Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Imam Ibn al-Qayyim and Tazkiyah


al-Hafiz Ibn al-Qayyim on Tazkiyat al-Nufus 
***
The noble faqih, one of the masters of the science of Hadith in Sham al-Hafiz Ibn al-Qayyim al-Jawziyya (may Allah have mercy on him) wrote the following:
تزكية النفوس مسلم إلى الرسل وإنما بعثهم الله لهذه التزكية وولاهم إياها وجعلها على أيديهم دعوة وتعليما وبيانا وإرشادا لا خلقا ولا إلهاما فهم المبعوثون لعلاج نفوس الأمم قال الله تعالى: {هُوَ الَّذِي بَعَثَ فِي الْأُمِّيِّينَ رَسُولاً مِنْهُمْ يَتْلُو عَلَيْهِمْ آيَاتِهِ وَيُزَكِّيهِمْ وَيُعَلِّمُهُمُ الْكِتَابَ وَالْحِكْمَةَ وَإِنْ كَانُوا مِنْ قَبْلُ لَفِي ضَلالٍ مُبِينٍ} [ الجمعة: 2 ] وقال تعالى: {كَمَا أَرْسَلْنَا فِيكُمْ رَسُولاً مِنْكُمْ يَتْلُو عَلَيْكُمْ آيَاتِنَا وَيُزَكِّيكُمْ وَيُعَلِّمُكُمُ الْكِتَابَ وَالْحِكْمَةَ وَيُعَلِّمُكُمْ مَا لَمْ تَكُونُوا تَعْلَمُونَ فَاذْكُرُونِي أَذْكُرْكُمْ وَاشْكُرُوا لِي وَلا تَكْفُرُونِ} [ البقرة: 151 ]… وتزكية النفوس: أصعب من علاج الأبدان وأشد فمن زكى نفسه بالرياضة والمجاهدة والخلوة التي لم يجىء بها الرسل فهو كالمريض الذي يعالج نفسه برأيه وأين يقع رأيه من معرفة الطبيب فالرسل أطباء القلوب فلا سبيل إلى تزكيتها وصلاحها إلا من طريقهم وعلى أيديهم وبمحض الانقياد والتسليم لهم والله المستعان
“…tazkiyat al-nafs is more difficult and severe than treating the body. Whoever purifies his ego-self through spiritual training (al-riyada), disciplining (al-mujahada) and retreat (al-khalwa) with what was not brought by the Messenger of Allah then he is like the sick person who attempts to treat himself with his own opinion – and how does his opinion compare to that of the knowledge of a physician? The Messengers of Allah are the physicians of the heart and as such there is no way of purifying them nor augmenting them except through their method; putting yourself in their hands and with absolute compliance and submission to them…”[1]
Notes:
  • Tazkiyat al-nafs (‘purifying the soul’) involves following the Kitab and Sunna. > these are the parameters.
  • It has to be based on the example of the Prophet.
  • The point of proper organisation and actions to purify the soul is very important. > incorrect methods of purification of the ego-self/soul may lead us to avoid doing certain actions that we are supposed to in fact do.
  • For example, we may think that tazkiyat al-nafs involves removing ourselves from the evil (munkar) we see and to not engage in removing it. > i.e. seclusion and withdrawal whereas as will be made clear, this is incorrect.
  • From this, some say that until and unless we become ‘perfect’ in ourselves, we cannot forbid the munkar or attempt to work to remove the evil we see around us. > the biggestmunkar or evil of course being the absence of Allah’s ahkam (ruling) being implemented. So, we cannot work to re-establish Allah’s rulings/laws until and unless we are perfected inwardly.
  • In this regard, Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyya said as reported by his student Imam ibn al-Qayyim:
وسألت يوما شيخ الإسلام ابن تيمية رحمه الله عن هذه المسألة وقطع الآفات والاشتغال بتنقية الطريق وبتنظيفها فقال لي جملة كلامه: النفس مثل الباطوس وهو جب القذر كلما نبشته ظهر وخرج ولكن إن أمكنك أن تسقف عليه وتعبره وتجوزه فافعل ولا تشتغل بنبشه فإنك لن تصل إلى قراره وكلما نبشت شيئا ظهر غيره
“I asked Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyya one day regarding this issue of eliminating the faults [of the soul] and occupying one’s self with purifying and cleansing of one’s path. The gist of his reply was as follows: the soul or the nafs is like al-batus which is like removing rubbish or filth (jubb al-qadhar); the more you dig in it to clean it, the more [garbage] comes out to the surface. If you are able to pave a way over it or pass over it and cross it, then do so and do not preoccupy yourself with digging deep into it for you will never reach its bottom. The more you dig for one thing, the more another surfaces from it…” [2]
  • Imam Ibn al-Qayyim continues:
سألت عن هذه المسألة بعض الشيوخ فقال لي: مثال آفات النفس مثال الحيات والعقارب التي في طريق المسافر فإن أقبل على تفتيش الطريق عنها والاشتغال بقتلها: انقطع ولم يمكنه السفر قط ولكن لتكن همتك المسير والإعراض عنها وعدم الالتفات إليها فإذا عرض لك فيها ما يعوقك عن المسير فاقتله ثم امض على سيرك فاستحسن شيخ الإسلام ذلك جدا وأثنى على قائله إذا تبين هذا…
“I asked some of the shuyukh and they said to me: the faults of the soul (afat al-nafs) are like scorpions and snakes in the path of the traveller. If one was preoccupied with ridding the path of them and killing every single one of them, he will be halted and not be able to travel. However, your aspiration should be to progress on your journey or travel (al-masir) and not to pay excessive attention to these [faults]. If you are faced with something that prevents you (yacuquka) from continuing in your journey, then kill it and continue…”[3]
  • The above statements address a serious problem we sometimes fall prey to in our community and that is inactivity and lack of activism in changing our situation (private and social).
  • Some people in our communities tell us that we cannot work for change until we have cleansed all of our nafs/soul. > which means we have to let the evil continue around us until we are (or feel) perfected in ourselves.
  • But from this quote of Ibn al-Qayyim from the scholars of al-Sham, some of the shuyukhstate that in order to achieve felicity in the Hereafter, it will be better to not try and preoccupy oneself with all their internal faults as they will never be able to combat them allsimultaneously, i.e. a state of perfection does not necessarily precede the duty to act and follow the obligated prescriptions from Allah.
  • This quote suggests that we do not wait until we are ‘perfected souls’ before we begin to start working for change in the Umma and combat the munkar we see around us.
  • Imam Ibn al-Qayyim beautifully summarises the danger of keeping silent over themunkar by simply engaging in private worship (cibada):
وقد غر إبليس أكثر الخلق بأن حسن لهم القيام بنوع من الذكر والقراءة والصلاة والصيام والزهد في الدنيا والانقطاع وعطلوا هذه العبوديات فلم يحدثوا قلوبهم بالقيام بها وهؤلاء عند ورثة الأنبياء من أقل الناس دينا
فإن الدين هو القيام لله بما أمر به فتارك حقوق الله التي تجب عليه أسوأ حالا عند الله ورسوله من مرتكب المعاصي فإن ترك الأمر أعظم من ارتكاب النهي من أكثر من ثلاثين وجها ذكرها شيخنا رحمه الله في بعض تصانيفه ومن له خبرة بما بعث الله به رسوله صلى الله عليه وسلم وبما كان عليه هو وأصحابه رأى أن أكثر من يشار إليهم بالدين هم أقل الناس دينا والله المستعان
وأي دين وأي خير فيمن يرى محارم الله تنتهك وحدوده تضاع ودينه يترك وسنة رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم يرغب عنها وهو بارد القلب ساكت اللسان شيطان أخرس كما أن المتكلم بالباطل شيطان ناطق وهل بلية الدين إلا من هؤلاء الذين إذا سلمت لهم مآكلهم ورياساتهم فلا مبالاة بما جرى على الدين وخيارهم المتحزن المتلمظ ولو نوزع في بعض ما فيه غضاضة عليه في جاهه أو ماله بذل وتبذل وجد واجتهد واستعمل مراتب الإنكار الثلاثة بحسب وسعه وهؤلاء مع سقوطهم من عين الله ومقت الله لهم قد بلوا في الدنيا بأعظم بلية تكون وهم لا يشعرون وهو موت القلوب فإن القلب كلما كانت حياته أتم كان غضبه لله ورسوله أقوى وانتصاره للدين أكمل.
“…Iblis has misled most people by beautifying for them the performance of certain voluntary acts of dhikr, voluntary prayers; voluntary fasting and asceticism and severance from the world while their hearts neglected other obligatory acts of worship. They are considered by the scholars to be on the bottom of the scale of the religion.
The essence of our religion is to perform what Allah ordered us to doThe one who abandons the rights of Allah made obligatory upon him is worse in state than the one who performs sins in the sight of Allah and His Messenger (SAW).
[...] Anyone having some knowledge about what the Messenger of Allah was sent with as well as the life of the companions would conclude that those who are pointed at today as the most pious people are in fact the least pious. May Allah help us!
Indeed, what kind of piety and what kind of good is there in a person who witnesses Allah’s sanctities being violated; His Hudud being abandoned; the Sunna of His Messenger shunned and yet remains still with a cold heart and a closed mouth? Such a person is like a dumb Shaytan in the same way the one who talks falsehood is a speaking Shaytan [...]
Is not the misfortune of Islam due only to those who whenever their life and food are secure, would not care about what happens to the religion? The best among them would offer a sorry face. But if they were challenged in one of the things their heart is attached to like their money, they would spare no efforts to get it back. These people, besides deserving the anger of Allah, are afflicted with the greatest calamity without even knowing it: They have a dead heart.
Indeed the more alive and revived a person’s heart is, the stronger its anger is for the sake of Allah and the more complete its support is to Islam and Muslims.[4]

Notes:
  • From this quote we understand that:
  1. We cannot keep silent over the munkar (evil) around us.
  2. To keep silent is not positively adding to the purification of one’s nafs but negativelyharming to it.
  3. It is forbidden to remain silent over the munkar and something that is forbidden cannot be a basis for anything.
  4. Change internally is therefore linked to changing what is external, i.e. part of the process of purification of the soul and heart involves being engaged with the outside world and what Islam requires of it.
  5. One cannot neglect an obligation for a voluntary action.
  6. Muslims are being killed, Islam is being attacked, Islamic beliefs and values being ridiculed, etc. yet many of our scholars remain silent and are not speaking out; many remain only engaged in privately purifying their nafs not knowing that by keeping silent over the violations of Allah’s designated sanctities and allowing evil to persist, they are not contributing to the purification of the soul but harming it.
  7. The Islamic need for change in society is therefore hampered by such a pacifist stance and introverted stance of self-purification.

And with Allah alone is success.
Peace and blessings be upon our Master Muhammad, his family and companions.
S. Z. Chowdhury

[1] Ibn al-Qayyim, Iclam al-Muwaqqicin, 2:177.
[2] Ibn al-Qayyim, Madarij al-Salikin, 2:299.
[3] Ibn al-Qayyim, Madarij al-Salikin, 2:299.
[4] Ibn al-Qayyim, Madarij al-Salikin, 2:300.

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