Translations from Ibn Al-Qayyim’s Madarij Al-Salikin (Steps of the Seekers)

Translations from Ibn Al-Qayyim’s Madarij Al-Salikin (Steps of the Seekers) | The Proper Way to Contemplate the Quran

The Proper Way to Contemplate the Quran

THREE THINGS AID proper contemplation (tafakkur):
(1) Thinking of the transience and shortness of this life and avoiding long hopes;

(2) reflecting on the Quran; and

(3) avoiding corruptions that ail the heart.

To recognize the shortness of this life and nearness of death is most beneficial for the heart and impels the believer to take advantage of every moment of his or her life, moves the focus of attention and concern to the Abode of Eternity, encourages one to compensate for what is missing in the preparation for the journey, and makes one abstemious in matters of this ephemeral life.

If one persists in such contemplation, it leads one to see the truth of this life—and how little of it is left—less than what remains on one’s finger when dipped into an ocean, while the ocean is the eternal life of the Hereafter. The sun of this world has set—as if just setting down the hilltops in the evening.

The conditions and signs prophesied to mark the end of times have come true. Death and you, as if two friends on their way to meet each other—and any moment you two shall meet and embrace each other.

Sufficient it is to recall the words of the Almighty:

One day He will gather them together: (It will be) as if they had lived only an hour of a day—just getting to know each other… [Surat Yunus, 10:45]

On the day when they see it, it will be as if they had but lived for an evening or its morning. [Surat Al-Nazi‘at, 79:46]

On the day when they see that which they are promised (it will seem to them) as though they had lived for but an hour of daylight. A clear message. Shall any be destroyed save the transgressors?  [Surat Al-Ahqaf, 46:35]

In whispers will they consult each other: “You lived not longer than ten (days); We know best what they say, when the fairest of them in course would say: (In fact) you lived for not more than a day! [Surat Ta Ha, 20:103-104]

Once the messenger of Allah said to his Companions at a time when the evening was drawing near and the sun was barely above the mountains,

What is left of this world compared to what has passed of it is no more than what has been left of this day compared to what has passed of it. (Ahmad)

Contemplating the Quran

Reflection upon the Quran is accomplished when the heart sees its meanings, and the mind becomes focused on grasping its implications and the purpose of its revelation. Mere mindless recitation is not sufficient. God Almighty has said:

(It is) a Book We have revealed to you abounding in good that they may ponder over its verses, and that those endowed with understanding may be mindful. [Surat Sad, 38:29]

Do they not then reflect on the Quran, or are their hearts locked up? [Surat Muhammad, 47:24]

We have made it an Arabic Quran so that you may understand. [Surat Al-Zukhruf, 43:3]

Commenting on this latter ayah, Al-Hasan [Al-Basri] remarked,

He has revealed the Quran so that it may be pondered, reflected, and acted upon.

There is nothing more beneficial for a servant of God, both in matters of this life and the next, than thinking about the Words of God—meditating upon them for long periods of time, concentrating one’s mind (thoughts) and heart (emotions, feelings, desires) on these words. This meditation upon the meanings of the verses of the Quran:

  • Meditation endows one with true knowledge of good and evil—of their essence, their means and their consequences.
  • It establishes the foundations of the fortification of faith in one’s heart, raises its walls and strengthens its pillars.
  • It shows one the images of Heaven and Hell, shows him around (as if in a museum of human history) the past nations and peoples and lays bare their great and tragic days, points out to him the immense lessons hidden in these events and makes him recognize the justice and mercy of God upon His servants.
  • It tells him about God, His Names, attributes and deeds.
  • It shows him the path that leads to Him and the rewards that await the one who successfully treads His path.
  • It warns him of the robbers and the calamities on the path.

To sum up, meditation upon the meanings of the Quran gives the servant

  • True knowledge of his Lord
  • The way to reach Him
  • The generous reward that His Lord has prepared for him
  • Knowledge of what Satan calls towards
  • The ways that lead to it
  • The humiliation and chastisement that lie on this ignominious path

It is necessary for the servant to know and ponder upon these above six matters.

Reflection upon the Quran shows one the Hereafter as if he were witnessing it with his own eyes; it diminishes this world in his eyes as if he were not in it. It bestows upon him the ability to distinguish between the truth and the falsehood in every disputed matter of this world. It shows him the truth as the truth, and falsehood as falsehood.

The message of the Quran

  • Revolves around the concept of Tawhid, its evidence and manifestations, and other attributes of Allah—all marked by perfection and infinitude—in which the Almighty is unique.
  • Includes the knowledge of Allah’s apostles, evidence of their truthfulness, and their rights (upon the humanity who is indebted to them and must honor and follow them).
  • Speaks of belief in Allah’s angels, and in the Last Day.
  • Speaks volumes of the greatness and inevitability of the Last Day which will bring with it the eternal torment for some and eternal luxury and joy for others.
  • Calls the servant towards his Lord with beautiful promises and warns him of a terrible punishment.
  • Guides him through the confusion of human opinions (aara’) and madhahib (sub-paths, narrower paths within Islam or outside it—tr.) to the one right path.
  • Strengthens him against the paths of innovation and deviation.
  • Encourages him to be vigilant in being thankful to his Exalted Lord, and be persevering in calamities and difficulties that he might encounter in Allah’s path. It calls out persistently: Beware, beware! Hold on to God and ask for His help … and say,

Sufficient for me is Allah—and He is the best advocate.

There is much to say on avoiding the corruptions that ail the heart, but we will leave this for another day.

 

 

 

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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