Opening the Door to Surrender

Opening the Door to Surrender July 26, 2016

Each time I open the door to leave my apartment, I recite three poignant yet simple Islamic phrases in a subtle whisper that’s only audible to me.

“Bismillah,” Arabic for “In the name of God,” I say in a quick breath as I rotate the lock to the right and grasp the door knob. I continue with “Tawakkul ‘ala Allah, “I place my complete trust and reliance in God,” as I step into the hallway and gently close the door. And “Laa Hawla Wa Laa Quwwata Il-la Bil-laah,” or “There is neither might nor power except with Allah,” glides along my tongue as I turn the key fasten the lock until, by God’s will, I return.

It takes about seven seconds to recite these lines before dashing to the elevator to rush to work, run an errand, attend a social gathering or take a trip to a grocery store. The words are modest for the richness and tremendous power they encompass when reflected upon. They embody the essence of surrendering to God, which is what Islam is principally about.

Open door, photo by Brad Montgomery
Open door, photo by Brad Montgomery

In the basic definition, a Muslim is one who consciously lives in a state of presence with the Divine. When the prefix `mu’ is attached to a verb of four or more letters in Arabic grammar, it changes the meaning from the action to the doer of that action. For example, the Arabic word “to teach” is “darris,” and a teacher, the one performing the act of instruction, is the “mudarris.”

A Muslim, then, is one who performs “slim,” or “surrender.” When I discovered this simple grammatical rule six years ago while studying my mother tongue for the first time in an academic setting, it provoked an understanding inside of me. I realized that to truly be Muslim rather than simply label myself such, I needed to really experience surrender to the Divine, and that meant God should be the focal point of my consciousness.

At the time, I couldn’t have been further from this state of being. God rarely crossed my mind. While I believed the Divine existed, I would only turn to His/Her help when I was struggling to find a new job to escape clashes with a cantankerous boss I couldn’t see eye to eye with, or cope with a broken heart after a failed relationship, or pray for a loved one who had fallen ill or passed. Thoughts of the Almighty would flicker then quickly recede to the backburner of my mind once these desperations were resolved.

It dawned on me then that my faith lacked the depth and sincerity that comes when a human being is mindful enough to accept and be grateful for the blessings of life at all times, whether the circumstances are easy and difficult.

The Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, once described how “wonderful” a sincere believer’s circumstances are: If something good happens to her she expresses gratitude, and this is a blessing. When something negative occurs, she bears it with patience, and this too is a blessing.

Aspiring to draw nearer to this genuine form of Self Surrender, I started to infuse my daily routine with zikr – repeated acts of remembrance recited silently or aloud – until they became habitual.

Which brings me back to the door of my apartment. Quietly expressing the three simple lines above in my heart is an acknowledgement that from the moment of utterance, I’m leaving it to the Gracious One to guide, protect and guard me. By doing so, I try to accept whatever happens during the day as a reflection of that state of Surrender, whether it is good or bad, easy or challenging, unpleasant or comforting, agonizing or healing.

Several minutes after stepping out of my apartment, I may look up at the sky and admire the stunning formation of cumulonimbus clouds adorning the London skyline, foreshadowing the impending rainfall. The awe inspired by this and other marvels of nature will compel me to utter SubhanAllah, or God is Subtle Beyond All Knowing, remembering His/Her role in all creation.

London clouds, photo by Bulut Unvan

Later in my office, I may pause several times during the day to recite the opening line of the Quran, Bismillah Alrahman Alraheem, “In the Name of God, the Infinitely Compassionate, the Most Merciful,” to give me confidence before dialing into a conference call, calm my nerves before a difficult chat with a colleague or to help me overcome a bout of writer’s block as a real-time news deadline lurks over me.

There are many many other simple invocations that now stitch together my days, beautifully described in the Mevlevi Wird, a daily litany of Sufi prayers:

Facing all fears, “There is no God but God.” (La illa Illah Allah)
Facing all sorrows and sadness, “May it be as God wills.” (MashaAllah)
Facing all benefits, “Praise be to God.”  (Alhamdulillah)
And facing all abundance, “Thanks be to God.” (Shukr lillah)
And facing all astonishment, “God is subtle beyond all knowing.” (SubhanAllah)
Facing all sins, “I ask God’s forgiveness.” (Astaghfirallah)
Facing all scarcities, “Allah is enough for me.” (Hasbi Allah)
Facing all calamities, “We belong to God and to Him we shall return.” (Inna lillahi wi inna ilayhi raji’un)
Facing every event of destiny, “I trust in God.” (Tawakkul ‘ala Allah)
Facing all obedience and disobedience, “There is no means or power in anyone except through God who is the Most High, the Most Great.”( La hawla wala quwwata illa billahil aliyyil azim)

It is these concise, momentary dialogues with the One who is closer to me than my jugular vein that I have found draw me nearest to Self Surrender, beyond the prayers I perform at the five corners of the day and night. Remembering God with simple gestures continually truly does polish the heart as Hadith teaches. While apprehensions and anxieties will naturally fill my mind each day, zikr unlocks the door to continual remembrance.

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