SHAYKH ‘ABD AL-QADIR AL-JILANI’S “golden rule” is the height we must aspire to in how to be sincerely devoted to God, intending only His good pleasure without others sharing in our worship of Him; and how to be of sincere service to people:
‘Let your dealings with another believer be of three types: If you cannot benefit him, do not harm him. If you cannot gladden him, do not sadden him. If you cannot speak well of him, do not speak ill of him’2
In both cases, spiritual ambition and desiring to be people of real beauty is key. Wa’Llahu wali al-tawfiq.
1. As cited in Ibn al-Qayyim, Madarij al-Salikin (Riyadh: Dar Taybah, 2008), 3:107.
2. As per Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali, Jami’ al-‘Ulum wa’l-Hikam (Beirut: Mu’assasah al-Risalah, 1998), 2:283.
Isn’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.
In our second visit to the discourses of the saintly shaykh, ‘Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani (the first outing may be read here), we find him discussing the issue of going to the market place: or, in our time, the shopping mall.
While it is beyond doubt that markets and commerce have played a fundamental role in Muslim life and civilisation; and that in many traditional Muslim cities, markets were located around the main jami‘ah or Friday mosque; there are, nonetheless, a few hadiths that speak about their unsavoury nature. One such hadith asserts: ‘The most beloved of places to God, on earth, are the mosques, while the most deplorable are the markets.’ [Muslim, no.671]
Of course, markets being despised has nothing to do with trade or commerce, per se. It does have to do with the fraud and deception common in such places, as well as the greed, avarice, bickering and disputations. There, false oaths are frequently sworn and honest remembrance of God usually conspicuous by its absence. More than that, the market is where even a renunciant’s heart can easily be entangled in the tentacles of dunya, or be ensnared by its false glitz and glitter. Enter it for needs, we must; enter it for wants, we may. But enter it bewitched or besotted, we must not!
In the seventy-second discourse of the Futuh al-Ghayb or “Revelations of the Unseen”, the Hanbali jurist-cum-sufi, Shaykh ‘Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani, may God sanctify his soul, spoke thus:
‘Among those religious people and pious devotees who enter the markets as they go out to perform the Friday prayer, the congregational prayers, or to attend to certain needs, there are various types:
‘Of them is one who, when he enters the market and sees therein the various types of pleasures and delights, is mesmerized by them and temptations attach themselves to his heart. This, then, becomes the reason for his demise, causing him to relinquish his religiousness and worship, and lapse into yielding to his inner urges and obeying his whimsical passions …
‘Of them is one who, when he sees such things, is almost brought to ruin. However, he returns to his senses and his religion, composes himself and swallows the bitter pill of having to turn one’s back on them. He thus resembles the warrior who is given divine assistance to overcome his own soul, his raw nature and his caprice, and for whom He [God] records an abundance of reward in the Afterlife …
‘Another type is he who acquires such goods and uses them and procures them by the grace and blessings of God as part of his worldly lot and wealth; giving thanks to God for them.
‘Then there is one who does not see or notice them at all. He is oblivious to everything other than God; Mighty and Majestic is He. Thus he sees no other, is deaf to all but Him; he is too preoccupied to see anything but his Beloved and the One he yearns for. So he is quite detached from what the world is all about. If you chanced upon such a person entering the market place, and ask him what he sees in it, he will reply: “I don’t see anything.” Of course he does see things, but with the physical eye, not the eye of the heart; a casual glance, not a lustful one; a formal look, not a meaningful one; a look that is superficial, not penetrating. So outwardly he surveys the market’s goods and wares, yet all the while his heart beholds his Lord: sometimes His majesty, at other times His beauty.
‘And then there is one who, when he enters the market place, his heart is filled by God with compassion for the people in it. This so absorbs him that he doesn’t even notice their merchandise. From the moment he enters the market till he leaves it, he devotes himself to praying for them, seeking forgiveness for them, interceding on their behalf, and feeling sympathy and compassion for them. His eyes are tearful, while his tongue extols and praises God for the bounties and blessings He has bestowed upon them all. Such a person may be called the steward of the cities and the servants. If you wish, you can call him a knower of God, a saint, a renunciant, a scholar, absent [from the world, present with God], God’s beloved and sought after, a deputy on earth in charge of His servants, an ambassador, an expert and executive, rightly guided and rightly guiding, a signpost and beacon. He is rarer than red sulphur, or a philosopher’s stone. May the good pleasure of God be upon him, and on every believer who seeks God and attains the ultimate station. And God is the Guider.‘1
1. Futuh al-Ghayb (Cairo: Dar al-Mukatam, 2007), 135-6.