بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
We praise our Lord Who created each of us as unique individuals but sent to us a universal guidance. May the best benedictions and peace be upon the most perfect of humanity, Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him), who showed us how to excel in every facet of life. To proceed:
Perhaps it is the case that in these short articles we revisit the same essays, and sometimes even the same quotes from them. This is not always a blunder (though many times it is unintended), rather, it is often a consequence of the depth of the mines of these words and the riches that can be brought forth. What is more, as we re-read the words and works of the great voices of this nation we also take different meanings based on the frames we are reading them in at that time; the situations of our lives. I say this because, perhaps it is the case I have already mentioned the quote I am about to mention…still, it is worth reading again and again.
In his essay, “Life Without Principle,” Henry David Thoreau said, “When we want Culture more than potatoes, and illumination more than sugar plums, then the great resources of the world are taxed and drawn out, and the result, or staple production, is, not slaves, nor operators, but men – those rare fruits called heroes, saints, poets, philosophers and redeemers.” It was earlier in this same essay that he said, “It is for want of a man that there are so many men.”
This powerful essay highlights the need for men and women to live lives freely. Not as slaves, not as serfs and not as workers only – but freely as human beings. In our age we work in order to be able to buy things by which we seek happiness when in fact the sources of true happiness are within. True happiness comes from our hearts and the hearts of others and never some trivial trinket. Thoreau was strongly opinionated regarding this matter and it shines forth in this essay when he says things such as, “The ways by which you may get money almost without exception lead downward. To have done nothing by which you earned money merely is to have been truly idle or worse. If the laborer gets no more than the wages which his employer pays him, he is cheated, he cheats himself. … You are paid for being something less than a man.”
This in no way is a call to quit and live off the land, though the simpler one lives, inevitably the happier they tend to be. Instead, this is a reminder that, as believers in Allah and the hereafter, whatever we do should be done with a higher ideal; a higher goal. We should be people who aspire and people who inspire. We should be more concerned with living lives congruent with our principles than the simple earning of wages.
The beloved of Allah, the prophet of mercy (peace and blessings be upon him) said what is translated to mean, “Ihsaan is prescribed for every matter.” Ihsaan is translated as “excellence” but we would use the terminology “spiritual excellence” as it is understood in the hadith of Jibreel. What we understand from this is that everything a Muslim does should be done in its most complete and appropriate way, to the best of our ability. We should assert ourselves and strive to do whatever we do well – but more than that, we should do it with a sense of respect and dignity for ourselves, for others and for the task at hand. Regardless of what we are doing, we should ensure we are doing it properly and as well as we are able.
At the basic level, doing this suffices to fulfill the prescription of excellence that an affair has. However, to achieve a level of spiritual excellence two aspects must be looked at with the eyes of a spiritual aspirant. We should seek the proper intentions for whatever we are doing. The intention of an act is like the soul to a body, it gives it life and purpose. We should make sure that whatever we do, be it worship or work or visiting others or even eating and sleeping, that we are doing it seeking the pleasure of our Lord. The second aspect is we do it according to the principles established in the Shariah. Adhere to the best of your ability to the sunnah of Allah’s messenger in every affair, and if you are unaware of a sunnah directly correlating to your affair, then be sure that whatever you are doing and how you do it is within the guidance of Allah and His messenger (peace and blessings be upon him) and never in opposition to it.
In this way, when you put aspirations for the pleasure of your Lord (illumination) and adherence to example and guidance of His messenger (peace and blessings be upon him) (culture) over merely seeking wages or doing what seem menial tasks, you elevate yourself above slavery, above serfdom, above being a cog in the wheel; you elevate yourself to freedom. What is more, you exemplify what it means to be human. It is then, and only then, that the great resources of humanity will be drawn out and we will become the heroes, the saints and the redeemers needed in our time. It is only then that we will inspire by our very being.
We will close with a reminder taken from the pre-existent attribute and enduring miracle, the speech of our Lord,
وَأَحْسِنُوا إِنَّ اللَّهَ يُحِبُّ الْمُحْسِنِينَ
“And have Ihsaan!
For indeed Allah loves the people of Ihsaan.”
And ultimately, every success is with Him alone.