Dr Kamrudeen Mohammed, UK
“Those who reject Our Signs and turn away from them with disdain, the gates of the spiritual firmament will not be opened for them, nor will they enter Heaven until a camel goes through the eye of a needle. And thus do We requite the offenders. (Surah al-A‘raf, Ch.7: V.41)
This verse describes the highly improbable event of arrogant rejectors of truth gaining access to spiritual knowledge and an analogy is provided to assist our understanding. Just as it is physically impossible for a large animal – the camel – to pass through a small aperture of the needle’s eye, in the same way, those who proudly reject the signs of Allah will not be able to gain access to the spiritual kingdom.
However, the Promised Messiahas – the divine reformer of Islam – gave a very interesting commentary on this verse. He said:
“That is disbelievers will not enter heaven until the camel passes through the eye of the needle. The commentators take the literal meaning (of this verse) but I say that the seeker of salvation in the path of Allah should make the unrestrained camel of his inner self so narrow and fine by [religiously] striving, so that it can pass through the eye of the needle. Until the inner self remains corpulent because of the enjoyment of worldly pleasures and carnal pursuits, it is not possible for the soul to enter paradise having followed the path of the sacred religious law. So, bring a death on worldly pleasures and become spiritually slim so that you are able to gain eternal salvation by entering heaven’’. (Commentary of the Holy Quran by Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmadas, Vol. 4, p.206)
The Promised Messiahas thus explained that the camel symbolises our portly soul which feeds on worldly pleasures and immoral enjoyments. The eye of the needle alludes to the stringent limitations for gaining salvation.
He clarifies that without intervention, if we feed our souls with nonspiritual intake, in that state, it is virtually impossible for us to gain salvation. However, it is within our control to change this situation by spiritual striving and exerting effort towards good deeds.
As a result, we can slim down our inflated souls and shed the excessive size, enabling us to access a heavenly life. What exactly is needed to shrink the dimension of our materialistic souls?
The first step which the Promised Messiahas described is to bring a death on our worldly enjoyments i.e the excessive pursuit of pleasures of the world and a life of pure materialism. Allah describes this state of affairs in the following verse:
“And as to those who disbelieve, their deeds are like a mirage in a desert. The thirsty one thinks it to be water until, when he comes up to it, he finds it to be nothing. And he finds Allah near him, Who then fully pays him his account; and Allah is swift at reckoning.” (Surah al-Nur, Ch.24: V.40)
Allah warns us that excessive pursuit of the transitory pleasures of the world to the exclusion of our real purpose will fuel a cycle of hope followed by despair as real solace continues to elude us. The anticipated happiness and heavenly delight from newly acquired possessions and wants (money, cars, homes, status, fame etc.) soon wanes and is replaced by further inflamed, intense and unfulfilled desires as we rotate in this cycle.
The Holy Prophet Muhammadsa described this phenomenon in Sahih al-Bukhari under the book, “How to make the heart tender”.
Hazrat Anas bin Malikra narrated that Allah’s Messengersa said, “If the son of Adam had a valley full of gold, he would like to have two valleys, for nothing fills his mouth except dust. And Allah forgives him who repents to Him.”
Allah clearly describes that path which was exemplified by the Holy Prophetsa in these following verses of the Quran:
“Bear patiently then what they say and glorify thy Lord with His praise before the rising of the sun and before its setting; and glorify Him in the hours of the night and at the sides of the day, that thou mayest find true happiness. And strain not thy eyes after what We have bestowed on some classes of them to enjoy for a short time – the splendour of the present world – that We may try them thereby. And the provision of thy Lord is better and more lasting.” (Surah Ta Ha, Ch.20: V.131-132)
The second method described by the Promised Messiahas is to develop awe of Allah, Who is the Dispenser of all peace and tranquility. We should kindle the fear of disobedience of Allah, as a life of disobedience leads to separation from Him and places us under His wrath. Allah describes the blessings of fear of Him in this verse:
“Surely those who fear their Lord while He is hidden from them – for them is forgiveness and a great reward” (Surah al-Mulk, Ch.67: V.13)
In Sunan al-Nasai – a book of hadith – it is recorded that a companion of the Holy Prophetsa, Uqbah ibn Amirra narrated the following:
“I heard the Messengersa of Allah say, ‘Your Lord delights at a shepherd who, on the peak of a mountain crag, gives the call to prayer and prays. Then Allah says, “Look at this servant of Mine, he gives the call to prayer and performs the prayers; he is in awe of Me. I have forgiven My servant [his sins] and have admitted him to Paradise.”’”
So how do we get the camel of our ego through the eye of the needle? We can reduce the size of our hedonistic souls through service to Allah the Provider of happiness and we can live our lives with the awareness of Allah’s gaze on us; helping us on the road toward salvation.