The Humble I

Knowing, Doing, Becoming

Archive for the category “jilani discourses”

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.

Turning to God After All Else Has Failed Us

image-by-Robert-GoldsteinIsn’t it the height of bad faith if we turn to God only after everyone else, or after everything else, has failed us? Isn’t that trivialising God’s greatness that we’ve put Him last on our list? If so, will He still listen to my plea for help? Should I still turn to Him? Or will it be a case of: ‘The cheek of it!’?

In his celebrated volume of spiritual discourses, entitled: Futuh al-Ghayb, the saintly scholar and sayyid, ‘Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani (d.561H/1166CE) – the leading Hanbali jurist of Baghdad in his age – commences the third of his orations with these words:

إِذَا اُبْتُلِيَ الْعَبْدُ بِبَلِيَّةٍ تَحَرَّكَ أَوَّلًاً فِي نَفْسِهِ بِنَفْسِهِ, فَإِنْ لَمْ يَتَخَلَّصْ مِنْهَا اسْتَعَانَ بِالْخَلْقِ كَالسَّلَاطِينِ وَأَرْبَابِ الْمَنَاصِبِ وَأَرْبَابِ الدُّنْيَا وَأَصْحَابِ الْأَحْوَالِ وَأَهْلِ الطِّبِّ فِي الْأَمْرَاضِ وَالْأَوْجَاعِ، فَإِنْ لَمْ يَجِدْ فِي ذَلِكَ خَلَاصًاً رَجَعَ إِلَى رَبّهِ بِالدُّعَاءِ وَالتَّضَرُّعِ وَالثَّنَاءِ. مَا دَامَ يَجِدُ بِنَفْسِهِ نُصْرَةً لَمْ يَرْجِعْ إِلَى الْخَلْقِ، وَمَا دَامَ يَجِدُ بِهِ نُصْرَةً عِنْدَ الْخَلْقِ لَمْ يَرْجِعْ إِلَى الْخَالِقِ.

‘When the servant is tried with some difficulty, his first impulse is to try and cope with it by himself. If he is unable to extract himself from it, he looks to others for help, such as those in power, important officials, people of means and influence, or medical experts; if disease or physical ailment is involved. If he still finds no relief, he then turns to his Lord with prayers of petition, humble entreatment and offerings of praise. As long as he feels he can cope on his own, he will not turn to others; and so long as he can count on others, he will not turn to the Creator.’1

It seems a poor thing to turn to God as a last resort; to remember Him when all else fails us; to lift our hands to Him only when the ship is going down. If God were proud He would never accept us on such terms. But God is not proud. Instead, Kind, Caring and, Merciful – God will have us even if we have shown that we have preferred others over Him and that we come to Him only because we are now at a dead end. Indeed, it does not really proclaim the glory of God if we chose Him only as an alternative to Hell; and yet even this He accepts. Such is God’s mercy and kindness; such is how He forgives and overlooks His glory’s diminution. In fact, God says in the Holy Qur’an: When My servants ask you concerning Me, I am indeed close, I answer the prayer of the supplicant when he prays to Me. [Q2:186] And God states: Say: ‘O My servants who have transgressed against their own souls! Despair not of God’s mercy. God forgives all sins; for He is the All-Forgiving, All-Merciful. [Q.39:53]

Further on in the very same discourse, Shaykh ‘Abd al-Qadir speaks about how, when the person’s illusions of self-sufficiency are shattered – and for the person’s sake they must be shattered – and as he is made to realise that none can help him or grant him relief except God, God responds to his servant’s humility and brokenness and shades him from distress. For God accepts His servants however they may come to Him – if not in loving submission, then by trials and troubles, or by simple fear of the eternal flames; unmindful, even, of His glory’s diminution.

1. Futuh al-Ghayb (Cairo: Dar al-Maqtam, 2007), 22; start of the third discourse. My translation is based on M. Holland, Revelations of the Unseen (Florida: Al-Baz Publishing, 2007), 11.

‘Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani: See[k]ing God in the Shopping Mall

a389ce13235dde81878c08ff4ea47a7eIn our second visit to the discourses of the saintly shaykh, ‘Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani (the first outing may be read here), we find him discussing the issue of going to the market place: or, in our time, the shopping mall.

While it is beyond doubt that markets and commerce have played a critical role in Muslim life and civilisation; and that in many traditional Muslim cities, markets were located around the main jami‘ah or Friday mosque; there are, nonetheless, a few hadiths that speak about their unsavoury nature. One such hadith asserts: ‘The most beloved of places to Allah, on earth, are the mosques, while the most deplorable are the markets.’ [Muslim, no.671]

Of course, markets being despised has nothing to do with commerce, per se. It does have to do with the fraud and deception common in such places, as well as all the greed, avarice, bickering and disputations. There, false oaths are often sworn and honest remembrance of Allah frequently conspicuous by its absence. More than that, the market is where even a renunciant’s heart can so easily be entangled in the tentacles of dunya, or be ensnared by its false glitz and glitter. Enter it for needs, we must; enter it for wants, we may. But enter it bewitched or besotted, we must not! In this matter, the believer is guided by what the Holy Qur’an exhorts: Strain not your glance by looking what We have given some of them to enjoy; the delights of the life of this world, by which We only test them. The provisions of your Lord is much better and more lasting. [Q.20:131]

In the seventy-second discourse of the Futuh al-Ghayb or “Revelations of the Unseen”, the Hanbali jurist-cum-sufi, Shaykh ‘Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani, may Allah sanctify his soul, spoke thus:

الَّذِينَ يَدْخُلُونَ الْأَسْوَاقَ مِنْ أَهْلِ الدِّينِ وَ النُّسُكِ فِي خُرُوجِهِمْ إِلَى أَدَاءِ مَا أَمَرَ اللَّهُ تَعَالَى مِنْ صَلَاةِ الْجُمُعَةِ وَ الْجَمَاعَةِ وَ قَضَاءِ حَوَائِجَ تُسْنَحُ لَهُمْ عَلَى أَضْرُبٍ

‘Among those religious people and pious devotees who enter the markets as they go out to perform the Friday prayer, congregational prayers, or to attend to their needs, there are various types:

مِنْهُمْ مَنْ إِذَا دَخَلَ السُّوقَ وَ رَأَى فِيهِ مِنْ أَنْوَاعِ الشَّهَوَاتِ وَ اللَّذَّاتِ تَقَيَّدَ بِهِمَا وَ عُلِقَتْ بِقَلْبِهِ فِتَنٌ، وَ كَانَ ذَلِكَ سَبَبَ هَلَاكِهِ وَ تَرْكِهُ دِينَهُ وَ نُسُكَهُ وَ رُجُوعِهُ إِلَى مُوَافَقَةِ طَبْعِهِ وَ إِتْبَاعِ هَوَاهُ إِلَّا أَنْ يَتَدَارَكَهُ عَزّ وَ جَلّ بِرَحْمَتِهِ وَ عِصْمَتِهِ وَ إِصْبَارِهِ إِيَّاهُ عَنْهَا فَتُسْلِمَ.

‘Of them is one who, when he enters the market and sees therein the various types of pleasures and delights, is mesmerized by them and temptations attach themselves to his heart. This, then, becomes the reason for his demise, causing him to relinquish his religiousness and worship, and lapse into yielding to his inner urges and obeying his whimsical passions, unless God rectifies him with His mercy and protection, and instils in him patience [to resist], in which case he will be saved.

وَ مِنْهُمْ مَنْ إِذَا رَأَى ذَلِكَ كَادَ أَنْ يَهْلِكَ بِهَا رَجَعَ إِلَى عَقْلِهِ وَ دَينِهِ وَ تَصْبِرَ وَ تَجْرَعُ مَرَارَةَ تَرَكَهَا، فَهُوَ كَالْمُجَاهِدِ يَنْصُرُهُ اللَّهُ تَعَالَى عَلَى نَفْسِهِ وَ طَبْعِهِ وَ هَوَاهُ، وَ يَكْتُبُ لَهُ الثَّوَابُ الْجَزِيلُ فِي الْآخِرَةِ.

‘Of them is one who, when he sees such things, is almost brought to ruin. But he is returned to his senses and his religion, composes himself and swallows the bitter pill of having to turn one’s back on them. He thus resembles the warrior who is given divine assistance to overcome his own soul, his raw nature and his caprice, and for whom He [God] records an abundance of reward in the Afterlife …

وَ مِنْهُمْ مَنْ يَتَنَاوَلُهَا وَ يَتَلَبَّسُ بِهَا وَ يُحَصِّلُهَا بِفَضْلِ نِعْمَةِ اللَّهِ عَزّ وَ جَلّ الَّتِي عِنْدَهُ مِنْ سَعَةِ الدُّنْيَا وَ الْمَالِ، وَ يَشْكُرُ اللَّهَ عَزّ وَ جَلّ عَلَيْهَا.

‘Another type is he who acquires such goods and uses them and procures them by the grace and blessings of God as part of his worldly lot and wealth; giving thanks to God for them.

وَ مِنْهُمْ مَنْ لَا يَرَاهَا وَ لَا يُشْعِرُ بِهَا، فَهُوَ أَعْمَى عَنْ مَا سِوَى اللَّهِ عَزّ وَ جَلّ، فَلَا يَرَى غَيْرَهُ، وَ أَصَمَّ عَمَّا سِوَاهُ فَلَا يَسْمَعُ مِنْ غَيْرِهِ، عِنْدَهُ شُغْلٌ عَنْ النَّظَرِ إِلَى غَيْرِ مَحْبُوبِهِ وَ اشْتِهَائِهِ، فَهُوَ فِي مَعْزِلٍ عَمَّا الْعَالِمُ فِيهِ فَإِذَا رَايَتَهُ وَ قَدْ دَخَلَ السُّوقَ فَسَأَلْتُهُ عَمَّا رَأَى فِي السُّوقِ يَقُولُ مَا رَأَيْتُ شَيْئًاً. نَعَمْ قَدْ رَأَى الْأَشْيَاءَ لَكِنْ قَدَرَ رَآهَا بِبَصَرِ رَأْسِهِ لَا بِبَصَرِ قَلْبِهِ، وَ نَظْرَةٌ فَجَاءَتْ لَا نَظْرَةَ شَهْوَةٍ، نَظَرُ صُورَةً لَا نَظَرٌ مَعْنَى، نَظَرُ الظَّاهِرِ لَا نَظَرُ الْبَاطِنِ، فَبِظَاهِرِهِ يُنْظَرُ إِلَى مَا فِي السُّوقِ وَ بِقَلْبِهِ يَنْظُرُ إِلَى رَبِّهِ عَزّ وَ جَلّ، إِلَى جَلَالِهِ تَارَةً وَ إِلَى جَمَالِهِ تَارَةً أُخْرَى.

‘Then there is one who does not see or notice them at all. He is oblivious to everything other than God; Mighty and Majestic is He. Thus he sees no other, is deaf to all but Him; he is too preoccupied to see anything but his Beloved and the One he yearns for. So he is quite detached from what the world is all about. If you chanced upon such a person entering the market place, and ask him what he sees in it, he will reply: “I don’t see anything.” Of course he does see things, but with the physical eye, not the eye of the heart; a casual glance, not a lustful one; a formal look, not a meaningful one; a look that is superficial, not penetrating. So outwardly he surveys the market’s goods and wares, yet all the while his heart beholds his Lord: sometimes His majesty, at other times His beauty.

وَ مِنْهُمْ مَنْ إِذَا دَخَلَ السُّوقَ امْتَلَأَ قَلْبُهُ بِاللَّهِ عَزّ وَ جَلّ رَحْمَةً لَهُمْ، فَتَشْغَلُهُ الرَّحْمَةُ لَهُمْ عَنْ النَّظَرِ إِلَى مَا لَهُمْ وَ بَيْنَ أَيْدِيهِمْ فَهُوَ فِي حِينِ دُخُولِهِ إِلَى حِينِ خُرُوجِهِ فِي الدُّعَاءِ وَ الِاسْتِغْفَارِ وَ الشَّفَاعَةِ لِأَهْلِهِ وَ الشَّفَقَةِ وَ الرَّحْمَةِ عَلَيْهِمْ وَ لَهُمْ، وَ عَيْنُهُ مَغْرُورِقَةٌ وَ لِسَانُهُ فِي ثَنَاءٍ وَ حَمْدٌ لِلَّهِ عَزّ وَ جَلّ بِمَا أَوْلَى الْكَافَّةُ مِنْ نِعَمِهِ وَ فَضْلِهِ فَهَذَا يُسَمَّى شِحْنَةَ الْبِلَادِ وَ الْعِبَادِ، وَ إِنْ شِئْتَ سَمَّيْتُهُ عَارِفًاً وَ بَدَلًاً وَ زَاهِدًاً وَ عَالِمًاً غَيْبًاً وَ بَدَلًاً مَحْبُوبًاً مُرَادًاً وَ نَائِبًاً فِي الْأَرْضِ عَلَى عِبَادِهِ، وَ سَفِيرًاً وَ جَهْبَذًاً وَ نَفَاذًا وَ هَادِيًاً وَ مَهْدِيًّاً وَ دَالًّاً وَ مُرْشِدًاً فَهَذَا هُوَ الْكِبْرِيتُ الْأَحْمَرُ وَ بَيْضَةُ الْعَقْعَقِ، رِضْوَانُ اللَّهِ عَلَيْهِ وَ عَلَى كُلِّ مُؤْمِنٍ مُرِيدٍ لِلَّهِ وَصَلَ إِلَى انْتِهَاءِ الْمَقَامِ، وَ اللَّهُ الْهَادِي.

‘And then there is one who, when he enters the market place, his heart is filled by God with compassion for the people in it. This so absorbs him that he doesn’t even notice their merchandise. From the moment he enters the market till he leaves it, he devotes himself to praying for them, seeking forgiveness for them, interceding on their behalf, and feeling sympathy and compassion for them. His eyes are tearful, while his tongue extols and praises God for the bounties and blessings He has bestowed upon them all. Such a person may be called the steward of the cities and the servants. If you wish, you can call him a knower of God, a saint, a pole, a renunciant, a scholar, absent [from the world, present with God], God’s beloved and sought after, His deputy on earth in charge of His servants, an ambassador, an expert and executive, rightly guided and rightly guiding, a signpost and beacon. He is rarer than red sulphur, or a philosopher’s stone. May the good pleasure of God be upon him, and on every believer who seeks God and attains the ultimate station. And God is the Guider.1

1. Al-Jilani, Futuh al-Ghayb (Cairo: Dar al-Mukatam, 2007), 135-6; the seventy-second discourse.

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: