The Humble "I"

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Seven Steps for Salvation

Noahs-ArkThe Qur’an says: Whoever is removed from the Fire and admitted into Paradise has surely triumphed. The life of this world is nothing but the comfort of illusion. [3:185]

Contrary to shallow-minded people – whose measure of success is determined by the size of their wallets or houses, or how far they’ve climbed up the corporate ladder, or what celebrity circles they currently move in – those with sound faith know that what counts as true success is: success in the Afterlife. Yet given the sheer pull of the dunya, or the human tendency for distraction and heedlessness, let’s remind ourselves what we must do to best attain salvation (najat). Among the major and most important of these salvic matters are:

1. Affirming God’s Oneness (tawhid): The Prophet, peace be upon him, said to Mu‘adh b. Jabal: ‘O Mu‘adh, do you know what the right of God is over His servants and what their right is upon Him?’ He replied: God and His Messenger know best. The Prophet, peace be upon him, said: ‘The right of God over His servants is that they worship Him and not ascribe any partner to Him; and the right of the servants upon God is that one who do not ascribe partners to Him shall be saved from punishment.’1

2. Fear of God (taqwa): The Qur’an promises: And God will save those who feared Him to their triumph. No harm shall touch them nor shall they grieve. [39:61] Now taqwa (here translated as fear of God; but can equally be translated as piety, God-consciousness, mindfulness of God, or guarding against sin) is explained by the learned as: ittikhadhu wiqayatin min ‘adhabi’Llah – “erecting a barrier against God’s punishment,” by doing what is commanded and avoiding what is prohibited.

3. Remembrance of God (dhikr): One sound hadith declares: ‘A person can do nothing better to save himself from the chastisement of God than the remembrance of God.’2 The hadith underlines the virtue of dhikr, and that it is one of the sublimest means for a person’s salvation.

4. Reverent Fear of God (khashyah): The Prophet, upon whom be peace, stated: ‘There are three salvic matters (munjiyyat): reverent fear of God in private and public; justice in a state of anger and pleasure; and moderation in poverty and opulence.’3 Reverent fear of God in both public and private is nurtured by vigilance (muraqabah) – that is, a continued awareness that the Divine Gaze observes us, causing us to be vigilant about our limbs and their obedience to Him; and our hearts and their sincerity or purity to Him. The degree of our khashyah is, as the masters of the inward life say, proportional to the degree one’s heart feels shy of being seen by God where one should not be seen by Him. They also tell us that if you find, whenever you call to mind the fact that God observes you, a shyness emerging in your heart which prevents you from disobeying God and spurs you on to obeying Him, then you are in possession of something of the realities of muraqabah.

5. Safeguarding the Prayer (salat): One hadith has this carrot and stick communiqué about the five daily prayers: ‘Whoever guards their performance, it will be a light and a proof and salvation for him on the Day of Judgement. Whoever does not safeguard them, he will have no light and no proof, and on the Day of Judgement he will be with Korah, Pharaoh, Haman and Ubayy b. Khalf.’4

6. Controlling the Tongue (hifz al-lisan): ‘Uqbah b. ‘Amir once asked God’s Messenger, peace be upon him: In what does salvation lie? He responded: ‘Control your tongue, keep to your house and weep over your sins.’5 Controlling one’s tongue is to restrain it from foul and forbidden speech – lying, slander, backbiting, swearing, cursing, giving false witness, etc. Having a loose tongue, being gossipy, or too chatty, and thoughtless speech, often sends us into sin and is a sure wrecker of relationships. So safety lies in speaking less and being more mindful of what we say. Man samata naja – “Whoever is silent, is saved”6 – is what another piece of prophetic wisdom advises.

7. Worldly Renunciation (zuhd): The Prophet, peace be upon him, said: ‘The first part of this ummah shall be saved by certainty (yaqin) and renunciation (zuhd), whereas the latter part will be destroyed by greed and prolonged hopes.’7 Cultivating a healthy, responsible sense of zuhd is built on three things: (i) Remembering that the world is temporal and ephemeral and will soon pass out of existence. (ii) Realising: the Afterlife is better and more lasting. [87:17] (iii) Knowing that zuhd (which isn’t about abandoning the dunya, but about gradually untangling ourselves from it in a responsible way) does not prevent what is decreed for us of provisions from reaching us in the least.

Muslim scholars have long quoted these lines of poetry, which poignantly sum-up the affair: tarju’l-najata wa lam tasluk masalikaha / inna’l-safinata la tajri ‘ala’l-yabas – ‘You hope for salvation, but traverse not its paths. A ship cannot sail on dry land!’

1. Al-Bukhari, no.2856.

2. Al-Tabarani, al-Mu‘jam al-Kabir, no.2296. It was graded as hasan due to supporting chains by al-Albani, Sahih al-Targhib wa’l-Tarhib, no.1497.

3. Abu Nu‘aym, Hilyat al-Awliya, 2:343 and it is hasan. See: al-Albani, Silsilat al-Ahadith al-Sahihah (Riyadh: Maktabah al-Ma‘arif, 1998), no.1802.

4. Ahmad, Musnad, no.6576, with an excellent chain (bi isnad jayyid); as declared by al-Mundhari, al-Targhib wa’l-Tarhib, no.838.

5. Al-Tirmidhi, Sunan, no.2406, who said: ‘This hadith is hasan.

6. Al-Tirmidhi, no.2501. Al-Munawi wrote the following: ‘Zayn al-‘Iraqi states that al-Tirmidhi’s chain is weak; but al-Tabarani relates it with an excellent chain.’ Consult: Fayd al-Qadir (Beirut: Dar al-Ma‘rifah, n.d.), 6:171.

7. Ibn Abi Dunya, Qasr al-Aml. It was graded hasan by al-Albani, Sahih al-Targhib wa’l-Tarhib, 3340.

How Can Hearts be Softened?

tumblr_mgj2jfodnj1qlubbqo1_500This following piece by Imam Ibn al-Jawzi (d.597H/1200CE) – Hanbali jurist, famous preacher and prolific author – is from his book Sayd al-Khatir. Part autobiographical, part exhortational and part meditative, the book is a frank account of his life, works, experiences, achievements, burdens, disappointments, hopes and aspirations. Since it was written over a period of twenty years, it reflects the evolution of his thoughts and ideas as Ibn al-Jawzi the man, scholar and pietist. Here we find him reminiscing over how certain types of knowledge can, if the student is not careful, make the heart dry and hard; and how it is critical to keep spiritual company and bathe the soul in the stories of the righteous – if the heart is to be kept “moist”. One of Islam’s enduring wisdoms states: inda dhikri’l-salihin tanzilu’l-rahmah – “On mentioning the righteous, mercy descends.”

‘I see that occupying oneself with jurisprudence (fiqh) or learning hadiths is hardly sufficient to rectify the heart, unless one adds to this the reading of heart-melting traditions (raqa’iq) and the study of the lives of the pious predecessors (al-salaf al-salihin). For they reached the objective of the texts and transcended the external form of the prescribed duties to taste their inner meanings and intent. I do not inform you of this save after personal exposure and experience. For I have found that most of the scholars and students of hadith are primarily concerned with attaining the shortest chain of transmission, or to increase the collections of hadiths narrated by a single narrator or dealing with a single theme or subject; while the majority of jurists busy themselves with dialectics or how to win debates. So how can hearts ever be softened by such things?

Previously, groups of the predecessors would visit a pious person only to observe his manners and conduct, not to learn knowledge from him. For the fruits of knowledge lie in comportment and conduct; so understand this. Hence combine the learning of fiqh and hadith with study of the lives of the predecessors and worldly renunciants (zuhhad) so that this may be a cause for your heart to soften.

To this end I have written biographies on each of the renowned, honourable persons, detailing their lives and character. I have written one on al-Hasan [al-Basri], Sufyan al-Thawri, Ibrahim b. Adham, Bishr al-Hafi, Ahmad b. Hanbal, Ma‘ruf [al-Karkhi], as well as other scholars and renunciants. And God grants the enabling grace to achieve the objective.

However, actions cannot be rectified with a paucity of knowledge. For their example is like that of a commander and a subordinate, with the soul stubbornly between the two. Only with the combined efforts of the commander and the subordinate can the goal be reached. And we seek refuge in God from apathy.’1

1. Sayd al-Khatir (Damascus: Dar al-Qalam, 2004), 228-9.

* Above Photo: The Painted Door, at www.petersanders.com

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