The Humble I

Knowing, Doing, Becoming

Archive for the category “sufism & spirituality”

On Narcissism: My Oh My! It’s Just Me, Me, Me & I, I, I

Ibn al-Qayyim, may Allah have mercy upon him, wrote:

وَلْيَحْذَرْ كُلَّ الْحَذَرِ مِنْ طُغْيَانِ ’أَنَا‘ ، وَ’لِي‘، وَ’عِنْدِي‘، فَإِنَّ هَذِهِ الْأَلْفَاظَ الثَّلَاثَةَ ابْتُلِيَ بِهَا إِبْلِيسُ وَفِرْعَوْن، وَقارُوْن، (فَأَنَا خَيْرٌ مِنْهُ) لِإِبْلِيسَ، وَ (لِي مُلْكُ مِصْرَ) لِفِرْعَوْن، وَ (إِنَّمَا أُوتِيتُهُ عَلَى عِلْمٍ عِنْدِي) لِقارُوْن. 

وَأَحْسَنُ مَا وُضِعَتْ ’أَنَا‘ فِي قَوْلِ الْعَبْدِ: أَنَا الْعَبْدُ الْمُذْنِبُ ، الْمُخْطِئُ، الْمُسْتَغْفِرُ، الْمُعْتَرِفُ . وَنَحْوِهِ : ’لِي‘، فِي قَوْلِهِ: لِيَ الذَّنْبُ ، وَ’لِيَ‘ الْجُرْمُ ، وَلِيَ الْمَسْكَنَةُ، وَلِيَ الْفَقْرُ ، وَالذُّلُّ . و’عِنْدِي‘ ، فِي قَوْلِهِ: اغْفِرْ لِي جِدِّي ، وَهَزْلِي ، وَخَطَئِي ، وَعَمْدِي ، وَكُلَّ ذَلِكَ عِنْدِي.

‘Beware of the tyranny of “I”, “mine” or “me”. For Iblis, Pharaoh and Korah were put to trial by these three words. “I am better than him” [Q.7:12] was Iblis’ [trial]. “Is not mine the sovereignty of Egypt?” [Q.43:51] was Pharaoh’s. And: “I have been given it only on account of my knowledge” [Q.28:78] was Korah’s.

‘The best place for “I” is when a person says: “I am a sinful, wrong, repentant, confessing servant” or its like. And “mine” when he says: “Mine is the sin, the crime, the poverty, the indigence and the shame.” And “me’ in his saying: “[O Allah] forgive me for the sins I have done intentionally and in jest, mistakenly or deliberately; for I have done all of that.”’1

In Greek mythology, Narcissus was a young man who was incredibly beautiful. Many fell in love with him, but he responded to their affections with scorn and contempt. Once while walking in the woods, Narcissus saw his own reflection in a pool of water and fell in love with it. His fixation with his own beauty led him to eventually commit suicide when he realised he couldn’t have his object of desire. It is from his name that we get the word, narcissism – an obsessive, egotistical admiration with one’s own self or self-importance.

A narcissist does more than just monopolise the conversation. A narcissist is a person who feels a false sense of entitlement, constantly needs other people to praise and admire them, be jealous of others, or someone who lacks empathy for others because of being totally absorbed with his or her egotistical self. Me, me me, or I, I, I are the usual tell-tale signs of narcissism. Psychologists speak of various types of narcissistic personality disorders. There’s the toxic narcissist who is always causing drama in the lives of others, constantly demanding to be the centre of attention and upset when they are not. Or there is the bullying narcissists who take great pleasure in mocking people and putting them down, so they can feel smug about their own selves. And then there’s the exhibitionist narcissist who has no shame in letting everyone around him know that he is a narcissist.

Social media is the opium of the narcissists. In terms of teaching or preaching Islam, YouTube seems to be awash with Muslim narcissists, particularly when it comes to refutation culture. – i.e. Muslims attempting to refute or rebut other Muslims on some religious point or another. Instead of rooting such criticisms or correctives in sincerity; sound scholarly research; following the Islamic rules of criticism; fulfilling the trust of quoting the words of the one being rebutted accurately and in context; not transgressing the rights of the one being refuted; and giving them room to retract their mistake and return to the truth, we have a carnival of characters who show little of this, content with being narcissistic exhibitionists and show-offs. Such are the fruits of giving up on godliness. Such is the blindness and deadly poison of the I, I, I or me, me, me culture; may Allah save us from ourselves.

The cure, as Ibn al-Qayyim stated above, is to acknowledge that the I and me is swimming in a cesspit of sin and ignorance, and that the best place for my I or me is to confess with as much humility and sincerity as can be mustered that: I know very little about Islam such that I could be one of its guardians; and that may Allah forgive me my sins and speech about His religion without sufficient knowledge, and save me from the blazing Fire.

Amin!

1. Zad al-Ma‘ad (Beirut: Mu’assasah al-Risalah, 1998), 4:434-35.

Impediments to Suluk: Six Steps in the Devil’s Deception

Masters of the inward life tell us that the aim of suluk or spiritual wayfaring to God is: al-tahabbub ila’Llah bi ma yarda – ‘Becoming beloved to Allah by doing that which pleases Him.’ They also teach that this Station of Being Loved, this maqam al-mahbubiyyah, must be grounded in knowledge and the firm resolve to act on that knowledge; and not just acquire knowledge for its own sake. The whole affair, they say, revolves around ittiba‘ – ‘adherence’ to the Prophet ﷺ, who is Allah’s most Beloved. The Holy Qur’an says: Say: ‘If you love Allah, then follow me; for then Allah will love you and forgive you your sins. Allah is Forgiving, Compassionate.’ [Q.3:31] More than this, such masters of the heart tell us that the secret (sirr) behind this ‘adherence’ is: yakhruj al-insan min muradi nafsihi ila muradi rabbihi – ‘The person leaving his own wants and loves for what his Lord wants and loves.’1

This adherence has levels that the wayfarer (salik) must progress through. One begins by shunning what the shari‘ah has made forbidden (haram), abiding by what it has obligated (wajib) – in terms of action of the limbs and deeds of the heart. One then progresses onto acting on what is recommended (mustahabb), giving up whatever is detested or disliked (makruh). This is a lofty rank with Allah, and one for which God draws the seeker closer to Him, enveloping them in His divine love and care. A celebrated hadith qudsi states: ‘My servant does not draw closer to Me with anything more loved by Me than the obligations I have enjoined on Him. My servant continues to draw closer to Me through the supererogatory deeds until I love Him.’2 Central to all of this is learning sound fiqh from qualified scholars, so as to know what our gracious Lord commands and forbids; and then recommends and detests.

Of course, an even higher rank of adherence is when one begins to wisely and gradually detach their heart from worldly things that are permissible (mubah), but superfluous to one’s needs or spiritual journey; providing it doesn’t harm one’s adherence to the two levels just discussed above, nor interferes with any rights and responsibilities we owe to others. This forgotten Sunnah of worldly detachment (zuhd) is an immense door to the rank of mahbubiyyah and divine love, as the Prophet ﷺ said: izhad fi’l-dunya yuhibaka’Llah  – ‘Detach yourself from the world and Allah will love you.’3

When one resolves to make Allah their aim and ambition, or when one wishes to turn away from a former life of heedlessness or dereliction of duty then, say the masters of the heart, one is to begin with sincere repentance, tawbah. Allah says: Truly Allah loves those that turn to Him in repentance, and strive to cleanse themselves. [Q.2:222] Again, tawbah raises one to the maqam al-mahbubiyyah. In fact, making the u-turn away from other than Allah, to Allah, is an essential and intrinsic part of spiritual progress; to the point that the shaykhs says: man la tawbah lahu la maqam lahu  – ‘One who has no repentance, has no spiritual station.’ So what’s required of us now is to roll-up our sleeves and to put our backs into it, seeking Allah’s aid and tawfiq.

We ask Allah that He guide us to the sharafa of ‘ubudiyyah, of sincere servitude to Him, and that He gifts us the sublime daraja of mahbubiyyah.

In their quest of: yuriduna wajhahuseeking [only] His face [Q.18:28], there are obstacles along the path which confront the one who seeks to rid themselves of the radha’il; the blameworthy traits, and instead adorn themselves with the fada’il; or praiseworthy traits pleasing to God. There are four such obstacles or impediments that constantly tease and lure the wayfarer, the salik, away from their goal of mahbubiyyah and loving submission to their Lord. They being: the devil (shaytan), the world (dunya), one’s ego (nafs), and one’s whims and false desires (hawa). With that spelt out, let us look at the first of the impediments: shaytan.

In reality, these four impediments that, in concert, conspire to hinder the salik are all interconnected and feed off one another. Thus, when a person’s nafs is strong and overwhelming – not having been tamed or trained – then Satan’s stratagems or subtle, devilish whisperings are more potent in misguiding the person. If the heart of a person passionately craves the dunya, craves worldly stuff or worldly status, and is bewitched by it, then even a small prompting by shaytan will incite the person’s hawa, causing him to further forget Allah and relentlessly pursue the dunya – even if doing so involves sin or transgression. Otherwise, despite Satan’s hatred; contempt; malice; and spiteful jealousy of human beings, the Qur’an tells us: Indeed the devil’s guile is ever weak. [Q.4:76] That is, Satan would have no power over us were it not for the weakness in our own selves and our relationship with Allah, and what we concede or capitulate to him. You shall have no authority over My servants, except those that follow you from among the perverse, is what the Holy Qur’an also says [Q.15:42].

To be perfectly clear, this isn’t an excuse to underestimate Satan’s stratagems and plots. They are serious, and their misguidance highly subtle and seductive. The Qur’an warns: O you who believe! Enter into Islam fully, and do not follow the footsteps of the devil; for he is to you an avowed enemy. [Q.2:208] And: He makes them promises and stirs in them desires, but what Satan promises them is nothing but delusion. [Q.4:120] Also: The devil made their [sinful] deeds seem fair to them, and so debarred them from the Path. [Q.29:38] It’s further worth noting that the Qur’an itself warns about the devil’s plots and skullduggery much more than it does the corrupting influence of the ego – even though it is the ego, the nafs, which is the locus of a person’s waywardness and whimsical cravings.

One of the greatest weapons in Satan’s arsenal is to cultivate fear and anxiety in and around us: fear of not being able to live life as we wish, fear of economic hardship and a lessening of income, fear of losing good health, or fear of not doing well in this world if one lives the religious life: The devil threatens you with poverty and bids you to commit indecency. But Allah promises you His pardon and His bounty. Allah is Embracing, Knowing. [Q.2:268] By contrast, the believer, although he or she acts responsibly in regards the above-mentioned concerns, lives life with an inner sense of peace and tranquility; since he knows that all is in God’s hand, and all is unfolding as per His divine plan.

The remedy against Satan and his insidious whispering (waswasah) is: to seek refuge in Allah and actively push back against his insinuations. That the devil is long-lived, cunning and unseen, and whispers into the breasts of men [Q.114:5] makes him an enemy that we by ourselves can never hope to defeat. Hence it is with this recognition of our inability and of our neediness in Allah’s might and mercy, that we seek refuge in Allah from shaytan. And it is because Allah alone is All-Powerful, All-Invincible, All-Knowing, and cares for our welfare, that we direct our broken pleas of protection to Him, and none other. And when a person sincerely seeks shelter in God’s protective care and guardianship, then Allah will protect him; and the devil will shrink into insignificance and slink away. And if a whisper from the Devil reaches you, then seek refuge in Allah. He is All-Hearing, All-Knowing. [Q.7:200] A believer’s suluk, then, cannot do without frequent and ample supplication (du‘a) of seeking refuge with Allah.

As for Satan’s stratagems of misguidance, then let’s conclude the article with a brief discussion of the steps he deploys. Undoubtedly, the greater plan of the devil is to first render Man disobedient, then ungrateful and then forgetful of God; and we seek refuge in Allah from this. Shaytan works tirelessly to make us Muslims forget who we are, where we are and to what end we are travelling on our brief earthly sojourn. So the first goto weapon of choice for Satan is:

1 – Diversion (sarf): The first ruse of the devil is to divert a person away from their work of worship and obedience to God. So when a person is inspired to do an act of worship or a godly deed, Satan will whisper a subtle suggestion to the person as to why they need not carry out such a deed, or how there are more gratifying things to attend to, or cast doubt on the very notion of trying to live righteously. And before he realises it, that flash of inspiration vanishes like a puff of smoke, and Satan leaves him in spiritual ruin. Should the Kind Lord be sheltering this individual in His protective care, or give him the enabling grace (tawfiq), he will say: ‘Works of faith are absolutely essential. I can no more do without them than I can the air I breathe!’

2 – Procrastination (taswif): If the devil cannot achieve his intent through sarf ‘ani’l-‘aml – diversion away from works [of obedience], then he tries to assail the believer through the door of taswif; procrastination. Putting off an act until tomorrow that should or could be done today is the essence of procrastination. So a person resolves to reform their wayward life and make it Allah-oriented. Not wanting to be transparent, Satan says to him: ‘It’s a good thing, but don’t rush into it. You’re still young. Wait till you’re forty or have at least made hajj.’ So the person succumbs to Satan’s ‘logic’ and puts-off reforming his life. Yet who knows how long we will live, or if one will receive such inspiration again? Or take the case of intending to give charity, or offer a few rak‘ahs of optional prayers. Satan will suggest we wait for a needier cause to come up to give our sadaqah to; or that we will be more focussed in our prayer if we first reply to our WhatsApp messages and check our social media notifications. And before we know it, we forget what it is we wished to do, or get lost in the distractions, or simply miss the window of opportunity entirely! The cure for this comes in the hadith: ‘Take advantage of five [things] before five [others]: your youth before your old age, your health before your sickness, your wealth before your poverty, your free time before you are preoccupied, and your life before your death.’4

3 – Ostentation (riya’): Failing to get a person to turn away from godly works, and if not, then to at least delay doing them, the devil doesn’t throw his hands up in the air and give up. If the person is that firmly resolved in carrying out a good act, the devil will even coax him in it. For even the devil tempts to virtue, if it leads to a greater vice! At this stage, that vice is frequently riya’ – making a show of good deeds and acts of piety. We humans like the approval of others. So Satan plays on that and tempts us into directing our acts of obedience and worship at winning such approval and praise. He stirs in us the desire for our works of faith to be seen by others and hopefully win their compliments. Riya’, ostentation, as the Book and Sunnah tell us, is one of the root sins of the heart, contradicts sincerity (ikhlas) and nullifies our deeds. ‘Sincerity is to single-out Allah as the sole object of devotion. That is, one intends by their obedience to draw closer to Allah, exalted is He, to the exclusion of all else – like making a show [of one’s piety] for people; seeking their praise; taking pleasure in their compliments; or other such things besides drawing closer to Allah, exalted is He. It is correct to say that sincerity is: Purifying the act from creation having any share in it.’5 Such a major breech of adab with Allah is best remedied when we realise, as masters of the heart say, that the essence of sincerity is: nisyan ru’yati’l-khalq bi dawam al-nazr ila’l-khaliq – ‘To forget seeing the creation by constantly gazing at the Creator.’

4 – Haste (‘ajalah): If Allah protects a person from the devilish temptation of riya’, the person will be given the tawfiq to tell himself that he will not seek the praises of others in his worship of God; praying Allah make his actions correct, sincerely seeking His face, letting none have any share of his worship of Him.6 Haste, then, becomes Satan’s next method of attack. The Prophet ﷺ said: al-ta’anni min Allah wa’l-‘ajalah min al-shaytan – ‘Deliberation is from Allah, but haste is from the devil.’7 Thus when one recites the Qur’an, and reads their daily adhkar and awrad, and even when praying, the devil incites the person to read or pray hastily; without deliberation, without thoughtfulness, or without mindful focus or presence of heart. The recitation then resembles thoughtless babble; the prayer, the rapid pecking of a woodpecker. Such haste deprives one of the lights of worship, the fruits of worship, the effects of worship, and the delights of worship. The therapy: to be deliberate, thoughtful, composed, and focused in worship. One should ensure, too, that the act fulfils the conditions, pillars, obligations and required courtesies that are stipulated in our manuals of fiqh and suluk; doing so with as much excellence as we can muster.

5 – Vanity (‘ujb): First comes diversion from acts of righteousness. The second is procrastination. Failing that, Satan tries to worm his way through the third door, that of ostentation; then the fourth, which is haste. If he doesn’t succeed even there, he whispers thoughts of ‘ujb: vanity, self-conceit, being impressed with oneself. This fifth ploy is where a person begins to harbour pretensions of righteousness, even though righteous accomplishments are not of our own doing, but are gifts from God: Allah created you and what you do. [Q.37:96] And: Whatever good befalls you is from Allah. [Q.4:79] It is only when shaytan blinds us to this reality do we then start to see godly works as being of our own doing; and thereby grow vain, conceited, and bask in our own self-glory. ‘I have been given it because of the knowledge I possess’ [Q.28:78] isn’t really the attitude of a believer. Instead, Ibn ‘Ata’illah reminds us of the proper state to be in when he expressed in his celebrated Hikam: ‘Let not acts of obedience make you joyous because they come from you. But be joyous because they come from Allah to you. Say: “In the grace of God and His mercy, in that let them rejoice. This is better than that which they hoard.” [Q.10:58]’8

6 – Subtle Ostentation (daqiq al-riya’): If after pulling out all the stops shaytan still finds the worshipper resolute, sincere and humble, he has this deception to corrupt the person’s good deed and render it null and void. He secretes this thought into the person: ‘Be sincere in your worship, and do not seek peoples’ praises or let them have any share in it. Then Allah Himself will make this act known to the public, and cause them to appreciate you and turn to you.’ The person’s motives are thus corrupted and he ends up on the wrong side of God. For true sincerity is to seek only Allah’s ridwan – only His good pleasure and approval. That Allah may cause the sincere one to be known and loved by others is one thing. But to surreptitiously crave this as the end object, instead of Allah, is another thing entirely. But once temptation is stirred, the intellect become blinded, and so: The devil made their [sinful] deeds seem fair to them, and so debarred them from the Path. [Q.29:38] Therefore let us not feel secure against his deceptions and ploys for even an instant, seeking frequent refuge in our Merciful Lord.

May Allah guide us to be alert to shaytan’s stratagems and subtle deceptions, and protect us from our own weaknesses. Indeed, He is the One to hear, and the One to respond.

1. Its like was said by Imam Ahmad, in Abu Ya‘la, Tabaqat al-Hanabilah (Cairo: Matba‘ah al-Sunnah al-Muhammadiyyah, n.d.), 2:379.

2. Al-Bukhari, no.6502.

3. Ibn Majah, no.4102. Its chain was considered hasan in al-Nawawi, Riyadh al-Salihin (Riyadh: Dar Ibn al-Jawzi, 1421H), no.476.

4. Al-Bayhaqi, Shu‘ab al-Iman, no.9575, and its chain is hasan. See: al-‘Iraqi, al-Mughni ‘an Haml al-Asfar (Riyadh: Maktabah al-Tabariyyah, 1995), 3:1206; no.4366.

5. Al-Qushayri, al-Risalat al-Qushayriyyah (Jeddah: Dar al-Minhaj, 2017), 476.

6. Ibn Taymiyyah attributes this du‘a to sayyiduna ‘Umar in his essay called, al-‘Ubudiyyah (Riyadh: Dar al-Mughni, 2012), 56.

7. Al-Bayhaqi, al-Sunan al-Kubra, no.20057; and something very similar was related in al-Tirmidhi, no.2012. Its chain was evaluated as being hasan in Nasir al-Din al-Albani, Silsilat al-Ahadith al-Sahihah (Riyadh: Maktabah al-Ma‘arif, 1988), no.1795.

8. Al-Hikam al-‘Ata’iyyah (Egypt: Dar al-Salam, 2006), no.58.

Passing the Buck: De-Normalise the Culture of Self-Promotion!

Possibly one of the most spiritually damaging traits – particularly for scholars, shaykhs, preachers and teachers – is the culture of self promotion and of not passing matters on to those more learned or more spiritually rooted. That such a tendency has now been normalised does not speak to our sophistication, nor to our savviness, but to our sickness.  

Islamic groups and organisations will do this due to hizbiyyah – ‘partisanship’, ‘bigotry’ and gaining their share of the limelight, or because of the revenue loss it could entail if their own speakers are not the public’s port of call. Individuals will often succumb to this out of vanity (‘ujb), ostentation (riya’), craving fame or status (hubb al-ri’asah), or some other inglorious nafsi reasons. Consider Imam al-Ghazali’s words:

وَكَمْ مِنْ أَعْمَالٍ يَتْعَبُ الْإِنْسَانُ فِيهَا وَيَظُنُّ أَنَّهَا خَالِصَةٌ لِوَجْهِ اللَّهِ وَيَكُونُ فِيهَا مَغْرُورٌ لِأَنَّهُ لَا يُرَى … وَأَشَدُّ الْخَلْقِ تَعَرُّضًاً لِهَذِهِ الْفِتْنَةِ الْعُلَمَاءِ فَإِنَّ الْبَاعِثَ لِلْأَكْثَرِينَ عَلَى نَشْرِ الْعِلْمِ لَذَّةُ الِاسْتِيلَاءِ وَالْفَرَحِ بِالِاسْتِتْبَاعِ وَالِاسْتِبْشَارِ بِالْحَمْدِ وَالثَّنَاءِ.

‘How many an act has man troubled himself with, thinking it to be sincerely seeking the Face of Allah. Yet it contains deception, the harm of which he does not see … Those subjected most severely to this trial (fitnah) are the scholars. Most of them are motivated to profess knowledge for the mere pleasure of their mastery, the joy of [gaining] a following, or of being praised and lauded.’1

He then offers this example:

وَتَرَى الْوَاعِظَ يَمُنُّ عَلَى اللَّهِ تَعَالَى بِنَصِيحَةِ الْخَلْقِ وَوَعْظِهِ لِلسَّلَاطِينِ وَيَفْرَحُ بِقَبُولِ النَّاسِ قَوْلُهُ وَإِقْبَالِهِمْ عَلَيْهِ وَهُوَ يَدَّعِي أَنَّهُ يَفْرَحُ بِمَا يُسِرُّ لَهُ مِنْ نُصْرَةِ الدِّينِ وَلَوْ ظَهَرَ مِنْ أَقْرَانِهِ مَنْ هُوَ أَحْسَنُ مِنْهُ وَعْظًاً وَانْصَرَفَ النَّاسُ عَنْهُ وَأَقْبَلُوا عَلَيْهِ سَاءَهُ ذَلِكَ وَغَمَّهُ وَلَوْ كَانَ بَاعِثَهُ الدِّينَ لَشُكْرِ اللَّهِ تَعَالَى إِذْ كَفَاهُ اللَّهُ تَعَالَى هَذَا الْمُهِمَّ بِغَيْرِهِ.

‘Thus you see a preacher who advises people about Allah and counsels rulers. He is overjoyed at people’s acceptance of him and his utterances. He claims to rejoice in having been chosen to help the religion. But should one of his peers who preaches better than he appear, and people turn away from him, accepting the other, it would displease or distress him. Had religion been his true motive, he would have thanked Allah for having spared him this weighty [duty] through another.’2

It would be unwise of us to feel confident that we are free of such a malady. And yet rida ‘an al-nafs – being ‘self-satisfied’, or feeling smug about oneself; one’s knowledge; or one’s accomplishments, is the spiritual poison many of us seem content to inhale, despite it choking to death our spiritual life. Sincere, genuine repentance is the only healing balm. Serious spiritual introspection about our motives or intentions is the only course of action.

Compare today’s culture of self-promotion with our venerable salaf. Of how those of them who were less travelled in the path of knowledge and spiritual realisation deferred to those who were more rooted or better travelled. Even well-travelled ones would frantically avoid giving fatwas when possible, if they could pass the buck on to someone else.

Ibn Abi Layla, a famous tabi‘i, said: ‘I met one hundred and twenty Companions of Allah’s Messenger ﷺ, from the Ansar. There wasn’t a man among them who was asked about something, except that he loved that his brother would suffice him [by answering].’3

In another narration: ‘… Whenever one of them was asked about an issue, he would refer it on to another, and this other would refer it on to yet another; until it would return back to the first person.’4

Al-Bara’: ‘I met three hundred of the people of Badr. There wasn’t any among them, except that he wished that his companion would suffice him by giving the fatwa.’5

And Bishr al-Hafi said: ‘Whoever loves to be asked isn’t from those who should be asked.’6

The sirah of the Prophet ﷺ, and the hagiographies of the awliya and leading imams teach us that the believer is one who has deep humility, is unassuming in terms of the good Allah honours them to do, and is self-deprecating – not in some outward Victorian sense, but from sincere inward realisation of what they are not. But such virtues are antithetical to our age, which demands that we sell ourselves, and over magnify our ‘talents’ so as to promote our selves, and not delve too much into the question of intentions. And the truth of the matter is that Muslim organisations and individuals have not been immune to this regrettable self promotion and commodification of the ummah. Nor has enough be done to tackle this spiritual morass.

We ask Allah for safety, sincerity and grace; and we ask, too, that He help us be sincere to Allah’s servants and point them to those better suited to be sacred shepherds.

1. Ihya’ ‘Ulum al-Din (Saudi Arabia: Dar al-Minhaj, 2011), 9:70-71.

2. ibid., 9:71. I based my translation of these passages on A. Shaker (trans.), al-Ghazali, Intention, Sincerity and Truthfulness (Cambridge: The Islamic Texts Society, 2013), 62.

3. Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr, Jami‘ Bayan al-‘Ilm (Riyadh: Dar Ibn al-Jawzi, 1994), no.2201.

4. Jami‘ Bayan al-‘Ilm, no.2199.

5. Al-Khatib, al-Faqih wa’l-Mutafaqqih (Riyadh: Dar Ibn al-Jawzi, 1996), no.1076.

6. ibid., no.1084.

Spiritual Discourses: Shaykh Jaleel Ahmad Akhoon [1]

Long time readers of The Humble I may have seen Shaykh Jaleel Ahmad Akhoon’s name crop up now and again. I first wrote about the Shaykh, hafizahullah, after my first travel, and therefore my first real suhbah or spiritual companionship, with him back in 2013. The piece, a sort of travelogue, was called: You Have Wings to Fly, So Don’t Crawl!

After that, I’ve quoted some of the Shaykh’s malfuzat, or ‘[spiritual] discourses’, and have woven them into three or four blog pieces. I have long intended to translate much more of the Shaykh’s malfuzat (he speaks in Urdu, breaking into Persian mystical poetry – Sa‘di, Rumi, et al – now and again), but haven’t had the window of opportunity. I hope to rectify such a remiss on my part, beginning with this piece which is a translation of some of his shorter gems and discourses. Sometimes I will paraphrase Shaykh Jaleel’s words, at other times I’ll quote him directly, depending on how it helps the flow of the discourse. In other words, sometimes I’ll be faithful to the spiritual meanings the Shaykh intends to impart; at other times I will be faithful to his actual words; bi’idhni’Llah. 

1 – Flee to Allah: In his Safrnama or ‘Travelogue’ to Zambia in 2013, Shaykh Jaleel Ahmad Akhoon exhorts: ‘People today say that society’s condition is really bad; what can we do? But look! The venerable Yusuf, ‘alayhis-salam, didn’t just sit there in a sinful environment making tasbih. Instead, he ran [to Allah; i.e. he took serious steps to shun sin]. This is the only way to be safe from sin, to start running. It’s the only way: So flee to Allah. [Q.51:50]’

What Shaykh Jaleel is stressing here is that we must resist the temptation to let our guards down in the face of modernity’s widespread laxity in sinful conduct and promiscuity. The way to do this, as the Shaykh often states, is via mujahadah – ‘spiritual struggle’ against sins and one’s egotistical soul, to bring ourselves in line with Allah’s loving obedience:

2 – Spiritual Struggle and Seeing Allah: Once in a conversation among spiritual aspirants and seekers in Karachi, the Shaykh advised: ‘Try to spiritually strive (mujahadah) right up till death. After that, it’s spiritual witnessing (mushahadah) all the way.’

In other words, as the true seekers strive their utmost to live their lives in loving surrender and sincere worship of Him, they are gifted and lifted to a station of: an ta‘budu’Llaha ka annaka tara – ‘that you worship Allah as though seeing Him’ [Al-Bukhari, no.6502] in this world; in the next: Some faces on that day shall be radiant, gazing at their Lord. [Q.75:22-3] In this life, mushahadah – spiritual witnessing – is to see Allah with the spiritual eye, due to the heart being full to the brim with faith, sincerity, loving obedience and yearning for Allah. Such yearners are then given to actually see Allah in the Eternal Abode of Ultimate Bliss. Thus by divine grace, a life of mujahadah leads to mushahadah, and to an eternal life of the Beatific Vision. So let’s roll up our sleeves and begin the work! But let us beware of:

3 – Having a Poor Grasp of What Counts as Sins: Also in his Zambian Travelogue, Shaykh Jaleel laments: ‘We haven’t grasped what taqwa is. We think that only a few big sins – like theft, robbery, or fornication and adultery – are actual sins, and that not falling into them makes us a muttaqi. But if the reality of taqwa truly dawned on us, we would seek Allah’s forgiveness for even the good we’ve done; in that: O Lord, what worth is there in our good deed? We don’t ask a reward for it; instead, please just forgive us.’

What the Shaykh, hafizahullah, is alerting us to is that without rooting this reality in our soul, that any good we do has its true source in Allah, we’re in danger of falling into ‘ujb: vanity and self-conceit. ‘Ujb is when we fail to realise the good we have done is not of our own doing: it’s a gift from God. Only when blinded to this do we then see good deeds as being of our own achievement. It’s here we begin to become vain or egotistical, basking in our own self-glory.

As for a common sin often overlooked or downplayed by us moderns, and which is highly toxic to the purity of the spiritual heart, it is:

4 – The Eyes Feasting on the Forbidden: ‘Whoever corrupts their eyes in this world, Allah, exalted is He, will not permit him to be drawn close. For how can impure eyes ever see the Pure Being [of Allah]? Those whose eyes have the traces of impurity or filth in them shall not see the lights of Allah’s mushahadah; neither in this world, nor in the next.’ Guarding the gaze from haram forms and images is a frequent theme of the Shaykh’s mudhakarahs and tarbiyah, given our complacency of the inherent spiritual dangers in not doing so.

The pressing question which remains is this: How can we turn our heart’s gaze away from sin and focus it on Allah (or else to at least learn to avert our gaze or to see mindfully)? To this spiritual quandary, these words of the Shaykh, hafizahullah, are key to those who give them pause for spiritual thought:

5 – Kindling the Flame of Divine Love in Your Heart: ‘Mawlana Rumi, rahimahullah, often asked his shaykh Shams Tabrizi, rahimahullah: “Put a few words into my ear by which the flames of Allah’s love can be set ablaze in my heart.” This is because the ear is a funnel, an auditory canal, through which sound travels and then reaches the heart. So the reason why it is made to hear talk about divine love is so that such talk can become, as it were, a capsule of light which may then burst into our heart. By this, the heart is illumined; the flames of Allah’s love are kindled in it; the world diminishes in our sight; big and mighty nations are seen as lowly; and throne and crown appear as trinkets to sell.’

This sense of the dunya’s hold over us weakening as love of Allah more and more fills our heart is beautifully, yet simply, illustrated in the next exhortation:

6 – On the Wings of Love: A few years back, in a small gathering of seekers and students of sacred knowledge in London, Shaykh Jaleel told us that as one steadily fills their heart with sincere love of God, love of dunya is gradually cast out. Imagine it to be an airplane journey, he said. If, while the plane is still on the tarmac, one peers out the window, other planes and the airport terminals look large and imposing. But as the plane takes off and starts its upward climb, those same objects appear smaller and smaller, until they look so tiny and insignificant, and just disappear. Likewise, as we make a serious effort to fill our heart with Allah’s love; and as the heart soars higher and higher in its journey to Him, the dunya appears more and more insignificant in its sight; until it diminishes, dwindles, and finally vanishes.

Vital to nurturing love of Allah in the heart, and of shunning sins and hastening to divine obedience, is the spiritual practice of muraqabah – ‘vigilance’ of God. Muraqabah is to be mindful of Allah at all times, trying to feel His nearness and presence, making sure that He never see us in a situation He has forbidden us from – which is the subject of our final discourse from Shaykh Jaleel, hafizahullah:

7 – Cling to Muraqabah and Mindfulness: In this respect, the Shaykh explained: ‘This is the Station of Spiritual Excellence (maqam al-ihsan), that a person brings to mind at every moment that Allah is watching me. Whoever actualises such a state will not commit a sin. This is why our grand shaykh, the venerable ‘arif, Mawlana Shah ‘Abd al-Ghani Puhlpuri, rahmatullah ‘alayhi, would teach this muraqabah practice that for five minutes every day meditate over the verse: أَلَمْ يَعْلَمْ بِأَنَّ اللَّهَ يَرَى – Is he not aware that Allah sees? [Q.96:14] This is everyone’s belief. We all believe that Allah, exalted is He, sees us. But as a person steadily contemplates over the fact that my Lord sees me, then love of Allah grows and it becomes harder to commit sins.’

Allahumma inna nas’aluka hubbaka, wa
hubba man yuhibbuka, wa hubba
‘amalin yuqarribuna
ila hubbika.
Amin!

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.

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: