What Nearness to Allah Means
+Our familiarity with the popular conception of the words as we use them in our social life often misleads us. We tend to strip the Islamic terms of their real connotation and take them as if they were conveying their primary or popular meaning.
We often use the words, "nearness" and "near" in their primary sense of physical proximity. For example we say: "There is a spring near that hill; or say, I went near that hill". In these cases we mean actual nearness in space and shortness of distance. But when we say that such and such person is near to the heart of such and such man, we mean that the former is the favourite of the latter. In this case the word "near" has been used figuratively, as obviously the question of physical distance is not involved. The bond of love and affection has been expressed as nearness.
Now what is the nature of nearness or proximity to Allah? Do the people, consequent upon their obedience, worship, and earnestness, actually ascend towards Allah and get closer to him? Does the distance between them and Allah continue to become shorter till it disappears, and in the words of the Holy Qur'an, "they meet their Lord?"
If these expressions are figurative, what does getting closer to Allah mean? Evidently distance has no meaning in relation to Allah. He is neither near nor far.
To get closer to Allah means to earn His pleasure. Allah is pleased with a person and favours him with His grace and kindness.
Here another question arises. What does pleasure of Allah mean? Allah is not subject to emotions and changes of temperament. It is not possible that He should be displeased with somebody and then should get pleased; or that He should be pleased with a person and then should get displeased. The answer is that the expression of pleasure is also figurative. What is meant by pleasure is Divine blessing and favour bestowed on those who obey Allah and worship Him.
Again what is the nature of Divine blessing and favour? On this point the views differ. According to some people blessing includes both material and physical bounties such as paradisaical gardens, palaces and houries, and conceptual and spiritual such as the knowledge and the pleasure which it gives. Some others deny the conceptual kind of blessings, and confine Divine favour to the physical pleasure of paradisaical gardens, palaces and houries. What they say amounts to the assertion that proximity to Allah means nothing more than that the person favoured by Him gets more physical pleasure in Paradise than theirs.
This means that according to those who deny the real proximity, obedience and worship change neither the relationship of Allah to man (this is admitted by the upholders of real proximity also) nor that of man to Allah. According to their view in this respect the foremost personality of the human world, viz. the Holy Prophet and the most wicked persons like the Pharaoh and Abu Jahl stand on the same footing.
In fact this erroneous notion is due to a particular material outlook about Allah and man, especially about man. Those who hold that man is a mere piece of clay, naturally do not acknowledge the principle
When I have made him and breathed in him of My Spirit". (al-Hijr, 15: 29)
As they interpret this verse allegorically, they have no alternative but to denty real proximity.
But is there any compelling reason to regard man so insignificant and interpret everything allegorically? Allah is absolute perfection. He is limitless. At the same time the essence of existence is perfection. Every kind of perfection such as knowledge, power, life, will, mercyy, goodness etc. returns to the existence which is a genuine reality.
Allah is pure existence and perfection and all existing things, in proportion to the intensity and strength of their existence and perfection, are close to Him. Naturally the angels are closer to him than the minerals and the plants. Among the angels some are closer than others, and for that reason they command other angels and have authority over them. This difference is related to divergence in their creation. Terminologically it may be called the difference of "descending arc".
All existing things, especially man, are returned to Allah . The Holy Qur'an says
Surely we are Allah's and to Him we shall return". (al-Baqarah, 2:156)
As man occupies a high stage of existence, his return should be in the form of obeying the commands of Allah willingly and voluntarily. By marching on the path of virtue and obedience to Allah, he can advance forward from the animal stage to a position above that of angels. His ascension or promotion is neither honorary nor administrative, nor contractual, like the appointment of an ordinary member of the Assembly to the post of a minister or the upgrading of an ordinary member of a party to its leader— strengthening and intensification of existence and perfection. It means increase in knowledge, power, life, will and determination. It means the widening of the circle of influence and control. To get near to Allah means to traverse the stages of existence.
It is impossible that a man as a result of his obedience and submission should not reach the position of the angels. He may even go further. The Holy Qur'an affirming the position of man, says
We said to the angels: Prostrate yourselves before Adam. They all fell prostrate save Iblis". (al-Baqarah, 2: 34)
It may be said that he who denies this position of man is but Iblis (Satan).
Adapted from: "Master and Mastership"
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