The Restless Soul
“Be in this world as if you were a stranger or a traveller.”
I have never wanted to be a traveller, a nomad who bears her load lightly and makes her home wherever she finds herself, who takes from the earth just enough to sustain herself and is always looking ahead, towards her final destination.
While I admire the pious ones who preceded us for their simplicity and detachment from the world, I must confess I have always found the idea of ascetism, of forgoing the dunya and all its delights, a difficult one to relate to and apply in my own life.
This is not because I am acquisitive by nature – one glance at the contents of my wardrobe will tell you that! – but rather because I find the world that Allah SWT has created to be a fascinating and wondrous place, full of undiscovered joys, miracles and golden, memorable moments. As a writer, I have always tried to live through my senses, keeping in touch with the world around me, staying alert to its marvels, grabbing hold of life and her many facets with both hands. I have always wanted to be able to say that I truly ‘lived’.
And there are shades of truth in this approach: after all, the whole of Allah SWT’s earth glorifies Him and is a sign for those who reflect. Every miraculous birth, every renewed season, every success well-earned, every lesson well-learned, every leaf on every branch of every tree, the very breath we take, is a sign of His Majesty and Power.
But, if I am honest with myself, I will admit that I have not always been reminded. That there have been times when life has seemed so real and full and all-consuming that I have forgotten…I have forgotten… until the moment has passed and I am left wondering what the lesson was in that exchange, what I lost by not turning back to my lord in that moment – what price my soul paid…
And therein lies the rub.
Because through all of life’s adventures, its heartbreaking challenges and intoxicating triumphs, it is the soul that bears the brunt of our over-indulgence in worldly excess.
It is the soul that suffers when we forget, neglect and fail to remember the reason for it all, The One who fashioned us in all our complexity that we may acknowledge Him once again.
And then I think of the statement of Allah SWT:
“And (remember) when your Lord brought forth from the Children of Adam, from their loins, their seed (or from Adam’s loin his offspring) and made them testify as to themselves (saying): “Am I not your Lord?” They said: “Yes! We testify,” lest you should say on the Day of Resurrection: “Verily, we have been unaware of this.” (7:172)
So the soul is not unaware of why it was created. For we are perpetually restless beings, in a state of yearning and seeking, knowing that there is ‘something more’ but rarely aware of what that ‘something’ is.
And if we were to remember that once, before our conscious selves existed, our souls testified to our Creator’s Lordship, and that the whole of our lives is merely a journey back to that state of awareness, of clarity, of knowing what it’s all about, what then would our attitude be to the distractions that surround us?
Would we cease to love our spouses and children, or marvel at the sunset, or strive to improve ourselves or protect the world we live in? Would we cease to be agents of change, from within and without; would we cease to reach out to our fellow humans, would we isolate ourselves from our peers and take to solitude and meditation until death overtook us?
No, for we cannot cease to be human. But what we can be is humans who are aware of their noble purpose. We can be humans who truly see this world – the good and the bad of it – as a sign of our Lord’s divinity, as manifestations of His Majesty. Because in every thing of beauty and in every drop of happiness, we would recognise the bounties of Allah SWT. And in every heartache, in every challenge, we would recognise the Power and Might of Allah SWT. And we would view every experience as slaves of the Most High, rather than as slaves to the dunya.
I have come to see the world in these terms: it is all part of this amazing journey called life. And if we are restless and ill at ease, never finding true solace and belonging, perhaps it is because our souls know that this is not our true home, that this is not where we truly belong.
And, the more we truly reflect on this reality, the more our hearts yearn to embark on that journey as travellers, nomads who bear their loads lightly and make their home wherever they find themselves, who take from the earth just enough to sustain themselves, always looking ahead, towards the final destination: the heartfelt, soulfelt reunion with their Lord in His Garden.
Na’ima B. Robert