Our actions and inward states are what makes us holy not the places we dwell in. When things go wrong, it is inward that we must first look in, not outward.
The places we live in will inevitably have an effect on us. Our environment plays a strong role in shaping who we are. Those of us who are at the SABA Islamic Center are naturally affected by it in all sorts of ways. But what is it that makes buildings like SABA so influential in our lives? Here are some thoughts.
Many of us, when feeling the discomforts of our localities, wish to run away. We feel that the spaces we occupy are mundane, empty of spirit, joy and happiness. We complain that they lack the spatial and social elements necessary for comforting our souls and giving us the tranquility that we need. Sometimes it’s the country and city that we live in that’s the problem. At other times, it is the kinds of homes we’re in. Maybe it’s the makeup of the apartment, or maybe it’s the kind of people that live in it. Either way, we perceive them as the main culprits for our spiritual decline.
The attribute of a mu’min, or one who has a deep trusting relationship with God, is that he/she believes in the Day of Judgment before death. It is believing in the Prophet Muhammad (s) and his Ahl al-Bayt (as) without ever having seen them. It is avoiding and abstaining from sins before seeing the ugliness of their manifest reality on the Day of Judgment. It is praying towards the Kaʿba without ever having seen it firsthand. In other words, it is a spiritual presence in the mind whilst being spatially dislocated from the elements that make up our īmān (faith).
Imān as such is an internal process of the heart. God’s grace which gushes forth from it is what makes a place holy. If Karbala, Mecca or Najaf are holy, it is not because they are in and of themselves holy. No, they were made holy by the presence, sacrifices and ultimately the dhikr of the Prophet (s) and his Ahl al-Bayt (as) which acted (and still act) as magnets for God’s grace on earth.
If places like the SABA Islamic Center may be deemed holy, it is not so because of the concrete in the walls nor the carpets on the floors. It is the people, their good acts and ultimately, their relationship with God that makes the center what it is.
Those who are God-conscious and fear Him do so wherever they are. Simply changing the place of our dwelling will not in and of itself will not make us holy. If our hearts are receptive to God, He will draw near us wherever we are. But if our hearts are evil, we will be far away from receiving God in our souls even if we are sitting inside the Kaba.
The act of true dhikr, or mindful remembrance of God, is what brings tranquility and stillness in our hearts and thereby God’s grace not only in our lives, but in the places that we live in. In one tradition from the Prophet, it is stated that
There are some places on earth where noor (light) comes out, then the Angels, who are made of light, will ask, “where is this light coming from which is better than our light? A voice will say: it is coming from the place where the dhikr of Allah is done.
As such, it is the act of remembrance and the unceasing prayer of the heart that emits divine light. Our actions and mental states are what make places holy, and not the wood and concrete we stand on.
Running away will not fix our situation. If something is wrong, the first place we must begin to look at is within. As our souls change for the better, so will the places we are in.
Dr. Nabi Raza Abidi
Resident Aalim of the SABA Islamic Center (Shia Association of Bay Area)