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FaithSpirituality

A Conversation on Growth-Focused Relationships (Part One)

Our relationship with God is not only about the remembrance of God through observing acts of worship such as the daily prayers but also experiences of mystery, transcendence, awe, ecstasy and wholeness. Part one of growth-focused relationships discusses our relationship with Allah (SWT).

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Our relationship with God is not only about the remembrance of God through observing acts of worship such as the daily prayers but also experiences of mystery, transcendence, awe, ecstasy and wholeness. Part one of growth-focused relationships discusses our relationship with Allah (SWT).

Samira’s three-part series examines three dimensions of relationships and personal growth. The second is on our relationship with the self and can be found here, and the third on the relationship with people can be found here. The articles are taken from different chapters of the book Nur – How to Live a Life Worth  Living!”

In the year 2002, I was hurriedly walking in South Brisbane, Australia to the bus station when a dishevelled man said assalam alaikum (peace be upon you), and for some reason, I did not reply. When we were at a pedestrian crossing waiting for a green signal, he stood beside me. I looked at him thinking he was from the Balkans, maybe Bosnian and a little unsteady on his feet. He was about to cross the road while the signal was still red, but I stretched my arm out in front of his chest to stop him. I remember his facial expression softened. He looked at me and said something like no need to worry about my safety. Then the signal turned green, and we crossed the road and went in different directions. That was that, but strangely later that day, I was upset with myself for not replying to his greeting of peace and being present with him. And since then, I promised myself I would not do that again, and throughout the  years, I remembered this man and our brief interaction.

17 years later, in 2019, I was walking quickly with my husband to catch the train at the metro in Paris, France. As we were approaching the escalator, I could hear a man say assalam alaikum, but my husband did not reply and probably did not hear. This same man then said wa alaikum wa salam, (and peace be upon you). Without even thinking, I quickly turned around as the escalator was taking me downwards and replied wa alaikum wa salam (and peace be upon you) with a smile. At that moment, it was like time stopped. I instantly remembered the exact same voice of the same man I met in South Brisbane many years earlier. I felt a  connection to the depths of this man’s eyes. Again, a Balkan man looking dishevelled with deep blue eyes, with an intensity of the ocean. I also sensed his face softened as he smiled. At that moment, I was instantly taken back to South Brisbane, it was a surreal and blessed experience. I felt such relief and gratitude for the opportunity to kind of make amends and understood through this experience the importance of being present to the people around me.

Nur, as you age into adulthood, you will surely discover the wonders and importance of relationships. Like water, food, and air, relationships are almost taken for granted but are vitally important for human sustenance and growth. Human touch, human connection, human word, and human emotion are essential for our survival as a human race. Currently, you are navigating relationships as a preteen in the forms of school friendships, teachers, and cousins.  So, your human relationships are fairly simple in the way of engagement. Remember, we as humans are wired for connection; we are social beings and do not thrive or grow alone.  But rather, we are meaning-making beings that leave impressions on people around us.  Relationships are central to life, well-being, and connection. Human relationships exist to teach us about each other and ourselves, and that is why this is such an important conversation to have. We need to learn how to express ourselves more clearly in order to be able to live with each other in a more harmonious way. The way I see it, the essence of human worldly relationships is the form or expression of something real or divine-like. I would go as far as stating that the survival and growth of human relationships are the survival of the human race. Whether it is a parent, sibling, uncle or aunt, grandparent, spouse, friend, colleague,  teacher, or even your neighbor, all have their due role in helping you and perhaps each other to attain a meaningful purpose and strive to be better people in a life worth living.

Relationships in your lifetime are most likely going to take on a more dynamic and nuanced orientation. The bonds and experiences you have with other people and the quality of all your relationships can determine the quality of your life. Another way to think about relationships is the personal impact. Your relationships will be a marker of your physical health, psychological health, religious/spiritual health, and sense of meaning in life. There is a wealth of information, scientific studies, theories, and stories available in academia, major religions, and online that attest to the importance of relationships. There is a plethora of self-help manuals and books, some with unclear methodologies of the person/s own value systems behind the content. However, Muslims from various professional backgrounds are starting to offer useful content on relationships beyond improving our relationship with God.

The following perspective I offer is mainly an integrated approach based on my limited knowledge attained, personal experiences, personal history, and reflective curiosity. My perspective on relationships is multidimensional:

  1. Relationship with God, Higher Power and nature
  2. Relationship with ourselves
  3. Relationships with people.

These three dimensions are growth-focused, of equal importance and interconnected. My current understanding has shown me that, ideally, we should strive to work on all three dimensions to reach a fully matured human being. There is nothing ground-breaking in the following explanation but rather a common-sense, concise, and easy-to-follow take on relationships.  The following is not an attempt to convince everyone who reads it but rather an opportunity for you to reflect and verify it for yourself. I will attempt to break down these three dimensions into relationships in more detail.

This first part deals with our relationship with God, with the subsequent parts to follow.

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Relational interactions are an opportunity for growth. The three relationship centres, although not static, they are not used to communicating with each other. It seems they are continuing in the process of realignment based on personal awareness, situational factors, and age. Put another way, using the richness of Arabic terms insan– the person with all his/her knowledge and experiences, makan– the type of relationship and where it is right now, zaman– the physical age and era right now. The ability to experience growth in all dimensions of relationships with God or Higher Power, self, and people would truly be a life worth living.

Relationship with God, or Higher Power

Islam speaks extensively about insan kamil, the complete human being that is transformed or matured both psychologically and religiously/spiritually. There is a refinement of character that people witness in day-to-day life. There is a high level of adab, a practice incorporating humility, courtesy, kindness, a reverence for the world, and deep respect for others in both this world or dunya, and the Hereafter or akhira. The Holy Quran, in chapter 23, verse 17, speaks of seven heavens/ways/paths above us for acts of conscious human beings to ascend.  Additionally, the ancient teachings and wisdom of tassawuf, or Islamic mysticism, need to be made more accessible in a targeted way to help people achieve an optimal relationship with God or Higher Power. Seeking loving and authentic human relationships in your day-to-day life can be seen as a way or guide to the ultimate relationship with God. As a wise saying points out, ‘hand in hand we go to God’.

Nur, your relationship with God is not only about the remembrance of God through observing acts of worship such as the daily prayers but also experiences of mystery, transcendence,  awe, ecstasy and wholeness. This connection can be achieved by experiencing and reflecting on the awe and beauty of nature, like rivers, seas, mountains, gardens, stars, moon etc. These experiences of mystery or glimpses of the hidden spiritual world can also occur between people, like the experience I had with the men in the Paris metro and South Brisbane. These openings to the spiritual realm can also occur with acts of worship like prayers, reciting the  Holy Quran, or dhikr/remembrance, whether individually or collectively.

The concept of taubah or repentance is a lifesaver that ought to be used regularly with sincerity and humbleness to reach religious/spiritual maturity. Taubah can also be seen as an off-ramp from the crippling effects of self-disappointment, self-betrayal, and guilt. Nur, seek a relationship with God, turn to Him to repent and express gratitude. Even though there are no intermediaries in Islam, it is encouraged to seek out exemplary teachers and role models. Even the noble companions of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) had their own struggles and turned to him as an exemplary teacher and spiritual guide. These days such spiritual teachers and spiritual guides do exist, but unfortunately, there are few among us. These human beings can also be known as saints or faqir, righteous or saleh, but not exclusively. They are primarily focused on their relationship with their Creator or Beloved regardless of their ethnicity, occupation, gender, and faith. Through the guidance of their own teachers, they have done the work on themselves. Put another way, they have reached growth, maturity, or transformation and if you are blessed someday to be in the company of such a being, then commit wholeheartedly to this journey. For the rest of us, we read stories from books of these blessed people and try to learn from and emulate them.

Interestingly, the father of American psychology, William James (1842–1910), who had a  pragmatic approach to religions, believed that religious/spiritual experiences could be used to help humans with the inevitable struggles associated with life. James’s explanation of being twice born seems to allude to man’s capacity to transform and mature from morbid-mindedness to healthy-mindedness. In addition to the physical order, James believed in an  ‘unseen spiritual order which we assume on trust’. ‘Our science is a drop, our ignorance a sea’. The power of pragmatism states, ‘be not afraid of life, believe that life is worth living and your belief will help create the fact’. Ultimately, there is no conflict between science and religion/spirituality. To enter a sacred space of possibilities, a radical acceptance of hidden divine or invisible realm that we cannot grasp but rather experience with contemplation, and trust that all has meaning and opportunities come in different forms but are from one true Source.

Samira’s three-part series examines three dimensions of relationships and personal growth. The second is on our relationship with the self and can be found here, and the third on the relationship with people can be found here. The articles are taken from different chapters of the book Nur – How to Live a Life Worth  Living!”

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