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Cultivating Your Spiritual Life

4 Stages For Success
By Aquil Abdul Basser

Throughout the Qur'an, the Holy Book of the Muslims, Allah -to whom all praise is due-speaks of His many 'Signs' which are manifest within creation. These signs are meant to give us insight and guidance for our spiritual lives here on this plane of existence. In one such verse He says:

"For among His Signs is this, that you see the earth barren, but when We send down water (rain) to it, it is stirred to life and growth (of vegetation). Verily, He Who gives it life, surely, (He) is Able to give life to the dead (on the Day of Resurrection). Indeed! He is Able to do all things." (Quran 41:39)

These signs of Allah are meant to provide guidance for us. In this verse Allah gives us an illustration that He has the power to resurrect the "dead heart" just as He can resurrect the dead earth. But why the analogy with the earth? In another verse of the Qur'an, Allah says:

"Wal-lahu anbatakum minal ardi nabaat." - And Allah has produced you from the earth growing (gradually). (Quran 71:17)

The word "nabaat" means "plants, vegetation". In this verse Allah compares mankind to that of plants. He compares our growth/evolution physically and spiritually to the stage by stage growth of plants. Plants grow from the earth gradually. Once they reach a certain stage they are eventually "returned" to the earth via their seeds, pollination, decay etc. The cycle is then repeated. We also come from the earth growing gradually. We will eventually be returned to the earth. And as Allah teaches us in the Qur'an, we will be raised there from. But this verse also refers to our spiritual evolution as well.

Metaphorically speaking, Allah raises us from "earth". "Earth" in scriptural language represents this mortal, worldly life, with all its pursuits and pleasures, as well as materialistic concepts as opposed to the disciplined spiritual life and its concerns. Allah evolves us from being mere "earthly", physicalized, materially oriented beings to spiritually oriented beings. When our father Adam was created, he was created as a physical being first and then Allah blew his spirit into him. We too are created in this fashion. We are first created physically in the womb, then we receive "Ruh" or "spirit" from God. This is a sign of our gradual "growth" here on earth. This lets us know that the "earth" is not without purpose. It is here from which we realize our purpose. It is here where we must achieve sublimation, moving from worldly concepts and concerns to more elevated spiritual ones.

Plants (nabaat), grow from the earth and evolve toward the source of light, but they must be "cultivated". There are four fundamental stages in cultivation. They are:

1. Cleaning or changing the environment. This includes removing weeds (harmful things), internal and external debris from the soil.

2. Breaking up the soil - to prepare for sowing seeds.

3. Sowing / planting seeds.

4. Nurturing - which includes plenty of sunlight and water.

These are the basic steps we must follow when we grow plants, or grow a garden of plants. These four steps can also be applied to us and our spiritual life as Muslims, Catholics, Christians or any spiritual path we may follow. In our spiritual lives it is our souls that we must cultivate. Allah says in the Qur'an:

"By the soul and the order and proportion given to it; and its inspiration as to its wrong and its right; truly he succeeds that purifies it."

In verse nine of the above passage it says: "Qad aflaha man zak-kaaha." Which says, "Truly he succeeds who purifies it." Within that "purification" and within that "success" lies "cultivation". The word 'aflaha' means (in this 4th form of the Arabic verb): to thrive, prosper, have success. But in its first form, "falah," it means to split, cleave, plow, till, cultivate. We must cultivate our souls if we are to have "success". We cultivate plants in order to have a beautiful garden. Therefore we must cultivate our souls in order to have the most excellent garden, "Jannah" (Paradise). Whether we are cultivating soil or our souls we must follow the proper steps.

The first stage in cultivation is cleaning/changing the environment. This entails removing the "weeds" or harmful things that will hinder our spiritual growth. This was the methodology of the Prophets and Messengers of God. They "cleaned" up the concepts of false gods first. With regards to the mission of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) we have an excellent example. He (SAW) instructed his companions, when they introduced Al-Islam to people, to first enjoin upon them "Tawheed" (monotheism). He (SAW) told them to be sure that this concept was understood first before teaching anything else pertaining to the religion. We have a hint of how important this is from the Qur'an itself. Out of 114 surahs (chapters) of the Qur'an, 86 of them were revealed in Makkah. These Surahs primarily deal with the concept of God and man's relationship with Him. The Prophet spent thirteen of the twenty-three years that the Qur'an was revealed, removing the false concepts concerning Allah, and replacing them with correct ones. It is the corrupt ways of thinking that have to be changed first.

With regards to Muslims, the first stage for purifying/cultivating the soul is the "Shahaadah" (Declaration of Faith). The "Shahaadah" is in two parts. One is a statement of negation. We say, "Laa ilaaha..." Literally meaning, "There is no god..." It is more commonly translated and understood as meaning, "There is absolutely nothing worthy or deserving of worship..." This statement removes the "weeds". It includes all false gods, false concepts and anything that we may give excessive devotion to. It is in this stage where we truly succeed or fail with regards to our spiritual evolution. Many of us, when beginning our spiritual journey, don't quite purge ourselves of old concepts. If we don't remove the "weeds" and debris, there will be no successful outcome.

After removing the harmful substances/concepts, we move to stage two. We break up the soil/earth (materialistic, worldly concepts we held as being sacred). We must break up the bad habits of the soul. We remove from our lives customs that are not conducive to proper spiritual evolution. Many of us still have problems because we hold on to old habits and customs; habits and customs that have already proven to be detrimental to our physical, mental, and most importantly, our spiritual well-being. The breaking of the soil is the stage before sowing the seed. You can't plant seeds without first breaking the soil. Your soil is your soul. Your soul is your soil. Notice the letters that make these words different: "u" and "i"; and it is you and "I" that makes the difference in our cultivation of our souls. But we must follow the stages of cultivation if we are to succeed. There are no shortcuts.

After breaking up the soil/soul we "fertilize" it with the second part of the "Shahaadah". After saying, "Laa ilaah…" "There is nothing worthy of worship..." or "There is no god...", we say "...illallah", which means, "...except the one God, Allah". We remove false concepts with the negating statement and we replace them with true concepts. With the proper concepts of God in place, we can now move on to stage three, sowing/planting seeds.

The seed is that which is the source of development or growth. It has within it the means or stimulus for growing and developing. The "seeds" that are planted in the now fertile soil/soul are the seeds of: Revelation (God's Word), Truth, God consciousness (Taqwa), sincerity, honesty, etc. These seeds are the sources of growth and development for our spiritual lives. In stage three we sow/plant the seeds, and we must understand that we will "reap what we sow" whether positive or negative. Once the seeds are sown we move to stage four which is nurturing. This includes providing plenty of sunlight and water.

"Sun" in scriptural language represents or symbolizes: the light of understanding, the mind, the light of scripture (revealed knowledge). Just as the material seed needs the light of the sun to foster its growth in the soil, the seeds of Revelation, Truth, God consciousness, sincerity, honesty, etc. needs the "light" of understanding, they need the mind to reflect and ponder over. They also need the "light" of scripture. It is worth mentioning here that although God's Word is a "seed" for the soul; a source of growth and development, it also provides nourishment. It is the ongoing study and contemplation of the Word of God that nourishes the "seeds" implanted in the soul.

For Muslims our "light" of scripture, the revealed word from God, is the Qur'an. It is called, "Kitaabun Nur", the "Book of Light". It leads us from the darkness of "the earth" - materialism, worldliness - to light; spirituality (disciplined life.) Allah says:

"A Book which We have revealed unto you, in order that you might lead mankind out of the depth of darkness into light - by the leave of their Lord - to the Way of (Him) the Exalted in Power worthy of all Praise!" (Quran 14:1)

Without light the plant dies. Without the "light" of scripture the "seeds" within the soul dies. They also need water/rain. "Water" in scriptural language represents or symbolizes: scriptural doctrine/teaching, knowledge, moral strength, and moral nature. It is the source of all life. The source of spiritual life is "scripture". "Rain" in scriptural language represents or symbolizes: inspiration, purity/purification, and moral purity. We must bring these to the seeds of Revelation, etc. in order to have success. God sends down rain/water to nourish the earth and foster growth. Allah says:

"It is He Who sends the Winds like heralds of glad tidings, going before His Mercy when they have carried the heavy-laden clouds. We drive them to a land that is dead, make rain to descend thereon, and produce every kind of harvest therewith. Thus shall we raise up the dead. Perchance you may remember. From the land that is clean and good, by the Will of its Cherisher, springs up produce, (rich) after its kind. But from the land that is bad, springs up nothing but that which is scanty. Thus do We explain the Signs by various (symbols) to those Who are grateful." (Quran 7:57-58)

It is the scriptural doctrine/teaching (Qur'an), morality, knowledge, etc. that fosters the growth of our spiritual lives; that cultivates our souls. If you went through the first three stages and your soul/soil is clean and pure, you will benefit. If not and your soul is still full of "weeds" and old concepts and habits you will not benefit. The nourishing is of no benefit to the soul that is still "corrupted" and impure. Allah says:

"Indeed this is a Qur'an most honorable, in a Book well-guarded, which none shall touch except those who are clean." (Quran 56:77-79)

Only the pure/clean soul can derive benefit. You cannot grow/develop plants in soil that is not properly cultivated. The same is true for our soul. We must cultivate it properly. We must remove the "weeds" (garbage), break up the bad and evil habits that we seem to keep holding on to, sow/plant "seeds" (concepts), and nourish it with prayer, charity, fasting, scripture, morality, etc. In the end we will succeed. We will have a beautiful garden, "The Garden" - Jannah!


The Islamic Bulletin
P.O. Box 410186, San Francisco, CA 94141-0186

December 2000
Ramadan 1421
Note from the Editor
Letters to the Editor
Islamic World News
Negative Affects
on Our Heart
Ten Sicknesses
of the Heart
She's My Sister
A True Story
Stories of the Sahaba
Women in Islam
How to Lower
our Gaze
Ten Things We Waste
Cultivating Your Spiritual Life
Excellence of
Some Surahs
Du'aas / Prayers
99 Names of Allah
Quran & Science
The Quran
Ramadan Diet
Why I Embraced Islam
Yemeni Coffee
Kid's Corner
The Tricks of Shaytaan