A Hadith says that:
“Whosoever knows himself knows his Lord.”
This particular Hadith is highly focuses on achieving and realizing closeness to Allah (Exalted and Majestic). What is meant by the idea of knowing oneself to achieve a close relationship with our Creator? What are the various entities of ourselves and the requirements of knowing oneself?
On examination of the Hadith, it communicates the design, way or method of knowing oneself through knowing Allah.
Allah makes it clear in Surah 50 Al Qaf, Verse 16 that:
“It was We Who created man, and We know what dark suggestions his soul makes to him: for We are nearer to him than his jugular vein.”
This verse illustrates and beautifully explains the position of our relationship and the closeness to our Creator which must be realized for our guidance and transformation.
To be closer than the jugular vein, relates to the core and the nature of ourselves. Let us examine the entities within ourselves in order to achieve and discover this close proximity to our Creator, the Lord of the heavens and the earth.
The Entities of the Self
We have a body, encompassing the various organs, senses and cognitive faculties which are guiding integrals for our awareness and development. Although these faculties are foundational and guiding instruments, they are not sufficient for realizing a higher transcendental, contented, and spiritual individual.
When one observes oneself, one sees a lower base self or nafs al Ammara bis-soo, which is always in anguish trying to appease desires and the material aspect of the self. This soul is inclined towards evil.
The Noble Quran describes this self in Surah 12 Yusuf, Verse 53:
“Nor do I absolve my own self (of blame): the (human) soul is certainly prone to evil, unless my Lord do bestow His Mercy: but surely my Lord is Oft- forgiving, Most Merciful.”
This lower instigating self follows its whims that are disruptive but it can (with spiritual effort) progress to a self-reproaching or blaming soul which is called nafs al Lawwama.
The Glorious Quran in Surah 75 Al Qiyamah (The Resurrection), Verse 2 describes nafs al Lawwama:
“And I do call to witness the self-reproaching spirit…”
Sheikh Ibn Ataillah Iskandri (Allah be pleased with him) a spiritual master of the Shadhiliyyah Sufi Order (Tariqa) who lived in Egypt in the 13th Century A.D (died 1309) tells us that these two levels and the lower character of the nafs are not close to Allah (Exalted and Majestic) and are not accepted by Him.
The Monitoring of the Self
These disruptive forces and evil tendencies must be recognized with clarity within ourselves if an unveiling is to take place that leads to heightened consciousness (of Allah) which emanates from a contented self.
For example, particular characteristics such as rancor, greed, anger, blaming etc. within ourselves, must be recognized for healing to take place. And that requires discipline: by being aware of them and monitoring them. Hence we have to be ever vigilant of these negative temperaments that arise within ourselves for their transformation.
Through recognizing, monitoring and disciplining of the beastly lower self and its various evil and blameworthy characteristics one begins refining one behaviour to experience the path of Tauheed (the unity or oneness of Allah) and to establish Taqwa (the consciousness of Allah, Exalted and Majestic), and the Zikr (remembrance) of Allah (Exalted and Majestic), that will lead to a contented heart and self which will realize the ultimate closeness to Allah (Exalted and Majestic).
What is this path of Allah (Exalted and Majestic) consciousness?
The Purification of the Self
The Quran declares in Surah 91 Ash-Shams (The Sun), Verse 9:
“Indeed he succeeds who purifies his own self”
The purification of the self then leads one to know Allah. How can one know Allah (Exalted and Majestic) by Allah (Exalted and Majestic)?
The Prophet of Islam (peace be upon him) said that there is an organ in the body that if it is ill the entire body is ill, and that is the heart. Some may understand this to be a physically conditioned heart, which may be true, but in reality the Prophet (peace be upon him) was talking about a higher, healthy spiritual state of the heart.
If a healthy spiritual heart is the vehicle to know your self which realizes the knowing of Allah (Exalted and Majestic), then the stages, degrees of knowledge to develop that awareness must be learned, practiced and taught to achieve such a station (maqam).
We have seen that a healthy heart is important and necessary for our consciousness and development. The heart for mankind is as water is for fish. Therefore a seeker must watch his heart, nourish his iman (faith) and persevere towards righteous action, righteous deeds and establish patience for the pleasure of his Lord. Yet, beyond the heart, there must be an entity within us, which is perfectly suited to our spiritual purpose.
In Surah 13 Ar Ra’ad (The Thunder), Verse 28 confirms that:
“Those who believe, and whose hearts find satisfaction in the remembrance of Allah. For without doubt in the remembrance of Allah do hearts find satisfaction.”
Therefore, within the heart must reside the perfect entity which is our goal – the soul or contented self (the ruh or nafs al mardiya).
Hadrat Ali (Allah be pleased with him) said that, he knew his Lord through His Lord [Araftu Rabi bi Rabi].
Hadrat Ali’s (Allah be pleased with him) statement concerns the purest form of worship: when something is enriched by Allah (Exalted and Majestic). He expressed the purest thing that is acquired by anyone: a heart (and therefore soul) nourished by Allah (Exalted and Majestic). He therefore knew Allah (Exalted and Majestic) by the light that was within him. This light can only be the soul (ruh) that resided within his heart – a soul that is from Allah and sustained by Him, Most High.
Allah (Exalted and Majestic) asks the contented soul (the ruh) in the Noble Quran in Surah 7 Al Araf (The Heights), Verse 172:
“Am I not your Lord (who cherishes and sustains you)?”-They said: “Yes! We do testify!” [Alastu birabbikum, qaloo bala shahidna]
It was when the soul (ruh) was created that the light of Allah’s (Exalted and Majestic) words was reflected in it. That is the perfect and the natural entity within us, which is described as the soul (the ruh). This perfect entity, the soul (the ruh) is the testimony to ourselves as to Whom we belong to and to Whom we will return. This was the covenant that was accepted by the soul (the ruh) and who must finally return to its Lord in the original pure state.
The Quran al Kareem asserts in Surah 43 AZ Zakhruf (Ornaments of Gold), Verse 14:
“And verily, to Our Lord we indeed are to return!”
The example of the first man Adam (peace be upon him) and his wife Hawa (Allah be pleased with her), who in heaven were slipped, were removed, and placed on earth. This story, explained in the Great Quran, is of a soul that has to be disciplined to make its return from the worldly to the hereafter. The Prophet Adam (peace be upon him) discovered that the vessel to return to heaven was through the world, but it was essential to return illumined, enlightened, righteous, groomed and contented to the true abode of this perfected soul. (Refer Surah 7 Al Araf (The Heights), Verse 19-29)
The following Surah 13 Ar Ra’ad (The Thunder), Verse 11 tells us how Allah (Exalted and Majestic) will expect our condition:
“Verily never will Allah (Exalted and Majestic) change the condition of a people until they change what is in their hearts.”
At the time the soul was created, it recognized and acknowledged the position of its Lord, the Creator of the heavens and the earth. Therefore it is essential that mankind accept responsibility for the soul and fulfill the covenant that it made with its Creator.
For mankind to make this journey back to heaven it is imperative that we change the condition of our hearts and character towards obedience, service and submission to the will of Allah (Exalted and Majestic). Human beings, due to their forgetfulness and heedlessness must remember the original covenant that was made with the Almighty Creator which will set in motion the return journey to Him.