Devotion, Attention & Addiction
We say ‘La illaaha illallaah,’ that ‘There is no g-d but the G-d,’ and it is a very simple declaration. It is the declaration responsible for establishing us as individual Muslims and it includes us in among the body of Muslims anywhere you find them on earth. There are no special rituals, no dunking in water, and no secret initiations in order for a human being to be Muslim. In order to be Muslim with a capital “M” you must consciously declare that you witness that which your nature has already witnessed, because ALLAH has certainly created our nature as “muslim”.
Muhammed the Prophet (sa) has told us that every individual child born is born into this world upon the fitrah, which is the natural pattern that ALLAH originally created and established. “Fitrah” is another way of saying “muslim”. So, all of us are born “muslim” with the small “m”. But the person who has seen and heard enough of the truth and wisdom that the Qur’an provides, and can accept that Muhammed (sa) be a living example of that truth and wisdom; they then consciously accept to abide by what their nature has already acknowledged, and by bringing it from the nature into the conscience, they then become “Muslim” with the capital “M”. In other words, they then become consciously responsible for living the Muslim life. Our nature naturally recognizes and submits to that life, but it is the human being who is out of his natural mind that is responsible for corrupting that nature.
There are certain things that the body knows to do because the body is intelligent. There are certain things that the feelings know to do because ALLAH also created the feelings with intelligence. But the human mind that is out of touch with those natural inclinations can drive that flesh and drive those feelings to do things that were hitherto unknown or unheard of within the realm of what we consider to be natural behavior. That type of mind will take what is natural and begin to create norms that are unnatural.
Leadership in both the religion and the culture currently espouses ideas that the average person in society accepts as normal. In our American society, there was a time when even racism was accepted as normal, particularly amongst those who had the upper hand. But there were certain ones amongst the lower hands who accepted it as normal also and didn’t do a whole lot to eradicate the problem.
You can live under an idea for so long that your mind begins to actually believe that that behavior and that system and those ideas are in effect—normal. For many Christians, for instance, it is normal to believe that Almighty G-d had to get a girlfriend and have a baby who would be sent into the world of sin and wickedness to save the lives of the perpetrators of that sin and wickedness. The fact that you and I never entered into any agreement with this G-d to do such on our behalf doesn’t even matter. Whether we like it or not, this so-called son of G-d was missioned to save us by putting himself in a situation that would not even allow him to save himself. But it has become normal for them to believe that this was the Will of Almighty G-d Himself, according to these teachings.
They are told that G-d sacrificed the life of His “only begotten son” to save the world and the Christian world has been fed this dogma for close to two-thousand years. This typifies one of the major falsehoods existing in the world today and it represents a grave perversion of the scriptures sent to the Christians, however, they fully accept it as true and normal. The Qur’an speaks vehemently, although logically and strategically against this idea; an idea that would picture G-d in an emotionally unstable, weak, and unjust position. The Qur’an comes to destroy all false norms by re-establishing these bodies of knowledge upon their original patterns. Again, the original pattern is referred to as the “fitrah”.
Again, we say, ‘La illaaha illallaah,’ that “There is no g-d except the G-d” which is how some English translators give it. However, ‘ilaah’ is a very important and potent word in the Qur’an. It can be something concrete, like a statue or idol, or something abstract such as an idea. Regardless to what it is, if that ‘ilaah’ is not the Creator of the heavens and the earth, the One Who is called “ALLAH” in the Qur’an; if it is not that One, then the ilaah that we have devoted ourselves to is false and will eventually fail us.
So, ‘ilaah’ as translated by a scholar that I deeply respect and admire – that is, Imam W. D. Mohammed – he translated “ilaah” as “that which you give your devotional nature to”. That is a much fuller and more potent definition than to merely say that ilaah means “g-d” or “deity” because he has now described for us the specific power and influence that these “gods” or deities” hold over the masses of people.
That ALLAH has created us with a “devotional nature” is an extremely important statement for devotees in religion. It is pertinent for us to know that within our created selves, there is an aspect of our emotion, mind and spirit that is innately inclined to devote itself to something or to someone, or to some idea, philosophy or ideology. ALLAH put that in us and whether we give that devotional nature over to Him or not becomes a matter of our free choice on the most part. ALLAH has entrusted His human creature with that capacity also.
ALLAH has placed enough prompts, signs and signals in His creation so that the average one of us who is conscious and sane would recognize that that devotional nature should rightly be guided and directed by the One Who created the nature. This is one of the lessons in the Qur’an that comes in the story of Ibraheem (as) and how he came into conscious recognition of Tauheed or Oneness. Ibraheem (as) gradually came to realize that G-d was the Source and Power behind all powers. Tauheed firstly involves acknowledging that ALLAH is One and has left His imprint, so to speak, on everything He created. Secondly, it acknowledges that, creation itself operates based on a principle of oneness, cooperation, and co-existence which regulates its patterns of growth, development, and functional success.
The word ‘ilaah’ also has another allusion and it is in its consonantal connections. But, first, let me say this: ALLAH introduces these concepts in the Qur’an in order to bring us from kindergarten levels of understanding in religion to becoming graduates in the knowledge. HE wants that we be learned Muslims, not just mediocre Muslims. Those who study the Qur’an as it should be studied, find themselves graduating with each reading. To my knowledge, Muslims are the only ones who have the reading of their full scriptural text built directly into their religion. We read the full text during the month of Ramadan and at its completion, many of us feel like graduates.
We are looking at two basic consonants – “Laam” and “Haa”. “Laam” in the Afro-Asian/Semitic languages is a sheep herder’s walking staff like the one Prophet Musa (as) possessed. His staff (also called rod) resembled a hook and had several usages.
Let us see what ALLAH says about this shepherd’s hook in the Qur’an:
You can use it to bring your sheep (which represents your property) closer to you. In this sense, it represents movement to or towards a thing, and its use as a preposition in Arabic (li) bears this out. Holding it by the hook end and pointing in a particular direction, you can also direct the way to safety with it, and in that sense it alludes to the idea of guiding through teaching. You can alternately use the hook end to grab the sheep by the neck and pull them out of harm’s way. This movement alludes to the process of learning. This is how Laam came to represent both the teaching and learning processes, and, as an outgrowth, formal education. In both usages, it also represents direction.
The “Haa” signifies “breath” and it represents our essential life. Our essential life is maintained and sustained through normal breathing.
This is what Haa looks like in Arabic
“Haa” as an alphabet means, “window” in several Afro-Asian/Semitic languages. A window provides for us both “light” and “air”. Light is a symbol of “knowledge” and air is a symbol of “spirit”. The window is also where you go to get a perspective on the outside world of activity. For that reason, this letter also came to represent both your “five senses” (which provides you with your perspective of the outside world) as well as “guidance” (which also indicates how you should see things). Your five senses are your guide and they represent your essential life. For the Muslim, the Qur’an is our guidance and the life example of Muhammed the Prophet (sa) is our guide.
ALLAH says in the Qur’an:
ذَلِكَ الْكِتَابُ لاَ رَيْبَ فِيهِ هُدًى لِّلْمُتَّقِينَ (2:2)
If I were given the luxury of both paraphrasing and elaborating on this verse, I would translate it thus: (My actual translation is bolded. My paraphrases and elaborations are in brackets)
2:2 (B. Bilal) This is the Book (or that is the Book, depending on your proximity to it); there is no exaggeration (also, no underestimation, no double-talk, no cheating, and no double standards) within its contents. It contains (essential) guidance (designed to sharpen your perspective by improving your sensory perception which will help you develop unique insight. However, it will only operate in this manner) for those who are regardful (of ALLAH and those things HE has enumerated for us to be regardful of and to guard over, with the foremost of those things being our own human excellence).
In the Arabic language, the word for guidance itself (hudaa) begins with Haa. If you look closely at the pictograph above for Haa, you will see that it is a human head facing you with a left arm waving at you! It is as though ‘he’ is saying, “Hi!” “Hey! I’m over here!” or, “Here I am! Walk this way!” Notice that, even in the English words, hey, here and hi, the ‘H’ in each one of these words signifies the getting of someone’s attention also. And that is exactly what the role of guidance does in the life of an individual or society. It guides them towards the person, place or thing. So, “ilaah” could technically mean, “that which moves in the direction of your essential life”.
Devotion, by its very nature, moves in the direction of its affection. Our devotional nature moves in the direction of our essential life because it is the property of our essential life. You know how when you totally devote yourself to someone or something, you say that you “live” for that person or thing? Well then, that person or that thing has become an ilaah. There are some people who live just to make money. And I don’t mean to establish themselves financially; I mean, just to make money. They make the money and then squander it.
So, “ilaah” means anything or any idea that you live, breathe, nurture, protect, and keep in existence in a way that dedicates continuous attention to it. I repeat; if it is anything other than ALLAH, it is going to eventually cause you problems if it is not causing you problems already. Therefore, we need to consciously redirect our lives and that devotional nature that ALLAH has equipped us with. We need to take hold of our devotional inclination and send it in the direction of its Creator. ALLAH gave us the will, the urge, and the power to do that but the knowledge has to be consistent with the urge. What we give our attention to must be consistent with the true focus for our devotional nature.
The dictionary gives the definition of devotion as, “dedication by a vow” and a vow is a “wish, a promise, or a dedication”. ‘Vow” means, “to speak solemnly”. That means that your words should have sacred import. When we get married and take our marriage vows, those should not be ordinary words. Our shahadatain is a vow also. Those are words that we have thought about by letting it register on our conscience; words that we have evaluated for the kind of responsibility that will come behind it so that we can say with a conscious mind that, “I accept responsibility for this and I vow to do such and such in order to keep this kind of life in existence.”
The greatest vow is the vow we make to our Maker to serve Him, and the greatest service to ALLAH comes in the form of service to His creatures. There is nothing that we can think of to give ALLAH that will increase Him in any form or fashion. ALLAH asks us to “worship” Him by giving our service to those things that He created, but the key is in doing it for ALLAH’s pleasure and not for self-aggrandizement or for praise or for rewards from men. We must do these services purely for the pleasure of ALLAH, Highly Glorified is He above all things.
We are the ones who need the help, not ALLAH. If all of the over one-billion Muslims on earth decided overnight to stop worshipping ALLAH, to stop making prayers, to fast no more, to not make Hajj, and to forget about shahada, it wouldn’t affect ALLAH in the least; and if the whole of humanity decided overnight to obey ALLAH in all of those things, it wouldn’t increase His magnificence in any amount. Our shahada is a vow that benefits us and our surroundings.
A vow is that which we speak and in speaking, we have to use the breath. We cannot speak without breath. If you put your hand up close to your mouth you can feel the breath as you speak, coming from your mouth onto your hand. Breath is symbolic of spirit. This is to say that, our spirit should be consistent with our words. We should not profess things from our mouths while giving our spirits to something contrary. This creates big problems for the human psyche. These things seem incidental, but they contain tremendous wisdom.
We talked about devotion as, the things we give our attention to. Muhammed the Prophet, prayers and peace be upon him, is reported to have said: “Innamaal ‘aamalu bi niyyaati wa innama likulli imriy’” and that is: "Surely the actions are judged by motives, so each person will have what he intended.” “Intend” means “to direct one’s attention to something”. English is a tricky language but it also contains knowledge and wisdom. “Attention” and “intend” contain the word “ten” in both words and the number ten in esoteric language represents consciousness. Those who have witnessed boxers in the ring and have seen a knockdown or knockout will notice that, the referee will stand over the person and begin to count – “One, two, three…” If the fallen guy is not up by ten, he is out. If he is up by ten, it means that he has regained consciousness. Therefore, both attention and intention has to register on the conscious mind in order for us to get what they offer as benefits.
The Adhaan calls our attention to our devotion to G-d, but before we pray, we still have to state our intentions. So, attention and intention are a sort of husband and wife team and their union is necessary to produce the life of obedience to G-d that our soul’s long for. However, the introduction of norms that are not consistent with the fitrah will produce the kind of life that will be given—not to ALLAH—but to addiction.
The dictionary definition for “addict” means “to be extremely devoted”. Do you see how all these words are tied together? In the Qur’an, Ibraheem (as) found his people “assiduously devoted” to their idols. An addict is someone who is extremely devoted to their addiction. A drug addict is devoted to drugs. A sex addict is devoted to having sex. And it usually reaches proportions that are considered unusual and abnormal. ALLAH does not want us to be addicts for Him. We are told in the Qur’an that, ALLAH does not put pressure on anyone to believe or follow His Way. He simply invites us to do so.
Our obedience to ALLAH should be a pleasure, not an addiction. When you take a bite out of a nice, sweet, juicy pear, you appreciate it, don’t you? And it is pleasing to your system, isn’t it? But, you can’t say that you are addicted to pears. Have you ever noticed that ALLAH has not created us to be addicted to any natural foods? As humans, our most essential needs in terms of sustenance come in the form of water, air and sunlight. Allah tells us that he created us as a growth out of the earth akin to plants and plants are sustained primarily from the air, much more so than from the soil. We become addicted to products of the soil due to the man-made additives that are put into what they are now calling “food”.
My grandmother ate from her backyard and she lived to be 102. When she passed, she wasn’t on any medication and had absolutely no pain. Mr. Del Monte, Mr. Libby and Mr. Hunt were never welcomed into her home. Today, man has introduced ingredients into our food that purposely causes us to want more and more of it and it will drive our appetites into extremes so that we will begin to fiend for it. But, that’s man doing that, not ALLAH. It is the folks behind the Happy Clown, the King and the Colonel who are doing that.
ALLAH says, “Let there be no compulsion in the deen”. “Compulsion” and “addiction” are synonyms. Our Creator has ordered the creation so that it de-emphasizes compulsion while emphasizing actions and consequences. As bright as the sun is in the morning, it still won’t compel you to get up and start your day. But your nature will suffer the consequences of ignoring the native intelligence which is clocked into your biological and psychological makeup. We are still discussing addiction.
The doctor can prescribe a medication and you start out taking it as prescribed with no major problems, however, that drug can get so good to you that you begin taking more of it than the doctor prescribed. Before you know it, you’re hooked on something that was intended to give you relief from illness and have now addicted yourself to a substance which is producing an illness unto itself. This not only happens with medication, it also happens in religion. When religious concepts and instructions are taken out of their natural contexts and boundaries and are fed to us as extremes, we become spiritually ill and some of us actually die as humans in a failed attempt to become angels. There is evidence of this in the worlds of Judaism, Christianity and El Islam. ALLAH warns us against all extremes in the Qur’an. Extremes invite addictions and addictions create false objects of worship.
This world uses the term, “Jones”. Remember that? We used to say that, “He’s got a Jones” in speaking of his addiction. The Temptations even recorded a song called, “Don’t Let the Joneses Get You Down”. We used to use that term a lot back in the 60s and 70s. I suspect that when they say “Jones” that it is somehow related to “Jinn”. And the Jinn will give you a serious Jones if you let the Jinn rule. Muhammed the Prophet (sa) is reported to have said that he had a Jinn, but that he put his Jinn in check. That’s a paraphrase.
Allah says in the Qur’an that there is no worse creature than the one who takes his own “ahwaah” or “lower passions” as his “ilaah”. “Ahwaah” is from “hawah” and when you pronounce it, it sounds like such a sweet word, doesn’t it? It sounds like relief or like it might have to do with love or something warm, cuddly and cozy like that. There are no harsh sounding letters in there like “Kha” or Ghayn”. ALLAH has even put revelation into the very pronunciation of the Arabic words in the Qur’an. I believe that with this, ALLAH is also pointing out the psychology that Satan uses to capture us with.
The world manipulators come to you with lovely concepts that appeal to your aesthetic and sensual nature and before you know it, you have let your guard down and then they’ve got you, they’ve got me, and they’ve got our babies. That’s the world that we live in right now. And you can’t convince these people off of some of these addictions that this world has them on.
They have us addicted to food, hard drugs, cigarettes, gambling, liquor, music, sex, and the list goes on and on. Some people are addicted to all of them simultaneously. And then there are some people who don’t drink, don’t smoke and don’t gamble, but they are addicted to rampant foolishness. They occupy most of their time with idiotic ideas and frivolous conversation and sometimes their lives end up being less productive than those who are on the drugs and alcohol because they will not allow their minds to elevate above the level of their foolish, non-productive thoughts. Foolish, non-productive thoughts produce foolish and non-productive behavior. This is very evident in our youth and even among many of our adults.
We need to understand that our devotional nature has a primary focus. That primary focus should be on the Creator of that devotional nature. Addiction distorts that primary focus and makes the primary focus—secondary—while making the addiction, primary. As a consequence, we can be Muslims who say “La ilaaha illallaah” every day at least five times a day, but be primarily serving the other person, place or thing that we are addicted to. We will then give secondary respect, reverence and recognition to ALLAH. So, ALLAH becomes second to the addiction. That’s deep.
When this occurs, it automatically makes us liars and hypocrites—spiritually and unconsciously speaking if not consciously speaking. Why am I saying these things? I am saying these things because, at some points, human beings tend to fall into these schemes that are actually set up by Satan himself. And if Satan can introduce himself as an intermediary, then G-d automatically becomes secondary or is moved out of the picture altogether.
We would actually be better off if we had Mother Nature as a primary object of devotion instead of man because, nature can only dictate the fitrah that ALLAH put in her and she might eventually lead us to G-d as she did Ibraheem. But if we let sentient beings that can think, rationalize and scheme, decide the course for our devotion, unless they have the purity of heart that ALLAH’s prophets had, we are in deep trouble. That is the very reason why there should be no priesthood in El Islam. I think one has crept in, but, nevertheless, there shouldn’t be one. That old firebrand—Iblees—has set up shop, but I believe he is in for a very rude awakening. Let us get our focus back as conscious Muslims. Let us decide based on the Qur’an and life example of Muhammed the Prophet, what our perception should be.
ALLAH says that He created us from an attaching clot (‘alaq), so let us examine all of our attachments to see if these attachments are pleasing to ALLAH. He tells us clearly in His Book what to attach ourselves to and what to stay away from. Additionally, He says that we are created in the most excellent organizational design (fi ahsani taqweem), so let us examine how we are organized or formed and if it does not respect the rule of quality and excellence, then let us make the necessary improvements on the life to bring it closer to what pleases our Lord. Our attachments cannot become addictions if they are regulated by taqwa which is sincere regardfulness. Our attachments should be dictated by a Divinely-ordered system of consideration for Creator and creation.
Satan’s major mission is to distort human perception. However, ALLAH puts a check and a safeguard in our nature so that when we are approached by the whispers of Satan, there is still a voice; a sacred vow in the soul of the human being that says, “This is wrong. Don’t follow it. Don’t give yourself to that. That’s dangerous!” If we continuously ignore the sacred vow that our souls have metaphorically made with G-d, that voice is going to get lower and lower. The vow will become lighter and lighter until all you will hear are the whispers of Satan. Let us reverse the scheme by turning our attention away from all addictions and back towards the original focus for our devotional nature which is ALLAH—Highly Praised and Glorified is He above all things.