The Humble "I"

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Archive for the category “heart matters”

Are We Amusing Our Hearts to Death?

maxresdefaultOne hadith states: ‘Laugh not too much; for too much laughter deadens the heart.’1 This isn’t to say that laughter or humour must be avoided altogether; for laughter and light-heartedness, in moderation, are prophetic Sunnahs that helps lighten burdens, ease anxiety and bring about joy to oneself and to others. Indeed, there is little virtue in always looking grave and solemn: And that He it is that makes to laugh and makes to weep. [53:43] And as the Prophet, peace be upon him, remarked: ‘O Hanzalah! There is a time for this and a time for that.’2 Yet, as the above hadith shows, to overindulge in laughter is a lethal poison that kills the heart spiritually.

The eleventh century hadith master, ‘Abd al-Ra‘uf al-Munawi points out: ‘Making a habit of laughing diverts one from deliberating over matters of importance.’3 When life becomes little more than “a bundle of laughs,” then the heart’s spiritual death has well and truly set in. Al-Munawi again: ‘The laughter that kills the heart comes from being frivolous and careless in the world. The heart has [spiritual] life and death: its life lies in continuous obedience [to God]. Its death, in responding to the call of other than God; be it one’s ego, desires, or the devil.’4 In fact, in the prophetic teachings, a cheerful countenance and an easy-going nature (one hadith says: ‘The believers are amiable and easy-going: al-mu’minun hayyinun layyinun.’5) is to be tempered with the sobering recollection of God, death, the Afterlife and the imminent Judgement and Accountability. The Prophet, upon whom be peace, urged: ‘Remember frequently the destroyer of pleasures [i.e. death].’6 A heart desensitised to such realities, or numbed to their recollection, is a heart that has had the stuff of life sucked out of it.

The Qur’an warns about being diverted or distracted through things of the world: ‘O you who believe! Let neither your wealth nor your children divert you from remembrance of God. Those who do so, they are the losers.’ [63:9] In houses which God has allowed to be raised up, where His name is remembered. In them is He glorified morning and evening. By men whom neither merchandise nor trade distract from the remembrance of God. [24:36-7] Trade, riches, possessions, and the pursuit of thrills and pleasures so preoccupy most people, so as to make them oblivious to all else; unless hearts are tuned to the higher purpose of their existence. Wealth and children and partaking of permissible worldly pleasures are all lawful, and are to be a means to maintain our connection with God; unless and until they distract us from the worship and remembrance of Him. If we lose ourselves to the world, we ultimately lose everything.

Tragically we are now a culturally obese society, continuously feeding on an excessive diet of trivial amusement and entertainment. This over-consumption of laughter and frivolity, as noted before, distracts most of us from more serious considerations: war, famine, disease, environment, disintegration of society and breakdown of the family; as well as existential issues more serious still, that relate to our Creator, the Afterlife and our purpose of being. Our continued addiction to all this joviality and diversion has made us a society wherein we are, in the words of Neil Postman’s deftly entitled book, Amusing Ourselves to Death.

O people! Fear your Lord, and fear a Day when the parent will not be able to avail his child in any way, nor the child to avail his parent. God’s promise is the truth. Let not the life of the world deceive you, nor let the deceiver deceive you concerning God. [31:33]

1. Ibn Majah, no.4193.

2. Al-Tirmidhi, no.2014.

3. Fayd al-Qadir Sharh al-Jami‘ al-Saghir (Beirut: Dar al-Ma‘rifah, n.d.), 2:157.

4. ibid., 5:52.

5. Al-Quda‘i, Musnad, no.139.

6. Al-Tirmidhi, no.2307.

“There Are Times Where My Heart Feels Clouded”

Cloudy_afternoon_High_definition_wallpaper‘There are times where my heart feels clouded (innahu la yughanu ‘ala qalbi); and I seek Allah’s forgiveness a hundred times a day,’ said the Prophet, peace be upon him.1

Istighfar or “seeking forgiveness” of Allah is not simply confined to when we commit sins. Rather, courtesy (adab) towards Allah requires us to feel a sense of shyness (haya) before Allah on account of committing what He considers disliked (makruh) too; even when no sin has been committed. At a loftier level of faith, those who are distracted from Allah, even if momentarily, see this a lack of adab and a sort of transgression, for which istighfar is to be made.

Imam al-Nawawi holds that one meaning of the “cloudiness” mentioned in the above hadith refers to the Prophet’s continuous dhikr, and heart’s focus and presence with Allah, being interrupted – albeit, for brief moments – out of having to occupy himself with the affairs of the ummah and the welfare of the people. He writes: ‘Its cause is his being preoccupied with the affairs of the ummah and its welfare; waging war against the enemy and their harms; winning over hearts; and other such things. Even though such matters are from the greatest acts of obedience and the best of deeds, it is still a come down from the even more loftier degree and higher station of his being present with Allah, exalted is He, spiritually witnessing Him, being vigilant of Him, and being emptied of everything else beside Him. Hence he sought forgiveness.’2

Thus, how can we not feel a sense of shame before Allah when we are immersed in his graces, day in, day out, yet use them in acts of sin and disobedience to Him. Shaykhs of suluk urge us to have a daily recitation (wird) of istighfar which we recite with the above thought in our hearts. Istighfar one hundred times in the morning, and again towards the day’s end, is a good beginning, they say. One such way of carrying this out is to earnestly repeat: astaghfiru’Llaha wa atubu ilayhi – “I seek forgiveness of God and repent to Him.”

The Prophet, peace be upon him, mentioned that Allah, exalted is He, said: ‘O son of Adam, so long as you call upon Me and place your hopes in Me, I shall forgive you for what you have done and shall not mind. O son of Adam, were your sins to reach the clouds of the sky and were you then to ask forgiveness of Me, I would forgive you. O son of Adam, were you to come to Me with sins nearly as great as the earth, and were you then to face Me, ascribing no partner to Me, I would bring you forgiveness nearly as great as it.’3

Another hadith states: ‘Whosoever takes to seeking forgiveness [of Allah], Allah shall appoint for him a way out of every difficulty, a relief from every anxiety, and provide sustenance from where he never expects.’4

Rabbighfirli wa tub ‘alayya innaka
anta al-tawwab
al-rahim.

1. Muslim, Sahih, no.2702.

2. Sharh Sahih Muslim (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 1995), 17:20.

3. Al-Tirmidhi, Sunan, no.3540, saying that the hadith is hasan sahih.

4. Abu Dawud, Sunan, no.1517; Ibn Majah, Sunan, no.3819.

It’s What Matters at Heart

china_29‘A servant is not afflicted with any chastisement greater than a hard heart and of being remote from God.

Hardness of the heart comes about by four things, when the level of need is exceeded: eating, sleeping, speaking and socialising.

Hearts that are attached to carnal passions are veiled from God to the extent of these attachments.

Hearts are God’s vessels upon His earth. Those most beloved to Him are the ones that are the softest, purest and most affable.

Their hearts are immersed in the world. If they were occupied with God and with the Afterlife, then they would contemplate over the meaning of His words and creational signs, and would have returned with the profoundest wisdoms and most astonishing benefits.

If the heart is nourished upon God’s remembrance (dhikr), quenched with meditation (tafakkur) and cleansed of blemishes, it will witness great wonders and be infused with deep wisdom.

Love of God shall not enter a heart in which there is love of this world, save as a camel passes through the eye of a needle.

The heart falls ill as the body does; its cure is in repentance and a spiritual regimen. It gets tarnished as a mirror does; its polish is dhikr. It feels exposed as the body does: its robe is piety (taqwa). It hungers and thirsts like the body does: its sustenance is gnosis, love, repentance and divine service.

The heart has six places in which it roams – there being no seventh. Three of these are lowly and three lofty. The lowly are: a world that entices it, an ego that nags at it; and a Foe who seductively whispers to it. These are the places where lowly spirits constantly roam. The three lofty things are: knowledge by which it gains clarity; an intellect with which it is guided; and a deity [God] to which it is devoted in worship. So these are the places wherein hearts wander.’1

‘Seek your heart in three places: where the Qur’an is recited; in the gathering of dhikr; and in times of seclusion. If you don’t find it in these places, then ask God to bless you with a heart. For you have no heart!’2

1. Ibn al-Qayyim, al-Fawa’id (Makkah: Dar ‘Alam al-Fawa’id, 2009), 142-4.

2. ibid., 218.

How Can Hearts be Softened?

tumblr_mgj2jfodnj1qlubbqo1_500This following piece by Imam Ibn al-Jawzi (d.597H/1200CE) – Hanbali jurist, famous preacher and prolific author – is from his book Sayd al-Khatir. Part autobiographical, part exhortational and part meditative, the book is a frank account of his life, works, experiences, achievements, burdens, disappointments, hopes and aspirations. Since it was written over a period of twenty years, it reflects the evolution of his thoughts and ideas as Ibn al-Jawzi the man, scholar and pietist. Here we find him reminiscing over how certain types of knowledge can, if the student is not careful, make the heart dry and hard; and how it is critical to keep spiritual company and bathe the soul in the stories of the righteous – if the heart is to be kept “moist”. One of Islam’s enduring wisdoms states: inda dhikri’l-salihin tanzilu’l-rahmah – “On mentioning the righteous, mercy descends.”

‘I see that occupying oneself with jurisprudence (fiqh) or learning hadiths is hardly sufficient to rectify the heart, unless one adds to this the reading of heart-melting traditions (raqa’iq) and the study of the lives of the pious predecessors (al-salaf al-salihin). For they reached the objective of the texts and transcended the external form of the prescribed duties to taste their inner meanings and intent. I do not inform you of this save after personal exposure and experience. For I have found that most of the scholars and students of hadith are primarily concerned with attaining the shortest chain of transmission, or to increase the collections of hadiths narrated by a single narrator or dealing with a single theme or subject; while the majority of jurists busy themselves with dialectics or how to win debates. So how can hearts ever be softened by such things?

Previously, groups of the predecessors would visit a pious person only to observe his manners and conduct, not to learn knowledge from him. For the fruits of knowledge lie in comportment and conduct; so understand this. Hence combine the learning of fiqh and hadith with study of the lives of the predecessors and worldly renunciants (zuhhad) so that this may be a cause for your heart to soften.

To this end I have written biographies on each of the renowned, honourable persons, detailing their lives and character. I have written one on al-Hasan [al-Basri], Sufyan al-Thawri, Ibrahim b. Adham, Bishr al-Hafi, Ahmad b. Hanbal, Ma‘ruf [al-Karkhi], as well as other scholars and renunciants. And God grants the enabling grace to achieve the objective.

However, actions cannot be rectified with a paucity of knowledge. For their example is like that of a commander and a subordinate, with the soul stubbornly between the two. Only with the combined efforts of the commander and the subordinate can the goal be reached. And we seek refuge in God from apathy.’1

1. Sayd al-Khatir (Damascus: Dar al-Qalam, 2004), 228-9.

* Above Photo: The Painted Door, at www.petersanders.com

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