We all want happiness. How we each define this and seek it, however, often differs. For some of us, happiness is wealth and material abundance. For others, it’s fame and renown. For some, it is sensual pleasure and gratification. And for others, it is a breakthrough in their field of expertise.
Today, despite the unbounded pleasures and excess we are surrounded by, more of us than ever remain unfulfilled. We are unhappy. No matter how much we buy and consume, or how much we’re validated and gratified, there still lurks within us a void, a lingering feeling of emptiness that we cannot remove. That reassuring satisfaction and contentment we hope will come, actually never does.
Why? It’s because we’ve ignored and suppressed an inborn instinct to know and worship our Maker. Nourishing this instinct is man’s path to happiness.
Knowing Allah and, as a natural outcome, fulfilling our obligations to Him is the true antidote to today’s emptiness and despair.
“Truly in the heart there is a certain loneliness that cannot be removed except by spending time with Allah in solitude. In the heart there is a sadness that cannot be removed except through the happiness of knowing Allah and being true to Him… In the heart there is a void that cannot be filled except through loving Allah, turning to Him constantly, always remembering Him, and being sincere to Him. Were a person to be given the entire world and everything in it, it would never fill this void.” – Ibn al-Qayyim (raḥimahullāh)
Allah created us to worship Him. To worship Him, we need to know Him. Qiwām al-Sunnah al-Aṣbahānī (raḥimahullāh) writes, “The first command Allah obligated upon His creation is to know and recognise Him. Once they know Him, they will worship Him. Allah says, ‘So, know that there is no god worthy of worship except Allah’ (47:19). Thus, the Muslims should know the Names of Allah so they can venerate and glorify Him as He deserves to be venerated and glorified.”
If we don’t know about the beauty and kindness of Allah, we can’t love Him. If we can’t love Him, we can’t worship Him. Similarly, without knowing about His greatness and majesty, we can’t embody true servitude (ʿubūdiyyah) and humble ourselves to Him. Knowing Him is essential to forming a strong bond with Him.
“The key to the daʿwah of the Messengers and the essence of their Message, is knowing Allah through His Names, His Attributes, and His Actions. This is the foundation which the rest of the Message, from beginning to end, is based upon.” – Ibn al-Qayyim (raḥimahullāh)
The Joy of Knowing Allah
Our souls’ greatest need is to know and recognise our Creator and Originator. Knowing Allah brings joy to the heart, nourishes the soul, and is the ultimate source of bliss in this worldly life. We will never be truly happy until we know Allah and become deeply acquainted with Him.
The journey to becoming acquainted with Allah and enjoying His closeness is a long journey, but it is sweet. Only those who’ve traversed it can tell you of its pleasures and joy. It’s what the scholars referred to as the ‘paradise of the world’
“There is an ‘early paradise’ in the world. It is to know Allah, to love Him, find comfort in Him, long to meet Him, fear Him and obey Him. Beneficial knowledge leads one to attain this. Whoever’s knowledge leads him to enter this ‘early paradise’, will enter Paradise in the next world. And whoever does not sniff the fragrance of the ‘worldly paradise’, will not sniff the fragrance of the Paradise of the hereafter.” – Ibn Rajab (raḥimahullāh)
One of the predecessors said, “How misfortunate are the people of the world who left the world without having experienced its greatest delight!” When he was asked, “What is its greatest delight?”, he replied, “Knowing Allah, loving Him, finding comfort in His closeness, and longing to meet Him.”
Allah has chosen humans to be the noblest of creation and gifted them with the intellect to recognise and know Allah. Imām al-Ghazālī (raḥimahullāh) writes, “The honour and excellence of the human being, by which he surpasses all other creatures, is his ability for knowing Allah. Knowing Allah (ʿazza wa jall) is the human’s beauty, perfection and glory in this world; and his provision for the hereafter.” How sad it is then for a person to merely sleepwalk through life, ignorant of his Creator, solely concerned with satisfying his stomach and desires.
The best and most important knowledge a person can attain is the knowledge of Allah. There is no knowledge more grandiose, more majestic and more beautiful than it. It is the basis of all branches of knowledge, and the secret to attaining eternal success.
And yet as we age, our knowledge of Allah does not increase. Unfortunately, we take great pains to learn and educate ourselves in other sciences, but we hardly spend any time or expend our resources to learn about Allah, the Lord of the heavens and the earth.
Thus, maʿrifah (a deep awareness and knowledge of Allah) is the starting point in our journey to Allah. We can only gain the closeness of Allah and worship Him in the best way possible if we gain a deeper appreciation of who He is. Every act of worship which we do should help us to deepen this knowledge.
How Can We Attain the Maʿrifah of Allah?
Although we cannot fully comprehend the majesty and sublimity of Allah (ʿazza wa jall), we can try our best to increase our maʿrifah of Him by doing the following:
1. By reflecting and pondering on the Noble Qur’ān i.e. tadabbur
The Qur’ān is the manual which Allah sent down to guide us to Him. Allah tells us in His Own Words who He is – in the most profound manner possible.
When you recite the Qurān, your goal should not simply be how much you recite. Instead, recite with focus and try to increase your maʿrifah and īmān in Allah through your recitation. And this will only happen if you recite slowly and with reflection (tadabbur).
2. By reflecting on the signs of Allah which are around us i.e tafakkur
Tafakkur is to reflect on the endless signs of Allah in the universe. Allah says, “We will show them Our signs in the horizons and within themselves until it becomes clear to them that it is the truth” (41:53).
The signs of Allah are all around us and within us. Allah (ʿazza wa jall) repeatedly reminds us in the Qur’ān to reflect over His creation. To increase your maʿrifah, go out in nature and do dhikr whilst simultaneously reflecting on Allah’s creation.
3. By understanding, reflecting and living in the shade of the most Beautiful Names of Allah
The Perfect Names of Allah are a powerful means to attain maʿrifah. Ibn al-Qayyim (raḥimahullāh) writes, “There is no greater need of the soul than its need to know its Creator and Originator. And there is no way to achieve this except through knowing His Attributes and Names. The more a slave knows them, the more he will know Allah, the more he will seek Him and the closer he will be to Him. Similarly, the more ignorant the slave is of His Names and Attributes, the more ignorant, disliked and further away from Him he will be.
The status which the slave enjoys in the eyes of Allah is dependent on the status the slave himself accords Allah in his heart. Thus, journeying to Allah through the path of His Names and Attributes is truly an amazing matter. The doors it opens are astounding. A person can attain happiness in this way whilst lying on his bed, without any experiencing any difficulty or fatigue.”
Connect to Allah through His Names by either reading a book about Allah’s Names or listening to a series of lectures on this topic or attending a class on it. Once you have understood the Names, reflect on them each time you come across them whilst reciting Qur’ān.
Feel a sense of closeness to Allah (ʿazza wa jall) and become deeply acquainted with Him by asking Him through His Names. Reflect on how the different Names manifest in your life, so you feel intimately connected to them. For example, reflect on His Name ‘al-Karīm (The Generous)’ by thinking about everything He has blessed you with.
4. By worshipping Allah
Worshipping Allah leads to an increase in maʿrifah. It’s a cycle: the more you know Allah (subḥānahū wa taʿālā), the more you will worship Him. And the more you worship Him, the more you will know Him.
Always ask yourself: am I gaining a deeper appreciation of Allah through my worship? Do I feel closer to Him?
What Does Maʿrifah Lead To?
Knowing Allah is the gamechanger. A deep attachment to Allah leads to viewing the world through an ‘Allah-centric’ lens. Once we get to know Allah, we will see manifestations of His Majestic and Beautiful Attributes in every aspect of our lives and all around us.
Maʿrifah makes us realise the stark difference between who Allah is and who we are; and why He is worthy of our complete servitude (ʿubūdiyyah). The greater the maʿrifah, the greater the level of ʿubūdiyyah. The more we realise how Great Allah is, the more we will realise how small we are; the more we realise how Powerful He is, the more we will realise how weak we are; the more we realise how Magnificent He is, the more we will realise how dependent we are on Him; the more we realise how vast His knowledge is, the more we will realise how ignorant we are.
Maʿrifah leads us to love Him and fear Him more than anyone else. Maʿrifah leads us to humble ourselves to Allah, feel shy of Him, hope in Him, trust Him, and repeatedly turn to Him in repentance. It makes us love to spend time alone with Him and long to meet Him.
“Whoever attains the recognition of Allah through His Names, Attributes and Actions, will undoubtedly love Him.” – Ibn al-Qayyim (raḥimahullāh)
The more we know Allah, the stronger our īmān and yaqīn (conviction) in Him will be. The easier it will then become for us to submit to Him and eagerly rush to fulfil His commands. The more we know Allah, the more likely we are to honour and love His creation. Maʿrifah leads to purified souls, and purified souls make the world a better place. A world with less evil, greed, corruption and selfishness.
Maʿrifah stops us from sinning. Maʿrifah makes us content with His decree and makes us immensely grateful for all of His blessings. In an era where many are confused, and some are even leaving Islam, maʿrifah helps us to remain steadfast on His dīn. It is the key to combating the many false ideologies and value systems that are bombarding us.
Once we get to truly know Allah, He becomes our goal. We are happy to sacrifice our worldly comforts and desires for His sake. We are ready to live for Him and die for Him. Everything we do is for Him Alone.
The ultimate goal of maʿrifah in this world is to reach the pinnacle of worship: iḥsān. Iḥsān is “Worshipping Allah as though you are seeing Him; for if you cannot see Him, He truly sees you” (Muslim). And by doing so, the servant will attain the greatest joy in the hereafter: seeing Allah and meeting Him.
May Allah al-Hādī (The Guide) guide us to Him. May He make us know Him, worship Him and appreciate Him as He deserves to be appreciated.