Servants of the All-Merciful: Walking Lightly and Seeking Light
The following article was transcribed by a SeekersGuidance scholarship student, based on a lecture series: “Servants of the All-Merciful: Understanding the Qualities of True Servants of Allah.” This is the second of six lectures, delivered by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani, that explores the qualities of the true servants of Allah described in Surat al-Furqan.
In the Name of Allah, Most Merciful and Compassionate. Blessings and peace be upon His Chosen Prophet and final Messenger, Muhammad, and upon his kin and Companions.
In the first lesson, we explored the meanings beneath verses [-77] of Surat al-Furqan and their importance. In the closing set of verses of the Sura Allah contrasts the ignorant, who deny Allah and Prophetic Revelation, with those who are truthful: namely the servants of the All-Merciful.
The Honor of Servitude
In the context of this lesson, the precise definition of ‘servant’ is a person who is enslaved to a superior person or power. Given that every being is created and owned by The Creator, each person exists in a constant state of enslavement. That being said, there is an elevated stage of slave-hood, and the attainment of this stage relies on an individual’s choice to: surrender and submit to their Creator, to honor the Divine command by actively choosing to obey Allah consistently, and to convey gratitude through their servitude. It’s important to clarify that obedience benefits the servants rather than the Lord, and failure to fulfill this obligation burdens them equally as much
A true servant submits their entirety to The One whose mercy is all-encompassing, and to be named a servant of the All-Merciful is an honorable title.
Treading Lightly on the Earth
Verse 63 of Surat al-Furqan highlights a distinguishing quality of the true servants of the All-Merciful: humility. The verse begins by depicting the truest servant’s walk, “Those who tread lightly on the earth” [Quran 25:63]. This verse is enriched with a multitude of meanings. It conveys both a literal description of their physical walk and a figurative embodiment of their essence; an expression of their state, living, dealings and conduct with people.
But what is the underlying meaning beneath “treading lightly (hawna)”? The verse intends to depict the attainment of humility and the minimization of the ego, as indicated by the word “(hawna)”: to be small or insignificant.
Al-Raghib al-Isfahani (d. 1108), one of the main inspirations for Ghazali (d. 1111), explains in his Mufradat al-Quran that “lightly” refers to humility without exaltation. Essentially, the servant is bereft of ownership, belonging wholly to Allah, and his qualities are gifts from Allah. A true servant acknowledges this reality and is pure of entitlement. For only a fool would take pride in what belongs to someone else, and what has been gifted by another. The attainment of humility is derived from this true realization of slave-hood.
But how do we identify true and genuine humility for the sake of Allah?
True humility is fostered within the soul and mirrored through every aspect of the servant’s existence. It is not a performative charade, and cannot be attained through ingenuous deeds made solely to fuel a praise-hungry ego. The word “lightly” also implies moving with serenity and dignity, just as the Prophet Muhammad had advised (Allah bless him and give him peace.) Therefore, the truly humble are in a constant state of rest rather than turbulence; treading lightly on the earth with forbearance, they aren’t easily rattled with rage.
Certainly, this description reflects the Prophet Muhammad’s constant state (Allah bless him and give him peace), as expressed by Imam Laqani (d. 1631), “Be as the best of creation was, holding fast to forbearance, and always following the truth.” In this sense, we can attest that the noblest characteristics are inspired by our greatest exemplar: our beloved Messenger.
To act with humility and ease, however, does not imply being meek. Rather, it is to avoid stubborn and contentious conduct, and to walk purposefully in a balanced manner. To be guarded, placing reason and thought before action to prevent causing harm to our surroundings. Through these qualities, a true servant attains a mental and physical state that exudes lightness and balance.
Mercy Embodied In the Prophetic Walk
Throughout Islamic literature, the Prophetic walk has been beautifully depicted in form and spirit. Imam Tirmidhi’s description in Al-Shama’il Muhamadiyya (d. 892 CE) brilliantly captures his walk during the Medinan period, when he was in his fifties. Tirmidhi narrated that when the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) walked, he walked as if he was coming down a steep hill. He consciously took big, full steps as he elevated his feet without dragging them on the ground. Standing upright and majestic. The Companions (May Allah be pleased with them) mentioned that he was purposeful and quick walking. He masterfully balanced this purposeful walk with mercy as he greeted those he passed by; turning towards them completely, welcoming to both men and women, and displaying kindness and care in his walk. This is an element of the Sunna that every aspiring believer should adopt.
It is also of the noblest qualities to have concern for those around us, seeking to seize every opportunity to do good. Hence, we must understand the spiritual and social manifestation within the simplest acts, such as walking. And we must strive to practice this act prophetically.
The Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “The Compassionate One has mercy on those who are merciful” (Sunan Abi Dawud 4941). Allah Most High also says in the Quran, “We have sent you O Prophet only as a mercy for the whole world.” [Quran 21:107]. The fruit to bear from this verse is that the essence of mercy exists within having concern for creation. To earn this noble quality a believer must leave self-concern. Ironically, an individual’s significance, in reality, grows the more they revolve their focus and assistance around others rather than fixating their mind solely on their wants and needs.
Addressing the Ignorant with Virtuousness
Verse 63 in Surat al-Furqan goes on to convey the prophetic manners that a true believer should obtain, “When the ignorant address them improperly, they only respond with peace” [Quran 25:63]. The indication of the verse explicitly addresses the believer’s speech but generally implies their conduct as well. It is worth noting that while the word ‘ignorance’ in this context can be commonly understood as someone who lacks knowledge, it doesn’t eliminate the fact that a knowledgeable person can display ignorance through their conduct as well. Particularly if it is not grounded in valuable principles, whether religious, rational, or customary.
Surah Fussilat similarly encourages these virtuous manners in the face of ignorance and evil saying, “Respond to evil with what is best, then the one you are in a feud with will be like a close friend” [Quran 41:34]. The Prophet displayed this after declaring victory in his battles, he asked for forgiveness for both his people and his enemies.
The Secret Behind Prostrating During the Night
The servants of the All-Merciful are also “Those who spend a good portion of the night, prostrating themselves and standing before their Lord” [Quran 25:64]. A test of sincerity is how you spend your night, especially when you are alone. For one usually inclines toward the fulfillment of their desires at night. The true servants of the All-Merciful sacrifice a portion of their night for the One they seek. In this verse, “prostrating (sujdan)” is expressed in the emphatic form in Arabic, implying lengthy, complete, and frequent prostration.
This verse also encourages lengthy standing during prayer. When the Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace) was alone, he would recite the entire Surat al-Baqara and Surah Ali Imran in a rakʿat or two. According to Al-Qalbi, whoever creates two rakʿat after the Maghrib prayer and four after Isha prayer has spent the night in prostration. The key is to begin slowly but with the intention of gradually increasing.
Consciousness of Our Inevitable End
The servants of the Lord of Mercy plead, “Our Lord! Keep the punishment of Hell away from us, for its punishment is indeed unrelenting (gharama)” [Quran 25:65]. We can observe from this verse that the servants of the All-Merciful are characterized by their desperate need for Allah, their strong fear of hell, and their ability to recognize that they are not entitled to salvation. For someone who recognizes the value of what they have is conscious and fearful of losing it.
The word “(gharama)” is to be indebted or immersed in something; to be at a loss. Thus, “(gharama)” is regarded as the most severe punishments, resulting in eternal loss. However, the word has two meanings in Arabic: the first is punishment, and the second is consuming love. So the meaning in this context is defined as total loss of the one you love.
A true lover is afraid of separation. If you truly love Allah and seek Him, you recognize the stakes. So be sure that consequences will follow those who carelessly neglect Him and His Commands.
To conclude, as striving believers, we should have the conviction that Allah will answer our prayers and have sincere resolve to leave our sins. Moreover, we should frequently reflect on the reality of death, hell, heaven, and the Hereafter. The Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “Make much remembrance of the destroyer of all pleasure” (Sunan Ibn Majah 4258). Remembrance of this makes one conscious of which circle one chooses to be a part of. And we ask Allah to place us among those who encourage in us the virtuous and blessed traits.
Shaykh Faraz Rabbani spent ten years studying with some of the leading scholars of recent times, first in Damascus, and then in Amman, Jordan. His teachers include the foremost theologian of recent times in Damascus, the late Shaykh Adib al-Kallas (may Allah have mercy on him), as well as his student Shaykh Hassan al-Hindi, one of the leading Hanafi fuqaha of the present age. He returned to Canada in 2007, where he founded SeekersGuidance in order to meet the urgent need to spread Islamic knowledge–both online and on the ground–in a reliable, relevant, inspiring, and accessible manner. He is the author of Absolute Essentials of Islam: Faith, Prayer, and the Path of Salvation According to the Hanafi School (White Thread Press, 2004.) Since 2011, Shaykh Faraz has been named one of the 500 most influential Muslims by the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Center.