We give ourselves little time or opportunity to reflect upon our state and our relationship with our Creator. Entangled as we are in the rigmarole of daily life, we deny our souls the sustenance they need, of reflection, of remembrance, and of being in seclusion before our Creator. We are quite happy to do the bare minimum, and take any leniency that we can avail ourselves of, without reflecting upon what the effects of our actions may be on our hearts or on our closeness – or lack thereof – to Allāh the Most High.
Ibn Al-Jawzi (6thCentury AH) was an outstanding scholar of Baghdad who was orphaned at a young age. A renowned Hanbalite scholar and prolific writer, he said of himself that he had authored one hundred and thirty titles. His wonderful book, Saydul Khātir, from which the passage below is taken, is an uplifting volume of personal reflections and wise vignettes that touch the soul. It exemplifies the sort of contemplative introspection that should be the quality of a believer – true spirituality and ascetism. The passage reminds us that following every leniency without questioning it, or without consulting our heart, is not a quality sought after – and there is no shortage of lenient sayings in our time – for what is at stake is the wellbeing of our hearts. Ibn Al-Jawzi (raḥimahu Allāhu) said:
I was able to acquire a worldly effect as result of following a legal (fiqhi) concession but each time I acquired more of it, something was lost from my heart; each time an avenue to acquire more lit up before me, the darkness in my heart grew.
I cried out, ‘Oh evil soul! Sinfulness is as a lesion on hearts, and he (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said, “Consult your heart.” There is no good in this entire world if acquiring it leads to a turbid heart. There would be no true pleasure in a garden acquired through something that is religiously blameworthy or a dishonest transaction; to sleep on rubbish heaps with a heart free of filth is more delightful than reclining on the couches of kings.’
I continued in this vein – sometimes I would overcome my soul and sometimes it overcame me, then circumstances would dictate the acquisition of what I needed to meet a need. My soul would make its case, ‘I am not overstepping the apparent bounds of the permissible.’ I countered, ‘Does not scrupulousness (wara’) prohibit you from this?’ It replied, ‘Yes.’ I then asked, ‘Does it not lead to hardness of the heart?’ It replied, ‘It does.’ I said, ‘If this is the fruit, there is no good in it for you!’
One day I took my soul aside, saying, ‘Woe to you, let me speak to you and listen well! Assume that you have gathered something of this world in which there is doubt, are you certain that you will spend it?’
It replied, ‘No.’
I said, ‘So the tragedy is that it could only be of benefit to someone else, while all you get from it is an perturbed heart in the short-term, and a burden which you may or may not have to bear.
‘Woe to you! For the sake of Allāh, leave what prevents you from scrupulousness. Deal with it by leaving it. It seems that you only want to leave what is proscribed, or what is apparently wrong. Have you not heard, “Whoever leaves something for Allāh’s sake, He will replace it with something better?”
‘Is there not a lesson for you in people who hoarded things only for others to acquire them? They craved and coveted but never realised their ambitions.
‘How many a scholar has gathered scores of books only to benefit from none! How many are there who do actually benefit, yet may not have as much as ten volumes? How many are those who live a blissful life, yet do not possess two dinars? How many are those with tremendous wealth yet are beset with anxiety and stress?
‘Do you not have the sharpness of insight that makes clear to you the state of those who [may gain a benefit from] legal concessions on the one hand, but suffer many losses on the other. Perhaps the owner of a house, or one of its residents, is struck with illness and spends therein many times more than what he earned through those concessions; but the person mindful of Allāh is spared of this.’
My soul rose up to rebuke me, exclaiming, ‘I am not overstepping the bounds of the law, what more do you want of me?!’
I said, ‘I will refrain from cheating you, and you know your inner self better.’
It said, ‘Tell me what I should do.’
I counselled it, ‘Be mindful of the One watching you. Imagine how you would be before someone of status in this world, and apprehend the truth that you are in fact before the greatest Master – He sees of your inner self what those of status do not see of your exterior. Choose the safer course; be wary of selling certainty for concession and God consciousness (taqwa) for a short-term desire.
‘If you find this advice hard to bear, say, “Patience for a while!” The time for you to see the fruits of your patience has not yet come to an end. May Allāh guide you to its realisation and aid you through His divine accord.’