The Humble "I"

Knowing, Doing, Becoming

Archive for the category “sufism & spirituality”

Teaching & Purification: the Two Prophetic Tasks

Illuminating Turkish BeautyThe Prophet ﷺ once said: ‘I am the prayer of my father Abraham and the glad tidings [proclaimed by] Jesus to his people, and the vision of my mother who, while pregnant with me, saw a light issue forth from her which lit up the castles of Syria.’1

The good news of Jesus, referred to above, is mentioned in the following verse of the Qur’an: And [recall] Jesus, son of Mary, who said: ‘O Children of Israel, I am the Messenger of Allah to you, confirming that which was before me in the Torah and bringing good news of a Messenger who will come after me, whose name is Ahmad.’ [61:6]

As for Abraham’s prayer, peace be upon him, the Qur’an says: ‘Our Lord! Raise among them a Messenger from them who shall recite Your signs to them and teach them the Book and the wisdom, and purify them. You are the August, the Wise.’ [2:129]

Allah’s response to His khalil’s prayer is: He it is who has sent among the unlettered ones a messenger of their own, to recite to them His signs and to purify them, and to teach them the Book and the wisdom, though before they were in manifest error. [62:2]

The above highlight weighty considerations for our faith and spiritual growth; which include the following:

1. That our Prophet ﷺ was commissioned with two primary tasks: teaching (ta‘lim) and purification (tazkiyah): teaching us revealed knowledge about God, divinity and the afterlife; and purifying souls from the vices of idolatry (shirk), disbelief (kufr) and heedlessness (ghaflah) of the revealed commands and the Divine Presence.

2. Although Abraham put ta‘lim before tazkiyah in his supplication, Allah responded with tazkiyah first, then ta‘lim. Again in the Qur’an, Allah puts tazkiyah first: We have sent to you a Messenger from among you, to recite to you Our signs and purify you, teach you the Book and the wisdom, and teach you that which you knew not. [2:151] This tells us that purification has a distinction over teaching, and that the former is the goal while the latter is the necessary means.

3. That knowledge must be coupled with action – which is a sign that the purification process is underway – is borne out by the following salaf-reports: From Ibn Mas‘ud, may Allah be pleased with him, who repeatedly insisted: ‘O people, learn! Whosoever learns, then let them act.’2 The venerable sage, Sahl al-Tustari remarked: ‘Knowledge, all of it is of the world; that of it which is of the Hereafter, is action upon it.’3 And Abu Qilabah, a traditionist and pietist of Islam’s second century, stated: ‘When Allah gives you knowledge, give to Him worship; and let not your desire be to merely narrate it to the people.’4

4. In the context of knowledge and purification, the Prophet ﷺ stated: ‘Two qualities shall never coexist in a hypocrite: good character and understanding of the religion.’5 In other words, a hypocrite may acquire a sound, theoretical knowledge of Islam, but it won’t be reflected in piety, character or demeanour. Or it could be that a hypocrite might have a graceful character, but will lack a sound understanding of faith. It is only with the true believer that a sound understanding (fiqh) of the religion is united with righteous action and inward illumination of the soul. So knowledge in itself does not save: unless it is translated into piety, concern for beautiful character, compassion for creation and, ultimately, seeking Allah and the afterlife.

5.  As the monoculture puts Muslim distinctness under greater siege, we must ensure that the Quranic purification always remains at the heart of the Islamic story and its engagement with modernity. That any meaningful diversity is now seen as potentially destabilising to social cohesion simply serves to prove liberalism’s intolerance, as well as its growing totalitarian nature. Tawhid is told to not be so judgemental upon shirk. The Abrahamic odyssey is required to make way for the new Nimrods: the new lords of misrule. Monotheism is put on notice and told to bow down to Babylon. Pressures such as these will, regrettably, produce victims – except if my Lord has mercy. [12:53] For conformity is part of human nature. But a browbeaten Muslim who reluctantly gives in or capitulates isn’t the same as the ever growing cadre of Muslims who are anxious to please and who play fast and loose with revealed principles. Where we cannot live up to the social demands of faith, let us admit our own weaknesses and implore Allah for forgiveness, courage and strength. We cannot twist revealed truths, or water them down, or adulterate them just to fit in, gain acceptance, or curry favour. For as far as faith and hope are concerned, better a sinner than a sell-out.

6. Keeping the two core prophetic tasks firmly in mind, we need to be mindful about any activism or call to action which seeks to eclipse them or deflect the ummah away from them. In fact, all socio-political activism must be subordinate to these two tasks. Those who have lost sight of these core concerns should be gently and wisely guided back to them. The Prophet ﷺ said: ‘Salvation for the first part of this nation is with certainty (yaqin) and worldly renunciation (zuhd); destruction of the last part of this nation is by miserliness (bukhl) and [lengthy] hopes (amal).’6 Munawi said: ‘Meaning that the earlier ones adorned themselves with certainty and worldly detachment and purged themselves of miserliness and hopes. This was a cause for their salvation from perdition. In the latter times, the opposite will be the case.’7 He also wrote: ‘In it is a censure of miserliness and hopes (amal). But what is blameworthy is lengthy hopes, as has been said. As for hopes in themselves, they are necessary for the establishment of this worldly life.’8 Yaqin, certainty of faith, is the fruit of sound teachings, while zuhd is the outcome of the soul’s restraint; itself a fruit of purification.

7. As to the levels of faith and certainty, they are: (i) Faith via taqlid: where faith comes from taking it from an authority one trusts, without knowing the formal proofs for it. This is the faith of the lay people, and is easily susceptible to doubts. (ii) Faith through evidence (burhan): this is the fruit of learning formal proofs and discursive arguments. This is the faith of scholars and theologians. (iii) Faith via spiritual sight (‘ayan): this is where faith is the result of the heart having an abiding vigilance (muraqabah) of Allah. It’s the faith of those having reached the Station of Vigilance (maqam al-muraqabah). (iv) Faith via spiritual witnessing (mushahadah): it is where the heart witnesses Allah, as though seeing Him. This is the faith of the ‘arifun blessed with reaching the Station of Spiritual Witnessing (maqam al-mushahadah). The first level of faith can be fragile: the next three beget ascending degrees of conviction and certainty.9

8. Beware reformist Muslims aching to align Islam with current western sensibilities, desperate to erase any distinctness that may make the monoculture feel unsettled. Be mindful of Muslim preachers unhinged from the sanad tradition, unschooled in adab and spiritual wisdom, who conflate harshness and severity with piety, thereby helping to drive many a servant of God into the icy realms of Riddastan. Beware, also, of the Muslim activist adopting the Sunnah out of reaction, protest, desperation, insecurity, identity politics, or because he cannot discover what else he wishes to be. Experience repeatedly demonstrates that such a person is likely to be ‘an engine of tanfir, driving humanity away from Islam by turning it into a language for proclaiming his inward traumas.’10

9. Before finishing, this concern about ta‘lim and tazkiyah; teaching and purification: Be not like those who became fixated on demonstrating the correctness of Islam, but came to practice nothing of Islam itself. Be not like those who were busy proving the existence of God, but came to care nothing for God Himself.

10. Lastly, ta‘lim reveals that our age is frought with so much confusion. Tazkiyah tells us that souls have never been so prone to egotism or spiritual lethargy. Together they help us realise that the times call on us that we too, like Allah’s wali, be infused with a spirit of love. For loving Allah, the wali loves His purposes; and looking at creation with love, laments that the Lord is forgotten, His commands disobeyed, and His signs unheeded.

Allahumma habbib ilayna’l-iman wa zayyinhu fi qulubina,
wa karrih ilayna’l-kufra wa’l-fusuqa wa’l-‘isyan,
waj‘alna min al-rashidin.
Amin.

1. Al-Hakim, Mustadrak, no.4175. It being a sahih hadith is shown in al-Albani, Silsilat al-Ahadith al-Sahihah (Riyadh: Maktabah al-Ma‘arif, 1988), no.1545.

2. Cited in al-Khatib al-Baghdadi, Iqtida’ al-‘Ilm al-‘Aml (Riyadh: Maktabah al-Ma‘arif, 2002), no.11.

3. ibid., no.20.

4. ibid., no.37.

5. Al-Tirmidhi, no.2684, and it is sahih due to its collective routes of transmission. See: al-Albani, Silsilat al-Ahadith al-Sahihah (Riyadh: Maktabah al-Ma‘arif, 1995), no.278.

6. Ibn Abi Dunya, Qasr al-Amal, no.20. Al-Albani graded the hadith hasan li ghayrihi in Sahih al-Targhib wa’l-Tarhib (Riyadh: Maktabah al-Ma‘arif, 2006), no.3340.

7. Fayd al-Qadir (Beirut: Dar al-Ma‘rifah, n.d.), 6:282; no.9256.

8. ibid., 6:282.

9. For a further discussion on these levels of faith, see: al-Bayjuri, Tuhfat al-Murid ‘ala Jawharat al-Tawhid (Cairo: Dar al-Salam, 2006), 90.

10. A.H. Murad, Commentary on the Eleventh Contentions (Cambridge: Quilliam Press, 2012), 66.

Footprints on the Sands of Time 4

sand-desert-alone-people-sand-dunes-footprint-1920x1200-wallpaper_www.wallmay.net_14Ours is an age of unparalleled spiritual pollution and deeply instilled ignorance about the human purpose. It’s an age in which religious practitioners of all faiths are feeling more and more claustrophobic, as society accords them less and less breathing space and loses interest in their concerns. The pressures now brought to bear on Religion to keep chipping away at the Sacred to concede ever more to the profane, are immense. This series of reflections and musings are offered as part of an ongoing conversation about how we Muslims can best engage these turbulent times, in a way that allows us to cultivate an Islam that is true to its time-honoured tradition, relevant to its current context, and of benefit to the deepest needs of humanity. (Earlier meditations in this series of “Footprints” may be read here, here and here).

On appealing to hardened hearts: The councels of Revelation and the warnings of the wise are often, in and of themselves, insufficient for those whose hearts are encrusted in sins and worldliness. Allah then makes them taste the turmoils of worldliness and the anguish of sins, that they may become disillusioned by them. Avoiding them then becomes easier.

On the ego’s infamies: From the vulgarities of the ego (nafs) is that whenever a person loves attention or prominence, he actively seeks out the faults of others.

On being lulled into a sense of comfort, then carelessness, then kufr: The whole point of the monoculture is to make us as comfortable – and thus as forgetful – as possible; to live as cattle concerned only about the patch of grass under our noses. Abrahamic monotheism, however, teaches us that it’s not that this present life is worthless, but that there is something beyond worth infinitely more. It asks us to stop looking down on our small chewing patch and lift our eyes towards the far horizons.

On being driven mad through turbo consumption: “Insan with the e-culture becomes insane.” – Abdal Hakim Murad

On how to select a spouse and have a blessed marriage: Religiousness, piety and good character must be the touchstone for spouse selection. Much good can come from a God-fearing heart, and a pious disposition is essential for attracting divine grace and blessings from heaven. But being on good terms with God does not always translate itself into good behaviour with others. Hence the prophetic advice to select someone whose “religion and character pleases you.” [Al-Tirmidhi, no.1088]

On the essence of Islam: Taqwa can be rendered into English as piety, mindfulness of God, guarding against evil and fearing God. Its essence lies in being profoundly aware of God and moulding one’s life in the light of this awareness. In other words, taqwa is God-consciousness.

On the prophetic way of engaging the monoculture: In engaging the monoculture, let us have a heart of ‘izzah, the eye of rahmah and the hand of khidmah.

On the question of Muslims ditching science and being Creationists: Muslims are, by definition, “creationists” – in the sense that they believe in a Creator-God; not in the sense that they are tied to a belief that the earth is a mere five thousand or so years old. Since there is nothing definitive in Islam’s Revelation about the age of the earth, it’s age is thus a question for emperical data and science to answer.

On the voice and valour of the Abrahamic Call: Where the Makkan Quraysh failed to see the disconnect between them and the true Abrahamic legacy; and failed to heed the discontent and suffering of the many at the hands of the elite few, the Prophet ﷺ saw it, understood it and gave voice to it.

On jihad in Islam: In classical Islam, warfare is regulated by an all-important shari‘ah dictum that states about jihad: wujubuhu wujubu’l-wasa’il la al-maqasid – ‘Its necessity is the necessity of means, not of ends.’ Indeed, Islam’s overall take on war is best seen in the following proclamation of our Prophet Muhammad ﷺ: ‘Do not wish to meet your enemy, but ask Allah for safety. But if you do meet them, be firm and know that Paradise lies beneath the shades of swords.’ [Al-Bukhari, no.3024; Muslim, no.172] That is to say, pursue the path of peace and reconciliation; if such a path be denied by belligerence or hostile intent, then be prepared to act differently.

Let’s not forget this martial jihad has rules and codes of conduct too. Among them is that the leader carefully evaluate the potential benefits and harms of armed struggle; ensure civilians and non-combatants are not killed or wilfully attacked; abide by the other sanctities upheld in Islam; and keep in mind receptivity to the call (da‘wah) to Islam.

On working towards realities, not just claims: Scholars say: al-‘ibrah bi’l-haqa’iq wa’l-ma‘ani la bi’l-alfaz wa’l-mabani – “What counts are realities and meanings, not merely wordings or labels.” Consider the following limerick:

There once was a sufi with beads,
Who was terribly impressed with his deeds,
The salafi, he scorned
“You’ve no purity” he warned,
With his self he was O so well-pleased.

On shared morals as social glue: For all our urbanised airs and graces, in the absence of laws obeyed and a strong sense of a shared moral code, community and society will undoubtedly begin to fray at the seams.

On visiting the ahlu’Llah – the “people of Allah”: One sits in their presence to listen, observe, learn, practice service (khidmah) and gain self-knowledge; not pursue worldly ambitions, promote one’s ego, or encounter “exciting” spiritual experiences.

 

On the monoculture’s manufacturing of consent: How many cherished convictions of the masses in today’s “advanced” democracies are actually well-informed, fact-based certainties? And how many of them are mental and emotional habits, conditioned by a climate of media soundbites, entertainment education and the passing trends of the time?

On the different kinds of drunkenness: It was once said to the distinguished sufi and venerable Imam of Ahl al-Sunnah, Sahl al-Tustari, that intoxications are of four kinds. So he asked: “Tell me what they are.” The man replied: “The intoxication of drink, the intoxication of youth, the intoxication of wealth and the intoxication of authority.” Sahl replied: “There are two more kinds: the intoxication of the scholar who loves this world, and the intoxication of the worshipper who loves to be noticed.”

Revolutions are just a tweet or a T-shirt away: Revolutions are messy and bloody. And although you cannot make omelettes without breaking eggs, Islam insists that there can be other things on the breakfast menu besides eggs. Revolutions are not events, they are processes – often, long, drawn-out ones – whose sought-after outcomes are seldom guaranteed. In fact, given our globalised world; wealthy and powerful outside interests, as well as regional geo-politics, are far more likely to shape final outcomes than are the well-conceived intentions of the masses. Mainstream Sunni Islam has long been suspicious about revolutions; and with plenty of reason to be so.

On seeking a murshid; a “guide” to God: The murshid instructs, advises, trains, arouses sleepy souls, revives decaying hearts and, above all, leads by example.

On a believer’s love of martyrdom: In one hadith, we hear the Prophet ﷺ declare the following: ‘By Him in whose hand is my life. I would love to be killed in Allah’s way, then be brought back to life; then be killed and be brought back to life; then be killed and be brought back to life; and then be killed.’ [Muslim, no.1910] Indeed the Prophet relished martyrdom, not because of the love of blood and gore; neither for the glory of war itself; nor for the clanging of steel or the thrill of the fight. He loved it because of what it manifested of the highest act of service and ultimate sacrifice for God. To surrender to God one’s life, for a cause God loves and honours, is the greatest possible expression of loving God. It’s no wonder, then, that the Prophet ﷺ said: ‘Whosoever dies without partaking in a military expedition, or even desiring to do so, dies upon a branch of hypocrisy.’ [Al-Bukhari, no.6830] Believers, though, whilst they long to meet a martyr’s death, strive to live a saintly life. For how can one sincerely desire to die for God, if one doesn’t truly try to live for God?

On where to find one’s heart: “Seek your heart in three places: where the Qur’an is recited; in the gatherings of dhikr; and in times of seclusion. If you do not find it in these places, then ask God to bless you with a heart. For you have no heart!” – Ibn al-Qayyim

On the changing tides of our times: The first chords of the monoculture’s swan song began a few centuries back. We are perhaps now on the final encore.

On luminous souls: Be kind, be courageous; seek the good in everything, harm none, show courtesy to all living creatures; be enchanted with creation, take responsibility; and be learned in the ways of God and godliness – or at least sincerely try.

Turning to God After All Else Has Failed Us

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

In his celebrated volume of spiritual discourses, called Futuh al-Ghayb, the venerable Shaykh and sayyid, ‘Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani (d.561H/1166CE) – the leading Hanbali jurist of Baghdad in his time and a spiritual master par excellence of his age – commences the third of his orations with these words:

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

It seems a poor thing to turn to God as a last resort; to remember Him when all else fails us; to lift our hands to Him only when the ship is going down. If God were proud He would never accept us on such terms. But God is not proud. Instead, Kind, Caring and, Merciful – God will have us even if we have shown that we have preferred others over Him and that we come to Him only because we are now at a dead end. Indeed, it does not really proclaim the glory of God if we chose Him only as an alternative to Hell; and yet even this He accepts. Such is God’s mercy and kindness; such is how He forgives and overlooks His glory’s diminution. In fact, God says in the Qur’an: When My servants ask you concerning Me [tell them] I am indeed close, I answer the prayer of the supplicant when he prays to Me. [2:186] God further states: Say: ‘O My servants who have transgressed against their own souls! Despair not of God’s mercy. God forgives all sins; for He is the All-Forgiving, All-Merciful. [39:53]

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

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

Are You on the Path of Knowing, Doing & Becoming?

islamic-tourism-018Q. I’ve been following your talks and writings, on and off for about sixteen years now. You often mention the Islamic concept of knowing, doing & becoming, describing it as the “methodology of a Muslim” and a “blueprint for a believer.” It’s even the motto of your blog and the Jawziyyah Institute. I know you’ve explained what it means many a time in your talks, but I was hoping you could put something in writing about it.

A. Bismi’Llah. Alhamduli’Llah. Wa’l-salatu wa’l-salamu ‘ala rasuli’Llah. The first thing I’d like to point out is that the idea of knowing, doing & becoming is not mine. Rather, it is something which the scholars are generally united upon, even if they may sometimes express it in different ways. Knowing, doing & becoming refers to: knowing faith, doing works of faith, then becoming transformed by faith. Having laid out the bare bones of the matter, allow me to put some flesh on those bones:

1. The concept of knowing, doing and becoming has its starting point in the celebrated Hadith of Gabriel (jibril). This is the hadith which tells how the Angel Gabriel came to a open gathering of the Prophet ﷺ, in the guise of a man, and put three core questions to him: what is faith (iman); what is [outward] submission (islam); and what is [spiritual] excellence (ihsan)? The Prophet ﷺ replied to the first question by saying that faith is firm and unwavering belief in Allah, the angels, the prophets, the revealed scriptures, the Last Day, and divine decree (qadr). To the next, he ﷺ replied that submission entailed uttering the two testimonies of faith (shahadah), performing the five daily prayers, giving the annual zakat, fasting during the month of Ramadan and undertaking pilgrimage to the Ka‘bah in Makkah. To the last: ‘That you worship Allah as though seeing Him; and through you see Him not, know that He sees you.’ Later, the Prophet ﷺ disclosed: ‘That was Gabriel; he came to teach you your religion.’1

2. The significance in the above hadith is that the entire religion was encapsulated in three spheres: iman, islam and ihsan. The first is about knowing what to believe in; the second, doing those deeds which give concrete expression to one’s beliefs; the third is becoming transformed by those beliefs and deeds. This, then, is the basis for: knowing, doing & becoming. On the merits of this hadith, Qadi ‘Iyad said: ‘This hadith entails an explanation of all the duties of worship, inward and outward, from those [related to] the bonds of faith, actions of the limbs, inward sincerity and protecting actions from the dangers [of non-acceptance] – to the extent that all of the shari‘ah sciences return back to it and branch off from it.’2

3. Knowing (‘ilm), doing (‘aml) & becoming (hal) equate to iman, islam and ihsan. These three, in turn, equate to the Islamic sciences of beliefs (‘aqidah), positive law (fiqh) and spirituality (suluk, tazkiyah, or tasawwuf). Now spirituality is somewhat of a blurry and nebulous word. Today, spirituality can mean anything from lighting an incense stick, hugging a tree, feeling elated by the natural world; art; or a piece of classical music, to long walks, quiet reflection, yoga, meditation, or organised religion. As far as Islam is concerned, spirituality relates to the Spirit; the ruh. Or to the soul (nafs). Spirituality, in Islam, is about traversing the path to Allah by acts of sincere, loving submission. It’s about, as some spiritual masters have put it, how to journey into the presence of the King of kings (kayfiyat al-suluk ila hadrati malik al-muluk). It entails inwardly purifying the soul from its vices (radha’il) and adorning it with virtues (fada’il) so that, with its labours of love, it is gradually weaned away from its distractions and its opposition to the divine will. This is when such a soul has been made worthy of divine acceptance and is given to enter the divine presence: But those who feared the standing before their Lord and curbed their soul’s passions, the Garden is their abode. [79:40-41]

4. Knowing, doing & becoming has levels. There are some matters a Muslim is obligated to know, do and become; while other things are preferred to know, do and become. This is seen in this hadith: ‘Allah, exalted is He, said: “Whoever shows enmity to a friend (wali) of Mine, I shall be at war with him. My servant does not draw near to Me with anything more loved by Me than the religious duties I enjoin on him, and My servant continues to draw near to Me with optional works so that I shall love him.”‘3 What this make clear is that there’s no way to Allah’s walayah – love, sanctity and closeness – save by fulfilling the obligations (fara’id) then the optional works of faith (nawafil). The first encircles us in Allah’s love; the second endears us to Allah even more so. One keeps in mind however: man shaghalahu’l-fard ‘an al-nafl fa huwa ma‘dhur, wa man shaghalahu’l-nafl ‘an al-fard fa huwa maghrur – ‘One busied by obligatory deeds, away from optional ones, is excused. One busy in optional acts, away from obligatory ones, is deluded.’4

5. About the obligations in ‘aqidah, fiqh and suluk, Shaykh Jamal al-Din al-Qasimi said: ‘The Prophet ﷺ said: “Seeking knowledge is compulsory on every Muslim.’5 This entails understanding tawhid and to know about [the uniqueness of] Allah’s Essence (dhat) and Attributes (sifat). It involves knowing the acts of worship (‘ibadat), the lawful and prohibited, and what is lawful and forbidden in terms of social transactions (mu‘amalat). It further includes learning the praiseworthy spiritual states of the heart; like patience, gratitude, generosity, good character and companionship, truthfulness and sincerity; as well as the blameworthy ones, like rancour, envy, treachery, pride, ostentation, anger, enmity, malice and miserliness. Learning how to acquire the first [set of traits] and to eliminate the second is as much a personal duty as ensuring the validity of one’s beliefs, acts of worship and social transactions.’6

6. Every Islamic curriculum, methodology (manhaj), or claim to orthodoxy not having the Hadith of Jibril and the Hadith of Allah’s Wali – i.e. the idea of knowing, doing & becoming (iman, islam & ihsan) – at its core, is incomplete, imbalanced and unsound. Hadith Jibril is generally felt to be the most succinct summary of the entire din, which touches upon every aspect of belief, practice or spiritual growth (‘he came to teach you your religion’). Indeed, al-Haytami says of the hadith that ‘it is dubbed ‘the Mother of the Sunnah (umm al-sunnah) like al-Fatihah is called ‘the Mother of the Qur’an (umm al-qur’an)’, since it envelops the Sunnah’s entire message.’7 For faith to be sound and come to true fruition, iman, islam and ihsan must be brought into an equilibrium; that is, ‘aqidah, fiqh and suluk must be in balance and in harmony. Problems occur in the Muslim personality and collective when they are out of kilter. So, for instance, if fiqh isn’t accompanied by serious commitment to suluk, it often results in dry legalism and puritanical behaviour. Without fiqh and adherence to the law, suluk is just self-deception or airy-fairy sentiments Without fiqh, ‘aqidah is no more than empty slogans. In the absence of suluk, ‘aqidah becomes blind ideology. Yet without ‘aqidah, both fiqh and suluk are sterile or futile. Thus all three are indispensable. In short: without ‘aqidah, there is just idolatry and heresy; without fiqh, vanity and futility; and without suluk, hypocrisy and pretentious piety.

7. While it is categorically true that the Qur’an says (51:56) we were created to worship Allah, the Hadith of Jibril informs us how this worship should be: ‘That you worship Allah as though seeing Him; and while you see Him not, know that He sees you.’ It is, I think, an indicment of sorts on an individual’s source of learning if, after some time, he or she hasn’t been led to or taught this all-inclusive understanding of Islam. If that be so, one needs to seriously question one’s source of knowledge and learning, since it smacks of treachery to the trust of teaching. The area that is usually ignored, treated lightly, undermined, or even scoffed at, is that of ihsan – the becoming dimension. As this is all too often the case, let me say this much about it:

8. Masters of the inward life say that ihsan during acts of worship has three degrees:8 (i) Performing the act excellently and with proper decorum (adab), by at least fulfilling its conditions (shurut), pillars (arkan) and obligations (wajibat). (ii) Performing the act with awareness of Allah’s presence and watchful gaze – known as muraqabah. The shaykhs of ihsan teach us that if, when recalling the fact that Allah sees you, a shyness emerges in your heart which drives you to exert yourself in Allah’s obedience or deters you from disobedience, then you possess something of the realities of muraqabah, or vigilance. (iii) Beyond this lofty degree lies that of mushahadah – spiritually witnessing Allah; or “seeing” Him with the eye of the heart (bi ‘ayn al-basirah). This is where faith has flooded the heart and filled it to the brim, due to being immersed in Allah; lost in contemplation of Him; and witnessing His hand in all things and behind all things. Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali said that it is the degree where: ‘the heart is illumined with faith, and the inner sight arrives at experiential knowledge such that the Unseen becomes, at it were, seen (huwa an yutanawwara’l-qalb bi’l-iman wa tanfudha’l-basirah fi’l-irfan hatta yasira’l-ghaybu ka’l-ayan).’9 Attaining muraqabah is, we are told, rare. Arriving at mushahadah is rarer still. It can’t be gained by any effort on our part; rather it is sheer gift and grace from Allah to His sincere devotees, lovers and saints.

9. It is the transformation, the becoming, which is the goal. That is, it’s not only about praying, fasting or doing other acts of piety (taqwa); it’s about cultivating one’s soul, so as to make piety an ingrained habit. In other words, it’s about becoming one of the pious (muttaqun). It isn’t just about giving zakat or some charity (sadaqah), but becoming, in one’s nature, of the charitable (mutasaddiqun). Nor is it just about patience, making dhikr, speaking truth, or doing a deed or two of rectification. It’s about being rooted in these traits, to become of those who are patient (sabirun), truthful (sadiqun), constantly remember Allah (dhakirun), and are healers and rectifiers (muslihun). That is, it’s about the becoming. Above all, it’s about becoming mukhlisun – those who purify their worship making it sincerely and exclusively for Allah; muhsinun – those who worship Allah upon spiritual excellence; and muhibbun – true lovers of Him. In the religion of Islam, it’s very much about the becoming.

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

1. Muslim, no.8.

2. Cited in Sahih Muslim bi Sharh al-Nawawi (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 1995), 1:142-43.

3. Al-Bukhari, no.6502.

4. See: Ibn Hajr al-‘Asqalani, Fath al-Bari (Cairo: Dar al-‘Alamiyyah, 2012), 14:338.

5. Ibn Majah, no.224. It is is hasan due to its multiple chains of transmission. See: al-Munawi, Fayd al-Qadir (Beirut: Dar al-Ma‘rifah, n.d.), 4:268; no.5264.

6. Maw‘izat al-Mu’minin (Beirut: Dar Ibn Kathir, 2001), 45.

7. Al-Fath al-Mubin bi Sharh al-Arba‘in (Jeddah: Dar al-Minhaj, 2008), 187.

8. See: al-Jurdani, Jawahir al-Lu’lu’iyyah (Jeddah: Dar al-Minhaj, 2013), 121, who goes on to says: ‘Each of these three stations are [part of] ihsan. Except that the ihsan which is a prerequisite for the validity of worship is the first one. As for the other two levels of ihsan, they are the traits of the elite (khawwas), for which most are excused.’

9. Jami‘ al-‘Ulum wa’l-Hikam (Beirut: Mu’assasah al-Risalah, 1998), 1:129.

Should I Stop Making Dhikr If My Heart Isn’t In It?

Islam-Prayer-Beads-Hand‘I’m remembering Allah, but my heart’s not in it; what’s the point’ is a typical anguish for many of us? ‘When I make dhikr, my heart doesn’t have focus, it’s all over the place. Is there any use’ is another one?

So should we stop making dhikr because out heart lacks focus on Allah; because there isn’t any hudur al-qalb – “presence of heart”? There are some who are dead set on the issue. There is no point in making dhikr when the heart is heedless, to do so would be making a mockery of dhikr – or so they’d have us believe.

But that’s not quite right. That’s not what those whom Allah has blessed with a huge share of fiqh and profound insight into the realities of faith (haqa’iq al-iman) teach us. Instead, as Ibn al-Qayyim explains, dhikr ‘is sometimes performed with the heart and tongue, which is the best dhikr; sometimes with only the heart, which ranks second; and sometimes with only the tongue, which ranks third.’1 And whilst dhikr with the tongue alone does not yield the fruits of gnosis (ma‘rifah), divine love (mahabbah) and intimacy (uns) as does dhikr with the tongue and heart combined; nonetheless, it still has its benefits. In fact, for most people it begins with dhikr of just the tongue. Imam al-Ghazali wrote: ‘It starts with dhikr of the tongue; then by the heart being pressed into remembering; then the heart remembering spontaneously.’2

The truth of the matter is that if we were to make dhikr only when our hearts were fully present, absorbed and focused on Allah, most of us would never make any dhikr at all! Masters of the inward life instruct us that if, whilst engaging in dhikr, we drift into the valleys of heedlessness and idle thought, when we realise we simply bring our hearts back into focus and continue in our dhikr. In this, as with all other matters, it is Allah’s fadl and karam that we rely upon; not our own efforts.

Perhaps the finest articulation of this reality (the reality of dhikr with just the tongue, and dhikr with the tongue and heart combined) is presented to us by Ibn Ata’illah al-Iskandari in his celebrated Hikam or collection of “Spiritual Aphorisms”. In one such aphorism, he states:

‘Do not abandon dhikr because you do not feel the presence of Allah therein. For your heedlessness of the dhikr of Him is worse than your heedlessness in the dhikr of Him. Perhaps He will lift you from dhikr with heedlessness (ghaflah) to dhikr with vigilance (yaqza); and from dhikr with vigilance to dhikr with presence (hudur); and from dhikr with presence to dhikr wherein everything but the One being remembered becomes absent: And that, for Him, is not difficult. [14:20]‘ 3

In his commentary to the Hikam, al-Shurnubi teases out some of the subtleties in the above aphorism. He writes: ‘Do not, O aspirant, forsake dhikr – which is an invitation to sanctity (manshur al-walayah) – because your heart isn’t present with God in it, due to it being preoccupied with worldly distractions. Instead, remember Him in all states and conditions. For your forgetfulness of His dhikr, in that you abandon it entirely, is far worse than your forgetfulness while making dhikr of Him. For at least, in this state, your tongue is moving in His remembrance, even if your heart is heedless of the One remembered. Perhaps you will be taken, by His grace, from dhikr with heedlessness to dhikr with vigilance; in other words, with an attentive, awakened heart; for this is the courtesy (adab) which befits His Presence; and from dhikr with vigilance to dhikr with presence, presence of His closeness; and from dhikr with presence to dhikr where all becomes absent except the One being remembered. So the person is “lost” even to his own dhikr … When dhikr flows from the tongue in this state, it does so spontaneously, without intent. Instead, his tongue only utters what the Manifest Truth [Allah] wants it to, for such a person is at the Station of Divine Love – which the [next] hadith refers to: ‘ … and My servant continues to draw near to Me with optional works (nawafil) so that I love him. When I love him I am his hearing with which he hears, his seeing with which he sees, and his tongue with which he speaks.’4 None knows the reality of this lofty station except the spiritual wayfarers (salikun). So accept it wholeheartedly, even if you aren’t from its people: and follow not the desires of those who have no knowledge. [45:18] And hold tightly to the means, then the veil shall be lifted for you: And that, for Him, is not difficult. [14:20]’5

1. Al-Wabil al-Sayyib (Damascus: Maktabah Dar al-Bayan, 2006), 176.

2. Kitab al-Arba‘in fi Usul al-Din (Jeddah: Dar al-Minhaj, 2006), 87. Also see the related article on this blog: How to Nurture Presence of Heart with God.

3.  Ibn Ata’illah, al-Hikam al-Ata’iyyah (Cairo: Dar al-Salam, 2006), no.47.

4. Al-Bukhari, no.6137. Even though the meaning is sound and correct, the phrase: ‘his tongue with which he speaks’ is not part of the wording of this particular hadith. This phrase occurs in a hadith related by Ibn Abi Dunya, al-Awliya, no.45; Ahmad, Musnad, 4:256; and others. But the chains all have defects in them and are therefore da‘if. See: Ibn Rajab, Jami‘ al-‘Ulum wa’l-Hikam (Beirut: Mu’assasah al-Risalah, 1998), 2:331-32.

5. Al-Shurnubi, Sharh al-Hikam (Beirut & Damascus: Dar Ibn Kathir, 2008), 111-12.

Footprints on the Sands of Time 3

footprints_in_the_sand-800x600Mixing a little politics with spirituality, and marriage with social activism; and adding a few other meditations and musings about Muslims and the challenges of modernity in the mix, this is the third set of Footprints on the Sands of Time. The first two may be read here and here:

On spiritual intelligence: The intelligent one understands what needs understanding and just goes away and practices what he has learnt: rethinking his life, reforming his conduct and rearranging his priorities.

On selfless service to others: The bigger picture in feeding the poor is for believers to develop a deeper social conscience in regards to the the vulnerable and the needy. For whenever true faith illumines the heart, the individual’s view of people and society is transformed, urging him to the benevolent service of his fellow man: And they feed, for the love of God, the indigent, the orphan and the captive, saying: ‘We feed you for the sake of God. No reward do we desire of you, nor thanks.’ [Qur’an 76:8-9]

Suffering is the price we pay for the privilege of life: Loss and suffering are no more inseparable from life than are shadows from the light of day. As we learn to live with the latter, so must we come to terms with the former: We have indeed created man in toil and hardship. [Qur’an 90:4]

On government’s true vocation: The greater goal of government should not be just to rule or exact obedience. But it should be to free the people from fear, so they may live in peace and security and pursue the path of piety.

On keeping the “i” in its right place in marriage: Beware egos in marriage: for marital becomes martial when the “i” is pushed forward.

On the seeker’s provisions: From the greatest provisions of the seeker is: to keep the company of the ahlu’Llah – the People of God. So let the seeker sit at their feet, drink in their wisdom and breathe in the aroma of their adab.

On loving the Family of the Prophet ﷺ: An essential aspect of loving the Prophet ﷺ is to love his Family. The Prophet ﷺ said: udhakkirukumu’Llaha fi ahli bayti – ‘I urge you to treat my Family well.’ [Muslim, no.2408] Moreover, Zayd ibn Thabit was once praying the funeral prayer for his mother, after which he brought his mule closer in order to mount it. Seeing this, Ibn ‘Abbas came and took hold of the stirrup for Zayd. Zayd said: ‘Let it be, O nephew of Allah’s Messenger.’ Ibn ‘Abbas said: ‘This is how we were taught to treat the scholars.’ Upon which Zayd took hold of Ibn ‘Abbas’ hand and kissed it, and said: ‘And this is how we were taught to treat the Prophet’s Family.’ [Al-Tabarani, Mu‘jam al-Kabir, no.4746]

On failing to see divine grace because of self-pity: If our minds stay entrenched in the disappointments and let-downs of the past, we will fail to see God’s goodness to us in the present.

On true scholarship: ‘The half-baked faqih asks: What did he say? The seasoned faqih asks: What did he intend?’ – Ibn al-Qayyim

On politics & false priorities: In Islam, politics (siyasah) is seen as a means to further the religious narrative. Whilst in much of today’s Islamism (‘political’ Islam), religion has become the means to further a political narrative. It is here that siyasah becomes najasah – that politics becomes impure.

Deepening Abrahamic monotheism: ‘I think it must have been easy enough in earlier ages in the Christian world, and is still easy in those parts of the Muslim world which remain traditional, to hold to a simple faith without much intellectual content. I do not believe this is any longer possible in the modern world, for the spirit of our times asks questions, questions for the most part hostile to faith, which demands answers, and those answers can only come from informed and thoughtful faith, from study and meditation.’ – Gai Eaton

On the monoculture’s deceptive magic: Consumerism can only thrive in a culture of discontent. The monoculture must deliver doses of misery before offering illusions of happiness.

On downplaying spiritual education: The more unschooled we are in ihsan, the more ugliness we are likely to bring into the world.

On the role of the scholars in regime change and redressing public grievance: In the teachings of mainstream, Sunni Islam (as per the prophetic hadiths), we do not expect our scholars to support armed rebellion against legitimate Muslim governments, even when such regimes be despotic or tyrannical. But nor do we expect our scholars to be sheepish servants of taghut regimes, aligning with them in gunning down protestors and shedding the blood of the masses. Instead, what we hope from our scholars is that they be mediating voices of reason: recognising the injustices inflicted upon the masses and advising them when they stray from religion or sound reason, while at the same time restraining the regime’s use of violence and urging it to redress the public’s greviances as best as it can. We may even painfully tolerate silence from our scholars, in which they neither support one camp nor the other. But scholars championing the massacre of unarmed civilians beggars belief.

What we ask of our scholars is that they be courageous, without compromising their wisdom. What we also ask is that they be sincere mediators, without pandering to the public or to the palace.

On freedom from dunya’s matrix: Knowledge (‘ilm) frees one from confusion. Worldly detachment (zuhd) frees one from anxiety. And a sobering meditation (tafakkur) upon death and the hereafter helps put life into perspective.

On the fuel driving today’s religious extremism: To deny the role of foreign policy in nurturing violent extremism is as naive, blind or coloured by self interest as denying the role of a twisted fiqh-cum-theology in fostering it. Until both these gremlins are acknowledged, addressed and tackled, we fail public security and give kudos to a false political narrative.

On seeing the works of the Lord: Everything that surrounds us in our everyday life, even the smallest of things, can serve to remind us of God, and therefore deserve to be treated with respect: And in the earth are signs, for those who have certainty. And in yourselves. Will you not see? [Qur’an 51:20-21]

On the Children of Israel and Zionists: Faithful Jewish hearts may seek, as they live out the Law of Moses, their spiritual solace in [Mount] Zion. But the Zionist project, not withstanding the right of the Jewish people to never again be subjected to a ‘final solution’, has shown itself to be unashamedly racist and oppressive. Anti-semitic we cannot be; anti-Zionist we may well have to be.

On the struggle against the Four Deadly Foes: Imams of suluk, or spiritual wayfaring, speak of two areas of mujahadah (spiritual struggle) Firstly, the outward mujahadah. This is the struggle against the Four Deadly Foes – the ego (nafs), the devil (shaytan), worldliness (dunya), and false desires (hawa) – as they seek to hinder us from fulfilling the obligatory (fard) and then the recommended (mustahabb) acts, and eliminate the forbidden (haram) and then the disliked (makruh) acts, from our lives.

As for the inward mujahadah, it is training our heart – through gratitude (shukr), love (mahabbah) and remembrance (dhikr) – such that it becomes attached to its Lord and learns to be present with Him. Essential to all this is the idea of restraint – of reigning in our egos and desires.

On telling apart the faqih from the wannabe: The faqih asks, not how the Qur’an can be adapted to our lives in the world of today, but how our lives today can be adapted to the Qur’an. This is true fiqh. All else is fiqh-tion.

On never losing sight of the goal: Whilst it suffices a believer to learn the duties that faith instates, and whilst it is encouraged that they learn even more, we each need to remember our Lord’s question to us: ma ‘amilta fima ‘alamta – “What did you do with what you learnt?”

Grief & Loss: How to Cope With Life’s Pitiless Storms

daisy (reduced)The following is less about the reason or meaning behind suffering and loss (which I’ve written about here), and more to do with coping with personal tragedy or grief. It was written for a close family, to help console them on the loss of a dear loved one. I have added a note on the nature of trials, as understood by Islam, and the appropriate faith-based responses it asks of us.

Many are the emotions that assail the heart, but grief, without doubt, is the hardest of all. The pain felt at the loss of a loved one awakens grief, yet seldom is much gained by yielding too far to grief’s cruelty. Yes, tears must flow. Pain must be endured. Souls must sorrow and be scarred. That you grieve not, none have the right to insist. Weep, then, but wail not; and let not sorrow’s suffering tarry too long. For your loved one would not have you sorrow more than is fitting.

What would he say to you, he whose loss you lament? That he welcomes the love you thus show to him; but that he doesn’t want your grief to be prolonged. He’d ask that you gently put your sorrows to slumber and remember him in the splendour of his days. And that although time will assuage the pangs of grief, he’d want that we move on from such grief by choice.

Remember and recollect: recall the most cherished things about the one who is loved but is lost; of how he enriched our lives and the lives of others too. For this honours our departed loved ones, and consoles us and keeps them with us in our hearts.

If death taketh away, life doth giveth. If so young a life is taken and an older one still remains; but when did death ever promise that it’d take us in order of age?! Now is a time to reflect, not just that all things are mortal, but also that their mortality follows no fixed law.

If tragedy darkens our days, how can we deny that the sun still shines. If destiny deals an unexpected blow, how can we give up on life. If we have buried one of our loved ones, other of our cherished ones still live on. So now is the time to cherish our living loved ones even more: celebrating our love of them and spending time with them. For we cannot love only when we’ve lost.

And while we honour those who have passed on with loving remembrance, we know that such remembrance is not without its bitterness. Yet still, let’s put our sorrows to slow slumber and remember him in the glory of his days.1

And We test you with evil and with good as a trial, states the Qur’an [21:35]. According to Islam, life is not seen as being a random act of chance with no purpose and meaning. Instead, life is a theatre of signs and tests for the life to come. Trials, tests, ordeals and adversity are the inevitable price that we each must pay for the privilege of being born into the human drama. Providence allots to each of us opportunities, circumstances, talents and abilities so as to engage life’s tests and ordeals. Revelation also tells us that what counts, isn’t so much the form or nature of the actual tests, but how we respond to them. Sometimes we are tried with the obvious: hardships, misfortunes, calamities. At other times, with the less obvious: wealth, wellbeing, or material abundance. Both, nonetheless, are seen by the believer as tests.

As for the obvious, Allah says in the Qur’an: We shall indeed test you with something of fear and hunger, loss of property and of lives and crops; but give glad tidings to those who are patient. [2:155] If the one being tried in this way is a person whose faith is generally upright, in terms of observing the religious injunctions and avoiding the prohibitions, then such trials are a sign of Allah honouring them and seeking to raise them in rank. The Prophet ﷺ said: ‘When Allah loves a person, He tries them.’2 He ﷺ also told us: ‘No Muslim is afflicted with hardship, pain, anxiety, grief or injury; even to the extent of being pricked by a thorn, without Allah causing it to be an atonement for his sins.’3 This is the case provided they show patience, continue to observe the religious duties, and their conviction in Allah’s essential goodness does not waver.

Those who are not upright, especially those who make little or no attempt at being so, then such trials are the upshot of sins and rebellion against God: Whatever good befalls you is from Allah, whatever ill afflicts you is from yourselves. [4:79] Such ordeals, then, are either a mark of divine wrath and punishment, or a caution from Allah to repent and amend our ways.

As for the less obvious tests, we read in the Qur’an: If they had but followed the path of rectitude, We would have given them abundant water, so as to try them. [72:16-17] Again, if a person is upright, then the ease, blessings or opulence Allah gifts to them is also a trial, to see if they are thankful; and to see if they enjoy such blessings in a lawful way, utilise them in the worship of Allah, as well as in the service of others. When blessed with Allah’s bounties and blessings, the believer acknowledges: ‘This is the favour of my Lord, that He may try me whether I will be thankful or ungrateful. He who gives thanks, he only gives thanks for [the good of] his own soul, and he who is ungrateful [is so only to his own soul’s hurt], for my Lord is Rich, Generous.’ [27:40] Now those who show gratitude, or shukr, Allah says: ‘If you are thankful, I will increase you. But if you are ungrateful, My torment is indeed severe.’ [14:7]

As for those who aren’t upright, nor attempt to walk the path of rectitude; those who neglect religious observance and who languish in the domains of disobedience, when they are surrounded by ease or blessings, it is nothing but istidraj – Allah seizing them little by little; His punishment coming upon them gradually without them realising it. The Qur’an says: We shall seize them by degrees from whence they know not. And I shall grant them respite; for [assuredly] My devising is firm. [69:44-5] Echoing these words, the Prophet ﷺ warned: ‘If you see Allah granting a servant something of the world that he desires, despite him being deep in sins, then [know] it is istidraj.’4 Indeed what trial could be worse than when blessings are, in reality, nothing but curses?

Allahumma nas’aluka an taj‘alana mimman idha
u‘tiya shakara, wa idha’btuliya sabara,
wa idha adhnaba
istaghfara.
Amin.

1. Adapted and reworked from A.C. Grayling, The Good Book (London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2011), 93-5.

2. Al-Bukhari, no.5645.

3. Al-Bukhari, no.5641.

4. Al-Tabarani, Mu‘jam al-Awsat, no.9426. Its chain is hasan, as per al-‘Iraqi, al-Mughni ani’l-Haml al-Asfar (Riyadh: Maktabah Tabariyyah, 1995), no.3772.

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: