Crack-consumerism is the collective substance abuse that we as a nation now partake in. The remedy for this greed, avarice, hyper consumption and predatoriness is the forgotten Islamic virtue of zuhd – ‘renunciation’ or ‘worldly detachment.’
Speaking of such detachment, Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal said: ‘Zuhd is of three degrees. Firstly, to shun the forbidden; this is the zuhd of the general folk. Secondly, to avoid the lawful but unnecessary; this is the zuhd of the elite. Thirdly, to guard against everything that distracts one from Allah; this is the zuhd of the knowers of Allah (‘arifun).’1
The challenge for most of us Muslims today is to keep the haram, the forbidden, out of our lives. This level of worldly detachment is an obligation upon us all and is deemed one of the greatest forms of spiritual struggle in our time. One hadith makes the point: اتَّقِ الْمَحَارِمَ تَكُنْ أَعْبَدَ النَّاسِ – ‘Guard against the forbidden, you will be the most devout of people.’2 The forbidden, here, includes both the outer and inner harams. The outward haram includes things such as not fulfilling basic obligations like prayer, fasting, etc; sins of the tongue like lying, tale-carrying and back-biting; and sins of the limbs, like not lowering the gaze from what is haram to see or what incites passions, hearing haram talk like slander, and doing acts of haram. The inner haram refers to the haram vices of the heart, like jealously, showing-off in acts of worship, arrogance, vanity, impatience with God’s decree, etc.
Often people who consider themselves as religious practitioners will say that they’ve been praying, fasting, giving charity and seeking increase in sacred knowledge for a few year now, but still they find an absence of blessings, spiritual satisfaction, or inner peace that they would have expected. Usually that is because, along with the good that they do, the haram still significantly permeates their life. One of the contemporary shaykhs of spiritual wayfaring, Shaykh Jaleel Ahmad Akhoon, likens this to someone who installs new central heating in the house. When the icy winters comes arounds, he turns the heating on and cranks up the temperature. Yet after some time, the house is still freezing cold. Puzzled, he checks each radiator only to find they’re all working perfectly and are as hot as an iron! So why’s the house still freezing? It’s because the owner, although he’s turned the heating on, hasn’t shut all the windows in the house. So the heat is being lost to the outside chill. This, the Shaykh stated, is like spiritual warmth and blessings brought about by the doing of good deeds, but their effects are not felt because one has not turned their backs on the icy winds of haram! But as the windows of the house are each shut tight, even a small amount of heating will warm up the house and its occupants.
The next level is not becoming consumer cogs or addicts, by wisely detaching ourselves from superfluous and unnecessary consumption, and settling for simpler ways of living. Slowly and wisely ‘unsticking’ ourselves from dunya things is highly encouraged in Islam and begins to create real space for God and godliness to grow in our hearts.
Beyond that is detachment from whatever distracts the heart from its Gracious Lord; it is the station of God’s Prophets and, to a lesser extent, God’s saints. This is the sought after goal and the true embodiment of the prophetic path and Sunnah.
At this point it must be stressed that zuhd is less about minimalism; doing with only a few material possessions, and more about the heart’s detachment from material possessions. That is to say, one may own wealth, but should not be owned by wealth. It is said about the sahabah that they held wealth in their hands, but it didn’t enter their hearts.
So as we each roll up our sleeves and begin to empty our hearts from worldliness; to detach them from the dunya, we make space for the love of Allah to infuse our souls and of Allah enveloping us in His love. The Prophet ﷺ once said: ‘Detach yourself from the world and Allah will love you. Detach yourself from what people possess and people will love you.’3
Thus, detaching our hearts from the dunya allows us to attach them to Allah – attaching them to His acceptance, to His good pleasure, to His love and, ultimately, to Him.
Let the lover’s journey commence!
1. Cited in Ibn al-Qayyim, Madarij al-Salikin (Riyadh: Dar Taybah, 2008), 2:181.
2. Ahmad, no.8081; al-Tirmidhi, no.2305. It was graded hasan in al-Albani, Sahih al-Jami‘ al-Saghir (Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islami, 1986), no.100.
3. Ibn Majah, no.4102, with a hasan chain. See: al-Nawawi, Riyad al-Salihin (Saudi Arabia: Dar Ibn al-Jawzi, 1421H), no.476.