Improving oneself

One day, one of the disciples of Bayazid (Alaihi Rahma) asked him:

– Will you give a piece of your coat so that I can carry it with me to gain blessing?

Bayazid responded:

– O my son, if you do not improve yourself until you become a perfect person, it is not going to help you even if you cover your entire body with my skin.

The above story about Bayazid Bistami is well known for illustrating that one cannot reach high levels of spiritual attainment only by virtue of externally improving oneself.

THE SUBJECT MATTER OF SUFISM

The variety of definitions and explanations that have been provided of Sufism indicate the breadth of its subject matter. It might therefore be said that the subject matter of Sufism is as vast and deep as an ocean; for it covers everything related to the human soul and spirit. Essentially, it sees to the spiritual states passed by the wayfaring disciple during his spiritual journey, in the beings with whom he meantime gets in touch with, in the experiences he encounters and in the ways he finds, knows, and serves his Lord; though this would only be brief number of the otherwise great breadth of topics the subject matter of Sufism includes. Still, at the risk of being succinct, we may nonetheless proceed to expand on the primary subject matter of the Sufi path.

Above all, the Sufi path engages in the spiritual states and stations a disciple passes by in the process of perfecting his unripe spirit to ripeness, by means of purifying his heart and soul. In other words, Sufism deals with the exact ways of purifying the heart and soul and obtaining inner and outer enlightenment, to enable the actions of the Sufi to accord with Divine pleasure and thereby grant him eternal happiness. The gist of this consists in embodying an exceptional moral conduct and tapping in to the knowledge of spiritual realities. At its core, Sufism thus seeks to ensure one tastes the zest of ihsan, of internalizing faith, and enjoying its indescribable pleasure.

To put it in another way, the Sufi path is about the principles and ways to understand the Divine wisdoms, secrets and intentions concealed in names and attributes of Allah, glory unto Him, as well as their abounding manifestations throughout the universe. In this context, Sufism talks about notions related to the unseen, the spirit, the heart and the soul; as well as spiritual experiences like insight (kashf), inspiration (ilham), spiritual witnessing (mushahada), ecstasy (wajd), and love (‘ishq), and no less, the spiritual states attained as a result of undergoing these experiences.

In short, Sufism is concerned with imparting the spiritual ability to behold and witness of the names and attributes of the Lord and to acquire Divine knowledge (marifatullah), offering man a real insight into the uni- verse, the Quran, as well as himself, by taking him through a journey at the end of which awaits spiritual maturity.

  • Excerpt from the book, “SUFISM: A PATH TOWARDS THE INTERNALIZATION OF FAITH (IHSÂN)”

WASTEFULNESS– Concerning Health and the Consumption of Food and Drink

Health is one of the underappreciated divine bounties. Our Prophet ﷺ warns of the common ignorance and negligence in this regard. “There are two divine blessings that people do not properly value,” he said, “health and leisure.” (Bukhârî, Riqâq, 1). Thus he warns us, his community, against the remorse we may suffer for wasting these two precious gifts.

Ibn `Umar (RadiAllahu anhu) reported that the Messenger of Allahﷺ said, “When you reach the morning, don’t wait for the evening. When you reach the evening, don’t wait for the morning. When you are healthy, take precautions for the time when you may be sick. Throughout you life, take precautions for the time you die.” (Bukhârî, Riqâq, 3)

Allah entrusted each of us with a body, and our bodies have due rights over us. In fact, in order to pursue the life of servanthood properly, it is necessary to maintain physical as well as spiritual health. Acts of worship may only be performed fully when a person has a healthy body. Is it possible for someone who is not healthy to offer ritual prayers serenely or to fast with inner peace? So many ritual acts and good works that allow people’s hearts to draw closer 􏰁to Allah depend on the blessing of health.

When one loses one’s health, one’s acts of worship and of service lose their wholeness. Thus when we still have the opportunity to keep ourselves healthy, we should thank Allah properly for this bounty and pay close atten- tion to our worship and the giving of charity.

Just as with all other bounties, health may be wasted if one does not follow the divine instructions concerning its preservation.

To throw your health away is to treat your body profligately. In order to avoid wasting our health, we must protect it by follow- ing the guidance of reason and the divine commands. This involves seeking healthy nourishment, but also protecting our bodies from natural factors like excessive heat and cold, and from the results of negligence, such as traffic accidents. Our religion includes a variety of material and spiritual teachings concerning the protection of health. It orders us to be prudent in the consumption of food.

Our religion informs us that in order to protect our health, spiritual precautions are also necessary. These include being careful to pay the share of the poor out of our wealth, and giving alms. The Messenger of Allah ﷺ indicated the extent of spiritual precautions needed protect health. He said, “An act of charity is due for every joint of the human body. This is why every instance of declaring Allah’s glory counts as charity; every instance of thanking Allah counts as charity, every recitation of “There is no god but Allah” counts as charity; every declaration of” Allah is greater” counts as charity; to give good advice is charity; to warn against something evil is charity. The ritual prayer of two cycles performed before noon has the same status.” (Bukhârî, Sulh, 11).

Certainly being healthy and happy are great blessings that oblige their possessor to thank Allah. The respected Companions of the Prophet, who are presented to us as role models because of their high virtues,(See at-Tawbah, 9/100.) made great efforts in the cause of Allah because they took the bounties bestowed by Allah as capital to invest toward the life of the Hereafter. Allah the Almighty blessed their efforts. The modern lifestyle, with its overconsumption, gluttony, luxury and ostenta- tion, was not practiced by the Companions of the Prophet. They pursued their lives in accordance with their consciousness that “the soul’s mansion tomorrow will be the grave.”

The higher a person’s spiritual state, the greater care that person takes concerning food and drink. For example, according to the religious law, to keep eating after one’s hunger is satisfied is accounted wasteful. According to the Sufi path, to keep eating until one’s hunger is satisfied is accounted wasteful. At the level of truth, to eat without remembering the divine presence is accounted wasteful. And at the level of recognition of Allah, to eat without contemplating the divine disclosure manifested in the gift of food is accounted wasteful.

The hidden guide Khidr (Alaihi Salaam) visited `Abdulkhâliq Gujduwânî one of the Friends of Allah. The conversation between the two concerning the consumption of food and drink is full of lessons, since it displays the peak of spiritual sensitivity.

Showing hospitality, `Abdulkhâliq Gujduwânî offered Kidr food, but Khidr (Alaihi Salaam) refused to eat it, and moved away from the table. `Abdulkhâliq Gujduwânî was surprised. “This is a lawfully obtained food,” he said.” Why don’t you eat?”

Khidr (Alaihi Salaam) replied, “Yes, it is obtained lawfully, but the one who prepared it cooked it with anger and in heedlessness.”

Thus the spiritual quality of our food is influenced not only by whether the food was lawfully obtained, but also by the psycho- logical condition of whoever prepares it. And the spiritual qualify of our inner attitudes and ritual acts is influenced by the quality of our food. So look at how sensitive we must be concerning the food that we eat.

Lawfully obtained food has an important part in purifying the heart. Abdulqâdir Gaylânî قدسسره stated, “Eating unlawfully obtained food kills the heart; eating lawfully obtained food enlivens it. There is food that makes you occupied with the world. There is also food that makes you occupied with the Hereafter. There is even food that makes you love Allah the Exalted.”

Mawlânâ Jalâladdîn Rûmî قدسسره said, “Last night some doubtful bits of food went down to my stomach and closed the way by which inspiration comes.” His statement shows that we must be as careful about the spiritual quality of the food we consume as we are about its material quality.

Mawlânâ also said, “Do not feed your body so much! After all, it is a sacrificial victim that will be delivered to the soil. But feed your heart as much as you can, for it is your heart that will ascend to honor. …Feed your body less, because those who feed it more than is necessary begin pursuing selfish desires, and are destined to disgrace.”

To act immoderately in such matters is not suitable to the dig- nity of a believer.

Our virtuous predecessors said, “Allah summarized the entire science of medicine in a half verse of the Qur’an:

…Eat and drink, but do not waste by excess!… (A’raf, 7/31).

They emphasized the importance of keeping away from waste when consuming food and drink so that one might have a healthy life in spiritual as well as material terms.(See, Ibn Kathîr, Tafsîr, II, 219.)

In a Prophetic saying we read: “Eat, drink, dress yourself, and give charity without falling into profligacy and arrogance.” (Bukhârî, Libâs, 1). This saying indicates the limits the limits that people should observe when they satisfy their needs. In another Prophetic saying, we read: “It would certainly be extravagance to eat everything you desire!” (Ibn Mâja, At`ima, 51).

Greedily devouring everything is what is termed gluttony, and our religion forbids such an action. Again, this saying indicates that having the opportunity to indulge does not justify overindulgence.

Our Prophet ﷺ concisely stated the measure one must observe regarding consumption: “No man filled a cup more dangerous than his stomach. Certainly a few bites of food are sufficient to live. But if one has to eat more, let him allow one third of his stomach for food, one third of it for drink, and one third of it for breathing!” (Tirmidhî, Zuhd, 47).

`Umar (RadiAllahu Anhu) gives the following advice in this regard: “Refrain from entirely filling your stomach with food and drink. Otherwise it will be harmful to your body, will encourage the emergence of disease, and will make you lazy about ritual prayer. Follow the middle way regarding the consumption of food and drink! That is more useful to your body, and will also move you away from waste- fulness.” (Ali al-Muttaqî, Kanz, XV, 433/41713).

Thevenôt, a Western traveler, wrote a book of observations made during his travels and published it in Paris in 1665. In that book he recorded how our predecessors, who carried the flag of Islam for so many centuries, organized their lives. He noted their cleanliness and simplicity and their moderation in consumption, and how all these customs resulted in a society of healthy people. He said:

Turks live a healthy life and rarely get sick. Among them, you do not find the diseases related to the kidneys and so many other dangerous diseases that we come across in our homeland. They do not even know their names. I suppose that the reasons why the Turks have such perfect health conditions are that they bathe frequently and are moderate in their consumption of food and bev- erages. They eat only small amounts of food. And the foods they eat are not mixed, unlike the kind of food commonly eaten among Christians.(M. De Thevenot, Relation d’un Voyage Fait au Levant, s. 58, Paris, 1665.)

A proverb reminds us, “A person should not live to eat, but should eat to live!” The principle describes an important charac- teristic of believers.

Allah the Exalted wants us to be moderate in the consumption of food and drink and keep away from the custom that unbelievers follow in this regard. He warns us:

…while those who reject Allah will enjoy (this world) and eat as cattle eat. And the Fire will be their abode. (Muhammad, 47/12)

All behaviors that remove the blessing of the food are included under wastefulness. So if one begins eating without washing one’s hands and without remembering Allah, and if one does not thank Allah at the end of the meal, such negligence is considered not only ingratitude, but also profligacy.

In a Prophetic saying we read: “The blessing of the meal is in washing one’s hands before and after the meal.” (Tirmidhî, At`ima, 39).

“When someone goes to bed without washing the food off his hands, if he experiences harm, let him not blame anybody but him- self!” (Abû Dâwûd, At’ima, 53).

Observing the rules of hygiene when eating or drinking becomes a means to increase blessing and supports both material and spiritual health and peace. Additionally, if people begin a meal by saying bismillâh (“in the name of Allah”) and end it with alham- dulillâh (“the praise belongs to Allah”), that meal becomes curative, whereas a meal consumed without remembering and thanking Allah produces only negligence and excess weight. Our Prophet ﷺ declared:

If a person says bismillâh when entering his house and when beginning his meal, the Devil says to his soldiers, “You can neither spend the night nor find food here.” But if a person does not say bismillâh when he enters his house, the Devil says to his soldiers, “Here is a place for you to spend the night.” And if that person does not say bismillâh when he begins to eat, the Devil says to his sol- diers, “You have found both a place to stay the night and something to eat.” (Muslim, Ashriba’, 103)

A’ishah (RadiAllahu Anha) related :

Once the Messenger of Allah ﷺ sat down to eat with six of his Companions. A Bedouin came; he ate all the food in two bites. Then our Prophet ﷺ said, “If he had said bismillâh, the food would have been enough for all of us. Thus when any of you begins eating, let him say bismillâh. If he forgets to say it at the beginning, let him say bismillâh fi awwâlihi wa akhirihi, “In the name of Allah be its beginning and its end.”

When drinking water, the proper manners are to say bismillâh and to drink it in three sips; at the end one should say alhamdu- lillâh. Our Prophet ﷺ used to drink water and other beverages by dividing them into three parts. He said, “Don’t drink things down all at once, as camels do. Drink in two or three sips. Pronounce bismillâh before you drink something; and at the end say alhamdu- lillâh. (Tirmidhî, Ashriba, 13). Our Prophet ﷺ also forbade blowing into a beverage for any reason.

Eating alone also decreases the blessing in the food, and is a kind of wastefulness.. Our Prophet ﷺ said that “There is com- passion in community, and fire in solitude.” He advised us to be together when we eat.

Wahshî b. Harb related that some Companions said, “O Messenger of Allah! We eat but we do not feel satisfied.” 

The Messenger of Allah ﷺasked, “Perhaps you have your meals alone?”

They said, “Yes, we do!”

The Messenger of Allah ﷺtold them, “Have your meals together and say bismillâh, so that your food becomes blessed.” (Abû Dâwûd, At`ima, 14)

One feels terribly shaken when one sees the wastefulness dominating our habits of consumption of food and drink, in our daily life and especially during wedding ceremonies and feasts.

Wedding ceremonies and banquets are important means for strengthening community feeling. Unfortunately, when such cel- ebrations are designed egotistically, for purposes of show, they do not function to build community feeling. Instead they push people toward evil sentiments like pride, arrogance, jealousy, and envy, which lead to disappointment. Communities where such celebrations are encouraged fall away from the divine mercy and blessing.

To sum up, the end of a life controlled by extravagance is such a huge disappointment that Allah the Almighty says:

The profligate are the friends of devils. (Isrâ, 17/27)

The Messenger of Allah ﷺ reminded us that in the Hereafter we shall be required to give an accounting of all the bounties and trusts that we received during our worldly life. He urged us to move away from negligence. “No servant of Allah will be able to leave his place before he provides an explanation of where he spent his life, what he achieved with his knowledge, how he earned his wealth and how spent it, and how he spent the strength of his body.” (Tirmidhî, Qiyâmah, 1)

-AN EXCERPT FROM “SUCH A MERCY HE WAS..”