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Numbers

Let's not get caught up in digits.

Another related and sobering reminder related to numbers and age: It is said that Satan the accursed strokes the face of one who has reached the age of forty years and has not attained salvation and says: ‘May my father and mother be ransomed for the face that shall never prosper.’ The Qur’an also gives significance to this number. In a verse in the Qur’an, the importance of this number in our spiritual dispensation is also mentioned:

Let's not get caught up in digits.

So many issues in our lives are governed by and gravitate around numbers. Our age, the digits of our dream salaries, deadlines, hours, minutes. Closer home, the fourteen lights we aspire to follow on the path of our lives, the number of units in our prayers, the dreams of belonging to, or serving the 313. The mention of numbers is found often in the religious texts, and which can give us some good guidelines on the path of servitude. After attending an enlightening, thought-provoking session with some scholars a couple of days ago, I am dedicating this article to a different kind of number, a One which is neither preceded nor followed by any number, and whose unity is not bound by the confines of numerical limits. Al ‘Ahad.

The Prophet (peace be upon him and his progeny) advised his companion Abu Dharr to make use of five things before they are replaced by five things:

  1. Youthfulness before old age
  2. Health before sickness
  3. Independence before dependence
  4. Free time before being busy/occupied
  5. Life before death

Another related and sobering reminder related to numbers and age: It is said that Satan the accursed strokes the face of one who has reached the age of forty years and has not attained salvation and says: ‘May my father and mother be ransomed for the face that shall never prosper.’ The Qur’an also gives significance to this number. In a verse in the Qur’an, the importance of this number in our spiritual dispensation is also mentioned:

“And We have enjoined on man doing of good to his parents; with trouble did his mother bear him, and with trouble did she bring him forth; and the bearing of him and the weaning of him was thirty months; until when he attains his maturity and reaches forty years, he says: ‘My Lord! Grant me that I may give thanks for Your favor which You have bestowed on me and on my parents, and that I may do good which pleases You and do good to me in respect of my offspring; surely I turn to You, and surely I am of those who submit.'” (46:15)

In another tradition, we are told: “Verily, a man has an amplitude [of freedom] until forty years; but when he reaches forty, God, the Almighty and Glorious, reveals to His angels, ‘Verily, I have made My servant come of age, so now be strict and severe with him and record and write down his every action, whether it is a minor one or a major one, and whether his works are abundant or sparse.'”

Looked at in line with the earlier tradition where we are told to make use of five things before five others, the number forty is only a heartbeat away. If we do not train ourselves in servitude today, by the time we get to forty, the habits we have inculcated into our nature will be like the proverbial tree which started as a weak sapling, easy to uproot, but has now become next to impossible to get rid of.

The Prophet has also assured us that whoever dedicates [himself] to God for forty days, God makes springs of wisdom flow from his heart on his tongue. It is also narrated from Imam al-Baqir (peace be upon him) that a servant does not refine his remembrance of God for forty days without God making him detached toward the world and granting him the vision to see its ills and their remedies and establishing wisdom in his heart and making his tongue speak with it.

One must then ask oneself, what is dedication to God? Put simply, it is ensuring that every step, every breath, every moment of our day and night is spent in serving God and worshiping Him in the various ways, and keeping away from those things, actions, thoughts, words, inactions which are displeasing to Him. How easy is that to achieve given the distractions of this world that we have accustomed ourselves to?

On numbers with societal implications, we are told that everyone’s neighborhood extends until forty houses in the four directions. In light of the rights of one’s neighbor as elaborated in the Treatise of Rights of Imam Sajjad (peace be upon him), we should protect his interests when he is absent, show him respect when he is present, help him when he is inflicted with any injustice, not remain on look-out to detect his faults, and if any chance we happen to know any undesirable thing about him, to hide it from others, and, at the same time, try to desist him from improper habits, if there is any chance that he will listen to us. Never leave him alone in any calamity. Forgive him, if he has done any wrong. In short, live with him a noble life, based on the highest Islamic ethical code.

The Holy Prophet has also said: “That man is not from me who sleeps contentedly while his neighbor sleeps hungry.” He also said: “Gabriel always used to advise me to be generous with the neighbors, till I thought that God was going to include the neighbors among the heirs of Muslim.” Forty neighbors in each direction…do the math.

In all, the numbers we deal with in our life, be it the 30 days we observe of Shahr Ramadan or the everyday numbers we deal with in business, in keeping tabs on events in our life, or our age, we must remember that all our functions, practices, roles, deeds, words, actions and numbers must be dedicated to ONE purpose: that of knowing and worshiping the One.

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