By Imam Jamal Rahman
“In the creation of the heavens and the earth, and in the succession of the night and day, there are indeed messages for all who are endowed with insight.“ (Qur’an 3:190)
“If you cry because the sun has gone out of your life, your tears will prevent you from seeing the stars.” ~ Rabindranath Tagore
One of the best ways to grow in spiritual wisdom is to reflect on divine signs in nature. More than seven hundred verses of the Qur’an extol these natural signs. Many chapters are named after natural phenomenon and some chapters start with mysterious invocations. God takes an oath invoking nature: “By the fig and the olive” or “By the dawn.”
For Sufis, nature is among the holiest of sacred manuscripts. Nature is a complete teacher if one chooses to revere and learn from her. Thus, one of the lessons of the alternation of night and day is to accept the inevitability of changes in one’s life, and understand the beauty and majesty of being in the present moment. If I cry all night because I yearn for the lost sunlight, I shall miss out on the radiance and beauty of stars.
The Prophet Muhammad said, “The earth is like your mother. Honor and protect her.” May we honor Mother Earth by loving her and learning from her. May we protect her knowing that she is sacred and life giving.
The Qur’an talks repeatedly about the divine attribute of compassion and mercy. Sufi teachers use the element of water in nature to explain the astonishing power of this divine attribute. There is nothing as soft and yielding as water, but for overcoming the hardest, nothing is as powerful as the force of water. This soft element can wash away continents. Secondly, wherever water falls, life flourishes. The Earth was parched, says the Holy Book, but God sent down the waters of mercy and the Earth was “clothed in green.” Likewise, the person who practices compassion is blessed with authentic strength and at the same time blesses the world with life-affirming grace.
How can one explain the concept of unconditional love? The 14th century Hafiz exclaims that the earth would die if the Sun stopped kissing her. But, even after all this time, the Sun never tells the earth, “Hey, you owe me!” What happens with a love like that? It lights up the entire sky! Just like unconditional love!
With compassion and love in our hearts, sages pray that we accept, honor and celebrate our differences in religion, culture and race. To expound unity in diversity, sages use the metaphor of trees which appears often in the Qur’an. The branches of the tree sway differently in the wind but they are all connected at the roots. In our essence, we are all one. To help us overcome our bias about religious superiority, we are asked to meditate on the following metaphor of nature: All rivers flow into the Ocean. I might be following one river. Do not mistake your river for the Ocean.