldest was this 17 years-old student. The father was mentally ill, and hence unemployed. The mother was unable to find a job.
Their house – their entire house- consisted of one small room; it was where they ate, where they cooked, where they studied, where they slept, and outside, a few meters away was the toilet.
Whenever we visited we used to feel overwhelmed with their love and shrouded with their kindness, generosity, and prayers.
When Khaled got his sponsorship to come to Britain to study we went and told them. A few days before our departure the young student came to pay us a good-bye visit. She presented us with a gift… The most precious gift we’d ever received from any body in our entire lives.
It was a hand knitted jumper for Khaled; she had made it her self… I cried. To this day I still have the jumper. I still cry when I see it or think about it.
Can you see what I mean by mutual infinite love and respect? Can you feel the strength of bond and friendship?
I can almost hear you saying here that this is almost an unrealistic dream-like society; it can never be true or it impossible to achieve.
But I say this is the type of society that we spend our lives striving to achieve, we undergo as individuals a great deal of self discipline in order to help the realization of such a society, a society with no divisions, no frictions, no racism, no class structure, no pride, no arrogance, no envy, no jealousy, a society where all are brothers and sisters, caring about each other, sharing with each other.
A real Utopian society. And guess what… it is possible.
As a little girl, my first ever prayer -that I made up- was: “please God let not any ill feelings or hatred ever enter in my heart. And don’t ever let any harm come to any being through my existence”. I still say it today.
“Nor can goodness and evil be equal. Repel evil with what is best: if you do so, he who is your enemy will become a close genuine friend.” (41.34)
Back to fasting, our intellect is always torn between two opposing forces; on the one hand we have the lower-ego, that manifests it self through the instincts of self preservation and survival. On the other we have the higher-ego, our consciousness that demands from us to comply with morality and ethics that exists within our innate nature.
When we fast we deny the body something that the lower ego considers vital for its survival – food- . When we fast the lower self learns that we can survive without being totally under its control, and the higher self wins one of its ongoing battles with the lower-self. Fasting however requires a lot of patience and perseverance.
It’s one aspect of our ongoing struggle towards self development and self liberation. By trying to fast we feel liberated from the instinctive demands of the lower self. Therefore in fasting there is freedom and liberation.
I can see your point that fasting might help you understanding the feelings of less fortunate people, but how can you justify your dress that veils you totally and forms a barrier to approaching you, how can it be in any way good or reasonable? You may ask
Dear friend, that bring us to the second point that I would like to discuss with you, modesty and sexual restraint:
This in-built sexual desire that we have is there for a purpose and that is preserving and ensuring the survival of our species.
By dressing up modestly and by our self-discipline in sexual behaviour we deny our lower ego the desire to attract the opposite sex. In doing so we give a message to our lower ego that we can find joy tranquillity and serenity (sakeenah) if we preserve our sexual urges to be enjoyed only with the one we truly love, not just any passer by.
The essence of this desired relationship would transcend the initial physical attraction; it will even surpass the emotional love reaching out to become an intellectual and a spiritual bond too.
It seizes to be mere desires, lusts, and short-lived physical attraction.
Through the experience of sharing our intimacy with only the one we truly love, we can explore, experience, and attain much deeper levels of closeness.
“Glory be to Him Who created all the pairs: of what the earth produces, as well as their own (human) kind and (other) things of which they have no knowledge of”. (36; 36)
“And among His Signs is the fact that He created for you soul-mates from among yourselves, that ye may dwell in tranquillity with them, and He has put love and mercy between your (hearts): verily in that are Signs for those who reflect”. (30-21)
In Western culture people enjoy talking about sex, sexual freedom, sex in the arts sex in education, sex in the city… etc.
They talk about how free and liberated they are having no boundaries, desiring no laws, and recognizing no limits to their sexual liberty -unlike people from other cultures (specially Muslims) who still shy away from this liberation, shun this pleasure, as they impose so many restrictions besieging this much cherished freedom.
However, and like many other things, the way sex is seen, portrayed and glorified as an independent act, detached from moral connections, isolated from ethical values, devoid from deep meanings, is perplexing to a Muslim mind.
This apparent sexual “freedom” is perceived by Muslims as illusive, deceptive, belittling, and demeaning; sex has been boxed in, eviscerated from the sweet sublime essence that breathes life into that natural act; namely, love.
For love to bloom it requires trust, honesty, devotion, commitment and generosity.
Trust, honesty, devotion, commitment and generosity entail faithfulness, truthfulness, dedication, modesty, and selflessness.
Stripped of morality, commitment and love, relationships would end up disfigured; soulless, short-lived, tedious mechanical behaviour.
Void of love and disconnected from ethics and morality, casual sex is soulless, yet infused with love, it becomes alive, more beautiful and majestic.
When clothed with modesty, honesty, commitment and compassion, when wrapped up with faithfulness, truthfulness, trust and devotion, when beautified with generosity, sacrifice, and altruism, passion soars high and love spirals up, eternal.
It is an emotional bond, an intellectual connection, a spiritual union before being a physical and material relationship. Therefore it has the potential to live well beyond the moment and becomes momentous. Its joy would supersede the limitations of materialism and boundaries of time.
Devoid of all these beautiful meanings and feelings; the uncommitted relationships resulting in casual sexual-acts as depicted in many mediums is reduced into a momentary, robotic act; which drastically diminishes the enduring Constant state of bliss that could’ve been enjoyed.
When you commit your soul, your heart, your love, your body only to the one you love with all your heart; when both of you appreciate that you have never shared intimacy except with your beloved; it makes that bond between you not only powerful, but magnificent and exquisitely beautiful.
Thus, trust prospers, love thrives, happiness blooms, and enjoyment snowballs; remarkably, you find yourself in a most tender, non-vicious, vicious-circle.
So what is wrong with commitment? What’s the big deal about some restrictions on sexual freedom that could incalculably increase your pleasure? And why not accept and respect people’s freedom to be different?
Deeply rooted in the heart, mind and soul; this love will grow and multiply blossoming with endless beauty and eternal delight.
And it’s only then that we get the ultimate feeling of trust. Trust feeds on love, and love thrives on trust.
Your higher self has won again, and your lower self resigns to the fact that you can actually live and enjoy life without the fulfilment of all what it demands or what it deems necessary.
By not being enslaved to lust and desire another battle of the higher self has been won. Another level of enjoyment of our freedom has been achieved.
As for alcohol and gambling I don’t think I need much effort to convince you that they are not good for the individual or the society.
Abstaining from them does not require much effort as their ills and problems are self evident. However when you succeed you feel the joy of being able to have control over yourself.
You realise that you are really free to choose to safeguard your mind all the time and not to let it slip into absence by drugs or mind fizzing substances. You are always in a state of full awake-ness; full awareness and full alertness, and you know what..! You are still enjoying life as much as ever.
Again another battle with the lower self has been won.
You free your mind from being enslaved to toxins and addictive behaviours. A higher level of exercising personal freedom has been achieved.
Moving on to another point, The Prayer. To start with we realise and understand very well that God Almighty doesn’t need our prayer. God is not insecure or imperfect (glory be His) as to demand His tiny creatures to stand there so many times a day to proclaim His sovereignty, and to admit their weaknesses and guilt. God is above all these human defective perceptions.
“O ye men! It is ye that have need of God. But God is the One Free of all wants, worthy of all praise” (35; 15)
We are the ones who are in need for this bond. We are the ones who miss out on so much if we live and die without experiencing it.
We are the only ones who benefit from these contacts; it’s through this connection and perseverance (in longing for it) that our thirst would be relinquished.
Through this relationship we discover inner peace, utter trust, ultimate tranquillity and endless love and joy.
“Only in the remembrance of God will souls find peace, trust, and tranquillity” (13:28)
During Muslim prayer we move our bodies. We start standing, saying (Allahu Akbar) proclaiming that God is The Greatest. Nothing in this vast universe is greater, worthy of worship or adoration other than The Creator.
No man, no woman, no authority, no money, no desire, no self-love, no ego, not even my own intellect; none of these have control over my life except The One who gave me that life.
I am not subservient or accountable to any but my Creator. At this point the joy of ultimate freedom manifests it self in the purest of forms.
As we kneel down we proclaim: glory be to God the Magnificent, and as we prostrate, glorifying The One Most High; our forehead -the highest point of our physical body and the symbol of our intellect and wisdom- will be at its lowest touching the ground.
We go through these actions of inner and outer self-discipline, we acknowledge our imperfection, we empty our selves from the lower-ego, the feeling of self importance and self-righteousness, and we strip the lower-ego of its selfishness, arrogance and pride and humble ourselves to its Creator and we surrender pleading for guidance, hoping to be filled with God’s light and love.
Back to this on going battle between the lower and higher self;
As we plead for guidance we acknowledge our ignorance, we admit the limitation of our intellect, and we recognise that we are not always right.
As we ask for forgiveness we admit our deepest faults and bad doings, we also become conscious of our imperfection.
As we glorify God The Greatest Most High, we grasp our insignificance, and we understand that we need not be so proud of our self-righteousness.
We can’t experience and feel The Divine Love without the desire to receive it. In order to receive it we have to ask for it.
When we walk towards God, God comes to meet us running. God will be more delighted with us finding Him than a mother finding her lost baby… a meeting full of tears, joy, and passion.
“When My worshipers ask you about Me, I am indeed near; I answer the prayer of every caller when he calls on Me: Let them respond to My call, and believe in Me: That they may be rightly guided” (2:186)
“Say: “O my worshipers who have transgressed against their souls! Despair not of the Mercy of God. For God forgives all wrong actions: for He is ever-Forgiving, Most Merciful”. (39: 53)
“By the glorious morning light, and by the Night when it falls still, your Guardian Lord has not forsaken you, nor is He displeased.” (93:1-3)
“Be quick in the race for forgiveness from your Lord, and for a Garden as wide as the heavens and the earth, prepared for those who are God-conscious: Those who give in times of both ease and hardship; who restrain anger, and pardon others – for God loves those who do good; and those who having done something to be ashamed of, or wronged their own souls, sincerely bring God to mind, and ask for forgiveness for their bad actions, and do not knowingly persist in what they were doing – for who can forgive bad actions except God? (3.133-135)
We open our hearts and souls, and it’s at this very point of utter humility that we receive what we desire most. We’ll be immersed in and showered with ultimate Divine love.
Then the realisation comes; we can truly humble ourselves yet survive with our dignity intact.
It’s not only that we win the battle with our arrogance but we can amazingly enjoy this experience and long for it time and time again. Our higher ego scores another point, a most vital one indeed, the battle against our arrogance.
Through utter surrender to God pure freedom and beyond can be achieved.
“Just like the cosmos from the smallest of its particles to the largest, we can only experience absolute freedom only when living in utter surrender”.
“Whatever is in the heavens and on earth, does declare the Praises and Glory of God, the Sovereign, the Holy One, the Exalted in Might, the Wise”. (62:1)
This of coarse is the ideal that we as Muslims spend our lives striving to achieve, we can spend a life time working, trying, struggling, and patiently enduring some times succeeding and other times failing.
This incessant battle between our higher and lower egos is our inner battle for freedom, and it is also considered the corner stone for establishing a just peaceful world. This is what we call the greatest jihad. Its final aim is to achieve the utmost morality in which we can manifest the Godly temperaments that makes us spiritually closer to our creator.
Love and beyond
For us to receive God’s love
We need to open the door to our soul
That door is stronger than selfishness
Heavier than hate
Uglier than greed
More ruthless than envy
That door is arrogance
The only key to that door
When we can sense our real size
Identify our true ignorance
Admit our imperfection
Recognize our limited knowledge
See the shortcomings
Of our intellect
And humbly kneel down
Prostrate and surrender
Astonishingly transformation comes
The heart that was full of ache
Will be emptied of all ills
And selfish desires
It will be healed
Then filled with love
Joy and bliss
Oh, God… Heal me
Heal my heart… Heal my mind
Heal my soul
Fill me with your light
And fill me with the bounty
Of your love… Amen
© Copyright 2006 Nahida Izzat -PoetryforPalestine – All Rights Reserved
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