This article is from Purification of the Mind (Jila’ Al-Khatir)
It has been reported that one of the righteous people once paid a visit to his brother in Allah (mighty and glorified is He) and said to him: “O my brother, let’s weep over the foreknowledge of Allah (mighty and glorified is He) about us!” How excellent the words of this righteous man are! He was a knower of Allah (mighty and glorified is He) and had heard the following words of the Prophet (Allah’s prayer and peace be on him): “One of you may act as the people of Paradise act until nothing remains between him and between it other than the distance of a cubit or a span, then the divine decree comes to pass and he acts as the people of the Fire do and therefore enters it. One of you may act as the people of the Fire act until nothing remains between him and between it other than the distance of a cubit or a span, then the divine decree comes to pass so he acts as the people of Paradise do and therefore enters it.”
O young man! The foreknowledge of Allah about you will be unveiled to you if you return to Him with all your heart and your aspiration; stay at the door of His mercy; build a barrier of iron between yourself and lustful desires; keep the grave and death under the eyes of your head and heart; be watchful of the gazes of the True One (mighty and glorified is He) at you, His foreknowledge about you, and His presence near you; feel content with poverty; be satisfied with bankruptcy; and be content with little while adhere to the limits of the Law, which means to abide by the commandments, observe the prohibitions, and endure with patience whatever destiny sends your way. If you keep to this you will meet your Lord and enter with your innermost being into His presence. At this point, things will be unveiled to you.
* The people of Allah doze off only out of necessity. Among them, there is one who deliberately puts himself to sleep for one hour in the night to be able to keep vigil for the rest of the night. He grants his lower self some of its needs so that it calms down and does not hurt him. One of the righteous people used to force himself to sleep some nights and prepare for sleep without real need for it. When he was asked about this practice he replied: “My heart sees my Lord (mighty and glorified is He)”. He has uttered the truth because the true dream is an inspiration from Allah (mighty and glorified is He). The delight of his eye was in his sleep.
As for the person who is brought near to Allah (mighty and glorified is He), there are angels dedicated to looking after him all the time. When he sleeps they sit at his head and feet to protect him from any danger that may come in front of him or behind him, while Satan stands away from him and does not dare to come near him. He sleeps under His protection, gets up under His protection, and moves and stops under the protection of Allah (high is He). O Allah, put us under Your protection in all circumstances and “give us good in this world and good in the hereafter and protect us from the torment of the Fire.”
* The believer draws satisfaction when his lower self is hurt and says to it: “I have advised you but you did not heed the advice. I have warned you of this, O ignorant one, O disbeliever, O enemy of Allah!” Anyone who does not call his lower self to account, put it to trial, and exhort it will not succeed. The Prophet (Allah’s prayer and peace be on him) has said: “If the person does not act as a preacher to his lower self, no preacher’s advice will ever benefit him.” The person who seeks success must exhort his lower self, teach it renunciation, and strive against it. Renunciation means giving up what is prohibited, then giving up what is legally dubious, then giving up what is permissible, and then giving up what is absolutely lawful, under all circumstances, until nothing to be given up is left.
* Give up the lustful desires for this leads to healing and the purification of the hearts. Gratifying the desire for lawful things blinds and intoxicates the heart, so what of satisfying the desire for unlawful things? This is why the Prophet (Allah’s prayer and peace be on him) has said: “A proper diet is the source of healing, while filling one’s stomach with food and leaving the body to eat what it is used to are the source of disease.” The Prophet (Allah’s prayer and peace be on him) has summarized in this saying the science of the human body. Filling the stomach with food puts out the light of intelligence, the lamp of wisdom, and the light of sainthood. As long as you are in this world and among the creatures you must remain on a diet because you are in a hospital. When your heart attains to the True One, your affairs will become His business. He will take charge of you while you are in isolation from yourself. How could not He look after you when you have become genuinely worthy of His company? The Invincible One has said: “My guardian is Allah who sent down the Book, and He guards the righteous” (7.196).
Work on purifying your heart first for this is an obligatory duty and then move on to the acquisition of knowingness, because if you miss the root your engrossment with the branch will not be accepted of you. What benefit would the purity of the limbs and senses have when combined with impurity of the heart? Purify your limbs and senses with the Sunna and your heart by applying the Qur’an. Protect your heart so that your limbs and senses will be protected. Every vessel exudes its contents. Whatever is in your heart will ooze out to your limbs and senses.
* Do not ask for what you will not get. Congratulations to you, if you put into practice this black‑on‑white while you are Muslims. Blessed are you, on the Day of Resurrection be in the company of the Muslims not in the company of the disbelievers. Blessed are we! We sit on the ground of Paradise and at its door and not be with those confined to the depths of Hell.
* No good will come of you, O lad, O young man, O old man, O seeker, if you do not purify your morsel of what is unlawful! Many, in fact most, of you eat food that is contaminated with manifestly unlawful things. When someone eats unlawful food, his heart darkens, and when someone eats dubious food, his heart becomes impure. Your lower selves and passions belittle to your eyes any misgivings you may have about eating unlawful food. The lower self and passion join forces in seeking lustful desires and pleasures and they practice no pious restraint whatsoever in their efforts to obtain them. If you have accustomed your lower self to eating oat bread but it asks you for honey, you must feed it barley bread until its only wish becomes that you return it to eating oat bread. If the lower self does not practice pious restraint in its diet, the likeness of it will be as the likeness of a hen that feeds from the garbage dumps, eating both pure and defiled food. So the person who wants to eat its meat or eggs must isolate it, feed it pure food, and only then eat it. Prevent yourself from eating forbidden food, and feed it pure, lawful food until all its flesh that had grown from unlawful food disappears. Then make it avoid eating forbidden and dubious food, then make it stay away from eating lawful food with passion.
O my sons! When any of you is asked: “Do you wish to die while you are doing this kind of deeds?” he answers: “No.” Yet when he is told: “Then repent and improve your deeds,” he replies: “If Allah (mighty and glorified is He) enables me I will do!” He argues citing destiny when his repentance is concerned but he does not use destiny as an argument when his lustful desires and pleasures are concerned, while standing on the foot of procrastination, hesitating between “yes” and “no.” If death will come to him while he is enjoying his comfortable life and bliss, it will snatch him away from his powerful position and state of honor; it will snatch him away from his shop and earnings. Death will take him by surprise while his will is still unwritten, his accounts are still unregistered, and he has endless hopes.
It is right thinking that makes the righteous move away from inhabited regions and come nearer to unpopulated places, removes their happiness, and perpetuates their sorrow. When a person comes to know Allah (mighty and glorified is He), his sorrow and fear increase. He comes to have a speaker that speaks to him and an engrossment that keeps him busy. He wishes not to hear the speech of any creature and not to meet anyone. He wishes to be freed from his family and his property. He wishes that his allotted worldly shares be transferred to others. He wishes to change his natural inclination and attributes to angelic attributes. Whenever he wants to get rid of all those limitations, the Law prevents him and the Controller restrains him by the foreordination and Knowledge and guards his night and day. He then forsakes this world to be alone with His Lord (mighty and glorified is He), then his knowingness takes him over so He protects him outwardly and inwardly. Al‑Fatḥ Al‑Muṣillī (may Allah show mercy to him) used to say in his private conversation: “O Allah, how much longer will You reject me and imprison me in this world? When will You transfer me to You so that I get relieved from this world and the creatures?”
The likeness of your case is as that when Noah (prayer and peace be on our Prophet and on all prophets) said to his son: “‘O my son, embark with us and do not be with the disbelievers!’ He replied: ‘I shall take refuge in a mountain that will protect me from the water’” (from 11.42‑43). The preacher is saying to you: “Come, board with me the ship of salvation,” yet you reply: “I shall take refuge in a mountain that will protect me from the water.” Your mountain is your far‑reaching hopes and your greedy keenness on this world. The Angel of Death will soon come and drown you on your mountain.
Come, O servants of Allah! Leave your homes of ignorance for you have erected the walls of your religion without foundations. You have set your broken religion without a base. This is something that requires demolishing and resetting.
* The people of Allah worship the True One (mighty and glorified is He) day and night, standing on the foot of fear and hope. They are afraid of facing an evil end. They are ignorant of the foreknowledge of Allah about them and their end, so they keep day and night to sorrow, sadness, and weeping, while keeping up the prayer, fasting, making the pilgrimage, and performing all works of obedience. They remember their Lord (mighty and glorified is He) with their hearts and their tongues. Therefore, when they reach the hereafter, they will enter Paradise and Allah (mighty and glorified is He) will direct His bountifulness to them, so they will thank Him and say: “Praise be to Allah who has put sorrow away from us” (from 35.34).
* O young man, take your place in the front row for it is the row of men and the brave! Leave the last row for it is the row of cowards. Put this lower self to work and make it used to observing the strictest laws because the heavier load you put on it the more it can carry. Do not take the stick away from it, otherwise it will fall asleep and throw down the loads. Do not show it the white of your teeth and the white of your eyes because it is a bad servant that will not do its duties unless it gets the stick. Do not satisfy its appetite unless you are sure that this will not make it transgress the limits and that it works in return for having its appetite satisfied. One of the righteous people (may Allah show mercy to him) used to keep on eating until his appetite is fully satisfied, and then he would recite the following piece of poetry before starting a long spell of worship:
Satisfy the appetite of the slave and make him work hard
because the slave is like a donkey.
Someone has said: “I saw Sufyān Ath‑Thawrī eat so much that I disliked him, then I saw him pray and weep so much that I felt compassion for him.” Do not emulate Sufyān in eating so much but emulate him in the plentifulness of his worship, for you are not like Sufyān. Do not satisfy the appetite of your lower self as he used to do to his for you are not in control of yours as he was of his.
Once this heart has become sound, it will become a tree with branches, leaves, and fruits. It will have benefits for the creatures: the human beings, jinn, and angels. If the heart is unsound then it will be like the hearts of animals: an appearance with no essence, a vessel with no water, a tree with no fruit, a stone with no ring, a cage with no bird, a house with no inhabitant, a treasure of gold and silver coins with no one to spend them, and a body with no soul. It will be like the Jewish priests who were transformed into apes and swine, making them an appearance with no essence.
* The lower self is ignorant, so educate it. It lacks polite behavior, so teach it that. It is unable to distinguish between the disease and the medicine, the lawful and the unlawful, and what mends and what ruins. It keeps on disputing with its Lord. Do no feed it even a morsel of lustful desires and pleasures and do not give it more than what it deserves, which is bread alone — that is, with no seasoning. Then when it has got used to that move it to eating green vegetables until returning it to the bread becomes all that it wishes for. Then when it has got used to that, calmed down, and its evil has gone, its allotted worldly shares will come; the seal will come from your Lord: “And do not kill yourselves. Allah is Merciful to you” (from 4.29). Allah has said: “O tranquil soul! Return to your Lord well‑pleased and well‑pleasing” (89.27‑28). Its allotted worldly shares will become clear to it and the foreknowledge will order it to take them. So it will take them while keeping to steadfastness and true renunciation toward them. At this stage, it will not be harmed by taking its allotted worldly shares. Instead, taking them will turn into expansion in the breast and light and purity in the heart.
The case will be like that of a patient whose physician prevents him from eating certain kinds of food and feeds him instead medicines that suit him, be they food or drinks, until he attains good health. After that he orders him to eat food, moving him from one kind of food to another so that eating food becomes a medicine for him and strengthens his body. This is the situation with the ascetic. When he takes his allotted worldly shares after his attainment, they become a source of welfare for his religion and a light in his heart and his innermost being. O Allah, include us among those who renounced everything other than You! Make us seek You under all circumstances and “give us good in this world and good in the hereafter and protect us from the torment of the Fire.”
* O people, acquire faith and strike your lower selves with the stick of strife. Hand it over to the trainer of faith. It is an unreliable horse. Your lower selves are untamed, untrained, and full of arrogance and pride. On the way of Allah (mighty and glorified is He) there is no room for saying “I,” “with me,” and “mine.” This way is all about extinction and obliteration. In the beginning, when faith is still weak, [the person says]: “There is no God save Allah (lā ilāha illā Allah)” (from 47.19), but at the end, when faith has become strong, [the person says]: “There is no God save You (lā ilāha illā Anta)” (from 21.87), as he addresses One (mighty and glorified is He) who is present and seen. This is a hidden matter, total secret, one of His favors. Therefore, the Prophet (Allah’s prayer and peace be on him) has said: “There are days in your lifetime in which Allah (mighty and glorified is He) confers favors, so avail yourself of them.”
* The believer must strive against his lower self in order to improve his behavior and force it to adhere to good manners. He must also strive to force it to do all required works of obedience, for it has taken arrogance, anger, and abasing people as habitual practices. Strive against it until it calms down. Once it has calmed down, it will become modest and humble, it will become well‑mannered, it will know its status, and it will be patient with others. Before being subjected to striving, the lower self is as arrogant as a Pharaoh.
Blessed is anyone who came to know his lower self, treated it as an enemy, and opposed it in all that it ordered him to do! Make remembering death and what follows it incumbent on it as this humbles it and refines its character. Prevent it from getting what it wants and give it the duties that it must do, so that it will become humble and well‑mannered and come to know its status. By way of contemplation, enter it into the Fire and Paradise to see their contents, as this will humiliate it and amend its behavior. Think of the Day of Resurrection and experience it before it takes place. The Day of Resurrection is a happy day for some people and a sad one for others, celebration for some people and funeral for others. It is the day of the righteous; the day on which they dress up, wear jewels, ride on thoroughbreds, and on which their knowledgeable scholars and eminent ones appear. Their deeds become images whose light appear on their faces.
* Make it binding on your lower selves to behave with humility to Allah (mighty and glorified is He) and the believers among his creatures. Order them to fulfill the duties that Allah (mighty and glorified is He) has imposed on them. Interrogate them and call them to account as the righteous people do. When the night has set, ‘Umar bin Al‑Khaṭṭāb (may Allah be satisfied with him) used to say to his lower self: “What have you done for your Lord? What service have you shown to Him?” He would then pick a stick and hit his thighs and interrogate his lower self for everything it did. He would require of his lower self Allah’s (mighty and glorified is He) rights and ask it for more service to Him, although he was one of the great truthful, the righteous, those who are drawn near [to God], those who transmitted the sayings of the Prophet, and those who have been granted paradise. The righteous call their lower selves to account despite their righteousness and obedience, yet you do not call yours to account! No doubt, you will not benefit from them. O Allah, give us power over our lower selves, passions, and devils! O Allah, include us among Your party and with Your party! Bring our hearts near to You before death and grant us the special meeting [with You] before the general meeting [at the Resurrection], Amen.
Luqmān the Wise (may Allah show mercy to him) used to say to his son: “O Son, how can a person feel safe from the Fire when he has to pass through it? How can he feel safe in this world when he has to leave it? How can he feel secure from death when he has to die? How can he forget death when death will not forget him?” All of you will have to pass through the Fire and no one will come out unscathed save those who are pious to Allah (mighty and glorified is He). Passing through the Fire successfully is a journey that requires piety as provision. It does not seem to me that you have acquired any piety.
* O young man, leave the lower self to this world, the heart to the hereafter, and the innermost being to the Master, and never feel secure in this world. It is an adorned snake that uses its finery to attract people then destroys them. Turn totally away from it. You must be sincere in worshipping your Lord (mighty and glorified is He), accompanying and serving your righteous brothers, and avoiding lustful desires. Believe truly in the oneness of the True One (mighty and glorified is He) until not even a single atom of any creature is left in your heart, until you do not see a house or an inhabitant. Do not have any wish other than the wish to have genuine belief in the oneness of God because it kills off everything else in the heart. The belief in the oneness of God and turning away from the love of this world are the ultimate remedy. There will be no good in you until you come to know your lower self, prevent it from getting what it wants, and allow it only what it deserves. At this point it will feel secure with the heart, the heart will feel secure with the innermost being, and the innermost being will feel secure with the True One (mighty and glorified is He).
Do not take the stick of striving away from your lower selves, do not be deceived by their tricks, do not be fooled by their pretended neglect of you, and do not be taken in by the apparent sleep of the beast, for it gives you the impression that it is asleep when it is in fact waiting to pounce on the prey. Beware of it when it is asleep as you are on your guard when it is awake. Beware of your lower selves. Do not take the arm away from the neck of your lower selves. The lower self puts on an appearance of calmness, humility, modesty, and compliance with what is good, yet it conceals inside the exact opposite. Watch out for what it does after that.
Increase your sorrow and decrease your happiness for this business is based on sorrow and sadness. This is how the preceding prophets, messengers, and righteous persons (Allah’s prayer and peace be on them) were. The Prophet (Allah’s prayer and peace be on him) was in continuous sorrow and in permanent reflection. He would never laugh but merely smile and he would only ever pretend to be joyful. The sensible person among you will never feel happy with this world, the children, family, property, food, clothing, vehicles, or women. All of this is an illusion. The believer feels happy with the strength of his faith, his certitude, and the attainment of his heart to the door of nearness to his Lord (mighty and glorified is He).
* When the heart of the servant treads the right path, he bids farewell to everything and leaves them behind the back of his heart. He sees the kingdom of this world as totally negligible and that the kingdom of the hereafter is all that matters. He advances to the fire and lions, mixes with the beasts, escapes from the creatures, surrenders his lower self to the thirst and hunger of wildernesses, destroys it, and says: “O Guide of the bewildered ones, guide me to You!”
O young man, make sure that you have only one concern. This comes about only after renouncing the unlawful, then renouncing the permissible, and then renouncing the absolutely lawful. Try your best that you live your night and day without having even a single atom of the creatures in your heart. I can see that you are full of lustful desires, pleasures, interest in the creatures, concerns with this world, and reliance on the means.
* This business [of attaining to God] can come true in one of two ways. First, through striving, suffering, and enduring the heaviest and most arduous burdens. This is the way of the majority of the righteous people. Second, through a gift that requires no effort. This rare way is open only to a few creatures.
* Where do you stand with respect to those whose plentiful worship has been described by Allah (mighty and glorified is He) in His noble Book: “They slept only a small part of the night. And at dawn they prayed for forgiveness” (51.17‑18)? When He recognized their truthfulness in worship He assigned to them someone to wake them up and make them get off their beds. The Prophet (Allah’s prayer and peace be on him) has said: “Allah (mighty and glorified is He) says to Gabriel: ‘O Gabriel, wake up so‑and‑so and put to sleep so‑and‑so’”! When the footsteps of the hearts of the people of Allah have led them to Allah (mighty and glorified is He), they start to see in sleep what they do not see when they are awake. Their hearts and innermost beings see things that they do not see in wakefulness. They fast, perform prayer, strive against their lower selves, practice detachment from worldly matters, and spend the day and night performing all sorts of worship acts until they are given Paradise. But once they have been given Paradise, they get told that this is not the real way, but it is seeking the True One (mighty and glorified is He). Thus, their deeds start to originate from their hearts, and upon reaching Him they grow and become firm in His presence.
When the person comes to know what he is seeking, he will see whatever energy and effort he has to spend in obeying Allah (mighty and glorified is He) as being negligible. The believer remains in tiredness until he meets his Lord (mighty and glorified is He). This is why the Prophet (Allah’s prayer and peace be on him) has said: “When a [faithful] man dies, enters his grave, and successfully answers the questions of the angels Munkar and Nakīr, his soul is given the permission to ascend to Him (mighty and glorified is He) and to prostrate to Him with a group of angels. So He receives it, and what had been kept hidden from it is revealed to it. It will then be carried to Paradise where the souls of the righteous are. They will receive it and ask it about its state of affairs and about the affairs of this world. It will answer them with what it knows. They will then ask it: ‘What about so‑and‑so?’ It will say: ‘He died before me.’ They will reply: ‘He did not arrive to us. There is no might or strength but by Allah, the High, the Great! He must have been thrown in the bottomless pit.’ Then the soul will be put inside the craw of a green bird that feeds on the plants of Paradise and resorts to a lamp that is suspended beneath the Throne.” This is the description of the encounter of the majority of believers (Allah’s peace and greetings be on them). O Allah, include us among them and make us live as they live and die as they die! Amen.
* Woe to you! Your lower self is sick, so protect it from the food that is unsuitable for it until it is restored to the good health of nearness by its Lord (mighty and glorified is He). Woe to you! How could you wish for the nearness to Allah (mighty and glorified is He) when prohibited things have infiltrated your body through your food, drink, sex, and all your behavior? How could you wish for the nearness to Allah when your lower self is in charge of you, your passion is guiding and steering you toward lustful desires and pleasures, and the fire of your natural inclination is burning out your piety and religion? Be sensible, this cannot be the behavior of someone who believes in death and is certain of it. This is not the behavior of someone who looks forward to the encounter with the True One (mighty and glorified is He) and fears His calling him to account and His interrogation. You have no reason, no prudence, no piety, no proper thinking, and no repose. You indulge night and day in amassing things from this world, thinking of it, accompanying its people, and paying homage to them. The people of Allah detach themselves from this world, the hereafter, and from emulating the creatures. Each one of them is like a man who has dispatched his trade camels caravan to Khurāsān1 and sat here with horses waiting for the caravan to move and for the leader to come out. His body is present, while all of his heart is occupied with his house. The believer has sent all his property to the hereafter. He has built there a palace with which he is charmed and he has furnished it with all that he needs. All of his heart is occupied with the nearness to the True One (mighty and glorified is He). Therefore the Prophet (Allah’s prayer and peace be on him) has said: “This world is the prison of the believer.”
1 Located today in the east of Iran, the north of Afghanistan, and some parts of the former Soviet Union.