The seal and the final of the Prophets, Nabi Mohammed SAW proclaimed, ‘I have been bestowed with three things that no prophet before me has been honoured with: the ability to instil great awe and fear, the spoils of war are permitted for me and the land in its entirety has been made a masjid for me and its earth pure.’ Rasul Allah SA also stated that Allah had made him his ḥabīb (dearest, most beloved, sing. of aḥibba).
Like the Prophet, his progeny too are Allah’s aḥibba (pl. of habīb) and as such their lives are spent in the Creator’s worship and servitude. Each action and every deed undertaken by them in this world is with the hereafter in sight. Accordingly, the world for them is a place of worship, a place of prostration, i.e. a masjid. However, this distinction and honour is not held by all men as narrated in the following fable by Maulana al-Imam Ahmed al-Mastur AS.
In the Epistles of the Brethren of Purity, Imam AS narrates at great length an encounter between humankind and the animal kingdom taking place before the King of the Jinn. The animals complain of the long-running oppression and mistreatment they have received at the hands of man. Over the course of the proceedings the leader of the birds seeks to challenge man’s assertion of superiority over the animal kingdom by citing the honour they receive in congregating for worship. The leader of the birds addresses man:
You mentioned that you celebrate Eids and Fridays and congregate in houses of worship, while we have no such commemorations. You should know that if you were of virtuous character, ready to aid your brethren in times of difficulties and hardships, and functioned as a single being striving for the betterment of your collective affairs, congregating on Eid and on Fridays would not have been made obligatory. The bearers of sharia established these occasions so that people would gather and in doing so foster camaraderie and good will. For camaraderie is the basis of brotherhood, brotherhood is the foundation for love, love is the root of well-being, well-being leads to social harmony which ultimately ensures the proper functioning of the world and the perpetuation of human life on the planet. Sharia has directed humankind to gather once or twice a year at a designated location, to congregate once a week in one place and to come together five times a day in their local masjids so that this objective can be fulfilled.
It is for this reason that Nabii Mohammed SA stated, ‘there is no ṣalāt (namāz) for the neighbour of a masjid except in the masjid’. We, on the other hand, are not required to do so since for us all places are a masjid, all directions are the qibla, all days are Fridays and Eid, and all our actions and deeds are namāz and acts of glorification of the Almighty. In order to carry out these deeds we are not in need of what you have described. Praying namāz purifies the heart of both the evils of grudges and the filth of doubt and demonstrates closeness to Allah, brought about through sincere intention and steadfast belief. Facing the qibla represents calling towards good deeds, acting in the best interests of Mumineen and refraining from hatred and enmity. Rukuʿ and sujūd are indicators of humility and forbearance, the seated position of tashāhud is a symbol of unity, while the taslīm is a means to distance oneself from ignorance. Only when all the above are accomplished can namāz truly be realised. Us birds, however, remain engrossed in these qualities symbolised by the various acts of namāz. We always flock together never resorting to infighting or harassing our own. Instead, we always work to improve the lives of our fellow creatures, refraining from bad-mouthing and trouble-making. When it comes to dealing with humankind, our interactions reveal the rukuʿ of modesty and the sajda of humility especially when we peck at grains.
People of all ages and professions gather together in the masjid for ʿibādat, standing as equals before their Creator and by doing so strengthening the bonds of humanity between them. It is in the same collective manner that their spiritual bonds too are strengthened as they stand behind the imam leading them in prayer. As they progress through each rakaʿ, they reaffirm that they have fallen to earth and from it they will eventually rise and ascend to the most perfect of forms – man.
Elsewhere in the Ikhwān al-Ṣafāʾ, Imam Ahmed al-Mastur AS states:
If you wish to determine whether you are with Allah’s beloved or are amongst the followers of Iblis know that Allah’s beloved have select traits that distinguish them from all others. One of these signs is that for them all of places and all time are one, despite the tribulations and changes that affect the physical world. For them all days are a single Eid and a solitary Friday; all spaces are but one masjid and all directions are the qibla by virtue of which their movements are all acts of worship and their stillness manifestations of obedience. They are able to transcend time and space for they accept Allah’s words, ‘wherever they turn they face Allah’s countenance.’
Describing the world as a masjid reveals the spiritual dimension of human existence. Masjids are constructed so that the faithful may worship their Creator. If the entire world is a masjid, then all facets of one’s life and daily activities must be rendered as if they are ʿibādat and worship of the Creator. Imam Ahmed al-Mastur AS explains, ‘My brother, understand that Allah Taʿālā’s ʿibādat is not just ṣalāt (prayer) and ṣawm (fasting); it is to prosper in both the spiritual and temporal realms.’ Insomuch as ṣalāt and ṣawm are identifiable acts of worship, so too are all efforts expended in attaining spiritual and temporal prosperity. Like the prostration one performs when praying, each deed of an individual has the potential to become an act of prostration before the Almighty.
In describing the wisdom of the founders of the sharias, al-Dai al-Ajal Syedna al-Muʾayyad al-Shirāzi RA offers the following insight:
The divinely inspired founders of the sharia were aware that man, created from the elements of the earth, would find no respite from having to eat, drink, procreate and satisfy his desires. However, as he possessed intellect and the ability to think, they sought to distinguish him from animals who are devoid of such faculties. In order to do so they wove the acts which man could not escape from into the fabric of sharia with the help of directives and prescriptions that ensured that these acts were not undertaken solely out of need and habit. The constitution of the sharias were such that all acts of eating, drinking and procreation which took place in accordance with its proclamations were halal. They established inviolable canons and codes so that man would not roam around like an animal, eating, drinking and doing as he wants. If in their eating, drinking and procreation, man was to adhere to the tenets of sharia, then his actions would be acts of obedience and considered the worship of Allah. He would be rewarded whether active or at rest, worthy of praise in each and every way.
This verse also highlights two traits that endear one to Allah. The first is taqwa, which can be understood as piety, fear and respect for the Almighty. Two additional meanings of taqwā are ṭāʿat, obedience, of Imam al-Zaman AS and acting in accordance with knowledge. Taqwa is the essence of all knowledge and learning, as stated by al-Dai al-Ajal Syedna Qadi Noman RA in the introduction to Kitāb al-Himma, ‘If I had sought to summarise this entire book in one word, I would have done so by saying maintain Allah’s taqwa, for it encompasses all the good of this world and the next.’ Praising Allah’s beloved as bearers of taqwa establishes that all their efforts are for the simultaneous betterment of both the spiritual and temporal realms. They are lauded with praise for they do not neglect one realm for the other.
The second trait is offering sajda, prostration, before the Almighty. The act of sajda is what separates Allah’s devoted and humble servants from the hubris and pride of Iblis and his followers. It is in sajda that man places the highest and arguably most sacred part of his body, his head with his brain and sense organs vital to his existence, on the ground where he normally places his feet. It is a posture closest to that of a fetus in the womb and marks his desire to confine himself to the womb of submission to the Almighty so that he may ultimately emerge from it and be born into the hereafter. It is no wonder then, that Rasul Allah SAW has declared that a human being is closest to his Creator when he is in sajda.
The word thanāʾ, though meaning praise, is more often used when praise is being offered to the Almighty. Allah’s aḥibba praise Him, not only through their words, but also in their intentions and actions and by virtue of doing so are praised by their fellow beings. They are worthy of praise for they comprehend the divine purpose behind Creation, align themselves with it and inculcate in themselves divine attributes. This is the true meaning of philosophy: to emulate the Almighty to the best of human capacity. Maulana Ali AS praises Allah’s pious servants:
…they shared the joys of this transient world as well as the hereafter. Although they partnered with the people of this world in their worldly matters, they did not include them in their hereafter. They led lives of comfort and refinement in this world eating the choicest of foods, thereby enjoying all that which those of material desires enjoyed and availed from it (the temporal world) what the haughty and the vain availed. Yet, they departed from it after ensuring sufficient provision to take them safely to the end of their journey and after securing a profitable transaction.
Finally, Amirul Mumineen’s AS comparison of this world to a masjid establishes the degree of reverence and respect that one should accord to it. It is this veneration that should shape our efforts in caring for and conserving the planet and its resources. The Quran states:
The masjids of Allah will not be visited and maintained but by those who believe in Him and the Last Day, establish namāz, give zakat and fear no one but Allah. They are surely the guided ones.
Considering this verse from the perspective of Amirul Mumineen’s AS khuṭba mubaraka, the values and principles imparted by faith, namāz, zakat and submissiveness before the Almighty are essential not only for the preservation and conservation of the natural world but for the overall betterment of the human experience. Taking this further, one can even contemplate the 12 etiquettes obligated for those entering a masjid, found in Fatimi jurisprudence, as the basis for a framework that outlines the principles for the ecological safeguarding of the planet as well as a code of conduct for its inhabitants. These 12 etiquettes establish:
- that peaceful co-existence and social harmony lay at the forefront of all our efforts,
- the need to identify and distance ourselves from elements that are a threat to this existence,
- the importance for all members of society to collectively engage in the fulfillment of a unified set of objectives,
- that humankind should not dwell over or amplify past differences or failures, should protect the planet from all forms of pollution, ensure that no economic, judicial or political activity violates the sanctity of the planet or threatens the functioning of human society and that members of society support the government and uphold the rule of law.
As previously mentioned, faith is based on the functioning of the natural world. Therefore, adherence to faith will also lead to further reverence and respect for the natural world, which in turn will allow humanity to benefit from it as the Creator intended.