"The most excellent jihad is that for the conquest of oneself." This was a saying of Prophet Muhammad (sallallahu alaiyhi wa sallam), our most blessed prophet. What does it mean to conquer oneself? It is when the ruh, the spirit, the soul of the body is in control of the body and the body is no longer in control. There is a lack of understanding of the reality of the ruh (soul) and it's position in our lives, as Muslims.
As Sheikh Riyadh al-Haq of London explained in a lectured he delivered:
Allah created the angels and fused in them intelligence and created them from nur (light) and thus the nature of the angels is such that they have no needs or desires. No need for food, drink, associates, and relationships. Each angel is created for a certain purpose and all that angel does is what Allah has appointed him to do. Whatever his duty is, he will obey Allah subhanahu wa ta'ala. They do not change at all.
On the other hand, Allah azzowajal created animals, the beasts. But Allah did not give them any nur or intelligence like the angels, but Allah created in them the need as well as the desire for bestial things--food, drink, relationships, the need and the urge to reproduce, the need for company. But Allah gave them no intelligence, so the animals spend life eating, drinking, associating, growing up, and dying and there's nothing more to their lives.
On this hand, we have the creation, the purpose, and the life of the animals and the beasts. On the other hand, we have the creation, as well as the purpose and the kind of lives the angels have, the Malaa'ikah. On the one hand, we have what's created from nur and intelligence. They're whole life is ibaadah and the obedience of Allah azzowajal and carrying out the tasks Allah had appointed. On the other hand, we have the animals, where there is no intelligence, neither were they created from nur. Because neither of these will change, and they have been given no choice of change, they will be neither rewarded nor punished.
In between these two, Allah has created man. And in man, Allah has given him a bit of both. Although man is made of dust, Allah has given him some intelligence, so man, on the one hand, shares characteristics with the animals and on the other hand, he shares characteristics with the angels. Allah has also given man choice and it is within man's grasp and ability to change himself and because he can change, Allah has promised him reward for good and righteousness and punishment for evil and sinfulness. Man, according to his obedience or lack of obedience to Allah subhanahu wa ta'ala is inclined to either of the two. Either he becomes close to the angels, their characteristics, and their ways or man can fall so low, he becomes like the animals and the beasts. In fact, Allah describes this in the Qur'an. Allah says:
"Indeed We have created man in the best fashion and mold, then We have reduced him to the lowest of the low."
When a human being comes into the world in the form of a baby, Allah makes it beautiful, both physically and in spirit. It is born pure. But throughout the life, according to the company and according to the deeds, that same child becomes so evil that Allah describes him as being the lowest of the low. Except of course "Illalladhina aamanu wa amilussalihaat"--those who believe and do good deeds. Allah describes those who have gone far from the path of Allah, "These people are like animals. Nay! They are even worse."
On the other hand, through his ibaadah (worship), through his obedience, mankind can rise. Man can rise to such heights that the angels seek their attention. Man can rise to such heights, that, as Muhammad (sallallahu alaiyhi wa sallam) explains in a hadith, even the angels become envious of man's position. But not in a bad way because angels are incapable of sin and they will never sin, but in terms of admiration and respect. Man can rise to such heights that Allah boasts of man to His angels. In a hadithi qudsi, Allah says, "I am with my servant as he thinks of Me." The meaning of this hadith is the way a person sees Allah, how he views Him, the kinds of expectations he has from Allah, Allah azzowajal deals with him accordingly. If man despairs of Allah's mercy, then Allah azzowajal will deprive him of His mercy. "I am with my servant as he thinks of Me and I am with him whenever he thinks of Me. If he remembers Me in his heart, I remember him in My heart. If he remembers Me in a gathering, I remember him in a better gathering," the gathering of the angels. And the thing that makes man's temperament and his character flexible, the thing which gives him the ability to do good and bad is not the body. It is the ruh. And because there is no ruh in the animals, they will not change for the worse or the better, but Allah has given man the body, the flesh, the bones, the blood, his needs, his urges, his desires, and together with that, Allah has given him intelligence and Allah has given him the ruh.
That ruh does not come from the same origin as his body, his needs, his desires, and urges--these things come from the animals. His ruh comes from the heavens, his ruh comes from another realm all together and it is this that changes man, that makes him better or worse. The ruh is the essential part of the man's body, not the rest. The essence of life is the ruh. When Allah commanded the angels to prostrate to Adam (alaiyhis-salam), they were not commanded to only prostrate to the body. No. Allah says in the Qur'an: "When I have completed the creation of Adam, when I have fashioned him completely and when I have blown into him of my ruh, then fall down into prostration." So, it's not the body, the flesh, the bones that the angels were supposed to respect, it was the ruh of the man. And the life of the arwah (plural of ruh) began then, not at the moment of birth, nor will it end at the time of death. That is why it is so important to realize that the ruh is the essence of life, it is the essence of the human being, the essence of Allah's creation, and not the body. Allah provides a cage, a shell, a means of transport for the ruh and that cage, that shell, that means of transport is none other than the body.
But, Subhannallah, we have neglected the ruh and we have devoted our entire attention to the body, the cage, the shell. If we devote our entire attention to this body, the cage, the shell, the flesh, the bones, then there could be none more foolish than ourselves. Just as the body needs food, drink and nourishment, the ruh needs food, drink, and nourishment. Allah gives it everything; its food, drink, energy, and nourishment and it comes from the same origin it was created. The ruh needs to survive, but its nourishment does not come from the dunya, the earth, the dust. Because the ruh comes from Allah, it is heavenly, it is celestial, it is elevated. The nourishment all comes from the same source and the nourishment of the ruh is the Qur'an and the dhikr (remembrance) of Allah. And only that can upkeep the ruh. It can give it strength, it can suspend it. But imagine how foolish we would be if we allow the ruh, which has survived and has journeyed from the moment Allah creating it in the "Realm of the Spirits," if we allow this spirit that carried all the way from there into this short phase in the dunya because of our neglect, our lack of attention because we are too preoccupied with the shell, the body, if we allow the real person, the real essence to die in this dunya and if the ruh dies now and if we don't allow it to prosper, then indeed we have destroyed ourselves. (Remember the ruh will not literally die.) Allah swears by all His creations, the sun, the moon, the day, the night, the heavens, the canopy of the heavens and Allah who raised the canopy and the earth and the soul. Allah even swears by the soul and Allah who created and fashioned the soul and after having created the soul, Allah inspired it to both good as well as evil. "We sewed and guided man to both ways of good as well as evil." After swearing upon all these things, Allah says, "Successful is thee." And the meaning of true success is the bliss of the akhira, the hereafter. Successful is thee who allows the soul, the ruh, to grow and prosper, who cleanses his soul to let it grow and prosper. Indeed, he is successful. And he who reduces the growth of the ruh, suppresses it, and prevents it from expanding and growing, indeed he is the one who is a loser.
If we kill off our ruh merely for the lavishment and enjoyments of the worldly desires, we are going to do it at the expense of our ruh, which never dies. Our bodies will die, but Allah has made our ruh, so that it will "live on." Muhammad (sallallahu alaiyhi wa sallam) was lying on top of a mat. The Sahaba entered; the mat was course; it was very rough. It's the kind of straw mat that we see in hot countries. Rasoolullah
(sallallahu alaiyhi wa sallam) stood up. The upper part of his body was bare. The Sahaba noticed the criss-cross marks of the mat impressed on the back of the Prophet (sallallahu alaiyhi wa sallam) and they said, "Oh, Prophet of Allah! Why didn't you inform us? Had you told us, we could've laid out some bedding for you, so you could rest in comfort and you would not have those marks on your back." Upon this, he replied, "What connection do I have with the dunya? I am but a traveler who takes shade under the tree from the heat of the sun and when he has rested, he gets up and leaves the tree." So, man is a traveler in the world. The ruh is a traveler and the Prophet (sallallahu alaiyhi wa sallam) teaches us by example and demonstrates by person that the body does not require the attention we lavish over it, especially at the expense of the ruh. Why? Because the body is merely a cage, a shell, a means of transportation and the real traveler is the ruh. And if we neglect the ruh, we will die, die a spiritual death even if we live for over a hundred years.
It is well known that everything has a heart, an essence to life. If the heart is not healthy, if the essence is rotting, then it is only a question of time before everything else suffers and similarly, if our ruh suffers, if our ruh dies a spiritual death, if the growth of our ruh is prevented and if it is suppressed, then it does not matter how beautiful our a'mal may seem, how beautiful our outward life may seem, our obedience may seem, no matter how religious we say seem to ourselves and to others, it is only a question of time before the internal rot takes over. It is only a question of time that the corruption within takes over and destroys everything.
The following example will show how essential the physical heart is to the physical body and how, despite the outward strength and stamina of the body, if the physical heart is not stronger, then the rest has no impact. It's a reverse. The heart will determine the life and strength of that individual. For example, a few years ago, in America, there was a famous fitness fanatic, so famous for being fit himself, as well as teaching it to others, that he was given the title "Fitness Guru." He was extremely healthy, but one day he went out for a jog at a young age, fell down flat, and died. How? The heart. Despite being a fitness guru and instructor, despite the outward strength of the body, the heart was weak. The physical heart is what determines the health and life of the person. Likewise, how beautiful our a'mal may seem to ourselves and others, no matter how religious we and others consider us, or how spiritual and holy we may seem, the health of our spiritual life is not so much so determined by our religiousness and deeds as by the health of the ruh. If the ruh is healthy, it will be in the highest of the high. But if the ruh is ill--prevented from growing and prospering, even though we may be beautiful and attractive from the outside, as the munafiqeen (hypocrites) were, we've lost ourselves and not only have we lost ourselves, we have destroyed ourselves.
The reality is that though we may be attractive and loved to be viewed by others, if the ruh is neglected and suppressed and has no nourishment, Allah says they are hollow planks, as the munafiqeen were. Hollow planks that were made to lean against a wall because they cannot stand by themselves. The Prophet (sallallahu alaiyhi wa sallam) said, "Indeed, Allah will not view your bodies or your wealth, Allah will see your hearts and youre a'mal and even more important than that is the state of the ruh."
Now, the ruh can rise. It can rise to the heights of the angels. It can become so powerful that it could take over the whole body because it's attached to Allah subhanahu wa ta'ala. Then the body becomes obedient and subservient to the ruh. If the ruh engages in the dhikr and remembrance of Allah, then the body will do the same. If the ruh does not wish to disobey Allah azzowajal, then despite the cravings of the nafs, despite the desires and passions of the rest of the body, the ruh will prevent it. But if the ruh is weak and the body craves the worldly desires of the nafs, the ruh will succumb, it will submit, and it will give up. And that means the ruh is dead and the entire body is corrupt. The Prophet (sallallahu alaiyhi wa sallam) said, "Indeed there is a piece of flesh in the body and if pure, the whole body will be pure and if corrupt, the whole body will be corrupt. It is the heart." The heart that the Prophet (sallallahu alaiyhi wa sallam) is referring to is the ruh, the essence of life.
We can rise, but what prevents us? The bestial passions, urges, and desires--these things that we share with the animals. This animal-like behavior prevents us from rising to the heights of the angels and keeps us down to the level of the beasts.
(End of part of lecture that was delivered by Sheikh Riyadh al-Haq.)
Allah subhanahu wa ta'ala has given us the opportunity to shake off this restriction and to rise from that low level. How? He gives us the month of Ramadan, a month in which He chains the Shayateen in order to let us rise about our desires and urges and he gives the ruh a chance to survive, grow, and prosper. Instead of eating, drinking, and indulging in our passions during our fasting periods, we should take advantage of the time Allah gives us to rise to the heights of the angels by indulging in His dhikr, His remembrance, and in reciting the Holy Qur'an, the soother of pains, the healer of the deepest wounds, the spring that nourishes the soul when sick, the well that bathes the body when tired, the passionate companion in the grave, the interceder on the Day of Judgement, the nur of the straight path, the shield and protection against the Hellfire. The miracle and blessing of the Qur'an is the cure for reviving the ruh. The holy month of Ramadan has passed before our eyes, but that does not mean we must wait till then to nourish our souls, our arwah, our real persons, our real qualities, our real characteristics. We can start now, this very moment. It is up to us to take that first step.
The reciting of the Qur'an has dynamic powers. If we could only observe it properly. The Qur'an was not send down to only read when one passes away, but today, it seems that this is a ritual when it comes to reading this most auspicious Book. It was sent down as a guidance to mankind, an answer to all questions, the solution to all problems, the cure to all things. And it was sent down for us to apply in our daily lives, to apply to every single aspect of our lives. What is the Qur'an? It is the channel of communication between the servant and his Lord. It is the very words spoken by our Lord, Himself, which He has promised to protect until the Day of Resurrection; the one revelation which has remained unchanged since it was revealed. It is most powerful in its eternal mission of enlightening the hearts of the believers.
We must divert our attention from the body, the bones, the flesh, the cage, the shell, the means of transportation to the real essence of life, the real traveler in the world, the ruh.
We must do our best to prevent ourselves from indulging in the needs and desires of the body: unnecessary consuming of food and drink, un-Islamic association, un-Islamic gatherings, which hold no benefit, movies, music, TV, sleeping, and the list goes on and on.
Unless by this lecture you were affected tremendously, can you let go of all these worldly bestial things all at once. Most of us can't do it, but we can do it, gradually. For example, by reducing the amount of music one listens to or the amount of TV one watches, then gradually quitting TV and music and substituting them with other more Islamically beneficial things.
If we sincerely want to give our ruh a chance to live, if we sincerely want to be successful in the akhirah, if we sincerely want to receive the love and pleasure of Allah, Most Exalted, the Compassionate, the Merciful, if we sincerely want to learn to love Him and devote and submit ourselves to Him fully, and Him alone, we must repent. We must repent sincerely and meaningfully to Allah and ask for His forgiveness for our sins, our ignorance in neglecting the ruh, Islam, His ibadah, His remembrance, after all the kindness He shows us in keeping us alive and healthy and of course in many, many other ways. When one repents sincerely, he is so taken by remorse that tears gush from his eyes as water gushes from a cliff in the form of a waterfall. If we can't seem to cry, we must concentrate and force ourselves to cry, for even this will help in more ways than one.
Insha Allah, if we repent, we must not only ask for Allah's forgiveness, but His guidance to the Siraatul Mustaqeem for us and our families and all Muslims. We must ask for His help in nourishing our souls. We must ask Him to help us become such servants who love Him more than our family and our wealth. Subhannallah, by Allah's will, a message of truth has been submitted and only by His will, will it enter our hearts and only by His divine will, will we take heed and may Allah allow our hearts to soften up to His message, the Holy Qur'an and that we will allow it to prosper ourselves without giving it a second thought.
Whether you at work, school, or home reading this, you can start nourishing your ruh now. If at work or school, start doing tasbih with concentration on your glorification of Allah. Try to abstain from mixing freely with the opposite sex. Wherever there is free mixing of men and women, Shaytaan is there to arouse in them evil thoughts and desires. If you are able, pray your required salah at work or school if there is no nearby mosque. Who cares what the non-Muslims think? Why? On the Day of Judgement, they will not be your protectors or your helpers or the forgivers of your sins. The Only Protector, Helper, Forgiver of sins is Allah and only He will help us on the Day when we will need help the most, if we deserve such kindness and mercy.
If you are at home reading this, make wudu, pray your required salah, plus 2 nafl salah of Salaatut-Towbah (prayer of repentance) after the required salah. After offering salah, pick up the Qur'an, kiss it, open it, and beginning in the name of Allah, start reading with the pure intention of gaining guidance and the pure intention of pleasing Allah subhanahu wa ta'ala. If you cannot read Arabic, please learn how. Until then, read the translation of the Qur'an in English or whatever language you understand best. Keep up with the habit of refraining from sins, reciting the Qur'an, doing dhikr, offering prayers, and making supplications (du'a) and Insha Allah, you will be successful.
None of us is perfect. In fact, we are far from it, but with a firm intention and with the help of Allah, we can rise to the heights of the angels, the highest of the high.
May Allah include us among those who are successful in His eyes, successful in this world as Muslims (who submit fully to Allah) and more importantly, successful in the akhirah (hereafter). May Allah give us the towfique to better ourselves and may He include us among those of whom He has favored, not those who earn His anger, nor those who go stray. Ameen.