‘HE OF THE HIGH DESIRE’
“I will go where no road goes and the road shall go with me”.
When I first came across this verse by Joscelyn Ortt, it occurred to me how remarkably it fitted in with the story of Ibrahim (AS)’s Struggle to Surrender. Courageously honest to the innate Truth within the self, he sought out the truest ‘God’__ beginning with the negation of false pagan godhood, he ultimately found Allah, forever. It is fascinating to read the account of his search for the Truth as Allah tells it in the Quran: “When he (Ibrahim) saw the sun rising up, he said: ‘This is my lord. This is greater.’ But when it set, he said: ‘…Verily, I have turned my face towards Him Who has created the heavens and the earth, and I am not of those who join partners with Him…’ And that (faith) was Our Proof which We gave Ibrahim against his people. We raise whom We will in degrees. Certainly, Your Lord is All-Knowing, All-Wise.”(6:80-83)
Ibrahim (A.S) brings together in his person an unafraid honesty and the invincible courage to proclaim it loud and clear. The search for meaning in life through the faltering intellect of man and the pursuit of the Highest Truth through human reason is most clearly and admirably articulated through the story of Ibrahim (A.S). He attained the truth through his lone, relentless struggle, and rejected once and for all whatever impeded the Way to his Lord. He fearlessly showed that truth to the world with all his passion. The Quran quotes Ibrahim (A.S) while addressing those who rejected the Truth: “The Lord of the Alamin, who has created me, and it is He who guides me. And it is He who feeds me and gives me to drink. And when I am ill, it is He who cures me. And He will cause me to die, and then will bring me to life. And who, I hope, will forgive me my faults on the Day of Resurrection...”(26:78-82).
Taking ‘the road less travelled by’ demands strength, persistence, honesty, and only the ‘hanif’ (uni-focal) can come out through the trials it involves, triumphant, able to ascend to a higher realm of the Contented Self (nafs e mutma’inna). Ibrahim (AS)’s struggle was a struggle to win ‘Islam’ (peace through submission). This struggle begins with the negation of false gods (‘la ilaha’), and leads the soul on to a recognition and acceptance of the Only Truth that brings with it the peace of ‘ill allah’. “When his Lord said to him ‘(O Ibrahim!) Submit!’ He said, “I have submitted myself to the Lord of the worlds...” (2:131) Having internalized this faith and lived it out with his person, Ibrahim becomes the embodiment of Tauhid. “Verily, Ibrahim was an ‘ummah’(a leader or a nation), obedient to Allah, haneef (singly focused on worship of none but Allah), and he was not among those who join partners with Allah. He was thankful for Allah’s favours. Allah chose him and guided him to the Straight Path.” (16:120-121)
For when the sweetness of Eeman is tasted, nothing else satisfies, nothing else fulfils. Ibrahim (A.S) was possessed by this Single Idea which gave meaning to life and the world, which enlightened, elevated, enriched, purified. Ibrahim (A.S)’s faith in and love for Allah rings through the beautiful prayers of His that Allah records in the Quran: “My Lord! Bestow on me Wisdom and Authority, and join me with the righteous. And grant me an honourable mention in the later generations. And make me one of the inheritors of the Paradise of Delight...” (26:83-85) The achievement of the Contented Self brings out the human soul in all the richness, beauty and grandeur that human nature is capable of, till the exclusive title ‘ahsan i taqweem’ (the best of all creation) is earned and Allah Himself bears testimony hence: “Salam be upon Ibrahim (A.S). Thus indeed do We reward the doers of good. Verily he was one of our believing slaves...”(37:109)
The Faith of the Contented Self expresses itself in ways larger than life, much greater than what is humanly understandable. The patience of Ibrahim (A.S) through the trials he went through, his exemplary sacrifice was one such expression of the faith of the Contented Self, the intensity of which transcends the limitations of historical time. Allah has preserved it forever, to be relived, refelt. Ibrahim (AS)’s faith broke free from the tethers that bind man to the pettiness of the Minimal Self (nafs e ammara)_ from base desire, from egoistic impulse.
Allah reciprocates, blesses and preserves the glorious deeds of His righteous slaves. Hence Ibrahim, having triumphed over all of life’s trials, received the boundless Love of His Lord. The mention of Ibrahim A.S in the Quran resonates with Love of the Speaker, the Lord of Ibrahim A.S. Allah says: “And who can be better in religion than one who submits his face to Allah and does righteous deeds and follows the religion of Ibrahim (A.S). And Allah did take Ibrahim (A.S) as an intimate Friend.” (4:125), and “Verily, Ibrahim (A.S) was, without doubt, forbearing, used to invoke Allah with humility, and was repentant.” (11:75)
It is the Love from God for His slave who sought His Love with burning desire that announces: “And take you the station of Ibrahim (A.S) as a place of prayer...” (2:125)
Ibrahim (A.S) was blessed with leadership, honour and respect among all mankind. He is revered as the patriarch of the Jewish, Christian and Muslim people, from whom all monotheistic faiths spring forth. And yet, the position of Ibrahim (A.S) in Islam is unique. The pristine tauhid of Islam that accepts no semblance of shirk in any manifestation, is the continuation of the mission of Ibrahim (A.S). Allah insists in the Quran to ‘follow the religion of Ibrahim’, the pure Monotheistic tradition: “It (Islam), is the religion of your father Ibrahim (A.S).” (22:78) The Arabs even before Islam were conscious of and proud of their Abrahamic ancestry. Despite the corruption of polytheism and many rampant social ills, the concept of the One God of Ibrahim A.S, the Sublime, Omnipotent Being above all, was part of Arab tradition in one form or another. Islam purified, reinstated and revived that Abrahamic faith with its simple declaration of ‘La ilaha il Allah’ (no god but Allah), and hence has a legitimate claim of being a consummation of the Abrahamic mission.
It will not be an overstatement to say that the ritual of Hajj is in many ways a commemoration of the extraordinary life and struggle of Ibrahim (A.S) and his family. It celebrates the edifying legacy of Ibrahim (A.S), who, eons ago, had prayed: “Our Lord! Make us submissive unto You, and from our offspring, raise a nation submissive unto You... send amongst them a Messenger of their own, who shall recite unto them Your verses, and instruct them in the Book and the Wisdom, and purify them...” (2:128-129). The rituals of Hajj immortalize Ibrahim’s faith and privilege the believers to take of the immensity of that boundless treasure. The Kaabah itself bespeaks Ibrahim’s faith and his belief in the Oneness, the Sublimity of God. Muhammad Asad writes: “Never had I felt so strongly as now, before the Kaába, that the hand of the builder (Ibrahim A.S) had come so close to his religious conception. In the utter simplicity of a cube, in the complete renunciation of all beauty of line and form, spoke this thought: ‘whatever beauty man may be able to create with his hands, it will be only conceit to deem it worthy of God; therefore, the simplest that man can conceive is the greatest that he can do to express the glory of God.’... Here in the Kaaba, even the size spoke of human renunciation and self-surrender; the proud modesty of this structure had no compare in the world.” Each time the pilgrim performs a ritual, he experiences again for a blessed moment, that edifying legacy, and revives within him again_ in a minuscule proportion_ that spirit. When he prays at the Maqam e Ibrahim, he reaffirms his association, as a monotheist, with Ibrahim (A.S) the Haneef, and realizes how the passionate faith of ‘those of the High Desire’ is immortalized by the Immortal, how the footsteps in the sands of time remain, leading, guiding, enlightening and blessing_ always showing the Way, the sirat al Mustaqeem; going where no road goes, taking the Road with them.