Quranic Reflection No. 498. Āyat 34:37 – Understanding Nearness of Allah (swt)

وَمَا أَمْوَالُكُمْ وَلَا أَوْلَادُكُم بِالَّتِي تُقَرِّبُكُمْ عِندَنَا زُلْفَىٰ إِلَّا مَنْ آمَنَ وَعَمِلَ صَالِحًا
Wamā amwālakum walā awlādakum billatī tuqarribukum ‘indanā zulfā illā man āmana wa ‘amala sālihā
It is not your wealth, nor your children, that will bring you close to Us in nearness, excepting those who have faith and act righteously.
(Sūrat Saba’, No 34, Āyat 37)

Many people mistakenly assume that blessings of this world such as wealth and children are a sign that the person receiving them has pleased Allah ‘azza wajall and is close to Him. That is why Allah showers His grace upon him. This is a misplaced understanding. Allah subhānahu wata‘ālā tests people in different ways and the only ones who are close to Him are the ones who have faith and do good in the world, with whatever they have received from Him.

Qurb or nearness to Allah is the goal behind all the worship we perform. Essentially, it is the goal of life for a believer – to live in a way that results in closeness to Allah (swt). What exactly does it mean though? How can a believer be close to Allah when He has neither place nor time that limits Him?

In common usage, a person who is loved by an important person and has a status with him is said to be from his muqarrabīn – close ones. That means they are in line with the person, accept his authority, and work for him. That usage is also found in the Quran. When the magicians in the court of Fir‘awn go out to challenge Prophet Mūsā ‘alayhis-salām, they ask Fir‘awn if they will receive a reward  if they win. The Pharaoh replied: Yes, and surely you will then be of those who are made near (Q 26:42).

Allah (swt) talks about His own qurb to the human being in the Quran. He says: when My servants ask you about Me, [tell them that] I am indeed near (Q 2:186), and in another place: We are nearer to him than his jugular vein (Q 50:16).That type of nearness is existential, not acquired. Nearness of Allah to a human being is true in all cases, it exists upon the creation of the human being. But the human being is not always near to Allah. It is a state he must strive to acquire.

Nearness to Allah ‘azza wajall could be understood as:
1. A movement towards spiritual perfection since Allah is all-Perfect
2. An actualization of innate potential bestowed by Allah
3. A manifestation of Divine attributes.

Āyatullāh Misbāh Yazdī in his book Self-Recognition for Self-improvement says:
The more he [a human being] sees himself in need of Allah, the more he      removes the veils of means, and the more the dark and bright veils are lifted from his eyes, the more aware, the more perfect and closer to Allah will he be, so much so that he will become a monotheist in acts and impacts and will see no independence for traits and beings. This is a state which the deserving and sincere servants and Allah’s chosen friends will reach. Then there will remain no veil between them and their Beloved. Thus, true qurb with Allah is for man to realize that he has everything when having Allah’s love and satisfaction, and that he has nothing without Allah.

The only way to acquire that closeness is through faith and good deeds, as specified in the verse above. Imam al-Bāqir (a) says: Nearness to Allah can only be found through obedience to Him. (al-Kāfī, v. 2, p. 74). In another verse Allah tells the Prophet sallal-lāhu ‘alayhi wa-ālihi wasallam to tell people: Say, ‘If you love Allah, then follow me; Allah will love you and forgive you your sins, and Allah is all-forgiving, all-merciful (Q 3:31). Obedience to Allah is a sign of servitude and dependance. It fosters the spirit of Divine dependance and a rejection of independence. This enhances the realization of the presence of Allah (swt) and brings a servant closer to Allah.