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.