BY B.Y MAHMOUD
O Allah, You are Peace and from You is peace. Blessed are you, the Majestic and the Noble.
The question to ask ourselves here is: When I say these words, am I actually connecting to them? Do I feel a sense of peace with the conclusion of this prayer, this direct conversation between me and Allah? And if the answer is no, this does not mean that we should give up and despair. The One who has named Himself as-Salām is inviting us to turn to Him for peace, and not to turn away in distress. Our shortcomings in prayer are an opportunity to connect to Allah’s name as-Salām, by learning how to be truly devoted in our prayers and gain peace and strength through them. And every effort that we put into finding peace through prayer is rewarded in a multitude of ways through as-Salām Himself.
Cultivate Peace in your Heart
Another way to live with this name of Allah is to try and cultivate a sound heart. Much of our internal disconcertment and how we behave subsequently is directly correlated with the diseases we allow to seep into and spread in our hearts. Have we ever met a person who is greedy and peaceful? Or hateful and peaceful? These are natural opposites. No one whose heart is overwhelmed by spiritual diseases can be at peace. We have to remember that from the flawlessness of as-Salām, and the fact that He is the Giver of peace, all of His commands are also perfect and by their very nature lead to both internal and external peace.So, when Allah and His Messenger tell us to free our hearts of arrogance and envy, for example, it is because that is the path to salām and as-Salām. He grants peace to those who work on the state of their hearts and those who strive to cleanse their hearts of these flaws. We are told in the Qur’an:
The Day when there will not benefit [anyone] wealth or children, but only one who comes to Allah with a sound heart (QalbinSalīm). Holy Qur’an 26:88–89.
And what is a Sound Heart?
Many of the Qur’anic exegetes specified that, among other things, it is a heart free of associating anything with Allah. Al-Qurtubī, reviewing the different statements and interpretations of this phrase, stated that it is the heart that is free from blameworthy traits and that is characterized by praiseworthy traits.Imam al-Ghazālī similarly stated, “Every servant whose heart is free from deceit, hatred, envy and evil intent, and whose limbs are unblemished by sins and forbidden actions, and whose attributes are not affected by inversion and reversal, will be one who comes to God, the Most High with a flawless heart.”
The Prophet (PBUH) also emphasized the importance of the state of our hearts. He was asked, “O Messenger of Allah, who is the best of people?” The Prophet replied, “One with a heart swept clean and truthful in speech.”The companion inquired further about “a heart swept clean.” The Prophet (PBUH) replied, “One that is mindful of Allah and pure, in which there is no sin, nor aggression, nor envy.”
There are numerous sayings of the Prophet (PBUH) instructing us to cleanse our hearts of various diseases, such as ostentation, arrogance, rancour, envy,greed,miserliness, bad character and heedlessness. Part of attaining internal peace is to reflect upon the state of our hearts to know to what degree we have these diseases and work on freeing our hearts from them.
Moreover, the Qur’an describes to us someone who had such a heart: “…Ibrāhīm, when he came to his Lord with a sound heart.” Holy Qur’an, 37:83–84. It is almost like Allah is telling us that if we want to achieve this sound heart, we need to look to the story and character of the Prophet Ibrāhim. What we find is that his heart was completely free of anything other than Allah. When his father threatened to stone him for calling to God’s way, he said, “Peace be on you, I will pray to my Lord to forgive you; surely He is ever Affectionate to me.”Holy Qur’an, 19:47.When he was catapulted into a raging fire, he was in a state of complete calm and trust. As Ibn Abbas narrates, his last words were, “Sufficient is Allah for me, and He is the Best Disposer of Affairs.”
Another equally important way to purify our hearts is through seeking forgiveness. The Messenger of Allah said:Verily, when the servant commits a sin, a black mark appears upon his heart. If he abandons the sin, seeks forgiveness, and repents, then his heart will be polished. If he returns to the sin, the blackness will be increased until it overcomes his heart. It is the covering that Allah has mentioned in the Holy Qur’an, 83:14. No, rather a covering is over their hearts from what they have earned.
The steps described in this hadith are important for anyone who is serious about becoming close to God and attaining peace. Sin and disobedience to Allah naturally affect the state of our hearts. The effect need not be permanent because when we stop the sin, ask forgiveness from Allah, and pledge to never return to it, the negative effect will vanish; not only will it vanish, we can become even better than we ever were before. The link with seeking forgiveness is important. The Prophet (PBUH) taught us,whoever increases his prayers for forgiveness, Allah will grant him relief from every worry, a way out from every hardship, and provide for him in ways he does not expect.
Why would seeking forgiveness have this effect? We need to remember that seeking forgiveness does not simply mean uttering the words “astaghfirullāh” (I seek forgiveness from Allah) or “Rabbīighfirlī” (My Lord, forgive me). Truly seeking forgiveness means we are reflecting upon our actions and our hearts, identifying our mistakes and sins, and then seeking forgiveness. At a spiritual level, Allah is guaranteeing that a person who does this will be granted relief. At the material level, because it is easy to get stuck on a problem or a difficulty, the reflection that leads to seeking forgiveness enables us to get ‘unstuck’ because we are focusing on what we have control over—our actions. We take responsibility for our mistakes, seek forgiveness from Allah, try to do better and move on.
Spread Peace and Keep People Safe from Harm
The Prophet instructed us to spread peace. Famously, the first thing the Prophet said to the people of Madīnah was, “O people, spread peace, feed the hungry, and pray at night when people are sleeping and you will enter Paradise in peace.” He also said, “Spread peace and you will receive peace.” Indeed, one of the ways to be guaranteed forgiveness is to spread peace, as the Prophet said, “Verily, among the deeds that must result in forgiveness are offering peace and good words.”
As Muslims, our greeting to each other is one of peace. When one says “as-salāmuʿalaykum” or “Peace be upon you,” part of the meaning is that you are praying for the person to be protected from every harm, such as physical and mental illness, the evil acts of people, from sin and spiritual diseases, and the hellfire. Moreover, it is also a declaration to the person you are greeting that you will not harm them; i.e., you are guaranteeing them safety from you and peace. Furthermore, because as-Salām is one of the names of Allah, this greeting has another meaning: we are saying, “I place you in the security of God’s name as-Salām.” Since we are with as-Salām and we are the servants of as-Salām, then we are at peace with others, and this peace comes from God Himself. Indeed, this is directly related to the Prophet’s statement that, “The Muslim is the one from whose tongue and hand the people are safe. When you truly submit to as-Salām, you become a conduit for peace and safety.
This point is related to the previous one regarding purifying our hearts of various diseases. We cannot truly keep people safe from our harm and be in a relationship of peace with them if we are prisoners of our lower selves.In this sense, well-being and peace in society are dependent upon our individual efforts to purify our hearts.
Strive for Excellence
As servants of as-Salām, the Flawless, we should strive for excellence in all our deeds and ‘flawlessness’ to the degree that is humanly possible. The Prophet said, “When one of you does something, Allah loves that you do it with proficiency.” We should strive for excellence and for good because we are servants of the Perfect One, and realize that all and any good comes from Him.