Author: Dina Mohamed Basiony
We all have our eyes on the ultimate goal, the biggest prize…Al-Firdaus, right? It’s the highest level of Jannah (paradise) – in it what no eyes have seen, no ears have heard and no human has ever imagined. But what exactly do we have to do to attain this lofty and honourable level?
Jannah: a short reminder
Let’s refresh. What does paradise hold for Allah’s believing slaves? When talking about Jannah, Allah promises,
“They will have whatever they wish therein, and with Us is more.” [Qur’an: Chapter 50, Verse 35],
and He says,
”And no soul knows what is kept hidden for them, of joy as a reward for what they used to do.” [Qur’an: Chapter 32, Verse 17]
Imagine anything you wish for or desire… multiplied by infinity! Whatever we get here in this life is temporary; everything ends, and there is always something better than what we chase after or desire. But Jannah… SubhanAllah! When Allah spoke about His rewards, He says:
“And whatever thing you [people] have been given – it is [only for] the enjoyment of worldly life and its adornment. And what is with Allah is better and more lasting; so will you not use reason?” [Qur’an: Chapter 28: Verse 60]2
Better and more lasting, subhanAllah! Allah really knows how to penetrate the hearts that He has created, as Allah says,
“Does He who created not know, while He is the Subtle, the Acquainted?” [Qur’an: Chapter 67: Verse 14]
Now, Prophet Muhammad said that if we were to ask for paradise, we should ask for its highest level: Al-Firdaus Al-A’la.
“Paradise has one hundred grades, each of which is as big as the distance between heaven and earth. The highest of t1hem is Firdaus and the best of them is Firdaus. The Throne is above Firdaus and from it spring forth the rivers of Paradise. If you ask of Allah , ask Him for Firdaus.” [Sunan Ibn Majah]
And he also said:
“Al-Firdaus is the highest of Paradise and its most expansive, and above that is the Throne of Ar-Rahman (the Most Merciful), and from it the rivers of Paradise are made to flow forth. So when you ask Allah , ask Him for Al-Firdaus.” [At-Tirmidhi]
You know how we always want the best ‘view’ or the best ‘seat’ when we’re in a beautiful, exciting place? Well, Al-Firdaus is the Closest to Allah and Allah is The Source of Beauty. He is The Creator and The Fashioner of all beauty we’ve ever seen and experienced in this world. Imagine everything that ever impressed you: if this is a creation for a temporary worldly life, imagine its Eternal Source, its Creator.
Also, Allah is The King of all kings. His Throne extends over the heavens and the earth [Quran: Chapter 2, Verse 255] (what a kingdom!) Imagine those who are the closest to The King… the prestige of those first ranks… the honour! Even more beautiful yet, the Prophet particularly said that above Al Firdaus is the Throne of “Ar-Rahman” (The Continuously Merciful, The Source of Mercy), particularly highlighting this name of Allah .
The beauty in the Prophet’s description is that he mentioned how we’ll be the closest to The Source of Mercy and He takes care of you, He takes all the pain away, He removes any suffering or discomfort. He is Al Kareem, The Most Generous, so He knows how to generously take care of those in His protection, those under His Direct Shade.
So, not only beauty, but security, ease, peace and comfort.
In a nutshell, it’s the best of the best, the most honorable, the best view to The Source of Beauty and the closest to The Source of Mercy.
How do we get there?
Allah doesn’t discriminate between people. He extends His gifts to literally anybody who seeks. This is not limited to men or women, black or white, or the rich or poor. Al-Firdaus is open to all those who seek, if they work on the six tasks on the To-Do list required to attain it.
So, what are those six tasks?
Well, Allah told us exactly that at the beginning of Surat Al Mu’minoon. Let’s go over these six actions and discuss how to accomplish them.
[If you can’t read the whole article in one go, don’t give up on it yet! Try to bookmark it and come back to it later, in sha Allah?]
Now, let’s start with the verses.
“Most certainly those Believers have attained true success:
They who are during their prayer humbly submissive
And they who turn away from ill speech.
And they who are observant of zakah.
And they who guard their private parts. Except from their wives or those their right hands possess, for indeed, they will not be blamed – But whoever seeks beyond that, then those are the transgressors –
And they who are to their trusts and their promises attentive.
And they who carefully maintain their prayers –2
Those are the inheritors. Who will inherit al-Firdaus. They will abide therein eternally.” [Qur’an: Chapter 23: Verses 1-11]
Next, we will discuss what Allah says is required to attain Al-Firdaus in detail.
1. Achieving khushu’ (concentration and humility) in our prayer
“They who are during their prayer humbly submissive”
Having khushu’ means to be present in the prayer, enjoy the prayer, realise you’re speaking to Allah . This is about the quality of the conversation we’re having with Allah .
How would you feel if you’re having a conversation with someone, and they’re not listening or focusing or being attentive and are distracted? Is this conversation deepening the bond between the two of you? Of course not.
Well, Allah wants us to have a quality conversation with Him.
In conversations, we listen then we speak. That’s what we’re meant to do in the salah. We listen to the words of Allah that we’re reciting, then we speak to Him and make dua asking for everything and anything that we need.
How to achieve khushu’?
1. Listen to and internalize the words you’re uttering in prayer
Be present with Allah by truly sensing and experiencing the words you’re reciting in prayer.
2. Make sure you are reciting Surat Al Fatihah correctly
If we recite and reflect on the Fatiha properly, it will transform the prayer experience completely. The Fatiha truly unlocks the hearts and reflects the genuine needs of every human being. It reminds us of our destination, our needs and our fears. All in the seven verses.
It makes all the difference if we’re truly present while saying to Allah “It is You alone we worship and You alone we ask for help. Guide us to the straight path” [Qur’an: Chapter 1, Verses 5-6]
We’re always making choices and decisions in life. Always. Everyday. In prayer, when we remember that we come from Allah , and our final destination is to Allah , and then when we tell Him to guide us to the most perfect way (which is the best choice, and the best decision), we then truly put matters in perspective and learn how to rely and bond with our Creator.
I was once going to a faraway location to attend an event. I didn’t know the direction, but my brother did. So, he kept calling me every five minutes to tell me where to go, which road to take, which turn etc. At first, I thought this was really too much and unnecessary. However, when he stopped calling for 20 minutes, I got distracted in a conversation with another passenger. Hence, I completely missed the road that I was supposed to take. It wasted a lot of time, and I really then appreciated those calls that he was making.
Five times a day we do that with Allah ! Five times a day we tell Him “guide us”, to show us which way to go.
But if we’re not really listening, if we’re not paying attention and if we’re distracted, then we’ll miss the point, and we’ll miss the destination.
3. Always, always, always make dua during/after your prayer
It is a dialogue between you and Allah . It is not a monologue. Needing Allah and asking Him for what we need truly helps with achieving concentration. If you’re in a lecture or a meeting with someone important, for example, and you need to ask for a favour at the end of that meeting, you will really try to listen and be attentive to show that you’re worthy of receiving that which you’re about to ask for.
Now, Allah tells us to ask Him for everything. One hadith mentions:
“‘Let one of you ask his Lord for his every need, even until he asks Him for the strap of his sandal when it breaks.’” [At-Tirmidhi]
This is also a very important hadith, where the Prophet Muhammad says:
“Verily supplication is worship.” [At-Tirmidhi]
So dua itself is worship. We’re supposed to ask of Allah – all the time, every day, for every thing – not only when we need something ‘big’. We never really stop needing Allah, and dua is a reminder of that. It deepens the bond and connection between us and Him.
Remember the precious words of advice that the Prophet gave Ibn Abbas :
“Be mindful of Allah and you shall find Him with you. When you ask (for anything), ask it from Allah , and if you seek help, seek help from Allah.” [At-Tirmidhi]
4. Diversify the surahs you use in prayer
Each of the surahs is a world of its own. We need to enter into the world of the Qur’an. This will help us be present and enter into the mood of the prayer. The feeling that we get when we recite Surat Ad-Duhaa, is not the same feeling we get when we recite Surat At-Takwir and not the same feeling we get when we recite Surat Al-A’la, for example.
I remember one particular prayer that truly affected me the most. There were certain circumstances that were happening around me, and at the beginning of the prayer, for some reason, a particular surah came to mind. As I began to recite that surah, I realised how each ayah was describing the circumstances we were living in, and it hit me so much, as if Allah was Listening, Seeing and Responding directly to what’s happening. I was reciting words that explained my inner feelings as well as what I was witnessing externally. It felt so real, so heavy, yet reassuring at the same time.
So let us memorise more of the short surahs, at least, with their tafseer so we can understand fully what we’re saying and experience it. There are many initiatives that help with that. You can use Bayyinah podcast for tafseer of Juz‘ Amma, for example, which is a really beneficial resource.
The more we know from the Qur’an, the more we’ll allow Allah to speak to us. He speaks to us through those words. We need to know them by heart, to allow Him and His presence to enter into our hearts and manifest in our prayers.
5. Confide to Allah like you confide to your best friend
I have a friend who told me that whenever anything (good or bad) happens, she rushes to prayer to tell Allah , to complain, cry, ask for help and guidance. She says Allah is the only One who was there during the entire situation and knows it fully, inside out. She says, “I don’t need to call a friend and explain everything from the beginning. She may or may not get me. But Allah already gets what I mean and He saw everything.”
So, let us rush to prayer like we rush to tell a friend about our day and about our problems.
The Prophet used to say about prayer:
“O Bilal, call iqamah for prayer: give us comfort by it.” [Sunun Abi Dawud]
We get comfort when we pour our hearts out and tell everything to a close friend. It is like a great conversation that you don’t want to end. That’s what we need to do with Allah .
“Allah is the ally of those who believe. He brings them out from darknesses into the light.” [Qur’an: Chapter 2, Verse 257]
Let us enter into the prayer so that Allah would bring us out of the darknesses of our lives and our problems into His Light, because Allah is The Light.
2. Turning away from useless speech and activities
“And they who turn away from ill speech”
This ayah talks about staying away from ill and useless speech and activities – anything that is meaningless, unproductive and doesn’t help in achieving our purpose in life, including slandering, backbiting, lying, cursing and swearing and inappropriate deeds.
Why? Because ‘laghw’ is major corruption and harm to the self, others and the society at large. It is a waste of time and a huge distraction from one’s ultimate goal.
Remember the example I gave earlier about getting lost from my destination after being distracted by some vain talk? This is exactly why this type of activity is harmful: we lose sight of our destination, get absorbed in useless matters – and eventually get lost.
An example of a useless scenario is this: “Was the dress white and gold or black and blue?” Well, who cares! Really?! How would that benefit me in my deen and dunya? (P.S: if you don’t know what this is about, good for you! Don’t look it up!)
The Prophet said: “A sign of man’s good observance of Islam (his piety) is to keep away from that which does not concern him.” [At-Tirmidhi]2
And Allah says about the believers:
“…And when they pass near ill speech, they pass by with dignity.” [Qur’an: Chapter 25: Verse 72]
And about those who completely lost their way, that they:
“… used to enter into vain discourse with those who engaged [in it],” [Qur’an: Chapter 74: Verse 45]
Bottom line: try not to engage, dwell and get absorbed in that which is meaningless and useless. If someone is training for a high goal, a big test or a big presentation, and they don’t train well and keep wasting their time here and there… will they achieve their goal? Probably not.
So, how can we stay away from useless talk?
1. Always ask: is this conversation or activity going to benefit me in my deen and dunya?
If not, simply cut it short, keep going, and stay away from it as much as you can. Remember we have a more important goal to achieve.
2. Have the intention to make your activities more meaningful
The correct intention can make any deed (that is not a sin) into a reward! For example, if you’re spending a lot of time learning about beauty and make-up, then at least have the intention that this is to beautify yourself for your husband and increase the bond between the spouses – which is a great a2ct of worship. If you can’t help but spend time playing games (ones which are pure, not any that involve immorality or anything inappropriate) or in the gym, then at least take the niyyah that you’re refreshing so you can focus on more important tasks, or that you’re working on your health so you can be strong enough for your worship and your duties towards your family.
Basically, put mind into action. Put some thinking and mindfulness to be in control of what you engage in and not let it control and swallow you and your life away.
3. Engaging in purification of the self and wealth
“And they who are observant of zakah”
Zakah (almsgiving) is prescribed to us to purify our wealth, but this ayah refers to self-purification as well. We all have flaws in our character and our personalities – anger, bad temper, narcissism, jealousy, the need to lower the gaze, gossiping etc. We all know ourselves.
How to actively purify the self?
1. Pick one or two aspects about yourself that you want to change. Write them down or even make a mental note, then start working on them as they occur.
Catch yourself when you’re committing those bad habits, take a deep breath, and then leave it for the sake of Allah, for the sake of your destination, Al-Firdaus! Keep reminding yourself of this: “I’m leaving this for Him . I’m leaving this for Al-Firdaus.” The reward is definitely better and more lasting than the momentary satisfaction you experience.
Do check out the many Productive Muslim articles that help with improving many aspects of one’s character.
2. Unfollow social media pages that don’t help you purify yourself and/or trigger your bad habits
Whatever you see and follow will have an impact on your character and your heart. Unfollow those pages that trigger your bad habits.This might be difficult, but you can do it.
“And do not pursue that of which you have no knowledge. Indeed, the hearing, the sight and the heart – about all those [one] will be questioned.” [Qur’an: Chapter 17: Verse 36]
There are many social media pages and platforms that involve a lot of immorality. Let’s be honest, they might be ‘funny’ or ‘inspiring’, but deep down you know that they have some corrupt content as well: immoral or indecent images, language or insinuations… etc.
If we continue to expose our eyes, minds and hearts to impure materials, how then are we supposed to purify ourselves?
Cut this out. You won’t lose anything. Instead, you’ll notice so much purity, light, serenity and peace entering your mind, heart and life instead. Try this at least for a week, and you will see the results.
4. Guarding our chastity
“And they who guard their private parts”
I want to mention one observation here.
The need for this action is obvious – it is to basically avoid engaging in sexual activities outside the marital relationship, because marriage provides full rights, and a sense of settlement and security to both partners. It goes without saying that anything less than marriage is truly not befitting for men or women. For anyone to dedicate themselves, their precious emotions, time, thinking and physical being to someone who is not committed and can leave at any point… THIS is not fair or right.
But there is something else, beyond the major act, that is worth our attention.
I was listening to a lecture by Sheikh Omar Suleiman about Angel Jibreel I was deeply touched by something he mentioned about Mary (Maryam ).
You see, when Angel Jibreel was revealed to Maryam , she was a young lady in her teens. Now, we know from the seerah that when Angel Jibreel used to appear in human form, he used to come in the shape of a very handsome man. It was said that he resembled a sahabi known to be the “Yusuf” of his time, meaning he was a good-looking man. Now, the striking aspect is that when Angel Jibreel appeared in such a form to Maryam she immediately said:
“Indeed, I seek refuge in the Most Merciful from you, [so leave me], if you should be fearing of Allah.” [Qur’an: Chapter 19, Verses 18]
The minute she saw him, she immediately told him to leave her because she didn’t want to allow even a second of an impure thought to enter his or her mind. The narration relates that after she said that, Angel Jibreel turned into his angelic form, the form that is made of light. Her purity brought out the light in him, the angel in him, subhanAllah.
I was moved by her reaction and then remembered, that some of our sisters who, not only not lower their gazes, but are obsessed with boy bands and male celebrities! It reminded me of the sisters who post images of celebrities on social media, with the hashtag “goals”, “relationship goals” or “future husband”. And there are those who do that even with male Islamic speakers and scholars!
Really, the character of Maryam IS the real goal here.
How can we guard ourselves in this regard?
1. Remember Maryam and follow her character
Think about the story I have mentioned above. Maryam was so conscious of her purity that she took action against anything that would jeopardize it. Now, reflect on what we do. When a sister speaks to a brother, or a brother speaks to a sister, what is our intention? Do we bring out the light, the taqwa and consciousness of Allah in them, or do we provoke the desires, the animalistic nature and launch the footsteps of the shaytan with them?
Think about that.
2. Guarding the chastity starts by guarding the gaze.
Allah says in Surat An Noor:
“Tell the believing men to reduce [some] of their vision and guard their private parts. That is purer for them. Indeed, Allah is Acquainted with what they do. And tell the believing women to reduce [some] of their vision and guard their private parts…” [Qur’an: Chapter 24: 30-31]
So, it starts with a look that isn’t guarded properly and ends up as an act of impurity.
Allah has given us instructions to find deep pleasure in the relationship between a husband and wife. The more we purify our gaze, the more we will enjoy our spouses, because there will hardly be any comparisons – our eyes, hearts and minds will be filled with our own spouses. The ‘look’ is something sacred and precious, and if it’s put in the right place, it will bring fulfillment to the heart and even count as an act of worship. And vice versa; if it’s put in the wrong place, it will increase the sense of emptiness and deprivation in the heart, and increase the sins.
5. Honouring our words, trusts and promises
“And they who are to their trusts and their promises attentive”
How many times do we hear: “the event will start at 6pm”, only for it to end up starting at 9:30pm? How many times do we say we’ll be there at a certain time, and show up late? How many times do we break our words, our trusts and our promises?
What we don’t realise is: the word is extremely sacred in Islam and to Allah .
For example, we enter this religion with a kalimah! The words of the shahada, “la ilaha illa Allah, Muhammad rasool Allah ” is one of the heaviest matters on the scale on the Day of Judgement, as Prophet Muhammad advised,
“Nothing is heavier than the Name of Allah .” [At-Tirmidhi]
This shows us how important our words are. Establishing honesty, trustworthiness and keeping our word are fundamental to our path and our relationship with the Creator and His creation. Remember, the Prophet was known as “al-amin”, “the honest, the trustworthy” before he was known as The Messenger of Allah .
How can we be honest and trustworthy people?
1. Make the intention
Set your intention firmly and have the mindset to work on being the one person (at home, in class, at work etc) that everybody can confidently trust and rely on.
2. Simply think before giving your word
Just think twice before you make a promise. If you know you can’t keep it, or if there is a chance you won’t be able to commit to it, then inform the people involved immediately – they will appreciate your honesty. Don’t let them count on you, then break your trust. Be truthful when you make a promise, and be truthful if you can’t keep it.
6. Maintaining our prayers on time
“And they who carefully maintain their prayers”
Have you noticed that the list started with prayer and ended with prayer?
It started with the quality of each prayer, and ended with instructions on maintaining all prayers carefully as well.
Praying all prayers on time and avoiding delay is one of the most beloved deeds to Allah ; Abdullah ibn Mas’ud asked Prophet Muhammad what one of the best deeds to Allah was, and he replied:
“Establishing prayer on time…” [Sunan an Nasa’i]
Making the conscious effort to pray on time and with concentration, will inevitably help with all the other tasks on our To-Do List. It will aid us in leaving useless talk; in purifying our souls and our wealth; in guarding our chastity; and keeping our promises and our words to people.
For example, one would feel rather hypocritical to respond to the call of prayer on time, but show up late to other appointments. It also won’t feel natural to carefully recite the words of Allah that put life in perspective, then engage in absolutely useless activities.
Getting the prayer right will inevitably make everything right.
Remember that the last words which the Messenger of Allah spoke were: “Prayer, prayer; fear Allah about those whom your right hands possess.” [Sunan Abi Dawud]
He warned us to guard our prayer, and if we do so and we’re conscious of Allah , then we won’t abuse anything or anyone whom we’re entrusted with. So, remember your Creator, and then you will be merciful towards His creation.
Let us also remember that the salah is the first thing we will be asked about on the Day of Judgement. The Prophet said:
“The first of man’s deeds for which he will be called to account on the Day of Resurrection will be Salat. If it is found to be perfect, he will be safe and successful; but if it is incomplete, he will be unfortunate and a loser. If any shortcoming is found in the obligatory Salat, the Glorious and Exalted Rubb will command to see whether His slave has offered any voluntary Salat so that the obligatory Salat may be made up by it. Then the rest of his actions will be treated in the same manner.” [At-Tirmidhi]
So, how to help perfect our salah?
1. Maintain the sunnah prayers
The sunnan prayers (sunnah before and/or after fardh prayers and nawafil prayers) complement any shortcomings in our obligatory prayers.
The Prophet said:
“Whoever persists in performing twelve rak’ah from the Sunnah, a house will be built for him in Paradise: four before the Zuhr, two Rak’ah after Zuhr, two Rak’ah after Maghrib, two Rak’ah after the ‘Isha’ and two Rak’ah before Fajr.” [Sunan Ibn Majah]
It is as though you get 70% in your final exam, but you have bonuses that could top your grade to 100%. This bonus is the voluntary prayers, and we want to maintain them to ensure we’re aiming for the top grade – the A+ that gets us to Al-Firdaus!
2. Pray in the first hour
‘The Messenger of Allah was asked: “Which of the actions is best?” He replied: “Observing prayer early in its period.” ‘ [Sunan Abi Dawud]
1. You may look at this list and think “I can never do that. I can never be that person.” However, the very first ayah that Allah mentioned after this list is:
“And certainly did We create man from an extract of clay.” [Qur’an: Chapter 23, Verse 12]
He mentioned that we were created from clay (or mud). What is that? It is something that can be shaped and moulded. It isn’t a rock. It is flexible. We can’t be defeatist and think that we can never purify ourselves, because it is simply not true. Of course you can, we all can. It’s our very own nature to mould, shape and develop our characters.
2. There is another very important observation in the way Allah has used the Arabic language in these verses. The first ayah started with a past tense – “qad aflaha/ most certainly those Believers have attained true success”. The list then present the tasks we need to do in present continuous tense: “faa’iloon/working on purification”; “yuhafithoon/maintaining the prayers”; “mu’ridoon/staying away from useless activities”.
This shows that if we are working on what is instructed in these verses, if we are sincerely and persistently engaged in this process, then we have already succeeded in the Sight of Allah !
It is as if you are running, and the coach is looking at you and saying “You have already won”! You’re still running, but He is so encouraging and appreciative of your efforts that to Him, the effort itself is the true success.
This is very generous of Allah .
Imagine instead working for months on a mock-up to present to your boss/client, for example. After finalizing the entire mock-up, it somehow gets lost or damaged. Will the boss/client judge you on your effort over the past months, or on the fact that they haven’t received the final result they asked for?
Imagine also studying all semester, then on the night of the exam you get very sick. You achieve very badly as a result. Thus, your effort goes to waste.
But, with Allah , there is no effort that goes to waste!
“Indeed Allah does not allow to be lost the reward of those who do good.” [Qur’an: Chapter 12: Verse 90]
So, we should never give up as Allah is Guarding and Recording every effort.
“And Allah is the best Guardian, and He is the most merciful of the merciful.” [Qur’an: Chapter 12: Verse 64]
3. Remember that this To-Do list is not limited to black or white, men or women, the rich or poor… It is not limited to any particular race, gender, social status or lineage. Any human being can work and achieve the best.
You may be superior to someone else by worldly standards, but they in fact, may be much more successful than you in the Sight of Allah . This is a path that eliminates sexism, racism, classism and any ‘ism’. There is no superiority in Islam of one person over the other except by righteousness (taqwa/God Consciousness):
“O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted.” [Qur’an: Chapter 49: Verse 13]
That’s simply beautiful!
Finally, note how earning the highest paradise involves deep connection with Allah , bettering oneself and benefiting others. This is not a path of selfishness or isolation. This is a path of self-purification, benefit of people and deep bonding with The Creator. They are all connected; Allah, the self and others. It’s a well-rounded human experience.
“So what yet causes you to deny the deen? Is not Allah the most just of judges?” [Qur’an: Chapter 95: Verses 7-8]
Indeed He is!
Now, don’t forget to print out your To-Do List, consider it #lifegoals! Share with others if you have benefited and let us know your thoughts in the comments section.
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