Sacred Monotony - Part 1

Sacred Monotony - Part 1

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Fatih Camii (mosque), Istanbul

When we’re praying or doing acts of worship it can sometimes feel like we’re offering a prayer to get it out of the way, or for it to be judged later. As if our deeds won’t be viewed until the Day of Judgement. Like sending an envelope for it to be opened and read later. In reality we are always with the angels, who are writing down our deeds. Every moment is an opportunity to be spent being close to Allah, for our benefit and tranquillity.

Presence with Allah

Places of spiritual or emotional significance can help engender a mindset of presence. For example being present in a beautiful, tranquil mosque, being in front of the Kabbah in Mecca, being surrounded by the awe of nature — all of this will hopefully move our souls and remind us of Allah.

This opening of our hearts, through beauty or other means, helps us to see the inner truth. We finally feel so present with Allah. It puts things in perspective, how important He is in our lives. How He has always been present, helping us in all our affairs; how magnificent He is and how worthy He alone is of worship. Alhumdulillah.

In Hadith Jibreel, when the angel Jibreel visits the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) he asks him about the levels of the religion, eman, islam and ihsan. Ihsan, commonly translated as "perfection" or "excellence" is the highest level of faith:

" الإِحْسَانُ أَنْ تَعْبُدَ اللَّهَ كَأَنَّكَ تَرَاهُ، فَإِنْ لَمْ تَكُنْ تَرَاهُ فَإِنَّهُ يَرَاكَ "
The Prophet (ﷺ) said, "Ihsan is to worship Allah as if you see Him, and if you cannot see Him, then it is to know that He, Allah, sees you." [Sahih]

Ideally we would each attain ihsan and everything in our day would remind us of Allah — we would be able to see him, or at least be reminded of him in everything. Before we start to attain that spiritual level we may sometimes feel distant, and maybe feel like we cannot "see" Allah. We are blessed that in these moments we can always remember that we direct our worship facing towards the kaaba.  The kaaba is a symbol that not only gives us a compass and a direction in prayer but it helps to make things feel more tangible and gives us something to visualise and remember.

Often spirituality can feel so intangible nowadays, especially given modern day epistemologies that place so much emphasis on facts over feelings, and material over spiritual realities.

"إِنَّ أَكْرَمَكُمْ عِندَ ٱللَّهِ أَتْقَىٰكُمْ ۚ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ عَلِيمٌ خَبِيرٌ"
Surely the most noble of you in the sight of Allah are the most mindful (those who have the most taqwa of Allah). Allah is truly All-Knowing, All-Aware. — Quran 49:13

What can we do to cultivate this awe and presence with Allah? When we’re able to achieve it, this “witnessing” of Allah puts our priorities into perspective, and helps us to see what is important. Where we may have been going wrong, and what we should focus on in life.

"Deafened by the voice of desire you are unaware the Beloved lives in the core of your heart. Stop the noise, and you will hear His voice in the silence." — Rumi

Changing Perspective

Many people will at some point in their life experience a life changing event that makes them reconsider the world and what is important to them. For example a loved one passing away, or witnessing an inexplicable accident or a near-death experience. These are often the catalysts that make us reconsider what is important in our lives and encourage us to change our perspectives for the better.

One of the biggest regrets people on their death beds have is that they focused on the wrong things in life. People realise that they had been giving too much emphasis to work, or pouring their heart into someone else’s passions and they had lost touch with friends and family who were important to them. Often people realise that they should have spent more time being grateful for what they already had, instead of chasing more.

What are some things we can do to foster this gratitude, awe and taqwa of Allah, without requiring such a life-changing event?

Reflections In Everything

Places of spiritual significance can impel us to experience that stirring of the soul. Trying to pray in the mosque regularly, as well as visiting sacred spaces helps us to reflect and be mindful of Allah.

إِنَّ فِى خَلْقِ ٱلسَّمَـٰوَٰتِ وَٱلْأَرْضِ وَٱخْتِلَـٰفِ ٱلَّيْلِ وَٱلنَّهَارِ لَـَٔايَـٰتٍ لِّأُو۟لِى ٱلْأَلْبَـٰبِ ٱلَّذِينَ يَذْكُرُونَ ٱللَّهَ قِيَـٰمًا وَقُعُودًا وَعَلَىٰ جُنُوبِهِمْ وَيَتَفَكَّرُونَ فِى خَلْقِ ٱلسَّمَـٰوَٰتِ وَٱلْأَرْضِ رَبَّنَا مَا خَلَقْتَ هَـٰذَا بَـٰطِلًا سُبْحَـٰنَكَ فَقِنَا عَذَابَ ٱلنَّارِ

Indeed, in the creation of the heavens and the earth and the alternation of the day and night there are signs for people of reason; those who remember Allah while standing, sitting, and lying on their sides, and reflect on the creation of the heavens and the earth ˹and pray˺, “Our Lord! You have not created ˹all of˺ this without purpose. Glory be to You! Protect us from the torment of the Fire. — Quran 3:190-191

Spending time in nature, the great outdoors, and reflecting on the beauty of it all is another great way to move us to humility. Taking in all the sights and sounds that we may find in nature, there’s something remarkable about the intricacy and perfect balance we find within nature, and it brings a natural serenity to the heart.

Reflecting on the magnificence of life and being grateful for the good things we have, doesn’t have to be confined to a mosque or even when outside in the beauty of nature. Even in our homes we can reflect on how much we have, how lucky we are to have friends, food, family, finances. There are countless blessings in our lives if we stop and take the time to look.

وَءَاتَىٰكُم مِّن كُلِّ مَا سَأَلْتُمُوهُ ۚ وَإِن تَعُدُّوا۟ نِعْمَتَ ٱللَّهِ لَا تُحْصُوهَآ ۗ إِنَّ ٱلْإِنسَـٰنَ لَظَلُومٌ كَفَّارٌ

He gave you whatever you asked for. If you (try to) count the bounties of Allah, you cannot count them all. Indeed, man is highly unjust, very ungrateful. — Qur’an 14:34

Even the fact that we are cognisant enough to be grateful and to say alhumdulillah (all praise and thanks is due to Allah) — this itself is another reason to be grateful and to say “Alhumdulillah”! Truly we are in need of him for absolutely everything.

يَسْـَٔلُهُۥ مَن فِى ٱلسَّمَـٰوَٰتِ وَٱلْأَرْضِ ۚ كُلَّ يَوْمٍ هُوَ فِى شَأْنٍ فَبِأَىِّ ءَالَآءِ رَبِّكُمَا تُكَذِّبَانِ

All those (people and angels included) in the heavens and the earth beseech Him (for their needs.) Every day He is in a state of action. So, which of the bounties of your Lord will you deny? — Qur’an 55:29 - 30

Sacred Monotony - Finding God in the Small Everyday Things

We should aim to punctuate our daily routine with even just a few seconds of gratitude here and there. Take a moment to savour things; slowly building up to constant gratitude throughout our day.

Even with our morning coffee we can stop to take in the experience. Even though we may have coffee (or tea) every day, every day it is a new gift. If we stop to take it in, we notice its gentle warmth, beautiful aromas and awakening properties. Most days I might just chug down a cup of coffee trying to be more awake for my morning meetings, but how much more meaningful does the experience feel when I can relate it to a deeper meaning?

We can transform the time it takes to brew a coffee, into a moment of mindfulness and presence with Allah, a moment to be grateful, to reflect on our blessings and to savour our day; whereas previously it was a just an inconvenience before we could sip our drink.

Taking moments like these throughout our day, and ideally at every juncture, helps us to build presence with Allah, grow in taqwa and ultimately know our creator and the peace and tranquility found therein.

حَسْبُنَا ٱللَّهُ وَنِعْمَ ٱلْوَكِيلُ
“Allah ˹alone˺ is sufficient ˹as an aid˺ for us and ˹He˺ is the best Protector.” — Quran 3:173

وَلَوْ أَنَّهُمْ رَضُوا۟ مَآ ءَاتَىٰهُمُ ٱللَّهُ وَرَسُولُهُۥ وَقَالُوا۟ حَسْبُنَا ٱللَّهُ سَيُؤْتِينَا ٱللَّهُ مِن فَضْلِهِۦ وَرَسُولُهُۥٓ إِنَّآ إِلَى ٱللَّهِ رَٰغِبُونَ
"If only they had been content with what Allah and His Messenger had given them and said, “Allah is sufficient for us! Allah will grant us out of His bounty, and so will His Messenger. To Allah ˹alone˺ we turn with hope.” — Quran 9:59

Further reading & references: