Major Principles in Islam 7: Getting close to Allah
“He who knows the name of his Lord, forgets his own name” – Imam al Qushayri
Imam al Qushayri, one of the greatest scholars in spirituality and in the purification of the heart, ethically and morally in his beautiful book at-Tahbeer mentioned many wisdoms related to the names of Allah Almighty. One of these is that the who knows the name of his Lord, forgets his own name. This is so beautiful and so sweet. It means that if you know Allah Almighty properly, you will forget your name. It means you will live by His names. The statement is conditional because he saying ‘whomsoever’ knows the name of his Lord, so learning about our Lord requires some effort on our part.
Types of knowledge
We can acquire two types of knowledge – ilm kasbi and ilm wahbi. Ilm Kasbi is knowledge which you acquire through your efforts in seeking, researching, studying and revising, whereas ilm wahbi is knowledge that you only receive from Allah Almighty, as it is gifted knowledge. Prophets and messengers and the awliya (those close to) Allah Almighty receive this kind of knowledge. Depending on their ranks, they receive different levels of knowledge. The more you strive to acquire the first type of knowledge and implement it practically in your life, the more you will receive gifted knowledge. This is known as fatah (plural: futuh) in Arabic, which is an opening from Allah Almighty or inspiration from Allah Almighty.
Living by the name of our Lord
What does it mean to live by your Lord’s name rather than your own? If you recall that iqra bismi rabbikalladhi khalaq, ‘Read by the name of your Lord’, was the first revelation that Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and his first introduction to the His Lord. With the name of Allah, the illiterate one was turned into the master of the literate (peace be upon him). Therefore knowing the names of Allah Almighty and living by the names of Allah Almighty elevates one’s heart, one’s soul and one’s morale and one’s connection with Allah Almighty.
Feeling closeness to Allah Almighty
Imam al Ghazali (450-505AH) was born 15 years before Imam al Qushayri (376-465AH) passed away. He also said that ‘Whoever accompanies the name of his Lord, will certainly feel closeness to Him before even arriving at his sanctified destination, i.e. the akhirah’. This means that by demonstrating the attributes of Allah in your life, will make you Allah’s companion. So for instance, if you extend mercy, you will be accompanied by Ar-Raheem, if you show generosity you will be accompanied by Al-Kareem, the Generous, and if you xx you will be accompanied by An-Noor, the Light. He who accompanies the name of his Lord, as Qushayri wrote from his experience, will find His Lord with him. Not just in poetic terms but experientially, He will feel the presence of Allah Almighty in his life. This is a high level of closeness to Allah Almighty.
Accompany the name of your Lord and increase your ihsan
When Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was asked by Jibreel in the famous hadith Jibril “Oh Muhammad tell me about Islam”, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) answered him, then he said “Oh Muhammad tell me about imaan”, and again Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) answered him, when he asked “Oh Muhammad tell me about ihsan”, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said “Ihsan is to worship Allah Almighty as though you can see him”. It means being awre of Him all the time, as though He is before your eyes, in your heart, His name is always on your tongue, and pulsating in your veins. Whoever accompanies the name of his Lord will get feeling of intimacy and closeness to Allah Almighty.
Building an intimate connection with Allah Almighty
In Arabic, the word for closeness is ‘uns,’ and establishing this ‘uns’, or this deep connection with Allah Almighty comes through constant remembrance of Him. If one is does not remember Allah, they are in a state of heedless so closeness cannot be attained. There is a proverb in Arabic, which states that whoever loves something keeps mentioning it. For instance, those engrossed in wealth incessantly talk about trade, business, and money. Similarly, those passionate about property are consumed by thoughts of it, and those infatuated with cars constantly think, speak, and dream about them. Likewise, if one truly loves Allah Almighty, they will continuously contemplate, discuss, and envision Him. Qushayri, may Allah have mercy upon him, emphasises this concept. If you actively accompany the name of Allah Almighty and take that initial step, you will experience an intimate connection. This intimacy, however, will not just parachute down on you. You have to come forward one step and when you do you will find Allah Almighty closer to you than you think, but you have to take the first step.
Tahaqquq, which Qushayri is mentioning here, is linked to the word tahaqqaqa which is certainty, synonymous with yaqeen. When you take the name of your Lord as your Companion, you don’t leave. You’re always in this company, which is the best company. And you feel this intimacy before you even arrive at your final abode, the akhirah. Believers will definitely have this intimacy with Allah Almighty in Jannah, but can experience this in the dunya before the akhirah. This is good news from Qushayri is rooted in the Quran and Sunnah. We feel this in the Quran, we feel this in the sunnah, which is why Allah Almighty says in the Quran, ‘When my servants ask you concerning Me, I am so near’ – this intimacy is very real, but we need to strive towards this.
Elevate your ranks with Allah Almighty’s names?
Imam al Qushayri mentioned another wisdom, ‘he who knows the name of his Lord, his rank will be elevated. Thus your status and your rank is according to your knowledge of Him and your application of it. The more you know about Allah Almighty and apply it in your life, the more you are elevated. We see this from the story of Bishr al Haafi, one of the famous Sufis. He used to be a street robber, who would hold up victims and then take their money.
Once, while walking along the street, he chanced upon a discarded piece of leather. In those times, paper was not easily accessible, but leather served as a commonly used material for writing. To his surprise, he noticed that the sacred name of Allah Almighty was inscribed upon it, albeit soiled and abandoned on the street. Recognising its significance, he reverently picked it up and felt the weight of its divine presence. With utmost care, he cleansed the leather, treating it with deep respect.
With a heart full of devotion, he decided to protect the sacred name from being trampled upon. Seeking a suitable place, he visited a perfume shop. There, he sought to honour the name further. He carefully elevated the cleansed leather and placed it above a wall, far from the reach of people’s shoes. It was a symbolic act, an expression of his reverence for the name of Allah.
That very night, as he slept, he experienced a remarkable vision. Within the depths of his dream, a voice resonated, addressing him as “Oh Bishr.” The voice conveyed a profound message, affirming the significance of his actions. It declared, “You have elevated Our name; We shall elevate your name. You have perfumed Our name; We shall perfume your name.”
From that transformative moment onward, Bishr embarked upon a path of spiritual leadership and purification. His encounter with the sacred name on that humble piece of leather marked the beginning of his journey as an esteemed imam, guiding others in matters of spirituality and inner purification.
And since that time, Bishr became an imam in spirituality and purification. It was a transformation in his life. Because of a deep purity in his heart, loving Allah Almighty. Although he was doing all sorts of evil, but in his heart he has good connection with Allah Almighty. He loves Allah Almighty. Because of this love Allah Almighty delivered him from falsehood to the truth, from evil to goodness, because of his good intention, his good heart.
Shaykh Haytham Tamim – 23 Mar 2023
Transcribed by S Jawaid
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