Translation from Ibn Al-Jawzi’s Sayd Al-Khatir (Quarry of the Mind) | The Struggle Against Desirous Whim

I HAVE SEEN that the inclination of the ‘self’ toward what it desires tends to grow in intensity, until it leans forward to so great an extent that it pulls with it the heart, the rationality, and the mind of a person, until one is practically incapable of benefiting from advice.

So I cried out to my ‘self’ one day when it had leaned with its full weight toward a desire: “Woe to you! Let me speak a few words to you for a moment! Then do as you see fit!”

It said: “Speak and I shall listen.”

I said: “It is an established fact that only a little of what you incline toward is permissible. This means that the vast majority of what you lean to are things that Allah has forbidden. Now, let me make clear to you the reality of both matters of your main desire, so that perhaps you will see that the “sweetness” you perceive in both is actually bitter.

As to the permissible desirous things, they are free for you to take. But, in truth, the path to them is a hard one. Your wealth may fail. Your earnings may not amount to enough to attain them, and all the time you invest in trying to attain them may well come to a loss of precious time.

Moreover, in the substantial time you expend in your striving to gain these desires, the heart will grow utterly occupied with them. And even if your attainment of these desires becomes reality, the heart will ever be cautioning you, fretting over losing them.

Even more significant is that once you attain your desires, there is no doubt that their imperfect or incomplete reality as opposed to your fancy of them will spoil the joy of your experience. This is a truth that is not veiled from the discerning.

If your desire is food, for example, then you know that overfilling with food causes many a physical impairment. Or if your desire is for a companion, you know also that one is bound to be bored by others, or part ways with them, or you may well become appalled by a companion’s incivility or crude manners.

Further, the most pleasure-filled ways of intimacy are also those that may bring dreadful feebleness to the body. Examples of the problems that accompany our desires abound, but these would take lengthy explanation.

Now, all this is with regard to the permissible desires. What, then, of the forbidden? Not only do these whims entail all the problems of the permissible desires, to which I have just spoken, but also they add to them the inevitability of physical and emotional harm, the potential for punishment and humiliation in this life, and the explicit divine threat of punishment in the next—not to mention the pained anguish each time the penitent recounts to himself his sins.

Conversely, in the ability to take control of one’s aberrant whims, there inheres a sense of delight that far exceeds any other delight. Do you not see, O ‘self,’ the dismal condition of every person whose whims overmaster him? They are debased. They are fainthearted. They are weak. This is because the true nature of this kind of human being has been utterly suppressed. Not so the one who overcomes his whim. Rather, he grows strong-hearted and mighty because he has suppressed his desire and whim.

Open up, now, your eye of insight and consider the ends of these affairs of whim and desire: Your attainment of pleasure with perfection is impossible. Your whimsical delights though sweet will turn bitter, in ennui or with blemish. Even so is the first transgression like the first morsel to a hungry dog. It does not satisfy or suffice it, so that it may freely turn elsewhere. On the contrary, it pokes and prods its hunger all the more.

Then let one remember the pleasure and satisfaction of his triumph over his whims of desire. So consider well the benefits of patiently resisting.

Know this: Whomever Allah helps to success in this matter, his security is close to him, indeed.

 

Written By

Omar Abdl-Haleem is a fourth generation Muslim in America. He has a BA from Al-Azhar University in Usul Al-Din, specializing in Hadith, and was about to finish his Master’s Degree from Al-Azhar in Hadith, when he had to leave Egypt for safety reasons in the fall of 2013. He has translated most of Ibn Al-Jawzi’s book: Sayd Al-Khatir into English, which he intends to complete (some episodes of Omar’s translation of this book have appeared in Aljumuah Website). He is also working on a Hadith book for English speakers that explains and teaches Mustalah Al-Hadith (Hadith Terminology) in common terms. His Arabic is native, having studied in Egypt since he was 14, and then full time after completion of High School in the US. He is invaluable for AlJumuah in accessing scholarly texts. He intends to complete his graduate studies in Hadith.

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