What is this pang that stirs in the breast of man that he covets from the world in fear, without ever showing a vulnerable shade of himself?
There is this longing that persists, in spite of the notoriety one rises to in this world, in spite of the gain in wealth and status, this ache continues in the inner most core of the inner most core, this Lub and indeed as Allah teaches us, ‘none will understand except (ulil-albab) the people of the inner most core of the inner most core.’
That is, the brutality by which you must live your life, that you must confirm and decommission your existence, it requires a special refusal to be satisfied with the mundane and meagre answers of this world, but to be utterly devoted to uncovering truths about yourself.
It was this curiosity, this vehement devotion to wanting to know more that was hovering over my heart like a heavy iron that would not relent for the whole week before I had a small insight to help me connect some of my ideas towards this point.
It culminated on a Friday sermon, whereby Allah inspired a friend, a man who’s path Allah allowed to cross mine for a reason, whom I shared a room, food and breathed the same air as he for the whole month of pilgrimage last year, to invite me to a sermon he was giving. In his words, he thought that I may enjoy it.
The moment the sermon commenced felt like a gushing stream in my heart.
He began by speaking about the primordial nature of man and his attraction to material, to basely and worldly things, in Arabic and Muslim nomenclature, what we refer to as dunya. Dunya, can be colloquially and very loosely translated as world or worldly. It can also mean earth, but more importantly, linguistically it means lowly or base. It is that which subdues one and pulls one down.
It becomes interesting to note as my friend explained in the sermon that as men and women, all that we are attracted to in this world, comes from the earth, that is, comes from elements we were created from anyway. It is no secret that the Muslim, Christian and Jewish faiths share the same idea about the creation of Adam, the first human, that is God fashioning Adam from clay, from dirt, from dust of the earth depending on how you want to translate the Quranic and Biblical accounts.
The Muslim concept of creation states that Allah (God in Arabic) ‘fashioned’ man from this clay, that the Angels collected from the earth, from vast corners, mountains and valleys, arid lands and moist mud, sands of deserts, fields and more. All types, from all over and this represents why our father Adam carried the genetic code for all mankind everywhere, all races, nationalities and tribes.
Allah fashioned Adam himself, by his own hand and in the continuation of the verse states, “blew or breathed (Nafakhtu) , into him his soul from Himself.”
It is at this point, although I have heard the verse a thousand times and have heard the story an equal amount that I became an uncontrollable river streaming with thoughts.
What on earth had I missed all this time, this extraordinary nugget of gold that Allah has shared with us, much to our neglect and ignorance?
That whole week, I was deprived of something that I take for granted. That is, I enjoy an abundance of health and wellness, but I had breathing trouble for a week, shortness of breath, heart palpitations and an overwhelming feeling of a tight chest.
I wasn’t my usual self and signs of my heart defect were summoning me to pay attention. I wonder sometimes, what the medical professionals class as a birth defect may in fact be the opposite, a birth blessing, in that it has made me perceive and be utterly conscious of things others ignore.
Strangely that morning, before the sermon, I was trying to explain to another dear brother the importance of breathing deeply, knowledge I had gained in my years of exposure to high level training. Mostly, I was trying to advise the young brother to quit smoking altogether and to instead understand what his inert nature was requesting from him when he felt like a cigarette.
There is no doubt that nicotine is an addictive agent, but I have a firm conviction that the nicotine is not as addictive as the habit and longing of the subconscious to ‘breathe’. Deep articulate breathing, breath that reverberates from your diaphragm, deep below, from your core. The shallowness and mundaneness of life and the world has stopped most of us in our tracks and taught us to breathe just as shallow.
I asked him instead to not only breathe deeper, but to also recite the grand name, the supreme name, the ultimate of ultimate names, that is Allah, the way our masters have taught us, the way they have termed ‘Zayn al Anfas’, the beautifying of breath. Breathing deeply the name Allah, drawn out to a six second count. The Al (Alif, Lam) drawn to three seconds and the Lah (Lam, Ha) drawn to three seconds, with the Ha a deep heave from the sternum, diaphragmatic, vibrating and vibrant pulsating up the airway to the opening of the mouth.
I advised him to do this, rather mindful of my masters teaching, but after hearing the opening first few sentences of the sermon later that day, it sent me into a spiralling and dizzying flurry of meditative thought.
How could I have missed this important piece of the puzzle? Allah Himself breathed into Adam his soul. Why? To bring him to life! Here Adam was, fashioned by the best fashioner, in perfect form, but otherwise lifeless, dead until Allah allowed his soul to enter, suddenly alive and in total awareness that Allah is his source of life.
If a man engineers a vehicle, builds a building, designs a city, creates something, then the knowledge of that thing, its intricacies, nuances, inner most realities, secrets, weaknesses and strengths are all known to him. If that is what we know of creation of material, then it suffices to deduce that Allah also knows His creation and what He has fashioned. In His generosity, with this knowledge in mind, Allah also provides us the whole manual for living and if that wasn’t enough, created the most noble of creation to guide us in the most experiential manner possible. That is, he blesses us with the Quran and His beloved Messenger and Prophet Muhammad, may peace and blessings be upon him and his noble family.
It is this breath that bounces between our sides, which dances in our cavities and ends up flowing through our veins to every cell in our bodies to keep us alive. Stop breathing and see what happens to you.
What is it about this breath that can become euphoric in a sensation of exertion, perhaps why those addicted to exertion through exercise, through rigours of pushing their bodies to the limit unwittingly participate over and over again, subconsciously, their souls, their ability to stay alive is bound by this sacred entrusting. The breath Allah provided us, a constant revitalisation, and rejuvenation of that pact.
My friend’s sermon also mentioned man’s attraction to that which he was made from. That is, all this worldly material is really an attraction to basely and lowly things (dunya). Whether it is gold or jewels, they’re earthly. Whether it is a car or house, both steel and brick derived and extracted from the earth. Whether it is food and attraction or addiction to it, they are sourced from the earth. Everything you can conceive of, its origin, the earth.
This also reminded me of an earlier idea I proposed to someone that week, that no different, humankind is from the earth. Men and women, in essence are also nothing more than material, this over obsession with one’s spouse, children, parents or friends is nothing more than obsession with material, with things that are finite and disposable. It is not befitting of a man or woman of sound nature and discerning mind to be overwhelmed by this intoxicating obsession for another being.
Beings are not for possession, they are on loan to the world, coming from the earth, returning to the earth, allowed existence only by the mere fact they are allowed a breath to pass their lips, no second of breathing guaranteed more than the next, the source of all of that Allah, God.
What then is this near heathen approach and bestiality in being infatuated beyond reason to humans, again as aforementioned to a material thing, to a perishing thing?
That sermon and mere reminder of ‘breath’ and the origins of human kind, our lowly and base nature, became in moments a revelation of sorts for me, this lowly and base creature who has always thought there is more to his existence than mere trivial pursuits.
Perhaps with this pulsating heart, that chooses to skip a beat or two every now and then, that has been blessed enough to enlarge and function beyond the capacity of laymen at least in a physical capacity, perhaps with this thirsty soul, perhaps with this stubborn mind that searches for more, is why I have chosen the path of extremes, pushing my physical limits, to extend my breath’s capacity, to stretch it far beyond my lungs fill capacity. Perhaps why I want to heave a little harder, breathe a little deeper, be deprived a breath or two to be reminded, to be discarded and re-invited by His majesty to be at least in His company, through if only a physiological exchange, that may one day transform into the spiritual exchange.
What I do know is that this contraction (Qabd) and expansion (Bast) of heart and lungs, of chest and diaphragm is not to be taken for granted. Allah is Al Qabid, Al Basit. He is The Contractor and The Expander and what I do receive of both remains my invitation and calling, if only I decorate that pathway, if only I beautify its passage with mention of His name, indeed, as the great Imam Ali RA, said, ‘The hour will not come, until the people stop reciting Allah, Allah, Allah’.
Oh Allah, perfume my breath with Your name,
do not ever leave me in vain,
do not expose me in shame,
do not keep me the same,
O turner of hearts,
turn me in whatever manner you see fit,
in your remembrance,
leave me no other utterance to proclaim,
but Your name, Your Name.
‘And they ask you about the soul. Say: The soul is one of the commands of my Lord, and you are not given aught of knowledge but a little.’
– Quran, Author; Allah