The True Nature of Meeting the Almighty and the Meaning of Travelling Towards Him (3)
Seeking the Correct Answers (3)
As explained previously, the entire universe is locked in a state of movement. Indeed, its core essence is movement itself. We humans are part of this universe and, therefore, we too are moving continuously and without any inkling of interruption. The entirety of this motion is directed towards one reality, which is God Almighty.
وَأَنَّ إِلَىٰ رَبِّكَ الْمُنتَهَىٰ
“And indeed the terminus is toward your Lord”
إِنَّا لِلَّهِ وَإِنَّا إِلَيْهِ رَاجِعُونَ
“Indeed we belong to Allah and to Him do we indeed return”
On the other hand, the Quran teaches us that God is not restricted to any particular place or position, and that He is indeed present everywhere without exception.
فَأَيْنَمَا تُوَلُّوا فَثَمَّ وَجْهُ اللَّهِ
“…so whichever way you turn, there is the face of Allah!”
This leads us to our key question: What does travelling or moving towards God actually mean? And why has God described this motion as being “painstaking” and “laborious”?
The First Probable Answer – The General and Essential Movement of the Entire Universe
This temporal and material world lacks the very potential and capability of allowing reality to manifest itself in its totality. However, in the Hereafter all obstacles and barriers to perception will be removed, and truth shall reveal itself to everyone with all its glory.
يَوْمَ تُبْلَى السَّرَائِرُ
“On the day when the secrets are revealed.”
On that day, no one will be able to deny or be skeptical about any reality. Every single soul and entity will realize the presence of the Almighty, and will comprehend and fully appreciate that nothing, absolutely nothing apart from Him matters in the least. On that fateful day, everyone will understand that no action can be taken without His approval, nor can a single syllable be uttered without His permission.
لَّا يَتَكَلَّمُونَ إِلَّا مَنْ أَذِنَ لَهُ الرَّحْمَٰنُ وَقَالَ صَوَابًا
“…None shall speak except he who is permitted by the All-Beneficent and says what is rightful.”
Certain people, tortured and tormented by the sheer intensity of Divine punishment and retribution, will try to speak out, but will find themselves prohibited from doing so.
قَالَ اخْسَئُوا فِيهَا وَلَا تُكَلِّمُونِ
“He will say, ‘Be gone in it, and do not speak to Me!”
In our material world, some individuals or institutions apparently wield power over others, but in the Hereafter, this illusion will also dissipate. Indeed, on that day, it will become explicitly clear that all sovereignty and authority belongs exclusively to the Almighty.
الْمُلْكُ يَوْمَئِذٍ لِّلَّهِ
“On that day all sovereignty will belong to Allah”
Therefore, on the Day of Judgement, we humans will be faced with a situation described in the manner stated above. It would be as if we had travelled from one reality to another, from one world to another. If this interpretation of the verse: “O man! You are laboring toward your Lord laboriously, and you will surely meet Him” be accepted, then the movement mentioned therein is simply indicative of the general and involuntary movement of the entire universe. During the material phase of this existence, we human beings are unable to perceive God’s presence, and must rely on intellectual proof or divinely revealed evidence in order to accept His Omnipresent entity. However, when this entire world finally graduates into the next phase of its existence, shedding its material and corporeal yoke and transforming into the perpetual and timeless realm of the Hereafter, then we humans will find ourselves able to existentially experience the immediate proximity and Omnipresence of the Divine.
Nevertheless, this interpretation fails to explain why this movement is “laborious” and “painstaking”. Indeed, the universe’s essential and existential movement is automatic and involuntary, and even though we humans are intrinsically part of this movement, we feel no difficulty or strain due to it. In fact, we do not even realize that such a movement exists unless we pay special attention to philosophical details and utilize intellectual arguments in order to conclude that such a movement is inevitable. Thus, the interpretation in question does not seem sufficient to fully explain the contents of the Quranic verse under scrutiny.
The Second Probable Answer – A Special Journey of the Most Pious of God’s Servants
According to the viewpoint of some of the most eminent experts of Islamic spirituality, the movement described by the Holy Quran is not a general movement. It is not a movement wherein all human-beings are automatically participating simply because they are part of a universe that is in motion. Instead, the Quran is speaking about a voluntary journey undertaken by God’s most pious servants. To start this special journey, the wayfarer must begin by clearly ascertaining his final goal i.e. God Almighty, and then must strive daily to shun and shed all material attachments until nothing else remains between him and his Beloved. Naturally, such a movement is indeed painstaking and laborious.
However, this explanation also seems inadequate. Firstly, the Quranic verse starts off with the words “O man!” apparently addressing all of humanity and not just a small group of special people. Yes, we would have accepted the said theory if there existed definitive evidence from authentic narrated traditions informing us that God’s actual addressees in this Quranic verse were none other than people like the Commander of the Faithful Ali ibn Abī Ṭālib (as) and other saintly personalities. Nevertheless, the verse itself fails to convey any such limited meaning. Secondly, the context of this Quranic verse is also incompatible with the explanation proposed above. In the verses that immediately follow, God informs us about two groups of people: the first shall be individuals who will receive their records in their right hands, while the second group shall receive their records from behind their backs.
فَأَمَّا مَنْ أُوتِيَ كِتَابَهُ بِيَمِينِهِ فَسَوْفَ يُحَاسَبُ حِسَابًا يَسِيرًا وَيَنقَلِبُ إِلَىٰ أَهْلِهِ مَسْرُورًا وَأَمَّا مَنْ أُوتِيَ كِتَابَهُ وَرَاءَ ظَهْرِهِ
فَسَوْفَ يَدْعُو ثُبُورًا وَيَصْلَىٰ سَعِيرًا إِنَّهُ كَانَ فِي أَهْلِهِ مَسْرُورًا إِنَّهُ ظَنَّ أَن لَّن يَحُورَ بَلَىٰ إِنَّ رَبَّهُ كَانَ بِهِ بَصِيرًا
“Then, as for him who is given his record [of deeds] in his right hand, he will receive an easy reckoning, and he will return to his folks joyfully. But as for him who is given his record from behind his back, he will pray for annihilation, and will enter the Blaze. Indeed he used to be joyful among his folk, and he thought that he would never return. Yes, his Lord had been watching him.”
The record handed over to each individual will determine the path taken by them during their lives, while also determining the tangent of their movement in the future. As such, those who receive their dossier in their right hands will know that their movement during their worldly term was in the right direction, and will continue this same path towards eternal bliss and salvation. However, those who receive their report from behind their backs will scream in utter anguish because the route taken by their worldly movement has now led them to damnation and hellfire. Indeed, the worldly lives of individuals within the first group was not spent in a state of ignorant enjoyment and careless pleasure. They focused their eyes upon their final and everlasting goal, striving hard to move towards it, and their pleasure and happiness began when they had finally realized this priceless objective. On the other hand, individuals within the second group spent the entirety of their worldly careers in a hazy and intoxicating state of euphoric indulgence, caring not for right or wrong. They were satisfied with material delights and felt contentment even during sin and transgression. Indeed, they never believed that they would one day be held accountable for their actions. However, on the Day of Judgement, they shall realize the travesty of their delusion, and shall scream in lamentation, “Woe be upon us! We have flung ourselves in to annihilation!”
Therefore, it is clear that the “movement” and “meeting” mentioned in verse six of Surah al-Inshiqāq includes both pious as well as sinful people.
The Third Probable Answer – Our Worldly Existence: A Life Intertwined with Labor and Hardship
In all voluntary aspects of human life, we are faced with decisions wherein we sacrifice something in order to achieve something else. The very nature of the material world is defined by limitation and conflict, such that we cannot benefit from any of its opportunities, bounties or pleasures without having sacrificed something in return. Regardless of whether we choose a path of righteousness or lewd indulgence, attaining what we desire requires work, diligence and sacrifice.
لَقَدْ خَلَقْنَا الْإِنسَانَ فِي كَبَدٍ
“Certainly, We created man in travail”
Human-beings suffer and tolerate these hardships while being totally oblivious towards the fact that their voluntary efforts and activities are taking place within the parameters of a greater and involuntary universal movement. The entire universe is persistently moving towards a pre-determined destination, driven and guided by a force that is greater than all other things, but its passengers seldom realize this reality. They cannot exit or abandon this universal motion, and indeed their free will and freedom of choice is intrinsically defined within the limitations of this existential context. In fact, for humanity to enjoy the faculty of free-will, for it to be able to choose or refuse, it must necessarily exist within a realm that is essentially susceptible and compatible to change and transformation, and not within a realm that is stagnant and motionless. Truly, the material world has not been created in vain. It is designed by God to allow the fulfillment of a great purpose, and while performing this core function, it moves continuously towards Him. The divine objective pursued by the Almighty in the creation of this temporal world is to provide a setting within which people could voluntarily seek out and attain perfection and existential excellence while involuntarily faring a path that inevitably leads them back to His sublime proximity.
To better understand the relationship between these two forms of movement, let us consider a train that is relentlessly moving towards a pre-ordained destination. Inside this train, and within the general flow of its motion, we find passengers who are endowed with a certain degree of liberty. They may walk about in different directions, they may move slowly or with speed, they may choose to sit down and not move around at all, or they may even move in the opposite direction of the general movement of the train. All this is possible, but only within the parameter of the confines of the train itself. Our passengers can strive and work in order to fulfill their personal goals and ambitions, but the train will nevertheless continue to carry them in its own pre-destined direction without the slightest interruption or deviation.
Therefore, the dimension of our movement that makes it “laborious” and “painstaking” is indeed the voluntary aspect of our journey which depends entirely upon our own choices and priorities, and not the involuntary dimension through which we are existentially captive to the essential movement of the entire material universe. This is the third, and apparently correct, interpretation of the Quranic verse under study. Indeed, like most short verses of the Holy Quran revealed during the Meccan phase of the Holy Prophet’s divine mission, this verse too seeks to realign and reconfigure human attention towards the Hereafter and its permanence, while highlighting the superficial and temporary nature of the material and temporal world. It teaches us human-beings to keenly consider the goals we choose to strive for. It invites us to select objectives that are permanent in nature and asks us to be mindful of our eternal abode.
Every second of our lives that passes away can never be returned and, therefore, this resource is infinitely precious. If a person reaches the threshold of death, if he or she reaches the point of no return, then the doors of opportunity are forever sealed. At this point, every soul that wasted its life will desire to be returned. It will desire a chance to make amends, and will beg for emancipation and forgiveness. However, the angel of death will declare, “The corridors of opportunity have passed and shall never return! This is the finish! I do not have the authority to allow you even a single moment’s respite or delay!” If we humans ponder and deliberate upon this imminent eventuality, we would be able to realize the worth and value of our own lives. Surely, every millisecond of this life can be utilized to earn and achieve perpetual serenity and boundless success. If we comprehend this fact, we would never allow ourselves to waste this priceless resource upon frivolous things and activities, let alone consume it in a manner that incurs the wrath of the Almighty and earns us a place in eternal hellfire!
 The Holy Quran, Surah al-Najm, Verse 42
 The Holy Quran, Surah al-Baqarah, Verse 156
 The Holy Quran, Surah al-Baqarah, Verse 115
 The Holy Quran, Surah al-Ṭāriq, Verse 9
 The Holy Quran, Surah al-Naba, Verse 38
 The Holy Quran, Surah al-Mominūn, Verse 108
 The Holy Quran, Surah al-Ḥajj, Verse 56
 The Holy Quran, Surah al-Inshiqāq, Verse 6
 The Holy Quran, Surah al-Inshiqāq, Verse 6
 The Holy Quran, Surah al-Inshiqāq, Verses 7-15
 The Holy Quran, Surah al-Balad, Verse 4