IN OUR FAST-PACED world, listening is often a lost art. Real listening takes more than a nanosecond of time — it takes surrender of one’s attention to the one speaking. Listening to Allah implies a readiness to be guided by Him. Submission to Allah’s guidance is the core of Islam. Of course, we must listen to Allah, Himself, not to self-appointed super guides with partisan agendas.
Priorities and Listening
The speech of Allah is straight forward and welcoming. Listening to Allah, one feels probed, correctly diagnosed and prescribed the correct remedy.
In contrast, the media-broadcast conversations that we listen to these days are supposed to be quick-witted exchanges, aimed at getting the better of your repartee-mate, or at least fending him off from uncovering your connections with socially out-of-favor positions — through which he might embarrass you. The peer pressure to conform to the ways of the modern world are intense, as we see every day. If one is not skilled at such verbal duels, then one can resort to mindless chit-chat, so as not to have to brazenly challenge the mind-control forces at work in our media and throughout society. In so doing, one may be pressed to abdicate one’s duty to stand up for our Muslim values.
Allah, however, commands us to observe and reflect on who we are, what we can know with certainty, and what we do with our time and resources. True guidance begins with attention to His signs found in the fabric of our existence.
Now, all through the earth there are [wondrous] signs [of God], for those who are firm in faith. And they are within yourselves, as well. Can you not, then, see? [Sûrat Al-Dhâriyât, 51:20-21]
Yes, if one wants to succeed in the modern world, alas, one must swear — and constantly reaffirm– allegiance to media-reinforced trends. Such allegiance impacts on whom you listen to, whom you idolize and want to imitate; what products you buy –and God forbid, show off; how you spend your time and who-all you hang-out with and how you interact with them; as well as your choice of clothing, personal appearance style, technology use/purchase, not to mention — and this is a big issue — how far one dare go outside of sanctioned behavior patterns. If this all smacks of consumerism, then it probably should cause us all to reassess — and maybe re-prioritize — our interests, goals, values — yes, our standards of success — for this life and the next.
Now, among people … are those who say: Our Lord! Give us good in this world and good in the Hereafter, and save us from the torment of the Fire [of Hell]. As to these, for them there is a [Heavenly] portion [awaiting] for all [the good] that they have earned. And God is swift in reckoning. [Sûrat Al-Baqarah, 2:200-202]
As Muslims, we are not steered clear of wanting to enjoy the good in this life — things which come from Allah, which He deliberately makes available, to test us, and to whom is due our gratitude.
… Yet anyone who is thankful [to God] is but thankful for [the good of] his own soul. And whoever is ungrateful–then, nevertheless, my Lord is self-sufficient, all-generous! [Sûrat Al-Naml, 27:40]
The good in this life includes adequate food, clothing, shelter — even leisure — as a complement to the basics of secure and nurturing family relationships. Such a mini-social network maximizes opportunity for doing the right and puts a damper on doing the wrong, beginning with respect for oneself, for our parents and children, for Allah and His Prophets — and extending to honoring the rights of all fellow beings and the rights even of the whole planet. Getting it all right in our complicated modern life depends on Whom we take our prompts from — whether or not we listen to our Maker.
So then, we as a civilization tend to have lost the skill of listening to our own inner selves, to the needs of those around us, to what Allah offers us as Guidance and to what He requires of us for our own benefit, happiness, and success. We readily fall into focusing on the pursuit of money — since, for growing numbers in our world, money has a stranglehold effect on what the common man can buy or otherwise access through normal supply channels. Our listening has become tuned to the corporate gate-keepers of our economy, themselves intent on providing ever-maximizing profits for their shareholders — regardless of the results on everyone beyond their elite circle, including their neighbors and fellow citizens.
We are pushed to forget our Islamic vision of a just society in which the ‘haves’ deliberately contribute to the ‘have nots,’ a vision which encourages a state whose concern is social justice for all its residents in a stable political and just economic structure — with religious freedom and mutual tolerance for anything wholesome.
How can we Muslims work for a just and secure society, for all of us? We begin, of course by personally listening to Allah. If we do not have access to the mysteries of the Creator and His creation — including the mystery of ourselves– then we may be ready to listen to Allah’s Prophets, sent repeatedly to mankind — generation after generation — for our success and happiness, both temporal and everlasting.
Listening to the Book
The Quran is the Book for those ready to listen to Allah in a methodical manner — Allah, its author, their Designer, Maker, Sustainer and Guide.
It is You [alone] we ask for help. Guide us along the Straight Way… [Sûrat Al-Fâtiḥah, 1:5-6]
Allah has placed at the beginning of the Quran the above supplication, which opens not only our “guided” ritual Prayer (Salah), but also it is the opening (al–fâtiḥah) to the definitive Book of God’s guidance expressly for all mankind.
This is the Book [of God]. There is no doubt therein. It is guidance for the God-fearing. [Sûrat Al-Baqarah, 2:2]
Have You Signed Up?
What does it mean to set out on the path of Allah’s guidance? If one is ready to enroll oneself in the program tailored to the “God-fearing,” those ready to put themselves under the tutelage of Allah in the plan called islam — submission to [the guidance of] God, then Allah is ready to open that person’s eyes with Lesson One. Lesson One lays out correct orientation in worldview and in what one must do — as his own active contribution to the guidance process — in order to get/keep himself on track and to assure that he be in sync with his Lord:
[This Book]…guidance for the God-fearing: Those who believe in the [realms of the] unseen, and who [duly] establish the Prayer [set by God], and who spend [charitably] out of what We have provided them; and those who [further] believe in [this Quran] that has been sent down to you, [O Muhammad, as revelation from God] and [who believe in the Scripture] that has been sent down [to the prophets who came] before you, and those who, [within themselves,] have [utter] certainty of [the immanence of] the Hereafter. It is these who are [advancing] upon [the path of] guidance from their Lord. And so it is these who are the [truly] successful. [Sûrat Al-Baqarah, 2:2-5]
O humankind! Worship your Lord, who created you and those before you, so that you may become God-fearing. [Worship none but] the One who [alone] has made the earth a furnished habitation for you, and … as a provision for you. … And if you are in doubt about [the divine origin of] what We have sent down to Our servant [Muhammad in the Quran], then bring forth a [single] surah of its like… [Sûrat Al-Baqarah, 2:21, 23]
[God] said: …if there comes to you [O humanity,] guidance from Me, then whoever follows My guidance shall not go astray [in the world] and shall not suffer misery [in the Hereafter]. But whoever turns away from My remembrance, for him, indeed there shall be a stringent life. … Our signs came to you. Yet you forgot them … Yet they [who disbelieve] have said [of you, O Prophet Muhammad]: If only he were to bring us a sign from his Lord! Yet has clear proof not, then, come to them [in this Quran] as to what was in the earlier Scriptures? … You shall, assuredly, come to know who are the [C]ompanions of the [E]ven [W]ay [of faith] and who is [thus] guided aright. [Sûrah Ṭâ Hâ, 20:123-124, 126, 133, 135]
The next lesson is that not all humans will accept the call to depend upon their Creator as competent Guide to a successful life in the modern world or even to believe that God has a claim on their response to Him. Some may take cover behind an aggressive stance that no such ultimate personality can even possibly exist since He is not detectable by the means of our current Science — the modern world’s ultimate measure of what is and what is not, of what can be and what cannot be. Those of us who are truly guided by Allah are mandated to reason with mankind and to inform them that, in fact, their Creator and Source of all being will call them to Account. He calls them to listen to Him, their true Lord.
How can you [human beings] disbelieve in God when you were [once] lifeless, and He gave you life; then He caused you to die; then He shall [again] give you life; then to Him shall you all be returned [for Judgment]? He is the One who created for you all that is in the earth…
Now behold! Your Lord said to the angels: I am placing upon the earth a [human] successor [to steward it]. They said: Will You place thereupon one who will spread corruption therein, and who, [moreover,] will shed blood, while we ever exalt You with all praise and hallow You? He said: Indeed, I know what you do not know. [Sûrat Al-Baqarah, 2:28-30]
Even the angels were aghast at how mankind would kill and cheat and seemingly get away with spreading these atrocities.
Accountability is a core value inherent in all human societies, with each society having its own standards; those who flaunt the rules are liable for consequences. Like the angels, man does not and cannot grasp the whole picture. In our times, it has become widely acceptable, for some it’s even a daring cat-and-mouse game, to see how far one can flaunt the rules of accountability and still escape shameful censure or otherwise painful punishment. Allah has given us solid standards appropriate for all mankind and in line with our psychological makeup.
Throughout history — and the Quran gives us hints of ‘prehistoric’ times — Allah has provided numerous teaching moments for mankind, great and small — discernible to those who are focused on hearing His counsel. The Quran is replete with teaching moments, counsel, and glimpses of divine purpose, pushing us to listen to Allah, pushing us to stick to the straight path.
It is a test of choice. By this He leads many astray. And by this He guides many. Yet He does not lead [anyone] astray, thereby, except the ungodly–those who break the covenant of God after it has been solemnly pledged [before Him]; and who cut [off the relations] that God has commanded to be kept joined; and who spread corruption in the earth. It is such as these who are the losers [of an everlasting Paradise]. [Sûrat Al-Baqarah, 2:26-27]
None of us ever wants to be a ‘loser.’ The way to be a ‘winner’ is by listening to the Guidance of Allah.
In the second part, inshâ’Allah, we go on to consider how we humans went off the straight path and how to regain its security and happiness, searching out and paying heed to the Signs and Guidance of Allah: listening to Allah.