Translation from Ibn Al-Qayyim’s Madarij Al-Salikin (Steps of the Seekers) | The Station of Remembrance (Thikr) | Part 4

Heedlessness and Remembrance

Dhikr Said

The author of Manâzil Al-Sâ’irîn, Shaykh ¢Abdullâh Al-An|âri] Al-Harawi (d. 482/1089), said: “Remembrance (Dhikr) is to be rid of heedlessness and forgetfulness.”

The difference between heedlessness and forgetfulness is that heedlessness is willful neglect whereas forgetfulness is involuntary, which is why Allah, the All-Powerful, said: Be not among the heedless (Sûrat Al-A¢râf, 7:205) and why He did not say: “Be not among the forgetful,” for forgetfulness does not fall within human responsibility and hence is not always blameworthy.

Al-Harawi further said: “Remembrance has three levels.

First is exoteric remembrance: by way of praise, supplication, and assertion.” By ‘exoteric’ he means remembrance by the tongue and heart, not by the tongue alone, for that has no worth in the eyes of the people of the path [of spiritual ascent].

Remembrance of the praise type means statements like sub^ân’Allâh (God is exalted), al-^amduli’Llâh (all praise is for God), and lâ ilâha illaAllâh (there is no god but [the One] God), and Allâhu akbar (God is the greatest).

Remembrances of the supplication type comprise statements like Our Lord! We have wronged ourselves, and if you forgive us not, and show us not mercy, we shall surely be among losers (Sûrat Al-A¢râf, 7:23) and “O Alive One! O [our] Sustainer! By thy mercy I ask thine help” and the like.

Remembrances of the assertion type include statements such as “God is with me,” “God watches over me,” “God is my witness,” and the like, statements that are used to strengthen our presence with Allah in order to attain the benefit of the heart, to cultivate proper etiquette toward Allah, to avoid heedlessness, and to protect against Satan and one’s baser self.

The prayers of the Prophet œ bring together all three kinds of remembrance, including praise for Allah, supplication and plea, and explanation. As in a ^adîth, the Prophet said:

The best supplication is to say: ‘Praise to God.

Sufyân ibn ¢Uyaynah was asked: “Why did [the Prophet œ] consider this a supplication?” He said: “Have you not heard the couplet of Umayyah ibn Abi Al-ßalt to ¢Abdallâh ibn Jud¢ân, when hoping for his favor:

Shall I mention my need, or your courtesy shall suffice me?

Often sufficient is what a man earns when he praises you.

If this is the case of a creature, praising the one who suffices a man in fulfilling his need, what, then, of the Lord of All the Worlds? Prophetic prayers further include the best reminders for the benefit of the heart, prevention of heedlessness, and protection from evil thoughts and Satan.

 And Allah knows best.

Thikr Lived

Shaykh Al-Harawi said: “The second level is esoteric remembrance, which is to be rid of limits, to subsist with witnessing, and to keep vigil.”

By ‘esoteric’ he means remembrance by heart alone, comprising the inspirations presented to the seeker. This is the first fruit of remembrance. By ‘ridding of limits’ he means ridding oneself of heedlessness, of forgetfulness, and of veils between the heart and the Exalted Lord. ‘Subsistence with the witnessing’ means adherence to the presence of the One being remembered and witnessing Him by means of the heart until one almost sees Him. ‘Keeping vigil’ means adherence to the heart’s prayers to its Lord—anything from extolling, entreating, praising, and exalting to other kinds of secret pleadings. This is the case between every lover and his loved one, as has been said:

 When together in the presence of another,

We remain silent, letting passion speak

True Thikr

Shaykh Al-Harawi said: “The third level is true remembrance, which comprises bearing witness to the Truth’s remembrance of you, ridding yourself of bearing witness to your remembrance [of Him], and awareness of the false state of one who subsists with remembrance of himself.”

Remembrance at this level has been called ‘true remembrance’ (^aqîqi) because it is attributed to the All-Powerful Lord [one of whose names is Al-±aqq, the Truth]. As for the remembrance on the part of the servant, it is not fully real in and of itself, for it is in fact Allah who remembers His servant.

This station is that of bearing witness to the Lord’s remembrance of His servant—as He mentions him in a company that He chooses from among those deserving of His nearness. As for the All-Powerful, He Himself is the ‘Rememberer’ in that He makes the servant remember Him, thus enabling him to deserve the remembrance [of God]. This is also the meaning alluded to [by al-Harawī] in the chapter, Monotheism (Taw^îd) [the final station in this treatise], in the following words: “His testimony of Oneness [regarding Himself] is alone the testimony of His Oneness. Thus the praising of any [creature] who praises is astray.”

That is, Allah is in reality the One who [alone can] proclaim His own Oneness. The real subject of the monotheism proclaimed by the servant is the One God Himself. Hence, the reference to the servant is non-real, metaphorical, for he does so neither by his own ability nor from within himself, but rather because he has been made to do so.

A servant is, therefore, called monotheist (muwa^^id) or rememberer (muthakir) only because he is the means through which, and the site within which, is [performed] the act. This is no different from him being referred to as white or black, tall or short—in that he is not the creator of these traits by his own will, power, or capacity but in that he is the site of these traits.

Beyond this, all that is attached to [the servant] is overwhelmed by nearness and annihilation of form. Evanescence in the very witness of the act of bearing witness, along with the power of inspiration, come together to create the unique experiential savoring —that is, realization—that none upholds Allah’s Oneness but Allah Himself. None remembers Allah but Allah Himself. None loves Allah but Allah Himself. This is the reality that the people of the path possess.

Annihilation and Subsistence in Thikr

The true knowers among the people of the path [of spiritual ascent], the possessors of insight, also give obedient worship to Allah its due right, and give knowledge its due right. Moreover, they realize that the servant is the servant in reality in every way, and that the Lord is Lord in reality in every way. Thus, they undertake to worship Allah and not themselves, and they do so for Allah and not for personal taste and pleasure.

That is to say, they annihilate themselves in bearing witness to the meanings of the Divine Names and Attributes, leaving all else other than this. They annihilate themselves in what He loves and is pleased with—rather than with what He has willed—for all being [including what He does not love and has forbidden] is by His will. Yet what is owed to Him is what He loves and is pleased with.

The deviants, in contrast, annihilate themselves in what is by Him [that is, all that is by His will] leaving aside what is owed to Him. Thus, they ally themselves with His enemies, neglect His religion, equate what He loves with what He dislikes, as well as equate the sites of His pleasure with those of His wrath. And from Allah alone is all help.

Al-Harawi’s statement: “To rid yourself of bearing witness to your remembrance” means [that this is achieved] by way of annihilating [your consciousness of] witnessing your own remembrance of Allah in bearing witness to His remembrance of you. This saves the servant from seeing one’s self or from being lured by one’s deeds. It kills one and quickens one—kills one in regard to one’s self, and quickens one by his Lord. It cuts one off from one’s lower self and connects one to one’s Lord. This is the very essence of [such servants’] success against their selves. One such knower said: “The journey of the seeker ends in their triumph over their selves.”

His statement—“awareness of the false state of one who subsists with remembrance of himself”—means that the one who subsists with his own remembrance is, in reality, bearing witness to his remembrance, which is a lie. For in reality, it is not his act. And one is not rid of this lie until one attains annihilation with respect to his own [act of] remembrance.

It may be said: “Exalted be Allah! Where is the lie in this? Is it anything but bearing witness to the facts as they are for him to bear witness to himself as the rememberer?”

Yet in the end, it is Allah who has made him rememberer, enabled him to do so, and remembered him before he remembered Allah? His witnessing of Himself as Rememberer accounts for both these aspects [of the truth]. Is this, then, anything but the reality as it is? In truth, it is a falsehood to bear witness to this as being by one’s own doing, by one’s own power and ability, rather than by Allah’s exclusive power.

But the Shaykh [Al-Harawi] pays no mind to the blame of the blamers in the matter of [spiritual self-] annihilation. Nor, for him, is the censurer to be heeded. For what there can be no doubt about is this: Subsistence in remembrance is more perfect than annihilation and it is, in fact, a vanishing in it. This is because of what inheres in subsistence as to exactitude (taf|îl), inner knowledge, bearing witness to realities as they are, upholding a distinction between the Lord Almighty and the servant and their respective acts, and [upholding the distinction between] the witness of worship and the One being worshiped.

The state of annihilation has none of these merits. Annihilation is as its name, “annihilation.” Subsistence is as its name, “subsistence.” Annihilation is sought out for the sake of something external to it. Subsistence is sought out for its own sake. Annihilation is the attribute of the servant. Subsistence is the attribute of the Lord. Annihilation is nothingness. Subsistence is existence. Annihilation is negation. Subsistence is affirmation.

The path of annihilation is filled with dangers—a path of forlorn deserts with many a hazard. Treading the path of subsistence is safer, for it is a path on which there are signposts, guides, and rangers. The travelers on the path of annihilation complain that this path is long. Yet, they do not doubt its safety, and that it leads to the desired end. They claim that the path of annihilation is shorter; its traveler a bird, whereas the traveler on the path of subsistence is on foot.

The elite among the seekers see annihilation as a station among the many stations of the path, one that is not necessarily attained by all seekers. Many, however, never see it or pass by it. They, rather, see that the greatest, the most established and well-protected path is that of subsistence, and they require of the travelers on the path of annihilation to move toward the path of subsistence, for otherwise they shall be in grave danger.

And Allah alone is the One who helps, and the Exalted knows best.

Written By

Uwaymir Anjum is the Imam Khattab Chair of Islamic Studies at the Department of Philosophy, University of Toledo. He is also professor of Islamic Intellectual History at Qatar University. He studies the connections between theology, ethics, politics, and law in classical and medieval Islam, with a subfocus on its comparisons with western thought. Related fields of study include Islamic philosophy and Sufism. His dissertation, published in 2012 by Cambridge University Press, is entitled Politics, Law, and Community in Islamic Thought: The Taymiyyan Moment. His translation of Ibn al-Qayyim's Madârij Al-Sâlikîn is forthcoming.

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