The Humble I

Knowing, Doing, Becoming

Archive for the category “sufism, suluk & spirituality”

‘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 renege. 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.

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.

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.

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: