The Entrance of Corruption
SOME TIME AGO, I took account of myself with wonder—how I would adjudge something to be permissible, and then use that judgment to attain this or that thing of the world. The problem was, the acquisition of that something might be dubious in terms of piety. Thus I beheld two outcomes of my conduct: First, the verdure of my religion was sapped dry, until the sweetness of my transaction, my relationship, with Allah left me. Second, the world that I sought to attain by my methods never came to me. Thus I lost both [worldly and religious gain].
So I said to myself: “Your likeness is no different than that of the wrongdoing ruler who has gathered wealth that is illegitimate for him, and against whom, in consequence, the people rise up and strip him of his ill-gotten wealth. Thus all that he had gathered of the world is taken from him, but he is stuck with the sinfulness of his actions and the remorse of his loss of what he once had.”
Therefore, I say to you: Beware! Beware! Do not misjudge! For, most surely, never shall Allah, Most High, be fooled…while the entire world you are seeking is with Him. Nor shall it ever be attained through disobedience to Him.
The Danger of Knowledge When It Comes With Scarce Work
I SAW MYSELF excelling when it came to acquiring religious knowledge, and beheld myself thus as doing good. How greatly I inclined to put the seeking of knowledge ahead of all else! With what ease did my intellect internalize that which is based upon rational evidence! How sincerely and studiously I preferred an hour of steeping myself in learning [the Religion of Allah] to many hours of nawâfil worship [prayers and works of supererogation, that is, worship above and beyond what is required].
I used to say to myself: “Learning supersedes in status the divine preference for nawâfil worship, and the strongest evidence of that for me is seeing that most who busy themselves with nawâfil ṣalâh (voluntary ritual prayer) and nawâfil ṣiyâm (voluntary ritual fasting) are hampered by this habit of theirs in their understanding of the fundamentals of religion. For to one degree or another they are distracted from the nawâfil (voluntary effort) of learning [by which the author means learning that goes beyond obligatory knowledge for the Muslim, like learning how to pray, etc.]” Thus it appeared to me that I was moving along the sounder path and had the more correct [juridical and spiritual] opinion.…
…Until I saw myself merely fulfilling the form of busying myself with sacred learning—then how I cried for myself, interrogating my soul: “How has this knowledge benefitted me? Where is the fear? Where is the disturbance [at your lack of piety]? Where is the caution, the wariness of the believer?
“Have you not heard of the news of the very best of all the knowledgeable ones in their worship and their striving? Was not the Messenger ﷺ, the master of all? And yet he stood in ṣalâh until his holy feet swelled. Did not Abû Bakr cry much, such a cry to break one’s heart? Were there not on the cheeks of ʿUmar [ibn Al-Kha ṭ ṭâb, two furrows etched by his tears out of fear of His Lord? Did not ʿUthman [ibn Affân] recite the entire Quran in a single rakʿah? Did not ʿAlî cry in the night in his mi ḥrâb, his prayer niche, until his tears soaked his beard and he exclaimed: ‘O World! Go and delude someone other than me’?
Was not Ḥasan Al-Ba ṣri enlivened by the strength of His fear of Allah? Did not Sâʿîd ibn Al-Mu ṣayyib attend every ṣalah, every prayer! in the masjid for forty straight years without missing a single one? Did not Al-Aswad ibn Yazîd fast until his color faded? Did not the daughter of Rabîʿibn Khaytham say to him: ‘Why is it that I see people sleep while you sleep not [offering prayer]?’ such that he responded trembling to her: ‘Indeed, your father fears a punishment for sleeping.’
Did not Abû Muslim Al-Khulâni hang a whip in the mosque with which he would rebuke himself if he grew tired of praying? Did not Yazîd Al-Raqqâshi fast for forty years, all the while he used to say: ‘I found that the worshippers have surpassed me, and I have been unable to attain their degree’! Did not Man ṣûr ibn Al-Muʿtamir fast for forty years? Did not Sufyân Al-Thawri cry tears of blood from fear of Allah? Did not Ibrahim ibn Ad-ham urinate blood from fear of Allah?
“Do you not know how austere and worshipful were the four imâms, Mâlik, Abû Ḥanifah, Al-Shâfiʿi and A ḥmad?
Beware your complacency! Beware your fulfilling the form of seeking knowledge, even while you abandon striving by that knowledge! For very truly this condition is nothing but a chronic state of laziness.”
TRANSLATOR’S NOTE: The author’s lesson is that one should work and strive based on their knowledge. This stands true. Some of the examples (of other than the ßa ḥâbah, who are beyond reproach in understanding, conduct, and judgment) if true, are extreme and against the Sunnah: For us to read more than ten ajzâ’ of the Quran in a day and night; to fast more than every other day; to remain sleepless the night long, especially habitually; to pray when fatigued to the point of incoherence; and most certainly self-flagellation. Remember, however, that the author is rhetorically exhorting himself to strive in worship, which is most worthy and grounding, and a lofty example of the way of our Prophet ﷺ.
Emergence of What One Seeks To Keep Hidden
SECLUSION MOST SURELY bears effects that become clear only after one again mingles with people.
How many a believer in Allah, Mighty and Magnificent, holds His commandments sacred when he is in seclusion, abandoning what he desires out of fear of His punishment, hope for His reward, or respect for His majesty, then, when he circulates again among people he becomes as Indian incense cast upon a hot coal. Its fragrance diffuses. The people smell it. Yet they know not from whence it comes.
The greater one’s struggle against whim and desire when alone, the mightier grows his love of Allah. And the more one beloved by Allah thrusts away from himself the unwholesome, the more powerfully his fragrance intensifies. Thus are people of different ranks, even as incenses are of varying potencies and scents.
And thus do you see the eyes of people magnifying such and such person, even as their tongues compliment him, which they do [instinctively] without knowing why. They cannot accurately describe the goodness of this person because they feel his goodness inside themselves though they are distant from its cause.
The good deeds of these righteous ones extend beyond their life in proportion with how good they were. Among them are those who people mention in goodness for a time after their life [to their benefit in the grave]. Then they are forgotten.
And among them are those who people remember with goodness for a hundred years, as their graves wear away. And among them are the waymarks of history, those whose remembrance lasts until the end of all time.
IN CONTRAST TO THESE righteous are those who fear people and who do not uphold in themselves the sacredness of Allah, the All-True, when they are in seclusion.
In proportion to the sins such a one commits, he reeks of an odor so nasty that the hearts of people despise him. If such a person’s sins are relatively few, people shall mention him with a sense of good rather than evil, but not with much good. Yet, if his sins were few, but not too few, then people will perhaps mention him, but neither with good nor evil.
It may be that the sin a person commits in seclusion causes him to fall into an abyss of misery in his livelihood and his Afterlife. It is as if it was said to him: “Remain in this abased condition, for you have chosen what is wrong.” Then forever shall he abide in a demeaned state.
Look, then, my brothers, to your sins, how they leave their traces upon you and how they make you stumble.
Abû Dardâ’ said: “Indeed, a servant might disobey Allah, Most High, while in seclusion, and therefore shall Allah cast hatred toward him into the hearts of the believers from where the servant perceives it not.”
Therefore, think on what I have written. Consider what I have mentioned. And neglect not yourselves when you are alone and in private…for, indeed, actions are by intentions and rewards are in accordance with the degree of sincerity.