Keys for the people of Paradise : Al Ahqaf 13-16
اِنَّ الَّذِيۡنَ قَالُوۡا رَبُّنَا اللّٰهُ ثُمَّ اسۡتَقَامُوۡا فَلَا خَوۡفٌ عَلَيۡهِمۡ وَلَا هُمۡ يَحۡزَنُوۡنَۚ
اُولٰٓـئِكَ اَصۡحٰبُ الۡجَنَّةِ خٰلِدِيۡنَ فِيۡهَا ۚ جَزَآءًۢ بِمَا كَانُوۡا يَعۡمَلُوۡنَ
Surely those who said: “Our Lord is Allah” and then remained steadfast shall have nothing to fear nor to grieve. They are the people of Paradise. They shall remain in it forever as a reward for their deeds
وَوَصَّيْنَا الإِنسَانَ بِوَالِدَيْهِ إِحْسَاناًحَمَلَتْهُ أُمُّهُ كُرْهاً وَوَضَعَتْهُ كُرْهاًوَحَمْلُهُ وَفِصَالُهُ ثَلاثُونَ شَهْراًحَتَّى إِذَا بَلَغَ أَشُدَّهُ وَبَلَغَ أَرْبَعِينَ سَنَةً قَالَ رَبِّ أَوْزِعْنِي أَنْ أَشْكُرَنِعْمَتَكَ الَّتِي أَنْعَمْتَ عَلَيَّ وَعَلَىوَالِدَيَّ وَأَنْ أَعْمَلَ صَالِحاً تَرْضَاهُ وَأَصْلِحْ لِي فِي ذُرِّيَّتِي إِنِّي تُبْتُإِلَيْكَ وَإِنِّي مِنْ الْمُسْلِمِينَ
“And We have enjoined on man to be dutiful & kind to his parents. His mother bears him with hardship. And she brings him forth with hardship, and the bearing of him and the weaning of him is thirty months, till when he attains full strength and reaches forty years, he says: My Lord! Empower and motivate me that I may be grateful for Your Favour which You have bestowed upon me and upon my parents, and that I may do righteous good deeds, such as please You, and make my off-spring good. Truly, I have turned to You in repentance, and truly, I am one of the Muslims.”
اُولٰٓـئِكَ الَّذِيۡنَ نَـتَقَبَّلُ عَنۡهُمۡ اَحۡسَنَ مَا عَمِلُوۡا وَنَـتَجَاوَزُ عَنۡ سَيِّاٰتِهِمۡ فِىۡۤ اَصۡحٰبِ الۡجَنَّةِ ؕ وَعۡدَ الصِّدۡقِ الَّذِىۡ كَانُوۡا يُوۡعَدُوۡنَ
Such are those from whom We accept their best deeds and whose evil deeds We overlook. They will be among the people of Paradise in consonance with the true promise made to them.
Another year, another opportunity
Alhamdulillah, as we stand on the cusp of a new year and a new decade, its an opportunity to look back over our life to date and plan our goals for what lies ahead. Allah(SWT) tells us in these aayaat:
- The people of Paradise who will live there eternally were a people who did not forget that their Lord is Allah(SWT), in fact that is what they were known for – their only characteristic. As we look back over our lives, what are we known for? Our football team, our jobs, our car, our Fortnite rocket launcher, our postcode, our trainers, our group of friends?
- No, the successful are a people who were known for saying Our Lord is Allah. When was the last time anyone of us actually said that? Think about how you identify yourself amongst others – what are the first questions? Did you watch the game? Have you seen the latest Ertugrul? What’s your job? Who do you hang around with? Which gym do you go to? Rarely are we known by the fact our Lord is Allah(SWT).
- And as the ayah states its not enough to say the shahada or “knock out” the salaah, rather, its about staying on it when we’re at work, with our friends, with our family or alone. Living a life where we remember that Allah(SWT) is our Lord and He is with us, whether we see Him or not. He is the One who is blessing us with health, wealth, safety, mobiles, Netflix etc.
Then, Allah(SWT) connects this statement about the ones guaranteed Paradise with further qualities. He(SWT) states that He has commanded all people – insaan, not just the believers – to be kind and fulfil their duty to their parents, talking at length about a part of our life we have forgotten. We were each carried in the wombs of our mothers with great hardship and then fed and cared for with food, drink, safety, love. This is the first stage of our life.
Then the next stage is mentioned – our youth, when we reach full strength – our teenage years when we are learning to stand for ourselves.
Then the final stage is mentioned – reaching 40 years, this significant age at which Prophethood began for the Prophet(SAW), a time often associated with mid-life crisis questioning our purpose and value. And here, Allah(SWT) mentions a specific dua which I think has great lessons for us in setting our goals and planning ahead for what remains of our lives.
Make a goal
Yahya ibn Mu’adh (rh) would say: ‘Congratulations to
those who leave the world before it deserts them ;
to those who build their graves before they enter them and
to those who please their Lord before they meet Him.’
This life is a test – are we ready for the results? In life, there are 3 types of people – those who guess what is happening, those who know what is happening and those who wonder what just happened. Don’t be of those who rather than live life, live lazy, just plodding along through every day, wondering what just happened. There is nothing that would please Shaytaan more than you wasting this life.
Abu Huraira narrated that Rasoolullah(SAW) said, “Shaytan puts three knots at the back of the head of any of you if he is asleep. On every knot he reads and exhales the following words, ‘The night is long, so stay asleep.’ When one wakes up and remembers Allah, one knot is undone; and when one performs ablution, the second knot is undone, and when one prays the third knot is undone and one gets up energetic with a good heart in the morning; otherwise one gets up lazy and with a mischievous heart.” (Bukhari, Book #21, Hadith #243)
Being clear on our goals helps us keep focused and progressing. We have goals on making money, work, items we want to acquire, a weight we would like to reach but is Allah(SWT) going to ask us about any of these?
Imagine, we were playing a game of football and our whole team did nothing apart from running and and down the field, passing the ball, tackling other players but never once scored. Our goal is to meet Allah(SWT) in a state that He is pleased with us. Wouldn’t it be a waste of our lives if we ran to and from work, picking up and dropping off our kids, passing money and toys around, taking and sharing photos of our food, holidays and jokes, tackling and trying to overcome difficulties but never once scoring a goal with Allah(SWT)?
So which goals are important?
So which goals should we set? There are many things we may wish for – health and fitness, parenting, social, intellectual, career, financial – and these are all fine but we should ask ourselves has Allah(SWT) given us guidance on the goals to set?
In this dua I mentioned earlier, there are a number of specific behaviours we should note:
“…Empower and motivate me that I may be grateful for Your Favours which You have bestowed upon me and upon my parents”
The first word of the Qur’an and the opening of our Fatiha is an act of showing gratitude. Alhamdulillah for everything I have been blessed with. Today, the concept of a gratitude journal is emphasised in psychology as a means of fighting depression. Gratitude is an antidote to negative emotions, protecting us from cynicism, entitlement, anger, and resignation.
It also helps you to appreciate your Rubb and everything He(SWT) blesses you with. A dear friend has made it a daily habit to sit with his family for their evening meal and go round the table sharing what they are individually grateful for that day.
The ayah mentions even appreciating the blessings upon your parents without whom you would not be sat here today, with your clothes, character, education and health.
“… and that I may do righteous good deeds, such as please You”
So what things are weighty in the scales of good deeds which please Allah(SWT)?
Abdullah ibn Amr ibn Al-‘As (RA) where Prophet Muhammad (SAW) said: “Allah will salvage a man from among my Ummah in presence of all creatures on Resurrection Day. He will unfold for him 99 registers where his sins had been recorded; the size of each register reaches the horizon.
Then, Allah –to Whom belong all might and majesty– says: ‘Has any of my angel scribes (who minutely record human deeds) been unfair to you?’ The man says: ‘No, O Lord!’
Then, Allah says: ‘Do you have any excuse?’ The man replies: ‘No, O Lord!’ Allah says: ‘Oh yes! You have a good deed in Our registers. There is definitely no injustice today!
Then, a card is brought forth to the man, on which is written: ‘I bear witness that there is no deity except Allah and I bear witness that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah.’ The man says: ‘What can this card do in front of all these registers?’ Then, the card will be placed on one plate of the scales while all the registers of the bad deeds will be placed on the other. So, the registers will be ejected out and the card will weigh heavily, for nothing can outweigh the name of Allah, the Almighty.” [Tirmidhi]
Hanzalah Al-Usayyidi (RA) who was one of the scribes of Messenger of Allah (SAW) and he related: I met Abu Bakr (RA) on an occasion and he asked how I was. I replied, “Hanzalah has become a hypocrite”. He said, “Far removed is Allah from every imperfection, what are you saying?”
I explained, “When I am in the company of the Messenger of Allah (SAWS) and he reminds us of Hell-fire and Jannah, I feel as if I am seeing them with our very eyes, and when I am away from Messenger of Allah (SAW), I attend to my wives, children and business and most of this reminder (pertaining to life hereafter) slips out of my mind.”
Abu Bakr (RA) on listening said, “By Allah, I also experience the same thing”. So Abu Bakr (May Allah be pleased with him) and I both went to the Messenger of Allah (SAW) to seek a cure. I presented our state saying, “O Messenger of Allah, when we are in your company, and are reminded of Hell-fire and Jannah, we feel as if we are seeing them with our own eyes, but when we go away from you and attend to our wives, children and business, much of these things go out of our minds.”
Thereupon, the Messenger of Allah (SAW) said, “By Him in Whose Hand is my life if your state of mind remains the same as it is in my presence and you are always busy in remembrance (of Allah), the angels will shake hands with you in your beds and in your roads; but Hanzalah, time should be devoted (to the worldly affairs) and time should be devoted (to prayer)”. He (the Prophet (SAW)) said this thrice. (Muslim, 2750).
One of my teachers asked me what the hadith literally says and I was unsure. He explained it says Saa’a wa Saa’a – One hour and an hour. And he went on to explain that for every hour we give to the Dunya, we should give an hour to the Hereafter. The lesson from this is that we need to make quality time to develop a relationship with Allah(SWT) using this time to reflect on His blessings to us, talk sincerely to Him through dua and listen to His guidance in the Qur’an. Seek out a structured gathering which can remind you of Allah(SWT).
How do we give quality time? Record your daily efforts in a journal and focus on building small and significant habits which you record diligently. A very close friend shared this advice in building these habits:
- Keep your habit small and realistic – don’t make it too hard. If a page of Qu’ran is hard for you, go for half a page, or even an ayah. Your goal is to make this life-long, not a one-off for the most beloved of deeds are the regular, even if they are small.
- Set a fixed time every day when you already do something e.g. miswak next to your toothbrush, dhikr walking to walk, dua when you get in the car
- Record your progress in a journal and you will find this holds you to task and helps you visualise progress. There are many apps like Habitbull and Streaks which help you develop regular habits.
- Punish yourself if you don’t achieve your goal with a financial charge or 10 press-ups
- Find someone to hold you to account – report your progress to them on whatsapp or in person monthly. Having a public commitment is a massive aid to your habit development and having someone at the masjid you check for and who checks for you is a massive help.
Abu Al-Darda’ (RA) narrated that Prophet Muhammad (SAW) said:
مَا شَيْءٌ أَثْقَلُ فِي مِيزَانِ الْمُؤْمِنِ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ مِنْ خُلُقٍ حَسَنٍ وَإِنَّ اللَّهَ لَيُبْغِضُ الْفَاحِشَ الْبَذِيءَ
“Nothing is heavier upon the scale of the believer on the Day of Resurrection than good character. Verily, Allah hates the vulgar, obscene person.” [Tirmidhī 2002]
The nobility of character means saying kind words to people, smiling to your Muslim brother, being tactful, kind, magnanimous, friendly, benevolent, giving charity, and abstaining from harming people. That is why Allah has linked kind speech to major acts of worship. He, the Almighty, says:
This is more difficult to measure, unless you undertake a 360 review. Who knows us best and sees our full character? Ask your family and closest, sincere friends, how they perceive your character over the last year. Ask what you should stop and what you should continue. Do it anonymously if its easier.
“…and make my off-spring good.”
In this we recognise that only Allah(SWT) can rectify our children. Of course, we must make our best effort as parents but He(SWT) is the one who guides and rectifies. Every one is on their own journey and sometimes they need to stumble, fall and learn to stand up the hard way, even if we attempt to show them an easier way.
The term off-spring also includes every generation from them too – their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Have vision and like our parents, set up platforms and institutions like this masjid which generations beyond you will benefit from.
“Truly, I have turned to You in repentance…”
Turn to Allah(SWT) regularly and ask for forgiveness and guidance. We don’t know what our final state will be and the example of the great companions was always one of humility and hope.
Umar ibn al-Khattab (RA) was assassinated while leading the fajr prayer. His killer, Abu Lu’ Lu’ was a fire-worshipper who was an expert blacksmith and a slave captured during the conquest of Nahawand. His slave-master would take most of his earnings and he complained to Umar (RA) in his capacity as the ruler of the Muslims. Umar(RA) advised him to be patient. Abu Lu’ Lu’ not satisfied with this and left in a fury. In the meantime, Umar(RA) went and spoke to his master asking him to reduce the amount he levied from Abu Lu’ Lu’s work and the master agreed.
Unknown to them both, Abu Lu’ Lu’ stewed in his rage. Being a master blacksmith, he crafted a special knife, made of two curving blades, made out of stone. He bought poison, and soaked his knife in it. He asked the person he bought the poison from, “if I cut someone with this, is there any chance they will survive?” and the person said “no.”
The following day, at Fajr, Abu Lu’ Lu’ snuck into the masjid. After salaah started, while ‘Umar was praying, he jumped out and stabbed him deeply in the stomach, the blade cutting both ways.
Inflicted with this mortal wound, the Khalifa Umar (RA) was surrounded by the Companions and while he lay on the floor in a pool of blood, his main worry was the prayer and he insisted “finish the salaah, finish the salaah” as sunrise was approaching. Anything he was given to eat or drink would seap out from the wound and his family and friends knew that it was fatal.
In this state, his head was laying on the lap of his son and he requested “Remove my head from your lap and place it in the dirt -perhaps Allah(SWT) will see my state and have Mercy on me.” His son reluctantly put his head on the ground and after some time Umar(RA) fell unconscious due to the pain. Seeing the state of his father – bleeding, unconscious, about to die his son – out of pity – put his head back in his lap. When Umar(RA) regained consciousness and realised he was angry, saying “Didn’t I tell you to put me in the dirt. Return me to it so perhaps Allah(SWT) will have pity on me”. Despite his status, being confirmed as a person of Jannah by the Prophet(SAW), he was uncertain about his own state until his last moments. His relationship with Allah(SWT) was the most important thing to him and he (RA) lived true to his words:
Hold yourself to account before you are judged, and weigh your actions before they are weighed against you.”
“…and truly, I am one of the Muslims (those who have submitted myself).”
Give up for the sake of Allah(SWT) and you will taste the sweetness of Iman.
During the lifetime of Prophet Muhammad, may the mercy and blessings of God be upon him, a man named Uwais al-Qarni was living in Yemen. He embraced Islam at the hands of some of Prophet Muhammad’s companions. However, he is not considered to be a companion (sahabi); rather, he is considered to be among the next generation, or those who came after.
The companions of Prophet Muhammad and those who came after him are known as the best generations. They are the Muslims who learned their Islam at the feet of Prophet Muhammad or his companions. In a well-known tradition, Prophet Muhammad said, “The best of my nation is my generation, then those who follow them, and then those who follow them.”[Bukhari]
Uwais al-Qarni proves to us that even if someone is not from the companions of Prophet Muhammad, yet he or she can have immense love for God and His Prophet. Uwais earned the praise of Prophet Muhammad and one of the greatest companions, Umar ibn al-Khattab.
Prophet Muhammad once said there are some people from this nation who are disheveled, lack money, and social status, but if they take an oath by God, God will surely honor that oath. There are many fables and unsubstantiated tales linked to Uwais al-Qarni, however, there are also some authenticated stories that boost our faith and make us want to behave more like this simple man of relatively low social status.
Uwais grew up in Yemen, and when he was very young his father died. He therefore had to take care of his mother. He also had leprosy. Uwais with a devoted heart and sincere supplications asked God to cure him. God healed him and left just a coin-sized piece of disfigured skin on his shoulder. Every time Uwais looked at this small patch, he was reminded of God’s favor to him. Uwais continued to look after his mother, and unfortunately, she went blind, becoming even more dependent on her son.
At the time the Muslims came to Yemen, Uwais was taught a very important lesson. One very dark night Uwais and his mother did not have any lights in the house, and it was difficult for them to do their evening chores. Uwais could not see but his mother, being used to the dark, helped her son to get around the house. Soon after, Uwais met the ambassadors from Prophet Muhammad and listened to them reciting the Quran. The verse that touched his heart was from the chapter an-Nur (The Light).
“…And him for whom God has not appointed light, there will be no light.” (Quran 24: 40)
Uwais accepted Islam there and then. Uwais and the Prophet never met because Uwais stayed in Yemen taking care of his mother. Despite this, Prophet Muhammad mentioned Uwais to a group of his companions.
Prophet Muhammad told his companions that there is man who will come to you from Yemen. He comes from Murad and the tribe of Qaran. The Prophet went on to tell them about the leprosy and finished the description of Uwais saying, “and he has a mother, he treats her extremely well, and is obedient to her.” He then said, if Uwais al-Qarni takes an oath by God, God will surely honor that oath. If you meet him, ask him to seek forgiveness for you.
Umar ibn al-Khattab never forgot this advice, and when he became the leader of the Muslims, every year he would go out to meet those coming from Yemen for the pilgrimage. Umar would ask, “Is Uwais al-Qarni among you?” This continued for ten years. Finally, the people from Yemen said yes and pointed him out to Umar.
Umar went straight to Uwais to determine if he was the man Prophet Muhammad described. He asked, “Are you Uwais al-Qarni?”
He said, “Yes.”
Umar continued, “From Murad and the tribe of Qaran?”
He said, “Yes.”
Umar then asked, “Were you once afflicted with leprosy and your skin healed except for an area on your shoulder the size of a coin?”
Uwais said, “Yes.”
Umar finally asked, “Do you have a mother that you respect, honor, and take care of?”
He said, “Yes.”
Umar then explained that Prophet Muhammad advised him to ask Uwais to seek forgiveness from God for him (Umar). Uwais was taken aback; he pointed out to Umar that he was a companion of the Prophet and the leader of the Muslims. You should ask God to forgive me, Uwais insisted. However, Umar was not deterred, and Uwais supplicated that God forgive the sins of Umar ibn al-Khattab.
Umar was pleased and wanted to help Uwais in some way. After the pilgrimage, Uwais was traveling to Kufa in Iraq. Umar offered to write an introduction letter to the governor of Iraq, but Uwais refused his offer preferring to remain anonymous among the believers. He was a simple man with simple needs. He did though have a request for Umar. He asked Umar not to tell people about his unique link to Prophet Muhammad in case they might disrupt his pilgrimage.
Every one of us should look within and ask ourself – how have I used these blessings which I enjoy every day? Where do I stand with Allah(SWT)? How is my relationship with Allah(SWT) – is it secure? Can I rely on it when everything falls apart?