Stony Brook University (SUNY) with Q&A Session
Dr. Nadim: We hope you enjoyed this memorable presentation of a man of peace who works to bring the loving and peaceful way of Islam. Shaykh Kabbani asked me to make the introduction very simple, so I will only say a few items: Dr. Kabbani born in Leb. has BA Chem. from American University in Beirut, and he has a degree in Chemistry and a degree in Divine Law from Damascus. He is a devoted student of the world leader of the Naqshbandi Sufi Order, and a wonderful, giving teacher to hundreds of thousands of Sufi students around the world. I would like to introduce a wonderful lady now who has taught the correct etiquette of Muslim women. She is the daughter of a woman scholar, Hajjah Amina Adil, and daughter of Shaykh Muhammad Nazim Adil al-Haqqani, and a scholar in her own right. Please give her a hand. (applause) Now we introduce the speaker of tonight; come share his words of wisdom, enlightment and happiness, Shaykh Hisham Kabbani. (entire audience gives standing ovation)
Mawlana Shaykh Hisham Kabbani: As-salaamu alaykum wa rahmatullah wa barakaatuh, peace be upon you all. It is my honor to be here tonight and for perhaps fifteen years I promised the chaplain, Sanaa Nadim, to come here and this was the opportunity to see you all here in this beautiful gathering. May God make this whole world like this gathering!
It is really difficult to speak of subjects of today, because they say I am a provocative person. I am not, but the struggle we face between good and evil makes everyone want to say something out loud in order to fix what is wrong in ourselves. As Mrs. Sunita was saying in the poetry she read, that she went everywhere--to mosques, shrines, the Ka`aba, to temples and synagogues--and didn't find God there, but when one looked within himself or herself, he found God there. And that is how I begin tonight, with what Prophet Muhammad (s) said:
ما وسعني ارضي و ل سمايئ ولاكن وسعني قلب عبدي الموءمن
maa wasi`anee ardee wa laa ardee wa laakin wasi`anee qalbi `abdee al-mu'min.
Neither Earth nor Heavens contained Me, but the heart of the believer contained Me.
This is a great saying of Prophet Muhammad (s) that only the heart of human beings can contain that manifestation. This is a great university, SUNY, because it has diversity, and people here are struggling with how to be creative and how to be ambassadors to communities outside, as there is great struggle now between good and evil. Dr. Sanaa asked me to speak on this, which is a difficult subject. It is not a struggle that began today, but it is an anceint struggle for our mother and father, Adam and Eve, who were under a struggle when Satan tempted them to eat from the Forbidden Tree. So from that point of view we see that struggle began with the beginning of Creation. God said in Holy Qur'an:
فَأَلْهَمَهَا فُجُورَهَا وَتَقْوَاهَا
fa alhamahaa fujooraha wa taqwaahaa.
We inspired the self with its goodness and badness. (91:8)
That means everyone is aware of what is good and what is not. Therefore, it is our duty to try to be more towards goodness and far from badness. When God ordered both Cain and Abel to offer a sacrifice to Him, Abel offered the best of his flocks as sacrifice to His Lord, as was done in ancient religion. However, Cain offered the sick ram and it was not accepted from him. So the one offering the worst got angry, as the professor said, and was not able to learn what is good in his heart; he was ignorant of what is real and not real. A sick ram is going to die. Am I going to offer something dying to my Lord? So that illness was in his heart from beginning, and he became frustrated when his brother's sacrifice was accepted.
What did Cain do? He said,"I am going to kill you!" For no reason! And what did Abel say? "If you extend your hand to kill me, I am not going to extend my hand to kill you," meaning, "I am not going to your level of badness. Instead, I surrender to my Lord." The good within him would not let him fight back against terrorist actions. He told his brother, "Don't kill me, as I did nothing against you, but I submit to God's will." So Cain killed his brother and God killed him.
And similarly in time of Noah, the struggle between good and evil continued. He called his people to God and they harassed him and gave him so much trouble! Then God said to him, "Leave your people; go build a boat." He built a boat up on a mountain. If he only used his mind, he would have thought, "Building a boat on a mountain makes no sense!" But He submitted to God's will, and God sent the flood, and those who were bad were drowned and the good were saved.
In every century the story of good versus evil is repeated. Abraham was thrown in the fire by the evil ones. The archangel came to him and said, "Do you need any help?"
He replied, "No, The One who put me in this situation knows if I need help or not. I am not asking for help." So God made the fire cool on Abraham.
When we do good to people and teach, as this institute educates what is good and what is bad, students return to educate later generations. After that, Moses was attacked by Pharaoh and his people suffered up to today, and Jesus' people suffered up to today. And the people of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, up to today how much Muslims are suffering? So what is our duty as students? As Sanaa Nadim said, I traveled around the world and met many leaders, and I know this collage that she presented tonight is a nice gift; it might represent 50% of whom we met. You see the struggle continues.
One of greatest Muslim scholars, Sayyidina `Ali (q), who is the son-in-law of Prophet Muhammad (s) and his fourth khalifah, gave a very nice principle to follow. He said, just as the professor said now:
رأس الحكمة مخافة الله
The head of wisdom is the fear of God, Allah.
It means if we have fear, we have ignorance, and ignorance brings fear. That means we have to educate and enlighten ourselves, so as not to have fear. We must develop a situation to bring that light we are missing in our hearts. The heart contains the manifestation of the Light of the Divine. There we can know the enlightenment that God has given to those who seek it and ask for it! So our duty is to seek ma`rifah, knowledge of God.
Prophet Muhammad (s) said:
أنا مدينة العلم و علي بابها
`anaa madinatu 'l-`ilmi wa `Aliyyun baabuha,
I am the city of knowledge and `Ali is it's door. (al-Hakim, Tirmidhi)
To enter the city you need an advanced key or a password to enter, like on your computer you need a password to access your finances or protected information; without the correct password your access is blocked. Similarly, fear of God teaches us that all of us, in our different capacities, are ignorant of our Lord.
لاَ يُكَلِّفُ اللّهُ نَفْسًا إِلاَّ وُسْعَهَا
laa yukallifullahu nafsan illa wu`saha
On no soul doth Allah Place a burden greater than it can bear. (al-Baqara, 2:286)
You have to seek in the Way (religion, spiritual order) that you know. Also, you must knock at the door, as they are not going to come to you and say, "Take this," because we are not prophets, nor angels.
Prophet Muhammad (s) said, when people discuss issues, like policymakers and advisors to presidents, they follow their ego, which plays big part in our life. The bad ego, a part of which is anger, is always within us; it is an illness that destroys our good personality. Our anger can make us kill someone, and that is why they are killing with no reason, as Prophet Muhammad (s) predicted 1400 years ago, when he said, laa ya`lam al-qaatil bi ayyi sababa an qaatal wa laa ya`lam al-maqtool bi ayyi sababa qatal. "(There will come a time when) no one will know the reason he was killed." Only those who are landlords, who sit on chairs and want to divide the world in parts and each takes his part, even in small countries, they are sitting on chairs.
So we must listen to what Sayyidina `Ali said. First is, as-sima`, to listen and pay attention, don't talk, but listen. When you listen, you hear what others are saying. When you develop the practice of listening, you understand more. Then, you must observe. Don't give an immediate answer without observing, like chess play contemplate their next move for hours, observing their opponent. That is an-nazhar, to observe, how they are acting and reacting, after you listen. Next is al-harakah, to move, as after listening and observing, it becomes a wise action. You kept quiet, listened, observed, then you moved in the right direction.
Once in Malaysia, I attended a conference about psychology and the different problems people face today, and the dean of a big university explained different theories of how to uplift yourself, and that according to many theories, we must think and reflect daily on what we do. That statement is prophetic, and he is not Muslim, but Hindu. He was focusing on thinking and reflecting on anything you want to do, during the day or night, which is precisely what Prophet Muhammad (s) said:
تفكر ساعة خير من عبادة سبعين سنة
tafakarru sa`atan khayrun min `ibaadati saba`een sannah.
To remember Allah (swt) for one hour like that (to contemplate or meditate) is better than seventy years of worship.
If you get letter from IRS (U.S. Interval Revenue Service), everyone thinks, what to do? Get a CPA accountant to see how to fix our books, to audit ourselves. Similarly, as individuals we have to audit ourselves during the day, to see what we did, good or bad. So Prophet (s) said, "To reflect (on your deeds) for one hour is like worshiping 70 years." That dean said, you have to think what good you did that day and then you are able to lift yourself to a higher level, and in psychology that is correct. I said, "I am a student learning from you. I am nothing; don't expect that I am scholar, professor or teacher." No, I am at the door, might be with the shoes also. We are nothing and we don't claim to be anything, because if we claim that, we lose. According to my belief, in Holy Qur'an it says:
وَفَوْقَ كُلِّ ذِي عِلْمٍ عَلِيمٌ
wa fawqa kull dhi ilmin aleem.
Above every knower is a (higher) knower. (Surah Yusuf, 12:76)
Above every scholar there is a higher scholar; above every gnostic is a higher gnostic. Always expect someone in life knows more than you, as this life is full of wise people so we cannot claim anything as they might have higher knowledge that makes our knowledge so little. Look at this universe; we only know a little about it. We have to admit this universe is a mystery. Scientists brought the Big Bang Theory, but still it is only a theory! We are not going to argue that now, but we have to know above us are higher knower. So I said, "With humbleness, to add to what you are saying, if I audit my physical accounts, because I don't like to make mistakes, first I see the mistakes!" When you are good person and made a mistake, immediately you sense you did something wrong, and you repent and ask for forgiveness. So the best thing is to count what is bad within ourselves and to discipline ourselves.
They asked a wise man, "From whom did you learn discipline?"
He said, "From the one with no discipline! I look at what they are doing and avoid it."
So the best thing today in the struggle between good and evil is to observe the good and the bad, and imitate what good people are doing and avoid what bad people are doing. Prophet Muhammad (s) said, "People are equal, like the teeth of the comb." All are equal in the eyes of God.
We have to look at our mistakes, which begin with anger. That is the trunk that has to be eliminated from our behaviors and bad manners. When we get angry, it is as if we are drunk and we cannot think. That is why you see in some countries when people are angry they do unacceptable things, like blowing up things here and there for no reason. When they came and ask me about suicide bombing, I said, "There is no such a thing in Islam!" So this is how we are giving a bad name to Islam today. Islam is perfect, as the full moon is perfect.
الْيَوْمَ أَكْمَلْتُ لَكُمْ دِينَكُمْ وَأَتْمَمْتُ عَلَيْكُمْ نِعْمَتِي وَرَضِيتُ لَكُمُ الإِسْلاَمَ دِينًا
al-yawma akmaltoo lakum deenakum wa atmamtoo `alaykum ni`amatee waradheetoo lakum al-islama deena.
Today I have perfected for you My religion and perfected My favors on you, and gave you Islam as My religion. (5:3)
Don't put yourself in a bad position in front of God as you don't know when revenge will come. I don't like to speak about revenge, but here I have to because we are speaking on good and evil; usually I like to speak about mercy. So the Siraat al-Mustaqeem is the right path. For instance, on a highway with many exits, if you make a wrong exit, you have lost your way. What do you do? You go on the bridge to get back on the highway, and start from the beginning. So don't make an exit.
There are seventeen bad and dangerous points that make you exit and not come back. We have to be able to recognize these seventeen bad characteristics, then we can begin to eliminate them. Many people ask me questions every day. I ask them, "Do you have this character?" If they say "yes," I say, "Alright, then eliminate it."
The first bad character is ghadab, anger. When you get angry, you lose your prestige and honor. You don't know what you are saying, and you might say or do something bad. The first exit that takes you to a bad ending is anger.
The second one is when we fight about something for no reason. Someone might be a doctor and another is a shoemaker. Although he is a doctor, he still has to respect the shoemaker; after all, if there are no shoes, the doctor can't go to the university. God made this one a professor, this one a shoe maker, and this one a keymaker. So why do people fight? Because of the love of dunya, this world, and bad desires. If your love is for God, it is good. To love your family, your community, or your country and help it prosper is alright. But not to be angry and have a tough life like a drug dealer or gangster, who run only for putting money in their bank accounts, that is not okay! Love of this world might make us kill someone.
The third is al-hiqd, malice; to have hatred towards people. When you see someone successful, you feel bad and want to hurt them; it is not like jealousy. Try to struggle and eliminate that from yourself. There are many students who go to universities, with all respect to students. One goes to study, and another goes for dances, parties, drugs and to waste their time. Why does the one wasting their time hate the one who is studying and successful?
The fourth is jealousy. Someone might have something and you may want what they have, although you might have plenty. For example, you have a Porsche and someone else has a Ferrari. Why are you jealous of the Ferrari? You have a Porsche, at least you have a lot of girls after you. (laughter) And someone else might have a Lamborghini. Try to get one, but don't be jealous about that.
And then the fifth is vanity, to be proud, to say, "I am the peacock," between the students. Don't think you are Elvis Presley! (laughter) And there is only one Michael Jackson.
The sixth is bukhl, stinginess. If God gave you, give it freely. Donations will increase your life. Give charity to institutions, to homeless people, to universities to teach students, then you are giving in the right way. God likes us to be generous. Don't give it to blow someone up; rather, give it to fix someone. It is a struggle between good and evil. You see many who give money to harm others, and many give money to fix others.
Then the seventh is at-tama`, avarice; to be greedy and want everything for yourself and not want anyone else to have anything. Eliminate that from your heart.
The eighth character is cowardness, jubn. When you have a fear about something, face it and learn about it. Today we have a problem, as the professor mentioned. Try to learn about whatever it is you fear. Don't face it with obstacles, learn why you have the fear. If you fear from Islam, go to the wise people within the Muslim community and ask them. Islam contains no fear, it is a heavenly religion, as is Judaism and Christianity. Anything that is heavenly is always good and has to be perfect. Therefore, if you have fear, it is from some Muslims and their actions. Learn about that and then tell them, "You are wrong. Holy Qur'an says this about this action, and you are wrong."
Then the ninth is al-batala, indolence, laziness. Many people say, "I have been laid off, I have been fired from work." The Prophet (s) never let his Companions sit and be lazy. If you have nothing to do, go to your garden and dig the soil. If you sit and do nothing, you become lazy and you will destroy your life, so remain active.
And now we can go through all the other bad characters; including superiority and anxiety, but then we will all end up in depression. That is the biggest market today. Many students go to the doctor and say, "I am depressed, I don't know why." Maybe their girlfriend or boyfriend left them, or maybe they got an "F". All these situations end with depression. And when you reach depression, you might lose your temper and not know what you are doing. I am speaking to students and professors, but mostly I am speaking to myself. I am the lowest here, and you are the highest.
One big Sufi saint said, "There are two kinds of knowledges: `Ilm al-Awraq, Knowledge of Papers, and `Ilm al-Adhwaaq, Knowledge of Tastes. The Knowledge of Papers refers to anything theoretical and is something you might memorize. For example, you may learn a subject on how to be doctor, and you pass the exams and take your degree. Now what ? They tell you to wait, you have to break it down. You have to complete your "residency" and then train for a specialization. So this is `Ilm al-Awraaq, Knowledge of Papers. But you still have to taste it; that is theory only. If you are thirsty and want water, I can describe the bottle of water, that it has drops dripping from condensation. I am not giving it to you to drink, only describing it. I can say that it is cold and wet, in a plastic bottle. Another person comes and says, "This is cold water, go and drink." So religion must have a part that is tasteful.
Prophet Muhammad (s) divided religion into three parts. I am addressing the students, that religion today is only an infrastructure. But when the angel Jibreel (a) came to Prophet Muhammad (s), he asked him, "What is Islam?" Prophet (s) mentioned the five pillars of Islam. And then Jibreel asked him, "What is imaan, faith?" Prophet (s) mentioned the six pillars of faith, which I am sure all of you know; to believe in God, His angels, in His books, including the Bible, Torah, and Zaboor, and to believe His prophets, believe in life after death, and belief in Qadr, the divine destination (predestination). And then you cannot leave the other aspects; you must have belief in the six pillars as mentioned and build bridges to everyone.
And the third aspect Jibreel asked about is Maqaam al-Ihsaan, the Station of Moral Excellence. Jibreel (a) asked, "What is ihsaan?" Prophet (s) said, an ta`budallah ka-annaka taraah, "To worship your Lord as if you are seeing Him." If you are seeing your Lord, can you do anything wrong? No! If you are not wearing a seat belt or you talk on a cell phone in the car, you are afraid the police might see you. Prophet Muhammad (s) said, "The highest level of ihsaan is to worship Allah as if you are seeing Him, and if you are not seeing Him, know that He is seeing you." You can see Allah's Touch and His Greatness in everything. Look at everyone present here today; no one is the same as the other. In nature, not one leaf of a tree is the same as the other, and not one spring is the same as the other. Not one generation is the same as the other.
Therefore, Allah is seeing you. How then do you hate your brother? How can you go to the mosque, church, synagogue or temple, and hate someone? Make your heart a place for good energy. There is nothing in this universe but energy. In Quantum Physics, physicists know that when you divide time down to a small unit, at minus 10-to-22, time becomes pure energy.
So we hope God will take away all the bad feelings from our hearts. We are living here at most 70 or 80 years, we don't know when we will leave this world. A lady always comes to visit me. Her husband called me and said, "My wife is in a coma. They pulled a bad tooth, and then she got lukemia and died in a week." Let us throw these bad feelings from our hearts.
May God bless you and bless this country, as we are living here. We want a good life for us and our children. As-salaamu `alaykum wa rahmatullahi wa barakaatuh.
Dr. Sana: If you have any questions, raise your hand, you will be given a microphone.
Q&A SESSION MODERATED BY DR SUNITA
Q: How do you achieve the state of ihsaan? You spoke so eloquently on the seventeen characters, but what can we do during the day?
Mawlana Shaykh Hisham: Ihsaan is the state of moral excellence. It is not something that can be achieved in one day, one week, or one year; it takes a whole life to achieve, and not without struggling. One time I asked my guru, my shaykh, "I can count seventeen bad characteristics. I cannot count more, are there more?" He said, "Look my son, I was making seclusion by myself for nine months in Madinat al-Munawarra, only staying in one room and making meditation. I was able to count 167 bad characteristics that I had and needed to eliminate." We counted seventeen, but to think or meditate for one hour on yourself is better than 70 years of worship. Think, "What I did today? How I behaved towards my children or my husband?" Sit by yourself in a special room in your house, close your eyes and think. At that time you will see your mistakes of that day, and they are too many. Download from your heart what you have uploaded during the day. Technology is a good way to think about ourselves. There may be plenty of people in the audience who work in IT (Information Technology). There might be physicists here or doctors. Look at what you have here in this computer, a small chip that can store everything. We have a similar chip in our brain. Try to bring it back daily, you will find what you did there. This is how to struggle. If you don't like to say "good versus evil," look at it as "positive versus negative." Try to eliminate negativity. That is the way of everyone who is under the teaching of religion. In Hinduism don't they do seclusion and meditation? If you don't practice meditation, you will never achieve anything, only achieve how to pay your bills! There are bills for this life and for the Next Life. No one is thinking about the bills of the Next Life, and they might be more expensive there.
Q: I am a Muslim. When Shaytan was ordered by God to make sajdah to Adam (prostrate), he refused. If I was there looking at the power and glory of Almighty God, I would not refuse. Why did he choose to go against that order? If I was in his place, I would apply rational thinking. He was a worshipper of God and knows what God can do to him. Why then he took the action that would lead to punishment? In this life I didn't see God, but can realize Him through belief. By rational thinking, why did he choose the other side?
Mawlana Shaykh Hisham: This is a technical question in Islamic theology. I know many people in the audience might not be aware of some parts of it, and it is a discussion that can go on and on. You are right in asking this question and there are answers. I will summarize it quickly, as it might take books with footnotes. When God ordered Iblees, Satan, to make prostration to Adam, there is in theology, in Islamic principle, that al-amru fawqa 'l-adab, "the order is above discipline." A general might order a soldier to shoot, even though the soldier might know it is not an appropriate time to shoot. But the discipline is to shoot, don't question. Satan knows that God created Adam, and he must make prostration. But instead, he began to think, just for a blink of an eye, "I have been making prostration to my Lord for 2,000 years. How can I make prostration to anyone other than Him?" And it was in that blink of an eye that he rationalized how to disobey. You are supposed to follow the order. Who knows, perhaps you might have been rewarded. That is one aspect. Many scholars mention a hadith, kuntu nabiyyun wa Adam bayn ar-ruh wa 'l-jasad, "I (Prophet) was a prophet when Adam (a) was between soul and body (or clay and body)." And in theology they say that the Light of Prophet (s) was in the forehead of Adam. When Satan was ordered to make sajdah, it was not to Adam, but to that heavenly Light. Satan knew that heavenly Light is Maqaam al-Mahmoud, the Praised and Glorified level that is not for angels but for humans only. He refused to make sajdah. And the third aspect is that God wanted to bring everyone to Earth. If there was no disobedience, no generations of Adam would have come to Earth. God wants life on this Earth. So you see, there are many different answers to this question.
Q: During your speech, you spoke about meditating on finding faults, things we struggle with. I am going to ask about things we do good. Why do you focus on things we struggle with?
Mawlana Shaykh Hisham: Why we don't think about what is good? Because everyone thinks about what is good and no one thinks what is wrong. That is why we emphasize what is bad. Goodness is easy to know, you don't need to count it. Thinking about what is good makes your ego arrogant, thinking, "I did this and that." Good people never say, "I did this," they hide it. They try to eliminate what wrong they did in themselves. Otherwise everyone would see themselves as really wise ones. There is no need to count the good, it is already there. Why should we worry about it? We should worry about the things that make us imperfect. In Islamic theology you look at yourself as bad and others as good. At first, you cannot teach because you don't have a certificate from your teachers. They will say how do you teach what is good when you aren't good yet?
Q: (A rabbi) If you would just speak on the role of joy in prayer?
Mawlana Shaykh Hisham: Qurratu `aynee fee 's-salaat. The Prophet said, "The best of time is when I am in prayers." So people go into their prayers and their heart struggles not to have too much gossip. As when you are praying behind the rabbi, priest, or imaam, you are thinking about how much money is in the bank or stock, that is not joy. Joy is when you eliminate anything from your heart except to focus on the Divine.
Q: Lots of wisdom, so many questions. You mentioned that we should be introspective, and one exit on the highway is anger, the main one. I have heard of righteous anger, as when Jesus threw out the money changers of the house of the Lord. Is there anytime a person can be righteously angry?
Mawlana Shaykh Hisham: Allah said in Holy Qur'an that, as Jesus did, one does not like anyone to express his anger except when in righteousness, when you have been oppressed. But that is not for any other kind of anger, only the righteous anger of those who have been oppressed; they must express themselves in order to correct the situation.
Q: I am from Pakistan. My question is that in Sufism people leave society and go and meditate. Is that not counter to what Islam tells you? Doesn't Islam teach to live in society and not leave it?
Mawlana Shaykh Hisham: I think what you have been told is mere propaganda against Sufism. Allah gives us goodness in this life and in the Next. As Allah said in Holy Qur'an, "You have to work for this life and for the Next." You cannot sit in the mosque and be lazy. Even those who are laid off should go and dig in their gardens to show they are making an effort. You have to show you are working for this life and the Next. Perhaps some people are blaming Sufism for this, when Sufism has nothing to do with it. In tasawwuf, you have to be educated in Shari`ah and in spirituality. Imam Malik (r) said, "I have studied with 600 teachers on spirituality (tazkiyyat an-nafs) and with 300 teachers on Shari`ah." You cannot sit in the mosque and be lazy, saying, "I am not doing anything, I want to be a Sufi." That is not correct, so study well.
Q: I am sure you agree that Islam encourages curiosity. Here is a verse I will read. Can you please give the interpretation?
اللَّهُ الَّذِي خَلَقَ سَبْعَ سَمَاوَاتٍ وَمِنَ الْأَرْضِ مِثْلَهُنَّ يَتَنَزَّلُ الْأَمْرُ بَيْنَهُنَّ لِتَعْلَمُوا أَنَّ اللَّهَ عَلَى كُلِّ شَيْءٍ قَدِيرٌ وَأَنَّ اللَّهَ قَدْ أَحَاطَ بِكُلِّ شَيْءٍ عِلْمًا
Allahu alladhee khalaqa sab`a samaawaatin wa mina 'l-ardi mithlahunna
Allah is He Who created seven Firmaments and of the earth a similar number. (at-Talaq, 65:12)
Mawlana Shaykh Hisham: God created seven Heavens and as many Earths. That is to know that God is Omnipotent and knows all things. Why did God not create fifteen levels? That is seven layers of Divine Presence and seven levels of livelihood. It doesn't mean seven planets similar to this earth, but there might be millions of planets. There are 70 billions stars in this galaxy. There might be in it many planets similar to this earth. This is the translation you read, but this is where theology is important. When you go to the spiritual interpretation, it means seven layers of heavenly worship within your heart, and seven layers of worldly life within yourself. That means Allah knows everything you do, He is closer to you than your jugular vein! There are seven different levels that Allah is going to question us about on Judgment Day. This is the interpretation from what I have studied and there are many other interpretations on this verse.
Q: Basically Qur'an is regarding praying to Allah and self-development. I just came to realize that hardships are ways of bettering yourself and to raise your ranks. When you pray for goodness in general, is it wrong to ask Allah to not give you hardship, or to elevate you without hardship?
Mawlana Shaykh Hisham: Of course God wants you to always ask for goodness in this life and in the Next. So to ask for hardships to be taken away and seek ease is acceptable. He said,ادْعُونِي أَسْتَجِبْ لَكُمْ idu`onee astajib lakum, "call on Me, I will respond to you." Therefore, you might not see the fruit of what you are asking for right away. And if not in this life, you will see a good return of your asking later, in the Hereafter. If you are in prayer, or driving your car, and it comes to your heart, ask God to relieve difficulties, as in the verse:
وَمِنْهُمْ مَنْ يَقُولُ رَبَّنَا آتِنَا فِي الدُّنْيَا حَسَنَة ً وَفِي الآخِرَةِ حَسَنَة ً وَقِنَا عَذَابَ النَّار
wa minhum man yaqoolu rabbanaa aatina fee ad-dunyaa hasanatan wa fee al-aakhirati hasanatan wa qinaa `adhaaba an-naar.
And of them there are some who say, "Our Lord! Give us in this world what is good and in the Hereafter what is good, and save us from the torment of the Fire! (Al-Baqarah 2:201)
May Allah give us good in this life and the Next, and protect us from Hellfire. We hope Allah will save us, all human beings, from the Fire!