A blanket of heat enveloped in suffocating humidity, another summer’s night in Cairo. Restless and sleepless in the small hours of the night I decided to find something to read. Fumbling amidst the organised chaos of my library in progress, I picked none other than one of the enduring spiritual masterpieces of ibn al-Qayyim al-Jawziyyah – Madarij Al-Salikeen [the ascending steps of the wayfarers between the stations of “You alone we worship and You alone we seek for help.]
The mufasiroon inform us that the essence of all of the other divinely revealed books is contained in the Quran and in turn the essence of the whole Quran is contained in Surah Al-Fatiha and in turn the essence of surah Al-Fatiha is in a single verse“You alone we worship and You alone we seek for help” That’s one powerfully condensed verse! Madarij Al-Salikeen describes the many stations between these two stations that the wayfarer needs to alight whilst traversing on the Siratul Mustaqeem to reach Allah subhana wa ta’ala.
In the minefield of dawah, seeking knowledge or teaching we may often feel superior to the people we invite to, debate and argue with, teach or even work and learn with. This feeling of superiority or arrogance usually stems from deeming great our deeds or level of knowledge and subsequently relying on them alone for our salvation. Lend an ear and focus your heart to what one of the grandmasters of the inner and outward sciences ibn al-Qayyim al-Jawziyyah has to say to us. It’s truly humbling.
“The station of returning to Allah; The signs of Inaba.
From amongst the signs of Inaba [repentance and returning to Allah] are; to abandon demeaning the people of heedlessness [ghafla] and [to abandon] being fearful for them, whilst concurrently keeping the door of hope open your self, whereby you hope for mercy for yourself whilst fearing adversity [in the hereafter] for the people of heedlessness. Nay, but rather, [you should] hope mercy for them and fear adversity for your own self. Because if you were indeed demeaning and detesting them [the people of ghafla] due to the disclosure of their spiritual states [to you] and your perception of what they were upon [of heedlessness], then be even more loathsome to your own self than you are towards them and be more hopeful for Allah’s mercy upon them than upon your own self.
Some of the predecessors said; “You will never comprehend all of jurisprudence until you detest people for the sake of Allah and then return to [scrutinise] yourself and detest even more your own self.”
These words cannot be understood except by the faqih of the deen of Allah. For the one who witnesses the reality of the people, their inherent incapacity, weakness, shortcomings, nay neglect, their squandering of the rights of Allah upon them, their devotion to other than Him, and their selling of their portion of reward [from Allah] in return for the most paltry price from that which is transient and ephemeral, he cannot escape from detesting them, and he cannot ever arrive at any other conclusion [except to detest them]. But then when he returns to [examine] himself and his own state with all its shortcomings, with clear perception, he is far more detesting and demeaning [towards his own self]. This is the true faqih……
…There is no god but Allah – How many spiritual defects, ulterior motives and desires of the nafs exist in the nafs and thereby prevent deeds from being sincerely for Allah and thus from reaching Him. Indeed a servant [of Allah] performs deeds where no other person can possibly observe him and yet he is insincere towards Allah. [Whilst another] performs deeds in the midst of observers and yet he is completely sincere with Allah. None are cognisant of this distinction except the people of clear spiritual inner sight, the doctors of the hearts, the masters that know its workings and defects.
Between deeds and the heart there is a distance.
On that road [to the heart] lie brigands that prevent deeds from reaching and affecting the heart. Therefore a man may have numerous deeds but none reaches and affects his heart to evoke love, fear or hope, nor abstinence from the world, or love for the hereafter. He neither has a light [nur] that distinguishes between the friends of Allah and His enemies, nor between truth and falsehood, neither does he have any power over his affairs. If the effects of his actions reached his heart they would have illuminated and enlightened it, so that he could distinguish between truth and falsehood, between the friends of Allah and His enemies. This in turn would augment and increase his spiritual states.
Thereafter between the heart and Allah there is a distance
Likewise there are brigands here, preventing deeds from reaching Him. From amongst them is pride, self conceit, arrogance, perceiving actions, forgetting the blessings of Allah, and the presence of subtle defects that, if they were examined, would be astounding. It is from the mercy of Allah that he has covered them [the subtle defects] for most of those who toil, for if they were to see and identify them they would fall into that which is far worse; hopelessness, despondency, regret, abandoning deeds, extinguishing of determination, and the flagging of aspiration. That is why when the book titled Ri’aaya by Abu Abdullah Al-Harith bin Al-Muhasibi appeared and people busied themselves with it, the mosques that were once filled with their ibaadah became devoid. The proficient doctor knows how to cure the souls. He does not build a castle whilst destroying the city.
Indeed the state of returning to Allah is established and maintained by three. Despairing in your actions, by seeking aid in times of dire need, to hope for and look out for the flashes of His benevolences to you.
1] Despairing in your actions
This is expounded upon by two.
The first: That you look with the eye of reality to the real actor [faa’il], the original mover, and the fact that if it was not for His will there would not have been any action from yourself, and therefore His will, not yours, is the very cause of your action. [In other words yours is] an existence without [real] deeds. This is where the witnessing of the Divine decree and the annihilation of the witnessing of your own deeds becomes beneficial.
The second: To despair from salvation due to your deeds. To know that salvation is due to His eternal mercy, His deeds and His bounties as reported in the Saheeh from the prophet peace be upon him. “None amongst you shall ever be saved due to his deeds,” they said “not even you o messenger of Allah? Not even me, unless Allah envelops me in His mercy and gracious bounty.”
So the first meaning is related to the beginning of the deed and the second with the end result of the deed.
2] As for seeking aid in times of dire need: This is when one despairs [from attaining salvation solely] from his deeds in the beginning and despairs from attaining salvation from them at the end, he begins to witness in every iota of his deeds his absolute need for Allah. This is not the only sphere of his total need of Allah; rather he is in total and desperate need of Him in every aspect [of his life]. The ways in which he is totally dependent on Allah cannot be enumerated nor encompassed. It has no cause. Indeed his entire being is completely and utterly dependent on Allah, just as Allah the Sublime and Majestic in His essence is completely independent. The characteristic of independence is one of the essential qualities of Allah whilst the characteristics of poverty, need and dependence the essential qualities of the servant.
Shaykh ul Islam ibn Taymia may Allah sanctify his soul said:
Impoverished dependence is my perennial essential attribute
Just as sovereign independence is His everlasting essential attribute.
3] To hope for and look out for the flashes of His benevolences to you.
When the severity of his absolute need of Allah is realised and he has despaired from [being saved solely by] his actions he looks towards the benevolences of Allah and watches out in hope for the flashes of bestowal. He becomes cognisant of the fact that everything that he has, that he hopes for, and that will be brought forth for him are from His munificence, from the favours that He has bestowed upon, and a charity that He has donated to him without any deserving cause emanating from him. Therefore He [Allah] is the Muhsin [Beneficent] with regards to both cause and effect. The affair is for Him alone both prior to and subsequent to. He is the First and the Last. There is no god but He. There is no Master except He.”
This is a small excerpt from a much larger work, and therefore what’s being said maybe misunderstood by some to be deterministic fatalism. To clarify and summarise, the main message here is;
1] Be harsher in criticizing ourselves compared to our criticism of others
2] Be aware of the defects of the self that block spiritual progress and destroy the fruits of good deeds.
3] Recognise our absolute impoverishment and dependency compared to Allah’s absolute sovereignty and therefore humble ourselves in front of Him.
4] Continue to work hard and struggle but do not become arrogant due to our actions or rely solely on our deeds for salvation but rather hope for the all encompassing mercy of Allah in addition to and above our deeds.
Wallahu ta’la a’lam.
Shafi al-Rahman currently resides in Egypt with his wife and children. He is studying the Arabic language, Hanafi Fiqh and other Islamic Sciences. May Allah bless him, his family and grant them Paradise.