The Humble "I"

Knowing, Doing, Becoming

Archive for the category “heart matters”

Video: From Enforced Isolation to Spiritual Solitude

Here is the video to April’s Monthly Majlis (talk, plus the Q&A). The talk discusses how we can transform our current state of imposed isolation into one of ‘uzlah – that great virtue of spiritual “solitude”. For while businesses and consumer trade have come to a grinding halt or have been severely restricted, our transaction; our mu‘amalat, with Allah is always open. So how can we turn isolation into a spiritual blessing? And what gifts await those who seek their Lord in a state of stillness and solitude? These are the core themes of this Monthly Majlis. The video can be viewed here.

Friday Reminder for Thoughtful Hearts: 2

WE READ IN THE Qur’an: And when the [Friday] prayer is ended, then disperse in the land and seek of Allah’s favour, and remember Allah much, that you may succeed. [Q.62:10] The shari‘ah combines between establishing Allah’s rights; like prayer, fasting and dhikr, and between securing benefits to oneself; such as the need to earn a living. This is clear from the above verse. What is also clear is that we should seek aid in earning our livelihood by fulfilling the rights we owe Allah.

THE PROPHET ﷺ SAID: ‘Whosoever makes the world his main concern, Allah will scatter his affairs, put poverty before him, and nothing of the world will come to him except what is written for him. Whosoever makes the Afterlife his main concern, Allah will gather his affairs, put contentment in his heart, and the world shall come to him even if he is averse to it.’ – Ibn Majah, Sunan, no.4105.

THOSE WHO PURSUE a life of greed, self-gratification or neglectfulness of God, choosing to expose themselves to inner darkness and a plague of inner demons, will ultimately be cast into perdition with hellish devils!

‘GREED INVITES YOU to rush blindly into sin; the loneliest are those who are conceited; and the best worldly detachment (zuhd) is to conceal one’s worldly detachment.’ – ‘Ali b. Abi Talib.

OURS IS AN AGE filled with two kinds of angst or anxiety. The first is an existential angst: an angst or despair born from falsely believing that life is devoid of meaning; everything is here by some cosmic “chance”; and that despite our freedom to choose, death is our ultimate end: thus life is pointless. The believer is shielded from such an angst because of knowing that life has a God-centred purpose; death isn’t the end; and the good we do, seeking God’s good pleasure – even if unappreciated by others – is known by God and is accepted by Him. In this way, the believer is known to God and loved by Him.

The other angst can afflict anyone – believer or unbeliever, saint or sinner – and is a part and parcel of the human drama. This is a clinical angst and is usually experienced in the context of a physical threat, a trauma, or a personal crisis. It can usually be treated with conventional medicine, professional therapy, meditative practices or spiritual healing, or a combination of them. And while some anxieties, like trauma brought on in childhood, is not the individual’s fault, it is their responsibility to try and remedy or cope with it.

SPIRITUAL MASTERS INSTRUCT that we Muslims, whatever we do or desire to accomplish in life, it must ultimately serve the glory of God.

ONE OF THE PITFALLS in the path of godliness is ‘ujb: vanity or self-conceit. ‘Ujb is when we fail to realise that the good acts we have done are not of our own doing, but are purely from God’s grace. Only if blinded to such a reality do we then see these works as being of our own accomplishment or doing. We then begin to be vain, egotistical and bask in our own self-glory, thereby nullifying our good deeds and ruining our spiritual heart.

THE QUR’AN WANTS marital life to be a life of mutual love, kindness and companionship. It says, addressing men: Live with them in kindness. [Q.4:19] And it insists: Give them their dowry in kindness. [Q.4:25] Allah also warns: House them in your own homes, according to your means. And do not harass them, so as to make life intolerable for them. [Q.65:6] So the affair is to be one of kindness. The mark of a real Muslim man is nothing less; all else just isn’t manliness in any true faith-based sense of the word. ‘Her vulnerabilities invite you to stand up for her, not stand up to her.’ – Abdal Hakim Murad, Contentions, 19/18

A SIGN OF God’s special concern for a person is His inspiring them to repent for their sins and to thankfully acknowledge the blessings they receive from Him. The former nurtures humility in the heart; the latter, a deep and abiding love for Allah.

AS SOCIAL MEDIA SITES are tweaked to get more and more addictive, and as social media companies are in a war for our  attention, where only the most addictive sites will survive, most people will be little more than lab rats in a huge social experiment. If we don’t learn to cultivate inner restraint or a sense of balance, most will continue to be manipulated by social media sites and content creators to waste far too much time in a way that benefits them, not us; unless we recall that we were created for a higher, more exalted Connectivity and a profounder friendship with the Content Creator of all creation. The choice, then, is ours: where there’s a will, there’s always a way.

‘RECITE WHATEVER IS EASY for you to do of the Glorious Qur’an, each day or night, in a slow, measured tone; with presence of heart; and by reflecting over it. Recite it in stages, starting at the beginning till you complete it … The secret is in [having] presence of heart and in reflection (tadabbur), not in reciting a lot of the Qur’an.’ – Imam al-Haddad

Friday Reminder for Thoughtful Hearts: 1

THE QUR’AN says: Whoever does righteousness, be they male or female, and has faith, We will cause them to live a goodly life. [Q.16:97] The ‘goodly life,’ explained by the great sages and scholars of Islam to mean a life of inner contentment and happiness, is profoundly tied to doing righteous deeds, and doing them well. In other words, in Islam, the goodly life is connected to the godly life.

TRUE SEEKERS of Allah and the Afterlife must realise that not leaving alone what doesn’t concern them will adversely effect the heart. In this context, words and deeds that are in obedience to Allah illuminate hearts; those that are merely licit (mubah) harden hearts; those that are sinful darken hearts.

DOES THE QUR’AN ever speak of a collective calamity to a people, except that among its crucial wisdoms is to steer people away from their waywardness, sins and rebelliousness against God’s ways? So while we fulfil social distancing from others, let’s ensure we carry out spiritual distancing from sins too.

HIGHER THAN GIVING our children our unconditional love which, of course, we must do, is to pray we can love them for God’s sake for the faith and righteousness they hopefully live by.

TRULY BENEFICIAL KNOWLEDGE should nurture four qualities in a person: piety (taqwa) towards God, humility (tawadu’) towards others, detachment (zuhd) from wordliness, and spiritual striving (mujahadah) against one’s ego.

SPIRITUAL MASTERS TEACH US that, after fulfilling the obligatory acts, the heart is best illuminated by three matters: [i] Reciting the Qur’an in a slow and measured tone, while pondering its meanings. [ii] Remembering Allah with proper decorum and with presence of heart. [iii] Spending part of the night standing in prayer, with reverence, humility and neediness. 

Three things help such spiritual practices: [i] Not eating to one’s fill, but eating such that hunger is satiated. [ii] Keeping good spiritual company, not spending too much time with those who are heedless of Allah; whose main focus is on worldly stuff. [iii] Leaving those things that do not aid our spiritual growth, nor help us to fulfil our worldly duties or our earthly responsibilities.

THE SOUL’S TRUE PURIFICATION is not possible without training ourselves to be sturdy during manifestations of the jalal. 

‘IF YOU FEEL the yearning for God it is inevitable that your style of life will change.’ – Sh. Abdal Hakim Murad, Contentions, 9/20

IF RELIGIOUS faith and practice is to survive the constant onslaught of what is essentially an atheistic, secular monoculture, we Muslims will have to be, if not scholars, then at the very least people who study their religion and who think intelligently about it. 

‘WE COME INTO this world as Allah’s servants; let’s not leave this world except as Allah’s beloved friends.’ – Sh. Jaleel Ahmed Akhoon

The Soul of Islam is a Vigilant and Mindful Heart

Revelation tells us that muraqabah, vigilance of Allah, is one of the sublimest spiritual stations. We are told too that habituating our heart to such vigilance requires training the heart gradually and step-by-step. Masters of the heart instruct us to accustom ourselves to being mindful and shy of Allah, even if it be for short periods at a time – persevering in this even in our day-to-day affairs, let alone when engaged in acts of worship – until such mindfulness or vigilance becomes part and parcel of our nature; a habit of our heart.

Vigilance, muraqabah, is to be mindful of Allah in all our states, realising that: وَهُوَ مَعَكُمْ أَيْنَ مَا كُنْتُمْ – He is with you wherever you are. [Q.57:4]

It is to feel His reassuring presence, being aware that: وَنَحْنُ أَقْرَبُ إِلَيْهِ مِنْ حَبْلِ الْوَرِيدِ – We are closer to him than his jugular vein. [Q.50:16]

It is to know that nothing is ever hidden from Him, thereby feeling reverently respectful and shy before Him: فَإِنَّهُ يَعْلَمُ السِّرَّ وَأَخْفَى – For He knows what is secret, and what is yet more hidden [Q.20:7]

Above all, it is to know that His care, help and loving concern are ever near: وَإِذَا سَأَلَكَ عِبَادِي عَنِّي فَإِنِّي قَرِيبٌ أُجِيبُ دَعْوَةَ الدَّاعِي إِذَا دَعَانِي – When My servants ask you about Me, I am near; answering the prayer of the suppliant when he prays to Me. [Q.2:186]

The more we interiorise such core realities of faith, the profounder will be our vigilance of Him, and presence of heart whilst worshiping Him. For a heart in which vigilance of Allah firmly takes root, is a heart that becomes occupied with Him above everything else.

That vigilance of Allah be ingrained and be made a habit of the heart is paramount, in order for its fruits to appear on us. The least of these fruits is that one does nothing, when alone with Allah, that he would be ashamed of doing should a person of virtue and rank be watching him. If, say our spiritual masters, when one calls to mind the fact that Allah sees us, we find a shyness in our heart which prevents us from disobeying Him or spurs us on to obey Him, then something of the lights of vigilance, the anwar al-muraqabah, have dawned on the heart. Eventually, as the heart becomes accustomed to vigilance, and as the awareness of Allah’s nearness deepens within, the heart begins to be totally immersed in Allah; being now raised to the degrees of mushahadah – of worshiping God as though seeing Him.

Worldly Detachment & the Path of God’s Love

Crack-consumerism is the collective substance abuse that we as a nation now partake in. The remedy for this greed, avarice, hyper consumption and predatoriness is the forgotten Islamic virtue of zuhd – ‘renunciation’ or ‘worldly detachment.’ 

Speaking of such detachment, Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal said: ‘Zuhd is of three degrees. Firstly, to shun the forbidden; this is the zuhd of the general folk. Secondly, to avoid the lawful but unnecessary; this is the zuhd of the elite. Thirdly, to guard against everything that distracts one from Allah; this is the zuhd of the knowers of Allah (‘arifun).’1

The challenge for most of us Muslims today is to keep the haram, the forbidden, out of our lives. This level of worldly detachment is an obligation upon us all and is deemed one of the greatest forms of spiritual struggle in our time. One hadith makes the point: اتَّقِ الْمَحَارِمَ تَكُنْ أَعْبَدَ النَّاسِ – ‘Guard against the forbidden, you will be the most devout of people.’2 The forbidden, here, includes both the outer and inner harams. The outward haram includes things such as not fulfilling basic obligations like prayer, fasting, etc; sins of the tongue like lying, tale-carrying and back-biting; and sins of the limbs, like not lowering the gaze from what is haram to see or what incites passions, hearing haram talk like slander, and doing acts of haram. The inner haram refers to the haram vices of the heart, like jealously, showing-off in acts of worship, arrogance, vanity, impatience with God’s decree, etc.

Often people who consider themselves as religious practitioners will say that they’ve been praying, fasting, giving charity and seeking increase in sacred knowledge for a few year now, but still they find an absence of blessings, spiritual satisfaction, or inner peace that they would have expected. Usually that is because, along with the good that they do, the haram still significantly permeates their life. One of the contemporary shaykhs of spiritual wayfaring, Shaykh Jaleel Ahmad Akhoon, likens this to someone who installs new central heating in the house. When the icy winters comes arounds, he turns the heating on and cranks up the temperature. Yet after some time, the house is still freezing cold. Puzzled, he checks each radiator only to find they’re all working perfectly and are as hot as an iron! So why’s the house still freezing? It’s because the owner, although he’s turned the heating on, hasn’t shut all the windows in the house. So the heat is being lost to the outside chill. This, the Shaykh stated, is like spiritual warmth and blessings brought about by the doing of good deeds, but their effects are not felt because one has not turned their backs on the icy winds of haram! But as the windows of the house are each shut tight, even a small amount of heating will warm up the house and its occupants.

The next level is not becoming consumer cogs or addicts, by wisely detaching ourselves from superfluous and unnecessary consumption, and settling for simpler ways of living. Slowly and wisely ‘unsticking’ ourselves from dunya things is highly encouraged in Islam and begins to create real space for God and godliness to grow in our hearts.

Beyond that is detachment from whatever distracts the heart from its Gracious Lord; it is the station of God’s Prophets and, to a lesser extent, God’s saints. This is the sought after goal and the true embodiment of the prophetic path and Sunnah. 

At this point it must be stressed that zuhd is less about minimalism; doing with only a few material possessions, and more about the heart’s detachment from material possessions. That is to say, one may own wealth, but should not be owned by wealth. It is said about the sahabah that they held wealth in their hands, but it didn’t enter their hearts.

So as we each roll up our sleeves and begin to empty our hearts from worldliness; to detach them from the dunya, we make space for the love of Allah to infuse our souls and of Allah enveloping us in His love. The Prophet ﷺ once said: ‘Detach yourself from the world and Allah will love you. Detach yourself from what people possess and people will love you.’3

Thus, detaching our hearts from the dunya allows us to attach them to Allah – attaching them to His acceptance, to His good pleasure, to His love and, ultimately, to Him.

Let the lover’s journey commence! 

1. Cited in Ibn al-Qayyim, Madarij al-Salikin (Riyadh: Dar Taybah, 2008), 2:181.

2. Ahmad, no.8081; al-Tirmidhi, no.2305. It was graded hasan in al-Albani, Sahih al-Jami‘ al-Saghir (Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islami, 1986), no.100.

3. Ibn Majah, no.4102, with a hasan chain. See: al-Nawawi, Riyad al-Salihin (Saudi Arabia: Dar Ibn al-Jawzi, 1421H), no.476.

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