O son, I have been listening again and again to Sheikh an-Ninowy speaking on al-Hikam by Shaykh ibn Atha'illah as-Sakandari (d. 1309 CE) the third khalifah of the Shadhili School. Sheikh Ninowy is absolutely right in saying that reading al-Hikam is not about covering as many aphorisms as one can but it is about DIVING into its ocean. We learn not that we finish pages. It is about getting the nectar to go from our tongues, to our heart, to reflect back on our states, to elevate us and then illuminate us. So that we apply them and not simply utter them.
This is a partial transcript of Sheikh Ninowy's speech that I have prepared especially for you. You may want to listen to his entire speech made at the special Al-Hikam event organized at the Green Mountain School, Virginia in winter 2008. This transcript is the second part of his lecture on the topic of tajrid vs. asbab - particularly on understanding the two aspects of purification i.e. external and internal purification. So imagine if you could truly absorb what he is tyring to impress upon you on purification and if you apply it wholeheartedly, then you will have become one who is PURIFIED both outer and inner, bi-iznillah.
"Shaykh Muhammad bin Yahyah an-Ninowy - One of the few true 'ulema in America, he grew up in Syria, studied at al-Azhar Sharif University, Faculty of Usool-uddeen and then at the feet of many great scholars including the Ghumari brothers and other teachers in Syria, Fez, Egypt, Sudan and Jordan. He is the imam of al-Madina Masjid in Atlanta, and is much in demand as speaker, author and lecturer in Europe and the United States."
We are still talking about the tajrid or the purification. Talking about the inner and outer purification. These things are practical steps, not theoretical but practical tools for us to reach the goal. We talked about external purification and internal purification. Summarizing: the external purification is abandoning everything that occupies our limbs from obedience and pleasing Allah. All your limbs, so that means your hands, your eyes, your ears, your senses, your feet, your body; if you stop your body from displeasing Allah swt, you intercept that, in other words, now you have purified your external part. To purify the internal part is to stop having your heart occupied by anything but Allah swt. Combining both now the internal and external purification is what we call tajrid. Now you are purified internally and externally. Now some people they purify themselves externally, they polish themselves externally, they do actually restraint their limbs, they have control over their desires so their limbs do not disobey. Their limbs are consistent but their heart, internally they have not reached purification, their heart is still struggling, their heart is still behind. Someone curses you, you don't curse them back. Your tongue does not dare to. Your tongue is under control, under your control, not your tongue controlling you. Because some people their tongue controls them. We say 'why did you do that?' 'Well I lost it.' We don't want you to lose it. In tassauf, we want you to gain it, to get it, not to lose it. Losing, we don't want that to happen.
There is a kind of people who work on themselves, they control their desires. They are in charged of themselves. So if for example say someone slanders them, hurt them, they control their tongues and limbs. They do not say anything back but their heart is hurt. They feel hurt or they feel angered or they feel upset - the internal is not purified yet. Why? The heart is still dependent on other people, the heart is not with Allah swt. The heart is not present with Allah. For if the heart was present with Allah, nothing else matters. Therefore, the ulama tassauf says, Imam Ali Zainal Abidin mentions this: ‘He who found You O Allah, has found everything. And he who did not find You, has lost everything.’
You know Saidina Abu Bakar as-Siddiq was hudur. Hudur means presence, he was dwelled in the presence of Muhammadan reality, overtaken by the presence of Nabi, he did not feel the snake biting him. So imagine if you are in the presence of Allah now. Imagine if you are overwhelmed by the Nur and the illumination. It doesn’t matter what they say, it doesn’t matter what they do. It doesn’t matter. Your heart is not set with them. Your heart is not present with them, but your heart is with Allah. You are done! The internal purified. But some people master the external yet their heart is angered, their heart is shaken. Their heart is not there yet. The ulama tassauf call them fake! I am not talking about those who pretend that their outer is good. We are not talking about that. Those are munafikin; he comes to you with a face of Abu Bakar and the heart of Abu Lahab, na'uzubillah, the face of nur and the heart of hell fire, that's hypocrisy. We are not talking about that. We are talking about the people who actually mastered and they worked and disciplined themselves to control their desires so that they don't base their lives on reaction but their heart is not there. The ulama of tassauf call those fake. They say this is like copper plated with gold. Now, the reverse, the ulama of suluk say this is rare but it's ok. What does that mean? That the core is disciplined, the heart is disciplined all the way, in presence with Allah swt, but maybe the outer does not show that high level of presence, does not reflect that high magnitude of presence. They say that is rare but that’s acceptable. For then, those who are present with Allah on that level are meant to do what they do. A man comes to Imam Jaafar as-Siddiq, the imam of ahli sunnah. He wears expensive clothing and then (a poor looking) guy came. People say to him, 'you wear good clothes and look at this man'. So Imam Jaafar as-Siddiq looked at that man and say 'bring him to me.' And Imam touched the man's clothes that are all torn up on the outside and showed that although the exterior was rough, the interior clothing of that man's clothes was actually silk! Those are special cases, for the few the proud. Therefore the ulama of suluk basically they say, for the usual seeker on the path to Allah, you have to purify the outer and then you purify the inner. There is a stage. Imam Abul Hassan as-Shadhili says this: ‘Al-mutajarid' - the one who's trying to have tajrid, he says, 'four signs of the faqir al-mutajarid' - the one who seeks purification, he wants to be detached...
(Sheikh Ninowy paused to speak on faqir)
Faqir means poor or better means needy. We are all needy. The richest person is needy. Everybody is needy. "Ya aiyuhannas antumul fuqara u ilallah.' 'You are the needy to Allah.' If you are not needy, please leave independently of air for a couple of hours, show me, that simple stuff. Therefore, in Islam, the more you have the more needy you are. I'm trying to say, the more you have the more you should feel needy. Why? Because while He's giving you every single day, you are still taking. And you have more reasons to be needy because He keeps giving you. But you say, 'I don’t have money.' But He gives you wealth, health. He renewed His endowment of vision upon you. By Allah if that’s shaky, you will spend billions of money to get it back. That intellectual and cognitive process that’s intact that Allah give you, that’s worth billions of dollars. The most important ones Allah give is basirah, the vision of the heart. For if Allah gives you, you have vision. If Allah didn’t give you the vision of the heart, even if you have 60 eyes, you are still blind. May Allah makes us among the fuqara.
In hadith Muslim, Nabi says, 'the example of those who make zikir to their Lord and those who don’t make zikir to their Lord is like those who are dead and those who are alive.' To us those who are dead are those who are buried under the soil. But the sunnah says, those are not. The dead are those who do not mention Allah. If your heart doesn’t feel the love of Allah, you are dead. Even if you are talking and eating. There's a bigger purpose for all of us. Tassauf wants us to tap on that fountain of everlasting happiness, of everlasting pleasure of being with the presence of Allah.
(Sheikh Ninowy continued speaking on al-Mutajarid)
Four signs of the one who is Mutajarid, he is now purified. The 1st one is: 'Al hurumatul lil akabir.' He 'feels the sacredness for the elderly knowledgeable people' yakni those ahead in the path. Why do we have those protocols, why be so respectful to the ulama and to the shuyukh? It is important to be respectful to ulama and to shuyukh, the people who paid their dues, who walk the walk and walk the path. Why is that important? In tassauf, there are two things: adab then tolab. Not tolab then adab. Tolab means seeking. First adab, then seeking. First akhlak, first high ethics then seeking. You cannot seek without having adab, for the prerequisite of going on the path is to have akhlak. Therefore no matter how many degrees, certificates, signatures they show you, if they have no adab, be sure, be positively affirmatively 100% sure, if there's no adab, be sure there's no absolutely connection between them and God, period. You can never enter the presence of Allah if people have no ethics with the slaves of Allah, with the creation of Allah. In tassauf, how does Allah praise Nabi? 'You are on the highest akhlaq.’ The highest form; Al-Azim is saying azim! The Glorified is saying, ‘Ya Muhammad, you are on a glorified kind of ethics.’ Make no mistakes.
Tassauf is not words that you can say and claim. People of claims are everywhere. It is fact that manifests itself in you because those who are close to Allah, their hal/state speaks before their words. There is no faking in here. There's no way you can fake it, it doesn’t work. It will show in your eyes, it will show in your words, it will show in your reactions. It will show in everything you say and do. It will show in your aura. It will show in your spirituality. It will reflect on everything around you. You can't make it happen. Some people think tassauf is acquired like this (easy). If Allah chooses to be, that's a different story. You gotta walk the walk. You gotta go through the purification and among that is to have adab, etiquettes and akhlaq. Why do the ulama of suluk and tassauf enforce the etiquettes and akhlaq? What is your final goal in tassauf? To be in the presence of Allah. To fall in love with Rasullullah s.a.w. To go emergent in the Muhammadan reality. To go and swim in those oceans of knowledge. In order for you to be accepted in that discipline, that atmosphere that’s massively spiritual, you have to be disciplined. You can't just go like this! You have to be polished. You can't simply enter with your diseases and your other things. You have to be ready for the illumination. You cannot go with your heart's doors closed. The door will open for you if you are ready. For the door to be opened, therefore if you don’t have etiquettes and akhlaq with your fellow people and your shuyukh, if your nafs is bigger than being humble to your fellow people and definitely to your shuyukh and the ulama that teach you, how can your nafs be humble to the bigger awliya and to the Prophet? How can you be accepted in the presence of the Prophet then? If you are disrespectul to the ummah of the Rasul, even to the laymen of Rasulullah s.a.w.
The 2nd sign is 'warahmatulil ashobhir'. 'Mercy for those who are less senior than you'. In other words, Imam as-Shadhili is trying to tell us, just because you have been here for a year longer or you have more awrad than the other or you are doing more than others, does not make you necessarily better. And a sign of you realizing that is how merciful you are to those who you perceive as less senior than you in the outer world. Imam Rafail says, ‘If someone comes inside and who's older than you, be sure he's better than you. Because he's older than you, he had more time than you to do good deeds. So his good deeds overweigh your good deeds and therefore, he's better than you.' Definitely you have to think that way. 'If someone comes in, who's younger than you, you have to definitely believe he's better than you because the one who's younger than you had less time to sin than you, so his sins are less than your sins. Therefore, he's better than you.'
Do you see the point or you don’t see the point? Let me spell it out. You don’t exist! If you want to walk on this path, you, Y-O-U are not there. You see who's older than you as better than you, you see who's younger than you as better than you, do you understand the point? It's not just that you get fixated on older and less senior, no, no. That you don’t exist. You are there because of Allah and you are with Allah and you don’t exist except by Allah as well. Therefore, you only live for him and with him and by him Allah s.w.t. Once you see you somewhere, that’s your veil. Then you are behind you. You become behind you. So therefore, you cannot see other than you obviously because all you see eventually is you. I know I'm sounding crazy. La ilaha ilallah Muhammad Rasulullah. Allahummasolli ala saidina Muhammad wa'ala ali saidina Muhammad. This is the whole point of tassauf. Love, but love doesn't mean you. Do we agree? If you love you, you really don’t love anybody except yours truly. You always become you and you love others for you, you don’t really love them, do you? Because what you love in them is you. You don’t love them for them, you love them for you. That’s a fake love, Ladies and Gentlemen. That’s not what tassauf is. You gotta love them not for you. You cannot exist. Once you exist, that’s your hijab, that’s your veil. And therefore eventually you'll be so overwhelmed then everything about you and everything in the world will be you. Very dangerous. It's exteremely dangerous! Especially for those who walk the path because these people want to claim to be attached to something that’s very honorable while they are doing the very thing that’s extremely dishonorable in the path.
The 3rd thing Imam ibn Atha'illah says, ‘Wal insafu lin nafsik’, means you are just with yourself. Very important why? Because we see everybody’s else sin is big, our sin is tiny. When other people lie it is a huge lie, when you lie it is a white lie. Now we color lies right? When somebody does you wrong, it's like the whole world collapsing but when you do people wrong it's not that bad. 'Did I really hurt you?' I don’t have to go on and on, you can take the picture. Be just with yourself. Judge yourself before you are judged, that’s what Abu Hassan as-Shadhili tells us. Judge yourself before you are judged because you are nice to yourself. You are kind to yourself so at least you'll be decent when you are judging yourself. You’ll give yourself a leverage a little bit when you are judging yourself. Judge yourself today for then you'll be judged on a very accurate scale tomorrow. Not your scale because your scale is not very accurate to yourself but even then you are encouraged to judge yourself. Be just with yourself. Sahl bin Abdullah al-Tustari r.a. some of the salaf of this ummah - at the end of the day he would dug himself in his own little grave. At the end of the day after praying Isha, he will go and lay in his grave, he says 'Now I’m dead so today what did I do?' He'll list things in his mind that he did wrong and list things that he did right, then he puts his own judgement. Then he starts making istighfar and repentance. Then he stands up and says, 'This is your other chance ya Sahl, as if I died and Allah gave me another chance to now correct and tomorrow will be another day.' Everyday there is a judgement. Finish your account. Be an accountant CPA certified with yourself for there will be a time when those accountants are very very sharp and very accurate and nothing can be hidden from them. Be just to yourself. When you pinch others, it’s as painful. If you don't understand, pinch yourself you’ll feel it. That’s the third sign of those in tajrid, in purification.
The 4th thing is 'Do not seek vindication for yourself'. What does that mean? Why is he telling you don’t seek revenge for yourself? He's trying to tell you this: as long as you are living with people, you'll be subject to harassment, transgressed upon, stabbed in your back, people backbite you. You'll be exposed to all kinds of evil by people. If the harassment is personal, put it aside, don’t seek vindication for yourself. If you seek vindication, you are not there yet. Saidatina Aisha r.a. says, 'Nabi would never be upset for himself but only angry for the rights of Allah.' They slander him, he says, 'O Allah, forgive them for they do not know.' He's the best of creations. As long as you live, regardless of who you are, no matter how close to Allah you are, you are a subject of harassment to some people. Don’t ever think of vindicating to people. Why? Allah is the one who defends those who believe! Go to Surah Lukman, on his deathbed he's trying to give his son a summary of life, he says to his young son, ‘O my beloved son, don’t commit blasphemy, don’t worship anything other than Allah because shirik is a great injustice. Perform prayers. Give to the needy. Do good and forbid evil. Be patient on what's going to happen to you.' Why Lukman is warning, be patient? As long as you are doing the good, disasters and hardships will happen, therefore be patient.
And for people who are in the asbab, there's adab for the ones in asbab. Those who are still working with people, what's their adab? Be loyal to those who are pious. Being loyal means supporting them. There's no two ways about this. If you don't have money, make du'a. If you have money then give money. This deen was spread by the Prophet and Khadijah put billions of dollars under the feet of Rasulullah. 'Take, all I have is for your sake.' And consider the himma of Saidina Ali and Saidina Abu Bakar. It requires your effort, money and devotion and not just the du'a of awliya. Malaikat is constantly making du'a. Where are you in that picture? How are you contributing? When Nabi asked S. Abu Bakar, what did you leave for your family? He said, 'I left them Allah and His Prophet.' That's yaqin. You cannot just say, yes I support the pious. Lip service you cannot cash it in the bank.
Things change, the only thing that’s consistent about dunia is change. You thought, you plotted and you planned so now you think you have a fine retirement plan. Leave the plan. I am not saying abandon the plan. Don’t put your heart on the plan. Put your heart and trust in Allah for He's the one who will never abandon you if you are with Him, but others will. He's the one who'll never leave you if you are with Him but others will. He's the one who'll always protect you if you are with Him but others will seek to harm you. He's the one who'll always seek to empower you while others seek to dis-empower you. You have to choose your alliance.
Those who are assuming full function in asbab, other than supporting the pious, they should also avoid those who are fujar, avoid the evil. Avoid supporting them. The one who's within asbab he should try to aspire the purification of those who are in tajrid but for those who desire for tajrid to be close to Allah even though Allah has put you in the world, it is a hidden desire. Where ever you are you have a role and function. Today where you are, you need to maximize that potential. Human has irony, the neighbor's grass is greener. When Allah put you in dunia and you are functioning but you want to go to tajrid, when you are not even purified but because you think that's a higher state, I want to go, I want to experience not because you are ready but because you want to achieve, you want to climb the ladder, desire is driving you, not your readiness. You don't determine the time and place, Allah is the one who determine. If you are in asbab, you don’t move, you keep your feet on the ground and maximize everything you can. Tomorrow is another day. You don’t move from that current situation except by the facilitation of Allah and with permission of your murshid.
Tassauf only takes the few and the pure. You can't fake it even if you try. If you are looking for the perks of the path you'll never get the path. Awliyas are like the brides, Allah knows them only. Ibn Atha'illah says what Allah wants from you is you maximize where you are. Maximize the potential where you are. Do the best you can, brilliant in where you are, until Allah is the one who permits you to go to another stage just like he permitted you in the first place to enter the current stage. Who brought you to this university? Who brought you to this job? Who brought you to this family? Just like He brought you in that situation without your consent, He will get you out of that situation without your consent, when He wants, not when you want. At this time maximize your opportunity. This is your opportunity. Ibn Atha'illah says, the point is not that you leave your current condition. In tassauf, your current condition leaves you...
Wallahu'alam. This transcript is not verbatim. I seek refuge in Allah for any unintentional mistakes and I strongly urge you to listen to the audio tapes available at http://www.greenmountainschool.org/al-hikam.html
Read partial transcript of Part 1 of Sheikh Ninowy's speech here.