The Great Emptiness of the Soul
by Manwar Ali
Surely, before that, they indulged in ease and plenty.
[Surah al-Waqi’ah (56): 45]
Engrossed in the pursuit of our desires we keep ourselves back from reflecting upon the state of our souls. Scholars have always taught and lived by the truth that love of this world is the source of all error.
Umar (radhiAllahu ‘anhu) thought about the following words in the noble Qur’an:
Fair in the eyes of men are the love of things they covet.
Women and sons; heaped up hoards of gold and silver;
Horses branded (for blood and excellence) and (wealth of) cattle,
And well-tilled land.
Such are the possessions of the life of this world;
But the best (thing) to return to is in the presence of Allah.
[Surah Aal-I-Imran (3): 14]
Umar (radhiAllahu ‘anhu) then responded, “O Allah! We cannot but be happy with those things which You (yourself) have made fair in our eyes. (So) O Allah! I request You to give me power to spend all those things in the right way.”
We have the great gift of intellect and plainly some of us never lack in our will power to rake in all sorts of gains we wish to gather in this world. However, let us try to imagine for a moment all the gaps we have in our lives. We have gaps in empathy, understanding of realities, compassion, courage, knowledge, and self-reliance to gaps in gratitude, charity, justice, inventiveness, appreciation and being resourceful. Put all these gaps together and they form a great void indeed. With our faith and the knowledge we have of it, especially with regards to the life story and practices of the last Messenger of Allah, Muhammad (sallallahu ‘alaihi wa sallam), we have little trouble in recognising this void as nothing else but a great emptiness of the soul. Being able to impose my intellect and will; my mind; on that great emptiness, so that it can take shape and leave a beautiful trace in time, forever to my credit, is what true devotion, learning and service to humanity is all about.
This is the Sunnah that can neither be expressed in a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ nor set down as a dry list of rules. It is the comprehensive Sunnah of worshipping Allah in sincerity and love. It is as much to do with removing the sins in our lives as to fill that emptiness within. It is a way to behave with our hearts, minds and bodies; so that God is witnessed in truth in our being who we are. At its core is Tawhid and purification of the heart. The pure heart fills the emptiness of the soul and makes it peaceful and sound. That is the goal of faith and the result is not union with Allah but nearness to Him in this life and then a vision of Him in the Hereafter in Paradise.
This is the reason why it is so very hard, perhaps impossible, to understand with acceptance, the constraints and motives of those who confuse, or hinder, or put to trial others about Islam when we all need to come closer to Allah. This is the reason why it is so difficult, perhaps impossible, to understand with acceptance, the constraints and motives of those who do not inspire sacrifice or striving or sincerity for Allah when all of us do need to come closer to Allah.
From whom and from what do I learn to fill the unqualified nothingness of the emptiness of the soul unless it is from the selfless life of the Messenger of Allah (sallallahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) and the words of Allah’s revelation? From whom and from what do I learn to fill the unqualified nothingness of the emptiness of the soul so that I can have the honour and eternal credit from Allah to become blessed to be a witness to Him in unbounded happiness in Paradise?
Maybe identification and solidarity are related, but they are certainly not the same thing. I identify with the Messenger of Allah (sallallahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) but how much solidarity do I really have with him? Solidarity with him in what? Really? How? Who and what helps me to build that solidarity? Who and what deludes me away or holds me back? Should I not understand that? My life, my health, my wealth, my knowledge – do they not determine my being busy, my company with others, my priorities, my enjoyments and efforts, my helpfulness and generosity, my learning, my desires, my ambitions and goals? And I have to answer for them all.
No doubt most of us are readily able to feel sympathy with these words for victims of the emptiness of the soul, but how far does that bring us to a moral understanding of this tragedy? This is and has been the moral need for all time – to truly understand the tragedy of being an intelligent person gifted with faith and mind, yet neglect the emptiness of the soul. Maybe we see this as less than a tragedy? Al-Hasan al-Basri had once said, “The World is nothing but the present hour you are in, and it has deceived you away from Paradise and has induced you towards the Fire!”
We can do what we mostly do at times of moral need – remain as bystanders. Or we could stop cheating ourselves and understand that a vacant space cannot be filled with more emptiness, only made larger.
Say: Shall We inform you of the greatest losers in (their) deeds?
(These are) they whose labour is lost in this world’s life
and they think that they are acquiring good by their works.
[Surah al-Kahf (18): 103-104]
Anas ibn Malik (radhiAllahu ‘anhu) said that the Messenger of Allah (sallallahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) said, “A disbeliever will be brought on the Day of Judgement and asked, “Suppose you had as much gold as to fill the earth, would you offer it to ransom yourself?” He will reply, “Yes”. Then he will be told, “You were asked for something easier than that!”
Try to identify with the bystanders who are victims of the great emptiness of the soul. When we identify with the victims, we believe we see ourselves. If we are not looking away, and we have honesty in our hearts and sincerity towards others, we will forsake solidarity with the bystanders and instead fill that void with true devotion, learning and service to humanity, for the sake Allah; for us and for them. It would then be a life of sacrifice, striving and sincerity with what Allah has given each one of us, and even that would be merely a small token of gratitude.
And if you would count Allah’s favours,
you will not be able to number them;
most surely Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.
[Surah an-Nahl (16): 18]
Ibn Jarir at-Tabari explained this to mean that Allah forgives even as we fail to thank Him properly, thus we should be repentant, obedient and strive to do that which pleases Him. Let us help one another to follow this small advice.
Spend in His way from what Allah gave us and do not seek to fill that emptiness of the soul with deeds that others pay you to do!
Alif, Lam, Mim.
This is the Book; in it is guidance sure, without doubt, to those who fear Allah;
Who believe in the Unseen, are steadfast in prayer, and
spend out of what We have provided for them;
[Surah al-Baqara (2): 1-3]