HUMAN life is the greatest enigma for those individuals who constantly reflect over it. It has been described in literature through various metaphors, similes, analogies and examples. In the Quran, Allah exemplifies life with water, saying “…Verily the likeness of (this) worldly life is as the water which We send down from the sky (10:24). ...” Water can be in three states — solid, liquid and gas. Similarly, in its ultimate analysis, life also has three states — wakefulness, deep sleep and the dream state.
Right now, you are awake reading this newspaper. This is called the waking state. In this state, we are aware of our surroundings, perceiving things through our ears, eyes and skin, etc. The waking state is characterised by the absence of sleep or dreams. The waking state is one in which a person is actively engaged in worldly matters, earning money and doing deeds for which he is accountable to his Creator as well as to his conscience and society at large.
The Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) is reported as saying in a famous Hadith that actions depend on a person’s will and intention. Our intentions are often formed in the condition of being awake, and we act accordingly. Therefore, we reap the fruits that we have sown. We also experience fluctuations in the waking state as our mind moves up and down with a constant flow of thoughts, sensations, emotions and actions. The religious teachings mostly apply to this state of human life. We pray, concentrate, seek divine help and forgiveness with our heads and our hearts while we are awake.
Many scholars and poets have described this worldly life as a dream.
The waking state is also considered to be the core of human life. Every human being spends a major portion of their entire life when their mind is awake. For example, if a person is alive for 70 or 80 years, the period of their life spent in a waking state consists of not more than roughly 20 to 25 years. Every night, one sleeps for eight hours or so for bodily rest — and spends the early period of their life, ie childhood, in a worriless state, not answerable or responsible for their actions.
However, when one enters adolescence around the age of 12 and starts their active life, they simultaneously become responsible for the omissions and commissions of their acts. The person participates in all worldly activities, studies books, responds to the needs of others and offers his religious obligations. It is during this state that one can also experience the spiritual elevation with the blessing of Allah if one controls their thoughts and submits wholeheartedly to their Creator. Similarly, the sporadic moments of sickness, pain, tiresomeness and frustration, etc are also felt and experienced in this particular state.
The second state of living is deep sleep, when the personal self has ‘disappeared’. Breathing, digestion, blood circulation and other bodily systems continue to work while we are asleep. All our organs are being refreshed, but the mind is temporarily inactive. So, deep sleep means dreamless sleep — a state in which there is no ego or ‘I’, no mental movement, no thinking, no consciousness of one’s surroundings — the flow of thoughts stops and all our bodily organs take rest.
When we come out of the state of deep sleep to the waking state, we feel fresh and energetic, ready to restart our worldly activities. This is the greatest sign of Allah’s blessings upon humanity, which needs to be reflected on with a sense of humility and gratitude. The Quran says, “Allah takes the souls at the time of their death, and those that do not die [He takes] during their sleep. Then He keeps those for which He has decreed death and releases the others for a specified term. Indeed in that are signs for a people who give thought (39:42)”.
Sleep is considered to be one of the signs of the greatness of Allah. It is mentioned frequently in the Holy Quran. For example, in verse 30:23, Allah says that among His signs is your sleep by night and by day.
The third state of living is dreaming when a person neither is awake nor asleep, but is in between these two states. We lose our awareness and control of our conscious mind, drifting into a state of heightened imagination which is beyond our personal control. It is a very short state in terms of time and experience, sometimes momentary. However, it overtakes the person with illusory happiness, sadness, fearfulness or restlessness.
In dreams, we do not even know that we are dreaming, nor do we remember our connection to the waking state. Therefore, many religious scholars and poets have compared this worldly life (dunya) with the hereafter as a momentary dream, having no base.
In a nutshell, human life is the greatest gift of Allah; it needs to be reflected over to understand its mysteries. The understanding would lead us to thank our Creator.
The writer is an educationist with an interest in religion.
Published in Dawn, January 11th, 2019