As Muslims we all have a tree to tend to, the “tree of Islam”. So our job in this dunya is to make sure that it bears its beautiful fruits to share with all. Allow me to explain.
A barren earth grows nothing. For it to produce its fruits it needs four things: 1) a good seed, 2) plenty of water, 3) fresh air, and 4) lots of sunlight. Similarly, the earth of your heart will remain barren without these four elements to grow the tree of Islam and bear its fruits: 1) the seed of the testimony (Shahada) of La Ilaha Illa Allah Muhammadun Rasul Allah; 2) the water of faith or Iman; 3) the air of compassionate excellence (Ihsan); 4) and the sunlight of justice (‘Adl).
You may ask: “So how does one tend to this tree, with the seed of the Shahada, the water of Iman, the air of Ihsan and the sunlight of ‘Adl? And what are the fruits of this so called ‘Islam tree’”?
The earth of your heart is where your seed is planted. So the first thing to make sure is that you plant the good word of Islam, the Shahadah, with a pure intention and a strong foundation. This is the first pillar of Islam which is to sincerely witness that there is No God but Allah and that Muhammad is His Messenger. But once this seed of Islam is planted, it needs to grow in your heart with plenty of water! So how do you water your seed with the water of Iman? This is done with the second pillar of Salat and the constant remembrance (Zhikr) of Allah. Salat and Zhikr bring the light of the divine in your heart just as water enters the earth and causes the seed to crack and grow. It is therefore, a very apt allegory. If you do not feel the light (nur) of Iman entering your heart, then perhaps it is time to reflect and ask about the status of your salat and remembrance of Allah. Thus, the more you water your Islam tree with Salat and Zhikr, the more it will grow. So make sure to water your Islam tree at least 5 times a day!
But water is not enough. A tree also needs its fresh oxygen for photosynthesis and the winds to help its leaves to spread and grow. Similarly, your Islam tree needs plenty of fresh air, the air of Ihsan. This is achieved through the third pillar of Zakat and all charitable and compassionate works of righteousness. Just as the winds blow the dust off those leaves and keep them fresh, so too through the Zakat and righteous works, you purify the tree of Islam and help it grow sideways. There are infinite ways to do this besides the essence of Zakat, for remember the simple smile is charity too and a part of Ihsan. This lateral growth is the growing sphere of your positive social influence on society.
But water and air are still not enough. A tree that receives no sunlight will remain droopy and eventually die. It needs plenty of light to help it grow straight and strong and gain its energy. Similarly the tree of Islam needs the light of justice or ‘Adl for it to grow straight and sturdy. Interestingly, the Arabic word ‘Adl’ is etymologically related to the concept of straightness as well. The verb “Y’adilu” refers to one who ‘straightens’.
Justice is about being straight and upright. So how does your Islam tree receive the light of ‘Adl? This is primarily achieved by the fourth pillar of Sawm or fasting. Fasting is about holding back. It is about teaching the ego (nafs) to hold back from giving in to its base and gluttonous desires of food, drink, and sex. Giving into our selfishness, greed, and lower temptations is the cause of corruption on earth. By holding back, you discipline yourself to remain upright and to uphold justice such that you no longer lean on your base appetites but learn to keep them in check by seeking only what is lawful. Fasting also raises your consciousness and awareness of social justice issues by helping you to better relate and sympathize with the poor and needy through hunger and deprivation. Thus, the essence of justice is discipline. It is about enforcing what is right, even if it be against what you desire. And fasting disciplines you to develop a principled character that is straight and upright.
In fact, these four steps which have just been described constitute the essence of Taqwa (God consciousness). There is no Taqwa without Islam. Similarly, the Salat, which is the essence of Iman and Ibadah or worship, leads to Taqwa as well. As Allah (SWT) says:
[2:21] O people, worship only your Lord - the One who created you and those before you - that you may attain Taqwa.
Furthermore, charitable conduct or Ihsan is also part of Taqwa. As the Prophet (pbuh) defined it in the famous hadith: “Ihsan is to worship God as though you see Him.” Is this not the definition of God consciousness? Finally, justice is the natural outcome of God consciousness, for to fear Allah is to know your limits and to be upright in all your dealings with His Creation.
So, after watering your Islam tree and giving it plenty of air and sunlight, it is now ready to bear its fruits, the fruits of knowledge (ilm) and love, which is the essence of Iman, to share with all! So get busy and make sure to tend to your tree. And remember, a tree that stops growing will eventually wilt and die, so make sure you keep it healthy and vibrant with the pillars of Islam.
Peace and God bless,