Better the Devil You Know than the Devil You Don’t
‘It is a pity,’ argued Gai Eaton, ‘that so few people believe any longer in shaytan, the devil, if not in a personalised form, at least as an influence or a tendency. We need to be able to identify evil, not only when it manifests itself in genocide or torture, but in its roots and its ramifications. We need also to understand how subtly it can operate behind the scenes, seldom showing its true face … The idea of the devil, in Islam as in Christianity, has been that of a force – an agency – which reverses values, making evil seem good, and good seem evil.’1 The Qur’an says: But the devil made their [foul] deeds seem fair to them. [Q.16:63]
Below, Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyyah (d.751H/1350CE) summarises for us the main ways in which Iblis, the Devil, seeks to assault Man; rendering him ungrateful, then forgetful of God. He writes:
فَائِدَةٌ كُلُّ ذِي لُبٍّ يَعْلَمُ أَنَّهُ لَا طَرِيقَ لِلشَّيْطَانِ عَلَيْهِ إِلَّا مِنْ ثَلَاثٍ جِهَاتٌ:
أَحَدُهَا التَّزَيّدُ وَالْإِسْرَافُ فَيَزِيدُ عَلَى قَدْرِ الْحَاجَةِ فَتَصِيرُ فَضْلَةً وَهِيَ حَظّ الشَّيْطَانِ وَمَدْخَلُهُ إِلَى الْقَلْبِ وَطَرِيقُ الِاحْتِرَازِ مِنْ إِعْطَاءِ النَّفْسِ تَمَامَ مَطْلُوبِهَا مِنْ غِذَاءٍ أَوْ نَوْمٍ أَوْ لَذَّةٍ أَوْ رَاحَةٍ فَمَتَى أَغْلَقَتْ هَذَا الْبَابَ حَصَلَ الْأَمَانُ مِنْ دُخُولِ الْعَدُوِّ مِنْهُ.
الثَّانِيَةُ الْغَفْلَةُ فَإِنَّ الذَّاكِرَ فِي حِصْنِ الذّكَرِ فَمَتَى غَفَلَ فَتْحُ بَابِ الْحِصْنِ فَوَلَجَهُ الْعَدُوُّ فَيَعْسُرُ عَلَيْهِ أَوْ يَصْعُبُ إِخْرَاجُهُ.
الثَّالِثَةَ تُكَلّفُ مَالًا يَعْنِيهِ مِنْ جَمِيعِ الْأَشْيَاءِ.
‘Whoever possesses intelligence knows there is no path for Satan to overcome him, except from three directions:
Firstly, excess and extravagance. Excess is whatever is beyond one’s needs: it is the actual surplus which is the devil’s portion and with which he invades the heart. The path of diligence is to not gratify the ego (nafs) in all that it desires of food, sleep, pleasure and recreation. Whenever the doors to such [gratification] are closed tight, one obtains safety from the devil entering.
Secondly, heedlessness (ghaflah) of God’s remembrance. For one remembering God is in the fortress of remembrance (dhikr). When he lapses into ghaflah, the doors of the fortress are opened and the Foe enters. Once inside, it is harder and more difficult to expel him.
Thirdly, burdening yourself with things that do not concern you.’2
Aware of the monoculture’s greed, extravagance and excesses; its relentless push to render people heedless of God; and its seduction of souls, alluring them with all but the Essential – it’s not surprising that many Muslims see this bulldozing liberal process as ‘satanic’. And that which strays so defiantly from God’s ways is unlikely to escape the Divine Rigour or Divine Wrath for very long: How many a city given to wrongdoing did We destroy, after which We raised up another people. [Q.21:11] And also: And how many a town did We destroy which was thankless for its means of livelihood. [Q.28:58] For believers, all this makes it urgent that we come together to partake in the healing of this ever-growing, decadent monoculture. And God’s help is sought.
1. Remembering God: Reflections on Islam (Cambridge: Islamic Texts Society, 2000), 22.
2. Al-Fawa’id (Makkah: Dar ‘Alam al-Fawa’id, 2009), 277