Reliance and hope
Muranu Akki was a young man living on the outskirts of ancient Babylon, He was lying on his back and looking up at the stars; “I wonder if the people of Babylon City are looking up at these same stars,” he thought. “Probably they have their own special stars,” he said out loud. He sat up and after stretching, exclaimed “Oh how I wish to visit Babylon”.
Muranu was a farmer, the son of a farmer and the grandson of a farmer. One day while ploughing and sowing seeds, he looked at his large coarse hands and muddied sandals and decided either it was now or never; he decided to make haste for Babylon. Having never been to Babylon and with no means of transport he took off on foot. The scorching midday sun, the fear of thirst and the pangs of hunger did not halt Muranu’s steadfast resolve for the city.
Just before sunset he reached a village, knelt by a small lake, washed his face and drank its’ water. He looked up and saw a date tree ran towards it and ate like there was no tomorrow. An elderly woman was sitting nearby eagerly watching this young man’s desperate endeavour to rid his belly of hunger. She called out, “Young man! Slow down or you’ll get sick”. They exchanged greetings and he explained to her his dream. Coincidently enough the old lady had visited Babylon years ago. Just like the sun capturing the night, the old lady captured Muranu’s attention. She talked about how in the city they don’t have nights; they hang these special things called lanterns that shine brighter than the stars. She talked about how the city comes alive at night. She helped him organise his journey to Babylon.
The next few villages were not as friendly to Muranu, they chased him out for trespassing. Walking towards the setting sun, he saw two men; he asked them if they could guide him to Babylon. They said, “Help us pitch these tents and we’ll tell you everything you need to know”. The three men were sat around a campfire, one of the men said; “Babylon is a great city, and it is the biggest and the best city in the world. If you have no business there then you should head back home”. Muranu brushed his remarks aside and asked the other one to tell him more about the place. The second man said; “The city has hanging gardens, where trees grow from the walls, the pavements are made from gold and silver. The women are the most beautiful and the men the bravest in the world”. His description enticed Muranu and his desire for the city grew.
After a few more days of travel Muranu reached her gates and upon entering the first thing he realised was that the streets were not paved with gold and silver. Although he was dumbfounded by some of the architecture, the other things he saw didn’t amaze him, either because they were a shadow of what was described to him or some didn’t even exist. What surprised him most were the beggars, begging for scraps of food. No one had told him anything about them. He saw big buildings and small hearts, he saw bright lanterns and dim minds and he saw beautiful people with ugly souls. After a few days the sorrow and disappointed dawned on him leaving him broken-hearted and wishing he had turned back at the gates. At least then his long journey would have not been in vain and the image of his dream city would not have been tarnished by the reality.
We have all put one thing or another on a pedestal only to be disappointed. Whatever pleasure this world contains has an expiry date. So, we should look elsewhere. Imam al-Kazim(a) said, ‘the parable of this world is like that of a snake, it is soft to touch but it contains a deadly poison. Men of intellect are cautious whereas children extend their arms towards it.’
In Akhlaq we’ve discussed the role of actions, intention and the importance of actions that lead to good outcomes. We also discussed good outcomes are mainly for the benefit of the individual but there are instances where the outcome is from a selfless nature. So where does this journey end? Why is so much importance given to the role of actions, intentions and outcomes? Who does this benefit?
The end journey is to reach God, which starts from self-realisation and requires self-purification. To meet God one is encouraged to become an ensaane kamel, a perfect human being. In this case, perfect doesn’t mean something that has no limitation because only God qualifies for that title. It is defined as someone who is perfect in his/her humanity, therefore one who has become a complete human. Didn’t God create humans with an endless capacity? If yes then how can someone reach perfection? God has created man with an endless capacity; to become a complete human means that he has reached a threshold and is now qualified to be called an ensaane kamel. Just like a doctor is qualified to practise medicine, doesn’t mean he has reached his full capacity. It can be argued that once we reach the level of complete human, here starts the beginning of our journey to endless pleasure.
So what is this pleasure we are seeking? Is it something physical, sensual or spiritual? This depends on our capacity. For a child, pleasure is eating ice cream in a secure place. As we age, our preference for pleasure becomes more sophisticated and there are some pleasures we can never comprehend, such the pleasure prophet Muhammad(s) experienced in Mount Hira or the pleasure Imam Ali(a) felt whilst standing in prayer. It is not that we can’t understand it, more likely that we haven’t reached that potentiality. They say all roads lead to Rome, in Islam all forms of perfection lead to God. To get there one must become a complete human and to become a complete human we have to plant the seeds of good actions, water them with good intentions in order to reap the good outcome in the hereafter.
The Prophet(s) said, ‘The world is the plantation for the Hereafter.’