Translations from Madarij Al-Salikin (Steps of the Seekers) by Imam Ibn Al-Qaiyyim

Translations from Madarij Al-Salikin (Steps of the Seekers) by Imam Ibn Al-Qaiyyim - The Five Despoilers of the Heart

The Five Despoilers of the Heart

THE FOLLOWING ARE five things that can corrupt the heart:

  1. Company of worldly people
  2. Endless wishes
  3. Attachment to other-than-Allah
  4. Excessive Eating
  5. Excessive Sleeping.

These five things extinguish the light of the heart and weaken its will to tread the path of truth and enlightenment—the path of Allah.

The heart has no true pleasure or bliss except in the intimate knowledge of Allah, His love, contentment through His remembrance, delight in His closeness, and eagerness to meet Him. This pleasure of the heart is akin to an early Paradise. Similarly, there is no bliss or happiness in the eternal hereafter except in Allah’s company, which is the promised Jannah. There are two gardens, and none enters the second (eternal) one without entering the first (the one in this world.)

I have heard Shaykh Al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah, may Allah honor his soul, say,

There is a Paradise in this world, and the one who does not enter it, will not enter the Paradise in the hereafter.

A sage once said,

Sometimes my heart is in a state (of bliss) that I say to myself, ‘If the people of Paradise were to be in a state like this, they would be happy people.’

Some among those who love Allah say, the poor people of this world pass through it without ever experiencing its most blissful thing. When asked what that is, they said, “love of Allah.”

Anyone with a live heart would testify to the truth of these statements.

The following five things, however, prevent the heart from experiencing this bliss:

1. Company of worldly people. The heart becomes blackened by the company of the people of this world. It causes the heart’s confusion, bewilderment, worry, grief, and weakness. The heart becomes negligent of its own true interests and bliss, and becomes distracted by the demands and expectations of such people.

The company that one keeps for the sake of this world betrays and abandons him sooner or later—as Allah says,

And that day the wrongdoer will bite his hands in regret, saying woe to me, would that I had chosen the path of Allah’s Messenger, would that I had not taken so and so for a friend—alas, he distracted me from the reminder after it had come to me. [Surat Al-Furqan,  25:27-29]

Allah Almighty also said,

The best friends on that [Judgment] Day will be each other’s enemy—except for the Allah-fearing. [Surat Al-Zukhruf, 43:67]

Allah’s Khalil or Friend, Ibrahim said to his people:

You have taken idols other than Allah as the basis of love among you in the life of this world— but on the Day of Judgment you will deny each other and curse each other—and your abode will by the Hellfire, and you will find none to help you. [Surat Al-Furqan, 29:25]

This is the truth of all relationships that are of this world and for this world alone. They last only so long as their interests coincide, and leave behind them nothing but regret, grief and pain.

The rule of thumb is to mix with people only in benevolence and goodness, such as the Friday and daily congregations, the two Eids, the Pilgrimage, and circles of learning and teaching, Jihad, and when giving sincere advice. And to avoid their company not only in sinful deeds but also even in too much of permissible deeds that are not beneficial.

If one finds oneself in the company of people engaged in some vice, one must never approve of it—rather must one voice one’s disapproval, and be patient over the discomfort or pain that it may cause. People will never leave alone one who dissents from their evil ways and does not have much power, so one must be patient. Even the discomfort or pain one bears is likely to bring him honor and love of the believers, and most importantly of the Lord. On the other hand, acquiescing to their misdeeds will result in humiliation and rancor, even though at first it appears to be the easy way out— and worse yet, it will bring the wrath of the believers and of the Lord of the creation.

If one finds oneself in the company of people engaged in permissible but fruitless deeds, one should try to change it to a gathering of obedience to Allah and encourage people in that way. At the same time, one must also strengthen one’s heart and not be dissuaded by the trap of Satan at such occasions, who tries to cast doubts in one’s heart by suggesting that one’s attempt to remind people of Allah is nothing but self-righteousness and ostentation of one’s knowledge. One must anticipate and fight such insinuations, seeking Allah’s help, and not be dissuaded from encouraging people to do good as much as possible.

If none of this works, and people persist in their heedlessness, and if one is compelled to stay in their company, then one must then remove one’s heart from that company—so much so that one sees them but does not look at them, one hears them but does not listen to them—one’s body may be in their company, but one’s heart and mind is with Allah.

2. Endless Wishes. The wishes of this world are an endless ocean that drowns the heart. On the other hand, to desire the Hereafter and the knowledge, faith and deeds that elevate one towards Allah is praised by the Messenger of Allah himself, who said that the one who truly wishes to do good deeds but lacks the capability to do so is the same in reward as the one who actually does them. (Tirmidhi, Ibn Majah, Ahmad)

3. Attachment to Other-than Allah. There is no greater destroyer of the heart than this one. The strongest version of this ailment is shirk, or association of partners with Allah in worship.

(Given that significance of this subject is well-known to all Muslims, the translation of this section is being omitted here.)

4. Excessive Eating. Excess in eating of, even permissible, things leads to laziness towards worship and a myriad of other problems. A gluttonous person is concerned with filling his stomach with favorite foods until he overfills it—and then he suffers from its after-effects such as stomachache, heaviness, sleepiness, and, most of all, increased lust. Whoever eats much, sleeps much, and thus loses much. A report from the Messenger of Allah says,

A son of Adam fills nothing worse than his own stomach. It is sufficient for him to eat enough to support his back. And if he must fill it, let a third of it be for food, a third for drink, and a third to breathe with ease. (Ahmad, rated hasan)

5. Excessive Sleep. The fifth corrupter of the heart is excess in sleeping, for it dulls the heart, makes the body enervated and heavy, wastes time, and breeds laziness and heedlessness. Sleep is most useful and efficient when it is needed. The sleep during the first part of the night (after ‘Isha’) is more commendable and beneficial than during the last part of the night (closer to Fajr), while the sleep during the middle part of the night is more beneficial and satisfying than that during the beginning or the end.

Sleeping after Fajr until sunrise is also disliked, even for those who have spent the night awake in worship, for this time is an opportunity. The worshipers of Allah particularly value this time, for the first part of the day is its key, in which there is baraka (blessing). One ought to avoid sleeping during this time unless it is unavoidable. Sleeping during the first part of the night (after Maghrib, that is) is also harmful, both for health and for one’s din, for it leads to missing of the ‘Isha’ Salah.

The best time to sleep, then, is the middle of the night (just after ‘Isha’ until sometime before Fajr), which is a total of eight hours, as recommended by the physicians. Any more or less than this affects one’s agility and efficiency during the day.

Finally, just as too much sleep is harmful, so is too little sleep, for it leads to even bigger problems, such as irritability, distractedness, and inability to think and perform efficiently. A healthy existence is based on balance.

And Allah is the One Whose help is ever sought.

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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