The letter “I” is a first person pronoun. I don’t know if you remember your English from high school. It is perhaps the word that is used the most by many of us and it is one of the most destructive things for our spiritual development. We say: I did that, I achieved this, I entered tariqah, I worked hard, I obtained that, we speak like that all the time. Most of the time the way we speak has to do with what “I” have done: I have received that. I matriculated, I obtained this degree, I achieved that. In most cases we take Allah out of our affairs. We in fact say: “O my Lord, Thou art not part of my affairs. I had done all this by myself.”
In tariqah it is not like that. I want you to understand that in tariqah if we wish to achieve spiritually, then we have to be very careful about the I. Allah says in the Qu’ran, and I’ve quoted this thousands of time all over the place and perhaps the realization of this verse has grown in me as I’ve tried to understand (again I), as Allah has made me understand this verse:
إِنَّ اللهَ عَلٰى كُلِّ شَيْءٍ قَدِيْرٌ
(Innallaha ala kulli shay’in qadir: Allah’s decision reigns over every single matter in his creation). So did I come into tariqah or did Allah bring me in? Am I walking this road, or is Allah leading me along this road? Am I achieving or is Allah granting? We have to think about this very, very seriously. In a sense we need to turn around our understanding of ourselves. Turn it around. Because if we are going to allow the “I” to dominate our personalities, we will find that we will progress very little in our spiritual development.
Our understanding tells us that Allah is in charge. Perhaps this has grown in me with age. Allah places understanding in our hearts. We say I understand. I also say so. But in tariqah it is important for us to make this switch. It is very important to see ourselves in a sense in the “hand of God”: My Lord is in charge of me. This is so even if we do not understand how this works. Who, in any case, understands the Divine Workings?
There is a little story that I came across somewhere. A mother, whenever her son, her little child, asked her for food she would say: “Ask Allah”. He would say: “O Allah please give me food,” and his mother would put the food in front of him. Whenever he wanted food, he first had to ask Allah. His mother would then put the food in front of him. One day she was not there, and when she came in she found him eating. She asked where that food came from. He replied: “From Allah.” A little story but it tells us who is in charge.
So when we think about ourselves, we must try, I must also try, we must all try to stop saying: “I have done this. I have done that.” We must also stop saying: “I have come into tariqah.” No, say: “Allah has placed me on this path.” Stop saying: “I am working hard for achievement on this path.” No, say: “Allah is making me work hard so that He can give me a grant.” This is very difficult, very difficult. What He grants us, when He grants it to us, and how He grants it to us, those are His decisions. So we must place ourselves totally under His decision-making and under His Will. We say: “O my Lord I am totally under Thy decision making. Thy decisions function over me.” In this way we place ourselves, not in a relationship with people, but we have been placed in a relationship with God. That is Islam.
What is Islam? Not all the fancy definitions in books. It is the relationship that Allah (I must get my language right) establishes for us with Him. Under normal circumstances, before this morning I would have said that it is the relationship that I establish with my Lord. No, it is the relationship that He establishes for me with Him, He is in charge. We must start changing the way we think. I must also switch my thinking and switch my language. You know, from my studies and my discussions with Mawlana Shaykh Nazim and Shaykh Hisham, Allah grants us phenomenal things but He first leads us along a road and our hands are placed in the hands of our Shaykh. Allah’s help comes through him, and Allah leads and leads and leads us with our hands in the hand of our Shaykh. Eventually the grant comes. Who grants? Allah does! And so all of us must come to understand and place this deep in the crevices of our hearts, that our Lord is in charge of us.
Sometimes you must listen to the remarks of old people. Some say I’m not old, but I am. Old people always say:
مَا شَاءَ اللهُ , إِنْ شَاءَ اللهُ
(ma sha Allah, insha Allah: it is what Allah wishes, if Allah so wishes). They talk like that. They have reached a stage in their lives at which they have become very conscious of Allah, or rather that Allah has made them very conscious of Him. Thus, they talk and remark about Him the whole time. Allah has given them that grant.
I want us to understand that it is going to be difficult for us to switch our language and thinking. And whenever you say the word “I”, think: “Am I trying to let myself be known? Am I boasting? Am I trying to give my ego air so that it can expand?” Or is the letter “I” just a convenient pronoun? What is functioning with one when one says deliberately: “I am involved in tariqah. I make dhikr. I recite Qur’an. I am fasting. I give sadaqah?” Why don’t we turn it around and say: “Allah has guided me to that decision. He has guided me to fast. He has guided me to give sadaqah. I am in His ‘Hands’?” Why can’t we turn it around?
How embarrassed are we not going to be on the Day of Judgment when Allah asks us: “Who was in charge of you? And then you say (and there we will talk the truth): “O my Lord, my ego was in charge of me. The “I” phenomenon was in charge of me.” We must switch our language so that when we stand there and when Allah asks us that, we will reply: “O my Lord, Thou were in charge of me.” Listen to old people with little education and you see the wise words coming from their mouths because they know the Hereafter is near.
إِنْ شَاءَ اللهُ
(Insha Allah: if Allah so wills), we must end now because the tea is getting cold. From now onwards we must listen to ourselves when we talk. We must always ask Allah for help by saying: “O my Lord, I am very weak as a servant, useless as a servant, hopeless as a servant, helpless as a servant. Please change my language for me so that my language reflects my heart, and my tongue says what is in my heart because my heart understands, my tongue doesn’t. Put the correctness of the relationship that Thou hast established for me with Thee, put the correctness of that relationship in my heart and on my tongue, so that I can give expression to what is in my heart, that Thou art first in my life and Thou art last in my life.” Even without understanding all of this, it does help to give centrality to the Divine in our lives. We ask Allah for that through the blessings of Suratul Fatihah …
And Allah knows best, and I ask forgiveness for any mistakes or distortions in what I have said, Amin.
NB: There is another side to all this. I shall speak about that once Allah has granted me understanding of it,
إِنْ شَاءَ اللهُ
Selected Talks by Yusuf da Costa [Published 2008]