By Romina Afghan
“The path to Allaah is long and we pass along it like turtles. The goal is not that we arrive to the end of the path. Rather, the goal is that we die while we are on the (straight) path” (Shaykh Muhammad Naasir-ud-Deen al-Albaanee)
This is one of my favourite quotes, and while I had never thought of myself as a turtle before, I find the description so apt, that on both difficult days and easy days, I find myself coming back to this imagery, again and again, clutching it like a child with a comfort blanket.
Why do I love it? I love it because it gives me hope, even while it seems hopeless in tone. It captures perfectly the essence of my tortuously slow progress, the clumsiness of my efforts; it shows the awkwardness of my endeavours, the entire absence of grace and beauty in the majority of my day and the solid presence of sweat, failure, laziness and heartbreak…and all the other flaws that mar the beauty of what should be due to my Creator. It seems to be saying that none of us will ever reach the end goal of meeting Allaah and of reaching the perfection at the end of the path that we seek; and yet at the same time it reinforces the notion that, as believers , we don’t actually have to, we don’t need to, that this is not what Allaah asks of us, and that we have misunderstood both our purpose and our Maker if this is how we hope to reach Him.
Such is the Mercy of Allaah; such is the blessing of living under the shade of belief in Him.
All we need to do is stay on the path.
The path of belief, the path of emaan ( faith) is not a straight, linear journey; not for anyone– if a heavyweight scholar of hadeeth thinks that his progress is like a turtle, then what of a simple, everyday Muslim like myself? Isn’t my journey going to be at least as slow, at least as hard, at least as tiresome?
In a world of goals and metric measurement, of charts and performance reviews, how can we measure our progress on this path to Allaah? We keep focusing on the end goal- perhaps the perfection of being like the most beloved of Creation to Him, Muhammad sallAllaahu alayhi wa sallam; or perhaps we focus on the dedication of his Companions ( may Allaah be pleased with them all ), or maybe even on the sister who first gave us da’wah to Islaam, or who gives the class we attend in our local masjid…we hold ourselves to high ideals, and very often, we don’t compare favourably.
Instead of inspiring us on our journey, does this comparison simply highlight to us how far we are from where we want to be; how far we are from where we think we need to be?
Yes, it’s good to have goals and an end point of where you want to be, in mind. Yes, it’s perfectly beautiful to aspire to the model of our Prophet Muhammad and his Companions- because ultimately, that’s what Prophets are sent for- to be models for us of what perfection and completion of emaan look like in reality and feel like when you live with them. So, while it’s important that we set our internal compass in that direction, it’s also important to know that the journey is a process, one that cannot be rushed, and one to be enjoyed.
The One duaa…
If we think for a moment about the one surah, the one duaa that we are obligated to recite daily at least seventeen times, about the plea for guidance that Allaah instructs and puts upon our lips whether we understand or not, whether we feel the need or not, whether we do it with sincerity or not, we begin to see the importance of this concept that focusing on the path is more important to us than the end goal.
“Guide us to the Straight Path….”, we beg, humbling ourselves before Him, knowing we are nothing if we are not on the path to Him,
“Guide us to the Straight Path….” we implore- not to actions, because He knows we can never do enough of those to show Him the love and Gratitude that befits Him; we could never do enough to repay Him for even one of the blessings that we enjoy,
“Guide us to the Straight Path…” not take us to Jannah, because we can never deserve that, but all we can do is be His humbled slave and aim to die whilst still upon the path, and let His Mercy take care of the rest.
The Path, my dear sisters, is where the journey’s at. The slow path. The one you can’t hurry to the next stage. The one that teaches you something at every step, at every slow and painful stumble, about yourself; about how broken you are; about how small you are; about how much you need Him.
There will be times where we can’t see the end point, the way out or how we can ever be good, good enough, or even just better. There will be times when we feel overwhelmed and exhausted by it all, and feel that we just don’t have the capacity to cope with the task ahead ; that the struggle to stay on the path is just too much, and that perhaps we weren’t really cut out for this journey after all.
It is to these thoughts that the following two verses from the Qur’aan speak:
“But whoever desires the Hereafter and exerts the effort due to it while he is a believer – it is those whose effort is ever appreciated [by Allah ].” (Qur’aan 17:19)
Your sincere desire for pleasing Allaah, for meeting Him in the next life, that is the only condition required within ourselves, and externally, all we have to do is to translate that into some physical show of effort- and that effort is appreciated by Allaah. The effort you make to stay on the path is what is appreciated by Allaah, not the distance you travelled nor the speed, or any other external measure that we use to judge ourselves.
“Your Lord is most knowing of what is within yourselves. If you should be righteous [in intention] – then indeed He is ever, to the often returning [to Him], Forgiving” (qur’aan 17:25)
And here again this idea is compounded- that Allaah is aware of the difficulty and magnitude of what you face, of the daily effort you need to put in, but He tells us that as that as long as we have a righteous intention, He is Forgiving- Forgiving of the shortfall in what we do, forgiving of the mistakes, forgiving of the fact that for every step forward we seem to take two back, forgiving without exception, as long as we keep turning back to Him and staying on the path.
If only we were to look up from the ground and see how our journey is actually unfolding, even though it feels like we’re standing still. Every single stage of our path to Allaah, of our journey of belief, holds its own perfection, its own specific meaning for us, and will facilitate something that is yet to come. Each stage is both required for the next, and perfect for that moment . Each stage is both temporary, and where we need to be.
Wherever you are in your journey, enjoy its particular and specific fragrance even while you toil in it; notice, nurture and immerse yourself fully in the taste of that temporary beauty, and the temporary perfection in the imperfection of that moment, in the vista that lays before you, in” warts-and-all” glory. Right now, where you are – there is something perfect and wonderful and unique about this moment for you, even as you struggle. Find it. Embrace it, lean into it and take advantage of it fully, because wherever you are and whoever you are right now is about to metamorphose into something different, something that pleases the Creator, something that you cannot see from where you are, something that will change the very ecosystem that you are part of and leave an indelible and beautiful mark, more than the footprint of a mere turtle would suggest.
We don’t always have to get somewhere- the end of the surah, the end of the prayer, the end of the fast- in order to be making progress, in order to enjoy the journey, in order to be successful. See, invest in, and wholeheartedly give yourself to the mini-perfection that you can create and enjoy in this moment right now, because in doing that, the next step of our journey , of our growth, of the completion of our emaan, becomes a natural process that flows on from this moment to the next, slow as a turtle yet as intuitive as the return to its nesting ground.
About the author:
Romina is a Mama to four not-so-little lambs, part-time Qur’an teacher who dreams of instilling the love of Allaah’s words into tender little hearts, NLP enthusiast, and a turtle on the path seeking true submission and servitude to Allaah. She feels blessed to have been a part of the Solace UK team since 2011.