THE SEVEN OBSTACLES
(The Path that the Devotee has to traverse,
In order to reach the Garden of the Lord of the Universe)
The following brief description of the path that the devotee travels in his journey to Jannah (Paradise) is taken from the introduction of Imam al-Ghazali's Minhaj al-'Abidin ila Jannati Rabb al-'Alamin (The Path that the Devotee has to traverse in order to reach the Garden of the Lord of the Universe). This path to Jannah is no more than the devotee's actual worship and servitude of Allah, the Almighty. However, in undertaking this journey the devotee is confronted with Seven Obstacles which he needs to overcome if he is to accomplish his goal and reach his destination. These Seven Obstacles are: (1) the Obstacle of Knowledge, (2) the Obstacle of Repentance, (3) the Obstacle of the Barriers, (4) the Obstacle of the Four Distractions, (5) the Obstacle of the Forces, (6) the Obstacle of the Nullifiers and finally (7) the Obstacle of Praise and Gratitude. Each of these Obstacles marks a stage in the devotee's spiritual development and progress, and an improvement in his worship and servitude of Allah. It is these Seven Obstacles that Imam al-Ghazali goes on to explain in the rest of his book by devoting a whole chapter to each of the Seven Obstacles. Thus, what is presented here is merely a summary of the devotee's path of worship and servitude taken from Imam al-Ghazali's introduction to his book. I hope that through this summarised description of the devotee's path of worshipping and serving Allah the reader will see his purpose in this transitory life more clearly and direct all his efforts and energies to achieve this single purpose while at the same time asking Allah to guide him to the path of worship and servitude and to help him to continue on it until he has reached his destination.
How It All Begins
(the Beginning of Guidance)
The devotee is first awakened to the idea of worship and to tread its path through a Divine thought planted in his mind and special guidance from Allah. This is what Allah means when He says: ﴾Is he whose heart Allah has opened to Islam and he who is on a light from his Lord (like the one who remains a non-Muslim lost in darkness)﴿ . It is also this meaning that the Messenger of Allah (Peace and Blessings be upon him) refers to when he says: "The light (of Allah) when it enters the heart spreads and unfolds". It was then said to him: 'O Messenger of Allah, is there any sign by which that can be known?' So he said: "Yes, detachment from the Abode of Deception (i.e. the present world), turning towards the Abode of Eternity (i.e. the Afterworld) and preparing for death before it descends".
Thus, the first thing that crosses the mind of the devotee (when Allah wishes to guide him to Islam) is the following realisation: "I find myself being showered with all kinds of bounties, such as life, ability, intellect, speech and all the other noble attributes and pleasures, as well as being protected from all kinds of harm. Surely, all these bounties have to have been bestowed (on me) by a Bestower who expects me to thank and serve Him …so if I neglect to do that and He ceases to shower me with His Bounties and makes me taste His Punishment and Vengeance since He has sent a Messenger whom He armed with supernatural miracles which are beyond the power and ability of human beings and who informed me that I have a God who is Powerful, Knowledgeable, Living, Willing, Speaking commanding and prohibiting, capable of punishing me if I disobey Him and rewarding me if I obey Him, Knowledgeable of my innermost secrets and what goes on in my thoughts …and He has truly promised (the obedient Paradise) and threatened (the disobedient with Hell) …and ordered me to adhere to the laws of the Shari'ah", then it will dawn upon his heart that all of this (i.e. reciprocating Allah’s Generosity with gratitude) is in fact possible since the mind does not see it as being impossible and absurd at all. At this point he begins to fear for himself and is overcome by anxiety.
It is this thought of fear and anxiety that awakens the devotee (from his slumber) and forces him to accept the evidence and renders all his excuses invalid and (it is this thought which) persistently drives him to inquire and investigate. Consequently, the devotee becomes agitated and anxious and looks for a way to rid himself (of this agitation and anxiety) and achieve peace from what crossed his mind or fell on his ears. However, he finds no other way except to search and inquire with his mind into the signs (pointing to Allah's existence) and to infer from creation the existence of the Creator with the result that he obtains thereby certain knowledge of the Unseen and realises that he has a Lord who has made him duty-bound and who has issued to him commandments and prohibitions.