Volunteerism and the Sacred Path of Love

by Abu Sofian Eunos

The poet T.S Eliot wrote, “We must never cease in exploration. And at the end of all exploration is to arrive at a place we once were, but to know it for the very first time”. This exploration can be described as a journeying or wayfaring on the path towards knowledge of oneself. If you’ve ever been out at sea on a kayak, or been outdoors hiking, you would understand the complexities and rewards of such a journeying. Someone who spends time out in the sea kayaking would know what it means to kayak in a storm. The person who spends time hiking on an island with bare necessities would know what it means to overcome physical exhaustion.

But is exploration just reserved to mean the physical travelling from one place to another? Surely there can be a deeper meaning to it. This deeper understanding is the voyage within oneself, in the realm of the unseen. While hiking or kayaking lies in the realm of the seen, there is another dimension of travelling that one makes and that is the discovery of one’s own self. Just as how a rush of jubilation engulfs a person who manages to scale Mount Everest, there lies something much more extraordinary that happens when a person triumphs over the treacherous peaks of one’s inner self. The one who is in such a path confronts the snakes of hypocrisy, the storms of arrogance and the lions of anger that is so deeply hidden in oneself.

 This very same exploration is how we can describe the experience of “volunteerism” or “activism”. In many ways, “volunteerism” and “activism” has been misunderstood to just being mere ritualistic actions for self-satisfaction and self-accomplishment. At times, it can be reduced to mere displays of flamboyance to inflate one’s own sense of self-importance. Many have gone down this road and have been seduced into thinking that service, the core principle of “volunteerism”, simply means “whatever that makes me happy”. Some have been sucked into the quicksand of wanting to sabotage the good efforts of other activists. In the desert of communal service, far too many have been deluded by the mirages of their own self-interests. Instead of pointing others to the stars of the desert sky, many have thrown sand into the faces of their people so that they might be regarded as proper guides.

Shaykh Abdul Aziz Fredericks once said that, “The best way to find yourself, is to lose yourself in the service of others”. Ponder for a moment how strange this piece of wisdom is. It suggests that true discovery of self is not in amassing more of what we want but in removing the vile traits of who we are. This ideal, as suggested by the Shaykh, is actualized when one no longer wishes to be known for the service, no longer wants credit for what’s done and sees only to fulfil the rights and needs of the one being served. For many of us, this might seem as a strange and difficult task. Serving others is like jumping into the open sea, with the terrors of the unknown before you. In that moment of complete disregard for self-concern, lies the complete reliance and trust to Allah, the Disposer of all affairs, a task so monumental it strikes fear into the hearts for fear of the unknown. This is the struggle of the volunteer in the Sacred Path of Love.

“The Sacred Path of Love” is a conference where people from all walks of life congregate to learn about themselves and to overcome their struggles. Fear, anxiety, depression, anger and addiction hold many people as hostages. The conference provides a safe environment for people to bear their wounds and learn from the scholars who imbue the “Muhammadan Character”. The volunteers who come are also from different backgrounds. Many have struggled with addictions, mental depression, anger outbursts and a sense of loss in self. They spend months organizing to strict detail so that scholars can reach out to the community and blanket us with profound Prophetic Beauty. Many of those who have volunteered aren’t on stage; they secretly spend late nights and personal time away from their families to get work done. With the guidance of the shuyukh, the volunteers learn that service in its highest ideal is the example of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and the footsteps of those who are God’s friends and lovers.

Besides learning new skills and acquiring knowledge of the Islamic Sciences what volunteers of “The Sacred Path of Love” have gained is a deeper understanding of how the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was with his wives, companions and community. This conference becomes the unique comma that punctuates our lives with the likes of Shaykh Muhammad bin Yahya al-Ninowy, Shaykh Muhammad Mahy Cisse, Habib Hassan al-Attas, Shaykh Afeefudin al-Jilani, Shaykh Zachary Valentine Wright, Dr Afifi al-Akiti, Hajjah Ashaki Taha Cisse and many more enlightened human beings that bring radiant lights into our lives. Their message is chain of transmission of the Prophets and Messengers that extend beyond the lifeless form of information into the shimmering awakening of self-transformation. Many people have benefitted from volunteering and participating in “The Sacred Path of Love”, a testament to the secret of having good companionship on the path to self-discovery.

Imam Muhammad al-Ghazali, widely considered the “Proof of Islam”, mentioned that, “Repentance from sins by returning to the one who conceals faults and the one who knows all hidden things is the beginning of the path of the wayfarers”. The wise saying also goes, “The true call to Islam is when one makes repentance to Allah”. This alludes to the importance of changing one’s own self; the kind treatment of one’s family, the giving of charity and the private worship with God that takes precedence before any public effort to help others. It reminds us that to be sincere and truthful in public starts from our private lives, else the hypocrisy would be too obvious for others to be able to ignore.

Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad mentions that, “Religion is not just sitting still. In fact you can’t sit still it is like riding a bicycle you have to make constant effort or you will fall”. It is with this in mind that many volunteers need to have before embarking on any new project. For 5 years now “The Sacred Path of Love” has had volunteers and participants from students, musicians, teachers, scholars, parents, writers and activists who have benefitted immensely from the gems that are shared by the scholars. Truly what keeps the wayfarer cycling is but the attachment to the spiritual aspiration of these saints and scholars, the inheritors of God’s Prophets.

The world’s stage has shown us many individuals who have triumphed over themselves for the true service of people. We have the late Dr Martin Luther King Jr, who rallied people to dispel the trance of prejudice against African-Americans in America. We had Muhammad Yunus who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for pioneering the concept of microloans to low-wage farmers, so that they could start their businesses. We also had countless others who are advocates of preserving the earth and perhaps many more heroes unreported and unrecognized. In the darkness of turmoil, these heroes are like stars that lost travellers depend on to lead them into the night.

Perhaps, the best way to sum up this topic of Prophetic service is with the poem of the Persian poet Hafez, “Even after all this while, the Sun never says to the Earth, ‘You owe me!’. Look at what happens with a love like that, it lights up the whole sky!”. This Prophetic mercy for God’s creation and the witnessing of God in every moment is what volunteers need to aspire towards. It is a Reality to be tasted and experienced for all. May Allah accept and make it easy. Amin.