Indeed, there is a need for a physical change around us in order to allow and enhance inner change. When we are determined to stop an act of transgression against God, such as listening to the impermissible forms of music, it is not enough to simply stop – rather, we must break the CDs, delete the MP3s and format the hard drive if need be.
2. At the second level of his submission, Prophet Abraham (peace be upon him) realized that it was not enough, for both him and others, to have only the inner belief and conviction for true submission. He was cognizant of the fact that as long as sin and temptation surround a person, he or she may be inclined to go back to his/her old ways.
When people try to kick the nicotine habit away, one of the first things they are told is, “Avoid people and situations where you will be tempted to smoke. If you usually smoke in a certain chair, don’t sit in that chair. If you usually smoke at a nightclub, avoid that nightclub for a while. Change your usual routine, so that your new routine doesn’t include smoking.”
Indeed, there is a need for a physical change around us in order to allow and enhance inner change. When we are determined to stop an act of transgression against God, such as listening to the impermissible forms of music, it is not enough to simply stop – rather, we must break the CDs, delete the MP3s and format the hard drive if need be. To ensure we leave no such temptations around us, we should instead replace the music tracks with recitations of the holy Quran, permissible nasheeds and Islamic lectures – a legitimate and most invaluable outlet to fill the void!
In regards to Prophet Abraham at this second stage of his submission, we are told the following in the Holy Qur’an, “And, by Allah! I will certainly do something against your idols after you go away, turning back. So he broke them into pieces, except the chief of them, that haply they may return to it. They said: Who has done this to our gods? Most surely he is one of the unjust. They said: We heard a youth called Ibrahim speak of them. Said they: Then bring him before the eyes of the people, perhaps they may bear witness. They said: Have you done this to our gods, O Ibrahim? He said: Surely (some doer) has done it; the chief of them is this, therefore ask them, if they can speak. Then they turned to themselves and said: Surely you yourselves are the unjust; Then they were made to hang down their heads: Certainly you know that they do not speak. He said: What! do you then serve besides Allah what brings you not any benefit at all, nor does it harm you? Fie on you and on what you serve besides Allah; what! do you not then understand?” (21:57-67)
We thus see that not only did Prophet Abraham destroy the mental beliefs of polytheism and sin through logical arguments, but he also physically destroyed the idols of worship to prevent people from going back to their old ways.
3. At the third and final level of submission we see the need to engage in a physical migration – either a short-term, temporary sojourn or a long-term, even permanent, move – in order for the spiritual migration to have the degree of impact that is sought. In fact, perhaps all of the prophets and friends of God have engaged in migration (hijrah) from one land to another in search for the ideal place to lead a wholesome life. We see the final Prophet of Islam (peace be upon him and his progeny) migrate from Mecca to Medina, the Commander of the Faithful (peace be upon him) migrate from Medina to Kufa and Imam Hussain (peace be upon him) from Medina to Karbala.
Prophet Abraham needed to take his wife, Hagar, and his new-born son, Ishmael, thousands of kilometers away to Mecca to engage in this third level of submission and to work on building of the self. His journey to Mecca was so significant that it manifests itself in the holy pilgrimage (Hajj), with many of the acts performed in it now reminding us of his spiritual and physical migration.
The Qur’an beautifully speaks about such migrations in numerous passages:
“And (as for) those who migrate in Allah’s way and are then slain or die, Allah will most certainly grant them a goodly sustenance, and most surely Allah is the best Giver of sustenance.” (22:58)
“O My servants who believe! Surely My earth is vast, therefore Me alone should you serve.” (29:56)
In fact, migration is of such great importance in Islam that our religious scholars have written tracts on this topic, and the Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Ali al-Sistani has even stated the following:
‘A Muslim who is born and raised in a Muslim country where he consciously and subconsciously absorbs the laws, values and teachings of Islam, grows up into a young person who is aware of the customs of his religion, following its path and is led by its guidance. On the other hand, a Muslim who is born, and brought up in a non-Muslim country demonstrates the influence of that environment very clearly in his thoughts, ideas, behavior, values, and etiquette unless his Lord helps him. This un-Islamic influence is seen more in the second generation of those who have migrated to non-Muslim countries.
‘This was the reason for Islam’s view on at-ta’arrub ba’d al-hijra as reflected in many ahadith. At-ta’arrub ba’d al-hijra literally means “becoming shorn of one’s percepts of faith after migrating [to the city],” and technically, it means leaving an environment where you could follow Islam and moving to a place where you may be prone to not following Islam. Such a migration is counted as one of the major sins.
‘Abu Basir says that he heard Imam as-Sadiq (peace be upon him) saying: “The major sins are seven: killing a person intentionally; associating someone or something with the Almighty Allah (shirk); wrongfully accusing a married woman of adultery; knowingly dealing in usury; running away from the battle field in jihad; at-ta’arrub ba’d al-hijra; causing distress to one’s parents [by encroaching on their rights]; and wrongfully acquiring the property of the orphan.” Then he said, “At-ta’arrub and shirk are one and the same [in severity].”
‘This, however, does not mean that entering non-Muslim countries is always forbidden. Other ahadith have described for us the reward of one who visits non-Muslim lands, the reward that every Muslim longs for. Hammad al-Sindi narrates that he asked Imam as-Sadiq (peace be upon him), “I visit the cities of polytheism [i.e., of the polytheists]; and there are some among us who say that ‘if you die over there, you will be raised [in the Hereafter] along with them.'” The Imam asked me, “O Hammad, when you are over there do you talk about our affair [i.e., our truth] and call [people] to it?” I replied, “Yes.” The Imam asked me, “When you are in these cities, the cities of Islam, do you talk about our affair and call [people] to it?” I replied, “No.” The Imam said, “If you die over there [in the land of the non-Muslims], you will be raised as an ummah by yourself, and there will be light in front of you!”‘ (For more details on this, refer to Ayatollah Sistani’s book, A Code of Practice for Muslims in the West.)
Although blessed with such beautiful words from our Ahlul Bayt, many of us may find it difficult to implement the practice into our busy lives. Yet the fact remains that physical migration for the betterment of one’s faith is an issue that needs contemplation and resolve, if one is ready to take the third level of submission into his or her life.
This does not necessarily mean having to leave one’s comfortable life in the West to settle in some far off, distant land in the East – it could simply necessitate moving from one city in Canada to another, or from a state in the USA with a small Muslim population to one with a more thriving Muslim community and many religious centers. In fact, it could even mean moving within one’s own city. Whatever the case may be, such a change is sometimes necessary as it may have a profound impact on our ability to make the spiritual migration towards the Most High.
As we strive to make our own spiritual migration, let us spend some time to delve deeper into the life of one of the greatest prophets of God, and the stages he went through in order to make the essential changes for both himself and those around him.