We, literary with every fibre of our being, belonged to God and will continue to belong to Him. And whatever is given to us, including our freedom to operate our life, is limited and will be taken away from us at any time of His choice without our consent.
Why Servitude to God is the Irreparable State of Human Existence
The Quran widely uses the word ‘Abd’ or its plural ‘Ibad’ while portraying God’s choicest people, such as the prophets, saints, and ordinary men and women whom it presents as embodiments of virtues.
Although linguistically Abd means ‘servant’, ‘slave’ or ‘bondsman’, the Quran hardly employs it as a derogatory term to slander or defame any individual or group as such. On the contrary, Abd and Ibad are by and large used as honorific terms, reflecting God’s intimacy and attachment to those whom He holds in high esteem.
There are several other titles and adjectives used in the Quran to describe God’s favoured people, but nothing could express the warmth of the relationship between God and man as Abd. The term reflects God’s love for, and possessiveness of, humans. The intimacy peaks when God speaks in first person referring to us as ‘My Abd or Ibad’.
Unlike other qualifiers, Abd is the most authentic, inclusive, and non-discriminatory term to define man. All other descriptors fall short of capturing the true nature of man and the essence of his/her being.
Being an Abd is the most primitive, natural, and quite instinctive urge of all human beings, irrespective of the time and place they live in as well as the race, gender, and religion they belong to. Humans are born completely submitted to the will of God.
None of us had any say in making any crucial decisions regarding our existence such as the time and place of birth, race, gender, nationality, culture, age, among several other marks of identities that were imprinted on us without our consent. That we were born or allowed ourselves to be born the way God wanted us shows the limited freedom we enjoy in our existence.
We, literary with every fibre of our being, belonged to God and will continue to belong to Him. And whatever is given to us, including our freedom to operate our life, is limited and will be taken away from us at any time of His choice without our consent. ‘Abd’ exemplifies this natural state of submission with which we came to this world and will leave this world: “Indeed We belong to Him and to Him will we return.”
‘Abd’ also captures the truth and depth of the relationship between us and God, without being tinged with our false sense of pride and ownership, our limited knowledge, and the superficial freedom we enjoy.
Being an ‘Abd’ or realizing that we are ‘Ibad’ of God is akin to acknowledging the true state of our existence – called ‘Fitra’. And maintaining the state of Fitra or purity throughout our life requires us to constantly remind ourselves (Dhikr) that we are essentially ‘Ibad’. But this process of Dhikr is very challenging given the fact that our worldly circumstances might delude us into forgetting our authentic state of servitude.
There is a high likelihood of our being alienated from our essential sense of servitude as we grow up and make our presence felt in the world. The practice of Dhikr is the tool to help us maintain our servitude, as we are bound to be further estranged from our Fitra as we grow up more horizontally, assuming power, owning up possessions, acquiring knowledge, making decisions, leading teams, achieving targets, defeating enemies, conquering territories, subjecting people, etc.
This horizontal expansion of our being, which is also an essential part of our worldly existence, needs to be properly aligned with the vertical orientation of our servitude. Horizontally, we can claim many things as ours such as our body, mind, talent, intellect, property, partners, spouses, and children. No other human being may take it away from us.
But when it comes to the vertical relationship between us and God, we are not the true owners of our body and mind nor of anything we acquire and achieve by using our own talents and skills.
When we allow the horizontal growth to break our umbilical cord tying us with our servitude, we swerve off the right track and are doomed to fail. We can temporarily enjoy our false sense of freedom and ownership, being deluded into thinking that we are on the right track.
The Quran considers servitude as the pivot of human existence. Nothing imparts meaning and purpose to our existence other than the conviction that we ultimately belong to God. Therefore, whenever an individual, or a society as a whole, gets alienated from its pivot, it will struggle to keep its spiritual balance.
The farther we move away from our original state of servitude, the further estranged we will grow from what lends meaning and purpose to our life. That is why rampant materialism always bred a crisis of meaning and existence. Existential doubts and nihilistic thoughts thrived in societies that reached its materialist apogee.
However, Dhikr helps us to pivot to the right direction and be securely anchored on our axis. There are always chances for us to mend our broken umbilical cord and reinstate our natural state of servitude.
Those who fail to appreciate their servitude to God are still living in complete servitude to Him, no matter whether they realize it or completely deny it.
Even while being proud of their achievements and status, they are internally disturbed by a brewing sense of loss. When they try to make themselves believe they are in control of themselves, they fail to control many things around them and within them, including their own thoughts, feelings, and emotions as well as the overall function of their body.
We were born completely in thrall to God, remain irredeemably a slave to Him throughout our lives, and will die by submitting to His will. The frame of time and place within which we can stretch our destiny is limited, and even within that stretch, there is a finitude undergirding everything we do.
Even those who fail to acknowledge or realize this servitude will be forced to do so towards the end of their life, as they submit themselves to the will God, giving up all resistance and renouncing everything they made and were once proud of.
When we realize our weakness and of the limitation of our choices when it comes to influencing or controlling our life, we come to the conclusion that we are not the owners of ourselves. We have never been free from God, and our pretension to freedom ends up in our own peril.
So submission to God, or being a servant to God, is the irreversible state of affairs for every human being, no matter whether they acknowledge it or not, and therefore, the greatness of man lies in his or her acknowledgment of servitude, not in denying it. The denial of servitude (Kufr) is the denial of our originality and true make-up. One can deny God but one does so by being a servant of Him.
Servitude as a badge of honour
While the state of being ‘Abd’ represents inferiority and lowliness in the human-human relationship, it becomes a symbol of superiority as well as a badge of honour in a God-human relationship. It’s worth noting that in order to depict people whom He presents as role models for the entire humanity, God has chosen a word or expression which represents lowliness or ignominy in a human-human relationship.
By exalting the position of a servant, God has not only glorified the person who serves Him but also elevated the services he/she renders aimed at becoming a servant. We serve God to become a better servant and the more we serve Him the higher we go up in perfecting our humanity and accomplishing our dignity.
Unlike servitude to people, which is an abomination bringing us disgrace and diminishing our productivity as well as creativity, servitude to God is a blessing. It adds to our self-respect and broadens the horizons of creativity and innovation.
Servitude to people will cut off us from opportunities to grow, while servitude to God will open up new opportunities and liberate us from servitude to power and possessions. But, at the same time, we have an opportunity to serve God by serving people. All our services, including sacrifices we make to help other people, end up as services to God.
Understanding this broader dimension of servitude will help us live our life more productively and creatively. Servitude to God will make us constantly in touch with the Centre that controls our functions and mechanism.
Therefore, instead of lowering our status and confining our possibilities, understanding the true nature of our servitude will boost our confidence level and make us more self-sufficient. Our conscience will constancy be guided and controlled so that we can depend on it to make appropriate decisions.
Servitude as a cosmic vision
Realizing and acknowledging our inherent servitude will make our life flow in rhythm with our true nature. The failure to realise this built-in mechanism will affect the smooth flow of our mental and physical life. For humanity in general, a cosmic vision about how our existence is designed and programmed is more important than particular knowledge about the nitty-gritty of our physical and mental make-up.
Servitude is the most universal and enduring of all our attributes. We are born with it, live with and will die with it; and it will be with us in all the stages of our existence post-death. All other attributes came to us later in life, and some of them stayed with us only for a while. Our upbringing, education, training, and profession have equipped us with several impressive skills and admirable qualities. But unlike servitude, they are all acquired skills, which might stay with us for a while before succumbing to their natural cycle.
We gained in our strength and health, but we might lose them as we grow old. Many adorable qualities with which we are adorned today such as our beauty, stamina, agility, smartness, and courage will leave us in due course. Our knowledge and expertise, our talent and skills, and whatever we are unique for such as entrepreneurship, academic and professional pedigree, athletic ability etc. will diminish as we grow old.
Our situation and background will keep on fluctuating, while our perception and world outlook will not always be the same. The multiple stages of physical transformation that we went through from being a sperm through a well-built, full-fledged human being to a handful of bones in the graveyard indicate the perennial servitude of our existence to someone who decides on our behalf.
But this servitude is not a burden curtailing our freedom and containing us from pursuing our dreams. It’s this servitude to the infinite source of energy and power and timeless beauty that frees us from all regressive, confining influences.
It’s the avenue of freedom that helps us to explore fully and maximise our potential and exercise the mission of our life unreservedly.
Understanding servitude will put our minds at rest and protect us from perplexing questions and anxieties regarding existence. It provides us with peace of mind, relieves us from unnecessary anxieties about our scope of thought and action. We don’t have to shy away from depending on God and soliciting His help and support as we go on. We don’t have to feel restless and sweat over areas to which we won’t be able to have any access.
In the absence of our acknowledging our servitude to God, we are likely to find the solution in the wrong places, which will weaken our prospects of getting at the right answers. We are not sure if the answers we get are true or wrong as we don’t have faith in our sources. We have to verify each time we get a piece of information.
In the case of those who acknowledge their servitude, they don’t have to verify the sources each time they receive a solution. Servitude itself is an acknowledgment of the primacy, superiority, and absolute truthfulness of God. There is no better authority we can depend on other than God.
Servitude on a cosmic level
And finally, servitude is the underlying reality of the cosmos, where everything is interdependent and nothing can stand on its own. No individual, system, mechanism, or ecosystem enjoys an independent existence. None of them is an absolute truth on its own. They rely on each other to grow and prosper. And even the scale and magnitude of their growth is not something they can predict and calculate in advance.
We aspire for something and work hard to attain it, but end up getting something else. We set out on a journey and reach a destination that we never had in mind when we started off. Nor are we going to be the beneficiaries of our hard-earned achievements; many of us end up bequeathing their hard-earned wealth and possessions to their inheritors, before being able to enjoy their dues.
On a daily basis, we depend on things or phenomena which we don’t have any control over such as the air we breathe, the water we drink, the soil where we cultivate, the rain that nourishes us, the sunlight that energizes us. We can’t take any of them for granted as we are at the mercy of the power/ phenomenon which created us and them.
We can’t be a slave to what we know, as things we know constitute only a tiny speck compared to the ocean of what we don’t know. Nor can we become a slave of our experience, as what we have experienced fades in comparison to what we are yet to experience or may never experience.
Even what we believe we knew cannot be considered as a universal truth. Our world views and opinions are influenced by our background, people we interact with, and the time and the place where we live. Even our independent opinions and positions on various issues are dependent on the facts and figures and our ability to analyse them.
Even our deep knowledge and solid expertise are imperfect. Probably the truth of many things we know depends on the falsehood of many other things we don’t know. We will be forced to update and correct the versions of knowledge we have when we learn new things which have hitherto remained unknown or inaccessible to us.
When we develop a new theory or make an invention, we can’t do it in isolation from others. We heavily draw on the experience and expertise of many pioneers from the same genre or other related disciplines. No genre of science is a watertight compartment and no scientist or scholar can be considered an absolute authority in any subject.
No scholar can completely break away from the dominant narratives and paradigms of his or her time. Even for their path-breaking inventions and theories, they are somewhat indebted to their predecessors.
The certainty of our knowledge is dependent on the veracity of the facts and findings from which we reached our conclusions. Look at how a new piece of wisdom arrives as if from nowhere at an unexpected time and shatters a vast body of our established notions and beliefs. Look at all major path-breaking inventions in human history and there will be some unlikely precursors that triggered them off.
A new invention or a small finding breaks in as if from nowhere and shatters our established wisdom, just like a tiny microbe upended our world in ways we have never expected. That servitude is an irreparable state also means we live with one form of servitude or the other. If we fail to recognise and appreciate our original state of servitude, we will be endorsing and embracing several fake versions of it.
Being a slave to anyone or anything, even to our own passions and volitions, results in our degradation as a person and causes a diminution in our value and status. But being a slave to God is the highest stature a man can dream of and achieve. The more we feel proud of being God’s servants, the higher we grow in our status and position, the more insightful we become of ourselves, and the more benefits we reap from our life.
But, in our haste to please multiple fake masters, we end up forgetting the real master. Having multiple masters lands us in peril. We can’t afford to destroy our gifted life by serving fake masters who didn’t have any role in our existence and nor are they going to decide our future.
Pinnacle of human experience
In short, servitude is the eternal realm of our being as well as the sublimest state we could aspire for. No other position or designation can even remotely match it in its power and purpose. We confirm our servitude to God when we reach the highest orbit of our consciousness.
The most fruitful time of our life is when we realize our servitude and acknowledge it by aligning our thoughts, actions, and behaviour with it. But sustaining this state of sublimity as the permanent state of our mind is an arduous task.
It’s a high-octane sphere where only the most disciplined ones can stay afloat for too long. Most of us tarry in the confines of our mundane life, only occasionally winging our way to that exalted sphere.
Servitude is the pinnacle of human experience. It’s the peak where we can find ourselves in our purest form. We reach the most advanced stage of our personal development when we perfect our experience of servitude. In our journey to find purpose and meaning, we try our luck in multiple tasks or we wander from one task to another, unable to find the meaning anywhere.
But by this wandering, we miss the opportunity to explore and find out our servitude in whatever we have right now. We pass by the experience without realizing the opportunities to express our servitude in that. We stop by scratching the surface without wading through the depth.
Not bounded by time, culture
Human civilization is in a state of flux and we cannot say that it has already reached its crowning glory in our time or any other period in the past. Therefore, we are not supposed to adopt the cultural constructs of a given time.
But as an individual, each human being has the potential to mature into a full-fledged slave of God. Each individual is entitled to experience servitude the best way he can. He or she won’t be judged by the standards of another time, be it an advanced future or a less advanced past.
But that does not necessarily mean a person’s experience of servitude can be fully replicated by another person. Each individual has several unique characteristics that make his or her experience of servitude unique as well.
For navigators of life, servitude is the oceanic depth. It cannot be experienced by a boy wetting his feet on the waves breaking on the shore. Intellect is one of the key faculties making our experience of servitude more enjoyable. But it cannot be the one and only criterion to assess and evaluate our servitude.
One might argue that servitude has many fatalistic connotations such as surrender, defeat, lethargy, or the inability to weather the challenges of life. But servitude to God has nothing to do with those negative interpretations. Servitude is the profound wisdom of yielding to the absolute control of God over us. Servitude is the only option left to us when we are not able to resist.
He is our departing point, He is our destination
When we feel detached from God, we feel like a traveller getting diverted away from the destination. We are all God-bound travellers and our flight has already taken off. The journey has a fixed duration, and a predestined route map. The purpose of the journey and its entire excitement revolves around the destination. No serious traveller can forget about the place where they are headed, however excited they are about the fantastic sights and sceneries on the way.
We are travellers in this God-bound flight. But as the custodians of this trip, we are also the pilots or navigators entrusted with the responsibility of steering the craft to its destination. Safety and security is of utmost importance. We have to be alert and cautious against any attempt to hijack or kidnap our flight or divert its course of the journey.
As travellers, we feel comfortable as long as the flight is well on course to its destination. God is the only destination where we can land our flight safely and securely. We can’t afford to make any crash-land before reaching the destination. We have to be wary of any prospect of the flight drifting away from its destination.
We can enjoy the journey as long as we are excited about the destination. This excitement is what fuels the journey. Even those who can’t enjoy the journey can still remain relaxed if they are hopeful of the destination. They can overcome the boredom and difficulties of life by putting their hope and trust in God. No hardship or loss can be painful as long as we are reminded that we are ultimately bound to God. That’s why we are asked to tone down our mourning over anything by reminding us that God is our custodian and that we are bound to return to Him.
Our mourning seems somewhat misplaced because if we are mourning the death of someone, we are actually mourning his joining or reunion with God. So, by reminding ourselves about this reality of our life and death, we can overcome our grief and pain caused by any loss or separation. We don’t have to be overjoyed over anything as no delight could be compared to the delight of meeting God.
But there is a deeper level to this journey. The destination is not far off. It’s very closer to us and accessible to us with our thoughts. That is why the excitement over the destination does not have to make us bored with the journey. We can overcome the boredom of the journey by reflecting more and more about the destinations. There are signs of God everywhere, and we are so overwhelmed by His blessings that makes us feel and experience the closeness of God.
God is not just a destination awaiting us in the fag end of life’s tunnel. His is the Light guiding us in the tunnel’s darkness so that we don’t have any difficulty navigating the tunnel, however denser its darkness grows.
We are not only optimistic about meeting God at the end of the journey, but also are deeply aware of His presence as the owner, custodian, and master of us and everything around us. We don’t have worries about the future as God is our destination, nor can we be sorrowful of our present state as we are safely anchored in the blessings of the Merciful.
Find the original post here.