There is a deeply beautiful Teaching of the Final Messenger of God, Prophet Muhammad, may the light of God continue to nourish his soul and our connection to him, in which he says:
“Even if the world is ending but you have a seedling in your hand, plant it!”
This Teaching is an ocean of wisdom, especially for our times. Can you imagine the world ending, time itself ending? Can you imagine being there for the end of this earthly realm altogether and the beginning of the Day of Judgement? This moment is described in the Holy Address from God as one of chaos — all that we take for stable crumbles: God folds up the sky like a scroll, and the mountains become dust, and an Angel blows a trumpet to signify the end of this temporal realm.
On the Day (when) the earth and the mountains will quake, and the mountains will become a heap of sand pouring down. Surat al Muzammil (Chapter 73: Verse 14)
And the Day the trumpet will be blown, and whoever is in the heavens and whoever is in the earth will be terrified except whom God wills. Surat an Naml (Chapter 27: Verse 87)
Imagine in that moment, you have a small tree — a seedling in your hand — that you had been about to plant. What would be the point anymore, if you could even concentrate at such a time? Yet the Prophet of God brings this very scene before us to say — even then, plant it!
This is the mentality we are invited to live with as believers in God: that no matter what is going on around you, you must press on.
This is a mindset of determination, of dedication, and of focus on the inner essence of our actions, not the outward experience or results. In this time of trouble that we live in, when the future is so uncertain and strife plagues our human community, it is this wisdom teaching that we so need to save us from despair and demoralization.
The Prophet is telling us at least three important things: even if all hell breaks loose around you — stay focused on the fulfilment of the intention you made. Follow through, and don’t let anything distract you, not even the end of the world.
Secondly, don’t put your concern on the result. A tree planted at the end of time, when the earth itself is shaking, will never grow beyond that day; will never give shade nor fruit. Yet it must be planted — and this is how we must view all our actions.
And third: don’t worry if your action seems incongruent with the things going on around you — you don’t need your actions to be reactions to what is happening around you…you need your actions to be responses to what is beyond the context. You need your actions to be overtures to God, and approaches to Him — nothing more, nothing less. Indeed, the actions of people of God are often laughed at by people who cannot see the connection between those actions and the conditions around us all. People laughed at Prophet Noah and his boat-building. People have mocked spiritual people for millenia, for praying in response to trial and hardship. Yet Prophet Muhammad says that prayer is the actual weapon of the believer. We are not called upon to mend this world on the same grounds it’s being destroyed — but by using superior means. And the only thing superior to this world is the spirit.
Every Eid, we have a tradition at the Rhoda Masjid of planting a tree. This year, by the Grace of God, we were able to follow through with this tradition and plant two cherry trees.
I had the privilege of leading some of our community’s young men through the process of planting the trees; I wanted them to have the physical experience of what it means to plant a young tree and why it matters, in order to teach them the Prophetic Teaching mentioned above.
The boys and I spoke, before planting the trees, about what intentions we had. They were eager to get right in there and start the action, but I explained that before one starts any action, one must plant one’s intention. They told me their intentions were that people would be able to eat from the cherries, that the area around the masjid would be beautified, and that anyone — especially a sad person — who saw the trees would be uplifted by their beauty. They also said: We are doing this to please the Lord.
INTENTIONS ARE SEEDS
We spoke about how intentions are seeds of actions. They are also what love grows from.
I wanted to teach them a key lesson also from our tradition: that love is something deep, something one must honour and plant and keep alive. It is something that is in the heart, not in the mind. Excitement, on the other hand, is a product of the mind — it is an interest that can only last for a temporary period. Love is a seed you place in your heart, with the intention that it grows into a tree that lasts forever. This is important because love is one of the greatest actions we can ever undertake…yet we so often fail and only muster up excitement (that later fails us and the one we claimed to love) because we never plant the seed properly…sometimes we don’t even recognize that there must be a seed — an intention — involved in loving someone.
We don’t “make” intentions, we plant them. They are seeds given to us by God, and we plant them in the earth of our hearts. In the Quran, God often speaks of the heart as the earth — and there are many parables about how He brings that earth to life. We are not planting the seed in any physical or mental location in ourselves, but rather in the realm of God Himself.
This is the way to find stability in an unstable world. The earth where you plant your intentions will never shake — for it is in God’s realm, not on this earth. That’s where to place your hope, your love, and your works. Indeed, in the end, we don’t do any action for this world, though it seems that our actions take place here. Rather, as believers in the Unseen, we are planting our intentions, and following through with our actions, in another realm altogether. One day, when this life is done, we will harvest the fruits of those actions. May they be blessed.
I pray that in this time of such strife in the world, such chaos and injustice, we respond by staying focused on planting that seedling we have in our hand, in the realm of God Himself. What seedling have you been holding onto that needs planting, even now? Don’t give up on it. Set about planting it — don’t get distracted even if it appears the world is coming to an end. You must unite that seedling with the soil — and let it bloom in the world of God — the world of your own heart.