The Humble I

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‘Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani: On the Path to Allah in a Nutshell

Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali opens his biography of the venerable saintly scholar, ‘Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani, with this highly profound and glowing tribute: ‘The worldly renuncient (al-zahid), shaykh of the age, exemplar of the knowers [of Allah] (qudwat al-‘arifin), sultan of the shaykhs, master of the people of the path in his time (sayyid ahl al-tariqah fi waqtihi) … possessor of spiritual stations and saintly miracles (sahib al-maqamat wa’l-karamat).’1 Further on, he quotes al-Sam‘ani saying: ‘Imam of the Hanbalis and their shaykh in his age … given to abundant remembrance (dhikr), continuous reflection (fikr) and swiftly brought to tears.’2 Ibn Qudamah al-Maqdisi’s famous words are also cited: ‘I have not heard about anyone from whom saintly miracles (karamat) are reported more than those related about Shaykh ‘Abd al-Qadir.’3 In fact, al-‘Izz b. ‘Abd al-Salam went so far as to say: ‘No karamat from any of the mashayikh have been mass transmitted, save those of Shaykh ‘Abd al-Qadir. His karamat have been related via mass-transmission (tawatur).’4

In the English language, an excellent biography of this exemplary and peerless scholar can be found in Shaykh Abu’l-Hasan ‘Ali Nadwi’s hugely inspirational and modern classic, Saviours of Islamic Spirits. A more scholarly or academic account may be found in Hamza Malik’s excellent treatment: The Grey Falcon: The Life and Teachings of Shaykh ‘Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani.

While his biographies make mention of his extraordinary, out of the norms karamat, they also relate accounts of his less obvious karamat. His biographies record how thousands of non-Muslims were inspired to convert to Islam at his hands and through his spiritual discourses; or even just by his presence. And tens of thousands of Muslims repented at his hand, rectified their lives due to being stirred by his exhortations, and committed themselves to a serious path of suluk under his scholarly guidance and spiritual instruction. And this, more than anything else, is perhaps his greatest charismatic miracle; given that the true Sunni, spiritual path holds: a‘zam al-karamah luzum al-istiqamah – ‘The greatest saintly miracle is clinging firmly to uprightness.’ The scholars of his times and later, as well as his biographies, are a testament to the uprightness of the Shaykh’s life and to his reforming the lives of countless others, so that they too took to the path of uprightness and made God their only goal.

Previous exhortations of the Shaykh can also be found on this blog. One of them discusses the true nature of The Soul’s Contentment; another about Turning to God After All Else Has Failed Us; the third about See[k]ing Allah in the Shopping Mall. Below is another visit to his majlis of spiritual exhortations:

In the second discourse of the Futuh al-Ghayb, his ‘Revelations of the Unseen’, the Shaykh, qaddasa’Llahu ruhahu, sums up the path to Allah in a nutshell. He said:

اتَّبِعُوا وَلَا تَبْتَدِعُوا، وَأَطِيعُوا وَلَا تَمْرُقُوا، وَوَحَدُوا وَلَا تُشْرِكُوا، وَنَزِّهُوا الْحَقَّ وَلَا تُتَّهَمُوا، وَصَدَقُوا وَلَا تَشْكُوا، وَاصْبِرُوا وَلَا تُجْزَعُوا، وَاثْبُتُوا وَلَا تَنْفِرُوا، وَاسْأَلُوا وَلَا تُسْأَمُوا، وَانْتَظِرُوا وَتَرَقَّبُوا وَلَا تَيْأَسُوا، وَتَوَاخَوْا وَلَا تَعَادُوا، وَاجْتَمَعُوا عَلَى الطَّاعَةِ وَلَا تَتَفَرَّقُوا، وَتَحَابُّوا وَلَا تَبَاغَضُوا، وَتَطَهَّرُوا عَنْ الذُّنُوبِ وَبِهَا لَا تَدْنَّسُوا وَلَا تَتَلَطَّخُوا، 

‘Imitate, do not innovate. Obey, do not renage. Single-out [Allah], do not ascribe a partner [to Him]. Affirm the truth, do not doubt. Be truthful, do not complain. Patiently persevere, do not grow impatient. Stand firm, do not flee. Ask of what you need, never grow weary. Wait and be watchful, don’t despair. Be brothers, not enemies. Unite in obedience, do not divide. Love one another, do not despise one another. Be cleansed of sins, not desecrated or stained by them.

 وَبِطَاعَةِ رَبِّكُمْ فَتَزَيَّنُوا، وَعَنْ بَابِ مَوْلَاكُمْ فَلَا تَبْرَحُوا، وَعَنْ الْإِقْبَالِ عَلَيْهِ فَلَا تَتَوَلَّوْا، وَبِالتَّوْبَةِ فَلَا تَسَوَّفُوا، وَعَنْ الِاعْتِذَارِ إِلَى خَالِقِكُمْ فِي آنَاءِ اللَّيْلِ وَأَطْرَافِ النَّهَارِ فَلَا تَمْلُّوا، 

‘With obedience to your Lord, adorn yourself. From your Master’s door, walk not away. From His acceptance, turn not away. In repentance, don’t delay. Offering sincere apologies to your Creator night and day, never dismay.

فَلَعَلَّكُمْ تُرْحَمُونَ وَتُسْعَدُونَ، وَعَنْ النَّارِ تُبْعَدُونَ، وَفِي الْجَنَّةِ تُحْبِرُونَ، وَإِلَى اللَّهِ تُوصِلُونَ، وَبِالنَّعِيمِ وَافْتِضَاضُ الْأَبْكَارِ فِي دَارِ السَّلَامِ تَشْتَغِلُونَ، وَعَلَى ذَلِكَ تَخْلُدُونَ، وَعَلَى النَّجَائِبِ تَرْكَبُونَ, وَبُحُورِ الْعَيْنِ وَأَنْوَاعِ الطِّيبِ وَصَوْتُ الْقَيَانِ مَعَ ذَلِكَ النَّعِيمِ تُحْبِرُونَ، وَمَعَ الْأَنْبِيَاءِ وَالصِّدِّيقِينَ وَالشُّهَدَاءِ وَالصَّالِحِينَ تَرْفَعُونَ.

‘Perhaps then you will be shown mercy and be gladdened; from the Hellfire be far removed; in Paradise, bask in its delights; to Allah, finally arrive; amidst the paradisiacal joys in the Abode of Peace, be fully immersed; in that blissful state, eternally remain; on the finest steeds, mounted; in wide-eyed maidens, voices of songstresses and other kinds of pleasures, be joyous; and with the prophets, saints, martyrs and the righteous, be raised.’5

1. Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali, al-Dhayl ‘ala Tabaqat al-Hanabilah (Riyadh: Maktabah al-‘Ubaykan, 2005), 2:188-89.

2. ibid., 2:190.

3. ibid., 2:192.

4. ibid., 2:192.

5. Futuh al-Ghayb (Cairo: Dar al-Maqtam, 2007), 21-22; the second discourse.

Transhumanism, Homo Rapiens & Modern Muslimness

This is another article where I attempt to address some themes and dilemmas of modern Muslimness. Like previous outings, this too is less a coherent article and more a cluster of thoughts or ruminations tied together by the theme of searching for Muslim authenticity in a post-modern, post-monotheistic age.

Our primary legitimation for living in the geographical West, a place which most of us instinctively call home, is to invite our post-monotheistic society, our people, to Abrahamic monotheism (tawhid): ‘O my people! Worship God! You have no other god except Him who you should be worshiping.’ [Q.7:59] This often requires that we first help people reawaken their fitrah, in order that they may leave their comfort zones, question the assumptions of their age, and be authentic Truth-seekers. This task is all the more imperative, given that in our age of enthroning the individual Self, we now face three intertwined existential crisis: a crisis of loneliness, a crisis of alienation, and a crisis of purpose. Anxious, uncertain, unrooted, fearful as well as increasingly aggressive, society has turned its back on the traditional notion of the soul being outwardly directed, to the modern notion of the Self being inwardly focused; with all the attendant traumas and travesties that come cascading down on the human psyche from this inversion. It’s here that the prophetically-inspired wisdom must make itself known and heard, if we are to be healers and therapists and help orientate the soul of society towards God and towards moral joy.

In one celebrated hadith, we read: ‘Indeed, Allah chose [the tribe of] Kinanah from the descendants of Ishmael; He chose Quraysh from Kinanah; He chose the tribe of Hashim from Quraysh; and He chose me from the tribe of Hashim.’1 That the Prophet ﷺ was istafa – ‘chosen,’ or ‘selected’ – is where we get the Prophet’s name or title, al-Mustafa – ‘the Chosen One’.

But there’s another reason why I quoted this hadith with the blessed lineage, this nisbah sharifah, which has an urgent bearing on modern Muslimness. And that has to do with the beginning of the lineage, with the Prophet Ishmael (Ar. Isma‘il), peace be upon him, and the Ishmaelite inculturation into the Arabian landscape. For lest we forget, Ishmael was not born in Arabia. He wasn’t born an Arab. He was born, as per Biblical lore, north of Arabia; in Canaan. He, along with his Egyptian mother Hagar, was brought to the valley of Makkah by his father Abraham, under divine instruction. There he fully settled, there he was raised, and there he grew up into the ways of the Arabs: their language, dress, customs and culture. At no point was there any obligation on him, neither from his father nor his mother, to be Canaanite in culture or Egyptian in speech and dress.

That same Ishmaelite principle of inculturation, that does not expect Muslims to take on anything other than the cultural norms of their respected landscapes (as filtered through revealed counsel), is currently honoured more in the breach than the observance by too many of Ishmael’s spiritual descendants living here in the West. Inculturation is undeniably one of the great lessons of the sacred Ishmaelite story. A British Muslim who insists on wearing Arab or Asian dress, or clings to foreign ‘urf embellishments uncalled for by the shari‘ah, is unlikely to endear monotheism to the wider public who will just see them as alien and unrelatable; and will be unable to envisage how Islam might be for British and Western people. Such a failure of the religious imagination must be swiftly, yet wisely, remedied.

It is said that the emergence of intellectuals who have made a critical paradigm shift in some area or another of human thought is reflective of the intellectual and civilisational culture from which they emerge. This is certainly true of the Islamic intellectual tradition where it had likely taken hundreds of average and above average scholarly intellectuals before any polymath of the calibre of Ibn Rushd, Ibn Hazm, al-Ghazali, Ibn ‘Aqil or Ibn Taymiyyah emerged. After God’s grace, the civilisational soil from which any thinker belongs must be conducive for such brilliance to grow and flourish. Historically, the civilisational culture set in motion by Islam created an atmosphere in which scholars felt confident and compelled to fully engage their intellectual milieu, as part of taking on the concerns germane to humanity and to the wider human story.

Sadly, this isn’t the case today; and hasn’t been for a while. There are, however, a few emerging voices in our otherwise all but silent intellectual wilderness. If we’ve learnt anything from the fate of other religions which have engaged the juggernaut of secular modernity, it’s that our capacity to dissent, rather than to conform or capitulate, is our only sane choice – if we wish to be saved from the same pitiful tragedy that befell the various Judaeo-Christian attempts and their morphing into disfigured variants of secular, liberal humanism. The point was poignantly put by the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, when he explained that, ‘the liberal Christian approach assumes that the business of Christian commitment is not to produce lives that participate in the holiness of Christ so much as lives that can be lived with a fairly easy conscience within the arrangement of the modern state.’2

Today, the dominant ethical and intellectual visions of humanity are shaped by the pervasive secular philosophies of liberalism, democracy and human rights; and the religious creed they are rooted in: the religion of progress, consumption and aggressive capitalist growth. But there are unmistakable signs and an ever growing body of hard data from the natural and human sciences that all’s not well. From the spectre of global warming and environmental destruction, to the Intensive farming and the industrial scale animal abuse inherent in it; through to the planned obsolescence policy to ensure consumer goods become unusable after a pre-determined period of time, and the throw away culture that comes in its wake: creating a grotesque amount of unnecessary waste we’re currently dumping into the oceans, the air, or into landfills.

And all this is being driven by corporate greed, a capitalist economic model and its unsustainable demand for more and more growth, and the turbo-consumer culture this has given rise to. Consumption of stuff requires the extraction and use of natural resources (wood, fossil fuels, water, etc.); it requires creation of factories that create huge amounts of toxic by products and carbon emissions; and the use of many of these goods themselves create huge levels of pollution and waste – fuelling global warming, decimating our eco systems, and causing our environmental collapse. Such recklessness and rapacious greed are why the English philosopher, John Gray has dubbed us Homo rapiens.3

Whatever our collective response to this must be is still being hotly debated. But one thing is blindingly clear. If we are to avert this global catastrophe; if we are to significantly pull back from this tipping point, we must radically reign in our levels of consumption; rethink our ways of living and producing, making them sustainable for the planet as a whole; and reevaluate the myth that seduces us into believing that we actually need lots and lots of useless, consumer stuff to make us happy and live fulfilled lives. If we are prepared to rise above this lie that’s been foisted upon us over the past century or so, we might all still have a fighting chance.

That said, we’re still left with the inescapable question that confronts Western Muslim intellectual thought: What can Islam offer today that could constitute ethical progress or better human welfare, as we Muslims seek for settled status as minorities in our Western context?

Transhumanism is the final thing I wish to briefly muse over. Now this might seem a bit like a pie in the sky concern compared to, let’s say, global warming. But hear me out. Depending on who you ask, transhumanism is just around the next corner, or it’s at least fifty years away. But what is transhumanism? ‘Isms’ are always tricky to define; in fact, they are often undefinable. They tend to be a loosely-knit set of core ideas about some philosophy, social movement or behaviour. So again, what is transhumanism?

Those old enough to remember the sci-fi show, The Six Million Dollar Man will recall: ‘Steve Austin, astronaut. A man barely alive. Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We have the technology. We have the capability to make the world’s first bionic man. Steve Austin will be that man. Better than he was before. Better … stronger … faster.’ That was back in 1974, where the fictional character was part rebuilt and enhanced using bio-technological (bionic) parts. Today, in the 21st century, surgeons and scientists do a lot of this stuff for real, plus more.

Transhumanism is the idea that human weaknesses such as sickness, ageing and even death could and should be overcome with technology. Science should be used to transcend the biological limitations of human beings – and even the human species – to make them transhuman. This involves augmenting weaker or defective body parts (which already occurs with pacemakers, transplants, prosthetic limbs, etc.) with the latest replacement tech; or editing out defective or debilitating genes (such as trying to identify and remove or turn-off the gene that causes ageing). Linking a human brain to an AI network, or replacing an actual brain with an AI one, is also included in such augmentations or editing. If the end result is Homo sapiens 2.0, or even an entirely new kind of species, then it must be welcomed and actively promoted. Such are the transhumanist contentions and aspirations. In short, transhumanism might be thought of as ‘faith in technology to vastly expand the capabilities of humans.’4

What then should the Muslim response to all this be? What would be the fatwa, and what ethical principles would it be grounded in? If transhumanism, whose cards are already being laid on the table, is just around the corner, then in all likelihood there are Muslims out there, as I write, whose work or research is connected to this matter. Be they medics, surgeons or IT experts at the cutting edge of the biotech field, or software writers, or Muslims working in those tech industries that might be contracted to develop such augmentations or tools for such editing – many of them will want to know where they as Muslims should stand in all of this? To what extent is a Muslim doctor morally obliged to find cures for diseases, and ensure that those diseases never occur again? To what extent is it legally right for a Muslim to edit out those aspects within the body that lead to old age and eventually to death, if we can turn those genes off or make them dormant? Such questions are being asked and answered by many others; and we Muslims would do well to enter the conversation.

Of course, as with other big questions of this nature, scholars in the Islam-is-a-modern-religion brigade will unsurprisingly, as well as uncritically, endorse it by way of the usual desperate and delinquent claims of Islam being the religion of science and progress, and all that Islamic modernist dross. But for most of our jurists and theologians, I suspect, a red line will have been crossed at some point. For anything which so fundamentally alters our outward human form or essential Adamic nature will be subsumed under the Quranic injunction: There shall be no altering of Allah’s creation, [Q.30:30] and the celebrated hadith of the imago dei: ‘Indeed, Allah created Adam in His own image.’5 Where exactly this line should be drawn will, in all likelihood, be open to its fair share of juristic ambiguity and theological debate.

Some gadgets or technology might be able to exist side by side with us humans, without them notably altering our social patterns. But other kinds of tech are far from neutral; they can dramatically alter what people will be like because of them. The task of a futurist (futurologist) is less to predict what gadgets and tech we’ll have in the future, and more so to envisage how such tech will shape us, or even how it can make us more amenable to transhumanism. An urgent aspect of Muslim scholarship, then, must be devoted to these macro questions of futurology, as well as supply us with wise, critical, and practical guidance on how we can best evaluate our use of technology in the light of Islamic ethics, Adamic norms and fitrah values. We might currently flinch at the very idea of transhumanism. But technology bends us into behaving in a particular way. It moulds us into seeing the world in a particular way. It disciples us. And it has a marked tendency to sneak its values into us at almost every turn.

Let me wrap up with this thought. While discussing certain issues surrounding AI upgrades, the historian and futurist Yuval Noah Harari conjectures whether such technology, rather than heal the currently huge inequalities brought on by globalisation, could actually exacerbate them. He says about the already super-rich, who already monopolise the fruits of globalisation, that they might finally have something truly worthwhile to do with their huge wealth. ‘While hitherto they could buy little more than status symbols, soon they might able to buy life itself. If new treatments for extending life and for upgrading physical and cognitive abilities prove to be expensive, humankind my split into biological castes.’6 He says that if the super-rich use these upgraded or edited abilities ‘to enrich themselves further, and if more money can buy them enhanced bodies and brains, with time the gap will only widen.’7 He concludes with this bleak prediction: ‘The two processes together – bioengineering coupled with the rise of AI – might therefore result in the separation of humankind into a small class of superhumans and a massive underclass of useless Homo sapiens.8

This isn’t the only bifurcation to be concerned about. Even if these technologies were to steadily become affordable to the masses, such that they too could be uber-humans, there’s still the matter of Islam’s blessed conservatism. Believers are required by faith to conserve revealed teachings; conserve prophetic ways of living; and conserve the sacrality of mind, body and soul, and the higher aims for which the Maker created them. So possibly, while the affordability of such technology does not yet trickle down to the masses, there will be a bifurcation between the rich and the poor; between the haves and the have-nots. But that will diminish as the tech becomes more affordable. The greater bifurcation; the greater clash, however, is very likely to be between the masses of bioengineered transhumans who, as per Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad, continue ‘looking with amazement and Islamophobic contempt upon the Muslim ummah where, I suspect, the majority of people will not engineer their children in order to produce a generation of superhumans.’9 What’s unfolding now is just the tip of the iceberg of a much greater divide. Yet risking such unpopularity and scorn, due to clinging to what is divinely revealed and prophetically inspired (instead of pandering to Godless acts of progress), is the ummah’s responsibility. Being too apologetic or overly strategic isn’t really the prophetic way. One has to risk unpopularity. But this must be done with considerable wisdom, foresight and discretion.

Wa’Llahu wali al-tawfiq.

1. Muslim, no.2276.

2. Williams, Faith in the Public Square (London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2012), 42.

3. Gray, Gray’s Anatomy: Selected Writings (London: Penguin Books, 2010), 397, 401.

4. Shatzer, Transhumanism and the Image of God (USA; Interverasity Press, 2019), 39.

5. Al-Bukhari, no.6227; Muslim, no.2841. I’ve discussed this hadith, along with its meanings and implications, in: Man, Universe & Macro Theology: Created in God’s Image.

6. Harari, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century (London: Jonathan Cape, 2018), 75.

7. ibid., 75.

8. ibid., 75.

9. In a video lecture, entitled: Transhumanism and Islam.

 

When Hearts Are Blinded, Blinkered or Biased

Sufyan b. ‘Uyaynah, one of the saintly scholars of early Islam, would frequently recite this following couplet: al-mar’u idha kana lahu fikrah/fa fi kulfi shay’in lahu ‘ibrah – ‘A person, if he is given to [frequent] contemplation / Will draw a valuable lesson from everything.’ This visual Quranic reflection highlights one verse of the Holy Qur’an which urges that we walk through life with a ‘seeing’ heart that ponders, reflects, sees the signs and learns the lessons.

Contentment: The Soul’s Software & the Mark of True Tawhid

In a very short, yet highly instructive passage, the venerable Hanbali jurist and saintly scholar, Shaykh ‘Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani, said:

لَا بُدَّ لِكُلِّ مُؤْمِنٍ فِي سَائِرِ أَحْوَالِهِ مِنْ ثَلَاثَةِ أَشْيَاءَ : أَمْرٌ يَمْتَثِلُهُ، وَنَهْيٌ يَجْتَنِبُهُ، وَقَدْرٌ يَرْضَى بِهِ. فَأَقَلُّ حَالَةِ الْمُؤْمِنِ لَا يَخْلُو فِيهَا مِنْ أَحَدِ هَذِهِ الْأَشْيَاءِ الثَّلَاثَةِ، فَيَنْبَغِي لَهُ أَنْ يَلْزَمَ هَمَّهَا قَلْبُهُ، وَلِيُحَدِّثَ بِهَا نَفْسَهُ، وَيُؤَاخَذُ الْجَوَارِحُ بِهَا فِي سَائِرِ أَحْوَالِهِ.

‘Three things are required of every believer in all circumstances: A command to be obeyed, a prohibition to be avoided, and a divine decree to be accepted with good cheer. In even the most trivial circumstance, one of these three is bound to apply. The believer must, therefore, at all times, keep his heart focused upon them, talk to himself about them, and physically carry out what they demand of him.’1

A few reflections on the above passage:

1 – The above words make up the first (and also by far, the shortest) discourse in a slim anthology of seventy-eight celebrated spiritual discourses titled, Futuh al-Ghayb – ‘Openings of the Unseen.’ In his part commentary to some of these discourses, Ibn Taymiyyah stated about the above words: هَذَا كَلَامٌ شَرِيفٌ جَامِعٌ يَحْتَاجُ إلَيْهِ كُلُّ أَحَدٍ – ‘This statement is noble and comprehensive, which every person is in need of.’2 And while Ibn Taymiyyah only comments on four discourses, his explanation of them are fairly lengthy and, at places, quite intricate. They also demonstrate his reverence of al-Jilani, in terms of his spiritual realisations and scholarly pedigree.

2 – The discourse essentialises the true life of a Muslim who is actively seeking the divine presence: loving surrender to Allah through fulfilling the obligations (fara’id), shunning the forbidden (muharramat), and nurturing an inward state of rida bi’l-qada – ‘contentment with the divine decree’. The entire religious life revolves around these three pillars. Thus a seeker’s life is about how best to root such pillars in one’s life with an eye to actualising them inwardly, outwardly and in every circumstance.

3 – Fulfilling the obligations and shunning whatever is forbidden is the essence of taqwa – God-consciousness and godliness. In one hadith qudsi we learn that Allah said: ‘My servant does not draw closer to Me with anything more beloved to me than the obligations I have enjoined upon him.’3 Our outward state, then, must be one that is in conformity (muwafaqah) with what Allah commands or forbids, in respect to what we do with our eyes, ears, tongue, stomach, private parts, hands and feet. This requires knowing what is obligatory. Thus this basic level of knowledge is an obligation upon every Muslim to learn and to know; no other learning ranks higher than it (except, of course, for learning basic tawhid and beliefs).

4. As for the inward virtue of contentment with Allah’s decree, rida bi’l-qada, it is really the key to living the religious life as Allah wants, and becoming people of inward and outward serenity and beauty. Rida is a consequence of tawhid. It is all about knowing, that despite the onset of calamities, tragedies or personal loss, all is still in Allah’s hand; under His able control; unfolding according to His wisdom. As such, in the depths of our very being, even if saddened by grief or loss, we are at peace with Allah and do not resent His decree, but continue to do what is required. So contentment is to be inwardly at peace with Allah’s acts, whilst outwardly obedient to Allah’s laws. Rida is the heart’s tranquility amidst tribulations. When a believer is blessed with inner contentment, life is soothed; anxieties are lifted; the heart is healed; and the soul is satisfied with what is and stops hankering after what isn’t.4 The Prophet ﷺ stated: ‘He has tasted the sweetness of faith who is content with Allah as Lord, Islam as religion and with Muhammad ﷺ as prophet.’5 Another hadith says: ‘Whoever says upon hearing the call to prayer, “I am content with Allah as Lord, with Islam as religion, and Muhammad as messenger,” his sin will be forgiven.’6

5. Masters of spiritual wayfaring (suluk) tell us that rida is acquired in respect to its causes, but pure gift from Allah in terms of its essence and reality. Once a person uses the causes that bring about contentment with Allah, and plants the seeds, he can then reap its fruits. That is, once a person becomes firmly-rooted in trust and reliance on Allah (tawakkul), surrendering himself wholeheartedly to Him (taslim) and resigning his affairs to Him (tafwid), then contentment will surely come to him. ‘However, because of its tremendous rank and the inability of most souls to incline to it, and the difficulty of maintaining it, Allah – in His mercy and easing things – has not made it obligatory upon His creation. Rather He commended it to them and extolled its people, and told us that His reward is that He is pleased with them – which is far greater, more illustrious and much more considerable than the Gardens [of Paradise] and all that they contain.’7 In short, it is as sayyiduna ‘Umar said: ‘Indeed, all good is in contentment (rida). If you have the ability to be content, then do so; if not, then have patience (sabr).’8

6. Let me finish with what Shaykh ‘Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani had to say about being content with Allah, and not resenting Him or His judgements and decree. In the thirty-fourth discourse or majlis, he declared: ‘Have good adab. Take to silence, patience, contentment and compliance with your Lord; mighty and majestic is He. Repent from your resentment of Him as well as your suspicion concerning His actions … For He is Singular throughout eternity, existing before all things. Rather, He created them and created their benefits and harms. He knows their beginnings, their ends and their terminations. He, mighty and majestic is He, is wise in His acts and masterful in His craftsmanship; there is no contradiction in what He does. He doesn’t act uselessly, nor create in jest or futility. There can be no question of criticising Him or reproaching Him for His acts.’9

We ask Allah for firmness upon obedience
and contentment with His decree.

1. Futuh al-Ghayb (Cairo: Dar al-Maqtam, 2007), 19.

2. Majmu‘ Fatawa (Riyadh: Dar ‘Alam al-Kutub, 1991), 10:456.

3. Al-Bukhari, no.6502.

4. Cf. al-Qushayri, al-Risalah (Jeddah: Dar al-Minhaj, 2017), 457.

5. Muslim, no.34.

6. ibid., no.386.

7. Ibn al-Qayyim, Madarij al-Salikin (Makkah: Dar ‘Alam al-Fawa’id, 2019), 2:480.

8. Cited in al-Qushayri, al-Risalah, 458.

9. Futuh al-Ghayb, 78.

How Did We Get Here?

This Qur’an reflection tackles, in an uncomplicated way, life’s big question: how did everything come to be? When damaged hearts are invited to confront the question of why there is something rather than nothing; when they are urged to consider that the overwhelming impressions of design in us, around us, and also above us in the starry heavens is actually a pointer to an Ultimate, Eternal, Cosmic Designer; and when softened by the evidence of Muslim good manners, integrity and forgiveness, many antagonists of faith will heed the signs, make the right choices, and will restore the memory of God to their hearts.

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