By Jamal Rahman, New Age Islam
31 May 2021
Religious Traditions Teach Us That We Need To Do The Work Of Being Of Service To God’s Creation
1. It is wise to develop within our self an attitude of service that wells up from within.
2. In the process of doing good deeds, our “unique” mission emerges by itself and, by Grace of God, gets completed in good time.
Every religious tradition tells us that besides the work of transforming ourselves to become more developed human beings, we need to do the work of being of service to God’s creation.
If we look around, sadly, there is so much of cruelty, injustice, pain and suffering everywhere. Sometimes, we feel hopeless and helpless. Can one person do anything at all to make a difference?
In several traditions, there is a similar story about a pious person who travels the world and, in his exploration, he is filled with anguish. Everywhere he goes, he witnesses extensive poverty, injustice, cruelty, suffering, violence and bloodshed. The magnitude is overwhelming. Finally, when this person sees, late at night, a little orphan child, covered with sores, shivering in the cold and with no clothes on, he breaks down and cries out, “O God! O God! How can You allow this to happen? God, please do something!”
That night, a vision comes to this person, where God says, “Beloved one, I did do something. I created you, so that you could help this child.”
As this story illustrates, serving others is incumbent on us. It is part of our mission on Earth—to be of service to God’s creation, doing our part.
Every holy book has guidelines in this regard. The Quran asks us to give freely of what we love to those who ask and those who don’t or cannot ask. We are also asked to give quietly, if possible. This can atone for some of our wrongdoings. The Quran furthermore remind us of the critical need to make structural changes in society in our devotion to service. We are admonished not to avoid the “steep ascent” (Quran 90:12-17):
What will explain to you what the steep ascent is? It is the freeing of a slave; or the feeding in times of famine of an orphaned relative or some needy person in distress, and to be one of those who believe in and urge one another to steadfastness and compassion.
Notice that the first verse mentioned regarding the ‘steep ascent’ is about freeing a slave from bondage. From this, one can deduce that the work of creating systemic and structural changes in society is critical. To understand the significance of this verse, consider the following hadith: “Whosoever of you sees an evil, let him change it with his hand; and if he is not able to do so, then let him change it with his tongue; and if he is not able to do so, then with his heart- and that is the weakest of faith.”
Does each of us have a specific major work of service to accomplish before we return to our Creator? The great traditions say that rather than worry about our ‘grand’ mission, it is wise to develop within our self an attitude of service that wells up from within. Do good deeds according to your capacity. God never gets tired of giving rewards for good deeds. The Prophet Muhammad is reported to have said, “Take up good deeds only as much as you are able, for the best deeds are those done regularly even if they are small.” In the process of doing good deeds, amazingly, our “unique” mission emerges by itself and, by Grace of God, gets completed in good time.
May we be of service, and, may we realize that being of service fulfills something deep within us—it gives meaning to our life.
I love these lines of the famous Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore:
“I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold! Service was joy.”
Based in the USA, Jamal Rahman is a popular speaker and author on Islam, Sufi spirituality, and interfaith relations. Along with his Interfaith Amigos, he has been featured in The New York Times, CBS News, BBC, and various NPR programs. Jamal is co-founder and Muslim Sufi Imam at Interfaith Community Sanctuary and adjunct faculty at Seattle University. He travels nationally and internationally, presenting at retreats and workshops. Jamal’s passion lies in interfaith community building and activism.
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