The Inwardly Hidden – The Outwardly Manifest – Allah
Taken from ‘The Difficult Journey’
And as I swam round the Ka’aba, going with the flow, with one tawaf following the next so fluently that I was glad that I had been keeping a careful count of each tawaf with my fingers, one truth became clear to me, a truth that was to become even clearer during the next five days: Even in this vast gathering of Muslims – whose fundamental understanding of the nature of existence and whose way of life were basically the same – let alone in the whole wide world – where there are so many different people with very varied beliefs and lifestyles – each one of us is completely alone, in the presence of Allah. People may clutch at each other, or at books, or at the Black Stone, or at some of all the rites and rituals that there are in life, or at the beliefs or ideas that make them do so, but in Reality there is nothing to hold one to except Allah. You can only really make a lasting pact with Allah, and not with any thing or any one else.
When I had first embraced Islam some four years earlier, I had known next to nothing about it, other than the fact that the community of Muslims whom I had joined were more knowledgeable and radiant and better behaved than any other human beings that I had ever met during my life up until them. I had embraced Islam in the hope of acquiring that knowledge and radiance and courteous behaviour, and as time passed my hopes were gradually fulfilled, as, little by little I learned about and tried to embody the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad, may the Blessings and Peace of Allah be on him.
Understanding was not always instant, or complete, but I usually found that once I had actually done something that was part of the Prophet’s teaching, then I could understand it. The meaning of the Hajj was something that had always eluded me, and whenever I read about it, I could not understand it, or see the point of it. For three and a half years, I had had no desire to go on Hajj, other than feeling that I ought to do so because it is one of the five pillars of Islam, and then, once I did sincerely wish to do the Hajj, I had soon found myself on the way to Makka. Now that I was there doing the Hajj, it made perfect sense, and as soon as I did anything that was required of me, its meanings approached me from every direction. At this point in time, doing the Hajj was clearly the best and most natural course of action in the world. There was nowhere else that I wished to be, and there was nothing else that I wanted to do. As far as I was concerned, I was in exactly the right place at exactly the right time, doing exactly the right thing.
During the rites of Hajj, I had gone in circles round the Ka ‘aba; I had gone back and forth here and there between Safa and Marwa; and now I was just being still – standing still here on the Jebel Ar-Rahma. And this I reflected, is all we ever do in life. Either we stay still in one place, or we go back and forth between two places, or we go round in circles, these simple fundamental patterns of movement interacting with each other in a myriad of different forms and combinations to form the beautifully intricate pattern of individual and collective destinies which are forever unfolding and never quite exactly repeating themselves during each moment of existence.
Silently I stood there, filled with awe, as I reflected on the beauty and the majesty and the sheer intricacy of the creation which is alive and changing with each passing moment, never to be the same again. My awareness turned from the creation to the Creator, to the Reality in Whom everything that appears to exist has its reality, to the One Who pervades every atom in the cosmos without being contained by anything – Who is beyond space, to the One Who has no beginning or end in time – Who is beyond time, to the One Who is not only the Inwardly Hidden but also, if we could only understand, the Outwardly Manifest, to Allah.
How little we know! Our knowledge is restricted by place and time. We have to imagine what things were like if we were not there, and even if we were present, our understanding is limited, not only by lack of perception but also because we can only really focus our attention on one thing at a time, and existence is multidimensional, both in the Seen and the Unseen worlds. And as for the future, we can only imagine what lies ahead.
Allah knows it all, from the innermost depths to the outermost parts. He has always been present everywhere for as long as space and time exist, always present, before and beyond space and time, always present, with no beginning and no end. The whole creation from beginning to end is in the knowledge of Allah, from before time, for all time, beyond time.
Everything that had happened in my life up to this point dwindled away and faded like a dream. There was no past and no future, just the present moment, as I stood there in the presence of Allah, a frail human being dressed in two pieces of white cloth and a pair of plastic sandals, with no food and no money and no shelter, standing on a small rocky hill in the middle of the desert, in the middle of the world, in the middle of the universe, a helpless slave in the presence of his Lord.
Friday 24th of May 2013