Saturday, February 20, 2010

Confronting fears and putting oneself in difficult situations

One of the Sufis of past, combated cowardice and faint-heartedness in his soul by acquiring bravery in the seas. He would put himself during winter time in seas when the swell was at its roughest.

From the Breaking of two desires by Imam Ghazali.

Related post:

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Good Character

"A bondsman of God may attain through his good character high and noble degrees in the Afterlife, even though he be feeble in his worship."

"All creatures are God's children, and those dearest to God are the ones who treat His children most kindly."

"The most beloved of you to me on the Day of Arising, and the ones who shall sit closest to me, will be the best of you in character."

- Hadith in The Breaking of the Two Desires by Imam Ghazali.

Monday, February 8, 2010


To discipline the ego
always isolate yourself.
Keep silent, sleepless, hungry,
you'll then control yourself. 

Imam Al Haddad 
From the Mantle Adorned 

There are many ways to isolate yourself. To keep the "self" silent, sleepless, hungry, and in control. One way is adventure/travel/exploration in harsh conditions. It brings out the best of human qualities. For it requires self-denial, courage, compassion for companions, and ultimately extreme patience with ones situation to undertake such arduous journeys. 

Nuruddinzangi has posted Shaykh Ahmed Idris's r.a. words, which have touched on this subject. For many days before this post I had thought of the spiritual reasons to undertake difficult expeditions over mountains and across seas. My own reason primarily being the "freeness" one experiences and the realization of ones 'utter' dependence on Allah, and ultimately the peace one finds in midst of nature. 

However, Shaykh Ahmed Idris's r.a. words have provided me with what I had been seeking. Shaykh Ahmed Idris mentions that his shaykh, Abd Al Wahab at Tazi, used to say 
“There is nothing good in the sea except one: the attachment of the heart to Allah alone.” And right he was. For the human experiences the cutting off of all attachments except from Allah Most High, so that even if the Sultan was with you on the sea, you do not rely on him. No- he is scared like you, restless. And so the sea, even if in riding it there are terrors, its tribulations are good, a blessing. For the best of tribulation is the one that produces pure tawhid. He who rides the sea is secure from shirk: “But when He saves them and brings them to the land, then they commit shirk.” (Q 29:65)

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Prudence, Courage, Temperance, Justice

Q: Patience is a beautiful virtue … the cry of Prophet Yaqub …. “fa sabran jamil.” Patience, it appears, is not an isolated virtue but rather it is connected to a network of virtues. Should Muslims focus on this virtue at the expense of the other virtues? 

A: The traditional virtues of a human being were four and Qadi Ibn Al-Arabi considered them to be the foundational virtues or the ummahatul fadaa’il of all of humanity. They are: prudence, courage, temperance, and justice. 

Prudence, or rather practical wisdom, and courage, are defining qualities of the Prophet. He, peace be upon him, said that God loves courage even in the killing of a harmful snake. 

Temperance is the ability to control oneself. Incontinence, the hallmark of intemperance, is said to occur when a person is unable to control himself. In modern medicine it is used for someone who can’t control his urine or feces. But not so long ago the word incontinence meant a person who was unable to control his temper, appetite or sexual desire. Temperance is the moral virtue that moderates one’s appetite in accordance with prudence. In early Muslim scholarship on Islamic ethics, justice was considered impossible without the virtues of prudence, courage and temperance. 

Generosity as a virtue is derived from courage because a generous person is required to be courageous in the face of poverty. Similarly, humility is a derivative from temperance because the humble person will often restrain the urge to brag and be a show-off because he or she sees their talents and achievements as a gift from Allah and not from themselves. Patience as a virtue is attached to the virtue of courage because the patient person has the courage to endure difficulties. So “hilim” (from which you get “halim”), often translated as for-bearance or meekness if you wish, is frowned upon in our society. Yet it is the virtue we require to stem the powerful emotion of anger. Unrestrained anger often leads to rage and rage can lead to violence in its various shades. 

Our predecessors were known for having an incredible degree of patience while an increasing number of us are marked with an extreme degree of anger, resentment, hate, rancor and rage. These are negative emotions which present themselves as roadblocks to living a virtuous life. 

A patient human being will endure tribulations, trials, difficulties, hardships, if confronted with them. The patient person will not be depressed or distraught and whatever confronts him will certainly not lead to a loss of comportment. 

Allah says in the Qur’an: “Isbiru.” “Have patience and enjoin each other to patience.” 

The beauty of patience is that “innallaha ma’assabirin” Allah is with the patient ones. If God is on your side you will always be victorious. Allah says in the Qur’an “Ista”inu bi-sabiri was-salat.”” Isti”aana is a reflexive of the Arabic verb “aana” which is “to help oneself.” Allah is telling us to help ourselves with patience and prayer. 

This is amazing because the Prophet, peace be upon him, said “if you take help, take help from God alone.” And so in the Qur’an, Allah says: “ista inu hi-sabiri was-salaat”. This means taking help from patience and prayer because that is the means by which Allah has given you to take help from Him alone. 

How is it then that a person sees himself as a victim when all calamities, difficulties and trials, are ultimately tests from Allah. This does nor mean the world is free of aggression and that victims have suddenly vanished. What I”m talking about is a person”s psychology in dealing with hardships. 

The sacred law has two perspectives when looking at acts of aggression that are committed by one party against another. When it is viewed by those in authority the imperative is to seek justice. However, from the perspective of the wronged, it is not to seek justice bur instead to forgive. 

Forgiveness, “afwa”, pardon, is nor a quality of authority. A court is not set up to forgive. It’s the plaintiff that’s required to forgive if there is going to be any forgiveness at all. Forgiveness will not come from the Qadi or the judge. The court is set up to give justice but Islam cautions us not to go there in the first place because “by the standard which you judge so too shall you be judged.” That’s the point. If you want justice, if you want God, the Supreme Judge of all affairs, to be just to others on your behalf, then you should know that your Lord will use the same standard with you. 

Nobody on the “Day of Arafat” will pray: “Oh God, be just with me.” Instead you will hear them crying: “O Allah, forgive me, have mercy on me, have compassion on me, overlook my wrongs.” Yet, these same people are not willing to forgive, have compassion and mercy on other creatures of God. 

Q: Imam Al-Ghazali argued that for these virtues to be effective they had to be in harmony. Otherwise, they said, virtues would quickly degenerate into vices. Do you think that these virtues exist today among Muslims but that they are out of balance? For example, the Arabs in the time of the Prophet had courage, but without justice it was bravado. Prudence without justice is merely shrewdness. Do you think that Muslims are clamoring for justice but have subsumed the virtues of temperance and prudence? 

A: Yes. Muslims want courage and justice but they don’t want temperance and prudence. The four virtues relate to the four humors in the body. Physical sickness is related to spiritual sickness and when these four are out of balance, spiritual and moral sickness occurs. So when courage is the sole virtue, you no longer have prudence. You are acting courageously but imprudently and it’s no longer courage but impetuousness. It appears as courage but it is not. A person who is morally incapable of controlling his appetite has incontinence and thus he cannot be prudent nor courageous because part of courage is to constrain oneself when it is appropriate. Imam A1-Ghazali says that courage is a mean between impetuousness and cowardice. 

The interesting point to note about the four virtues is that you either take them all or you don’t take them at all. It’s a packaged deal. There is a strong argument among moral ethicists that justice is the result of the first three being in perfect balance.