Dealing with People’s Praise: Twenty First Stop of Your Spiritual Journey to God

Dealing with People’s Praise: Twenty First Stop of Your Spiritual Journey to God

By Dr. Jasser Auda

“When people praise you for what they assume about you, blame yourself for what you really know about yourself. The most ignorant is the one who denies what he really knows about himself and believes what others assume about him.”

While journeying to God we will be put to many tests. One of those tests pertains to people’s praise for what they assume about you. This word of wisdom answers the following question: how does one deal with people’s praise?

Dealing with People’s Praise

People’s praise may change one’s rituals from being done to please God to being done to please people.

People’s praise is a serious issue. A man was mentioned before the Prophet and another man praised him greatly. The Prophet said,

“Woe on you! You have cut the neck of your friend.” The Prophet repeated this sentence many times and said, “If it is indispensable for anyone of you to praise someone, then he should say, ‘I think that he is so-and-so,” if he really thinks that he is such. God is the One Who will take his accounts (as He knows his reality) and no-one can sanctify anybody before God.” (Al-Bukhari)

In another tradition, the Prophet said: “When you see those who shower (undue) praise (upon others), throw dust upon their faces.” (Muslim)

Negative Impact

People’s praise may change one’s rituals from being done to please God to being done to please people, earn their praise or avoid their criticism. It also discourages one to do more good deeds if he feels that he is perfecting his actions or that he has done many good deeds which attracted people’s praise.

Another negative aspect of praise is that it makes one overlook his flaws and, instead, look at his merits.

In this word of wisdom, Sheikh Ibn `Ata’illah says: “When people praise you for what they assume about you, blame yourself for what you really know about yourself.” People praise you based on their assumption about you. But you know yourself better. You know that you are suffering from many flaws.

Notice that when the Sheikh talked about the beginnings he advised us to discover our flaws. The Sheikh said: “Trying to discover the flaws within you is better than trying to discover the worlds hidden from you.”

One’s Flaws

If you are highly praised by people, you should discover your flaws and blame yourself for what you know about it. You should feel ashamed because people are praising you for things which are not in you. You should pray to God to forgive your sins and conceal your flaws.

This is reminds us of what Imam `Ali (may God be pleased with him) when he described the Companions (may God be pleased with them) in his famous sermon: Imam `Ali said: “If someone praises one of them, he says, “I know myself better than others (know me), and my Lord is more knowledgeable of me than myself. O God, don’t take me to task for what they say, and make me better than what they think of me, and forgive me for those sins which they are unaware of.”

According to Imam `Ali’s description, when someone praised one of the Prophet’s Companions, he responded to him saying: “I know myself better than others (know me)”, i.e. I know myself and others think good of me. This is the same meaning given by Ibn `Atta’illah. Then the Companion adds: “And my Lord is more knowledgeable of me than myself”, i.e. God is more knowledgeable of my flaws, sins, and mistakes than myself. Finally, the Companion ends his response by praying to God: “Make me better than what they think of me.” They think good of me, so make me better than this. “O God, forgive me for those sins which they are unaware of.” God does not reveal things which we do not like and which we cannot tell people about.

Sometimes people’s praise takes away the reward promised by God for a certain good deed. Because this praise is actually the reward that one was seeking, as his intention was not to please God, but to please people. This is an utter hypocrisy.

The Sheikh says: “If the believer is praised, he should feel ashamed of God that people praise him for things which are not in him. The most ignorant is the one who denies what he really knows about himself and believes what others assume about him.”

Should I leave what I know for sure about myself and believe what people assume about it? This is a sign of ignorance and conceit.

Glad Tidings

In some other cases, people’s praise is glad tidings for the believer. Abu Dhar (may God be pleased him) reported: It was said to God’s Messenger (peace be upon him): What is your opinion about the person who has done good deeds and the people praise him? He said: “It is glad tidings for a believer (which he has received in this mortal world).” (Muslim)

Therefore, the servant should thank God for that, and should not be self-conceited. He also should not believe what people assume about him and forget his own flaws.

We pray to God to conceal our flaws, grant us humility, and give us glad tidings in this world and the next.

For them there is the glad tiding (of happiness) in the life of this world and in the life to come…  (Yunus 10:64)

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The article is excerpted from “Some of Al-Hikam Al-Ataiyyah” (The Path to God: A Journey with Ibn `Ata’illah’s Words of Wisdom In the Light of the Quran, the Prophetic Tradition, and Universal Laws of God- By Dr. Jasser Auda

 

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Certainty of Faith, Indifference about the World: Twentieth Stop of Your Spiritual Journey to God

By Dr. Jasser Auda

If the light of deep faith shines on you, you will see the Hereafter before journeying to it, and you will see the trappings of this world vanishing before your eyes.

Certainty of Faith, Indifference about the World- Twentieth Stop of Your Spiritual Journey to God

Feeling the Hereafter is related to the degree of certainty of faith.

I cannot proceed in my journey to God while forgetting my journey to the Hereafter. One should not forget that death is a reality for all of us. All humans, believers or unbelievers, agree that death is the end of this life. One should not care for this world and forget his inevitable end, death.

What Is Your Goal?

The Prophet (peace be upon him) warned us against striving only for this world. But this does not mean that we neglect the worldly affairs and leave them to those who do not use them the right way under the pretext that we are devoting our life to the Hereafter. This is a wrong understanding. What the Prophet means is that we should not forget the Hereafter.

The Prophet is reported to have said: “One whose main concern is this worldly life God will make his poverty between his eyes.”  (Ibn Majah)

When you open your eyes in the morning, ask yourself: what is your goal? Is it the Hereafter? Is it what is between you and God? If it is the case, God will grant you contentment and cause this worldly life to come to you despite your indifference about it.

On the other hands, if one opens his eyes in the opening thinking of so and so or such and such of worldly matters, or how to gain such and such of worldly matters, even it is lawful, the Prophet says about this person: “God will make his poverty between his eyes.” This means that he will not be satisfied with whatever he gains and achieves. Rather he will feel that he is still suffering poverty and need.

Between Faith the Hereafter

The Hereafter is an important concept that we should not overlook. The question is how to reach the level of thinking of the Hereafter? How to always call it to our minds?

The Sheikh is linking our thinking of the Hereafter with our certainty of faith. He says that the more our certainty of faith increases, the more we will care for the Hereafter. He sums up this meaning in the word of wisdom in which says: “If the light of deep faith shines on you, you will see the Hereafter before journeying to it, and you will see the trappings of this world vanishing before your eyes.”

The Sheikh links between the certainty of faith and remembering the Hereafter. It is as if the Hereafter is a reality that you can see. The question is how to reach this certainty of faith? The answer comes from the book of God, “ … and worship your Sustainer till death comes to you.”  (Al-Hijr 15:99)

When you worship God in all the various kinds of worship, the certainty of faith in your heart increases and you will remember the Hereafter as if you are living it. The Prophet’s companions experienced this feeling when they studied the Qur’an and worshipped God with him. It is reported that one of the companions said about the impact of worship, “As if we see the heaven and hell with our eyes.” (Ibn Majah)

Therefore, feeling the Hereafter is related to the degree of certainty of faith as the Sheikh says: “If the light of deep faith shines on you, you will see the Hereafter before journeying to it.” This means that you not need death so that you can see the Hereafter. Rather, you can see the Hereafter while you are still in this worldly life, and this is much better and beneficial for you before it is too late, isn’t it?

Balanced Life

Again, this does not mean that we isolate ourselves and renounce this worldly life. This is a wrong understanding which leads to wrong practices of the issue of remembering the Hereafter. It does not mean renouncing the world; rather it is a spiritual ritual. A balanced understanding parallels this worldly life to the Hereafter, i.e. you enjoy your life, but you do not forget your share in the Hereafter.

… without forgetting, withal, your own (rightful) share in this world; and do good (unto other) as God has done good unto you… (Al-Qasas 28:77)

Then the Sheikh says: “… and you will see the trappings of this world vanishing before your eyes.” This means that this world is of a continuous state of vanishment. Al-Hasan Al-Basri once said: “Son of Adam! You are nothing but a number of days, whenever each day passes then part of you has gone.”

The Sheikh says that if you have deep belief in the Hereafter, you will see this world vanishing before your eyes. This will make you indifferent about it and its pleasure and draws you nearer to the Hereafter and the rituals. We are in a much need of this proper understanding because we always forget the Hereafter and do not think about death.

The Prophet (peace be upon him) saw some companions praising a man because of his good deeds. The Prophet asked them if he used to remember death. They said: We did not hear mentioning death. Then the Prophet said: “Your friend is not there.” This means that he will not reach the high degrees of Paradise because he did not remember death as remembering death makes one ready for the Hereafter.

Success in Both Worlds

If we reflect on the meanings of the Qur’an and remember the Hereafter, we will succeed in this world. Striving for this world only leads to losing both worldly and religious affairs. Whereas remembering the Hereafter makes us successful in both worldly and religious affairs.

If one desires the rewards of this world, (let him remember that) with God are the rewards of (both) this world and the life to come: and God is indeed all-hearing, all-seeing. (An-Nisaa’ 4:134)

There is no harm if we care for the enjoyment of this life. But life should remain in our hands not in our hearts. This is the correct definition of zuhd (indifference about this world), i.e. to hold this world in your hand, but not letting it into your heart.

If you care for the Hereafter only and leave your share in this world, you are not serving Islam and Muslims. You will be easily tempted because you are indifferent about this world because you cannot get it not because you desire to get God’s reward in the Hereafter.

We pray to God to help us strike this balance between this world and the Hereafter. We also pray to God to help us remember the Hereafter and make us ready for it. We earnestly ask Him to save us from the punishment in the Hell.

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The article is excerpted from “Some of Al-Hikam Al-Ataiyyah” (The Path to God: A Journey with Ibn `Ata’illah’s Words of Wisdom In the Light of the Quran, the Prophetic Tradition, and Universal Laws of God- By Dr. Jasser Auda

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Distress and Need of Him: Nineteenth Stop of Your Spiritual Journey to God

Distress and Need of Him: Nineteenth Stop of Your Spiritual Journey to God

By Dr. Jasser Auda

The best way to ask Him is through your distress, and the fastest way to acquire good traits is through expressing your humility and need.

The word of wisdom under discussion is about du`aa’ (supplication). It is not about the etiquette of supplication, but it is about the condition of supplication, i.e. the condition of the Muslim’s heart when he asks God in order that the supplication will be answered.

God asks the unbelievers saying: “Is He (not best) who responds to the distressed when he calls out to Him, and who removes the ill (that caused the distress), and has made you inherit the earth? Could there be any divine power besides God?” (An-Naml 27:62)

In this verse God makes it clear to the unbelievers that when they are in distress and sincerely ask God for help, He will answer them. So, what about if a believer is in distress and asks Him for help!

Therefore, distress gets the supplication answered quickly. The Sheikh says: “The best way to ask Him is through your distress.” If you are in distress and ask God feeling the need for His help after the causes have fallen you, then rest assured that God will answer you supplication.

This applies also to the acts of worship. Therefore, the best way to ask Him is through distress, need, humility, and hope in His mercy. This is best illustrated in the Prophet’s supplication is different situations. In the Battle of Badr the Prophet (peace be upon him) turned (his face) towards the qiblah then he stretched his hands and began his supplication to his Lord:

”O God, accomplish for me what You have promised to me. O God, bring about what You have promised to me. O God, if this small band of Muslims is destroyed. You will not be worshipped on this earth. He continued his supplication to God, stretching his hands, facing the qiblah, until his mantle slipped down from his shoulders.” (Muslim)

This is the supplication of one who was in distress, so his supplication was answered swiftly.

Humility

Then the Sheikh explains other useful conditions of supplication. He says: “And the fastest way to acquire good traits is through expressing your humility and need.” This means that one has to be humiliated before God and feel that he is in need of Him Some scholars comments on the verse “The offerings given for the sake of God are (meant) only for the poor…” (At-Tawbah 9:60) saying that the verse is applicable on anyone who feels the need for God and asks for His help.

This interpretation is a bit odd, but the meaning is correct. In normal cases you give in charity the poor person, so what about if you show your need for God! Surely He will give you what you ask for and better than what you ask for.

The Sheikh’s saying: “And the fastest way to acquire good traits is through expressing your humility and need” implies that God is the one who grants good traits, worldly or religious. But here the Sheikh refers to religious traits such as the condition of the heart and the acts of worship.

Conditions for Answered Supplication

In order for a supplication to be answered, it has to meet some conditions such as facing the qiblah (prayer direction), and not asking God for committing a sin or cutting off family ties.

It is recommended to stretch the hand while praying to God and to start the supplication with praising God and invoking peace and blessing on the Prophet. It is also recommended to invoke peace and blessing on the Prophet (peace be upon him) in the middle and at the end of the supplication. This is the fiqh aspect of supplication.

However, what is of more importance is the condition of the heart when praying to God which is the basis of the supplication and not one of the recommended acts associated with it.

In the Islamic rulings there are apparent and hidden conditions related to each rule. Therefore, facing the qiblah, stretching the hand, and invoking peace and blessings on the Prophet are the apparent aspects of supplication. On the other hand, feeling the supplication and feeling the need, humility, and distress are the hidden aspects of supplication which are shown in the Prophet’s supplication in different situations.

The Prophet used to recite certain du`aa’s at certain situation such as getting up, going to bed, wearing clothes, taking off clothes, looking at the mirror, washing himself, sleeping with his wives, seeing the new moon of the month, in the evening, in the morning, going out, and coming back home. If we utter these supplications, we are connected with God all the time.

The Prophet’s Supplication

If we trace the history of du`aa’, we will not find any person, even previous prophets, who had this strong relation with God like the Prophet Muhammad. We study the Psalms, the Torah, and the Injeel (Gospel) well, we not come across such supplications which show the depth of this relation between the Prophet and His Lord. The Prophet used to praise God with humbleness, surrender and awareness of God’s mighty.

From different traditions we learn that the Prophet’s supplication was accompanied by distress. `A’ishah reported that the Prophet used to spend the night with one of his wives. At the dawn time, Bilal (may God be pleased with him) used to wake him up for the prayer.

So the Prophet used to takes a shower, then goes out to prayer and I used to hear him crying. Therefore, the Prophet’s supplication is not merely words uttered by the tongue, but it was deeply felt in the heart.

Unanswered!

The du`aa’ may be answered on the spot and the answer may be may take some time. The Prophet is reported to have said: “A servant will be rewarded on the Day of Judgment for a supplication for God which has not been answered to the extent that he wishes that his du`aa’ was not answered.”

This means that on the Day of Judgment one will wish that none of his du`aa’ had not been answered by God. This is because the du`aa’, which had not been answered, had been postponed by God till the day of Judgment and now it is rewarded in the best from.

When God does not answer your du`aa’, make sure that God is choosing the best for you. God has always been choosing the best for you. God says about Himself, “In Your Hand is all good.” (Aal `Imran 3:26) If you pray to God but He does not answer your prayer, you should know that God is choosing what is good for you and He is not choosing what is bad for you. God allowed you to pray to Him because He wants to give you as the Sheikh says in this word of wisdom.

God’s giving may be in this world or in the world to come. So, we have to leave the choice for God. “And (thus it is) Your Sustainer creates whatever He wills; and He chooses (for mankind) whatever is best for them.” (Ash-Shu`araa’ 26:68) God always chooses better that what we choose.

We pray to God to grant us the etiquette of du`aa’ and grant us the gift of praying to Him at times of distress so that we pray to Him in humility and need. We pray to God to reward us for our prayer both in this world and the world to come. God is the hearer and answerer of du`aa’.

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The article is excerpted from “Some of Al-Hikam Al-Ataiyyah” (The Path to God: A Journey with Ibn `Ata’illah’s Words of Wisdom In the Light of the Quran, the Prophetic Tradition, and Universal Laws of God- By Dr. Jasser Auda

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Ascending in the Levels of Worship: Eighteenth Stop of Your Spiritual Journey to God

Ascending in the Levels of Worship: Eighteenth Stop of Your Spiritual Journey to God

By Dr. Jasser Auda

He diversified the acts of worship for you because He knows how quickly you get bored. And He did not permit you certain acts of worship at certain times so you do not go to extremes. The objective is to perfect your prayers not to merely perform them. Not every performer of prayer perfects them.

Ascending in the Levels of Worship- Eighteenth Stop of Your Spiritual Journey to God

Allah diversified the acts of worship. So you can worship God in different ways.

The word of wisdom under discussion is related to a very important topic in our journey to God which is that of the level of worship. A servant may lose all the levels of worship and feel bored. God, out of His mercy, knows that, as humans, it is natural to feel bored.

Different Forms of Worship

Therefore, He diversified the acts of worship. So you can worship God in different ways. For example, prayer is a fixed act of worship that should be performed five times a day. But God recommended other forms of supererogatory prayers such as late-night prayer, prayer of thankfulness, and prayer at times of need, etc.

If a servant feels bored, he may perform the obligatory acts of worship such as prayer and fasting only. He may not want to perform the recommended prayers and fasting, but at the same time he shows much interest in other rituals such as charity, performing `Umrah, education, being kind to neighbors and relatives, helping people with his time and efforts, etc. All these are forms of worship that draw one closer to God.

People are different. Diversity is a universal law of God. Diversity is not limited to capabilities only, but there is a diversity in one’s ability to continue the performance of recommended prayers. If you pray day and night without a pause, you will feel bored. The Sheikh refers here to God’s knowledge about our desire to continue the worship without a pause.

Therefore, He, in His infinite knowledge, prohibited some acts of worship at certain times. The Prophet said: “Surely this religion (Islam) is firm. So apply it with tenderness. The one who is too harsh on his riding animal, he will not reach his destination and the riding animal will die.”

It is undesirable to pray after the sunset or before the time when the sun moves away from its central meridian, or after the `Asr Prayer. The recommended prayer is not to be performed at all times so that we are eager for performing them again. So, we leave the prayer after `Asr so that we wait for the recommended prayer after Maghrib in eagerness. The same applies to fasting. We are not permitted to fast at certain times, for example, immediately before the beginning of Ramadan and on the first day of `Eid.

When God opens for you the door of reading the Qur’an, you may wish to read it all the time. But it is not allowed to read the Qur’an while we are kneeling down or prostrating in prayer, or in the toilet, or while we are in a state of impurity. Because God knows our nature, He diversified the acts of worship and made some of them prohibited at certain times.

If God guides you to perform a specific act of worship, you have to perfect it and ascend in the levels of performing the worship. The Sheikh gives the example of prayer as he says: “The objective is to perfect your prayers not to merely perform them. Not every performer of prayer perfects them.”

When God talks about prayer, he asked us to “… and be constant in prayer.”  (Al-Baqarah 2:43) Perfecting the prayer is different from performing it. Perfecting the prayer is about concentration and humbleness. God says: “Truly, to a happy state shall attain the believers those who humble themselves in their prayer.” (Al-Mu’minun 23:1,2)

Humbleness is the objective of avoiding the performance of prayer at certain times in case one feels bored or when one goes to extremes. Humbleness cannot be achieved in these two cases.

According to Sufis, humbleness is a science and being a science is supported by the Prophetic tradition in which the Prophet (peace be upon him) talked about the signs of the Day of Judgment, as reported by Abu Ad-Darda’, and said: “We were with the Prophet and looked at the sky then said: This is a time when science is abandoned by people so that they cannot do anything.’ Then he said: ‘If you want I can tell you about the first science that will be abandoned by people; it is humbleness. You may enter a mosque but you do not see a man in a state of humbleness.’” (At-Tirmidhi)

Levels of Humbleness

Scholars divide humbleness into three levels:

Humiliation

The first level is humiliation which means that you pray to God and feel humiliated before Him. This is reflected in the movements of the prayer. We kneel down and prostrate only to God. These movements are a manifestation of humiliation which should be shown only to God.

Humiliation requires that you feel that you are weak and that God is the powerful, the rich, and the mighty. Humiliation is the result of neediness as the Sheikh explained in his word of wisdom in which he says: “The tree of humiliation stems from a seed of neediness.” When you feel you are in need of God, a state of humbleness is produced.

Feeling Awe of God

The second level is feeling awe of God. The higher level is to elevate you from the stage of humiliation to the stage of feeling awe of God, His mighty and punishment. God says:

.. (and) whenever the messages of the Most Gracious were conveyed unto them, they would fall down (before Him), prostrating themselves and weeping. (Maryam 19:85)

This is the level of feeling awe of God which might lead to crying.

God bestows from on high the best of all teachings in the shape of a divine writ fully consistent within itself, repeating each statement (of the truth) in manifold forms [a divine writ) whereat shiver the skins of all who of their Sustainer stand in awe: (but) in the end their skins and their hearts do soften at the remembrance of (the grace of) God. Such is God’s guidance: He guides therewith him that wills (to be guided) whereas he whom God lets go astray can never find any guide. (Az-Zumar 39:23)

`Abdullah ibn Al-Shakheer informed his some, Mutrif, that he met the Prophet as he was praying. He said that he heard a whistling sound from the chest of the Prophet resembling the sound of a boiling kettle as he was weeping. (Abu Dawud)

Happiness

The third level is happiness. The best state of humbleness in prayer is to find yourself happy and pleased because of being in the presence of God. So you feel happy when you read the Qur’an, mention God or praise Him. This is a high level of the humbleness levels in which angels descend from heavens to listen to you and a state of tranquility prevails in the place.

Al-Bara’ reported that a person was reciting Surat Al-Kahf and there was a horse tied with two ropes at his side, a cloud overshadowed him, and as it began to come nearer and nearer his horse began to take fright from it. He went and mentioned that to the Prophet (peace be upon him) in the morning, and he (the Prophet) said: “That was tranquility which came down at the recitation of the Qur’an.” (Muslim)

When God takes you to the level of happiness, this will be out of His favor not because of your deeds. However, there are reasons that help one ascend to this level. Among these reasons is reflecting on the meaning of the Quran and feeling humble by calling to mind the concepts related to humiliation, feeling awe of God and happiness. A Muslim poet says:

In the twinkling of an eye                          God may change one from a state to another

Therefore, by God grace you are elevated from the level of humiliation to the level of feeling awe of God, from the level of feeling awe of God to the level of happiness, i.e. from submission to belief and from belief to excellence.

The three levels mentioned above may be expressed in various forms of worship not only in prayer. Submission to God is the outward work, i.e. performing the prayer by kneeling down and prostration. You give out in charity by your money. You observe fasting by abstaining from eating and drinking. And you perform pilgrimage by circumnutating around the Kab`ah, going between the two hills of Al-Safa and Al-Marwah and offering the sacrifice.

However, belief is what is planted in the heart. Once it is planted in the heart, you believe in God, His angels, His scriptures, His messengers, the Day of Judgment, and destiny whether good or bad. All this leads to a wider meaning of the rituals.

So prayer is not only about kneeling down and prostration, but it is about humbleness, feeling awe of God, and happiness. Zakat is not only giving money, but it is about having mercy on the poor and indifference about the world. Fasting is not abstaining from food drink, but it is about mentioning God, thankfulness, and meditation.

Pilgrimage is not only circumnutating around the Ka`bah, going between the two hills of As-Safa and Al-Marwah and offering the sacrifice, but it is about remembering the Hereafter and following the steps of the prophets and messengers. Then comes the level of excellence, i.e. to worship God as though you are seeing Him, and while you see Him not yet truly He sees you.

The three levels of humbleness, i.e. humiliation, feelings awe of God and happiness are best demonstrated in the prayer. The level of humiliation is reflected in the physical movements of the body. The level of feeling awe of God is felt in the heart. Finally the level of happiness is reflected in perfecting the prayer.

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The article is excerpted from “Some of Al-Hikam Al-Ataiyyah” (The Path to God: A Journey with Ibn `Ata’illah’s Words of Wisdom In the Light of the Quran, the Prophetic Tradition, and Universal Laws of God- By Dr. Jasser Auda

 

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Understanding God’s Giving and Deprivation: Sixteenth Stop of Your Spiritual Journey to God

Understanding God’s Giving and Deprivation: Sixteenth Stop of Your Spiritual Journey to God

By Dr. Jasser Auda

You might think that He is giving you, while in reality He is depriving you. And you might think that He is depriving you, while in reality He is giving you. If through your deprivation, He opens the doors of understanding for you, then this deprivation is exactly a gift. You feel bad about your deprivation because you do not understand. He might open the door of worship for you, but does not open the door of acceptance. And you might be destined to sin, but this becomes a means to ascension towards Him. A sin that produces humbleness and need is better than an act of worship that produces pride and prejudice.

Understanding God’s Giving and Deprivation

God might test you through bad and good things, through misfortune and hardship.

At times, God gives you and at other times He deprives you. God might test you through bad and good things, through misfortune and hardship, or through bestowing blessings on you or depriving you. The matter is apparently different from what we assume.

At this stage in our journey to God, we have to understand the wisdom behind God’s giving and deprivation. God says:

But as for man, whenever his Sustainer tries him by His generosity and by letting him enjoy a life of ease, he says, “My Sustainer has been (justly) generous towards me”; whereas, whenever He tries him by straitening his means of livelihood, he says, “My Sustainer has disgraced me!” But nay, nay… (Al-Fajr 89:15-17)

It is as if God is saying that this is not the correct understanding of the issue of providence.

When God tries you by straitening your means of livelihood, this does not mean that He is disgracing you. And when He tries you by letting you enjoy a life of ease, this does not mean that He is generous towards you. The question is: how should we judge this issue?

Wisdom behind Deprivation

The Sheikh, Ibn `Ata’illah, is drawing our attention to a very important meaning is this word of wisdom which is that of ‘understanding’: “If through your deprivation, He opens the doors of understanding for you, then this deprivation is exactly a gift.” If God deprives by losing your money, job, health, or family, but at the same time He opens the doors of understanding for you, then this is not a deprivation but it is a gift from Him. In this case, the trial turns into a gift.

By understanding, you come to know that the trials you are afflicted with are the actual giving. This is because before understanding you were looking at the material, at the five senses and at numbers. You say, for example, I lost ten thousands or I lost my family, my health, etc. This is the material calculation.

God might take the ten thousands but gives you the understanding or makes you content, or makes you do a good deed, or gives you a strong will or gives you a good friend or gives you humbleness and closeness to Him.

Therefore, the loss of the ten thousands is the actual giving and gift. It is possible that God gives you 100 thousands later when you review your calculations and improve your behavior.

Therefore, we have to understand the actual meaning of giving and deprivation. Sometimes, we think that a specific thing is a deprivation while it is the actual giving and vice versa.

Behind Giving

The above-mentioned example may be given the other way around. One might suffer ten thousands of trials, but he does not thank God either by sayings or actions. He might be deceived by money or might spend it in something unlawful and the result will be undesirable. God may give this person more than a chance so that he can return to Him. God says:

… for, behold, though I may give them rein for a while, My subtle scheme is exceedingly firm! (Al-Qalam 68:45)

God sometimes throws open to them the gates of all [good] things as a kind of punishment.

… Until -even as they were rejoicing in what they had been granted – We suddenly took them to task: and lo! they were broken in spirit. (Al-An`am 6:45)

If God opens the doors of providence for you or answers your request for something, you have to understand. First, you have to thank God so that the blessing is tied to you. Second, you have to understand the wisdom and the meaning behind this giving and to be cautious about the trial it might involve.

The Sheikh gives another example which has the same meaning. He says: “He might open the door of worship for you, but does not open the door of acceptance. And you might be destined to sin, but this becomes a means to ascension towards Him.”

Missing the Reward

God might guide you to do good deeds such as praying qiyam al-layl (late-night supererogatory prayer) memorizing the Qur’an, giving out in charity, observing fasting, or performing Hajj. But you have to be cautious. Sometime you imagine that the worship is in itself a giving from God, but in reality it is not. The question is: why?

The answer is that the servant may miss the reward after doing a specific good deed. God says:

They who spend their possessions for the sake of God and do not thereafter mar their spending by stressing their own benevolence and hurting (the feelings of the needy) shall have their reward with ‘their Sustainer. (Al-Baqarah 2:262)

Stressing benevolence and hurting the feelings of the needy nullify the charity and block the door of acceptance and receiving God’s rewards.

The servant might do a good deed only to show off and to be praised by people. Thus, the good deed devoid of sincerity leads to punishment.

Behold, the hypocrites seek to deceive God – while it is He who causes them to be deceived (by themselves.) And when they rise to pray, they rise reluctantly, only to be seen and praised by men, remembering God but seldom. (An-Nisaa’ 4:142)

The main purpose of worship is sincerity and gaining moral and spiritual benefits from it. A ritual devoid of sincerity and moral, spiritual benefit is worthless. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: “Whoever does not give up forged speech and evil actions, God is not in need of his leaving his food and drink.” (Al-Bukhari) This means that God will not accept his fasting.

Then the Sheikh gives us another example related to the issue of acts of worship and sinning which requires an accurate understanding. The Sheikh says: “And you might be destined to sin, but this becomes a means to ascension towards Him.” Ibn Al-Qayyim Al-Jawziyyah says in this regard: “A sin may produce humbleness and need so that it takes one to Paradise. An act of worship may produce pride and prejudice so that it takes one to Hell.”

The Criterion

Of course, sinning itself does not lead one to entering Paradise, but the sin already happened and the one who committed it repented sincerely to God. A sinner always remembers his sin and tries his best to do good deeds in order to go to Paradise. Therefore, sinning produces humbleness and need and thus it becomes a giving and a gift from God.

But this does not mean that one commits sins and says that I am sinning in order to repent to God. This is a wrong and deviated understanding adopted by some ignorant people. Here I am talking about past sins which produce humbleness and need. This is much better than an act of worship that produces pride. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said:

“He who has in his heart the weight of a mustard seed of pride shall not enter Paradise.” (Muslim)

Therefore, we have to consider the degree of being close or far from God and make it the criterion of deprivation or giving. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said:

“How wonderful is the affair of the believer, for his affairs are all good, and this applies to no one but the believer. If something good happens to him, he is thankful for it and that is good for him. If something bad happens to him, he bears it with patience and that is good for him.” (Muslim)

Your Deeds

The hadith indicates that you are the one who brings good or bad to yourself. It is all up to you. If you are thankful for God for the good things that happen to you, this is good for you. If you are patient when bad things happen to you, this is also good for you.

However, if you feel pride when good things happen to you, this is bad for you. If you are impatient when bad things happen to you, this is also bad for you. Thus, based on your reaction you are the one who determines whether what happens to you is a deprivation or giving.

You might think that God is giving you, while in reality, He is depriving you. And you might think that He is depriving you, while in reality, He is giving you. So, you have to understand God’s wisdom when He gives or deprives you.

This understanding is very important for those journeying to God with excellent good deeds. God always gives you what is good for you. He always chooses the best for you. Then it is up to us to determine whether what happens to us is deprivation or a giving. This is in itself a blessing and a favor from God. “In Your hand is all good. Verily, You have the power to will anything.” (Aal `Imran 3:26)

We pray to God to make use understand well His deprivation and giving.

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The article is excerpted from “Some of Al-Hikam Al-Ataiyyah” (The Path to God: A Journey with Ibn `Ata’illah’s Words of Wisdom In the Light of the Quran, the Prophetic Tradition, and Universal Laws of God- By Dr. Jasser Auda

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The Night Journey: Sometimes It Causes Me to Tremble

The Night Journey: Sometimes It Causes Me to Tremble

Al-Quds

Imagine yourself accompanying the Prophet on that miraculous journey.

OK, folks, try this one at two o’clock in the morning or, if you can’t manage that, after the Fajr (Dawn) Prayer when the world around you is quiet.

Spend some time reflecting on the Prophet’s Night Journey and Ascension—Israa’ and Mi`raj—which are remembered on 27 Rajab. Imagine yourself accompanying him on that miraculous journey.

Here’s a guy (peace and blessings be upon him) who’s been struggling for 12 long years to get people to worship only the One God, Allah. They call him “Al-Ameen”, The Trustworthy, and even the staunchest pagans continue to entrust their property to him when they travel because of his honesty. Yet they won’t accept his words concerning Allah.

Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) sees his followers persecuted and tortured and is powerless to help them. He himself is persecuted and reviled by most. He has recently traveled to a distant city, Ta’if, to try to win the people there to Islam, but he was ignominiously driven out. His mission as a prophet has not brought him wealth or power. There has not yet been any vision of a Muslim state such as was later to be established in Madinah.

So here he is asleep, an ordinary human with an extraordinary mission. Imagine if you can, the Angel Jibreel (Gabriel) coming to wake him up and setting him on the marvelous steed, Al-Buraq. Imagine the flight to Jerusalem and the salah(ritual Prayer) of all the past prophets with Muhammad as their imam (peace and blessings on them all).

In this miraculous gathering of these holy men, they didn’t go around shaking hands and slapping each other on the back. “Hey, Moses! I always wanted to meet you! I’ve heard so much about you!” “Jesus! What really happened when they tried to arrest you?” If it had been me, that’s what I would have done. But Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) didn’t do that, he didn’t try to gain moral strength and encouragement from his fellow prophets, and they didn’t offer any. Instead, they all turned their attention to their Lord and worshipped Him in the way He had instructed. Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) sought moral and spiritual strength not from other humans—even if they were great ones who miraculously appeared to him then—but from his Lord and Creator.

And then their flight to the heavens. It’s hard to picture it because, of course, it’s totally out of our comprehension. How can a human being—with all his physical limits, his composition of matter—how can he possibly travel in the Unseen? (Well, then it wouldn’t have been a miracle, would it, if it hadn’t happened so?) That’s the whole wonder and glory of it. That a human could be lifted to another realm of existence and return unharmed.

Dwell upon that for a few minutes while the world around you sleeps. Let your spirit be lifted up towards your Creator and Lord.

I imagine Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) at the highest point of his ascension, when he has reached the vicinity of the Throne of Allah. But even for Muhammad, who has already passed through so much on that night, the vision if limited. Allah is veiled by light and Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) is unable to see Him. I contemplate that. I imagine that I’m standing behind Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) and also gazing at the veil of light. And I long to have the veil lifted. I long to gaze in adoration at my Lord.

But not yet. I’m still limited by my humanity, my corporeal being.

In a Hadith, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) told us that the believers will have ocular vision of their Lord in the hereafter. Will we only be able to glance because even in our resurrected bodies (new and improved!) the sight will be too much for us? Or will we be able to feast our eyes and gaze lovingly, adoringly? I hope the latter.

For now, when the world is quiet, I can only imagine myself before a veil of light, longing for what is within. And when I recall that Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) actually was in the presence of that veil of light, the tune of a gospel song comes to mind (I long ago changed the words):

Were you there when the Prophet made Mi`raj?
Were you there when the Prophet made Mi`raj?
O-o-o-oh! Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when the Prophet made Mi`raj?

The world is waking up around me as I write and my own spiritual “flight” must end as I am brought back to the daily realities: breakfast to make, family to wake up, bus to catch, etc., etc. But those few minutes of quiet contemplation have fed my spirit and (at least for a few days) when life gets stressful, I will close my eyes and imagine myself again standing behind Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) in the vicinity of the Throne of the One Being Whom I long to see.

And I will tremble again at the thought that he (peace and blessings be upon him) was really there.

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Source: Onislam.net.

 

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