One of the difficulties that many of us face is how to get our relationship with our Lord to function at the highest possible level that we are capable of. Many of us are, of course, also concerned with our position with Allah (ﷻ). Is He satisfied with us? Do we put enough effort and sincerity in our ibadat? Do we work intensely in His Cause? Or are we just “sit-back” Muslims? There are so many things that concern us as Muslims, and especially concern us with regard to the spiritual path that we are on. Because of the path that we are on, many of our concerns become worries. This is naturally so, because one cannot tell one’s mind: “Stop worrying!” Of course, the Qur’an and the Prophetic Practice provide us with so many assurances in our religious quest. We strive and we strive but there is nothing tangible that we can see or hear about ourselves. Perhaps this makes it even more difficult and a greater worry.
In one of his many Traditions, Nabi Muhammad (ﷺ) said: “If you want to know how you are by your Lord, how is He by you?” In other words, if our lives involve, most of the time, all those religious things, both obligatory and non-obligatory, and there is, in the process considerable remembrance of our Lord, then our remembrance of Him is because of His remembrance of us. It is this relationship, based on remembrance that is a major factor in our spiritual growth. The more we are concerned about our status by Him, the more we remember Him as part of that concern, and the more we worry: “Is my Lord happy with me?” Then we remember Him more as part of that worry. When we are concerned and when we worry, He places His remembrance of Him in our hearts. We have to understand that the making of dhikr is not only in the form of the formal litanies that we do, but there are also informal ways in which such remembrance takes place. Our worries and our concerns then become for us major sources of His remembrance. This is very strange. We might not be calling Allah (ﷻ), but when we worry about how He feels about us, our hearts are saying “Allah” as part of that worry.
In this way, we build up a very special relationship with Allah (ﷻ): with formal ibadats, salahs, adhkar, recitals of Qur’an and supplications, and through informal remembrance of Him. Some of the latter also occur, of course, during tafakkur (contemplation) of our relationship with Him. When I look at Suratul Fatihah, I see this relationship established very firmly in the words:
إِيَّاكَ نَعْبُدُ وَ إِيَّاكَ نَسْتَعِيْنُ
Thee do we worship, and Thine aid do we seek (i: 5).
These are the words of the servants pouring out their hearts to their Lord with very simple words of submission to Him. The servants are made to recognize Allah’s (ﷻ) Lordship and in the process also give recognition to their own servitude. We are not always aware of how we establish our relationship with our Lord. Allah (ﷻ) has provided for us countless opportunities to establish or to affirm or to strengthen that relationship with Him; so many times a day, when we recite this Surah. Allah (ﷻ) always provides for us the opportunities in our religion for Divine Grants. It appears to one that in His Overall and Absolute Generosity, He wants to give whatever our hearts desire but He makes this so easy for us by providing us with the opportunities. And so every time we recite the Fatihah, He gives us the opportunity to obtain Grants from Him. We find this all over in our religious practices, from the very simple to the very complicated. One opportunity to the other, is provided by Him for us so that “Thee alone do we worship”, becomes a rallying call to our striving towards spiritual purification. For simple acts, He grants abundantly. There is no comparison, if this is at all possible, between what we do and what He grants. We say a few words of repentance and He wipes our slates clean. We raise our hands in supplication with sincere hearts and He grants abundantly from His Divine Sources. Sometimes one finds His Generosity overwhelming. In fact, sometimes His Generosity embarrasses one, because one has done so little and He has given one so much.
I think that in all of this that I have dictated, perhaps there lies the answer to why very pious people see themselves as nothing. One can understand that a human being, so small in the vastness of the creation, is in fact really nothing. One can also understand that what the human being does of ibadat is nothing in comparison to what his Lord grants. Perhaps it is this that causes the pious people to also see what they are doing as nothing. This concept of nothingness in fact indicates the intense humility of these people. Perhaps their only desire is that Allah (ﷻ) must, through His grants in the Hereafter, give them a status that tells them that they are something, something by their Lord and something by his Messenger (ﷺ).
This provides us another understanding of our religion. How intensely pious people see nothing in their existence and nothing in their actions, and only have a deep desire to be something by their Lord, and so that all their actions on the earth are for that kind of recognition. I think it must be one of the most exciting experiences to come into the Hereafter and to be granted a status, which makes one something by one’s Lord. Perhaps this is all that our striving is about. We ask Allah (ﷻ) to give us an understanding of ourselves and our actions as being nothing in relation to His existence and that our actions be considered nothing in relation to what He grants; so that when we enter His Divine Court the day, our entrance will tell us of the status of being something by our Lord, amin.