On the self and its states
The Shaikh (may Allah be well pleased with him, and grant him contentment) said: There is Allah, and there is your own self [nafsuka], and you must address the situation. The self is the opponent and enemy of Allah. All things are subordinate to Allah, and the self really belongs to Him as a creature and a possession, but the self entertains presumptions and aspirations bound up with carnal appetite and sensual desire. So if you ally yourself with the divine Truth in opposition and hostility toward the self, you will be for Allah’s sake an adversary to your own self. As Allah (Almighty and Glorious is He) said to David (peace be upon him): “O David, I am your indispensable support, so hold fast to your support. True servitude means being an adversary to your own self.”
It is then that your friendship and servitude to Allah (Almighty and Glorious is He) will be confirmed in reality. All that is allotted to you will then come to you for your enjoyment and pleasure. You will be held in honor and esteem, and all things will be ready to serve you with dignity and respect, for they are all subordinate to their Lord and in conformity with Him, since He is their Creator and Originator and they acknowledge their servitude to Him. Allah (Exalted is He) has said:
There is not a thing that does not celebrate His praise, and yet you do not understand their celebration. (17:44)
[Then He turned to the heaven when it was smoke] and said to it and to the earth: “Come both of you, willingly or unwillingly.” They said: “We come, obedient.” (41:11)
Thus servitude-all servitude-consists in opposing your own self. Allah (Exalted is He) says:
Follow not desire, lest it lead you astray from Allah’s path. (38:26)
To David (on him be peace) He said:
Renounce your passionate desire, for it is vexatious.
There is also the well-known story of Abu Yazid al-Bistamii (may Allah have mercy upon him). When he saw the Almighty Lord in a dream, he asked Him: “How can I find the way to You?” The Lord said: “Abandon your self and come here!” In response, the Saint tells us: “I shed my self as a snake sloughs off its skin.”
Thus all good lies in waging total war against the self under all circumstances. If you are in a state of true devotion, therefore, you must oppose the self by not getting involved with people, whether their behavior be unlawful, merely dubious or even well-intentioned, not depending or relying on them, neither fearing them nor pinning any hopes on them, and not coveting any worldly advantages they may enjoy. Do not solicit gifts from them in the form of presents, of alms or charity, or of votive offerings. Get rid of all interest in them and in material concerns to the point where, if you had a wealthy relative, you would not want him to die so that you could inherit his wealth. Separate yourself from creatures in all earnestness. Regard them as a door that swings open and shut, or as a tree that sometimes bears fruit and at other times is barren, all in accordance with the action of a Doer and the management of a Planner, namely Allah (Glorious and Exalted is He), so that you may be one who affirms the Unity of the Lord.
At the same time, however, we must not forget the proper role of human endeavor, to avoid subscribing to the fatalistic doctrine of the Jabariyya. Believe that no human action is accomplished without Allah. Do not worship His creatures and forget Allah, and do not maintain that our actions are independent of Allah, for that will make you an unbeliever, a subscriber to the [extreme free-will doctrine of the] Qadariyya.* You should rather assert that our actions belong to Allah in point of creation, and to His servants in point of ‘acquisition’ [kasb], this being the traditional Islamic statement on the subject of requital by reward or punishment.
Obey Allah’s command in dealing with your fellow creatures. Keep from them what is your allotted share by His command, but do not go beyond this limit. Allah’s verdict in this matter will be imposed on you and on them, so do not be the judge yourself. Your being with them is a decree of destiny, and destiny is shrouded in darkness, so expose that darkness to the Lamp, meaning the Book of Allah and the exemplary practice [Sunna] of His Messenger (Allah bless him and give him peace). Do not step outside these two. If some idea occurs to you, or if you receive an inspiration, check it against the Book and Sunna.
By this criterion, you may find that your idea or inspired notion is declared unlawful. Suppose, for instance, you have received an indication to commit fornication, to practice usury, to consort with dissolute and immoral characters, or to behave in some other sinful manner. This you must repudiate, renounce, refuse to accept and refrain from acting out. Be convinced that it is from Satan the accursed.
Perhaps what you find there will be a license, such as that granted to normal appetites for food, drink, clothing or matrimony. This you should also refuse and decline to accept, recognizing that the suggestion stems from the lower self and its animal cravings, which you are under orders to oppose and combat.
It may also happen that you find nothing in Book and Sunna to show that what has occurred to you is under either prohibition or license. Maybe it is something you are at a loss to understand, like an urge prompting you to go to such-and-such a place to meet a certain good man, although you have nothing to gain there or from the good person concerned, since your needs are already taken care of through the knowledge and wisdom Allah has graciously bestowed on you. In a case like this, you should pause and not react immediately. Instead of saying, “This is an inspiration from the Truth [al-Haqq] (Glorious and Exalted is He) so I shall act upon it,” prefer to wait for the full potential benefit. The divine Truth works in such a way that the inspiration [ilham] will be clarified through repetition, and you will be told what steps to take. To people with knowledge [‘ilm] of Allah (Almighty and Glorious is He), a sign will be revealed, intelligible only to saints of mature understanding and confirmed Abdal.
The reason for not being in great haste to act is that you do not know the consequences and the ultimate purpose of the affair, nor the snares and pitfalls it contains, with cunning tests devised by Allah. So be patient until He is the one at work within you. When the action is absolutely stripped of self, and you are borne toward that destination, you will be carried safely through any trial that may still confront you, because Allah (Exalted is He) will not chastise you for His own doing; no penalty can apply to you unless you get personally involved.
If you are in the state of reality [Haqiqa], which is the state of sainthood [wilaya], you must oppose your passions and obey the commandments in their entirety. Obedience to the commandments is of two kinds:
One kind means taking just enough from this world to supply your genuine personal needs, forsaking extravagant indulgence, performing your religious duties, and making efforts to get rid of your sins, both outwardly and inwardly.
The second kind is obedience to an inner command, one by which the Lord of Truth (Almighty and Glorious is He) orders or forbids His servant to do something. Such commands apply only in the sphere of ‘neutral’ matters, which are not covered by any positive injunction in Islamic law, in the sense that they belong neither to the category of prohibited things, nor to the category of things that are obligatory; since they are legally indifferent, the servant being at liberty to handle them according to his own discretion, they are called mubah [neutral/indifferent/permissible]. Rather than taking any initiative in this area, the servant should wait to receive instructions, then obey the order when it comes. He will thus be with Allah (Almighty and Glorious is He) in all his doings, whether in movement or at rest, through his respect for the rules of sacred law where they apply, and that inner commandment in other cases. At this stage he genuinely belongs among the People of Reality [ahl al-Haqiqa].
In the absence even of this inner commandment, there is nothing for it but spontaneous action in a state of surrender. If you are in touch with the truth of truth, this is the state of obliteration [mahw] and annihilation [fana’], the state of the Abdal who are broken-hearted on account of Him, the state of pure monotheists, men of enlightened wisdom, endowed with knowledge and power of understanding, the commanders-in-chief, the wardens and guardians of mankind, the vicegerents of the All-Merciful, and His intimates and helpers and friends, peace be upon them.
To obey the commandment in such matters means going against your own self, emptied of any power or strength, utterly devoid of all will and ambition for anything of this world or the hereafter. You come to be the servant of the King, not of the Kingdom, of His commandment and not of whim and passion. You come to resemble a babe at his nurse’s breast, a corpse receiving its ritual wash, a patient lying sprawled for treatment by the doctor, in all that is not subject to the injunctions and prohibitions [specified by the sacred law].
Only Allah is All-Knowing!
* Qadariyya should not be confused with the Qadiriyya.For more on the Qadariyya, see the Shaikh’s exposition on the 73 Sects in Volume 1 of Al-Ghunya li-Talibin.