Imagine for a moment, that you woke up one day, without a past. This is your first moment in existence. This is your first day on Earth. You just arrived. You awoke in a field filled with flowers. You see trees and mountains in the far distance, and turn around to witness a radiating body of light illuminating the entire field of view: the sun, it is rising. You begin to wander, and wonder, “Where am I? What am I? Why am I here?…” And the search of a lifetime begins…
The story of creation of man is one of my favorite stories of all time. For many reasons, but most importantly, for me personally, it represents every single human being’s journey into existence and relationship with the Source they came from. This is not the story of only the first human being in existence, this is the beginning chapter of every human being’s story of existence. In this story lays hidden the answers to the grandest questions mankind has always sought; who are we? Where did we come from? Why are we here? Where are we going?
And while there are so many hidden treasures in this story to be discovered and told, I felt the need to reflect on it from a certain angle that concerned me in this phase of my life, and in light of contemporary notions and trending phenomena like self-love, self-worth, and self-sufficiency; things that many of us seem to be lacking amongst our generation. Many of us seem to be trying so hard to prove our worth, to love ourselves despite the world telling us that we are not enough, or seek validation from everyone and everything except ourselves.
I too came to notice that my sense of self-worth takes a hit whenever I look outside and compare myself to others or peers or society. And it seems that the world echoes it back to me, in the communities I follow, in my conversations with friends and peers, that there is somehow an experience most of us share as humans; a collective felt sense of imposter syndrome and low self-regard, or essentially an incomplete view of ourselves; that we do not fully see or know who we truly are.
Are we cogs in a corporate machine? Are we consumers? Are we mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers? Are we friends and lovers? Are we employees, business owners and MBA holders? Are we lawyers, doctors and engineers? Are we advanced machines, or are we evolved animals? Are we metaphysical or merely matter? Are we talking bodies? Are we particles of dust hurling in outer space? Are we only forms without an essence? Is that all we are and will ever be? Surely we cannot be reduced to any of these labels and definitions? Perhaps we are like the ‘elephant’ who cannot be fully seen or named? What is the essence of who we are, beyond all labels, roles and definitions?
The answer to the question is a deeply personal and subjective one; it is a question every human being must ask, seek to discover and arrive at the answers for himself. Because whatever we identify with, whatever we identify as being, this is how we will live and spend our precious lives. What we believe about ourselves and the world will shape our singular existence. There is no single definitive answer, but if one is sincere on his quest, turning to the divine revelation we received as believers is definitely a legitimate starting point. What do we as believers know and believe about our origin and purpose? Perhaps we will find answers that we have long forgotten…
Below are verses from 2 surahs in the Holy Quran that speak of the story of creation:
When Allah SWT gathered all the angels in existence and declared that He will create a being that will serve as His vicegerent on Earth and that they must bow to His creation… I cannot even begin to fathom or imagine the grandeur of this scene. Surely, the reality of this scene cannot be reduced to its description!
In reflecting on these beautiful verses and pondering on the miracles I have witnessed in my own life, I discovered truths hiding in plain sight that had been there all along but I had somehow forgotten or was unable to see: that Allah loved you and me before we even existed and created us out of His love and mercy. You are loved and have always been loved. He bestowed your worth upon you and breathed something of His divine spirit in you. The entirety of His angel kingdom from across the seven heavens gathered and prostrated to the Divine gift within you. The entirety of His creation on Earth has been subjugated to be at your service. He gifted you with freedom of choice, intelligence and agency to be His vicegerent on Earth in this life.
He already gave you His trust.
He already gave you His trust.
He already gave you His trust!
He entrusted you with the responsibility of being human. If you were better off as a tree, it would have been so. But you are here. Your worth was something never in question to begin with; it was always God-given. Allah created all the conditions necessary for your existence; He gave you all the capacities to carry out your task in life; He gave you both the knowledge and the means; He gave you everything you ever needed and asked for; He wants you to succeed. You are here to witness and receive!
Now you might ask, if all the above is true and real, all this magnificence, all this grandeur, all this majesty —and I believe it is— then why is it so hard for us to see our true worth and believe in our bestowed place in the world? Why can’t we see ourselves the way Allah the Almighty sees us? Why is it so hard to love ourselves unconditionally?What is holding us back? How do we lift the veils of darkness so that we can finally see? Is it the egoic part of ourselves? Is it our divinely appointed enemy, the devil that whispers ever so cunningly? Is it the societal and cultural norms and standards that we have been conditioned by? Is it the hardships that we faced growing up and the heartbreaks that we endured from those around us that made us question ourselves? Who taught us to devalue ourselves? I don’t have any clear answers to these questions, but what I have come to know and realize now, is that Allah loved us first, before everything even began. We already received His infinite love and mercy, and keep receiving it in every single moment, despite all our unawareness, ignorance and shortcoming. Indeed, the sun shines on everyone; we are all under the sun of His divine mercy. All you need to do is turn around and face it.
So it seems that the journey back to truly loving ourselves begins by recognizing that we are loved and have been loved all along. And in being loved, we somehow begin to heal and slowly love ourselves in return; it slowly but surely transforms us and its light begins to shine in all the dark places inside us that needed to be loved.
But it’s important to recognize that the ability to love comes not just from receiving love, but also from fully witnessing and knowing the object of love. Loving is a natural effect of coming to know and witness beauty in something or someone; in this case, your own being. From this perspective, we do not need to ‘learn’ to love ourselves, but we must learn to ‘see’ and come to ‘know’ ourselves. And when we witness something beautiful inside ourselves or in others, we love it naturally and unconditionally with no effort or labor on our part; we manifest and give that love freely. Indeed, how can we truly love something we have no real knowledge of? The more we are able to discover about our real selves, the less we are fixated on other parts that we deem as ugly or flawed or broken, the more we able to witness this inner and outer beauty in its fullest glory.
So no, you are not just a cog in a corporate machine. You are not a user or consumer. You are not limited to being a mother, father, son, daughter, sister or brother, friend or lover. You are neither an advanced machine, nor an evolved animal. You are so much more than your mind and body. You have a form that houses your true essence. Surely the reality of you cannot be reduced to any of these labels and definitions. You are like the ‘elephant’ who cannot be fully seen or named. The essence of who you are, is beyond all labels, roles and definitions. Never lose sight of that.
I hope we are all able to remember, in our darkest moments, the infinite, unconditional light, love and mercy that always surrounds us. I pray that we are able to live by the truth and live up to the truth about our purpose here. I pray we are among those who follow the light, who have nothing to fear, nor shall they grieve. I pray we are among those who are able to see, come to know, accept this Divine love and love in return.
References I recommend checking out:
- Surah Al-Baqara, Verses 30-38 on “The Story of Creation“
- Surah Al-Hijr, Verses 28-42 on “The Story of Creation“
- Nouman Ali Khan’s Lecture on “Self-Worth“
- Jeffrey Lang’s Talk “The Purpose of Life“
More precious themes in the story of creation worth pondering on:
- The problem of evil posed in the angels’ question; one of the most important philosophical questions we have asked in the history of mankind
- Man as an intellectual/learning and moral being, and the gifts bestowed upon man: the intellect and reason, freedom of choice, language and learning, such phenomenal abilities that come to him effortlessly and naturally!
- The choice to do evil, and the choice to do good; there are two potentials of man.
- What were the angels bowing down to? Superiority and agreement to serve? Prostration occurs only when an incredible miracle happens and is witnessed; literally every single angel that Allah has created fell into prostration; how grand!
- The notion of ‘Takleef’: the trust to do good and avoid evil
- Man’s first independent choice (eating the apple) and the preparation he received in Heaven for his earthly existence
- In following Allah’s guidance, one has nothing to fear, nor shall one grieve; this is a necessary stage in one’s growth and existence
- The necessity of pain, suffering and struggle in the process of becoming
- The grand three essential elements for growth: intellect, choice, suffering
- Disbelief as a refusal and misuse of reason and intellect
- How different religions perceive suffering: punishment, something to be transcended, something to be saved from…etc. But in Islam it confronts and confirms it as a reality: jihad. Suffering is guaranteed! There is no heaven on Earth; it is designed that way. It plays a key role in your growth.
- The believers who will freely enter into and develop a relationship with Allah in love; it is a relationship we must choose to enter into it (to receive and experience this love), instead of turning away and rejecting this relationship; if that is the ultimate purpose, we know that love can only be given freely for it to be true love
- Allah’s love for us and our love for Him: If love is programmed or forced, it’s not true love.
- Another purpose of our existence is growth ‘tazkiyah’; this life is a stage of the creation of our being and essential selves.
- How can we really come to understand and develop a relationship with Allah and come closer to Him when He is infinite and incomprehensible? By seeking to embody Allah’s most beautiful names and sharing something we have in common; we share with Him what He gave us (something of His spirit)
- We are here to grow! The more we grow in our ability to embody these qualities, the more we can experience Allah’s absolute qualities.
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