The Obligatory Spiritual Journey: What Does It Entail?
Last year I wrote a blog piece, entitled Practical Steps for Learning Fiqh (which may be read here). This piece, I suppose, is a follow-up to it.
In his advice to those seeking the “Key to the Saintly Path” (miftah tariq al-awliya), the venerable Hanbali scholar and spiritual master, Shaykh Ahmad ibn Ibrahim al-Wasiti wrote about one of the essential “ridges” of such a key:
‘If, O my brother, you desire to be saved from the terrors of that Day, then prepare for it with piety (taqwa). This is done by avoiding what Allah has forbidden and fulfilling whatever He has enjoined in terms of those duties that have been codified in the fiqh manuals where the lawful and prohibited, prescribed punishments, and other rulings are stipulated. This, so that nothing the Sacred Law demands from you remains due from you. For there should be no obligation that remains unfulfilled by you: neither a missed prayer, fast, zakat, or backbiting a Muslim without valid reason, or any feud, grudge or enmity without lawful justification. Discharge the responsibilities that fall within your sphere concerning those rights (huquq) between you and Allah, as well as between you and others. In doing so, you will be joined, Allah willing, to the company of the righteous.’1
The task, then, is to be steadfast in conforming to the prescriptions of the Sacred Law in our daily lives, as per the teachings of one’s fiqh school. There will most surely be obstacles along the path, which we must struggle against and overcome. This spiritual struggle, or mujahadah, is referred to in the verse: As for those who strive in Us, We shall guide them to Our paths. [29:69] The Prophet, peace be upon him, said: ‘The fighter in Allah’s path (mujahid) is the one who strives against his lower soul (nafs) in obedience to Allah.’2
Imams of suluk, or spiritual wayfaring, speak about two areas of mujahadah. The first is the outward mujahadah. This is the spiritual struggle against four deadly enemies: the ego (nafs), the devil (shaytan), worldliness (dunya), and one’s whims (hawa); as they seek to prevent us from fulfilling the obligatory (fard) and recommended (mustahabb) acts, and eliminate the forbidden (haram) and then the disliked (makruh) deeds from our day-to-day lives.
As for the inward mujahadah, it is training our heart – through gratitude (shukr), love (mahabbah) and remembrance (dhikr) – such that it becomes attached to its Lord and learns to be present with Him. Essential to all this is the idea of restraint – of reigning in our egos and desires.
Imam Ibn al-Qayyim wrote: “The wayfaring of one seeking Allah and the Afterlife will not be sound except with certain restraints: Restraining one’s heart to seek and desire only Him, training it to turn away from other than Him. Restraining the tongue from whatever isn’t of benefit to it, training it to constantly remember Allah and whatever else increases it in faith and knowledge of Him. And restraining the limbs from sins and doubtful acts, training them to fulfil the obligations and recommendations. He must not part with these restraints till He meets his Lord.’3
1. Miftah Tariq al-Awliya (Beirut: Dar al-Basha’ir al-Islamiyyah, 1999), 30-31.
2. Al-Tirmidhi, Sunan, no.1671, where he said that the hadith is hasan sahih.
3. Al-Fawa’id (Makkah: Dar ‘Alam al-Fawa’id, 2009), 74.