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Qurb and Bu'd (Nearness and Remoteness)
May 1, 2013

Nearness (qurb) means that one transcends corporeality in order to acquire perfect spirituality and proximity to God. Some interpret it as God's proximity to His servants; however, this is not accurate. God is near to His servants, but not in terms of quantity or quality. Nearness in Sufi usage pertains to and is acquired by mortal beings created in any phase or part of time, and undergoing different forms and stages of existence. God's nearness to His creatures or bringing them near to Him is eloquently summed up in the verse: “He is with you wherever you may be” (57:4). Such nearness is not the particular nearness acquired by belief and good deeds; it is God's being near to His servants, nearer to them than their selves, including every created thing or being living or non-living, believer or unbeliever, good or evil.

While general nearness, meaning God's nearness to creation, encompasses everything and every person, particular nearness depends on belief and can be acquired by doing whatever God has decreed as good and right. This nearness to the Almighty is possessed by those who have discovered the way of nearness and, having entered the corridor leading to eternity, reach every morning and evening with a new, deep dimension of belief. Such people are included in the verse: “God is with those who keep from evil in reverence for God, and are doers of good” (16:128). Those who have obtained this rank recite: “Surely my Lord accompanies me and will guide me” (26:62) while inhaling, and: “Surely God is with us” (9:40) while exhaling.

In particular nearness, consciousness of belief and perfect goodness have the same worth and significance as light to seeing and soul to body. Performing obligatory and supererogatory religious duties with this consciousness are like wings of light that carry one toward the "skies" of infinitude. The safest, most acceptable, and direct way of nearness to God is performing obligatory religious duties; however, performing supererogatory religious duties, which have no limit and show loyalty and devotion to God, results in true nearness and the rank of being loved by God Almighty.

A traveler to God enters new corridors leading to eternity on the wings of supererogatory duties, and feels rewarded with new Divine gifts, which engender an even greater desire to perform obligatory and supererogatory duties. One awakened to this truth feels in his or her conscience the love of God in direct proportion to his or her love of God. As stated in the hadith qudsi1:

“My servant cannot get near to Me through anything else more lovable to Me than doing the obligatory religious duties. However, by doing supererogatory duties he gets nearer to Me, and when he becomes near to Me, I shall be his eyes to see with, his ears to hear with, his hands to grasp with, and his legs to walk on.”

In short, such a believer is directed to act by the Divine Will.

Nearness acquired through performing obligatory duties is another title of the rank of one's being loved by God, and is included among those loved by God. As for nearness acquired through performing supererogatory duties, this is the rank of all one's acts being ascribed to God. It is a particular Divine bestowal and honoring, as pronounced in: “You (Believers) slew them not, but God slew them. And you (Muhammad) did not throw when you threw, but God threw” (8:17).

Nearness, a particular gift of God, cannot be credited to one's actions without considering its Divine origin. Nearness to Him originates in His Greatness and Mercy, and remoteness from Him is one of the weaknesses and "dark pits" of our character or nature. The writer of Gülistan (The Rose Garden) aptly expresses the origin of nearness and remoteness:

The Friend is nearer to me than myself;
How strange it is that I am remote from Him.
What can I say and what can I do, that
While He is with me, I am distant from Him.

Remoteness means being distant from God and perishing. According to Sufis, the first indication of remoteness is the cessation of Divine gifts, and the final indication is that if a particular Divine help does not come, the person seeking it is completely lost and perishes. Just as degrees of nearness are based on whether one is an ordinary believer, a saint, a good and righteous person, or one brought near to God, remoteness also has its degrees in a line descending to Satan, who occupies the lowest point of perishing.

Nearness to God is a Divine favor, and remoteness from him is a deprivation. However, one cannot always feel his or her personal nearness to or remoteness from Him. The greatest favor of God is that He does not allow one to feel His (special) favor (e.g., being a saint or near to Him), lest the believer so honored should feel pride and thus lose such favor. As a result, those nearest to God are usually unaware of their nearness. However, one's unawareness of his or her personal remoteness from God is a Divine reprisal. There are still others who, intoxicated with the love of God and making no distinction between nearness and remoteness, neither show desire for nearness nor worry over remoteness. The following couplet expresses the thoughts of such intoxicated souls:

Jami, worry yourself about neither nearness nor remoteness;
There is neither nearness nor remoteness, nor union nor parting.

It is an acknowledged fact that remoteness denotes horror and deprivation. However, some shiver because of the winds of awe blowing from nearness and feel themselves caught in the clutches of Divine wrath and destruction. Nearness to the King is a burning fire may express this mood. Nevertheless, if nearness may be likened to the slopes of Paradise that open to breezes of Divine familiarity and friendship, remoteness should be regarded as the pits of deprivation and loss.

1 A Prophetic Tradition whose meaning belongs directly to God and the wording to the Prophet.