How Can Hearts be Softened?
This following piece by Ibn al-Jawzi (d.597H/1200CE) – Hanbali scholar, famous preacher, prolific author – is from his book Sayd al-Khatir. Part meditative, part autobiographical, part exhortational, the book is a rather frank account of his life, works, experiences, achievements, disappointments, hopes, burdens and aspirations. Since it was written over a period of twenty years, it reflects the evolution of his ideas as Ibn al-Jawzi the man, scholar and pietist.
Here we find him reminiscing over how certain types of knowledge can, if the student is not careful, make the heart dry and hard; and how it is critical to keep spiritual company and bathe the soul in the stories of the righteous – if the heart is to be kept “moist”. One of Islam’s enduring pieces of wisdom states: inda dhikri’l-salihin tanzilu’l-rahmah – ‘Upon mentioning the righteous, mercy descends.’ Thus he wrote:
رَأَيْتُ الِاشْتِغَالَ بِالْفِقْهِ وَسَمَاعُ الْحَدِيثِ لَا يَكَادُ يَكْفِي فِي صَلَاحِ الْقَلْبِ؛ إِلَّا أَنْ يُمْزَجَ بِالرَّقَائِقِ، وَالنَّظَرِ فِي سَيْرِ السَّلَفِ الصَّالِحِينَ. فَأَمَّا مُجَرَّدُ الْعِلْمِ بِالْحَلَالِ وَالْحَرَامِ، فَلَيْسَ لَهُ كَبِيرُ عَمَلٍ فِي رِقَّةِ الْقَلْبِ؛ وَإِنَّمَا تَرِقُّ الْقُلُوبُ بِذِكْرِ رَقَائِقِ الْأَحْدِيثِ، وَأَخْبَارِ السَّلَفِ الصَّالِحِينَ؛ لِأَنَّهُمْ تَنَاوَلَا مَقْصُودَ النَّقْلِ، وَخَرَجُوا عَنْ صُوَرِ الْأَفْعَالِ الْمَأْمُورِ بِهَا إِلَى ذَوْقِ مَعَانِيهَا وَالْمُرَادُ بِهَا. وَمَا أَخْبَرْتُكَ بِهَذَا إِلَّا بَعْدَ مُعَالَجَةٍ وَذَوْقٍ، لِأَنِّي وَجَدْتُ جُمْهُورَ الْمُحَدِّثِينَ وَطُلَّابَ الْحَدِيثِ هِمَّةَ أَحَدِهِمْ فِي الْحَدِيثِ الْعَالِي، وَتَكْثِيرِ الْأَجْزَاءِ، وَجُمْهُورُ الْفُقَهَاءِ فِي عُلُومِ الْجَدَلِ، وَمَا يُغَالِبُ بِهِ الْخَصْمُ. وَكَيْفَ يَرِقُّ الْقَلْبُ مَعَ هَذِهِ الْأَشْيَاءِ؟
وَقَدْ كَانَ جَمَاعَةٌ مِنَ السَّلَفِ يَقْصِدُونَ الْعَبْدَ الصَّالِحَ لِلنَّظَرِ إِلَى سَمْتِهِ وَهَدْيِهِ لَا لِاقْتِبَاسِ عِلْمِهِ، وَذَلِكَ أَنَّ ثَمَرَةَ عِلْمِهِ هَدْيَهُ وَسَمْتَهُ. فَافْهَمْ هَذَا، وَامْزِجْ طَلَبَ الْفِقْهِ وَالْحَدِيثَ بِمُطَالَعَةِ سَيْرِ السَّلَفِ وَالزُّهَّادِ فِي الدُّنْيَا، لِيَكُونَ سَبَبًا لِرِقَّةِ قَلْبِكَ.
‘I see that occupying oneself with jurisprudence or learning hadiths is hardly sufficient to rectify the heart, unless one adds to this the reading of heart-melting traditions (raqa’iq) and the study of the lives of the pious predecessors (al-salaf al-salihin). For they reached the objective of the texts and transcended the external form of the prescribed duties to taste their inner meanings and intent. I do not inform you of this save after personal exposure and experience. For I have found that most of the scholars and students of hadith are primarily concerned with attaining the shortest chain of transmission, or to increase the collections of hadiths narrated by a single narrator or dealing with a single theme or subject; while the majority of jurists busy themselves with dialectics or how to win debates. So how can hearts ever be softened by such things?
Previously, groups of the salaf would visit a pious person only to observe his manners and conduct, not to learn knowledge from him. This is because the fruits of knowledge are in one’s manners and conduct; so understand this. So combine learning fiqh and hadith with studying the lives of the salaf and the worldly renunciants, that this may be a cause for your heart to soften.’1
1. Sayd al-Khatir (Damascus: Dar al-Qalam, 2004), 228.
* Above Photo: The Painted Door, at www.petersanders.com
I wish this book was available in English. I have read and heard so many wonderful quotes from it throughout the years.
May Allah grant tawfiq for it to be translated into sound and fitting English. It certainly would be useful for the English speaking public.
Beautiful, Jazakallah khar sidi…
Nice to hear from you, Sidi Fiaz. May Allah shower His kindness upon you and your family.