Written by Dr. Shahid Athar
Talking about God or speaking on His behalf is easy. It is the practice of God’s presence in our lives that is most difficult. The first question the human mind asks is “where is God”? Is He in us, with us, around us or up there in Heaven? Quran answers these questions by stating “ when My servants ask you about My whereabouts, tell them I am nearer to them than their jugular vein”. (2:186)
A father had taught his two sons, ages 10 and 8 about religion. Then he wanted to test their knowledge so he gave them each some candy but cautioned them to eat where no one could see them. After a few days, he called them and asked where they ate the candy. The older boy said “I had to eat the candy in the closet and I made sure nobody watched me”. The younger returned the candy to the father and said “I found no place where God could not see me, therefore I did not eat the candy”.
Regarding the practicing God’s presence, Christians are familiar with the writings of Brother Lawrence, “ the prayer of Jabez” and “the sacrament of the present moment.” They may not know that the awareness of God’s presence is very much emphasized in Quran in the concept of Taqwa which is sometimes translated as being conscious, God fearing, to be Pious, to be careful or heading God’s call or having self restraint according to Islamic laws. In verse 3-4 of chapter 2 of Quran, the features of those who practice God consciousness are described as those who belief in the unseen, establish prayer, spend from what God has given them, believe not only in Quran but the other holy scriptures that came before Quran and as those who believe in hereafter. As a reward of practicing God consciousness, their reward is to get true guidance from their Lord and prosper it.
God consciousness is considered in Islam a protective shield. A Muslim is never alone by himself and even if he is alone he is with God. Therefore, if he is God conscious, then he knows that God is ever watching over him. Caliph Omar described God consciousness as “as if you’re going on a path with a lot of bushes and you fold your clothes to avoid thorns setting into them”. Someone else advised a fellow human “it is O.K. to do the crime as long as you don’t do it in the domain of God”.
God consciousness gives us discipline and self restraint. In the matter of fasting in Ramadan, Quran tells us “ O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you so that you may learn self restraint (2:183)”. God consciousness elevates the dignity of humans in the eyes of God. Quran says “ the most honored of you in the sight of God is the one who is most God conscious and God has full knowledge and is acquainted of all things that you do( 49:13)”.
A God conscious person is also a God fearing person. The fear of God is different than for example, the fear of a lion or snake from whom we expect no mercy and try to run away. But the fear of God is mixed with our love of God. We fear God for His displeasure, losing His blessing and incurring His punishment. We fear Him with love and not with hate. Quran says “ O you who believe, fear God as He should be feared and die not except in the state of submission to Him (3:102)”. It also says “ O you who believe, fear God and let every soul look to what provisions he has sent forth for the morrow. Fear God for God is well acquainted with all you do (59:18)”. Those who are God conscious get many rewards of being so and the best one is God’s love, mercy and guidance. Quran says “ O you who believe, if you fear God He will grant you a criterion to judge between right and wrong, remove from you all evil that may affect you and forgive you for God is the Lord of grace” unbound (8:29). Thus, practicing God’s presence we do acts of pleasing Him and avoid his displeasure in order to receive his love, guidance and forgiveness.
What are the acts of practicing God’s presence?
The first act is being clean, both physically, mentally and spiritually, free our thoughts of all evils and concentrate on our relationship with God. The act of worship, whether it is 5 daily prayers, fasting in the month of Ramadan, pilgramage to Mecca or giving charity are nothing but to bring us closer to God in communication. Acts of asking forgiveness is another tool for practicing God’s presence. Forgiveness is the reward of repentance which only comes out of practicing God’s presence. Quran says “ He is the one who accepts repentance from His servants and forgives sins and He knows all you do and He listens to those who believe and do acts of God consciousness and He increases their bounty (42:25-26).” Thirdly, acts of communication with God whether informally or formally during prayer, brings us closer to God in practicing his presence and we are told “ and your Lord says call on Me and I will answer your calls (40:60).” Remembering God all of the time not only gives God consciousness but as a result gives peace and tranquility in our hearts. Quran says “those who believe are those whose hearts find rest in the remembrance of God, for without doubt, in the remembrance of God the heart finds rest (13:28)”.
In addition to the above acts of practicing presence, it would also be a recommendation to be in the company of those who are God conscious. The company of such believers is sure to strengthen our belief and give awareness of the presence of God around them.