Translations from Imam Ibn Al-Qayyim’s Madarij Al-Salikin (Steps of the Seekers) | The Station of Al-Inâba (Turning to God in Eagerness)

BY NOW WE have learned that whosoever has accomplished the station of tawba (repentance) has indeed accomplished all the stations of Islam, for tawba encompasses all of them. Nonetheless, it is necessary to mention and explain various aspects of it (tawba) to fully grasp its true nature, its characteristics and conditions.

In this spirit, the next station after tawba is al-inâba. Inâba literally means to turn to something often, hurriedly and with eagerness. Here it means therefore to turn to Allah with eagerness and hope. One who possesses this virtue is called munîb.

Al-Inâba in the Quran

Allah urges us to turn to Him often, And turn to your Lord [Sûrat Al-Zumar,39:54]. He praised His friend and devoted servant, prophet Ibrâhîm, for being a munîb, Indeed, Ibrâhîm is really forbearing (ḥalîm), compassionate (awwah), and oft-returning to Allah (munîb). [Sûrat Hûd,11:75] After mentioning some of His signs, Allah said that it is only those who possess al-inâba that can benefit from these signs: Do they not see to the heaven above them: How we created it and decorated it… [as] insight and reminder for every eagerly seeking (munîb) servant [Sûrat Qâf, 50:6-8]. And He Almighty said, He it is Who shows you His signs and sends down for you sustenance (rizq) from heaven; but only those receive admonition who turn (to Allah) often [Sûrat Ghâfir, 40:13].

He Almighty also said, Then set your face upright for religion exclusively (ḥanîf)—the fiṭra (inborn God-given disposition to believe in God and turn to him) of Allah in which He has made humans; there is no altering of Allah’s creation; that is the right religion, but most people do not know. (In a state) turning to Him in repentance; and fear Him and establish prayers… [Sûrat Al-Rûm, 30:31]. That is, Allah has created humans by nature (fiṭra) in a state of turning to Him. So, left undistracted from their true nature, humans would never cease turning in devotion and eagerness to Allah. As the Messenger of Allah œ said, Every person is born upon the fiṭra until his language is bestowed upon him (yuᶜribu ᶜanhu lisânuh) (Aḥmed, Ṭabarâni, Bayhaqi). The Garden of Paradise is adorned for those who are conscious of Allah (muttaqûn)—this is His promise for those who feared the most Merciful in secret, and come with a devoted and eager (munîb) heart. [Sûrat Qâf, 50:3134] Glad tidings are given to the people of al-inaba in another âyah: …And those who eschew the ṭâghût (an evil force that seeks to compete with God in worship or power) and fall not into its worship, for them is the glad tiding [Sûrat Al-Zumar, 39:17].

All Creation Turns to God in Need

Al-inâba, or turning to Allah, can be in two senses. One is turning to Allah’s sustenance—and this kind of inâba is practiced by all, the believer and the disbeliever, the virtuous and the vicious. Allah said, And when harm befalls men, they call unto their Lord, turning to Him [Sûrat Al-Rûm, 30:33]. Everyone who has experienced weakness and need at one point or another acknowledges God’s power to give and has turned to Him alone to achieve it. However, when Allah gives them what they need or want, they are ungrateful and turn away from Him.

Turning to God in Worship and Devotion: The Real Inâba

The second kind of inâba is towards Allah’s godhood (ulûhiyya)—that is, turning to God in worship, devotion and love. Such is the inâba of Allah’s beloved awliyâ’. It consists of four things: (i) love of Allah, (ii) humility towards Him, (iii) turning to Him and presenting oneself to Him, (iv) shunning all else besides Him (in worship and devotion). Our predecessors have stated that only those who possess these four qualities deserve the honorable epithet of al-munîb.

The Three Parts of Inâba

Shaykh Al-Harawi said,

It [al-inâba] is three things: (i) returning to the Truth (Allah) by way of reform and excellence, just as He was turned to in repentance and regret, (ii) returning to Him by way of fulfillment (of your promises to Him), just as was He is turned to in making promises, and (iii) returning to Him in deed, just as He was turned to in words. [In other words, al-inâba is completion of repentance (tawba) and continued search for excellence in one’s devotion to Allah.

1. Turning to Allah for Reform and Excellence

Shaykh Al-Harawi further explains each of these, “Returning to Allah by way of reform and excellence requires three things: (1) abandoning the errors and sins one has committed, (2) grieving over the sins—one’s own sins as well as others’, and (3) seeking after the missed opportunities.”

2. Keeping the Promise of Repentance

Returning to Allah by way of fulfillment (of promises made at the time of repentance) requires that we: (i) get rid of any sense of pleasure in sin, (ii) be concerned and worried about other people’s carelessness and heedlessness towards Allah, and finally (iii) rid ourselves of any sense of self-applause for one’s service to Allah.” Now let us elaborate on these three requirements.

(i) Ridding the soul of the pleasure of sinning

Seeking pleasure in the thought or anticipation of sinning—either by recalling sins committed in the past or by anticipating sins in future—is a sign of absence of al-inâba.

There may arise a question about which condition is better: to crave for sin and know its pleasure, and then avoid it for the sake of Allah, or to be rid of any craving for sin and lust whatsoever. Some say it is better to rid one’s self of lust and desire for sinning, for that is the goal of al-mujâhada (inner spiritual struggle). Others say: the inner spiritual struggle of the one who feels lust and desire to commit sin but desists from it only for the sake of Allah is better—for it is this struggle that makes humans better than even the angels. A third (more balanced) perspective on the issue is that the self has three states: (1) the urge to sin and indulge in one’s lust, (2) the regret and grief over one’s errors; and finally, (3) the peaceful stability in righteousness (ṭuma’nîna)—which is the highest of all states. It is this state that a seeker of Allah (mujâhid—one engaged in mujâhada) aspires to. There is a clear difference between one who is struggling to surrender and the one who has already found the peace and stability of surrender—the spiritual rank of the latter is much higher than that of the former—even though there is reward for both.

The status of a peaceful, stable and blissful soul (called in the Quran: al-nafs al-muṭma’ina ) is above that of a seeker who is trying to reach this state—even if the latter is more rigorous in acts of worship. This state is a divine grace, He grants it to whoever He wishes. An example is Abu Bakr Al-Sîddiq—who excelled all the Companions in his rank not because his acts of worship were more numerous than all but because of the sublime state of his heart. This is the rank of al-ṣiddîqûn (those who have reached a peaceful and stable state of certitude in God and affirmation of faith) which is a higher state than the rank of even the mujâhidûn (warriors, those struggling in God’s path) and shuhadâ’ (martyrs).

(ii) Minding others’ business: taking carelessness and heedlessness towards God seriously

From among the indications of al-inâba is being concerned about other people’s heedlessness towards Allah. It means to fear for other people—and then to turn to one’s own soul and fear for it even more. A scholar once said, “You have not really understood the secrets of spiritual progress until you become angry at people for (disobeying) Allah, then you turn to your own self, and become even more angry at it.” This statement cannot be understood except by one who truly understands the Din of Allah—one who has seen the truth of the creation (especially humanity)—its helplessness, weaknesses and failings in front of Allah.

(iii) Scrutinizing the reasons for your deeds of devotion

The third of the requirements in the first stage of al-inâba is scrutinizing in depth your worship and service to Allah—to sort out what part of it goes to the Lord and what portion of it becomes a victim of the desire of your own self. It is quite possible that inadvertently most or even all your devotion goes to pander to yourself.

By Allah, besides whom there is none worthy of worship, many souls suffer from illnesses and intentions that deprive their deeds from being purely and exclusively for Allah and thus from ever reaching up to Him. A man may quite possibly act righteously in seclusion without anyone seeing him, but his act may still be impure and not exclusively for Allah. And quite possibly, a man may act righteously under the gaze of other people, and still it is only for the sake of Allah. And the difference is not known except to the people of insight and physicians of the heart who know the preconditions and pitfalls (of purity).

Between the action and the heart there is a long route, on which there are highway bandits and robbers who prevent the deed from reaching the heart. Hence there may be a man whose deeds of righteousness are numerous but none of them ever reached his heart in the form of love, fear or hope towards God, nor abstinence towards this world and desire for the Hereafter. Nor is found in his heart the light with which he may distinguish the beloved awliyâ’ of Allah from His enemies and truth from falsehood.

Then, there is another long route between the heart and Allah, and on it too there are highway robbers who prevent the deeds from reaching Allah such as arrogance, self-admiration, vision of one’s deeds (i.e., one’s high estimation of his own actions), forgetfulness of Allah’s blessings, and other subtle flaws that would be clear upon scrutiny. It is nothing but Allah’s mercy that these flaws remain covered for most of us. If these flaws were to become apparent, we might fall into such a state of despair, regret and grief that they would become even worse than before.

3. Returning to Allah in Deeds After the Words

This requirement of al-inâba to Allah is completed by three things:(i) recognizing the inadequacy of your deeds (in themselves), (ii) recognizing your neediness and destitution, and (iii) recognizing Allah’s mercy and compassion towards you.

The inadequacy of one’s deeds is clear from the hadith of the Messenger œ, No one’s deeds shall save him. “Not even yours, O Messenger of Allah?” they asked. He said: No, not even me. Except if Allah shades me with His mercy and grace (Bukhâri and Muslim).

After recognizing one’s need for Allah’s mercy (by various means, such as observing nature—Allah’s creation— and how Allah has created all humans from a tiny droplet, and how at all moments of our lives we need so many of His gifts to survive), one has no way but to look to Allah’s mercy and compassion. Only then, it becomes easy to see all His favors that one does not deserve or acquire, but He bestows them upon us nonetheless. To Him belongs the command, before and after, He is the First and the Last, there is no one worthy of worship, nor any sustainer, besides Him.


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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