Allah Almighty said in the glorious Quran, “we will guide to our ways those who try hard for our cause and Allah is with those who do good” (Ankabut: 69).
Strong faith, continuous effort and love are the conquerors of the world
In the daily struggles of life, these are the warriors’ swords
This is like stepping into a deadly battlefield
Yet people think it’s easy to be a Muslim (Muhammad Iqbal)
The path leading to the nearness of Allah through worship is difficult. It is an uphill struggle that the Quran has likened to a steep mountain path, Aqaba. Surah Balad uses the metaphor of the steep path to describe the difficulties of life, life is a struggle a jihad, the Prophet (peace be upon him) lived in a city surrounded on all sides by black rugged mountains, so it’s not surprising that when Allah swears by a city it is the city of mountains, Makkah.
The above verse from Sura Ankabut celebrates the success and promises those people who try hard and make every effort, spend every ounce of their energy to climb this steep path, those who struggle to please the Lord through worship, the promise is they will be guided, shown the path and protected from making error or being misguided and the reward is having divine company or being in divine presence. The verb that is used to describe this hard work and striving is ‘mujahada’, this is defined as “making the utmost effort that one is capable of to defend oneself against an enemy”. There are two types of enemies, an internal and an external, the internal enemy of man is his own will, the selfishness, self-centeredness the lowly desires which urge man to seek pleasure. Amongst the external enemies is the Shaitan the arch-enemy of man constantly whispering in his ears evil thoughts and goading him to disobey his Lord and to rebel against Shari’ah.
Imam Abu ul Qasim Al Qusharyi said “remember that anyone who does not exert effort at the start of his journey on the path of Allah, then he will never receive benefits of this path… It is a grave error for anyone to imagine that he will be able to achieve anything without persistent striving and hard work on his part.”
Once As Sari said “O young men! Strive sincerely before you reach my old age. When you will become as negligent as I am”. The hard work that is demanded in Shari’ah is in two parts; firstly, opposing ones passions and refusing to be self-centred, egotistical and secondly to rigorously practise the Shari’ah.
Mujahada is like climbing a mountain
I have never given much thought to that most permanent feature of our landscape, the mountain, yet when one sees a mountain many powerful adjectives come to mind, tall, majestic, solitary, ancient, and vast. It seems like a handy metaphor for the smallness of man and perhaps the insignificance of a man like a grain of sand in the vastness of the desert. The role of mountains in the glorious Quran is multifarious. They can be symbolic or metaphorical, or they can simply provide a dramatic setting. In Surah Al Hasher, Allah compares the overwhelming power and might and majesty of the glorious Quran with that immovable feature our landscape the mountain, Allah says; “if we had sent this Quran down to the Mountain, O prophet! You would have seen it Humbled and split apart because of the fear of Allah. We offer people such examples so that they may think” (Al Hasher: 22).
Throughout human history, the Prophets of Allah climbed mountains or sometimes they were invited to the mountain, Moses went to Mount Sinai, Jesus to Mount Olive and our beloved Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) to Mount Hira. Surah Balad uses the metaphor of the steep path and mountainous track to describe the difficulties of life, life being a struggle, a jihad.
Allah Almighty says “I swear by this city (Makkah)…that we created man for toil and trial (4)… And have shown him the two highways (11). Yet he has not attempted the steep path. What will explain to you what the steep path is, it is to free the slaves, to feed at time of hunger an orphan relative or a poor person in distress and to be one of those who believe in, urge one another to steadfastness and compassion. Those who do so would be on the right-hand side (19) – Surah Balad.
In these verses life is symbolised as a steep path, this is followed by an explanation of what is meant by the steep path in the Quran, it tells the reader five features of this steep path:
- Freeing of slaves (standing up against injustices)
- Feeding the hungry orphan and destitute
- Believing in Allah and urging others
- To be patient
- To be kind
Excruciating pain and a sign of real struggle
Here are some of the lessons that I learnt when I climbed Mount Snowdon in Wales, as we went on this steep path, the pangs of pain on the uphill journey, the puffing and the panting something of the meaning of life as a steep path.
As the slope became steeper my legs ached and I wondered why I was here what was I doing here? Isn’t this sadistic? My heart rate rising quickly, not the usual 70 bpm, but 100 bpm, it was difficult to sustain this heart rate over the steeper stretches of the steep path. In some places, it is anything but a walk in the beautiful cynic National Park. Sometimes it felt like I’m not going to make it. It seems that to climb up a mountain one has to be good at several aspects of performance:
It is not just fitness but the mental attitude that is so vital. One of the reasons why our leg muscles feel serious excruciating pain is the accumulation of lactic acid. This is one of the by-products of metabolism and when it reaches a certain level in the blood it creates this pain and this is what is known as the anaerobic metabolism without oxygen. There isn’t enough oxygen getting to the muscles and therefore if there is too much lactic acid the muscles don’t contract causing pain. The trick of endurance sports is to become deaf to the bodies aches and pains and discomforts. This total experience of discomfort in many ways symbolises what life is, there are times when it is like that and we asked why are we doing this. This is hard like life but seems to be a real struggle sometimes. Reminding me that life too is a struggle and full of challenges. It is not a bed of roses.
People have climbed Mount Snowdon for hundreds of years and as a consequence, there is a well-trodden path which winds and meanders all the way to the top, it’s worn out in some places and potholes in other places it’s extremely dangerous. Thousands of people hike on Snowdon daily, making it a very busy place. The human traffic, people going up and down makes a real spectacle of this glorious and scenic mountain. I wondered what would happen if I was to start my own path to the summit would I make it or not? This explained to me the meaning of the word Shari’ah ‘the well-trodden path to the waterhole’ as a Muslim I am expected to walk and live on a path that has been used by countless human beings from the time of Adam to Jesus to our beloved it Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon them all).
Travelling with a group
The guide had instructed us to stay in groups and not to wander off alone. However, it was very difficult to stay with the group since there are fast, fit young people and less fast and less healthy older people, so naturally, people drifted away from one another. I was no exception. Near the top, it was misty, foggy and the steepness could be felt by my knees and now completely oblivious of my companions I drifted off the path and took a wrong turn since I saw some people coming from that direction I thought that was the way. However, after walking 500 metres all by myself, there was no one around me, in the fog where I could not see beyond 30 metres, fear crept in, I began to get suspicious. I knew I was wrong. I had gone astray. So I turned back tracing my footsteps and I reached the original path. The lesson was obvious don’t go away from the trodden path by yourself always stay with the group. Our master and Prophet (peace be upon him) taught us to be with a group “whoever strays away from the flock will be eaten by the Wolf and whoever splits from the group will end up in hellfire”.
Preparation is of utmost importance: the right gear, waterproof jackets and trousers, strong walking boots, a walking stick, supply of food and water and not to forget the mobile phone. Another important element of preparation is physical fitness and how much walking one has undertaken in previous weeks in order to make the leg muscles fit for this arduous journey. The Quran also tells us to be prepared “and be well prepared, the best preparation is the fear of Allah” (Baqara: 197). At the start of the journey, it was 15°C however, as we got higher and higher the temperature began to fall, near the summit it was raining and the wind was blowing at 40 miles per hour, the temperature was -6°C, couple this with the steep and dangerous potholes and you can imagine what it was like. I realised the importance of warm clothes, a warm hat and strong boots. Had I not been prepared for this it would have been disastrous.
There’s no joy of achievement without friends
After three hours of struggle and pain I finally reached the peak. I was finally at the summit! There were many other people here, the wind was really blustery and I felt I was going to be blown over the ridge as I slowly and tiredly made my way up the steps to the summit, I looked around but could not see a single face that I could recognise. I felt a loss of some kind. My joy turned to a sense of loss as I could not see any of my friends, there were other people congratulating one another and laughing, but there was no one to welcome or to congratulate me. It dawned on me that there can be no joy of achievement without sharing it with those one knows and loves and this is why the Quran insists that we make sure that in paradise we are accompanied with our offspring and spouses.
However, when my friends finally arrived I was delighted to see them and welcome them and congratulated them on their achievement and it was then I was pleased, I felt that after this I can do anything, a great feeling of strength and resolve even the most difficult tasks. I didn’t feel like going and lying down now but to continue on and on.
The Prophet’s teachings on working hard and striving
Abu Huraira narrated the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said, “Allah Almighty has said, I have declared war against anyone who is hostile to my friend, the best thing with which my slave comes near to me are the obligatory duties and my slave continues to draw nearer to me with voluntary activities until I love him and when I love him, I become his hearing with which he hears, his eyes with which he sees, his hands with which he holds, and his legs with which he walks, and if he asks something from me. I will give it to him and if he asks for my protection. I will certainly protect him” (Bukhari).
The means of gaining nearness to Allah is following his commands. In other words, carrying out the duties that have been assigned to a believer, daily prayers, fasting, giving charity and doing hajj. However, the man of God loves his Lord so much so that he goes beyond the call of duty and spends far more time in doing voluntary acts in order to please the Lord, whilst the obligatory acts take only a small amount of time the voluntary acts can be carried out any time and all the time. The enmity or hatred of such wonderful people is disliked by God, the enormity of this crime is such that he declares war against these people.
Anas reported: the Prophet (peace be upon him) said “Allah says when a person comes near to me a hand span, I come near to him forearms length and when he draws near to me forearms length. I draw near to him full arm length and when he comes walking I go to him running” (Bukhari).
Ibn Abbas reported the Messenger (peace be upon him) said: “there are two gifts which people often neglect and they are health and free time” (Bukhari). Ghaban in Arabic means loss when selling or buying, similarly with regards to health and time. We neglect their significance and as a consequence will be losers in the hereafter, we often neglect taking care of our bodies and their well-being and same applies to time, which we waste on useless activities.
Aisha, the mother of believers (may Allah be pleased with her) gives a vivid description of his efforts she said “the Prophet would stand in the prayer sometimes for so long that his feet would swell and I would ask him why do you do this? God has forgiven your past and future errors and he would say why shouldn’t I become a grateful servant of Allah” (Bukhari).
The means of getting to Paradise is by controlling your desires
Abu Huraira reported the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said: “hell is surrounded by all kinds of passions and pleasant things whilst paradise is surrounded with disliked things” (Bukhari).
Abdullah ibn Masud said the messenger (peace be upon him) said: “paradise is nearer than your shoelaces and so is hell” (Bukhari). This shows how easy it is to get to either heaven or hell, it is in our grasp, it’s up to us!
Rabia ibn Kaab, the servant of the messenger and one of the members of Suffa said “I used to spend the night with the Prophet (peace be upon him), and bring him water for his ablution and other needs, one day he said to me, ask me what is it that you want, I replied I ask you to give me your company in paradise and then he said anything else? I replied that is it. And he said then help me in your request by lots of worship” (Muslim).
The different forms of Mujahada
From the above we have learnt that Mujahada consists of the following:
- learning and mastering the science of self-control.
- Longing to get near the Almighty and willing to pay a heavy price for it.
- There are a variety of ways of doing Mujahada
In this section I would like to examine some of the well-known practices of Mujahada, perhaps the best place, to begin with, is repentance, Tauba, the process involving being remorseful, feeling guilty about the sins that one has committed, being determined not to ever do them again in the future and the motive behind this repentance is to please the Lord. This is a way of reforming oneself and it is the first step towards self-improvement and gaining self-control. Its importance is emphasised in the following verse, Allah says “Whoever repents after doing the wrong and reforms himself Allah will accept his repentance” (Maeda: 38).
The resolution is to change oneself and this is an important mindset, the Quran teaches us “Allah does not change the condition of people until they change themselves” (Raad: 11).
Motivation for Mujahada
The following four habits can help to motivate us to carry out Mujahada, they are:
- Listening to sermons and good advice. Sermons and talks by religious leaders are a powerful reminder to us. They soften the heart and have an impact on the attitude that leads to a change in behaviour. To adopt righteousness as a way of life and discourage bad behaviour. The Quran speaks about the benefits of a sermon when it says “Allah has ordered you to fulfil your trust and to be just, an arbitrator between people, Allah is teaching you. He is the all-hearing and the all-seeing” (An Nisa: 63). The Quran uses the word ‘Waaz’ which means to give a sermon, to teach effectively and to remind one of their responsibility and motivates them to do good.
- Practising and perfecting good habits. The Messenger (may peace be upon him), once said that “goodness is a natural habit, whilst evil wears you down and whatever Allah wishes you to be, he gives him an understanding of the religion”.
- Keeping the company of righteous people. Our friends and the people whose company we keep have a huge influence on our lives. They influence our beliefs, attitudes and behaviour. This is why the Messenger (may peace be upon him) advised that man follows the religion of his friend therefore, be careful who you befriend. The Quran also emphasises the need to be wary of the wrong kind of company when it says “and do not follow those people whose hearts we have made them forgetful of our remembrance and will follow their own whims and their affair is beyond change” (Al Khaf: 28). The company of righteous people compels us to emulate them, imitate their behaviour and to follow their example.
- Being focused, there are many distractions around us and therefore it is important to avoid these and remain focused on one’s purpose and goal. This focusing on one’s purpose is pointed out in this saying of the messenger (peace be upon him), he said: “the beauty of a persons Islam lies in giving up things that do not concern him” (Tirmazi). In this hadith, the Prophet (peace be upon him) is really telling us to give up the wild goose chase. We should quit foolish or unproductive quests and instead focus on those things that are useful for our worldly life as well as the hereafter. This could be gossip and useless babble, here the Prophet again advised us “don’t talk about things that don’t concern you and don’t talk too much about even that which concerns you, unless it is appropriate for that moment” (narrated by Abdullah ibn Abbas). Someone said the sign of Allah’s anger is when you see someone engaged in useless activities.
Rumi’s story about the need for Mujahada and self-control
Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi tells a story about a man who wanted to be tattooed, in the city of Qazvin it is common to see people who have tattoos on their bodies, hands and shoulders made with the point of the needle and blue ink. One day, a man of that city went to a tattooist and said to him, do me a favour, kindly tattoo me. What figure do you want me to tattoo, O my brave? Asked the tattooist, tattoo the figure of a raging lion, the man directed. Since I was born a Leo, so prick out the picture of a Lion. Put your back into it and prick in with plenty of blue ink and do it on my shoulder blade.
As soon as the tattooist started to stick the needle in, the customer feeling the sharp pain in his shoulder blade screamed “noble sir, I declare you have slained me! What sort of figure are you tattooing? A lion just as you ordered replied the tattooist, with which part of it did you begin? Asked the man. I started at the tail the tattooist answered. Well, leave out the tail. The tattooist began to prick in another place without fear, without favour, without compassion. Which part of his body is this now? The man yelled. This is the ear, my good man, said the tattooist. Let him be without ears, said the man. The tattooist stuck his needle in again in another spot and once again the man started to howl, which part of his body is this? This is the belly of the lion, your honour. Let him lack for the abdomen, the man shouted. The picture is full already what need is there for a belly?
The tattooist was bewildered and astonished at this and threw the needle to the ground saying, did for the like of it happen to anyone? Whoever saw a lion without a tail, a head and a belly? God himself never created such a lion. The moral of the story is to be patient, bear pain and suffering before you can have beautiful decor, so bear the pain of the lancet that you may escape from the poison of your selfishness.