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Book of Wisdoms al-Hikam al-‘Ata'iyya

Hikam section 1 to 5 and

Ibn ‘Ata' Illah was a scholar of Maliki jurisprudence, Arabic grammar, hadith,
Qur’anic exegesis, and fundamentals of law and faith, who became the
second successor of the great mystic Abul Hasan al-Shadhili in Egypt after his
own sheikh, Shadhili’s disciple Abul ‘Abbas al-Mursi (may Allah be well
pleased with them). Originally from Alexandria, Ibn ‘Ata' Illah moved to Cairo,
where he gained a large following, gave lectures at al-Azhar Mosque that
were well attended, and wrote his Hikam and other enduring works which
attest to his profound mastery of the mystic way and knowledge of Allah Most
High. He died in Cairo in 709/1309.

Wisdom

"Your desire to withdraw from everything when GOD has involved you in
the world of means is a hidden appetite.

Your desire for involvement with the world of means when GOD has
withdrawn you from it is a fall from high aspiration".

Commentary by Ibn Ajiba.

His desire to withdraw when GOD has established means for him is a hidden
appetite because the self desires rest by that and does not have enough
certainty to endure the hardships of poverty. When poverty descends on him,
he is shaken and upset and resorts to means, and so that is uglier than
remaining with them. This is an aspect which is appetite, and it is hidden
because inwardly he displays cutting off and asceticism, which is a noble
state and sublime state, while inwardly he conceals his portion of rest, honour,
wilayat or whatever. He did not intend to achieve servitude and certainty. He
also lacks adab (etiquette) with GOD when he wants to leave without
remaining patient until he is given permission. The sign of him remaining
constantly in causes is that he has results, lack of attachments which cut him
off from the religion and obtains sufficiency, but if he were to abandon that, he
would look to people and be worried about provision.

Foreordained Destiny and the Inefficacy of Material Causes-and-Effects

Eighth Lesson: Foreordained Destiny and the Inefficacy of Material Causes-


and-Effects (Al-Qadar wa Lâfâ‘iliyya al-Asbâb) Ibn ‘Ata’ Allah, Hikam No. 3
Translation Dr. G. F. Haddad

“The most truthful word any poet ever said is Labid’s:

Lo! Everything other than Allah is vain.” Hadith of the Prophet – Allah bless
and greet him.
We had begun to speak about Ibn ‘Ata’ Allah’s Third hikma. In it he said –
may Allah Almighty have mercy on him:

#3. The foremost energies cannot pierce the walls of foreordained


destinies.

This hikma is in reality a completion for the hikma that comes before it. Ibn
‘Ata’ Allah – rahimahullâh – had asked us to conform with the reality in which
Allah has placed us. The measuring-scale for this reality is the most noble
Law. If you see that Allah Almighty has placed you within the screens of
ambient causes which are all forbidden: then Allah is testing you with
dispossession (al-tajrîd). What is required of you is to move away from these
causes which Allah Almighty has not authorized, and rely on Allah for the
obtainment of your wants. But if you see yourself placed within the screens of
ambient causes to which the Law has unlocked wide and licit paths – and the
way in which you use them is licit – then know, at that time, that Allah has
placed you in the world of causes (‘âlam al-asbâb). What is required of you is
to interact with these causes, and not to substitute them with complete trust
(tawakkul) in Allah Almighty. Complete trust is required anyway; however, you
are obligated, in such a condition, to interact with those causes that are licit
and, at the same time, trust in Allah. That is the gist of the previous hikma:

#2. Your asking for dispossession when Allah has placed you in the midst of
causes is a surreptitious lust, and your asking [to handle] causes when Allah
has placed you in dispossession is a decline from a higher level.

When Ibn ‘Ata’ Allah says this – we discussed it at length previously – one
might infer that causes possess great efficacy (fâ‘iliyya) and that, when
someone finds himself face-to-face with unproblematic, licit causes, he must
interact with these causes in all his goals and all the essentials of life. One
might therefore think that causes possess efficacy and influence, and that,
therefore, one must interact with these causes and not say: “I shall substitute
them with complete trust in Allah Almighty.” Because of this possibility – which
might arise in the mind of whoever listens to the second hikma – Ibn ‘Ata’
Allah followed up with this third hikma and said: “The foremost energies
cannot pierce the walls of foreordained destinies.”

This question is related to doctrine (al-‘aqîda). It is the basis from which we


should set forth, whether we have been tested through dispossession, or we
have been tested and asked to interact with causes. In both cases, there is a
doctrinal reality which we must all acquire in our very beings. What is that
doctrinal reality? It is that causes, whatever they are, are subservient to
Allah’s foreordained destiny (qadar), and it is not Allah’s foreordained destiny
that is subservient to causes. This we must know.

Causes that are represented by human endeavors to work, seek sustenance


and so forth – such causes are troops among Allah’s other troops which all
serve Allah’s qadar. These causes with which you interact, lead you to what-
ever Allah Almighty has foreordained for you. Whenever we have recourse to
physicians and their medications, which are among the causes used to
remedy illness, endeavoring to achieve a cure therefrom, we must know that
the use of medication, the recourse to physicians – all this is subservient to
Allah’s foreordainment (qadâ’). This means that physicians, their remedies,
their prescriptions, and all their means lead you, in the end, to whatever Allah
has foreordained for you or against you. All the means with which you
interact, those you use and seek after in order to obtain education or degrees,
marry, start a family in the way you envisage, and whatever goals other than
those – the Creator has filled the earth with causes! – you must know that
these causes, whether you are now tasked with deprivation of them or with
interacting with them – you must know that causes are troops which revolve
around a single axis: execution of Allah Almighty’s foreordainment.

That is the meaning of Ibn ‘Ata’ Allah’s words: “The foremost energies cannot
pierce the walls of foreordained destinies.” Have the highest energy you like.
Exert the greatest skills in marshalling causes to your advantage. As skillful as
you may get in gathering together causes according to your wishes, that
energy of yours, which has marshalled all causes for your sake, can never
overcome Allah’s foreordained destinies. Yes, it is as if these foreordained
destinies were a kind of fortified wall – like the fortified wall around the city
which everyone knows – while the causes with which we interact are like
arrows we shoot at that high wall. Can the arrows of causes, whatever they
may be, ever pierce the bastions of foreordained destinies and go beyond
them? Never in any way whatsoever.

Each and everyone of us must know this doctrine. But first, what is the
evidence for it? We do not want to open the file of doctrinal issues in the
familiar style of the books of the science of Oneness (al-tawhîd), theological
discourse (al-kalâm), and the like. Allah’s Book suffices for us, and the clear
words which we use and repeat every day suffice for us. The Elect One –
Allah bless and greet him – has taught us a sacred phrase which he ordered
us to repeat always. What is that phrase? It is lâ hawla wa lâ quwwata illâ
billâh – “There is no change nor power except by Allah.” What does this
phrase mean? Reflect upon it. It means exactly what Ibn ‘Ata’ Allah is saying:
There is no change for a human being, for causes, for means, for the universe
and all that is in it – there is no change for all of that, nor power, except if that
power comes from Allah Almighty. Is it not so?

Among the names of Allah Almighty is al-Qayyûm – “The Sustainer of All.”


What is the meaning of this name? “Allah! There is no God other than He,
the Living, the Sustainer of All” (2:255, 3:2). That is: the Sustainer of the
universes, Who controls them as He wishes and organizes them as He likes.
Nothing at all moves except by His Sustainment (qayyûmiyya). That is the
meaning of the word qayyûm. Is there any efficacy left for causes after this?

Our Almighty Lord says: “And of His signs is this: The heavens and the
earth stand fast by His command” (30:35). It means that what you can
behold of the movement of the celestial spheres – those we see and those we
do not, – the ordering of the earth, all that is between the heaven and the
earth, and all that lies within this universe, seen and unseen – it is one of His
signs that “The heavens and the earth stand fast by His command.” It
means that if you see in them causes and effects (asbâb wa musabbabât),
who is the one who threaded together these causes and effects, joining the
former with the latter? It is Allah Exalted and Glorified!

To elaborate: the nature of combustion in fire – so to speak, for there is no


such thing as “nature” but we have to make what we say intelligible through
approximations – that nature does not exist inside fire. It is but a divine Force
(quwwa rabbâniyya) that has marshalled fire for its purpose. So it is Allah
Who is the author of combustion (al-muhriq), not the fire. Our Exalted Lord
says: “Lo! Allah grasps the heavens and the earth, lest they cease, and if
they were to cease there is not one that could grasp them after
Him” (35:41). It means that the existence of these spheres suspended in their
orbits, these arrangements by which He has made these orbits stand together
with the earth, these cosmic laws and patterns which we see all around us,
from the farthest celestial bodies to the earth and thereunder – all that is by
Allah Almighty’s arrangement. “Lo! Allah grasps the heavens and the
earth, lest they cease, and if they were to cease there is not one that
could grasp them after Him.” If you believe – and believe firmly – that this is
Allah’s speech, is there any efficay left for causes?

Our Exalted Lord says in His explicit disclosure: “And a token unto them is
that We bear their offspring in the laden ship” (36:41). Have you reflected
upon these words? The ship, externally, is a cause. Therefore it is the ship,
apparently, which carries the people who board it, is it not? In our
understanding, the phrasing should have been: “And a token unto them is that
the laden ship bears them.” However, the divine disclosure came in a different
form. “And a token unto them is that We bear their offspring in the laden
ship.” Who, then, is the carrier for those who sought refuge in the ship? Is it
the ship or is it Allah? So then, the ship possesses no efficacy.

What does Allah say? “A token unto them is the dead earth. We revive it,
and We bring forth from it grain so that they eat thereof; And We have
placed therein gardens of the date palm and grapes, and We have
caused springs of water to gush forth therein. That they may eat of the
fruit thereof, and their hands made it not. Will they not, then, give
thanks? Glory be to Him Who created all the sexual pairs, of that which
the earth grows, and of themselves, and of that which they know
not!” (36:33-36) In all this discourse you will notice that Allah attributes all
these things to Himself while we find the causes present: we find the earth,
we find agriculture, but Allah attributes all this to Himself.

Allah says in Sura Nuh, as He speaks of the means by which He has saved
our master Nuh u and those who were with him: “And We carried him upon
a thing of planks and nails, That ran (upon the waters) in Our sight, as a
reward for him who was rejected.” (54:13) Consider well these words.
Notice that what we aim to do by citing this evidence is to make firm our
awareness and our certitude that the causes which we see have no efficacy in
themselves. That is what we are aiming for. Allah is here recounting in a
succinct and quick manner our master Nuh’s situation. When he was
besieged and harmed by his people, what did he do? “So he cried unto his
Lord, saying: I am vanquished, so give help.” (54:10). Two words: “I am
vanquished,” and “so give help.” “Then opened We the gates of heaven
with pouring water And caused the earth to gush forth springs, so that
the waters met for a predestined purpose. And We carried him upon a
thing of planks and nails, That ran (upon the waters) in Our sight, as a
reward for him who was rejected.” (54:11-13) “We carried him” – He did not
say: “It is the ship that carried him.” Further, He did not even use the word
“ship” in His wording. What did He say? “And We carried him upon a thing
of planks and nails.” [That is] “We carried him upon some planks and nails
which were assembled” – so as to minimize the status of that ship and make it
clear for you that the ship itself is less than [deserving of] being the one that
rescued and the one that saved. Thus He first said: “And We carried him.”
He did not attribute the carrying to our master Nuh nor to the ship. Then He
said “upon a thing of planks and nails” to let you see that some planks
which were put together are not strong enough to save those people from a
perpetual deluge unknown to humanity heretofore nor hereafter.

So then we have before us positive evidence that the creator of causes is


Allah and that causes, all of them, melt under the authority of Allah’s Lordship.
That is a truth which you are free to express in whatever theological fashion
you wish. But that is what Allah Almighty’s Disclosure states. Nay, the vast
majority of the Muslims hold that Allah has not deposited into these causes
the least efficacy, unlike what some have said – such as the Mu‘tazila – at
one point. No, not at all! Allah did not deposit into fire the secret of
combustion, thereafter leaving fire in charge of its mission, which consists in
combustion. A simile would be a human being’s disposal of artificial
intelligence, which is then left by him to do its job. No! The reality is certainly
not so. Yet to some people, even among Muslims, this is imagined to be true.
The latter say: “Fire burns by virtue of the force which Allah has deposited in
it. Water quenches thirst by virtue of the force which Allah has deposited in it.
Medicine heals by virtue of the force which Allah has deposited in it. Poison
kills by virtue of the force which Allah has deposited in it.” Are these
statements correct? Never.

We do not charge [them] with disbelief. However, even scientifically, these


statements are incorrect. The reason is that, if one believes that Allah has
deposited healing within medicine and then left it so that medicine heals in
permanence, it would mean that Allah now has a partner, which is this secret
that He deposited within the medicine. As much as the Creator disassociates
Himself from that medicine, the latter [allegedly] still performs its work, without
the continuance (istimrâriyya) of Allah Almighty’s efficacy. That is the meaning
of that “deposited force.” We seek refuge in Allah from such belief! What have
we done with “The Sustainer of All”? Similarly, if you say: “Fire burns by virtue
of the efficacy which Allah Almighty has deposited in it.” The outcome of this
statement is that Allah Almighty has deposited that secret – combustion –
inside fire, then left fire so that the latter burns in perpetuity. So then that
secret has become a partner with Allah! If Allah has left fire alone after
depositing in it that secret, then [they claim] there is no problem with that: it
shall always burn. That position is false, incorrect, and scientifically incorrect
in any way one looks at it. Combustion only takes effect by the act of Allah at
the time of contact between fire and the matter it burns.

Allah creates satiation at the time you ingest food. Who is it that created
satiation? Allah. If He wished, He could make you eat, and eat, and eat, and
not be sated. Allah created quenchedness for you at the time you drink
beverage. There are not, in these things, forces-in-residence which Allah has
left alone so that they do their work. No – it is a mistake to think so. The Pious
Predecessors (al-Salaf al-Sâlih), the People of the Way of the Prophet and
the Congregation of the Companions (ahl al-Sunna wa al-Jamâ‘a) hold
otherwise. Just look at Allah’s words: “And a token unto them is that We
bear their offspring in the laden ship” (36:41). If some self-sufficient
physiological force had been deposited into the ship so that ships perform
their tasks always, regardless to what extent Allah disconnects Himself from
them – then His saying would no longer be correct that “And a token unto
them is that We bear their offspring in the laden ship.” But He continues:
“And if We will, We drown them, and there is no help for them, neither
can they be saved” (36:43).

Dear brethren: we must deal with this reality. Many are those that stray in this
matter. One of us may say: “If this is the case, then why do we have to
interact with these causes? Why does the sick person seek recourse in the
physician? Why does he take medicine? Why do we take precautions against
fire and its burning pain? Let us plunge into fire just as we plunge into water
and swim in it. Why do we go out to the market and struggle, why work in
trade and farming and so forth, if, as you said, there are no causes, and the
one and only Causator is Allah, around Whose might all causes revolve?”
What is the answer to this?

Allah Almighty has made this lower-wordly existence stand on certain


customs (sunan). He has tied together these things and those. Whatever
comes first, appears to us to be a cause; whatever comes last, appears to us
to be an effect. Allah has made the universe stand on that system. That is:
Allah’s way is that He satiates you when you take food. His way is that He
quenches your thirst when you take drink. His way is that He provides you
with sustenance when you knock at the door of sustenance. His way is that
He cures you when you rush to the doctor and ask him for the remedy that will
benefit you. That is the way of Allah. He ties things together, but without there
being actual efficacy for what we call a cause. It is proper conduct (adab) on
our part with Allah to respect His system in the universe.

It is proper conduct on our part with Allah to respect His universal customs.
Thus has Allah Almighty willed it. If you have recognized what must be
believed in the chapter of doctrine and then say: “For myself I shall not drink
when I feel thirst, because Allah is the One that shall create quenchedness,”
know that at that time you are committing misconduct with Allah Almighty. My
Exalted Lord has willed to create quenchedness in your being at the time you
take drink. If you say: “I shall not take drink,” then this is rebellion against
Allah Almighty’s system.
I will give you an example that will resolve the above to satisfaction. Lady
Maryam – upon our Prophet and upon her peace – when birthpains came to
her – you have all read the Sura of Maryam – felt pain and foresaw what was
going to happen with her, what people were going to say about her: “And the
pangs of childbirth drove her unto the trunk of the palm tree. She said:
Oh, would that I had died before this and had become a thing of naught,
forgotten! Then (one) cried unto her from below her, saying: Grieve not!
Thy Lord has placed a rivulet beneath you, and shake the trunk of the
palm tree toward you, you will cause ripe dates to fall upon
you.” (19:23-25) The scholars all said here: She had rested her back against
the trunk of a date-palm tree of huge size at a time there was not, at the head
of that date-palm tree, any date nor fruit, for it was not yet the season for
them. The tree was bare of fruit. Allah then created in front of her the rivulet,
and He created for her in the height of the date-palm tree a bunch of ripe
dates. Now, the God Who created the date-bunch instantly – is He not able to
make it fall, or to make some of the dates fall in front of her? But He said:
“And shake the trunk of the palm tree toward you, you wilt cause ripe
dates to fall upon you.” Imagine, what can that weak hand of hers do to that
trunk which is very much like that column [in the mosque]? You all know the
strength of the trunk of the date-palm. What can one do? So then: Is there any
efficacy to the hand? Yet Allah ordered her to do something; to exert some
effort; to knock at Allah Almighty’s door. If Lady Maryam had said: “The God
Who created the rivulet for me, and created those fresh, ripe dates for me, is
able to let some of them fall in front of me just as He wishes; therefore I shall
not move my hand, nor move the tree-trunk.” If she had said that, it would
have been misconduct with Allah Almighty. She actually moved her hand,
after which Allah Almighty made them fall. Was the fall of the ripe dates
effected by the moving of the hand or by Allah’s subtle kindness? It was
effected by Allah’s subtle kindness (lutf).

So then, dear brethren: Our works in the marketplaces, our studies in the
universities, our tilling of the fields and our farming, our medication at the
hands of physicians – all the means that exist – are but the same thing as
what Lady Maryam did when she was tasked with shaking the date-palm tree-
trunk. If there were any efficacy to her hand, then it is the same with our works
by which we strive and all our activities. But who is he that says there is any
efficacy there? And that is the answer to the question mentioned before.

I am tasked with rising in the morning and going out to knock at the door of
Allah’s sustenance with the means which He has made licit. I am tasked with
observing and respecting the causes which He has thus named for me:
“causes” – and so I interact with them. That work in response to Allah’s
command is part of worship, part of the condition of being Allah Almighty’s
servant. This means that when you know that these causes have no actual
efficacy, but [you say]: “Allah has commanded me, therefore, I hear and I
obey” – at that time you are performing one of the greatest of all acts of
worship to Allah Almighty. When the farmer goes out to his field, tills, plants,
strives to his utmost, knowing that Allah has tasked him with a duty, and that it
is Allah, thereafter, Who creates the results: that farmer is performing an act
of worship which is among the greatest acts of worship. The young man who
marries in order to practice continence, knowing, however, that it is Allah Who
creates continence and it is He Who shall give him happiness through that
marriage – it is Allah Himself Who gives him happiness – he is performing an
act of worship which is among the greatest acts of worship. The sick man who
knocks at the door of the physician to ask him for the remedy to his ailment, is
performing an act of worship which is among the greatest acts of worship.
This is all on condition that you know that efficacy belongs only to Allah
Almighty. Whether you are in the world of dispossession (‘âlam al-tajrîd) or in
the world of causes (‘âlam al-asbâb), you must know this. “The foremost
energies cannot pierce the walls of foreordained destinies.”

When a human being becomes immersed in this doctrine – his heart, not his
tongue – he shall be far away from suffering, far from emotional and nervous
upheavals; he shall no longer be affected. Why? If some merchant toils and
gathers all the causes to use them to his benefit, after which it appears that
his efforts all went to loss, and he goes back to his house with peace of mind,
in his knowledge that efficacy does not belong to those causes but to Allah
alone, Who wished that no [positive] outcome should be realized – he cannot
say: had I done such-and-such, this result would not have happened; had I
preceded so-and-so and submitted my project two days earlier, I would have
been the one to succeed instead of him. The one who believes that efficacy
belongs to Allah, his core does not ever burn with the flames of such words.
Rather, he finds himself face-to-face with the words of Allah’s Messenger –
Allah bless and greet him – in the authentic narration of Muslim in his Sahih:
“If something bad happens to you, do not say: if only I had done such and
such, then such and such would have happened. Say: Allah foreordained it to
take place, and whatever Allah wishes, He does (qaddara Allâh wa mâ shâ’a
Allâhu fa‘al).

For ‘if only’ begins Satan’s work.” But Satan cannot use ‘if’ and begin his work
through it except in a heart that is devoid of such doctrine. Similarly, someone
whose relative was afflicted by some illness, then he took that relative to the
physicians and used all kinds of medicine and remedies, but Allah
foreordained to take the patient away. Then someone might come to him and
say: “You made a mistake. The physician you went to was not a specialist.
You should have taken the patient to So-and-so. If you had done so, he would
have known the cure. Someone ailed more than that and was healed at his
hands.” If one’s doctrine is absent, one will [at those words] feel an anguish
that will not let him sleep at night. He will say: “It is true, by Allah! Oh no, no,
no! –” But look at him who possesses true doctrine and true belief in Allah,
who has fastened his heart to Allah, and before whose eyes and insight all
causes have melted away so that he no longer see anything other than the
Causator. He shall sleep in all tranquility. He shall say: “Leave me alone, you
and your talk! The physicians, their medicine, ailments and their remedies are
all servants bound to obey Allah’s foreordained destiny, and it is not Allah’s
foreordained destiny that is subservient to the knowledge of physicians and
their remedies and all the rest.” His mind is at peace.
Let us plant this certitude firmly in the core of our beings. It brings immense
benefits to us. Among its other benefits is that this doctrinal certitude leads
you to what the spiritual masters (al-rabbâniyyûn) have called “oneness of
perception” (wahda al-shuhûd). I am not saying “oneness of being” (wahda al-
wujûd) – beware! What is the meaning of the expression “oneness of
perception”? When I interact with causes with full respect to Allah’s ways, His
orders, and His Law, and know that the sustenance that comes to me is from
Allah; the felicity that enters my home is from Allah Almighty; my food is
readied for me by Allah – I mean even the smallest details; the wealth with
which I have been graced, comes from Allah; the illness that has been put in
my being or that of a relative of mine comes from Allah Almighty; the cure that
followed it is from Allah Almighty; my success in my studies is by Allah
Almighty’s grant; the results which I have attained after obtaining my degrees
and so forth, are from Allah Almighty’s grant – when the efficacy of causes
melt away in my sight and I no longer see, behind them, other than the
Causator Who is Allah Almighty, at that time, when you look right, you do not
see except Allah’s Attributes, and when you look left, you do not see other
than Allah’s Atttributes. As much as you evolve in the world of causes, you do
not see, through them, except the Causator, Who is Allah. At that time you
have become raised to what the spiritual masters have called oneness of
perception. And this oneness of perception is what the Messenger of Allah –
Allah bless and greet him – expressed by the word ihsân [which he defined to
mean]: “That you worship Allah as if you see him.” You do not see the causes
as a barrier between you and Allah. Rather, you see causes, in the context of
this doctrine, very much like pure, transparent glass: the glass pane is
present, no one denies it, but as much as you stare at it, you do not see
anything except what is behind it. Is it not so? You only see what is behind it.
The world is entirely made of glass panes in this fashion. You see in them
Allah’s efficacy in permanence, so you are always with Allah Almighty.

None has tasted the sweetness of belief (îmân) unless he has reached that
level of perception. At that time you will find yourself, when you enter your
house, enjoying the pleasures of this house and whatever sustenance and
good things are in it, you will know that it is Allah Who has bestowed all this
upon you, so you will love Him. When you find that Allah has tied together
your heart and the heart of your wife with mutual love, you will know that the
secret of this love is not effected by your wife, but comes from Allah, the Lord
of the worlds. When you look at yourself in the mirror, finding yourself in good
health, you immediately know that it is Allah Almighty that has bestowed good
health upon you. When food is placed before you and you look at it, you
imagine that Allah – so to speak – has carried this food and placed it before
you after he subordinated to this purpose His heaven, His earth, the pastures
of His livestock, and then said to you: “Eat!” You will live with Allah Almighty! If
you become thirsty and drink some cold water you will forget the water and
remember only the One Who quenched your thirst. And when you lie down in
bed at night and find yourself falling sleep, you will know that the One Who
made you sleep is Allah – not sleeping pills at all, nor the efficacy which Allah
subordinated to the physician. And so forth. You interact with causes, but this
certitude shall make you as I described: you will see causes as very, very
transparent glass panes which, as much as you stare at them, you will no
longer see other than what is behind them.

The disbeliever, on the other hand, or the denier, or the doubter, or the
sceptic, will look at these causes as one of us would look at glass panes that
have been completely painted over. These panes have become thick
obstacles that prevent you from seeing what is behind them. As much as you
look, you cannot see what is behind them. At that time one will divinize
causes, and all those things. It is not permitted for the Muslim to fall into this
spot in any way whatsoever.

We have now determined the working relationship between the words of the
Imam Ibn ‘Ata’ Allah al-Sakandari in his second hikma and his words in the
third. There remains one question which might arise in the minds of some
people: “If everything is according to qadâ’ and qadar, then the believer is
foreordained by Allah to be a believer, and the disbeliever is foreordained by
Allah to be a disbeliever. Therefore, the disbeliever’s disbelief is not by his
free choice, nor is the believer’s belief by his free choice.” Our preceding
discourse might lead some of you to this difficulty. What is the answer? It is
actually a different question, unrelated to what we have said today. I shall
answer this question, Allah willing, but what I say now will not suffice and I
therefore direct you to what I said in detail, in depth, and at length in my book
Al-Insanu Musayyarun aw Mukhayyar? (“Is Man Controlled or Endowed With
Free Choice?”). I believe that I answered this problem there in great detail.
However, I shall answer now succinctly.

Everything is by qadâ’ and qadar, just as the Messenger of Allah – Allah bless
and greet him – says, including helplessness and intelligence. Allah’s
foreordained destinies are two kinds. The first kind is directly created by Allah
Almighty. This is all part of “the world of creation” (‘âlam al-khalq): stars and
their orbits, the order of the universe which is unrelated to man’s free choice,
human birth and death, human illness and cure, vegetation, earthquakes,
eclipses – all these matters are part of Allah’s foreordainment and created by
Him directly, without any part for free choice. This comes under the heading of
“creation” in the verse “His verily is all creation and
commandment” (7:54). The Creator does not make you in any way
responsible for what He created without any choice on your part. “Allah tasks
not a soul beyond its scope” (2:286).

The second kind of foreordained destinies is what Allah has foreordained –


and what is foreordainment? It is Allah’s knowledge of what shall take place.
Allah only creates something in correspondence with (tilqâ’) His knowledge.
This second kind of foreordained destinies is one that takes effect or
circulates through the free choices of human beings. For example: your
prayer, your fasting, your pilgrimage, your purification-tax (zakât), your acts of
obedience, your acts of piety, your acts of disobedience – we seek refuge in
Allah! – and all your deeds freely undertaken: are they foreordained by Allah
or not? They are foreordained by Allah, in the sense that Allah knows that you
will pray by choice. When, according to Allah’s knowledge, you rose to pray,
He put you in a position to pray (aqdaraka ‘ala salâtik) and created in your
entity the motions of your prayer. He is the Creator [of all this]. Allah knows
that you will perform pilgrimage to the Sacred House. At the time you
determined to go on pilgrimage, He put you in a position to do so and created
for you the causes that facilitate it for you. Allah knows that So-and-so will
disobey Him by drinking wine. At the time he finally determined to drink wine,
Allah put him in a position to do so and created in his hand, his feet, and his
mouth the power to do it.

So then Who is the Creator of the acts of obedience? Allah. And Who is the
Creator of the acts of disobedience? Allah. But to what does reward and
punishment apply? Reward and punishment do not apply to the actual deed
which is created by Allah, but to the resolution (al-qasd), the “earning” (al-
kasb) as Allah Almighty said: lahâ ma kasabat wa ‘alayhâ ma iktasabat – “For
it is what it has earned, and against it is what it has deserved” (2:286). If I
determine to come to this place so that we should remind each other of one of
the matters of this Religion, and say: “Yâ Allâh! O my Lord, I have determined
to do this”– at that time the Creator creates power in my person, enables me
to walk and come here, and when I sit in this place He enables me to think.
He does all this, but on the Day of Resurrection what will He reward me for?
Will He reward me for something which He Himself created? Rather, He will
only reward me for my having determined (qasadtu). And so Allah has made
my act subservient to my determination.

This is a brief summary of the topic. Perhaps we shall elaborate on it in the


next lesson, Allah willing. And praise belongs to Allah the Lord of the worlds.

Notes

Narrated from Abu Hurayra by Bukhari and Muslim.

I.e. in the sense of a personified force independent of the Creator, as in


“Mother Nature.”

“Things do not act of their own nature. Neither does water quench thirst, nor
does bread sate hunger, nor does fire burn, but Allah creates satedness
simultaneously with eating, and hunger at other times. Likewise, drinking is
the drinker’s doing while quenchedness is from Allah, and killing is the killer’s
doing while death is from Allah.” Ibn Khafif (d. 371), al-‘Aqida al-Sahiha (§41),
in Ibrahim al-Dusuqi Shatta, Sira Ibn Khafif (Cairo: al-Hay’a al-‘Amma li
Shu’un al-Matabi‘ al-Amiriyya, 1977) p. . A man asked al-Tustari (d. 283):
“What is sustenance?” He said: “Perpetual dhikr.” The man said: “I was not
asking about that, but about what sustains one.” He replied: “O man, things
are sustained by nothing but Allah.” The man said: “I did not mean that, I
asked you about what is indispensible!” He replied: “Young man, Allah is
indispensible.” Abu Nu‘aym, Hilya al-Awliya’ (10:218 #15022). “Satiation,
quenching, and combustion are phenomena which Allah alone creates, since
bread does not create satiation, nor does water create quenching, nor does
fire create combustion, although they are causes for such results. But the
Creator is Himself the Causator (al-Musabbib), not the causes. This is just as
Allah said: “You threw not when you did throw, but Allah threw.” (8:17)
He denied that His Prophet was the creator of the throw, although he was its
cause. Allah also said: “And that it is He Who makes laugh, and makes
weep, and that it is He Who gives death and gives life.” (54:43-44) Thus
He dissociated making-laugh, making-weep, the giving of death and of life
from their respective causes, attributing all to Himself. Similarly, al-Ash‘ari (d.
330?) dissociated satiation, quenching, and combustion from their causes,
attributing them all to the Creator Who said: “Such is Allah, your Lord.
There is no God save Him, the Creator of all things.” (6:102) “Is there any
creator other than Allah?” (35:3) “Nay, but they denied what they could
not comprehend and whereof the interpretation had not yet come unto
them.” (10:39) “Did you deny My signs when you could not compass
them in knowledge, or what was it you did?” (27:84).” Ibn ‘Abd al-Salam
(d. 660), al-Mulha fi I‘tiqad Ahl al-Haqq in Rasa’il al-Tawhid (p. 11-27) and al-
Subki, Tabaqat al-Shafi‘iyya al-Kubra (8:219-229).

Narrated from Abu Hurayra by Muslim, Ahmad, Ibn Majah, Malik in his
Muwatta’, and al-Tabarani, all as part of a longer hadith which begins: “The
strong believer is better and more beloved to Allah than the weak believer”
(al-mu’min al-qawiyy khayrun wa ahabbu ilallâh min al-mu’min al-da‘îf).

Narrated from Abu Hurayra by Bukhari, Muslim, Ahmad, al-Nasa’i, and Ibn
Majah; from ‘Umar by Muslim, al-Tirmidhi, Abu Dawud, Ibn Majah, Ahmad,
and al-Nasa’i; and from Abu Dharr by al-Nasa’i, all as part of a longer hadith.

“Everything is by qadar, including helplessness and intelligence.” Narrated


from Anas and Ibn ‘Umar by Muslim; from Ibn ‘Umar by Ahmad and Malik;
and from Ibn ‘Abbas by Bukhari in his Tarikh. The latter narrates it both with
qada’ and qadar.

Infinitude is the native land from whence Allah has created the soul, then
summoned it again upon the tongue of His messengers (Allah bless them and
give them peace) from its exile. This is the first of a series of articles the
interpreter has been asked to write on "traditional Islamic spirituality," a
science that deals with answering this summons, lifting the heart from the
narrowness of the self to the limitlessness of the knowledge and love of the
Divine.

People have spoken and written much about Sufism, as the discipline is
known, but these articles shall endeavor to understand it in its own context by
translating, Allah willing, Ibn ‘Ata' Illah’s famous Book of Wisdoms (al-Hikam
al-‘Ata'iyya), a classical manual of spiritual development, together with some
commentary on it. One either has a tariqa and a sheikh or one does not, and
Ibn ‘Ata' Illah is writing without apology for those who do, although the insights
he raises may interest many others.

The interpreter conveys this knowledge by the authorization of Sheikh ‘Abd al-
Rahman al-Shaghouri, from Muhammad Sa‘id al-Kurdi, from Muhammad al-
Hashimi, from Ahmad al-‘Alawi, from Muhammad al-Buzidi, from Muhammad
Qaddur al-Wakili, from Abu Ya‘za al-Mahaji and Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-
Qadir, from al-Arabi al-Darqawi, from ‘Ali al-Jamal, from al-‘Arabi ibn
‘Abdullah, from Ahmad ibn ‘Abdullah, from Qasim al-Khassasi, from
Muhammad ibn ‘Abdullah, from ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Fasi, from Yusuf al-Fasi,
from ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Majdhub, from ‘Ali al-Sanhaji al-Dawwar, from
Ibrahim al-Fahham, from Ahmad Zarruq, from Ahmad al-Hadrami, from Yahya
al-Qadiri, from ‘Ali ibn Wafa, from Muhammad Wafa Bahr al-Safa, from
Dawud al-Bakhili, from Ibn ‘Ata' Illah al-Iskandari the author of the work (Allah
be well pleased with them all of them), who says:

1. One of the signs of relying on deeds is loss of hope when a misstep


occurs.

The sheikh begins his book with this key aphorism because it is of the adab or
"proper way" of travelling the spiritual path to focus upon tawhid or the "Divine
Oneness," in this context meaning to rely upon Allah, not on works, since

"Allah created you and that which you do" (Qur’an 37:96).

The method of the spiritual ascent is threefold, consisting of knowledge (‘ilm),


practice (‘amal), and the resultant state (hal) bestowed by Allah. Knowledge
here means everything conveyed to us by the Holy Prophet (Allah bless him
and give him peace), which is the content of the Sacred Law or shari‘a. The
practice of this knowledge, inwardly and outwardly, with heart and limbs, is
the spiritual path or tariqa. The resultant state, Allah’s drawing near to the
heart that thus draws near to Him, is the dawning of the Divine Presence upon
the soul, termed by Sufis "ultimate reality" or haqiqa.

Ibn ‘Ata' Illah, as a spiritual guide, is concerned in this work with the second
moment of this ascent, that of way and works, so begins his book by letting
the traveller know that the matter of his spiritual progress is in Allah’s hands
alone. Discouragement at the inevitable mistakes one makes in the path is a
sign of relying on one’s deeds rather than on Allah.

Works, whether prayer, or the dhikr or "remembrance" of Allah, or fasting, or


jihad, do not cause one to reach the end of the path, but are merely proper
manners before the majesty of the Divine while on it. Just as putting one’s net
in the sea does not produce fish, though one must keep it there so that if Allah
sends fish they can be caught—so too works are a net, and their spiritual
outcomes are from Allah. Abu Hurayra (Allah be well pleased with him) heard
the Holy Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) say:

"None of you shall be saved by his works." A man said, "Not even you
yourself, O Messenger of Allah?" He said, "Not even me myself, unless Allah
envelopes me in mercy from Him. But aim to do right" (Muslim, 4.2169: 2816).

Imam Nawawi comments:

The outward purport of these hadiths [n: of which Muslim relates several]
bears out the position of those who are in the right, that no one deserves
reward and paradise for his acts of obedience. As for the words of Allah Most
High
"Enter paradise for that which you have done" (Qur’an 16:32),

and

"That is paradise, which you have been bequeathed for what you used to
do" (Qur’an 7:43),

and similar verses that indicate that paradise is entered by virtue of works,
they do not contradict these hadiths. Rather, the meaning of the verses is that
entering paradise is because of works, although divinely given success
(tawfiq) to do the works, and being guided to have sincerity in them, and their
acceptability are the mercy of Allah Most High and His favor (Sharh Sahih
Muslim, 17.160–61).

The true spiritual path is one of gratitude. Abu Sulayman al-Darani used to
say, "How can a sane man be conceited about his spiritual works, when his
works are but a gift from Allah and a blessing from Him that he should thank
Him for" (Nata’ij al-afkar, 1.114). And Abu Madyan has said, "The
heartbrokenness of the sinner is better than the forcefulness of the
obedient" (Diwan, 50).

Ibn ‘Ata' Illah in this aphorism is apprising the traveller not to be veiled from
the true path by his own high resolve. While irada or "will" is presupposed by
the way, indeed the word murid or "disciple" is derived from it, the path
ultimately sublimates it into its opposite through tawhid, disclosing it to be a
mere cause, conjoined with the soul’s ascent not out of logical necessity but
out of Allah’s pure largesse. For this reason some sheikhs term a traveller of
the former spiritual vantage a murid or "desirer," and one of the latter a faqir or
"needy." The prophet Moses (upon whom be blessings and peace) said when
he reached the land of Midian,

"My Lord, I am truly in need of what good You have sent down to me" (Qur’an
28:24).

This humble sincerity of slavehood, or we could say realism, enables the


genuine spiritual traveller to benefit in the path from both his good and his evil.

He benefits from his good by not seeing it as from himself, for as Abu Bakr al-
Wasiti says, "The closest of all things to Allah’s loathing is beholding the self
and its actions" (‘Uyub al-nafs, 39), that is, because it contradicts tawhid, for
Allah says,

"Whatever blessing you have, it is from Allah" (Qur’an 16:53).

And he benefits from his evil by his faith (iman) that it is evil, which is itself an
act of obedience; and by repenting from it, which rejoices Allah Most High.
Anas ibn Malik (Allah be well pleased with him) relates from the Holy Prophet
(Allah bless him and give him peace) that he said:
Truly, Allah rejoices more at the atonement of His servant when he repents to
Him than one of you would if he were on his riding camel in an empty tract of
desert, and it got away from him with all his food and water on it, and he gave
up all hope of finding it, so he came to a tree and laid down in its shade,
having despaired of ever seeing it again. While lying there, he suddenly finds
it standing beside him, and he seizes its halter, and overjoyed, cries, "O Allah,
You are my slave, and I am your lord," making a mistake out of sheer
joy" (Muslim, 4.2104: 2747).

The secret of true repentance (tawba) in the spiritual path is this divine
rejoicing it is met with from Allah Most High. Abul Hasan al-Shadhili, the
sheikh of Ibn ‘Ata' Illah’s own sheikh, used to daily pray to Allah: "And when
we disobey You, show us even greater mercy than You do when we obey
You" (Invocations, 27).

Ibn ‘Ata' Illah made this the first aphorism of his Book of Wisdoms to apprise
the traveller that when failings happen, there is also work to be done: to
repent to Allah, to realize that Allah is generous, and to hope for the best from
the spiritual path. The mark of relying on Allah is that one’s hope is
undiminished. The mark of relying on one’s self is that it soars until there is a
misstep, when it plummets along with its injured pride. Discouragement in the
path is an incomprehension of the Divine Omnipotence, while certitude in the
path and in one’s Lord is of the adab of those who know Allah. Nuh Ha Mim
Keller

Abu Madyan al-Ansari, Shu‘ayb, and al-‘Arabi al-Shawwar. Al-Minan al-


rabbaniyya al-wahbiyya fi al-ma’athir al-Ghawthiyya al-Shu‘aybiyya. Compiled
by al-Shawwar, Edited by Muhammad al-Hashimi (as Diwan al-Qutb al-
Rabbani al-‘Arif bi Llah al-Ghawth al-Samadani al-Shaykh Sayyidi Shu‘ayb
Abu Madyan ibn al-Husayn al-Ansari [. . .]). Damascus, Matba‘a al-Taraqqi,
1357/1938.

al-Ansari, Zakariyya, Mustafa al-‘Arusi, and ‘Abd al-Karim al-Qushayri.


Nata’ij al-afkar al-qudsiyya fi bayan ma‘ani Sharh al-Risala al-Qushayriyya.
[al-‘Arusi’s commentary on al-Ansari’s Sharh of al-Qushayri’s al-Risala.] 4
vols. Cairo. 1290/1873. Reprint. Damascus: ‘Abd al-Wakil al-Durubi, n.d.

Muslim ibn al-Hajjaj. Sahih Muslim. Ed. Muhammad Fu’ad ‘Abd al-Baqi. 5
vols. Cairo 1376/1956. Reprint. Beirut: Dar al-Fikr, 1403/1983.

Muslim ibn al-Hajjaj, and Yahya ibn Sharaf al-Nawawi. Sahih Muslim bi
Sharh al-Nawawi. 18 vols. Cairo 1349/1930. Reprint (18 vols. in 9). Beirut:
Dar al-Fikr, 1401/1981.

al-Shadhili, Abul Hasan, and sheikhs of the Shadhiliyya tariqa.


Invocations of the Shadhili Order. Ed. and tr. by the writer. Amman: Dar Abul
Hasan, 1418/1998.

al-Sulami, Abu ‘Abd al-Rahman. ‘Uyub al-nafs wa adwiyatuha. Ed.


Muhammad Amin al-Faruqi. Damascus: Dar al-‘Uruba, 1418/1997.
Relying on One's Deeds Hikma #1:

One of the signs of relying on deeds is loss of hope when there are
missteps.

Infinitude is the native land from whence Allah has brought the soul, then
summoned it again upon the tongue of His messengers (Allah bless them and
give them peace) from its exile. Traditional Islamic spirituality deals with
answering this summons, lifting the heart from the narrowness of the self to
the limitlessness of the knowledge and love of the Divine.

People have spoken and written much about Sufism, as the discipline is
known, but it is perhaps easiest understood in context, so I have thought to
begin translating the aphorisms of the Egyptian Master Ibn ‘Ata' Illah’s classic
manual of spiritual development al-Hikam al-‘Ata'iyya or “Book of Wisdoms”
together with some commentary. He is writing (Allah be well pleased with him)
for those who have a tariqa or actual path and a sheikh, yet his words may
interest others. He says:

1. One of the signs of relying on deeds is loss of hope when there are
missteps.

The book begins with this key aphorism because it is of the adab or “proper
way” of travelling the spiritual path to focus upon tawhid or the “Divine
Oneness,” in this context meaning to rely upon Allah, not on works, since

“Allah created you and that which you do” (Qur’an 37:96).

The method of the spiritual ascent is threefold, consisting of knowledge (‘ilm),


practice (‘amal), and the resultant state (hal) bestowed by Allah. Knowledge
here means everything conveyed to us by the Holy Prophet (Allah bless him
and give him peace), which is the content of the Sacred Law or shari‘a. The
practice of this knowledge, inwardly and outwardly, with heart and limbs, is
the spiritual path or tariqa. The resultant state, Allah’s drawing near to the
heart that thus draws near to Him, is the dawning of the Divine Presence upon
the soul, termed by Sufis “ultimate reality” or haqiqa.

Ibn ‘Ata' Illah, as a spiritual guide, is concerned in this work with the second
moment of this ascent, that of way and works, so he begins his book by letting
the traveller know that the matter of one’s spiritual progress is in Allah’s hands
alone. Discouragement at the inevitable mistakes one makes in the path is a
sign of relying on one’s deeds rather than on Allah.

Works, whether prayer, or the dhikr or “remembrance” of Allah, or jihad, or


fasting do not bring one to the desired end of the path, but are merely proper
manners before the majesty of the Divine while on the path. Just as putting
one’s net in the sea does not produce fish, though one must keep it there so
that if Allah sends fish they can be caught, so too, works are a net, and their
spiritual recompense is from Allah. Abu Hurayra (Allah be well pleased with
him) heard the Holy Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) say:

“None of you shall be saved by his works.” A man said, “Not even yourself, O
Messenger of Allah?” He said, “Not even myself, unless Allah covers me with
a mercy from Him. But strive to be right” (Muslim, 4.2169: 2816).

Imam Nawawi comments:

The outward purport of these hadiths [n: Muslim relates several] bears out the
position of Islamic orthodoxy that no one deserves recompense or paradise
for his acts of obedience. As for the words of Allah Most High “Enter paradise
for that which you have done” (Qur’an 16:32), and “That is paradise, which
you have been bestowed for what you did before” (Qur’an 7:43), and similar
verses that indicate that paradise is entered by virtue of works, they do not
contradict these hadiths. Rather, the meaning of the verses is that entering
paradise is because of works, although divinely given success (tawfiq) to do
the works, and being guided to have sincerity in them, and their acceptability
are the mercy of Allah Most High and His favor (Sharh Sahih Muslim, 17.160–
61).

The true spiritual path is one of gratitude. Abu Sulayman al-Darani used to
say, “How can a sane man be proud of his works, when his works are but a
gift from Allah and a blessing from Him that he must thank Him for” (Nata’ij al-
afkar, 1.114). And Abu Madyan says, “The crestfallenness of the sinner is
better than the exulting of the obedient” (Diwan, 50).

Ibn ‘Ata' Illah in this aphorism is apprising the traveller not to be veiled from
the true path by his own high resolve. While irada or “will” is presupposed by
the way, indeed the word murid or “disciple” is derived from it, the path
ultimately sublimates it into its opposite through tawhid, disclosing it to be a
mere cause, conjoined with the soul’s ascent not out of logical necessity but
out of Allah’s pure largesse. For this reason some sheikhs term a traveller of
the former spiritual vantage a murid or “desirer,” and one of the latter a faqir or
“needy.” The prophet Moses (upon whom be blessings and peace) said when
he reached the land of Midian,

“My Lord, I am greatly needy of the good You’ve sent me down” (Qur’an
28:24).

This humble sincerity of slavehood, or we could say realism, enables the


genuine spiritual traveller to benefit from both his good and his evil. He
benefits from his good by not seeing it as from himself, for as Abu Bakr al-
Wasiti says, “The closest of all things to Allah’s loathing is beholding the self
and its actions” (‘Uyub al-nafs, 39), that is, because it contradicts tawhid, for
Allah says,
“Whatever blessing you have, is from Allah” (Qur’an 16:53).

And he benefits from his evil by his faith (iman) that it is evil, which is itself an
act of obedience; and by repenting from it, which rejoices Allah Most High.
Anas ibn Malik (Allah be well pleased with him) relates from the Holy Prophet
(Allah bless him and give him peace) that he said:

“Truly, Allah rejoices more at the atonement of His servant when he repents to
Him than one of you would if he were on his riding camel in an empty tract of
desert, and it got away from him with all his food and water on it, and he gave
up all hope of finding it, so he came to a tree and laid down in its shade,
having despaired of ever seeing it again. While lying there, he suddenly finds
it standing beside him, and he seizes its halter, and overjoyed, cries, “O Allah,
You are my slave, and I am your lord,” making a mistake out of sheer
joy” (Muslim, 4.2104: 2747).

The secret of repentance (tawba) in the spiritual path is that it is met with this
divine rejoicing from Allah Most High. Abul Hasan al-Shadhili, the sheikh of
Ibn ‘Ata' Illah’s sheikh, used to daily pray: “When we disobey You, show us
even greater mercy than when we obey You” (Invocations of the Shadhili
Order, 27).

Ibn ‘Ata' Illah made this the first aphorism of his Book of Wisdoms to apprise
the traveller that when failings happen, there is also work to be done: to
repent to Allah, to realize that Allah is generous, and confidence in attaining
the best from the spiritual path. The mark of relying on Allah is that one’s hope
is undiminished. The mark of relying on one’s self is that it soars until there is
a misstep, when it plummets from injured pride. Discouragement in the path is
an incomprehension of the divine omnipotence, while certitude in the path and
in one’s Lord is of the adab of those who know Allah. By Nuh Ha Mim Keller

Hikma #2: Being in or Apart from the World

Your wish to be apart from the world when Allah keeps you in it is but
from hidden desire, while your wish to be in it when Allah keeps you
apart from it is a fall from high purpose.

When one sets out on a journey, it is natural to look for the shortest way, and
this aphorism warns the mystic traveller from taking a wrong turn, as many
disciples do, by wishful thinking. The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him
peace) once said, “[Saying] ‘if only’ opens the Devil’s work,”[1] and longing for
new and different circumstances, unless the present ones are clearly morally
reprehensible, can be a veil from knowing Allah in whatever state He has
placed one. Because Allah knows our interests better than we do and is
keener for them than we are, masters tend to let disciples change their
situation in life only when Allah unmistakably creates an alternative that is
superior or plainly unavoidable. Ibn ‘Ata' Illah had such an experience with his
own sheikh, Abul ‘Abbas al-Mursi, which he described in the words
I used to hear students say, “Whoever keeps the company of sheikhs never
attains much in the outward sciences,” and it weighed upon me not to be able
to attain Sacred Learning, and weighed upon me not to be able to keep the
company of the sheikh (Allah be well pleased with him).

So I went to the sheikh, and found him eating meat with vinegar, and I said to
myself, “If only the sheikh would give me a bite with his own hand.” I had
barely finished the thought when he put the morsel he had in his hand into my
mouth, and then said: “When we keep the company of a merchant, we don’t
tell him, ‘Leave your business and come,’ or tell an artisan, ‘Leave your craft
and come,’ or tell a student, ‘Leave your studies and come.’ Rather, we
confirm each wherever Allah has put him, and whatever is meant by Allah to
reach them at our hands will reach them. The Companions were with the
Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) and he never said to
a merchant, ‘Leave your business,’ or to an artisan, ‘Leave your work,’ but
rather, he had them remain at their livelihoods, and commanded them to have
godfearingness in them.” (Lata’if al-minan, 125).

The distance of the Sufi path is a return to its own beginning: to the basic
practice of living in this world according to the Qur’an and wont of the Prophet
(Allah bless him and give him peace), though with a unitive breadth of vision
unknown before travelling the path. The Sufi sees the ultimate implications of
what for others are but ordinary things, seeing everything as existing through
Allah; in that specific sense, “seeing Him in everything.”

This is not as unlikely as it may appear, for Allah is the Creator of everything,
and since deeds reveal rather than conceal their doer, it is impossible in the
eyes of the Sufis that creation, as the act of Allah, should conceal Him.
Rather, it manifests Him, as Allah Himself says,

“He is the First and the Last, the Manifest and the Hidden” (Qur’an 57:3).

Allah Most High is one, without any associate in His entity, His attributes, His
rulings, or His actions. His purpose in creating the worlds is as a sign (ayah)
to manifest His absolute Oneness to those who can see it.

We shall show them Our signs, in the horizons and in themselves, until it is
plain to them that it is the Truth (Qur’an 41:53).

What veils man from God, for the Sufis, is the attachment of the ego to its
desires, together with its instrumental relations for fulfilling them and the
cognitive categories with which it sifts and strains the great sea of being to
allow these relations to arise as phenomena. The veil between oneself and
Allah is thus not created things, but the ego itself, whose plainest attribute is
the will, the familiar “I want this, I want that,” of one’s own heroic narrative.
The stages of the journey to Allah are not marked by road signs, but by
changes in the traveller himself, and the tendency to externalize these,
particularly with wishful thinking about oneself and one’s journey, can be part
of the veil.
The way that is a way of reality and not of mere talk is the way of iman or
“faith” and taqwa or “godfearingness,” and all mystical stations and states are
but part of the ascending continuum of these two qualities, by which Allah has
defined wilaya or “sanctity” in the Qur’an by saying:

“Verily the friends (awliya’) of Allah, no fear shall be upon them, nor shall they
grieve; those who have true faith and godfearingness. Great good tidings are
theirs in this life and the life to come. There is no changing the words of Allah:
that is the supreme triumph” (Qur’an 10:62–64).

One takes a path and a sheikh in order to ensure that these happen. In turn,
though sheikhs typically use three practices to bring about change in disciples
—namely dhikr, the “invocation of Allah,” mudhakara, the “spiritual teaching,”
and jihad al-nafs, or “striving against the ego”—it is the rough and tumble of
life, the amount of light that remains in the heart when events befall that
darken others, that discloses and consolidates one’s attainment in the Sufi
path.

Your wish to be apart from the world when Allah keeps you in it is but from
hidden desire, because one’s spiritual provender can only come from Allah,
and upon His terms, and it is He who is keeping one in the world, and He
knows best what one needs to reach Him. And your wish to be in it when
Allah keeps you apart from it is a fall from high purpose, because when He
keeps one apart from the world, one has more control over one’s moments
and hours and days, and Allah has given them to one as a test of one’s high
purpose in drawing nearer to Him, not chasing what He has caused to leave
one.

The two parts of the aphorism also distinguish for the traveller between
shahwa khafiyya or “hidden desire,” a lust for gratification and results; and
between himma ‘aliyya or “high purpose,” meaning spiritual resolve or
aspiration. Shahwa finds frustration or disappointment when thwarted
because it is directed to created things; himma does not know frustration or
despair because it is directed to Allah, who is omnipotent and all-generous,
even if His intimate and subtle knowledge of us entails that He gives when it is
best, not when merely when we wish. Shahwa or “desire” is an ingrate,
whether satisfied or unsatisfied; while himma is gratitude itself.

To benefit from changes in life, spiritual travellers must be with Allah, not their
own story line. When a young woman marries, for example, she suddenly
finds herself not only with another ego in the house to live with, but within a
short space, that the comparative ease and calm of her younger days have
been swept away by the sheer work needed to keep up and think of
everything in a real home. When she has her first baby, she must manage for
another life even more dependent on her personal sacrifices. By the second,
third, or fourth child, her days and nights belong almost entirely to others.
Whether she has a spiritual path or not, such a mother can seldom resist a
glance at the past, when there were more prayers, more meanings, more
spiritual company, and more serenity. When Allah opens her understanding,
she will see that she is engaged in one of the highest forms of worship, that of
producing new believers who love and worship Allah. She is effectively
worshipping Allah for as many lifetimes she has children, for the reward of
every spiritual work her children do will be hers, without this diminishing
anything of their own rewards: every ablution, every prayer, every Ramadan,
every hajj, and even the works her children will in turn pass on to their
offspring, and, so on till the end of time. Even if her children do not turn out as
she wishes, she shall be requited in paradise forever according to her
intention in raising them, which was that they should be godly.

Aside from the tremendous reward, within the path itself it is noticeable that
many of those who benefit most from the khalwa or “solitary retreat of dhikr”
are women who have raised children. With only a little daily dhikr and worship
over the years, but much toil and sacrifice for others, they surpass many a
younger person who has had more free time, effort, and “spiritual works.”
What they find is greater because their state with Allah is greater; namely, the
awe, hope, and love of the Divine they have realized by years of sincerity to
Him.

To summarize, the traveller who is grateful to Allah for everything cannot be


veiled from Allah by anything, whether living in the world or doing without it,
and it is such a person who most benefits from the spiritual path. Abu Yazid
al-Bustami was once asked, “Can the servant reach Him in a single moment?”
and he replied, “He can, though he is returned with profit and benefit in the
measure of his journey.” By Nuh Ha Mim Keller [1] Muslim, 4.2052: 2664.

Hikma #3: Ambition and Destiny

The mightiest ambitions cannot breach the walls of destiny

The Sufi way exists to know the incommensurability of the Divine. To do so


the self must relinquish its position as the greatest thing in existence. Belief in
the inevitability of destiny anticipates this in principle before one realizes it in
the fullness of one’s path.

The context of this maxim is personal transformation from spiritual hypocrisy


to spiritual sincerity. Masters of the path are unanimous that to accomplish the
change the aspirant must have high ambition (himma ‘aliyya), but it must be
sublimated so that it becomes second nature; practiced and not thought
about; there, but never looked at or depended upon.

Our own will is one of the plainest components of consciousness, and the
desire to ascend to the Divine in a moment is probably native to every heart
that has ever set out for Him. But the distance of the path lies precisely in
realizing the ontological relation between our own contingent being and the
necessary being of Allah, and if reaching God were subject to our will, it would
not be subject to His, which is the opposite of illumination. The spiritual way
must purify the traveller, by its very turns and length, of the illusion of being
“master of his fate and captain of his soul,” in order to allow him to directly
experience the divine omnipotence. Allah says in a hadith qudsi,
“Man offends Me: he reviles Time, though I am Time; the command is in My
hand, I turn over the nights and days.”[1]

The celebrated mystic Abu Madyan described the hand of destiny in his first
encounter with his own master by saying:

I was an orphan in Andalusia, and my brothers made me herd their flocks.


When I would see someone at prayer or reciting the Qur’an, I admired him
and went up to him, finding a sadness within me that I didn’t know any Qur’an
or how to pray. My resolve grew to run away, so I could learn how to recite
and to pray. I fled, but my brother caught up with me with a stabbing spear in
his hand, and said, “By God, if you don’t come back I’ll kill you.”

So I went back and stayed a while, the decision to flee by night growing within
me. I set out one night by another route, and my brother found me after
daybreak. He raised his sword and said, “By God, I’m going to kill you to
relieve myself of you,” and he brought it down on me, but I parried it with a
stick I had in my hand, which the sword shattered against and flew into
pieces. When he saw this, he said, “Brother, go wherever you will.”

I went to the sea, crossed to Tangiers, then went to Ceuta, working as a hand
for some fishermen. I proceeded to Marrakesh, which I entered, and joined
the Andalusian soldiery, who used to eat my rations and only give me a little. I
was told, “If you want to devote time to religion, you should go to Fez.” So I
set out for Fez, and stayed in its great mosque, learning ablution and the
prayer, and sitting at the circles of the jurists and preachers, though without
retaining anything of their words, until I sat with a sheikh who words stayed in
my heart. Asking who he was, I was told he was Abul Hasan ibn Hirzihim. I
told him that I could not remember anything besides what I heard from him
alone, and he said to me: “Those others speak from the tips of their tongues,
so their words reach no further than the ears. I intend Allah by my words,
which because they come from the heart, go into hearts.”

I later heard people speak of the miracles of Abu Ya‘za, so I went with a group
who were going to visit him. When we reached Mount Ayrojan, we dropped in
on Abu Ya‘za, who received everyone cordially except me. When he served
food, he stopped me from eating any, and I drew apart into a corner of the
courtyard. Every time he brought food and I stood up, he would drive me
away.

I remained thus for three days, exhausted by hunger and reduced to


humiliation. When three days had passed, Abu Ya‘za rose from his place, and
I went over to it and rubbed my face in it. When I lifted my head I looked, and I
could see nothing at all. I had gone blind, and I wept the whole night.

Sighs and sobs mean little to one like me,

There is nothing for them but the Beloved as doctor;

The lover’s best cast lies in submitting abjectly,


When the One who calls him refuses to answer.

When morning came, he called me saying, “Come here, O Andalusian.” So I


drew near him and he wiped his hand over my eyes, and I could see, then
wiped his hand over my heart, and said to those present, “This one shall be
very great,” or words to that effect.[2]

Tribulation is never gratuitous. Allah teaches us through things that go as we


want and things that go otherwise, the latter often proving the lessons best
learned; whether in patience, in relying on God, in realizing what love is, or in
appreciating hard won attainments that might otherwise be taken for granted.
The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “Whomever Allah
wants well for, He somewhat afflicts,”[3] and said, “Patience is a tremendous
light,”[4] showing that God may well illumine the traveller by unexpected
adversity, obstacles, and trouble—since for a heart directed towards Allah,
pruning often means growth. Imam Ghazali touches on this when relating the
problem of prayer and destiny to the more general question of the divine
wisdom in human affliction:

If it be wondered what benefit there is in supplication (du‘a) if destiny is


inevitable, one should realize that destiny includes averting affliction by
prayer, that supplication is but a means of turning aside tribulation and
drawing the divine mercy, just as a shield is a means of deflecting arrows, and
water a means of bringing forth herbage from the earth. As a shield turns
aside arrows and they each offset the other, so too supplication and affliction
each compensate the other. It is not a condition for believing in the destiny of
Allah Most High that one go unarmed, for Allah has said, “Take due
precaution” (Qur’an 4:71); or that one should not water land after seeding,
saying, “If previously destined the crop will grow, and if not previously
destined it will not.” Rather, the conjoining of causes and effects is the
primordial destiny (al-qada’ al-awwal) that was accomplished “in the twinkling
of an eye or even faster” (Qur’an 16:77), while the graduated and apportioned
arrangement of detailed effects from detailed causes is of the divine
ordainment (qadar)—He who has ordained good having ordained it through
causes, and He who has ordained harm having ordained causes for its
prevention. There is no contradiction in these matters for someone whose
understanding is illumined.

Moreover, supplication has the benefit we have previously noted for


remembrance (dhikr) of Allah in general: that it brings about presence of heart
with Allah, which is the highest point of all acts of worship, for which reason
the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) has said, “Supplication is
the very marrow of worship,”[5] and most people’s hearts do not turn to
remembrance of Allah Mighty and Majestic unless a need presses or calamity
impends, for man “when evil touches him, is great in supplication” (Qur’an
41:51).

Need makes one supplicate, and supplication returns the heart to Allah Mighty
and Majestic through earnest entreaty and humbleness, which brings about
the remembrance of God, the noblest form of worship. This is why afflictions
are given to “the prophets (upon whom be peace), then the saints (Allah be
well pleased with them), then those most like them, then those next most like
them,”[6] for it returns the heart through neediness and petition to Allah Mighty
and Majestic, and prevents forgetting Him. As for freedom from need, it
usually produces hubris, for “verily man transgresses, when he sees himself
beholden to none” (Qur’an 96:7).[7]

Bukhari relates in his Sahih that when Sa‘d Ibn Abi Waqqas before a battle
seemed to see for a moment the superiority of his own courage and wealth to
that of others, the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “Are
any of you given victory or sustenance except through the weakest of you?”[8]
reminding us that personal talents and assets are but part of the larger
tapestry of things destined. Otherwise, how often life shows us that a fool may
succeed where a wise man fails, and there is no absolute correlation between
ambition and success, talent and riches, intelligence and power.

To summarize, the Sufi path is something of a coincidence of opposites. The


Illimitable Freedom of the One is known only through the ‘ubudiyya or
“absolute slavehood” of the self. To travel the path, one must lighten oneself
of the stage properties of one’s own heroic drama, and if not for the
knowledge of irrevocable destiny, the journey might only increase the self in
renown and redoubtableness. The above aphorism reminds us that the
spiritual way, like every other reality in existence, is not accomplished by
human ambition, but by Allah alone. By Nuh Ha Mim Keller

[1] Bukhari, Sahih al-Bukhari. Cairo: 1313/1895, 6.166: 4826.


[2] Tadili, al-Tashawwuf ila rijal al-Tasawwuf. Ribat: 1418/1997, 320–21.
[3] Bukhari, 7.149: 5645.
[4] Muslim, Sahih Muslim. Cairo: 1376/1956, 1.203: 223.

[5] Tirmidhi, Sunan al-Tirmidhi. Cairo: n.d., 5.456: 3371. This hadith is weak,
though that which follows it in Tirmidhi’s Sunan has the wording “Supplication
is worship itself,” and is well and rigorously authenticated (hasan sahih)
(Tirmidhi, 5.456: 3372), the latter meaning, according to Nawawi, that it has
chains of transmission that are both (Tadrib al-rawi fi sharh Taqrib al-Nawawi,
Beirut:1386/1966, 1.161).

[6] Mus‘ab ibn Sa‘d related that his father said, “I asked, ‘O Messenger of
Allah, which of men is greatest in affliction?’ and he said, ‘The prophets, then
those most like them, then those next most like them. A man is tried in the
measure of his religion: if his religion is firm, his trial is great; while if there is
slackness in his religion, he is tried commensurably to his religion. Tribulation
stays with a servant until it leaves him walking on the earth without a single
mistake.” Tirmidhi said this was well and rigorously authenticated (Tirmidhi,
4.601–2: 2397).

[7] Ihya’ ‘ulum al-din, Cairo: 1347/1929, 1.298.


[8] Bukhari, 4.44: 2896.
APHORISM 4 :

Relieve yourself of planning: what Another has already done for you do
not do yourself.

THE UNIVERSE and all it contains are the deed of a single Doer. If planning
is not to veil the spiritual traveller, he must be aware of this tawhid, the Divine
Reality behind the world of forms. To know it is to walk in light and not to is to
walk in darkness. As a Sufi once told me: “Sit with those of this world, and you
become a speck in its sea. Sit with those of Allah, and the world becomes a
speck in your sea.” Mawlay al-‘Arabi al-Darqawi wrote in a letter to a disciple:

A certain person who was against us said to me [hypocritically] one day in the
presence of some of the brethren (Allah be well pleased with them), “You are
our lords and masters.” I told him: “I won’t hear this from you or another, or
anyone else, unless Allah is my Lord and Master. As for when my ego is my
lord and master, I won’t hear it or accept it.” And I said: “The moment at which
Allah Most Glorious is my Lord and Master, then am I the lord and master of
all existence despite itself, willing or unwilling. And the moment at which my
ego is my lord and master, all existence is my lord and master despite myself,
willing or unwilling. It is contemptuous towards me, disparages me, humiliates
me, overrides me, ignores me, dismisses me, and does whatever else it
wishes with me. So how should we care about your praise or blame, or that of
anyone else? It is baseless.” 1

Regardless of who appears to be in control, Allah is Master of reality, and


knowing this facilitates everything, inwardly and outwardly, while “planning”
without this knowledge is mere floundering. The heart of the person who must
be in control—of his present, past, and future—is without the tawakkul or
“trust in Allah” that is essential to living one’s faith in a real world. The
“planning” one should relieve oneself of is that which makes one prey to the
Devil, whom Allah tells us “has no power over those who truly believe, and
place their whole trust in their Lord” (Qur’an 16:99). Hearts without trust in
God have to listen to a lot of advertisements from hell.

When I took the path in the early 1980 s from Sheikh ‘Abd al-Rahman al-
Shaghouri, he seemed so old and frail that I kept wondering, “What if he
passes away before I finish my spiritual journey?” At every illness—and he
had a few—my heart would feel a chill, and I would hear misgivings and
suggestions, grounded, as most infernal thoughts are, in some points of fact.

I had arrived in Jordan more than seven years after the death of Sheikh
Muhammad Sa‘id al-Kurdi, the last great spiritual guide there. Many disciples I
met and talked to had only known him for four years, some for only two years,
before he died. Since the days of Sheikh al-‘Alawi of Algeria at the first of the
century, the sheikhs of our tariqa had used the khalwa or solitary retreat to
train disciples. One of the main reasons I sought out Sheikh ‘Abd al-Rahman
in Damascus was that Sheikh al-Kurdi had not authorized anyone else in it.

In the course of my first year with the sheikh, I asked about the khalwa, and
he explained that his and Sheikh al- Kurdi’s sheikh, Muhammad al-Hashimi,
had used the rooms in the Qalbaqjiyya Zawiya near the Nuriyya Mosque in
the Old City. At present, he told me—in the wake of a massacre of scores of
‘Alawite cadets in Aleppo imputed to the Ikhwan Muslimin (Muslim
Brotherhood), and the government’s own massacre of thousands of citizens in
Hama—the ‘Alawite regime had sent its security forces to clean up the Old
City around the Hamidiyya, a warren of resistance. The police had entered the
zawiya and placed red wax seals upon almost every door in the place, under
the direst threats for breaking them. The khalwa was effectively closed.

Around the same time, at a moment when Syrian troops were massed on the
northern borders of Jordan for its allegedly giving asylum to members of the
Ikhwan, one of our brothers in Jordan decided to give a mawlid celebration of
the Prophet’s birthday (Allah bless him and give him peace). He phoned the
sheikh in Damascus, inviting him down by saying, “The brothers (al-ikhwan)
would love to see you.” The call was overheard by security in Damascus, and
the infelicitous word resulted in repeated interrogations for the sheikh and final
cancellation of his passport. For the next seven years he could not come to
Jordan.

As the khalwa receded into the distance, my thoughts went on and on about
the sheikh’s condition and age. I put my fears before him one afternoon, and
he looked at me levelly and said, “Sidi, if I didn’t think I could finish with you, I
wouldn’t have begun.” Eventually, other rooms were found in Damascus for
the khalwa , and ultimately the sheikh did pass on—but more than two
decades later. Looking back, I realized that Allah had been teaching me
something about tawakkul: that too much desire for control puts one under the
Devil’s control; and that planning does not benefit the traveller when it
concerns the warid, or “that which is from God,” but only when it concerns the
wird, or “that which is from one to God,” one’s spiritual works.

The wird includes not only one’s five daily prayers, dhikr, fasting, night vigil
prayer (tahajjud), going to the mosque, and being with those who uplift one—
all of which are praiseworthy to plan—but indeed anything that is intended for
Allah, whether learning Sacred Knowledge to worship, saving money for hajj,
raising funds for disaster relief, supporting oneself and family by honest work,
or even the food, sleep, and exercise needed to fulfill the rights of Allah,
others, or oneself that are incumbent upon one. Accomplishing all of these is
praiseworthy, and to plan and carry them out for the sake of Allah benefits the
spiritual traveller. Planning is blameworthy when it concerns the warid or that
which is from Allah, such as mystical experiences, spiritual stations, and
tawfiq or “divinely given success” in anything, worldly or unworldly. Abul
Hasan al-Shadhili once said:

A friend and I took to a cave, seeking to reach Allah, and we would say,
“Tomorrow we shall be illumined, or the day after tomorrow.” A man passed
by who inspired awe, and we said, “Who are you?” and he replied, “The slave
of the King (‘Abd al-Malik),” and we realized he was one of the saints of Allah.
He said: “How is someone who says, ‘Tomorrow I shall be illumined, or the
day after tomorrow’?—Neither sainthood nor success! O self, why not worship
Allah for the sake of Allah?”We then understood from whence we had been
taken, and we repented and asked Allah’s forgiveness; and then illumination
came. 2

One must strive to do works for Allah with true sincerity, while the fruits of
these works are sent by Allah, and one should free the heart of turning to
them and looking at them, because they are “what Another has already done
for you,” and hence a matter of trust in God (tawakkul). As Mustafa al-‘Arusi
once said: “The one with real trust is he who sees Allah in the outward forms
of causes and effects, doing and choosing everything that those veiled from
Him ascribe to them. He thus consigns the matter to Him in charge of the
matter, and is well pleased with Him to rely on.” 3

APHORISM 5 :
Your striving for what is ensured to you and neglect of what is sought
from you show the blindness of your spiritual insight.

he journey to the Real described in these aphorisms is the path of wilaya or


“friendship with Allah.” To travel it, the wali or friend must realize that Allah is
his wali, his all powerful patron and helping friend, who says:

Allah is the protecting friend (wali) of those who believe, bringing them out of
darknesses into the light (Qur’an 2 :257).

This is “what is ensured” to the disciple in the mystic path, and is what Allah
has destined for him from beginningless eternity, and what he must know and
be absolutely certain of. The friend (wali) of Allah must know the favor of Allah
and not place his hope in anything besides. The Prophet (Allah bless him and
give him peace) said:

Allah Most High says: “I shall be to My servant as he thinks I shall be. I am


with him when he makes remembrance (dhikr) of Me. If he remembers Me to
himself, I remember him to Myself, and if he mentions Me to an assembly, I
mention him to an assembly better than they. If he draws nearer to Me by a
span, I draw nearer to him by a cubit, and if he draws nearer to Me by a cubit,
I draw nearer to him by a fathom. If he comes to Me walking, I come to him
running.” 4

The sign that God wants one is that one wants God; just as the sign of His
drawing nearer to one is that one is drawing nearer to Him. Abu Bakr al-
Warraq used to forbid his disciples to journey or travel, saying, “The key to
every spiritual blessing is patience in the place where you first aspire, until
you truly desire. When you truly desire, the beginnings of blessedness have
appeared in you.”  To become such a person, the disciple must spend all he
has, like a runner who does not catch his second wind until he has used up
his first. True desire (irada) to do “what is sought” from one is the mark of the
kind of person Allah calls My servant in the above hadith.

Desire means taking a serious look at oneself, turning one’s back on what
Allah detests, and walking away from it. Speaking badly of someone absent,
for example, which Allah has likened to “eating the flesh of one’s dead
brother” (Qur’an 49 :12)—no matter how witty, chic, or entertaining in the eyes
of friends—is hated by God. Imam Nawawi tells us, moreover, that “just as it is
unlawful to speak of a person’s failings to someone else, so too it is unlawful
(haram) to speak to oneself of them and think badly of him.”  How many of
one’s thoughts are about others’ failings? If one takes a step forward in the
spiritual path with dhikr and prayer , and two steps backward by slandering
others, how soon will one reach the goal? Desire means adding these up.

Desire also means loving what God loves, and He loves a heart alive with His
remembrance. The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) has said,
“Truly, this world and all it contains are accursed, except for the remembrance
(dhikr) of Allah, that which He loves, and someone who has Sacred
Knowledge or someone learning it.”  For Sufis dhikr is the main stanchion of
the spiritual path, its way, aim, and method. Ibn al-‘Arabi advises:

Be diligent in the remembrance of Allah, secretly and openly, to yourselves


and with others, for Allah has said, “Remember Me and I will remember
you” (Qur’an 2 :152), making remembrance from Allah the consequence of
remembrance from the servant. 8

Dhikr has tremendous power. Those who travel to the hajj, for example, and
constantly make the dhikr that is sunna in motion, at rest, and in all the rites,
find their whole reality changed. Few ever forget the hajj, but for those able to
continue in their certitude after they return home, it is an axial experience. In
this sense the spiritual path is a permanent pilgrimage. All of these matters
are sought from the traveller.

To summarize, desire means change, first by takhliya or “ridding oneself ” of


the acts, motives, and states unacceptable to Allah; then tahliya or “adorning
oneself ” with good traits such as sincerity (ikhlas), trust (tawakkul),
remembrance of Allah, and finally the ma‘rifa or knowledge of the Divine with
which Allah remembers the person of dhikr who perseveres in these. To rely
on one’s own efforts to bring about what Allah has already decided is “your
striving for what is ensured to you,” while not to change oneself is the “neglect
of what is sought from you.” Both are blindness in the way of wilaya. By Nuh
Ha Mim Keller

NOTES
1 Rasa’il Mawlay al-‘Arabi al-Darqawi. Abu Dhabi : 1420/1999 . 98.
2 Ibn ‘Ata’ Illah. Lata’if al-minan fi manaqib Abi al-‘Abbas al-Mursi wa
shaykhihi Abi al-Hasan. Cairo : 1406/1986. 101.
3 Nata’ij al-afkar, Cairo : 1290/1873, I. 61–62.
4 Sahih al-Bukhari. Cairo : 1313 /1895. 9.147–48: 7405.
5 ‘Arusi, Nata’ij al-afkar, I .166.
6 Al-Adhkar . Beirut: 1425/2005. 555.
7 A well-authenticated (hasan) hadith related in Sunan al-Tirmidhi.
Beirut : n.d. 4.561: 2322.
8 A l-Futuhat al-Makkiyya. Cairo :1329/1911. 4.446.

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