The True Nature of Meeting the Almighty and the Meaning of Travelling Towards Him
The Quran and Our Questions about Travelling Towards and Meeting the Almighty
يَا أَيُّهَا الْإِنسَانُ إِنَّكَ كَادِحٌ إِلَىٰ رَبِّكَ كَدْحًا فَمُلَاقِيهِ
“O man! You are laboring toward your Lord laboriously, and you will surely meet Him.”
A Physical Journey?
The Holy Quran tells us that human beings are continuously travelling towards the Almighty and that this journey is intrinsically intertwined with hardship and toil. Upon reading this Quranic verse, we are immediately faced with several queries: What kind of journey are we talking about? Does it involve physical movement? What does “meeting God” actually mean? Is it a physical and bodily encounter with the Divine? Will all people meet God in the same way? These are questions that need to be pondered upon and answered.
First and foremost, any journey towards the Almighty cannot be a physical act of travelling because God is not a physical entity and does not occupy any specific physical location or space.
وَهُوَ الَّذِي فِي السَّمَاءِ إِلَٰهٌ وَفِي الْأَرْضِ إِلَٰهٌ
“It is He who is God in the sky, and God on the earth…”
فَأَيْنَمَا تُوَلُّوا فَثَمَّ وَجْهُ اللَّهِ
“…so whichever way you turn, there is the face of Allah!”
Fundamentally, it is impossible for bodily and physical movement to occur towards a destination that transcends space and matter. Bodily movement can only take place between two locations or instances within the physical realm and, as a result, its target or goal must be a specific point in space and time. This answers the first of our questions and we conclude that any movement towards God cannot be a physical undertaking.
Will Everyone Meet God?
As for “meeting” the Almighty, we find several verses within the Holy Quran that speak of this unique encounter between human-beings and their Creator.
الَّذِينَ يَظُنُّونَ أَنَّهُم مُّلَاقُو رَبِّهِمْ
“(The humble) those who are certain that they will meet their Lord…”
فَمَن كَانَ يَرْجُو لِقَاءَ رَبِّهِ فَلْيَعْمَلْ عَمَلًا صَالِحًا وَلَا يُشْرِكْ بِعِبَادَةِ رَبِّهِ أَحَدًا
“So whoever expects to meet his Lord, let him act righteously, and not associate anyone with the worship of his Lord.”
Apparently, these Quranic verses, as well as the one mentioned in the beginning of our discourse, speak of a meeting between God and all human-beings in general. However, when we study sacred texts such as the supplications of Imam Zayn al-‘Ābidīn (as) we find that saints such as himself prayed relentlessly and yearned whole-heartedly for meeting God. Are these “meetings” one and the same? Or do they signify two different types of encounters, one for human-beings in general and the other reserved for the Almighty’s most pious servants?
An Insufficient Answer
In truth, these Quranic verses have been the focal point of much debate amongst scholars. For instance, those who lean towards Islamic spiritualism argue that this meeting is reserved only for the Almighty’s most righteous servants. They believe that even though the Holy Quran addresses all human-beings in general, only a select few will actually achieve this Divine encounter. In their view, these Quranic verses are similar in nature to verses that speak of human-beings as God’s vice-regents on earth. Obviously, not all people are qualified to hold such a position, even though the Holy Quran apparently grants this title to all human-beings without exception. After all, how can vicious criminals such as Shimr and Yazīd be imagined to hold such an honor. This is a standpoint adhered to by one group of exegetes and scholars. However, it runs counter to the apparent intent of the Holy Quran’s verses.
Seeking the Correct Answers
So what is the correct answer to this mystery? In order to reach an accurate conclusion, we must first analyze two Quranic concepts: “Kad‘ḥ” (Painstaking Movement) and “Mulāqāt” (Meeting).
A Painstaking Movement
Developments within the Concept of “Movement”
“Kadḥ” signifies movement infused with arduous toil and hardship. “Movement” itself, as a concept, is commonly associated with the displacement of a body from one point to another. Philosophers and logicians, however, viewed the matter more incisively and said that any gradual change, qualitative or quantitative in nature, stands to signify “movement”. Upon further contemplation, they observed that all things, especially living entities, aged as time continuously passed by, even if no observable physical change occurred within them. Every moment that passed would never return, and this process never ceased. As such, they concluded that this too was a form of movement, and that time was an indicator that revealed the existence of movement. In turn, they were led to yet another query: Could time be imagined for an entity that is totally and utterly devoid of any sort of change or movement? In answering this question, they came to a monotheistic conclusion: God, they argued, was the Creator of time and, thus, was not bound by the confines of time Himself. This was simply because any and all forms of change or movement were unconceivable within the Almighty.
The Classical View of “Movement”
Classical philosophers believed that the essence or core entity of all material things always remained stable. As such, any and all changes they experienced were exclusively related to secondary attributes. For instance, changes that occur in a human-being, regardless of whether they are material in nature like alterations in weight, height and physical strength or non-material in nature like modifications in intellect, knowledge and emotion, all occur at a level that has no fundamental bearing upon that person’s core existence and identity. Subsequently, we observe that the person in question continues to regard himself as the same person who existed prior to these said occurrences. For classical philosophers, this stable and unchanging core was similar to the canvas of a painting; the canvas never changed, while the paint continuously transformed to create new pictures.
A Revolution WIthin the Idea of “Movement”
Mulla Sadra, however, completely revolutionized the idea of change and movement when he said that movement was not exclusive to ontic or non-essential attributes. This meant that the idea of “movement” was not restricted to qualitative or quantitative changes within an entity while its core essence remained constant, but rather the very essence of material entities underwent transformation. Furthermore, this “essential or core movement” was perpetual in nature. Mulla Sadra explained that all material entities were continuously experiencing change and rejuvenation at the most fundamental and existential level of their being.
وَتَرَى الْجِبَالَ تَحْسَبُهَا جَامِدَةً وَهِيَ تَمُرُّ مَرَّ السَّحَابِ ۚ صُنْعَ اللَّهِ الَّذِي أَتْقَنَ كُلَّ شَيْءٍ
“You see the mountains, which you take to be stationary, while they drift like passing clouds – the handiwork of Allah who has made everything faultless…”
Mulla Sadra believed that this Quranic verse was especially indicative of such a meaning.
Based on this interpretation of movement, all material things are continuously in need of God. This effectively debunked the idea that God’s place was that of a mere initiator of existence, wherein all entities depended upon Him for their initial creation but became independent of Him once this creation had already occurred. In Mulla Sadra’s view, existence itself must be bestowed continuously because existence itself underwent perpetual change and development. As a result, all entities depended upon the Almighty in order to achieve future instances of their own existence. A mere iota of a moment without God, an umpteenth fraction of a nanosecond without the Almighty’s grace would cause any entity to immediately dissolve into non-existence. In terms of their importance and significance to Philosophy, Mulla Sadra’s ideas in this regards were at par to the discovery of the atom within Physics.
Where Will This Movement End?
Based on Mulla Sadra’s philosophical revelation, the entire universe is locked in a state of perpetual motion, but where is this movement headed? Where would it lead to and where must it end? Unfortunately, and despite various attempts to answer these questions, we must admit that philosophy falls short of being able to satisfy these queries. Nevertheless, the Holy Quran provides us some guidance in this regard.
أَلَا إِلَى اللَّهِ تَصِيرُ الْأُمُورُ
“Indeed all matters are gradually moving towards Allah!”
وَأَنَّ إِلَىٰ رَبِّكَ الْمُنتَهَىٰ
“And indeed the terminus is toward your Lord”
From a Quranic perspective, the movement of all things is towards God, the Only Constant within all of existence. It is within Him that this existential journey will finally come to an end.
Is This Movement Really “Painstaking”?
Here, we find ourselves faced by a rather nagging inquiry. Is this movement truly laborious and painstaking in nature? Our lives slowly pass by, moment after moment, and every second of our existence is different from the one before. However, we feel no pain or anguish or hardship. So why has God chosen to use the word “Kadh” to signify this journey? Even though the idea of “essential and existential movement”, as put forward by Mulla Sadra, is correct in its own regard, the Holy Quran apparently wants to convey something greater and more profound than just this concept. Surely, Quranic exegetes need to shed more light on this question.
Two Forms of Movement
One possible answer is that the Holy Quran seeks to highlight that there exist two different kinds of movements when it comes to the lives of human-beings. One of these movements is automatic and involuntary, and this is the movement identified by Mulla Sadra. The other, and probably more significant movement, is voluntary in nature. In this movement, human-beings are free to choose their own goals, stop when they wish and turn back or speed up whenever they want. Similarly, one may even miscalculate one’s position within this journey and end up imagining that one is making great progress whereas the reality might be completely the opposite.
الَّذِينَ ضَلَّ سَعْيُهُمْ فِي الْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا وَهُمْ يَحْسَبُونَ أَنَّهُمْ يُحْسِنُونَ صُنْعًا
“Those whose efforts are misguided in the life of the world, while they suppose they are doing good”
In truth, this particular movement or journey is related to the human soul since free-will is one of its faculties. However, the soul normally functions via the help of the body. Even the act of thinking requires the aid and help of the physical brain. Nevertheless, the direction and fundamental drive of this form of movement is determined by the soul.
Two Categories of Voluntary Movement
Voluntary movement, itself, is further divided into two categories. Sometimes the reason behind such movement is non-intellectual and subconscious in nature, like the voluntary actions of a new born baby. When a baby cries, it does so willingly, but this act is not the result of some well-calculated thought process. Rather, it is instinctive in nature, like the actions carried out by animals when they seek out food and shelter for themselves. Animals do not ponder upon the morality of their activities, nor do they philosophize about the necessity of their movements. They simply act whenever their intuition tells them to. This category of movement, voluntary as it may be, is nevertheless animalistic in essence. So when do we graduate to become true humans? In reality, we rise to the level of true humanity when we start thinking about our actions, when we actively ponder upon why a certain action must or must not be performed, and when we contemplate the results of actions, both in this world and the hereafter. This is when we start to perform deeds that are truly beneficial and worthwhile in nature. Indeed, if our activities bear these hallmarks, then we deserve to be called human, or else we are no better than mere animals.
ذَرْهُمْ يَأْكُلُوا وَيَتَمَتَّعُوا وَيُلْهِهِمُ الْأَمَلُ
“Leave them to eat and enjoy and to be diverted by longings”
وَالَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا يَتَمَتَّعُونَ وَيَأْكُلُونَ كَمَا تَأْكُلُ الْأَنْعَامُ وَالنَّارُ مَثْوًى لَّهُمْ
“As for the faithless, they enjoy and eat like the cattle do, and the Fire will be their [final] abode”
People who have lowered themselves to this level of degradation, and whose actions are determined purely by animalistic and carnal motivations, are indeed synonymous to wild beasts. There does, however, exist one key difference between them and regular animals. Regular animals act according to their innate and natural instincts and, thus, bear no fault nor folly, but people who have willingly sunk to this level of decadence are indeed deserving of reprimand and rebuke. They have gravely sinned by voluntarily wasting the dignity and nobility bestowed upon them by God, replacing it with a lowly and feral existence. This is the sin that qualifies them for hellfire.
In summary, human beings enjoy the ability to move consciously and voluntarily upon a path of their own choosing, regardless of whether this path leads them to the divine proximity of God or to the deepest pits of hell-fire.
 The Holy Quran, Surah al-Inshiqāq, Verse 6
 The Holy Quran, Surah al-Zukhruf, Verse 84
 The Holy Quran, Surah al-Baqarah, Verse 115
 The Holy Quran, Surah al-Baqarah, Verse 46
 The Holy Quran, Surah al-Kahf, Verse 110
 The Holy Quran, Surah al-Naml, Verse 88
 The Holy Quran, Surah al-Shūrā, Verse 53
 The Holy Quran, Surah al-Najm, Verse 42
 The Holy Quran, Surah al-Kahf, Verse 104
 The Holy Quran, Surah al-Ḥijr, Verse 3
 The Holy Quran, Surah Muhammad, Verse 12