In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful
All praise and thanks is due to Allah.
Innalhamdulillah, Nahmaduhu wa Nastainuhu, wa Nastaghfiruh,
Wa Nauthubillahi Minshuri Anfusinaa wa min sayyiAatinaa
Man Yahdilillahu fala muDillalahu
Wa Mayyudlulhu fala Hadialahu
Wa NashHadu Allah Ilaa Ha illallahu wahduhu la sharikalahu
Wa NashHadu Anna Muhammadu Rasoolillah SalAllahu alayhi way sallam
QaalAllahu Tabaaraka Wataalah Fil Quranil Majeed, ba’ada iuthubillahi minashhaytaaniRajeemi Bismillahi Rahmaani Raheem:
In today’s khutbah, I would like to reflect on the call that is consistently repeated throughout our Holy Quran – a call to keep the bigger picture in mind, a call to not get caught up in the many distractions around us and a call to focus our energies on our main purpose in life.
As one of my pet hobbies is running, I would like to open with an example of a person running his first race:
Bang! The racer leaps forward along with thousands of others. Blood pumping, sweat glistening, wind howling, feet hammering the tarmac. An enormous sea of heads bobbing up and down lies in front of him, swerving left and right, swarming over curbs, grass and barriers alike. This was the ultra-marathon and the racer’s first attempt at it.
As people start pushing and shoving to get ahead, an urge builds up to shove back, to show those who have passed him what he is capable of. Adrenaline courses through his veins as he pushes forward, straining his muscles to the maximum, all 650 muscles in his body working in perfect harmony – yet he pushes harder, coaxing every single bit of energy out of his body. He is filled with euphoria as he flies past the other competitors and the crowd starts to thin as he reaches the apex of the race – he is on top of the world.
If we are to step back and look at our lives in this day and age, it is very similar to the above scenario. Everything is a rush, we are competing with hundreds, thousands, millions out there in whatever we pursue – whether it be in education, our careers and even in even our recreational activities. Very recently, I discovered this new cell phone app called Quiz-up which had enabled us to compete against each other on our favourite quiz topics in real time. Competition has been so fierce, 500 games later we are still fighting for the spot of vocabulary champion!
So I speak to myself first when I say that in the context of such competition it is very tempting to expend all our energies in these pursuits. It is therefore apt to remind ourselves of the words of Allah, the Sublime, in Surah al-Hadid, Chapter 57, verse 20:
اعْلَمُوا أَنَّمَا الْحَيَاةُ الدُّنْيَا لَعِبٌ وَلَهْوٌ وَزِينَةٌ
وَتَفَاخُرٌ بَيْنَكُمْ وَتَكَاثُرٌ فِي الْأَمْوَالِ وَالْأَوْلَادِ
Know that the life of this world is but a play, a passing delight, a beautiful show, a cause of boasting among you and a quest for more riches and children… (Q57:20)
In the first part of this beautiful verse of Surah al Hadid, Allah, the Most High, names some of the major things that consume our time and with which we get caught up with in this world. These preoccupations act as blindfolds, causing us to channel our energies into play (think playstation, xbox in our childhood), recreational delights (think Soccer, Rugby), rivalry between one another (think who’s car is better?) and a quest for more riches and children (think the pursuit of a bigger house and family pride).
The racer is now starting to feel his muscles straining (what we know as the “burn”), his energy levels dropping and his body complaining. His body gradually loses its momentum, much to his dismay. The main body of the crowd envelops him once more. His feet feel heavier and heavier with each step. Suddenly, he feels someone push him and he has no strength to resist. He falls flat on the ground.
No matter how hard we push in our pursuits in this world, we are only human – we get exhausted soon enough. In the same verse from Surah al-Hadid, the Lord of Mercy likens the pursuits in this world to the growth of a plant.
كَمَثَلِ غَيْثٍ أَعْجَبَ الْكُفَّارَ نَبَاتُهُ ثُمَّ يَهِيجُ فَتَرَاهُ مُصْفَرًّا ثُمَّ يَكُونُ حُطَامًا
… It is like the rain that causes the plants to grow, and thus gives delight to the sowers. Then it withers, and you can see it turn yellow, and in the end it crumbles into dust… (Q57:20)
This vivid picture is replicated all around us, a true miracle from our Lord. If we choose to keep these blindfolds on and hanker after this world, then our efforts will be like the rain – it will bring results, causing us delight and amusement, but only a temporary one. Allah describes the entire life of the plant in only a portion of this verse, lending potency to the transient nature of this life.
On the ground, the racer contemplates his mistake. He realises that instead of going after immediate glory, he should have conserved his strength and used it to get to the finish line.
Allah (SWT) continues the verse, by very clearly pointing out what our finish line is:
وَفِي الْآَخِرَةِ عَذَابٌ شَدِيدٌ وَمَغْفِرَةٌ مِنَ اللَّهِ وَرِضْوَانٌ
…In the life to come there is a terrible suffering, as well as God’s forgiveness and His good pleasure… (Q57:20)
Interestingly, our Creator does not say here that our final destination is paradise (jannah) or hellfire (jahannam) – He contrasts a terrible suffering with His forgiveness and pleasure. Paradise is only a bonus and spin-off of Allah’s forgiveness and pleasure and hellfire is only a cage or medium which will house the terrible suffering. The Lord of Mercy mentions the two ultimate destinations, the everlasting states that we are all headed towards in this life – either eternal bliss in Allah’s pleasure or a state of terrible suffering!
Finally, the Lord of Wisdom concludes verse 20, in Surah al-Hadid (Q57:20) by reiterating the illusory nature of this worldly life:
وَمَا الْحَيَاةُ الدُّنْيَا إِلَّا مَتَاعُ الْغُرُورِ
The life of this world is no more than a deceiving pleasure (Q57:20)
The verse in its entirety clearly shows us the difference between this life and the hereafter – its seeming beauty but genuine fragility, its seeming timelessness but very real transience.
If we could take one lesson from verse 20 in Surah al Hadid today I would say that it would be to refocus our minds to our true goal in life – our Lord’s pleasure through the cleansing of our hearts.
Every year in Ramadan, I find myself wanting to complete a khatam – so whenever I can salvage the time I read as much as I can, counting the pages as I go along, reciting as fast as I can to finish my quota for the day.
However, if I take a step back and really reflect on my true goal in life as this beautiful verse calls for, I need to ask myself whether reciting in “turbo-mode” really is moving me in the direction of my desired ultimate direction. I should ask myself how much of the Quran’s eloquence am I truly appreciating, how much wisdom am I gleaning, how much of my heart am I transforming?
May Allah the Most Wise, bless us with the wisdom to keep our eyes on the real finish line and not burn out along the way ameen.
In the next verse in Surah al-Hadid, verse 21, (Q57:21), the Lord of Forgiveness, gives us extra motivation to race toward Him, to remove the blindfolds of this worldly life and to strive for the life hereafter:
سَابِقُوا إِلَى مَغْفِرَةٍ مِنْ رَبِّكُمْ وَجَنَّةٍ عَرْضُهَا كَعَرْضِ السَّمَاءِ وَالْأَرْضِ أُعِدَّتْ لِلَّذِينَ آَمَنُوا بِاللَّهِ وَرُسُلِهِ
ذَلِكَ فَضْلُ اللَّهِ يُؤْتِيهِ مَنْ يَشَاءُ وَاللَّهُ ذُو الْفَضْلِ الْعَظِيمِ
Race each other in seeking to attain your Lord’s Forgiveness, and a paradise as vast as the heavens and the earth, prepared for those who believe in God and His messengers. Such is God’s bounty which He grants to whomever He pleases. God’s bounty is great indeed. (Q57:21)
The word “sabiqu” meaning “to race” to Allah’s forgiveness implies that there is no time to delay, that all our energy and focus should be put into reaching that finish line no matter what. May all of us strive to lead purposeful lives geared towards this higher end goal.
I will conclude with this quote from the famous Jalal Uddin Rumi:
“There is one thing in this world that must never be forgotten. If you were to forget everything else, but did not forget that, then there would be no cause to worry; whereas if you performed and remembered and did not forget anything else, but forgot that one thing, then you would have done nothing whatsoever.
It is just as if a king had sent you to another country to carry out a specified task. You go and perform a hundred other tasks, but if you have not performed that particular task, it is as if you have accomplished nothing at all.
You have come into this world for a particular task, and that is your purpose; if you do not perform it, then you will have done nothing. “
May we use this Holy month to refocus our energies in the direction of our true goal in life, which is to seek Allah’s pleasure. May Allah (SWT) guide us to always keep in mind the true goal of all our actions and may we race toward the completion of our this noble task in