THE AUTHOR OF Al-Manâzil states:

Al-Adab is to be wary of the extremities of exaggeration (ghuluww) and neglect (jafâ’), realizing the harm of transgression.

This is one of the best definitions, for transgressing to either extremity is lack of adab. Al-Adab is to stand in between the two extremities, neither falling short of observing the limits of the Shariʿah to perfection, nor transgressing what have been their limits, for both acts are transgression and Allah loves not the transgressors [Sûrat Al-Baqarah, 2:190]. Hence, transgression is nothing but bad adab.

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The religion of Allah is midway between the one who exaggerates in it and the one who neglects it.

The loss of adab by neglect is exemplified by someone who does not completely wash the limbs in ablution and fails to offer alawât with the etiquette that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ has established and practiced. The behaviors of this etiquette number to nearly a hundred, including obligatory and recommended elements.

The loss of adab by exaggeration may be exemplified by obsessive doubt about whether one did proper intention (nyya), or raising one’s voice in doing it, or raising one’s voice in supplications and alawât that have been legislated to be said silently, or prolonging what the Sunnah requires to be short or omitted, such as the first tashahhud and salâm, which it is Sunnah to omit, or to prolong this over and against the practice of the Messenger of Allah ﷺ.

It is not wrong to] prolong it compared to what the salah thieves nowadays do, those who peck –like birds in sujud, instead of praying with tranquility and presence. [The reference is to the aḥâdîth where the Prophet ﷺ likens those who pray hastily to “the worst kind of thieves,” in Al-Mustadrak, Musnad, and elsewhere, and “peckers” in Bukhâri 757, 793; Muslim 397, and others].

The Prophet ﷺ did not command a thing and then oppose it. Allah protected him from such conduct –contrary to what many people who make their alawât extremely short think. [It was not the Prophet’s alawât that were too long ﷺ but rather such people’s alawât that are too brief]. He would command them to be light in their alawât.

And, by way of exemplifying what “light” means here, he himself used to lead them with Sûrat Al-Ṣâffât –which takes about 15-20 minutes to recite. Again, he would command them to be light in their alawât and pray alât Al-Zuhr in such a way that one could go to Al-Baqîʿ [the Muslim cemetery about half a kilometer (or a third of mile) from Al-Masjid Al-Nabawi] to [pay respects] to his family, complete ablution, and return to join the Prophet still in the first cycle (rakʿah) of the prayer. This is the lightening of salah that he commanded as opposed to ‘stealing’ and ‘pecking’ [by making the alawât extremely short, as people nowadays do], for the latter amounts to stopping short of actually praying, and being content with its name [i.e., calling it Prayer].

Someone who is really hungry would never stop at one or two bites, for this would do him little good. Only someone who eats for formality will take a couple bites and be content. But if one is truly hungry, one does not stop eating until one has eaten enough, if he can. But alas! The hearts of people are now already filled with other things, and there is little hunger for the Prayer.

Another example of [adab] is moderation in regard to the prophets, peace be upon them, and to avoid exaggerating when it comes to them–as the Christians have done in regard to the Christ –nor to neglect the prophets, as the Jews have done. For whereas the Christians worshipped the prophets, the Jews killed and denied them. The Ummah of moderation, in contrast, believed, supported, and helped them and followed what they brought.

The example of [adab] with respect to the rights of Allah’s creatures is to neither fall short of them nor to be so involved with them as to forget the rights of Allah –or to neglect to fulfill Allah’s rights with perfection, thus neglecting the interests of one’s religion and the spiritual needs of one’s heart. Neither should one neglect the rights of others. Both sides of transgression are harmful. By this definition, then, the essence of adab is justice. And Allah knows best.

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[Al-Harawi] states:

It [adab] has three levels:

(1) Restraining fear from turning into despair;

(2) Preventing hope from becoming complacency;

(3) Stopping bliss from provoking audacity.

By the first he means that [adab] does not allow fear to grow to a point where it becomes hopelessness and despair from Allah’s mercy, for that is blameworthy fear. I have heard to say Shaykh Al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah, Allah have mercy on him: “The proper limit of fear is that which prevents you from acts of disobedience to Allah. What goes beyond that is unnecessary.” The fear that falls to despair is bad etiquette toward –and ignorance of– the mercy of Allah, the Exalted, which has predominated over His wrath.

As for the second, the prevention of hope from becoming complacency is that one’s hope should not reach the point where one feels security from chastisement, for None feels secure from Allah’s plan except the losers [Sûrat Al-Aʿrâf, 7:99], and such is another extreme. The definition of hope is “what makes worship pleasant to you and prompts you toward the journey,” which is like the wind that pushes the sailboat. If it stops, so does the boat. If it turns violent, it capsizes the boat. If it blows in proper measure, however, it sails the boat to its destination.

As for the third, “stopping bliss from encouraging audacity,” it is something only the strong and strong-willed can accomplish, those who are not so overwhelmed with happiness as to forget gratitude, nor with grief as to neglect patience. As it has been said by a poet:

Joy does not outdo their thanks

Nay, nor affliction their patience

The human self (nafs) is a companion of Satan and resembles him. The gifts of Allah descend into the heart and the soul. The self (nafs) ever lies in ambush for these gifts and is bent on taking its share of them, turning them into its own conquest. Whosoever is lenient with the self and ignorant of it allows it to fulfill its designs. Thus, what is supposed to be a divine gift to the heart and the soul –and a strength for it– turns into the conquest of the self, as well as an instrument of that conquest. And the self therefore rebels, for it sees itself as self-sufficient.

[As Allah says,] The human being is indeed rebellious, for he sees himself self-sufficient. So then –when one acquires some wealth– how much more rebellious would the nafs be if it thinks that it has attained much higher things, such as knowledge, the state [of ecstatic presence before Allah], inner awareness (maʿrifa), or divine disclosure? When these things become the attainments of the self (rather than of the heart and soul, as they are intended to be), the servant deviates from the path inevitably to a blameworthy extreme and displays audacity, or ecstatic utterances (shadḥ), or other such signs.

By Allah, how many souls have been spiritually murdered, looted, and wounded in this way and are left wondering: “Where did you come from? How did you attack?” The least that occurs as a result of this is that the door of any further bliss is closed. That is why it has been the way of those with inner knowledge and insight, when they are given such divine gifts, to err on the side of humility, self-criticism, and investigation of their shortcomings. They look to the one closer to Allah and nobler than themselves in His eyes –who, when he entered Makkah on the Day of the Opening, his head was bowed, so much so that it touched the back of his camel at a time when it is the wont of the human being that his happiness, victory, and triumph own him and raise him to the heights of the sky.

The real man is thus one whose adab protects his [spiritual] openings and his provision that is sent by Allah from being stolen by his nafs; and helpless is the one who is generous to his nafs. And what an unseemly generosity, and what a foolhardy charity!

And from Allah alone help is sought.

Dr Ovamir Anjum

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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