Divine Love and Selflessness
The Lord says “When you accept…”. This implies being in a profound self-reflection to find out what we love most in order to identify what we cherish the most. It is very subtle. For example, when waking up in the morning, we have the choice of staying at home or going to work. Which of the two do we cherish the most?
In the social order this is most often linked to our personal interests. However, when it comes to divine love, love does not seek personal gain and does not doubt, as St Paul said. Therefore, we are not torn between the negative and the positive, nor between good and bad. Through the story of Prophet Ibrahim (pbuh), we find that he was above the positive and the negative, good or bad, and even above optimism and scepticism.
These are notions that reason and the mind create within us, because we are either waiting to see if an outcome is going to be positive or negative or we are wondering whether to be positive or sceptical ourselves. So, this maintains us in a status quo, that is in the dimension of those who do not evolve. On the other hand, for those who are in acceptance, or those who delve deep within and seek, they are faced with a choice. In this perspective, they look at their capacities, their commitment, perseverance, patience and many other elements in order to lead their struggle efficiently. In this context, they do not think of what could make them turn back.
Consciousness and Freedom
This shows us how people think in the social order. We can see how people imagine things and what are the criteria that matter. In the social order, reason and the mind guide and comfort people through their fears.
This takes us back to the example of Prophet Ibrahim (pbuh). God says « When you accept … ». This is very important as it raises the question of freedom, for God does not constrain us.
In fact, God reminds us not to think that faith does not come with trials. We will be tested until we can no longer bear it and ask God to stop testing us.
God does not burden any soul with more than it can bear: each gains whatever good it has done, and suffers its bad- ‘Lord, do not take us to task if we forget or make mistakes. Lord, do not burden us as You burdened those before us. Lord, do not burden us with more than we have strength to bear. Pardon us, forgive us, and have mercy on us. You are our Protector, so help us against the disbelievers.’Quran Sura 2 verse 286
This notion of acceptance is very important because the Lord respects each individual’s freedom. And He says that those who wish can believe, and those who do not want to, are free not to believe.
This concept of freedom is also very important. Freedom, here, is not like freedom gained through revolutions. Freedom is not obtained through revolution, but through the evolution of individual consciousness in relation to divine love.
With the example of Prophet Ibrahim (pbuh), we can see how death is very present. And death is beautiful, for it gives meaning to life. In the social order, however, it is the contrary and people are not able to find and attribute a purpose that justifies death. This is why, in the social order, when someone dies, people do not say that he died for his ideal. Rather, death comes as a big surprise and people say that he died from an illness or from some other cause.
Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) says that we are asleep and that we wake up at death. This shows us that we are not really alive and that death comes to show us what life means.
Let us reflect upon divine love, especially on Prophet Ibrahim (pbuh) who has initiated humanity to meditation and divine love. He showed us the favours that God has granted to humankind and he also showed us what death means. It is not about losing the soul, for everyone will lose it. Instead, he showed us in what condition we can regain the soul.
The Heart at the centre of all human activity
The human being, a microcosm in the macrocosm
The example of Prophet Ibrahim (pbuh) repositions the heart at the centre of all human activity, as our heart is where the Lord dwells and He only sees our heart. He is closer to us than our jugular vein. This is an imagery to show the place that He occupies and where He dwells in our heart. Being closer to us than our jugular vein means that He occupies our heart.
Only divine love can activate the heart and the divine presence in us. Only divine love enables God to occupy our heart entirely. When God fully occupies our heart, we occupy the entire universe. By occupying the entire space of the universe, we therefore become microcosms in a macrocosm. This is why God has hidden two fundamental elements in the heart: life and death. When the heart is beating, we are alive and when it stops, we are dead.
However, those who discover divine love, find a symbiosis and unity between these two elements which seem to be two opposites. In the social order, these two elements are perceived as the contrary of one another.
Henceforth, we can understand society’s attitude towards these two elements, when in fact the two constitute one entity, as one stems from the other. In society, which is governed by the principle of the contraries, how do the ulemas (scholars), priests and everybody else talk about death? With tremendous fear!
We are shown that through death, we need to be very careful about life; death makes us discover that life has no meaning, that we must expect big suffering and that we must realise that there is nothing to gain in this life!
The approach of the divine reality leads to different levels of understanding – only those who are in divine consciousness can truly hear the divine message through the Prophets (pbut). In the case of Prophet Ibrahim (pbuh), we find the symbiosis of life and death through his acceptance to give that which he cherished the most. When we look at his life, first he did not expect to have a child, as he was of an advanced age. However, he was blessed with the mercy and love of the Lord.
What happened afterwards? If we think by society’s standards, it would appear that the Lord comes back to afflict him even more to the extent that Prophet Ibrahim (pbuh) could have wondered what was the point of having a child if things were to end in this way. In society we often find cases of parents being depressed or even dying following the death of their only child.
However, Prophet Ibrahim (pbuh) was not influenced by the parental legacy. God stipulates acceptance. In the case of Prophet Ibrahim (pbuh), his acceptance was a testimony of his love of God, the love that he embodied within. This dimension of acceptance is a proof of the love that impregnates his blood. There are several reasons that we could list for a categoric refusal of the rational mind; however, these are not the reasons of the heart.
The Lord says: « if you accept.” Throughout Prophet Ibrahim’s journey, he is not only confronted with the question of family legacy, but also that of descendance as well as the question of his family and that of his Lord.
A shared ideal
There is also the fact that the son had the same ideal of divine love as his father. He loved what his father loved and when his father informed him of what God had ordained, he told Prophet Ibrahim (pbuh) to “accomplish the will of my Lord”.
This is a very important notion. As Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba says: “Those who love what I love can follow me without questioning.” It is very important to understand this concept in order to grasp how powerful it is. In fact, Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba spent 33 years in captivity, ordained by people who were of a lower level of consciousness than him. He did not govern that society; yet he was able to destructure it and rebuild it. How did he triumph over those who were present at all levels of society? It’s only divine love! With divine love, it did not matter that he was in captivity. It was not necessary for him to be physically present, because love was present; love was in his followers’ hearts.
The heart, the soul, life and death
The Lord comes back to Prophet Ibrahim (pbuh). In fact, we always say that he was a master for Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). In fact, the pilgrimage to Mecca traces Prophet Ibrahim’s entire journey.
And verily God stipulates that If you love God, you can follow Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).
‘If you love God, follow me, and God will love you and forgive you your sins; God is most forgiving, most merciful.’Quran, Sura 3 v 31
The pilgrimage to Mecca is all about the journey of Prophet Ibrahim (pbuh). It is as if God was honouring Prophet Ibrahim (pbuh), he who has initiated the whole of humanity to divine love.
The significance of Life and Death
We can then understand the place of death in the individual’s life. We grasp what the heart’s function is, and hence, what the soul is.
We can then see that from the moment all the Peacemakers started to live from their hearts, they joined the dimension of the Prophets (pbut) and became their heirs.
So, the story of Prophet Ibrahim (pbuh) is not merely about sacrifice, or what type of animal we will offer. Far from that!
The Lord offers everything to His creature as His vice-gerent on earth. However, human beings have fallen to such lowly depths of darkness that they cannot see how God has created them in the most perfect form, thanks to the Consciousness that He bestows upon them. This is what makes the beauty of human beings. However, people are pre-occupied with the notion of sacrifice and this leads to dramas in homes. In this perspective, Prophet Ibrahim (pbuh) is he who has initiated Mankind to divine love.
The social dimension of love
We can now see the significance of death in relation to life. We often say that all living creatures will die. Of course! We tend to say it when someone dies. What is the significance of these two elements? Why are they linked? And why do they form one single entity? It is to enable access to the station of divine love. And this is what gives love a social dimension. This social dimension is that which God alludes to when He says to Prophet Ibrahim (pbuh) that he will be the father of a great nation, the father of humankind.
So, until love attains a social dimension, it cannot be agape love, nor can it save humanity. When the Prophets (pbut) came, they all awakened something in society. The proof is that they were all confronted with the leaders and governors of their times. The Prophets (pbut) come with divine love and show the power of love as opposed to those who are motivated by the love of power. For example, the Pharoah loved power, but Moses defeated him by the power of love. Similarly, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) triumphed, by the power of love, over the Meccans who were motivated by the love of power. We notice the same for Jesus who defeated Judas by the power of love.
The same goes for the Peacemakers. In South Africa, Nelson Mandela triumphed, by the power of love, over those who had established apartheid only for the love of power. In Senegalese society with all its social strata, Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba triumphed over his opponents who loved power to the point of sending him into exile. The power of love triumphed over them. It is in this perspective that Gandhi said that love is the most powerful force that human beings possess and it is capable of destroying even the most sophisticated weapon built by humans.
Towards higher levels of consciousness
So, love is a reality. However, we need to know how to be in this reality. The celebrations (of Eid ul Adha) are about to begin. However, this is an occasion for us to elevate our consciousness. It is a gift of God when He reminds us of the story of Prophet Ibrahim (pbuh), so that we can, in turn, elevate our consciousness. The aim goes far beyond merely finding an animal to slaughter in celebration of what Prophet Ibrahim (pbuh) did. Prophet Ibrahim (pbuh) was far from expecting to receive a lamb, as he was convinced that he was about to lose his son. If we merely keep focussing on the lamb, then it would mean that we have not understood the message of God.
This would mean that we are merely in the external dimension. This is what the social order is like and people tend to things upside down.
Although we call it the sacrifice of Prophet Ibrahim (pbuh), each of us must practise self-sacrifice. This involves each of us, as God never does thing from the same perception that society does. In fact, God gives a social dimension to things. This concerns everyone and there is not a single individual that is not concerned by this sacrifice. We talk about the sacrifice of Prophet Ibrahim (pbuh) and everyone builds an identity around it. However, today everyone must practise self-sacrifice. Are we ready to give that which we cherish the most?