Dear Steve - A Collection of Anecdotes about Saints
After the WTC bombings there has been a tremendous interest in Islam among the non-Muslims. It is reported that literature on Islam and copies of the Qur'an Shareef in many countries were completely sold out and it was difficult to keep up with the increased demand for Islamic literature.
It is definitely a healthy sign that non-Muslims should have a fresh look at Islam and Muslims. This should be an unbiased appraisal, without pre-conceived ideas, and with a heart that is open to Truth.
The most important quality that the non-Muslim should have is sincerity - a sincere desire to search for the Truth should be the motivating force. Without this important ingredient the "interest" in Islam may not produce the important result of arriving at Truth.
Some problems in trying to explain Islam to a westerner are the following: there is the westerner who is looking for something exotic, something unusual, something that is "different". The materialistic life of the westerner is basically an empty life. Therefore, as a hobby, something exotic is studied as a past-time, in the hope of filling this emptiness in him. Buddhism, Yoga and different types of meditational programs have an appeal to this type of person. He is looking for something similar in Tasawwuf. He is not in search of the Truth, but in search of some recreational activity. Very often, something that he can wear on his sleeve to show his social circle of friends.
Then, there are others are out for "kicks". They are in search of something unusual that will give their empty souls a "kick". Where the teenager will go seek this in music and drugs, the older person searches for this in the cultures of other nations, usually those that they consider to be "primitive".
Then there are the Orientalists. These are non-Muslims who study Islam as an academic subject. They usually write academic articles which are published in academic journals. Their purpose, in the main, is to study Islam with a view of finding fault with it, or to lead others away from Islam by giving a distorted picture of Islam. They find cushy jobs in universities and colleges and have ample funds and grants to "research" Islam. This is all part of an ongoing attack on Islam from the west. Of course, even if they know that Islam is the Truth - which they must all know if they have studied Islam with an open, unbiased mind - they will never come into the fold of Islam. Who is prepared to sacrifice his job and all the associated benefits in the form of prestige, grants, invitations to conferences - all expenses paid - and a host of other fringe benefits? That their knowledge is merely theoretical is quite obvious. Professor A Doi (R.A.) put it very nicely when he said that you will find the Orientalist sitting at his desk with the Qur'an in front of him, writing a commentary of his own on some topic in the Qur'an, and in his hand will be a ham sandwich and in front of him will be his whisky! That is, he professes to have some in-depth knowledge of the Qur'an, so much so that he is writing a paper or thesis on a particular aspect , but the reality of the teachings of the Qur'an has escaped him in that he does not abstain from the simple forbidden (haraam) items like pork and alcohol!
The Orientalist, as well as those non-Muslims who pride themselves on their knowledge of Islam - but who have not accepted Islam - are described in the Qur'an Shareef as follows, where reference is made to the scholars of the Torah:
Surah 62. Jumu'ah. Verse: 5
The likeness of those who are entrusted with the Law of Moses, yet apply it not, is as the likeness of the ass carrying books. Wretched is the likeness of folk who deny the revelations of Allah. And Allah guideth not wrongdoing folk.
Looking through some old e-mails, I came across a series of e-mails I had sent to a person in America. "Steve" - this is not his real name - had shown some interest in Tasawwuf and wanted to know more about the subject. Being a very busy professional, he had stated that he did not have the time to wade through lengthy articles or books. Were there no brief articles explaining Tasawwuf?
The one problem is that Tasawwuf is not a subject that can be explained briefly to an outsider, even though the person may be a Muslim, and especially more so if the person is a non-Muslim. The other problem is that the non-Muslim has a typical "western" approach which is not conducive to explaining an intricate subject like Tasawwuf. The westerner feels that a subject has to be studied academically and then judged on its merits and then utilised to the extent of interest in the subject. Although this approach may be adequate for material and worldly subjects, it does not lend to understanding Tasawwuf as Tasawwuf has to be understood. We thus find that non-Muslims may have studied Tasawwuf and written huge tracts on the subject of Tasawwuf - and some of the writings may be very in-depth and accurate - yet the authors appear to have missed the essence of Tasawwuf completely.
It is not our contention that "Steve" fits into any of the categories of non-Muslims listed in the beginning. Working on the premise that "Steve" was genuinely interested in Tasawwuf, not for any of the reasons outlined above, but for the sole purpose of getting closer to the Creator, we thought it would be a good exercise on our side to send some short anecdotes to him by e-mail and add some comments to these anecdotes. This would give some insight into Tasawwuf, but not necessarily explain the subject as in a textbook.
Initially, "Steve" was sent a copy of Mohammed Picthall's translation of the Qur'an (without the Arabic) and a brief note was sent to him. (The note is reproduced hereunder.) The interest that "Steve" showed in Tasawwuf and the e-mails sent to him took place long before September 11th 2001.
It is hoped that, Insha-Allah, the reader may benefit from the series of anecdotes that were sent to "Steve".
Knowing that you have an extremely busy schedule, I have not sent you the copy of the translation of the Qur'an to extract any promises from you, but merely to point out the road ahead. If you can avoid the traps and plots of your enemies, then I have no doubt that you will definitely reach your (spiritual) destination. Who are these enemies that I am speaking of? Man has only two real enemies: these are Nafs and Shaytan.
You may or may not know about these two enemies, but let me pen down a few lines about them, in any case.
This is that force in each and every individual and which looks after the well being of the body. The ego is part of the nafs. The instincts are part of the nafs. In other words, the nafs has similar qualities that all the creatures in the animal kingdom have. The desire for food, for drink, for shelter and protection from the cold and the heat, etc., etc., all arise from the nafs. So, why label the nafs as an enemy? The reason is that all the demands of the nafs are not in accordance with the rules laid down by one's Creator. A simple example is the following: When one's bladder is full there is a desire to urinate. One's instincts inform one that the bladder has to be emptied. The nafs then creates a demand on the mind/intellect to empty the bladder. Well and good. Now, if one goes to the toilet and follows the laws of hygiene, modesty and decorum that the Almighty has laid down, then the nafs is obedient and disciplined. This disciplined nafs is not an enemy, but like a horse or a vehicle, it is a means of taking us to our destination. (Our destination is a point in one's spiritual journey, which can be summarised as attaining the Pleasure of one's Creator all the time.) Take another situation: Instead of going to the toilet, a person exposes himself in public and empties his bladder in the supermarket, or the lounge of his home, it is obvious that this is not what the Almighty wants from this person. It has made him behave like an animal in that it has made the person follow his instincts without taking into account all the other social and religious factors. In this instance the nafs is his enemy - it has reduced him to the level of an animal. It should be noted that this control of the bladder and observing the laws of hygiene and modesty do not come naturally to people, but are learnt behaviours through toilet-training.
It follows that the disciplined nafs has to be trained. This, in turn, entails having a set of rules, and, secondly having a guide /instructor to train one. Further, it goes without saying that the rules/laws revealed to us by our Creator are superior to any man-made systems.
Shaytan (Satan/ The Devil) is not a fictitious character, but is a real entity that was created by the Almighty. He has been given some special qualities which Man does not have: Shaytan has been given a long life that will come to an end on the Day of Judgement; he is invisible to Man; he can change forms; he can course through the blood vessels of Man; etc.
Shaytan's objective is to divert Man from the Truth. Shaytan either tries to make Man disbelieve in his Creator, or tries to involve Man in sin, or gets him involved in some sort of distorted form of activities in the guise of worship; or gets him involved in useless past-times; or allows him to do a lesser good, thus preventing him from a greater good. There are many other aspects of Shaytan's tricks and traps, which are so numerous that the scholars can not possibly list them all.
It would seem that it is impossible to prevent oneself from falling into Shaytan's clutches in some manner or other, however, this is not necessarily so. One of the duties of the Spiritual Guide (Sheikh) is to assist the Seeker of Truth to avoid Shaytan's scheming. This the Sheikh does with that inner sense of wisdom that the Almighty has blessed him with. With this inner illumination he can fathom what others cannot.
One can see that Shaytan does not bother about that person not on the Straight Path. Those who are astray do not need Shaytan to mislead them - they are already misled! Shaytan tries his utmost to stop the Seeker of Truth from getting to his destination. Every step of the Seeker is fraught with danger. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the Seeker has to tread as carefully as that person walking on a tightrope does!
Anybody trying to get to his destination successfully is in dire need of a Guide. Anybody who feels he can do it alone is a victim of Shaytan's trap!
You, in your capacity of a guide, should be able to understand this better than anybody else. Take this illustration:
Somebody wants to undertake a journey into unknown territory. He has never been on this journey before. He has no guide. All he has are some outdated guidebooks, not factual, full of errors, with a lot of information based on myth and hearsay in them, with much of the remaining factual information in these books having being skillfully distorted to give an impression of authenticity.
This person is also warned that there are enemies who will try to stop him. However, he does not know what forms the enemy will take. He is not aware that the enemy may come as a friend. He has absolutely no idea how to recognise the enemy, how to confront the enemy, or how to avoid the enemy. He is not aware where his destination is! He has some vague idea about it, but he is not fully aware of what to look for to see if he has arrived at his destination or not. He is not aware of the difference between a temporary resting place and his true destination. Etc., etc.
How on earth is he going to reach his true destination? You will agree that this will be impossible, especially when he chooses to ignore the advice of those who had already made the journey and who are in a position to guide others as well.
Who to choose as a guide? From your own past experiences, together with what you have read - which must include a study of the Qur'an (Koran) - you should have a very good idea of who is on the True Path. Together with this it is essential to pray fervently to one's Creator for help and guidance. After all, one's destination is to Him. Without His help one is completely lost. Appealing to Him sincerely must produce results. He does not turn any of His creation away, provided that they are sincere and are prepared to make the necessary sacrifices to gain His pleasure.
Here now follows the actual e-mails sent to "Steve".
Your reply has been received. I have been thinking about the most appropriate matter to send to you in the context of you reply. The following you have already:
1) What Tasawwuf is. (I prefer the term Tasawwuf to "Sufyism" which I consider to be a misnomer and very misleading.) This is explained in the book "Good Character" and the various articles sent to you.
2) The method the beginner has to adopt to follow the program in Tasawwuf. This appears in the booklet "For Friends" Number One.
3) A very detailed explanation of Tasawwuf and related subjects can be found in the works of Imam Ghazali (R.A.), especially his "Ihya Ulumuddin". However, he has written several volumes of very complicated treatises on this subject and it is out of the question for you to study these with your full program and limited time.
4) Imam Ghazali (R.A.), has summarised his works in the pamphlet I sent to you, "The Way Of The Worshippers", wherein he describes the journey of Tasawwuf to comprise of crossing Seven Valleys.
5) The Truth is to be found in the Qur'an, of which you do have a translation.
Going through these works you should have a very good idea of what Tasawwuf is. However, there is a difference between having information and having knowledge. There is a vast difference between the two. One person may have read about your excursions. Another may not have read anything but has accompanied you on your journeys. The former will be said to have information. The latter will be said to have knowledge. Similarly with Tasawwuf.
What I, therefore, intend doing - the Almighty willing - is to send you short articles that may have interesting aspects to them.
Of course, the reality of Tasawwuf will only come the moment the Almighty instils in the heart that Light that will dispel the darkness of "Ignorance". ("Ignorance" - i.e Jaahaliyah - is that state in which the individual is still searching for guidance and veils of darkness still cover the heart, and the special illumination from the Almighty has not as yet removed the veils to unveil the Realities of His Attributes.)
Should you have any queries do not hesitate to put them forward. In fact, questions from your side will assist me a great deal in selecting the right material to send to you.
This is the first attempt to e-mail you what I had in mind. Below is a story that has some lessons in it. I have added a few comments.
A man found a cocoon of a butterfly. One day a small opening appeared. He sat and watched the butterfly for several hours as it struggled to force its body through that little hole. Then it seemed to stop making any progress. It appeared as if it had protruded as far as it could, and it could go no further. So the man decided to help the butterfly. He took a pair of scissors and snipped off the remaining bit of the cocoon. The butterfly then emerged easily. But it had a swollen body and small, shrivelled wings. The man continued to watch the butterfly because he expected that, at any moment, the wings would enlarge and expand to be able to support the body, which would contract in time. Neither happened! In fact, the butterfly spent the rest of its life crawling around with a swollen body and shrivelled wings. It never was able to fly. What the man, in his kindness and haste, did not understand was that the restricting cocoon and the struggle required for the butterfly to get through the tiny opening were Allah's way of forcing fluid from the body of the butterfly into its wings so that it would be ready for flight once it achieved its freedom from the cocoon. Sometimes struggles are exactly what we need in our lives. If Allah allowed us to go through our lives without any obstacles, it would cripple us. We would not be as strong as what we could have been. We could never "fly"!
1. The obvious lesson is that the Almighty has a reason for whatever He does. Man, with his puny mind, cannot fully fathom His wisdom. Occasionally, man will get an inkling of what is going on.
2. The second lesson is as explained above, that we should look at our own difficulties and struggles in the same light - that there is some wisdom in what happens to us.
3. The lesson that the Sufi would try and derive is to try to get to know the Almighty better. Getting closer to the Almighty entails getting to know Him better. The more one can discern His plans, the greater the gnosis and the greater the inner joy.
4. The Sufi goes one step further. With each new discovery he makes he tries to approach even closer to the Almighty. This can only be achieved by being more obedient to Him. The more obedient he becomes, the greater the knowledge that the Almighty reveals to him, increasing him in his gnosis.
Sending you another story. It also shows an amazing incident in "nature". My comments are appended at the end.
There was once a notorious robber among the Kurds (the name of a tribe in the Middle East). He narrates his own story: "Once I was going with my gang of robbers with the intention of a dacoity (robbery). We stopped to take a rest at a place where we saw three date palms, of which two were laden with fruit but the third was dry and barren.
"Time and again, a sparrow came to one of the green trees, took some fresh dates in its beak and flew across to the dry palm. We were greatly surprised. After I had counted ten trips of the bird, it occurred to me that I should climb the tree and see what it was doing with the dates.
"I climbed up to the top of the palm tree and saw a blind snake lying there with its mouth wide open: the sparrow had been putting fresh dates into the mouth of the blind snake. The sight (of a sparrow feeding a blind snake) awakened my conscience and I was moved to tears. I cried unto Allah Ta'ala, ‘O Allah! When this snake, which Your Rasul (Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam) has commanded us to kill, became blind, you appointed a sparrow to provide sustenance for it. And I, who am Your slave, believer in Tawheed (belief in One Deity), have been destined to loot the people.' At this, I heard a voice speaking to me, from within my heart, thus: ‘The door towards repentance is open to everybody, at all times.' Instantly I broke the sword with which I used to rob the people and (in the frenzy of remorse) began to throw dust on my head. I wept and cried unto Allah, ‘Forgive me, O Lord!'
"A Voice from the Unseen whispered in my heart, ‘We have forgiven you! We have forgiven you!' After a short while, I rejoined my companions. They wanted to know what had happened to me. I said, ‘I was led astray and was estranged from My Lord. Now I have made peace with Him.' And I told them the whole story. They said, ‘We also will make peace with our Lord', and they broke their swords, too. We abandoned all our looted property there, put on ‘Ihraam' (the white garb of a pilgrim) and set out to Makkah for Hajj." ["Virtues Of Sadaqah"]
Reflection/ meditation on the wonders of "nature", form an important part of the program the Sufi has to follow. "Nature" is a very loose term. To the Sufi everything that exists is the creation of the Creator (Allah). Thus "nature" is the scheme that the Almighty has placed in operation for the running of the universe.
This meditation allows the Sufi to come to know the Creator better. Just like an author portrays himself in his works and a painter reflects himself in his paintings, similarly the Sufi "sees" the Almighty in His creation.
Both this and the previous anecdote show the importance of studying "nature" and reflecting on it. This is a means of strengthening one's belief in the Almighty. (As you can see, I avoid use of the word ‘God' as different people have their own definitions of who ‘God' is. The term ‘Allah' denotes a very strict monotheistic Being, the Creator of the universe, One Who has no son, family, etc.)
This anecdote differs from the previous one in that the observer of this wondrous phenomenon goes on to reflect on his own weaknesses in relation to the Mercy that the Almighty was showing to the blind snake. He thus changed his ways.
The Sufi is always doing this. At all times he reflects on his own deficiencies, knowing that he is far from the Creator, and the only way to get closer to Him is by correcting himself and removing his deficiencies.
The above is a major difference with other groups who also have a programme of meditation. Meditation for the sake of meditation is a ploy of Shaytan to mislead the seeker into thinking that he is getting closer to the Creator. Closeness to the Creator is achieved only when the seeker turns to the Almighty in repentance and changes his ways.
The following anecdote is an adaptation of one of the stories of Rumi (R.A.):
Once an ant saw an artist draw a beautiful sketch on paper with his pen and pencil.
An ant said in admiration, "What beautiful figures!"
Another ant came and said, "It is the pen that has to be praised. It is the pen that is making those beautiful figures."
Another ant came and said, "That pen is held in the fingers, so the fingers are creating those wonderful figures. The pen is merely its instrument."
A fourth ant remarked, "Don't you see the arm? These control the fingers which merely carry out the actions through the power of the arm."
The dispute was referred to the queen of ants and she said, "These figures do not proceed from the pen, the fingers or the arm. These proceed from the mind. The mind controls all these."
The first ant is like those scientists who see only as far as their noses and are not prepared to consider anything that exists beyond that.
The other ants represent those that can see a bit more, but are still deprived of Reality.
The queen ant appears to be the most correct in her assessment. But is she?
There is a higher level of understanding: to realise that the mind of the artist is also controlled. This control is by the Hand of the Almighty. He is in control of everything. He gave the understanding and intelligence to the artist to be able to uses his senses and talent to draw the figures.
The Sufi's gaze falls not on the superficial and the outer trimmings of a situation - he is more concerned about the Ultimate Reality, the Almighty, and is not distracted by the external appearances of a situation.
You will notice that in most of the anecdotes related by the Sufis the central theme of Monotheism is alluded to and reinforced time and again. At this stage you should be introduced to a very important technical term. The term is "TAWHEED". It means monotheism in the strict sense that Islam teaches: Belief in One Creator, Who has no partners, family, etc. He is perfect in all His Attributes. This means that He is faultless in all His qualities. Tawheed also implies implicit belief in His commands for mankind and that these laws were brought to mankind by specially chosen people, whom we refer to as Messengers (Rasools). These were Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and a whole line of Messengers till the final Messenger, Muhammed (Peace be on all of them). Anyone who has a firm belief in this Tawheed, believing in it with his heart and testifying to it verbally, will be said to have submitted to his Creator. The technical term for this person will be "Muslim" - one who submits. This will be so irrespective of the age in which he lived.
A Sufi cannot be a Sufi if he does not subscribe to this Tawheed. The talks of the Sufis will thus include anecdotes referring to these Messengers as well as the final Messenger, as part of their firm conviction in Tawheed. The following anecdote was related to us by our sheikh:
Those who brought faith at the hands of Hadhrat Musa (AS) [Moses] and recited "لا إله إلا الله موسى رسول الله" [There is no deity worthy of worship; and Moses is the Messenger of Allah.] were punished harshly by Fir'oun [Pharaoh]. He went to this length that he took a large cauldron, filled it with oil, placed it on a huge fire and hurled one who had brought iman [faith] into the boiling oil. Hadhrat Jibril (AS) [Gabriel] immediately took him out. Fir'oun hurled him in again. Hadhrat Jibril (AS) lifted him out again. Three times this happened.
Finally, this person, intoxicated with iman, turned to Hadhrat Musa (AS) and said, "Janab! [Sir!] Please make du'a [supplicate] to Allah Ta'ala that He should not take me out of the cauldron. For me it is much better that I sacrifice my life for Islam on this Kalimah [faith] than undergo this difficulty." Hadhrat Musa (AS) made du'a on his behalf. Fir'oun again hurled him into the cauldron.
This time this sinless Ashiq [lover] of Allah Ta'ala was scalded by the oil into a formless piece of charcoal. Hadhrat Jibril (AS) came to Hadhrat Musa (AS) and said, "O Musa! Allah Ta'ala has also increased your reward and blessed him also with an excellent reward! At the time all the doors of Jannat [Paradise] were opened for his ruh [soul] to enter!"
["The Reality Of Tawheed" by Hadhrat Maulana Maseehulah Khan Sahib (R.A.)]
Anecdotes like these fill the Sufi heart with fervour because it demonstrates such a passionate love for one's Creator, that sacrificing one's life is considered worthwhile in order to be able to meet Him!
Your previous comment ‘to go a bit deeper' prompts me to write the following:
The theoretical aspects of Tasawwuf have being discussed in great depth by Imam Ghazali (Rahmatullaah Alayh) in his voluminous book "Ihya Uloom-ud-Deen". I am certain you are not interested in this theoretical treatise, but that you are more interested in the practical aspects of Tasawwuf. It is important to know that the whole of Tasawwuf is based on the concept of Tawheed and Risalat, as explained previously. What is outside of these two is not Tasawwuf. The depth of Tasawwuf is to delve deeper into these two aspects. The object of Tasawwuf is to earn the pleasure of the Almighty. This means complete submission to Him. Complete submission means to be obedient to Him and to follow His Messenger (i.e. Muhammed [sallallaahu-alaihi-wasallam - peace and blessings be on him]).
Imam Ghazali (Rahmatullaah Alayh) himself has described the journey the Seeker has to undertake. I have posted the pamphlet to you previously, however, I will reproduce the necessary segments again.
The Seven Valleys
Know, my brethren, that worship is the fruit of knowledge, the benefit of life and the capital of virtues. It is the aim and object of men of noble aspirations to have keen inward sight. It is their summum bonum and their everlasting Paradise. "I am your Creator," says the Holy Qur'an. "Worship Me, You will have your recompense and your efforts will be rewarded."
Worship, then, is essential for man but it is beset with difficulties and hardships. It has stumbling blocks and pitfalls in its tortuous path which is haunted by cut-throats and goblins, while helpers are scarce and friends are few. But this path of worship must be dangerous, for says the Prophet (on whom be peace and blessings), "Paradise is surrounded and covered by tribulations, while Hell abounds in ease and free enjoyment of passions." Poor man! He is weak, his engagements are heavy, times are hard and life is short. But the journey from here to the hereafter being unavoidable, if he neglects taking necessary provisions, he is sure to perish. Ponder over the gravity of the situation and the seriousness of our condition. By Allah, our lot is pitiable indeed, for many are called but few are chosen.
When I found the path of worship so difficult and dangerous, I composed certain works, chiefly 'lhya Uloom-ud-Deen' in which I pointed out the ways and means of surmounting those difficulties, facing the dangers boldly and crossing the path with success. But certain persons, looking to the outward expressions of my work, failed to understand the meaning and purpose of it and not only rejected the book but treated it in a manner unbecoming of a Muslim. But I was not disheartened, for there were persons who used to ridicule the Holy Qur'an calling it "The Stories of the Ancients". Nor was I offended, for I felt pity on them for they know not what they were doing to themselves. I hate disputations now but I must do something for them. So out of compassion for my brethren, I prayed to Allah to enlighten me on the subject in a new manner.
Listen, then, and know that the first prerequisite which awakens man from the lethargy of forgetfulness and turns him towards the path, is Allah's grace which stirs the mind to meditate thus: "I am the recipient of many gifts - life, power, reason, speech - and I find myself mysteriously protected from many troubles and evils. Who is my Benefactor? Who is my Helper? I must be grateful to Him in a fitting manner otherwise the gifts will be taken away and I shall be undone. These gifts reveal their purpose like tools in the hands of an artisan and the world appears to me like a beautiful picture leading my thoughts towards the painter."
i. The Valley of Knowledge
The soliloquy takes him to the Valley of Knowledge where implicit faith in the Divine Messenger leads the way and tells him:
The Benefactor is that One Being who has no associate with Him. He is thy Creator who is omni-present though unseen, whose Commandments must be obeyed, both inwardly and outwardly. He has so ordained that the good shall be rewarded and the wicked punished. The choice is now thine, for thou art responsible for thy actions. Acquire knowledge under God-fearing Ulema (Scholars) with a conviction that knows no wavering.
When the Valley of Knowledge is crossed man prepares for worship, but his guilty conscience upbraids him saying, "Canst thou knock at the door of the Sanctuary? Away with thy pollutious abominations'"
ii. The Valley of Repentance
The poor sinner falls down in the Valley of Repentance when a voice is heard, "Repent, repent! For thy Lord is forgiving." Now he takes heart and rising with joy proceeds further.
Imam Ghazali goes on to describe the other five valleys that the Seeker has to cross. Describing these valleys will serve no purpose because travelling through these valleys one encounters such experiences which will make sense only to the person travelling through them.
At this point I will relate an anecdote that demonstrates the beginning of the path of Tasawwuf: this anecdote has been described by Imam Ghazali in his 'lhya Uloom-ud-Deen'.
It is related in Ihya Uloom-ud-Deen that they are was a pious man among the Israelites, who always remained busy in the worship of Allah. A group of people came to him and told him that a tribe living nearby worshipped a tree. The news upset him and, with an axe on his shoulder, he went to cut down that tree.
On the way Shaytan met him in the form of an old man and asked him where he was going. He replied that he was going to cut down a particular tree. Shaytan said, "The tree does not concern you. You better keep your mind on your worship and do not give it up for the sake of something that does not concern you."
"This is also worship," retorted the worshipper. Then Shaytan tried to prevent him from cutting the tree, and there followed a bout between the two, in which the worshipper overpowered Shaytan. Finding himself completely helpless, Shaytan begged to be excused, and when the worshipper released him, he again said, "Allah has not made the cutting of this tree obligatory on you. You do not lose anything if you do not cut it. If it's cutting was necessary, Allah would have got it done through one of his Messengers."
The worshipper insisted on cutting the tree. There was again a bout between the two and again the worshipper overpowered Shaytan.
"Well, listen," said Shaytan, "I propose a settlement that will be to your advantage." The worshipper agreed and Shaytan said, "You are a poor man, a mere burden on this earth. If you desist from the act, I will pay you three gold coins everyday. You will daily find them lying under your pillow. With this money you can fulfil your own needs, oblige your relatives, help the needy and do so many other virtuous leads. Cutting this tree will only be one virtue, which ultimately will be of no use because the people will merely grow another tree."
This proposal appealed to the worshipper and he accepted it. He found the money on two successive days, but on the third day he found nothing. This enraged the worshipper and he picked up his axe and went to cut the tree.
The old man again met him on the way and asked him where he was he going. "To cut the tree," shouted the worshipper. "I will not let you do it," said Shaytan.
An encounter ensued between the two of them and this time Shaytan had the upper hand and overpowered the worshipper. The latter was surprised at his own defeat and asked Shaytan the cause of his success. Shaytan replied, "At first your anger was purely for earning the pleasure of Allah and therefore Almighty Allah helped you overpower me, but now it has been partly for the sake of those gold coins and, therefore, you lost."
This is the first quality that the Seeker has to acquire once he has entered the Valley of Monotheism (Tawheed). He has to develop a very pure sincerity. We can see from the story above that Shaytan will try and prevent the Seeker from reaching his goal. The need for a guide is obvious.
As long as one is sincere, Shaytan cannot overpower one. The moment this sincerity leaves, Shaytan leads one astray.
The schemes of Shaytan do not vary very much: he attempts with wealth, fame, the opposite sex. Shaytan will try to involve the Seeker in some sin or other.
Going a bit deeper into the question of "sincerity". This is an absolute value that the Seeker (Talib) has to develop. Once attained, this will cause him to progress, provided he is not misled by Shaytan into other avenues, as seen in the previous anecdote. The intention behind any action is vital in developing sincerity. The intention should be that Allah is pleased with one. This is tricky, for every person on earth thinks that the Almighty is happy with his actions, even idol worshippers think so!
Here follows a short anecdote to illustrate the importance of one's intention.
(Taken from Tabligh ud-Din by Imam Ghazali):
It was the period of the Bani Israel - i.e. during the period of one of the Messengers that came after Hadhrat Masa (A.S.) [Moses]. There was a severe drought and associated hunger in the land. One pious person was travelling somewhere and he saw a sand-hill in the distance. He told himself, "If this heap of sand can be converted to grain, I will distribute all the grain to the needy!"
The Almighty knows the thoughts going through our minds. He instructed the Messenger of the time to relay the good news to this person that Allah Ta'ala had accepted his sincere intention and he will be rewarded with such a reward as if he had actually distributed so much grain in charity to the destitute!
Sincerity means to have a pure intention in one's heart, without any material or ulterior motive. This was illustrated in the anecdote narrated last time about the person wanting to cut down the tree people were worshipping.
"Pure intention" in turn, means that one wants to please the Almighty (Allah).
This, in turn, implies that one should seek out that knowledge that will enable one to recognise what the Almighty wants from us and what pleases Him.
This, in turn, implies that one should turn to those authentic Scriptures which He had sent down to us for our guidance.
N.B. Our definition of "sincerity" differs from that of the West. The Western concept of sincerity is to be "free from deceit/ to be frank." (Oxford dictionary). This does not make sense to us in the context of our definition of sincerity. For example: If a person wholeheartedly and frankly and genuinely, without telling any lies, robs a bank then he is sincere! If he does it half-heartedly, telling a lie that he just wants to borrow some money, then he is insincere!
Our definition of "sincerity" is to be obedient to the Almighty, whether one does so whole-heartedly or not! For example: The Almighty wants us to pray five times a day, fast in the month of Ramadhan, give charity (zakaat) and go for pilgrimage to Makkah. Take it that a person does not want to do any of these, but he forces himself because he realises that this is what the Almighty wants from him, he will still be considered to be sincere and not a hypocrite. The reason is quite simple: Within our definition, he is doing something that Allah has ordered him to do. He is doing it out of respect for the Law
Take another example: A person is in a hurry. The traffic light is red. There is no other traffic and he could easily slip across against the red light, but he does not do so. The respect for the law prevents him. He will be considered to be a law-abiding citizen, even though he may be very unhappy at having to stop and be late for his appointment.
Another anecdote, still dealing with the topic of sincerity ("ikhlaas"). This episode has an interesting twist to it!
Abu Hurairah (R.A.) narrates that Muhammed Rasulullah (Sallallahu alaihi wasallam) said, "A man from the Bani Israel decided to give Sadaqah (monetary charity) quietly at night. He took it and placed it in a person's hand. In the morning, people started talking and saying, ‘Last night, Sadaqah was given to a thief!' The man said, ‘O Allah, to Thee be praise! I gave it to a thief! I could do nothing if it had been given to a worse person.' He decided to give Sadaqah again on the following night and put it in the hands of a woman - he might have thought that a woman would not be a thief. In the morning the people were talking and saying, ‘Sadaqah was given to a prostitute last night.' The man said, ‘O Allah, to Thee be praise! I gave it to a prostitute! My property deserved worse than that.' He decided to give Sadaqah a third time on the following night and placed it in the hands of an unknown person. In the morning, the people were talking and saying, ‘Last night, Sadaqah was given to a rich man.' The man said, ‘O Allah, to Thee be praise! I gave it to a thief, a prostitute and a rich man!' He then had a dream in which he was told that his Sadaqah had been accepted. It was given providentially to a thief so that it might result in his refraining from stealing; to a prostitute so that she might repent of her immorality and to the rich man to teach a lesson ‑ so that he may spend out of that which Allah Ta'ala had given him, following the example of the pious who gave Sadaqah, unnoticed.
Note: In another Hadith this story has been narrated differently. It may be a separate one as there are, in fact, a number of similar stories, leaving no cause for confusion. If the other one relates to the same case, it clarifies and confirms the original story. Ta'oos (R.A.) says that a man took a vow to give Sadaqah to the first person he saw in the locality. It so happened that he saw a woman, to whom he gave the Sadaqah. People said that she was an unchaste woman; then he gave Sadaqah to a man whom he saw next. The people said that the recipient was the worst type of man. He then gave more Sadaqah to the next one he saw. People said a rich man had received Sadaqah.
The giver of Sadaqah was most distressed over these happenings. At night he dreamt that all the three acts of Sadaqah had been accepted by Allah Ta'ala. He was told, "The woman was a prostitute, but she had adopted the profession due to poverty; your Sadaqah has made her give up the evil business. The thief also stole to overcome his poverty; he gave up stealing after receiving your Sadaqah. The third person was a rich man but never gave anything as Sadaqah. Your Sadaqah served as a lesson that, though he was richer than you, you gave Sadaqah to him; it made him realise that he should give more as Sadaqah than you; he now gives Sadaqah regularly".
It is clear from this Hadith that if Sadaqah is given with sincerity, but happens to be misplaced, that also serves a Divine purpose and should not be regretted. Man's responsibility is to keep his intentions pure, as the real requirement is good intention and action. This Hadith also brings out the piety of the man giving Sadaqah, for, though the results seemed to be wrong, despite his repeated efforts, he did not stop giving Sadaqah. Due to his pure intention and sincerity, all three were ultimately blessed with acceptance, which was revealed to him in his dream. ["Virtues of Sadaqah"]
This anecdote is self-explanatory. I do not think I can add anything to it.
Received your e-mail in response to the previous anecdote. Hereunder is a poem that is also very consoling to those involved in serving others with complete sincerity. I first read it while I was at school:
ABOU BEN ADHEM
Abou Ben Adhem (may his tribe increase!)
Awoke one night from a deep dream of peace,
And saw, within the moonlight in his room,
Making it rich, and like a lily in bloom,
An angel writing in a book of gold.
Exceeding peace had made Ben Adhem bold,
And to the presence in the room he said,
"What writest thou?" The vision raised its head,
And with a look made of all sweet accord,
Answered; "The names of those who love the Lord."
"And is mine one?" said Abou. "Nay, not so,"
Replied the angel. Abou spoke more low,
But cheerily still; and said: "I pray thee, then,
Write me as one that loves his fellow men,"
The angel wrote, and vanished. The next night
It came again with a great wakening light,
And showed the names whom love of God had blest,
And lo! ‑ Ben Adhem's name led all the rest.
LEIGH HUNT ‑1834
1. Sincerity must of necessity show results.
2. Humility is the cherry on top of sincerity.
3. The Almighty looks not at the results we get, but at the efforts we make.
4. Consoling as they may be, more consoling is to make direct contact with the Almighty. This is achieved only by treading the Path of the Sufis. Other paths lead to cul-de-sacs or plain deviation.
5. What I would suggest is that you take a look at the Qur'an. (I had sent you a translation of the Qur'an some time back.) The method I suggest is the following: Whenever faced with a problem, make a plea in your heart for guidance to solve the problem. Then open the Qur'an at any page at random and read. You will, (the Almighty willing), be very pleasantly surprised!
Two anecdotes, still to do with charity (Sadaqah) and sincerity (Ikhlaas).
Abu Salmah (R.A.) has also reported Rasulullah (Sallallahu alaihi wasallam) as saying, "Sadaqah does not reduce wealth, so do give Sadaqah". ‘Sadaqah does not reduce wealth' obviously means that the return for it promptly comes from Allah Ta'ala. Habib Ajmi (R.A.) was a famous saint; his wife kneaded flour for bread and went to the neighbour's house to bring a little fire. In the meantime a beggar came and Habib Ajmi (R.A.) gave away the available flour to him. When she returned with the fire and found the flour missing, she asked her husband about it. He replied that it had been sent to be baked into bread. She did not believe him and, on further questioning, he at last told her that he had given it away as Sadaqah. She said, "Allah be glorified! You should have known that there was no more flour in the house for the family to eat. What are we going to do without it?" While she was talking, a man came in with a large bowl full of meat and plenty of bread. She exclaimed, "How quickly the bread has been baked, and the meat is an addition!"
Such incidents occur very often but, due to our lack of correct relationship with Allah Ta'ala, we do not notice or realise how a certain thing came to us as a blessing for something that we had spent. We usually take such things as chance happenings, whereas they are a return for what we have spent.
Muhammad (Sallallahu alaihi wasallam) was pleased to say that an unchaste woman was granted Divine pardon for a simple act: she saw a dog standing beside a well with its tongue hanging out due to severe thirst, as if about to die, so she took off her shoe, tied it to her shawl and lowered it into the well to draw water, which she gave to the dog to drink. Someone asked Rasulullah (Sallallahu alaihi wasallam) whether they would receive reward for being kind to the animals. The reply was that there was reward for being kind to any living thing (Muslim or non‑Muslim, man or animal).
Note: This is the story of a lewd woman from the Bani Israel, of which various versions exist. (Kanz). A similar incident has also been narrated by Rasulullah (Sallallahu alaihi wasallam) about a man who was traveling through a jungle. He felt very thirsty and climbed down a well for a drink. When he climbed back to the surface, he saw a thirsty dog rubbing its mouth in the mud, feeling uneasy for want of water. The man realised that the dog was suffering from thirst in the way he himself did before he had taken the drink of water. Finding nothing with which to draw water, he took off his shoe and climbed down the well, filled his shoe with water and climbed up, using both his hands and holding the shoe in his mouth, he gave the water to the dog to drink. Allah Ta'ala graciously pardoned all his sins. ("Virtues of Sadaqah")
- The second anecdote deals with the spiritual benefit of sincerity and charity, namely that one's sins are forgiven and the anger of the Almighty on us for our transgressions, gets averted.
- The first episode deals with material benefit. Not all can see this. Only those with their inner eyes focussed and sharpened will be able to detect this type of "reward" for sincerity and charity.
- The recognition of the "inner eyes" is termed "ma'rifat" (gnosis). The degree of gnosis will depend on the degree of progress along the Path of Tasawwuf.
- Those who are not true Sufis may also appear to have gnosis, but this is a misconception. For example: An idol worshipper will conclude that the idol that he is worshipping caused the result to flow from the action that preceded it. A sun-worshipper will attribute the results to the sun he is worshipping, etc.
- Every good that a human being does is taken into account by the Almighty. There is a difference between those who believe in Him as He should be believed in and the Unbelievers. The former are rewarded in the hereafter and may see the reward of their good actions in this world as well. The Unbelievers are rewarded in this world only and not in the hereafter.
Here is another anecdote about sincerity (Ikhlaas) and charity (Sadaqah). This anecdote I have related several times to others. I am sure you will also find it interesting.
It is said that the Sahabah (the Companions of Muhammed [Sallallahu alaihi wasallam]) used to work as porters at night, to spend the earnings as Sadaqah, and even whatever they had at home was used for the purpose of Sadaqah. They utilised a bare minimum for their own needs under compulsion. Once, when a person approached Ali (R.A) for a favour, he told Hasan - or Hussain (R.A.) - his son - to ask his mother, Fatimah (R.A.), to give one Dirham out of the six which he had given her to keep. The son returned with the reply that he (Ali) had given those for purchasing flour. Ali (R.A.) said that no one is sincere in his Imaan (Faith) unless his faith in what Allah Ta'ala has promised is stronger than his belief in his worldly possessions, and told his son to ask his mother to give all the six Dirhams. Fatimah (R.A.), who had hesitated earlier only for the sake of reminding her husband of his original intention before giving away the money as Sadaqah, at once handed the money to her son for giving as Sadaqah, all of which Ali gave to the person. Ali (R.A.) had not moved away from the place when a man arrived there with a camel for sale. When Ali (R.A.) asked the man the price of the camel, he said it was worth 140 Dirhams. Ali (R.A.) bought the camel, promising to pay the price a little later. A short while later, another man came and asked Ali about the owner of the camel. When Ali (R.A.) said that he himself was the owner, the man asked if he wanted to sell the camel. Ali (R.A.), agreeing, indicated the price as 200 Dirhams. The man took the camel and paid Ali (R.A.) 200 Dirhams, out of which he paid the original owner 140 Dirhams and sent the remaining 60 Dirhams to his wife, Fatimah (R.A.), who asked him where the money came from. Ali (R.A.) replied that Allah Ta'ala, through Rasulullah (Sallallahu Alaihi wasallam), has promised to give ten times the reward for every single virtuous deed that is performed in this world.
This is yet another example of the Sahabah's spending out of their hard-earned money. One had only six dirhams, which were meant to buy flour for the family's food, but when his strong faith in Allah made him spend the whole of that money for Allah's sake, it was repaid ten-fold, as the promised return in this world. ["Virtues Of Sadaqah"]
- Cause and effect: Just as there is "cause and effect" in physics, so too there is "cause and effect" in the spiritual realm.
- To recognise this phenomenon, one needs to develop one's "inner eye". This is dependent on the degree of "ma'rifat" (gnosis), as mentioned previously.
- Sometimes Shaytan tries to mislead the Seeker by causing "miracles" to happen. The ignorant are led to believe that they had reached a high degree of spiritual elevation and attribute the so-called "miracles" to their "piety". They are then diverted further and further away from their destination by other tricks that Shaytan plays on them, even leading them to the brink of Hell. Eg. A person may be duped into thinking that he is a Prophet of God. (Mirzah Gulam Ahmed Qadiyan, is a classic example in recent times of one such person who thought that he was Hadhrat Isa [Jesus] and, later, thought that he was even more elevated than Hadhrat Isa or Muhammed, Sallallahu Alaihi wasallam). Especially gullible are those who do not have an accomplished sheikh (Sheikh-e-Kamil) to guide them.
In a few days' time the month of Ramadhan will be upon us. Although all Muslims look forward to this month, the Sufis especially yearn for this month more than others. In this month of Ramadhan Muslims throughout the world fast. That is, they do not eat or drink anything from before dawn to sunset. Smokers are not allowed to smoke. Conjugal relations are forbidden during the state of fasting.
The benefits of fasting are many, physical (health-wise) and spiritual. I am sure that you are aware of these benefits, so I will not list them here. What I wish to touch on are the spiritual benefits - these being the reasons for the Sufis really appreciate this month of fasting than others. Before doing so, to relate an anecdote that we heard from our Sheikh (R.A.):
A certain Sheikh had a number of disciples with him. One of the disciples he favoured more than the others. The others became jealous and complained to the Sheikh that they did not see why he favoured that one particularly and not them as well. The Sheikh listened to them without comment. Some days later he summoned all his disciples and told them that he had a special task for all of them. He needed some chickens slaughtered. He gave each a chicken to slaughter, but laid down an important condition: Each had to slaughter the chicken where he was not observed at all. They all had to be back at a certain time. When they assembled again each one brought the slaughtered chicken with him, with an explanation of how he managed to slaughter it without being seen. The one said that he went behind a bush and slaughtered his chicken; another did it behind a wall; another did it in a shed; another did it in the woods; and so forth. The favoured disciple's turn was last. He shame-facedly produced the LIVE chicken from behind his back. The other disciples burst into mocking laughter. The favoured one could not even carry out such a simple task! Truly the Sheikh was mistaken in favouring him! Could he not even slaughter a chicken where he could not be seen? What a foolish person! When the commotion had died down the Sheikh enquired of him, "My son, why have you not slaughtered the chicken as I directed you to?" The disciple replied, "Hadhrat (Sir), I tried to follow your instructions to the letter. You commanded us to slaughter the chicken where we would not be seen. I went behind a bush, then I went behind a wall, and then I went in an empty shed, and then I went into the woods, and then I sought out other secluded spots but, Hadhrat (Sir), wherever I went ALLAH WAS WATCHING ME! Your instructions were that we should slaughter the chicken where we would not be seen. This I find to be an impossible task, because wherever we are He watches our every action!" The Sheikh turned to the other disciples and said, "This whole exercise was to demonstrate to you the reason why he is favoured by me. In a short while here he has developed this lofty status of being aware of the Almighty at all times, whereas you have been here a long time and have not reached this status!"
- Fasting is that spiritual exercise which develops consciousness of the Almighty more than other exercises. Nobody is there to know whether a person is fasting or not. Someone can secretly eat and drink and nobody else will be the wiser for it. It is only the thought that the Almighty knows and sees everything that prevents a person from eating and drinking.
- The Sufi goes further than just abstaining from food and drink. Fasting is that exercise that enables him to develop a consciousness of the Almighty to that extent that all his actions and speech bear an aura that is a manifestation of this awareness.
- Fasting is that exercise that weakens the carnal self - the Nafs. This is basic to getting closer to the Almighty. Anybody who thinks he is close to the Almighty but has not undergone a process of disciplining his Nafs is merely deceiving himself.
- During fasting one is able to engage oneself in other forms of worship - prayer, reciting the Qur'an, making "zikr", etc. In other words, fasting then lends added splendour to these acts of worship.
- There is a special delight in worship in the month of Ramadhan. The Sufi will experience more episodes of ecstasy in this month than at other times. Etc., etc.
There is a wonderful book "Virtues of Ramadhan" which has a wealth of information about the month of Ramadhan. I am not too certain whether it is available over there. I shall try and see if I cannot obtain a copy and send you extracts during this coming month of Ramadhan, (the Almighty willing).
Half of Ramadhan has already passed! This is a very hectic month with very little time to spare, as one tries to perform as many acts of worship as one can. Trying to catch up on sleep is also a challenge, as the nights are short and one has to perform more acts of worship at night than in other months.
Sending you a copy of a Hadith (narration of Muhammed -Sallallahu Alaihi wasallam) on the virtues and benefits of the month of Ramadhan:
Salmaan (R.A.) reports, "On the lost day of Shabaan [i.e. the month before Ramadhan] Rasulullah (Sallallahu Alaihi wasallam) addressed us and said, ‘O people there comes over you now a great month, a most blessed month in which lies a night more greater in virtue than a thousand months. [See comment below.] It is a month in which Allah has made fasting compulsory by day. And has made sunnah the Taraaweeh by night.[See comment below.] Whosoever intends drawing near to AIlah by performing any virtuous deed, for such person shall be the reward like the one who had performed a fardh in any other time.[See comment below.] And whoever performs a fardh, shall be blessed with the reward of seventy faraa‑idh in any other time. This is indeed the month of patience, and the reward for true patience is Jannat (paradise), it is the month of sympathy with one's fellow men. It is the month wherein a true believer's rizq (sustenance) is increased. Whosoever feeds another who fasted, in order to break the fast (at sunset), for the feeder there shall be forgiveness of sins and emancipation from the fire of Jahannam (Hell), and for such feeder shall be the same reward as the one who fasted (whom he fed) without that persons reward being decreased in the least."
Thereupon we said, "O messenger of Allah, not all of us possess the means whereby we can give a fasting person to break his fast." Rasulullah (Sallallahu Alaihi wasallam) replied, "Allah grants the same reward to the one who gives a fasting person to break the fast a mere date, or a drink of water, or a sip of milk.
"This is a month, the first of which brings Allah's mercy, the middle of which brings His forgiveness and the last of which brings emancipation from the fire of Jahannam.
"Whosoever lessens the burden of his servants (bondsmen) in this month, Allah will forgive him and free him from the fire of Jahannam.
"And in this month four things you should continue to perform in great number, two of which shall be to please your Lord, while the other two shall be those without which you cannot do. Those which shall be to please your Lord are that you should, in great quantity, bear witness that there is no deity to worship except Allah (i.e. recite the Kalimah Tayyibah: Laa-ilaaha illallahu) and make much Istighfaar (beg for Allah's forgiveness by reciting the words ‘Astaghfirullaah').
"And as for those without which you cannot do, you should beg of Allah entrance into paradise and ask refuge in Him from Jahannam (Hell).
"And whoever gave a person who fasted water to drink, Allah shall grant that giver to drink from my fountain, such a drink whereafter that person shall never again feel thirsty until he enters Jannat (Paradise)." ["Virtues of Ramadhan"]
-"a night more greater in virtue than a thousand months." This refers to a very special night wherein there is untold spiritual benefits, greater than spending a thousand months in perfect and sincere worship. This night is not specified, but occurs in the last ten nights of Ramadhan. Everybody, but especially the Sufis, makes a very concerted effort to spend the last ten nights in performing as many acts of worship as possible. Numerous people will even stay in the mosque ALL these ten days and nights in worship.
-"the sunnah Taraaweeh by night." In addition to the five congregational compulsory daily prayers, in Ramadhan there is the extra congregational prayer called "Taraaweeh." This lasts about an hour to ninety minutes. A portion of the Qur'an is recited every night, with the aim of completing the whole Qur'an during the month. The Qur'an is recited completely from memory. At some venues the whole Qur'an is recited from memory in about ten nights.
-"one who had performed a fardh in any other time." The compulsory acts of worship (five times prayer, fasting, giving of charity, the Haj) carry great importance and the reward is also great. In Ramadhan the reward is multiplied seventy times. For non-obligatory acts of worship and, in fact, any good deed, the reward is increased to that of a compulsory act of worship.
-The joy of Ramadhan cannot be expressed in words. Only those who behave as they should in this month will experience the joy that the Sufis experience, for they are the ones who recognise the inner secrets of this month and take full advantage of this month, and experience an exhilaration one cannot put down in words!
Ramadhan has ended and we are celebrating the day of Id (Eid). Sending you two short excerpts, still in connection with Ramadhan:
Ibn Abbas (R.A.) says that he heard our Messenger, Rasulullah (Sallallahu Alaihi wasallam) say, "Verily Jannat (Paradise) becomes perfumed with the sweetest flagrance in Ramadhan. From the beginning of the year till the end, it is being brightly decorated for the coming of this blessed month. And when the first night of Ramadhan appears, a wind blows from beneath the Arsh (The Throne/ Seat of Power of the Almighty). It is called Mutheerah. and causes the leaves of the trees of Jannat to rustle and door handles to sound, whereby setting forth such a melodious sound as had never been heard before. The dark-eyed damsels of Jannat then step forth till they appear in the centre of the balconies of Jannat. exclaiming: ‘Is there anyone making du'a (supplicating) to Allah for us that Allah may join us in marriage to him?' Then these damsels call out: ‘O Ridhwaan. keeper of Jannat, what night is this?' He replies: ‘I am present. This is indeed the first night of Ramadhan, when the doors of Jannat are opened to those who observe the fast from among the Ummah (followers) of Muhammad (Sallallahu Alaihi wasallam).' Rasulullah (Sallallahu Alaihi wasallam) further said, "Allah says, ‘O Ridhwaan, open the doors of Jannat, and O Maalik, (keeper of Jahannam [Hell]) close the doors of Jahannam for those who fast from among the Ummah of Ahmad. O Jibraeel (Gabriel), proceed down to the earth and bind the rebellious Shaytans (devils) in chains and cast them in the oceans so that they make no mischief, thereby spoiling the fast of the Ummah of My beloved Muhammad (Sallallahu Alaihi wasallam).'" ["Virtues of Ramadhan"]
- Narrations like these are there to motivate people to fast in the month of Ramadhan.
- There are many people without knowledge who object to the material pleasures of Paradise (Jannat). They object especially to the concept of having access to the pure damsels mentioned above. In the main, the critics are those who do not know the beauty of marriage and the sacredness of marital relations, which form part of the acts of worship of Muslims. A simplified explanation for the bounties offered in Paradise is the following: When the true slave of the Almighty is completely obedient to Him and carries out all His injunctions, viewing all his acts as sacred and part of worship, his eating and drinking, his speaking, his sleeping , his marriage, etc., then he is rewarded for this submission to the Almighty. The reward has to be appropriate. Because he prevented his carnal self - his nafs - from all that is impure (haraam/ non-kosher) like pork, alcohol, fornication, etc., the carnal self is then rewarded with pure substitutes of these in Paradise. If this was not so then there would be no justice, which is incompatible with the Almighty's attribute of being the Most Just. Of course, man has a spiritual side as well (the rooh/ soul) which is separate from the carnal self (nafs). The rooh is rewarded differently in Paradise. Its reward is spiritual ecstasy, which is the result of ‘seeing' the Almighty.
- The Shaytans - some of them - are definitely locked up. There is no other explanation for the change for the better that we see in people in the month of Ramadhan!
The narration ends:
"On the morning of Id, Allah sends down the angels to all the lands of the earth where they take their positions at access points of roads, calling out with a voice that is heard by all except man and Jinn. ‘O Ummah of Muhammad (Sallallahu Alaihi wasallam), come forth from your houses towards a Lord that is noble and gracious, who grants much and pardons the major sins'. When they proceed towards the places for their Id prayer, Allah says to the Angels: ‘What indeed is the reward of that employee who had rendered his services?' The Angels reply, ‘O Lord and Master, it is only right that he should receive his reward in full for his services.' Allah then says, ‘I call you to witness, O My Angels, that for their having fasted during the month of Ramadhan, and for their having stood before Me in prayer by night, I have granted to them as reward My pleasure and have granted them forgiveness. O My servants, ask now of Me, for I swear by My honour and My greatness, that whatsoever you shall beg of Me this day in this assembly of yours for the needs of the Hereafter, I shall grant you; and whatsoever you shall ask for worldly needs, I shall look at you favourably. By My honour I swear, as long as you shall obey My commands, I shall cover your faults. By My Honour and My Greatness do I swear that I shall never disgrace you among the evil‑doing ones and disbelievers. Depart now from here, you are forgiven. You have pleased Me and I am pleased with you.' The Angels, on seeing this great reward bestowed by Allah upon the Ummah of Muhammad (Sallallahu Alaihi wasallam) on the day of Id, become greatly pleased and happy." ["Virtues of Ramadhan"]
- The reward is proportional to the extent with which the person had kept proper fasts, as explained earlier, not only abstaining from food, drink and marital relations while fasting, but also abstaining from bad behaviour and major and minor sins.
This is the season for the Pilgrimage to Makkah (Haj). Many have left already and many are still preparing for the journey. Wonderful are the tales of those who go with sincerity, seeking only the Pleasure of the Almighty. Falling in this group are the Sufis, who experience amazing incidents while travelling to the Holy Places or while performing the rites of Haj. A book, "Virtues of Haj" contains a number of such incidents. I think I shall copy some of these for you.
Story Number 58.
A saintly man says, while performing tawaaf [circumambulation of the Kaabah] once, I saw a girl carrying a very young child on her shoulder. The girl called out loudly: "O Noble Lord, great thanks to You for Your great favour to me in times gone by." I asked her: "Pray, tell me what is that great favour that has passed between Allah and yourself?"
She replied; "We were once on a boat at sea. A great storm arose with hurricane winds blowing fiercely. With us there were many traders and as the boat sank they were all drowning except myself, this child and one dark‑skinned man. While we were left holding onto a log, the dark‑skinned man was hanging onto another. No one else was saved. We held onto the raft right through the night. When the light of dawn broke, the dark man saw me and dragged himself through the water towards my raft. When he came next to me he left his raft and held onto ours next to me. He uttered evil words intending evil acts with me, whereupon I said to him, ‘Fear Allah. Do you not realize the terrible danger wherein we find ourselves, from which it is very difficult to be released? How can you think of sin at a moment like this?' He replied determinedly: ‘Stop that talk. Whatever I intend with you shall be done, no matter what happens.' At that moment this child was asleep in my lap. Quietly I pinched him and he cried. Seeing the man's determination I said: ‘Just wait a while until I have put this child lo sleep. Whatever Allah had predetermined shall happen.' The man took the child from me by force and threw him into the sea. Seeing this I called out: ‘O Allah, Who intervenes even between a man and his intentions! O Rabb (Sustainer)! Do intervene between this man and myself and save me. You alone have the power to separate and You have power over all things.'
"I swear by Allah, these words had hardly left my mouth when I saw a huge monster raising its head from beneath the water. The monster got hold of him and swallowed him before it again disappeared under the water. Thus did Allah save me from this man. He alone has power over all and great indeed is His Glory. Thereafter the waves of the sea pushed me along until I reached an island, where I landed. I said so myself that I would eat grass and drink water there for as long as Allah pleases. For four days I remained there. On the fifth day I saw a big boat passing near the island. I climbed onto a hill and waved frantically with my clothes in order to attract their attention. They saw me and three men came in a small boat and took me to the ship.
"In the boat I was shocked to see this child also. This child that the dark skinned man had thrown into the sea. This was a great surprise to me and I fell upon the child, kissing him and holding him tightly to my breasts as I exclaimed: ‘This is my child, this is my beloved child.' They said: ‘Are you mad? Are you out of your senses?' I replied, ‘I am neither mad nor out of my senses. I have a strange tale to tell.' Then I told them the whole story.
"When they had heard it they lowered their heads in confusion and disbelief and said: ‘You have told us an almost unbelievable story. Now we shall tell you a similar unbelievable incident. We were sailing quite comfortably in this boat with the wind in our favour when, all of a sudden, a huge monster came alongside us with this child on its back. We heard a voice saying: "If you do not take this child from the back of the monster, your ship shall be sunk." One of us lifted the child off the monster's back. The monster disappeared under the water. Both your story and ours are amazing. And now we all promise that Allah shall not see us again in sin in the future. We repent for all our sins.'"
The girl continued, "How great is Allah, How merciful He is, aware of the troubles of His slaves. Numerous are His favours, and He releases His servants from all their calamities." (Rowdh)
-Not much to comment on. This story indicates the power of Faith and belief in the Almighty. May the Almighty grant us all such conviction and determination. Aameen.
Sending you another interesting anecdote, again taken from "Virtues of Haj":
Story Number 60.
Sheikh Yusuf bin Hamdaan (R.A.) says:
I once travelled to Makkah from Basra, together with a group of poor pilgrims. Among these hujjaaj (those going for Haj) was a young man who proved to be a very righteous and saintly person, always busy with zikrullah (the remembrance of the Almighty) and righteous works. It was a pleasure to be in his company. I became very fond of him because of these qualities.
When we reached Madina, he became ill and we did not see him for a few days. One day we went to visit him. When we saw him we became worried about his health and among ourselves it was resolved that a doctor should be consulted to diagnose the illness and to treat him. Some medicine may cure him.
He heard us making this decision and opened his eyes and, smiling, he said: "Respected brothers and friends! What a bad thing it is that agreement should be followed by disagreement and opposition. Is it not against Allah's will and desire that He chooses for us one way and we on the other hand prefer another?" We heard these words and felt ashamed of ourselves.
He looked at us and said: "If ever medicine is to be found for one who has the illness of the love for Allah, then seek medicine from such a person who has already been healed from such love. Let it be known that these illnesses we see are in fact ways of attaining purity of body and forgiveness for sins. Illness causes us to remember the Hereafter."
Then he recited three couplets:
"My medicine is only in Allah's hands:
He alone knows my disease.
Through having followed my desires
I persecute my soul unjustly.
When for an ailment I drink medicine
My disease only increases."
- Presumably the youth did not recover and must have passed away.
- The youth displayed a very high degree of trust in the Almighty. In Sufi terminology this is termed "Tawakkul." Not everybody can display this degree of trust in the Almighty. It requires a very high degree of faith (Imaan), abstention of sin according to the Islamic code of Laws (the Shariah), and strength of heart. Those who do not have these qualities are advised to resort to medication for their illnesses.
- The youth had reached a very high level of gnosis (ma'rifat). He saw illness not as an illness, but as a purification.
- The youth also gave his own diagnosis. His illness was not a physical illness, but something completely else. This was a spiritual state that results from a tremendous love of Allah. In Sufi terminology it is called ishq.
- The secret behind the deeds and states of the Sufis is the degree of ishq that devours them internally. This ishq is the propellant that propels them to unbelievable spiritual heights.
May the Almighty grant us all true and sincere ishq! Aameen.
Another short anecdote, also taken from "Virtues Of Haj":
Abdur Rahmaan bin Khafief (R.A.) says, "While travelling towards Makkah for haj. I once stopped in Bagdad. At the time I was very deeply inclined towards the mystic way of life and had discarded everything from my life except Allah.
"For forty days I had not eaten, and neither did I visit Junaid Bagdaadi (R.A.) [Junaid of Bagdad was a very prominent Sufi.] I left Bagdad and walked towards Makkah. On the way I came to a well which was filled right to the top. I found a small buck drinking water from the well. The buck went away as I approached. I was very thirsty, but as I came upon the well the level of the water fell to the bottom.
"Disappointed, I continued on my way and said: ‘O Allah! Am I indeed not the equal of a buck in Thy sight?' From behind me came a voice: ‘We have only tested you and you bore no patience. Return and drink of the water. The buck came without a cup and a rope whereas you had both of these.'
"When I returned to the well I found the water had risen to the top. I filled my cup, drank from it and made wudhu [ablution]. The water never diminished and only finished when I reached Madina. After haj I came to Bagdad again. There, as I entered the Mosque, Junaid (R.A). saw me from afar and said: ‘lf you should have had patience, water would have flowed from under your feet.'" (Rowdh)
- The help of the Almighty comes to everyone, if only we could see with our inner eyes. However, the special assistance of the Almighty, as illustrated in this anecdote, comes to the select few. These are those who have placed their complete reliance on Him.
- This reliance comes only after one has cut off hopes from the creation and one depends completely on the Creator.
- Another important condition is that the Seeker has completely submitted to Him. That is, brought complete faith in Him. This in turn means that the person has brought Iman (faith) in Islam.
- Many people will argue that the help of the Almighty comes to people of other religions as well, as well as to atheists and pagans. This is true. But there is a difference. If the person to whom help is rendered realises that the help is from the Almighty and he repents and comes into Islam, then definitely it is a mercy from the Almighty. If he feels that his paganism or atheistic views were the reason for the help he got, then this is deception from Shaytan .
Hadhat Hasan of Basrah was a great Sufi saint. Some of his advices and an anecdote follows:
Counselling Hadhrat Saeed Bin Jubair (rahmatullah alayh), Hadhrat Hasan said: "Never enter into companionship with kings. Never reveal your secrets to anyone. Never listen to music. The end result is always calamitous."
Hadhrat Maalik Bin Dinaar (rahmatullah alayh) asked: "In what lies the corruption of the people?"
Hadhrat Hasan: "In the death of the heart."
Maalik Bin Dinaar: "What is the death of the heart."
Hadhrat Hasan: "The love of the world."
Hadhrat Hasan's neighbour, Sham'oon, was a fire‑worshipper. Sham'oon was in his death‑throes. Hadhrat Hasan visited him. He observed that Sham'oon's face had darkened as a result of his years of fire‑worshipping.
Hadhrat Hasan: "Abandon fire‑worship and become a Muslim. Perhaps Allah will have mercy on you."
Sham'oon: "Three things have turned me away from Islam. One: The world according to you (Muslims) is evil, but you remain in its pursuit. Two: You believe that death is true, but you do not make preparations for it. Three: You claim the wonder of Allah's Vision, but on earth you act in conflict with His wishes."
Hadhrat Hasan: "This is a sign of those who recognise the truth. The true Mu'min acts accordingly. But tell me, what have you gained by destroying your life in fire‑worship? Even if a Mu'min does no good, at least he testifies to the Unity of Allah. You have worshipped the fire for seventy years. If you and I fall into the fire, it will burn us both without caring for your worship. However, my Allah has the power of preventing the fire from burning me." So saying, Hadhrat Hasan took Allah's Name and plunged his hand into the fire. He held his hand for a long time in the fire which had no effect on him.
Seeing this, Sham'oon's heart opened up. The light of guidance had penetrated his heart. He said: "I have worshipped the fire for 70 years. What can I achieve in the few moments that there remain of life?"
Hadhrat Hasan: "Become a Muslim!"
Sham'oon: "Write a document stating that if I embrace Islam, Allah will forgive me."
Hadhrat Hasan wrote the document and presented it to Sham'oon who said: "Let the pious elders of Basrah endorse it with their signatures." This request was complied with.
Sham'oon said: "O Hasan, when I die, give me ghusl [ritual bath] and bury me. Place the document in my hand so that I have proof of my Islam." Sham'oon recited the Kalimah and died. His wasiyyat [dying testimony] was fulfilled by Hadhrat Hasan.
Hadhrat Hasan returned home overwhelmed by worry. He thought: "When I myself am immersed in sin, how could I have furnished a guarantee of forgiveness to another man?" In this distressful state he fell asleep. In a dream he saw Sham'oon, attired in beautiful garments and with a crown on his head, strolling in Jannat.
Hadhrat Hasan: "How did it fare with you?"
Sham'oon: "Allah forgave me by His mercy. I am unable to explain the bounties He has bestowed on me. There now no longer remains on you any responsibility. Here, take your document. I no longer have need of it."
When Hadhrat Hasan's eyes opened he discovered the document in his hand. He profusely thanked Allah and said: "O Allah! You act without cause. Everything is dependent on Your act. When you have forgiven a man merely on one statement (the Kalimah) after he had worshipped the fire for seventy years, why will You not forgive a man who had worshipped you for seventy years?"
(The boundless rahmat [mercy] of Allah Ta'ala can be understood from this episode.)
[Taken from "Scattered Pearls", by Mujlisul 'Ulama of SA, Port Elizabeth.]
This is a once-in-a-while occurrence that the glad tidings of Paradise are made apparent to the Sufi saints. Yet, it serves the purpose of encouraging others.
Hadhrat Habib Ajmi (R.A.) was another great Sufi Saint from the earlier times of Islam. An anecdote concerning him was related to you previously. He was not always a saintly person, until a change came into his life. Something about him:
Prior to his reformation, Hadhrat Habib Ajmi was an extremely wealthy money‑lender. He gave loans on interest to the people of Basrah. [Taking and giving interest is unlawful in Islam. He was thus sinning by taking interest on loans.] His daily routine was to visit his debtors and extract payment forcefully. He would not return without having squeezed out payment from his hard‑pressed debtors. If debtors were unable to pay, he would levy a charge for his wasted time.
One day, when he visited a debtor, the latter's wife informed him that her husband was not at home. She had no money to give to Habib Ajmi. The only thing she had was some meat which Habib demanded. He took the meat home, gave it to his wife and said that it was an interest payment. He instructed her to cook it. His wife complained that there was neither firewood nor flour for baking bread. He said that he will obtain both as interest from debtors. He set off to procure these items from other debtors. After a short while he returned, having extorted some firewood and flour.
His wife prepared the food. Meanwhile a beggar appeared at the door and asked for some food. Habib rebuffed him, saying that there was nothing to give. The beggar left crestfallen.
When it was time to eat and Habib's wife opened the pot to dish out the food, she was shocked to discover the pot filled with blood. She called her husband and exclaimed: "Look at the consequences of your evil." The sight of the blood shocked Habib Ajmi. His heart opened up and he said to his wife: "Be witness that I repent and shall abstain from all evil deeds."
The following day he set out of his house with the intention of waiving all the monies owing to him. A group of children playing in the street said: "Look out! Here comes Habib, the devourer of interest. Be careful! Don't let the dust under his feet contaminate you. We will all then become miserable and as unfortunate as him." These remarks grieved him.
He then went to Hadhrat Hasan Basri (rahmatullah alayh) whose counselling reduced him to tears. He repented and resolved to lead a life of piety. On his way back home he met one of his debtors who promptly fled on seeing Habib Ajmi. Habib called out to the debtor: "Do not flee. Now I have to flee from you."
As he proceeded home he came across the same group of boys he had met earlier. They spoke among themselves: "Give way! Habib is returning after having repented. Let not our dirt fall on him lest Allah Ta'ala records us as transgressors." In sheer elation Habib Ajmi exclaimed: "O Allah! Only today have I repented and You have so quickly exalted my name!"
After his reformation, Habib Ajmi publicly announced the waiver of all debts owing to him. He forgave all his debtors. He contributed all his wealth in the path of Allah Ta'ala. [That is, he gave it away in charity to the poor and destitute.] When he had no more assets, a man claimed that the kurtah Habib was wearing belonged to him. Habib Ajmi removed it and handed it to the claimant. Another man claimed the shawl Habib's wife had. Hahib Ajmi gave him the shawl.
He constructed a small hut on the bank of the river Euphrates. He and his wife spent their time worshipping in the hut. He would spend the day in the company of Hadhrat Hasan Basri and pass the night in ibaadat [worship].
One day his wife told him to show some concern for bringing food as there was nothing to eat. He promised to find some work. He left home and spent the day worshipping Allah Ta'ala. When he returned home in the evening his wife said: "You have brought nothing." Habib said: "My employer is gracious, hence I was ashamed of asking for anything. He said that he will give me something after ten days."
After the passing of ten days, Habib Ajmi thought: "What shall I now take home?" While he was in this thought, Allah Ta'ala sent an unknown person with a bag of flour, a slaughtered goat, a container of butter, honey and 300 dirhams. The person who brought the goods to Habib Ajmi's home said to his wife: "When Habib comes, tell him to be more diligent in his work. I shall increase his remuneration."
When Habib Ajmi returned, he was pleasantly surprised and grateful to behold the bounties sent by Allah Ta'ala.
Once a grieving woman came and lamented that her son, who had left home, was lost. She was unable to bear the separation. Habib Ajmi asked if she had anything with her. She replied that she had two dirhams. He took the two dirhams and gave it to the poor. After making du'a [supplicating to Allah Ta'ala], he said: "Go, your son has returned." Even before she reached home the child was found. Hugging him she asked for an explanation. The boy recounted the following episode:
"I was in Kirmaan. My teacher sent me to buy meat. Suddenly a strong gust of wind lifted me. I heard a voice commanding: ‘O Wind! Blow him to his home.'"
Once, when Hadhrat Hasan Basri was pursued by the police of the tyrant Hajjaaj, he took shelter in the hut of Habib Ajmi. When the police arrived, they questioned Habib Ajmi about the whereabouts of Hasan Basri. Habib Ajmi informed them that he was inside the hut. Even after thoroughly searching the hut, they could not find Hasan Basri, even though their hands passed seven times over him. After the police left, Hasan Basri said to Habib Ajmi: "You failed to observe the rights of your Ustaadh [Mentor]. You informed the police of my whereabouts."
Habib Ajmi said: "If I had spoken a lie they would have discovered you." Hasan Basri asked: "What did you recite?" Habib Ajmi said: "Aayatul Kursi twice, Surah Ikhlaas 10 times, Aamanar Rasool 10 times. [These are verses from the Qur'an.] Then I supplicated for Allah to protect you."
Once Hadhrat Imaam Shaafi (rahmatullah alayh) and Imaam Ahmad lbn Hambal (rahmatullah alayh) met. [These two are the heads of two of the four schools of Islamic Jurisprudence.] While they were conversing, Habib Ajmi (rahmatullah alayh) appeared on the scene. Imaam Ahmad said to Imaam Shaafi: "I shall ask him something." Although Imaam Shaafi discouraged Imaam Ahmad, the latter asked Habib Ajmi: "If a person has missed one of the five Salaats (and cannot recall which one), what should he do?" Habib Ajmi replied, "He should repeat all five Salaat because he was forgetful and disrespectful to Allah Ta'ala."
Imaam Shaafi said to Imaam Ahmad: "I told you not to question him. These people who have reached Allah Ta'ala have a different approach."
When he would hear the Qur'an being recited, he would weep. People asked: "How do you understand the Qur'an which is in Arabic, while you are a non‑Arab?" Habib Ajmi said: "My tongue is non‑Arab, and my heart is Arab."
A durwaish (saint) who recognised the lofty spiritual rank of Habib Ajmi, enquired: "How did you, a non‑Arab, acquire this lofty rank?" The durwaish heard a voice responding: "Although he is a non‑Arab, he is a Habib (i.e. a Lover of Allah)."
A murderer was executed by hanging. People dreamt that he was strolling in Jannat [Paradise] dressed in beautiful garments. Asked the reason for his entry into Jannat, despite being a murderer, he said: "While I was hanging on the gibbet, Habib Ajmi happened to pass by. He took pity on me and prayed for my forgiveness." [i.e. Because of his lofty rank Allah Ta'ala accepted his prayer when he interceded for the murderer.]
[Taken from "Scattered Pearls", by Mujlisul 'Ulama of SA, Port Elizabeth.]
Two more anecdotes from "Virtues of Haj".
A saintly man says: "For many days I dwelt in the deserts of Hijaaz without food. One day I felt a great urge to eat bread and hot Baaqilla - a kind of famous Arab food. Then I thought: ‘I am in this vast desert many miles away from Iraq. Where shall I get such food in this wilderness?' Just then a bedouin called out: ‘Come and eat bread and hot Baaqilla.' I approached him and asked him: ‘Is it hot?' He replied: ‘Yes,' and spread a cloth on the ground on which he placed the food, saying, ‘Eat'. When I had eaten he ordered me a second and third time to eat more, and I ate more. When he asked me to eat a fourth time, I asked him: ‘Tell me, by Allah, who had sent you to me in this wilderness; who are you?' He replied: ‘I am Khidr'."
[Note: Hadhrat Khidr (A.S.) is a mystical person who is said to have an undetermined life span. He carries out special missions on the direct orders of the Almighty. To meet him is a great blessing in itself. It is also said that whatever you ask him to pray for you, Allah will grant it.]
Shaqeeq Bal'khi (R.A.) says: "On the road to Makkah I met a crippled person who was moving along with great difficulty. I asked him: ‘Where do you come from?' He replied: ‘From Samarkand.' I asked: ‘How long ago did you depart from there?' He replied: ‘More than ten years.' On hearing this I was astonished and looked at him. He asked: ‘Why do you stare at me like this?'I replied: ‘I am surprised at you being so weak and handicapped, yet undertaking such a long journey.' He said: ‘The lengthy journey has been made short by my great longing to be there in Makkah; and Allah is the one who bears my weakness. O Shaqeeq! You are looking at such a weak person whom Allah carries along.' Then he read a few lines:
‘My Lord, it is to visit Thee that I come,
The journeys of love are indeed hard;
But yearning for Thee,
Helps where no wealth can do so,
And whoever has fear of death on the road
Can never be a lover of Him;
Neither he who stops for fear of hardship'."
At this stage I think it appropriate to give a perspective on these anecdotes. I quote again from "Virtues of Haj":
Let it be known that when reading or listening to such incidents three things are important.
1. In these stories the incidents are mostly based upon mystical love for the divine Being. The laws, regulations, prescriptions and prohibitions in such cases are different from the general laws to which we all are subject. The expression of such love is not governed by generally accepted principles and cannot be acquired by learning and teaching, but only by falling in such love, for "love alone teaches the ways of love." One only has to strive and endeavour to acquire it and, thereafter, it becomes easy whereby every difficulty disappears. And whatever is easy for the lover is indeed an unsurmountable obstacle for others. That which is pleasure for them brings destruction to the uninitiated. Those caught up in this great ocean derive the utmost ecstasy therefrom. For this reason one should look at these stories with the mirror of love prescribed for it to understand the real significance. And as long as one has not himself become part and parcel of such an ocean and its people one should not use these stories as the basis of an argument to prove anything, neither should the truth of these stories be denied.
In his lhya, Imaam Ghazali writes: "Whoever had drunk the cup of love becomes intoxicated, and words uttered at such times are open to wider interpretations (not confined to literal meaning). And when the intoxication is over he realizes that whatever was said points to the state of ecstasy wherein he was, and is not to be taken literally. These people derive ecstatic pleasure from such conditions and should not rely on such utterings." (lhya)
2. Secondly, these stories mostly show total reliance on Allah Ta'ala, which is above and beyond us, and can hardly be properly believed or understood by the uninitiated ones. These people have reached the highest point of tawakkul (reliance.) Such rank is desirable and everyone should try and reach it or at least hope for it. However, no one should try to enter into the fold of such tawakkul, by forsaking the need for food and worldly means ,etc., until such time as he developed and reached such rank.
When Abdur Rahmaan bin Yahya (R.A.) was asked what is tawakkul, he replied: "It means that when you have stretched your hand towards a large serpent and he swallows the whole hand, then, still, you should fear none save Allah."
3. The third point to bear in mind from these stories is the fact that in many we read about people bringing upon themselves unnecessary hardship and difficulty which, at times, is almost tantamount to self‑destruction, and not permissible in Shari'ah. First of all it should be borne in mind that these stories and incidents are actually a form of spiritual medicine. These are cases where a trained physician has to administer or prescribe poisonous medicine, but in such cases this medicine is the most suitable or even necessary. In any case it would be wrong and dangerous to use such medicine except under the care of a doctor and according to his prescription. Similarly, in these stories we find people who had used these bitter and seemingly unsuitable medicines. To criticise them or condemn them is to show one's own ignorance about this special art of spiritual healing. In fact, for one who is not a doctor in this field or who has not acquired the advice of one who is a doctor, these stories appear to be against the Shari'ah and not permissible at all. This is wrong. We should also bear in mind that it is not haraam in all cases to destroy oneself. When it is being done for the sake of our Deen it is not only permissible but at times even becomes compulsory.
Here follows another two anecdotes from "Virtues of Haj":
lbrahim bin Mahlab (R.A.) says: While making tawaaf (circumambulating the Ka'bah in Makkah), I once saw a young girl hanging onto the Ka'bah's cloth crying out: "O Allah, for the sake of Thy love for me, strengthen my heart."
I asked her: "Dear maiden, how do you know that Allah loves you?"
She replied: "I know that by the favours He bestows on me. To bring me to Islam, He sent the Muslim army, on which He spent so much money. He brought me forth from under the yoke of the infidels and converted me to Islam and granted me knowledge of Him, whereas before I did not know of Him. O lbrahim, is this not His love?"
I asked her: "How much do you love Him?"
She replied: "I love Him more than anything else and my love for Him is bigger than anything else."
I asked her: "How is that love?"
She replied: "Sweeter than the sweetest wine, more pleasurable than the fragrance of the essence of roses." Then she recited:
"How can that man know patience whose heart is filled with restlessness,
Whose tear-shedding eyes have become useless through weeping constantly,
Whose body, burnt by the flaming fire of His love, now lean and weak does lie?
What is the cure for an illness as this?
And the end of a love like this
Can only be hard, especially so when arrows of Mercy He lets loose."
lbrahim bin Ad'ham (R.A.) said to a man during the tawaaf:
"Remember, dear brother, you shall never be counted among the righteous ones until you have crossed six bridges.
"Firstly, that you close the door of favours on yourself and open the door of hardship for yourself.
"Secondly, that you refrain from love of honour and prefer humility.
"Thirdly, that you refrain from comfort and accept hardship.
"Fourthly, that you discard love of sleep and enforce on yourself love of remaining awake for ibaadah (worship).
"Fifthly, that you discard riches and prefer poverty.
"Sixthly, that you disassociate yourself from hoping and prepare for death."
"Virtue of Haj" has seventy stories in it. Of these I have selected only a few. The writer writes at the end of these stories:
"Having now mentioned seventy stories from the lives and haj of the righteous saintly ones, I wish to end this chapter. There are many more to relate, and so much more to tell, because, in these fourteen hundred years of our history, so many more wonderful things have happened to the truly beloved ones of Allah and so many more are the incidents. I have chosen to stop after quoting seventy incidents only..."
The same writer has written "Virtues of Sadaqah" (from which I have quoted as well) and many other books. All of these contain some very interesting episodes from the lives of the Sufis. In fact, there is just no end to the interesting events that befall them.
It is a whole year that has passed since I started sending you these anecdotes. I do not think I can do justice to this topic of Tasawwuf ("Sufism"). What I have copied and sent to you may give you some idea, but not a complete idea, of what Tasawwuf is. Like a travelogue: it may describe some aspects of a journey, but it is not necessary that every traveller will have the same experiences when he undertakes the very same journey.
There is a difference between reading about the Sufis and reading a travelogue: The latter may be entertaining and exciting, but reading about the Sufis is actually meant as an incentive to follow the same Path. I am not certain whether my e-mails have achieved this or not. If not, the fault is purely mine in that I confess to my inadequacies in conveying the reality, beauty and depth of this Path.
You once mentioned that you are not aware of any such people to turn to in America who could guide one along the Path of Tasawwuf. You would be surprised to learn that the Tasawwuf movement is fairly strong in certain areas. I also came across a website that listed many such movements in America. The website also pointed out the ones that are genuine and those that are deviated sects. (There are many such deviated sects.)
Fortunately, I am aware of three people who are genuine: (1) Dr. Ismail Memon, in Buffalo, near the Canadian border. He is a medical practitioner and a Khalifah of Hadhrat Sheikh Maulana Zakariyyah (R.A.), who was the author of the "Virtues of Haj", "Virtues of Sadaqah" and many other books. (2) Maulana Zulfikar in New York. He is an electrical engineer from Pakistan, but has given up his profession and runs a madrasah as well as being a sheikh of Tasawwuf. (3) Maulana Mehtar, who is from South Africa originally and has settled in Westminster, C.A. He is the Khalifah of Maulana Maseehullah (R.A.), who was my sheikh as well.
There are, I am certain, many other genuine sheikhs of Tasawwuf over there, however, I do not know them. These three I can recommend without hesitation. Spending some time with a sheikh is absolutely essential for anybody who is sincerely searching for the Truth and is trying to get closer to his Creator. Following a particular sheikh will then depend on congeniality and rapport between the seeker and the sheikh.
Finally, if I can be of any assistance to you, please let me know. I apologise for not having done full justice to this important subject. However, I am hopeful that Allah will overlook my inadequacies and still guide you to the Truth in spite of my feeble attempts at trying to give you an idea of what Tasawwuf is.
May Allah guide us all to His Pleasure. Aameen.
The reader may be curious to know what "Steve's" response was. Unfortunately, "Steve" did not respond to any of the of the other e-mails besides the few in the beginning. What the reasons are, I am unable to say. We make du'a that the e-mails - and this booklet as well - be a means for hidayet for whoever reads them
The Seven Valleys is reproduced in full hereunder:
The Way Of The Worshippers - Minhaj al-Aabidin
by Imam Ghazali
The Seven Valleys
Know my brethren that worship is the fruit of knowledge, the benefit of life and the capital of virtues. It is the aim and object of men of noble aspirations to have keen inward sight. It is their surnmum bonum and their everlasting Paradise. "I am your Creator," says the Qur'an. "Worship Me. You will have your recompense and your efforts will be rewarded."
Worship, then, is essential for man, but it is beset with difficulties and hardships. It has stumbling blocks and pitfalls in its tortuous path which is haunted by cut‑throats and goblins, while helpers are scarce and friends are few. But this path of worship must be dangerous, for, says the Prophet (on whom be peace and blessings), "Paradise is surrounded and covered by tribulations, while Hell abounds in ease and free enjoyment of passions." Poor man! He is weak, his engagements are heavy: times are hard and life is short. But the journey from here to the hereafter being unavoidable, if he neglects taking necessary provisions, he is sure to perish. Ponder over the gravity of the situation and the seriousness of our condition. By Allah, our lot is pitiable indeed, for many are called but few are chosen.
When I found the path of worship so difficult and dangerous I composed certain works, chiefly lyha'ulum'udeen, in which I pointed out the ways and means of surmounting those difficulties, facing the dangers boldly and crossing the path with success. But certain persons, looking to the outward expressions of my work, failed to understand the meaning and purpose of it and not only rejected the book, but treated it in a manner unbecoming of a Muslim. But I was not disheartened for there were persons who used to ridicule the Holy Qur'an calling it "The Stories of the Ancients". Nor was I offended, for I felt pity on them for they knew not what they were doing to themselves. I hate disputations now, but I must do something for them. So, out of compassion for my brethren I prayed to God to enlighten me on the subject in a new manner.
Listen, then, and know that the first prerequisite which awakens man from the lethargy of forgetfulness and turns him towards the path, is God's grace, which stirs the mind to meditate thus:
"I am the recipient of many gifts ‑ life, power, reason, speech ‑ and I find myself mysteriously protected from many troubles and evils. Who is my Benefactor? Who is my Saviour? I must be grateful to Him in a fitting manner otherwise the gifts will be taken away and I shall be undone. These gifts reveal their purpose like tools in the hands of an artisan and the world appears to me like a beautiful picture, leading my thoughts towards the painter."
i. The Valley of Knowledge
The soliloquy takes him to the Valley of Knowledge, where implicit faith in the Divine Messenger leads the way and tells him:
The Benefactor is that One Being who has no associate with Him. He is thy Creator who is omni‑present though unseen, whose Commandments must be obeyed both inwardly and outwardly. He has so ordained that the good shall be rewarded and the wicked punished. The choice is now thine, for thou art responsible for thy actions. Acquire knowledge under God‑fearing Ulema, with a conviction that knows no wavering.
When the Valley of Knowledge is crossed, man prepares for worship, but his guilty conscience upbraids him saying, "Canst thou knock at the door of the Sanctuary? Away with thy pollutious abominations!"
ii. The Valley of Repentance
The poor sinner falls down in the Valley of Repentance, when a voice is heard, "Repent, repent, for thy Lord is forgiving!" Now he takes heart and, rising with joy proceeds further.
iii. The Valley of Stumbling Blocks
And he enters into a Valley full of Stumbling Blocks, chief of which are four in number, namely, the tempting world; the attracting people, the old enemy, Satan and the inordinate self. Let him have four counter‑forces so as to tide over the difficulty. Try to choose the retired life, avoid mixing with all sorts of people, fight out the old enemy and control thyself with the bridle of piety.
Let it be remembered that the four‑fold counter‑forces have to face four other psychological troubles, namely: (1) Anxious care about man's daily bread as a result of his retirement. (2) Doubts and anxieties about his private affairs, disturbing the peace of his mind. (3) Worries, hardships and indignities for want of social contact, for, when man wishes to serve his God, Satan attacks him openly and secretly from all sides. (4) Unpleasant happenings and unexpected sufferings as the outcome of his destiny.
iv. The Valley of Tribulations
These psychological troubles throw the poor worshipper into the Valley of Tribulations. In this plight let man protect himself by: (1) Dependance on God in the matter of his sustenance. (2) Invocation of His Help when he finds himself helpless. (3) Patience in suffering. (4) Joyous submission in His Will.
v. The Thundering Valley
Crossing this fearful Valley of Tribulations man, thinks that the passage will not be easy but, to his amazement, he finds that service is uninteresting, prayers are mechanical and contemplation has no pleasure. He is indolent, melancholic and stupid. Puzzled and perplexed he now enters the Thundering Valley. The lightening flash of Hope dazzles his sight and he falls down trembling when he hears the deafening sound of the thunder of Fear. His eyes, brimming with tears, imitate the clouds, and his pure thoughts flash with the lightning. In a moment the mystery of Human Responsibility with it's reward for good action and punishment for wicked deeds was solved. Henceforth his worship will not be lip service and his daily work will not be drudgery. Soaring on high, he will fly on the wings of Hope and Fear.
vi The Abysmal Valley
With a light heart, in a happy mood, he was now proceeding further when suddenly the Abysmal Valley presents it's dreadful sight. Looking deep into the nature of his actions, he found that those that were good were actuated either by the desire of approbation of his fellow men or were simply the outcome of vainglory. On one side he saw the hydra‑headed monster of hypocrisy lurking and on the other side the bewitching Pandora of Conceit with her box open. In despair he knew not what to do when, lo! the Angel of Sincerity emerged from the depth of his heart and, taking him by the arm, carried him through the valley. Expressing his gratitude for the Divine favour he was proceeding further when the thought of multifarious favours for his unworthy self and his incapacity to do full justice to his thanksgiving overwhelmed him.
vii. The Valley of Hymns
This was the Valley of Hymns where, mortal as he was, he tried his best to sing songs of praise to the Immortal Being. The Invisible Hand of Divine Mercy then opened the door of the Garden of Love, he was ushered in with body and soul for both had played their part directly and indirectly. Here ends the Journey. The worshipper is now living among his fellow men like a traveller, but his heart lives in Him, waiting to carry out the last order, "O soul! Thou art at peace! Return to thy Creator well‑pleased, well‑pleasing. Then enter among My Servants and enter into My Paradise!" (Qur'an c.89 Al‑Fajr)