When endeavouring to explain to someone how I uncovered my spirituality, I usually say it happened quite suddenly, in a moment of clarity.
Throughout my childhood and young adult years, God remained in the background of my consciousness. I believed in Him, and performed some rituals of worship to express this belief. Yet He rarely crossed my mind during day-to-day life, and I felt it was more important to focus my attention on intellectual advancement through academic and professional avenues.
I held myself to an elevated standard in work and study, always getting high grades on exams and maintaining a diligent work ethic that opened many opportunities for advancement. I sought happiness through ties of family and friendship, and on a couple of occasions, came close to forging a sincere commitment in marriage.
Barriers to understanding God’s message
However, as it turned out, life was full of all kinds of mishaps and disappointments. My professional success was overshadowed by office politics or ill-intentioned colleagues who managed to drain my enthusiasm. Love relationships that seemed to be headed for marriage would unravel due to dishonesty and lack of integrity. And family ties would be put to the test by financial and health difficulties. The belief in God lurking in the background of my life wasn’t sufficient to help me deal with what was flooding in its foreground.
With my lack of attentiveness to the practice of faith, I was unable to understand why God constantly placed hurdles in my path and left me to wallow in despair. It was as I was passing through one of these hurdles – frustrated, anxious and impatient to discover an answer – that I came to that moment of crisp, unhindered, spiritual and intellectual clarity.
In the Quran, which I hadn’t read up to that point, there is a description of a veil over the eyes of those who aren’t receptive to God’s message, a barrier that makes it inconceivable for them to understand faith in the true sense. Only by seeking answers with an open mind can one overcome this barrier. God refers to a divine light that, when it shines on the heart, lifts the veil and illuminates a holistic understanding of belief in God and the purpose of life.
In my moment of clarity, it was as though I was moved from the former state to the latter state, from the “depths of darkness into light.”
“He will provide for you a Light to help you walk; He will forgive you your past: for God is Most Forgiving, Most Merciful.” (Quran 57:28)
Blessings in disguise
It happened one morning before dawn more than two years ago. Unable to sleep I sat in my living room trying to decipher how to cope with the latest predicament; trying to understand why I deserved it. In a moment of inspiration, I knew the answer. What I perceived as a disappointment was actually a blessing, for it prompted me to question my state of existence, preparing me to be more receptive to God’s message and mercy.
I felt suddenly flooded with love, as though a burden was lifted from my heart. I realised I had to stop searching outside of myself for fulfilment, because the transience of relationships to things, people and places can never offer enduring satisfaction. That would be a difficult habit to break and yet I knew in that moment that all of the love, energy, loyalty and sincerity in my heart, that was often mishandled and mistreated by others, I needed to direct to God.
After that moment, I began to stop questioning why things didn’t work out and started allowing myself to give circumstances a chance to fall into place as they are meant to, with patience and a tranquil spirit. All I had learned in life through university, media, books and in my extensive professional career became comparatively trivial to the knowledge that the moment of clarity afforded me. I knew that the insight of that moment surpassed everything else that I had encountered, and felt with certainty that the knowledge I would seek and attain next would alter the course of my life.
In the two and a half years since, I have uncovered more and more layers of my faith in God, and found the path to peace of mind, the straight path of Islam – a state of mind where a believer lives in submission to God – laid out before me. I do, at times, encounter people who strive to label those of us who are on a spiritual journey as intellectually inferior, but these distractions are unimportant as we advance in the pursuit of knowledge.
Having experienced a truly dramatic shift in my faith and state of mind, I say with confidence that the path of uncovering and understanding God is, as 11th century Islamic theologian Al-Ghazali has pointed out, the route to the greatest knowledge a human being can attain.
“When God becomes the ruler of the heart, He floods it with mercy and sheds His light upon it, and the breast is opened and there is revealed to it the secret of the world of spirits,” writes Al-Ghazali in his book, The Marvels of the Heart. “By a gift of mercy there is cleared away from the surface of the heart the veil of whiteness that blinds its eye, and there shines in it the real nature of divine things.”