Monday, June 17, 2013

Allah’s Wisdom of Giving and Depriving

Understanding the Wisdom of Allāh’s Giving and Depriving

By Dr. Jasser Auda

In the name of Allāh, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful;
All the praise and thanks is due to Allāh, the Lord of al-`ālameen. I testify that there is none worthy of worship except Allāh, and that Muhammad, Sallallāhu `alayhi wasallam is His Messenger.

In his well-known book, entitled “Al-Hikam (Words of Wisdom)”, Sheikh Ahmad Ibn `Atā`illah As-Sakandari (rahimahullāh) says:

“You might think that He is giving you, while in reality He is depriving you! And you might think that He is depriving you, while in reality He is giving you! If through your deprivation, He opens the doors of understanding for you, then this deprivation is exactly a gift. You feel bad about your deprivation because you do not understand. He might open the door of worship for you, but does not open the door of acceptance. And you might be destined to sin, but this becomes a means to ascension towards Him. A sin that produces humbleness and need is better than an act of worship that produces arrogance and prejudice.”

One may reflect:  at times Allāh Almighty gives me and at other times He deprives me. Allāh Almighty might test me through ‘good’ and ‘bad’, through ‘fortune’ and ‘hardship’, or through bestowing ‘blessings’ on me or ‘depriving me’ from them. But the reality of each of these could turn out to be different from the way I labeled it and the assumptions I made about it. 

At this stage in our journey to Allāh Almighty, Ibn `Atā’ (rahimahullāh) teaches us the importance of a deep understanding of the wisdom behind Allāh's ‘giving’ and ‘depriving’.

Allāh Almighty says: But as for a human, whenever his Sustainer tries him by His generosity and by letting him enjoy a life of ease, he says, "My Sustainer has been generous towards me"; whereas, whenever He tries him by tightening his means of livelihood, he says, "My Sustainer has disgraced me!" But nay …” (Surah Al-Fajr, 89:15-17)

The term ‘Nay’ here means that this is not a correct understanding of having ‘a life of ease’ or ‘tight means’.

Allāh Almighty is saying that when He tries us by tightening our means of livelihood, this does not mean that He is disgracing us. And when He tries us by letting us enjoy a life of ease for a while, this does not necessarily mean good news. The question now is: how could we judge?

Ibn `Atā`illah (rahimahullāh) is drawing our attention to a very important meaning in this word of wisdom which is that of'understanding' (al-fahm): "If through your deprivation, He opens the doors of understanding for you, then this deprivation is exactly a gift". And this is how we judge. If Allāh deprives me by losing some of my wealth, opportunity, health, or family, yet at the same time, He opens the doors of ‘understanding’ for me, then this is not deprivation. It is a gift. In this case, the trial is a gift.

Before the correct ‘understanding’, I was looking at the material level only, at the five senses level, and the numbers and figures. I say, for example, I lost ten thousand dollars or I lost some of my health, etc. This is the material calculation at the material level.

But Allāh Almighty might take ten thousands and give me the ability to understand, a feeling of content, a good deed, a strong will, a good friend, and closeness to Him, on top of all that. Therefore, my loss of ten thousands becomes an actual gift. It is even possible that Allāh will give me hundred thousand later, if I work hard and try to learn from my lessons. 

We have to understand the actual meaning of giving and deprivation. Sometimes, we think that a specific thing is a deprivation while it is the actual giving, and vice versa. A person might earn a large amount of money, for example, but does not thank Allāh by sayings or actions. He might go on and waste his money in evil ways. Then, Allāh Almighty may even give this person more wealth and more chances to return to Him.

Allāh Almighty says:

For, behold, though I may give them rein for a while, My subtle scheme is exceedingly firm!” (Surah Al-Qalam 68:45),

Then, when they had forgotten all that they had been told to take to heart, We threw open to them the gates of all good things until - even as they were rejoicing in what they had been granted - We suddenly took them to task: and lo! They were broken in spirit; and in the end, the last remnant of those folk who had been bent on evildoing was wiped out. For all praise is due to Allāh, the Sustainer of all the worlds”. (Surah Al-An`am, 6:44-45)

If Allāh Almighty opens the doors of providence for you or grants you a request, He is calling you, as Ibn `Ataa'illah said, to understand. Firstly, you have to thank Allāh so that the blessing is tied to you. Secondly, you have to reflect upon the wisdom and the meaning behind this giving and to be cautious about the trial it might involve.

Ibn `Atā`illah (rahimahullāh) gives two specific examples. He says: “He might open the door of worship for you, but does not open the door of acceptance. And you might be destined to sin, but this becomes a means to ascension towards Him.”

Allāh Almighty might open the doors for you to do some good deeds, such as praying, memorizing the Qur’an, giving out in charity, fasting, performing hajj, attending a course, teaching people, or and leading them in the way of religion. But you have to be cautious here. Sometime you imagine that worship is in itself a gift from Allāh, but in reality it is not. Why? It is because one might perform the action and miss the reward.

Allāh Almighty says: They who spend their possessions for the sake of Allāh and do not thereafter mar their spending by stressing their own benevolence and hurting the feelings of the needy shall have their reward with their Sustainer.”(Surah Al-Baqarah, 2: 262)

Here is an example of a good deed, charity, which is marred and rendered void by another action, such as hurting the feelings of the needy. This later action nullifies the charity and closes the door of acceptance and heavenly reward.

Some people do good, only to show off and to be praised by people, thus leading themselves to punishment.

Allāh Almighty says: Behold, the hypocrites seek to deceive Allāh - while it is He who causes them to be deceived by themselves. And when they rise to pray, they rise reluctantly, only to be seen and praised by people, remembering Allāh but seldom.” (Surah An-Nisā’, 4: 142)

The main purpose of an act of worship is sincerity and gaining moral and spiritual benefits from it. A ritual devoid of sincerity and moral and spiritual benefit is worthless. The Prophet Muhammad (Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) said:"Whoever does not give up forged speech and evil actions, Allāh is not in need of his leaving his food and drink in fasting". [This is recorded by Muslim]

This means that Allāh Almighty will not accept his fasting, which it look would like a good deed while it is not. 

Ibn `Atā'illah (rahimahullāh) gives us another example related to the issue of acts of worship and sinning which requires an accurate understanding. Ibn `Atā'illah says: "And you might be destined to sin, but this becomes a means to ascension towards Him"Imam Ibn Al-Qayyim Al-Jawziyyah (rahimahullah) says something similar in this regard: "A sin may produce humbleness and need so that it takes one to Paradise. An act of worship may produce pride and prejudice so that it takes one to Hell". 

Of course, sinning itself does not lead one to entering Paradise. But if the sin already committed and the person repented sincerely to Allāh, it might be good, in the big scheme of things. This is the person who repented and changed his ways, which always remembers his sin with grief and tries his best to compensate with doing good deeds. Therefore, sinning that produces humbleness and need becomes a gift from Allāh, in the big picture.

But this does not mean that one commits sins and says that I am sinning in order to eventually be humble and repent to Allāh. This is a wrong and deviant understanding that is unfortunately adopted by some ignorant people who claim to be Sufis.

On the other hand, an act of worship that produces arrogance in one’s heart is an evil deed, not a good one. The Prophet(Sallallāhu `alayhi wasallam) said:"He who has in his heart the weight of a mustard seed of arrogance shall not enter Paradise". [This is recorded by Muslim]

It all depends on our reaction. The Prophet (Sallallāhu `alayhi wasallam) said:"How wonderful is the affair of the believer, for his affairs are all good, and this applies to no one but the believer. If something good happens to him, he is thankful for it and that is good for him. If something bad happens to him, he bears it with patience and that is good for him". [This is recorded by Muslim]

This hadith indicates that I am the one who brings good or bad outcomes to me. It is all up to me! If I am thankful for Allāh for the good things that happen, this is good for me. If I am patient when bad things happen to me, this is also good for me. However, if I feelarrogant when good things happen, this is an evil outcome. If I am impatient when bad things happen, this is also an evil outcome. Thus, based on my reaction I determine whether what happens to me is a heavenly gift or otherwise.

But Allāh always chooses what is best for people, and it is up to them to decide how they receive Allāh’s choices.

Allāh Almighty says: In Your hand, Allāh is all good. Verily, You have the power to will anything”. [Surah Al-`Imran 3: 26]

Allāh Almighty also says: "Verily, the Abrar (pious and righteous) will be in Delight (Jannah). And verily, the Fujjar (the wicked, disbelievers, sinners and evildoers) will be in the blazing Fire (Hell)." [Surah Al-Infitar, 82:13, 14]

‘Abdullah bin ‘Amr (radiyallāhu‘anhu) narrated that Abu Bakar As-Siddiq (radiyallāhu‘anhu) reported: I requested the Messenger of Allāh (Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) to teach me a supplication which I could recite in my Solāt. Thereupon he said, “Recite:‘Allāhumma inni zalamtu nafsi zulman kathiran, Wa la yaghfirudz-dzunuba illa Anta, Faghfir li maghfiratan min ‘indika, warhamni , Innaka Antal-Ghafūr-ur-Raheem (O Allāh! I have considerably wronged myself. There is none to forgive the sins but You. So grant me pardon and have mercy on me. You are the Most Forgiving, the Most Compassionate).” [Al-Bukhari and Muslim].

It was narrated that the Prophet (Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) said to a man (one of the Sahabah): “What do you say when you prayer (Du’a after the Tashahhud)?” He said: “I recite the Tashahhud, then I say:  “Allāhumma inni as alukal-Jannah wa a‘udzu bika Minan-nār” (O Allāh, I ask You for Paradise and seek refuge in You from the Fire).I cannot murmur like you and like Mu‘adz.” Rasūlullāh (Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) said: “It is about them that we were murmuring.” [Narrated by Abu Dawud, 792: sahih].

 ‘Ali Ibn Abu Talib (radhiyallāhu‘anhu) reported: When the Messenger of Allāh (Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) was in Solat, Rasulullah (Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) used to supplicate towards the end of prayer after Tashahhud and before the concluding Taslim:“Allāhumma ighfir li ma qaddamtuWa ma akhkhartu (O Allāh! Forgive me what I have done in the past, and what I will do in the future),Wa ma asrartu, Wa ma ‘alantu (and those I have committed in secret as well as those I have done openly),Wa ma asraftu, (and where I have transgressed all bounds,)Wa ma anta a’ lamu bihi minni. (as well as those things about which You are more knowledgeable.)Antal-muqaddimu, Wa antal-muakhkhiru (You alone send favours to whomever you will; and you alone defer it to whomever as you will).Lā ilāha illa anta (None has the right to be worshipped but You.).” [This is recorded by Muslim; Abu ‘Awanah, Abu Dawud (760)].

Ibn Abi Hatim and Ibn Jarir recorded that Umm Salamah (radiyallāhu`anha), said that the Prophet (Sallallāhu `alayhi wasallam) used to supplicate: ‘Ya muqallibal-qulubi, thabbit qalbi `ala deenik (O Controller of the hearts make my heart steadfast in Your religion).” Rasulullah (Sallallāhu `alayhi wasallam) then recited: Rabbana la tuzia’qulubana ba’ daiz hadaitana wahab Lana min laduñ karahmah; Iñnaka an tal wahhāb. (Our Lord! Let not our hearts deviate (from the truth) after Thou have guided us, and grant us mercy from Thou. Truly, Thou are the Bestower.) (Al-’Imran, 3:8) [This is recorded by Muslim and At-Tirmidzi]

‘Abdullah bin Mas‘ud (radiyallāhu‘anhu) reported: The Prophet (Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) used to supplicate: “Allāhumma inni as ‘alukal-Huda, Wat-Tuqa, Wal-‘Afafa, Wal-Ghina (O Allāh! I beseech You for Guidance, Piety, Chastity and Contentment).” [Muslim]. This du’a contains four words, the meanings and implications of which constitute its essence. These words are guidance, piety (fear of Allāh), chastity and sufficiency. Guidance here means guidance at every turn of life and steadfastness on the path of truth. Fear of Allāh is the greatest means of piety and strongest defense against sins. Chastity is the state of being free from what is unlawful. Self-sufficiency is the antonym of poverty and here it means the self-contentment. What it implies is that one should not care for what people possess. In view of all these qualities, the prayer of the Prophet (Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) mentioned in this Hadith is very comprehensive and valuable.

Anas Ibn Mālik (radiyallāhu’anhu) who said: “The supplication most often recited by Rasūlullāh (Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam):Allāhumma-ātina-fid-dunya hasanah, Wa fil-ākhirati-hasanah, Wa-qina-‘ādzabānnār (O Allāh! Bestow upon us in this world that which is good and in the Hereafter that which is good, and save us from the punishment of the Fire).’” (Al-Baqārah 2:201) [This is recorded by Al-Bukhāri, Muslim, and Tarmidzi]. Tarmidzi (rahimullāh) said: “Hasanah is very comprehensive and includes in all kinds of good and benefits of this world and of the Hereafter. Good health, wealth and satisfaction of the world and good status in Jannah, forgiveness from sins and Allāh’s bounties and favours in both worlds are included in this duā’” [ Jāmi’ At-Tarmidzi]

And Allāh Almighty Knows best.

[Excerpted from “Ibn `Attaa’ Words of Wisdom (16): Understanding God’s Giving and Depriving, a commentary by Dr. Jasser Audavia on Islam Tuesday, 06 November 2012]