Wisdom Pt. IV


August 22, 2007 at 1:55 am

(Updated Daily)

Reflecting on the Reality of Death

1. Abu Bakr used to wish for death. When asked about that he replied: “I fear that I will see a time when good is no longer commanded and wrong no longer discouraged.”
2. Abu Hurayra used to say: “A time will come when the religious scholars will hold death to be more beloved than white gold. [Things will become so bad] that a person will go to the grave of another and say, ‘I wish I were in your place.’ ”
3. Yahya b. Mu’adh mentioned: “One who obeys God does not wish for death.”
4. Whenever ‘Umar b. ‘Abdul ‘Aziz saw a pious person he would ask him: “Pray for my death.”
5. Abu al-Darda’ used to say: “There is neither a believer nor a non-believer except that death is best for him. [It is said in the Qur’an]: What is with God is best for the righteous. (3:198) We extend good to them (arrogant non-believers) in this world in order that they increase in their sinful rebellion. They will have a painful punishment. (3:178)”
6. Sufyan al-Thawri used to say: “I used to see our scholars wishing for death, may God be pleased with them, and I was surprised by that. Now [being older and wiser], I am surprised by anyone who does not desire death.”
7. ’Abdullah b. Mas’ud used to say: “The unadulterated purity of the world has departed and only its murkiness remains. Hence, today death is a gift for every true believer.”
8. ‘Umar b. ‘Abdul ‘Aziz used to say: “I do not desire an easy death because it is the last thing [in this world] a believer will be rewarded for.”
9. Abu al-Darda’ used to say: “No brother has given me a gift more beloved than a warm greeting, and I have received any good news concerning him more beloved to me than the news of his death.”
10. Abu ‘Utba al-Khulani used to say: “Among the attributes of the Companions of the Messenger of God, peace upon him, is that they viewed meeting God as something more beloved to them than a honey-laden comb. They would not fear their worldly needs being met; rather, they had total trust in God for their sustenance. Furthermore, they loved death as much as any one of you loves good health.”

Note: The narrations in this section are not intended to create pessimism towards living. Rather, the intent of the author is to generate optimism towards death, a consciousness of its reality, and a longing to meet God.

11. ‘Abdullah b. al-Mubarak once asked Sahl al-Tustari: “Sahl! Would you like to die tomorrow?” He replied, “No! I would like to die right now.”

Dealing With Tribulation, and Appreciating Well-being

12. Luqman said to his son: “I have carried stones and iron, but I have not been burdened with anything weightier than debt; I have eaten all sorts of delicacies, but I have not experienced anything more delicious than good health; and I have tasted every bitter thing, but I have never tasted anything more bitter than being in need of people.”
13. Fudayl b. ‘Iyad said: “You should weep for people cast into tribulation. If your sins are greater than theirs, then it is possible that you will be punished as they have been, perhaps even worse.” He would often send food and money to incarcerated individuals, saying: “They are indigent.”
14. Sahl b. Sa’d al-Tustari used to say: “One of the greatest things a servant can be tested with is being relieved from his worldly and otherworldly struggles. Few are they who realize that such relief is actually a tribulation.”
15. Muslim b. Qutayba used to say: “One of the greatest manifestations of real manhood is the ability to bear the abuse of others.”
16. Yahya b. al-Husayn used to say: “All tribulation follows from wellbeing. If Pharaoh had been afflicted with debilitating disease he would not have proclaimed: I am your Lord Most High (79:24).”

Al-Sha’rani adds: “I heard ‘Ali al-Khawass say, ‘One of the greatest tribulations is for a servant to be guilty of dissimulation in his knowledge or actions. However, few are they who realize this.’ Be conscious of this my brother and check yourself. Beware at all costs of saying what one of the sincere people said when cast into tribulation: ‘O God! If this [tribulation] involves your pleasure, then increase it.’ For only the Prophets, peace upon them, are capable of bearing the full intensity of God’s trials. Abu Bakr, may God be pleased with him, said during one of his sermons: ‘O People! Ask God for forgiveness and good health.’ God-willing a full expose on this particular characteristic will come in an independent section. And all praise is for God, Lord of the Worlds.”

He continues: “Among their characteristics, may God be pleased with them, is their intense fear of God at the beginning of their spiritual journey and their awe at the end of that journey. At the beginning of their journey they fear the consequences of their sins and divine retribution, while at the end of their journey they are awestruck by the Majesty and Might of God. One of the necessary consequences of this is their remorsefulness in both states.

It is related in a prophetic tradition that the Messenger o God, peace upon him, said: “O Safiyya, the aunt of the Messenger of God! O Fatima, the daughter of Muhammad! Save yourselves from Hell, because I will not be able to help you when you are judged by God.” In another tradition: “Goodness will never be eroded; sins will never be forgotten; and the Judge will never be eradicated. Therefore, act as you wish, for just as you live you will be judged.”
17. Abu Sa’id al-Khudri, may God be pleased with him used to say: “There are four things that will ruin and consume a person if they overindulge in them: Sexual intimacy, hunting, gambling, and sinful acts.”
18. Abu Muhammad al-Marwazi said: “Iblis was damned because of five things: He did not acknowledge his sin; he expressed no remorse for it; he did not blame himself; he did not hasten to repent; and he despaired of God’s mercy.” He then said: “Adam did the opposite of that. He attained to Paradise due to five things: He admitted his sin; he expressed remorse for it; he blamed himself; he hastened to repent; and he did not despair of God’s Mercy.”
19. Hatim al-Asamm used to say: “If you slip into sin, hasten to repentance and remorsefulness. Never make excuses to people for your sins, for your excuses are greater than your rebellion.”
Note: An excuse is not an apology. An excuse for one’s sin would be saying, for example: “I stole your car because I got tired of riding the bus.”

20. When Imam al-Awza’i saw any of the descendants of the Prophet, peace upon him, disobeying God, he would say to them: “Do not be deceived by your kinship to the Messenger of God, peace upon him, for he said to his daughter, Fatima, “I will not be able to help you when you are judged by God.”
21. Ahmad b. Harb used to say: “Has not the time come for the sinner to repent? Surely, his sin has been recorded in the Book; tomorrow he will be grieving in his grave; and [unless he repents] he will be dragged into Hell.”
22. Ibn ‘Abbas, may God be pleased with him and his father, mentioned: “It is not fitting that a person inflicts harm on himself.” He was asked: “How could that be?” He replied: “He harms himself by rebelling against his Lord.”
23. Ja’far b. Muhammad used to say: “Whoever God removes from the humiliation of sin, He has enriched him without giving him money; He has ennobled him without the aid of his family or lineage; and he has provided him sociability without any companions.”
24. Ibn ‘Abbas, may God be pleased with him and his father, used to say: “A few righteous deeds coupled with a few sins are more beloved to God than an abundance of righteous deeds coupled with an abundance of sins.”
25. Hasan al-Basri used to say: “Among the signs that someone is drowning in sins is the lack of motivation to fast voluntarily and the disinclination to undertake the night prayer.”

Choosing Obedience Over Sin

26. Muhammad b. al-Wasi’ said to his companions after they had drowned in their sins: “If one of you sensed from me even the slightest odor of sins you would not have been able to sit in my presence.”
27. Al-Hasan al-Basri used to say: “If the miserable lot who murdered Husayn, may God be pleased with him, were to enter Heaven due to God’s grace, how would they be able to pass by the Prophet, peace upon him, knowing they had killed his grandson? I swear by God! If I were in a position to kill him and go to Heaven, or spare him and go to Hell, I would choose Hell fearing the Prophet, peace upon him, might cast an unfavorable glance upon me in Heaven.”
28. Ibn Sammak mentioned: “If the only consequences of pious obedience were an illuminated face, love in the heart, physical strength, being safe from others, and one’s witnessing being sought out that would be sufficient incentive to leave sin; and if the only consequences of sin were a gloomy face, a darkened heart, being cursed by people, one’s witnessing being deemed unacceptable, and being in fear of the people that would be sufficient punishment for sinning. Allah has made signs to indicate the obedient and the rebellious in order that the former experiences worldly delight and the later worldly anguish.”
Note: In other words, if the considerations of Heaven and Hell were not associated the obedient or sinful behavior.
Al-Sha’rani adds: “Perhaps what is meant by cursing in this passage is his being singled out for insult, or his being included among the generality of sinners, for it is not permissible to specifically curse anyone.”
29. ‘Ata b. Ribah mentioned concerning the Qur’anic verse, Whoever magnifies the Signs of God it is best for him. (22:30): “This refers to sins; he magnifies their consequences in order that he does not fall into them.”
30. Al-Hasan al-Basri used to say: “No one recklessly sins except that God will humiliate him in this world and the next. There is no servant who sins by night except that God will manifest humiliation on his face in the morning.”
31. ‘Awwam b. Hawshab used to say: “Four things occurring after a sin are more vile than the sin itself: Making repentance while not ceasing the sinful act; being deceived by God’s clement nature; persisting in the sin; and taking God’s forgiveness for granted.”
32. ‘Abdullah b. ‘Abbas, may God be pleased with him and his father, used to say: Whoever obeys God has remembered Him, even if he is lacking in His prayer, fasting, and Qur’anic recitation. [On the other hand], whoever disobeys God has forgotten Him.”

Indications of Righteousness

Al-Sha’rani mentions: “Among the sign of a righteous scholar is that he is only found engaging righteous acts.”
33. Sufyan al-Thawri was asked: “How do the angels record that which the servant thinks about doing but stops short of actual implementation?” He said: “The two recording angels, peace upon them, do not know the unseen. However, when the servant intends a good deed, the fragrance of musk emerges from him and they know that he intends good. When he intends a vile act, a foul odor emerges from him and they know that he intends vileness.”
Al-Sha’rani adds: “Perhaps what he means by the intention here is a conviction that is accompanied by actual steps towards implementation. This understanding is consistent with what is mentioned in various prophetic traditions and the spirit of religious principles. Surely, God knows best.
34. Abu Sulayman al-Darani used to say: “The righteous only love remaining in this [earthly] abode in order to obey God.”
35. Bishr al-Hafi used to say: “We met people whose good deeds were like mountains, yet they were not deceived because of them. As for you, you have no good deeds, yet you are deceived. I swear by God, we talk like saints, yet we act like tyrants and hypocrites.”
36. Hatim al-Asamm used to say: “If you disobey God yet wake up each morning and find His Blessings spread over you, know that those blessings are in reality a curse that keeps you from realizing the error of your ways. We met people who feared the magnitude of minor sins more than you fear the magnitude of major ones.”
37. Al-Rabi’ b. Khashram used to say when he ritually slaughtered an animal: “[O God!] I swear by your Might and Majesty, if I knew you would be pleased with me slaughtering myself, I would have done so.”
38. He also said: “Kahmas b. al-Hasan wept for forty years because he cleansed his hands with dirt from his neighbor’s yard without first seeking his permission.”
Al-Sha’rani mentions at this point: “It has been conveyed to us that God revealed to David, peace upon him, ‘O David! Say to the Children of Israel, ‘What has led you to come to believe that I have forgiven any one of you to such an extent that he needs not express any remorse for his sin?’ I swear by My Might and Majesty, I will confront every sinner with his sin on the Day of Resurrection.’ ”
He adds: “Perhaps what is meant by having people confronted by their sins is by way of God showing them His grace [by forgiving those sins]. This expression does not imply a lack of God’s forgiveness.”
39. Yazid al-Himyari once asked a monk: “Why do you prefer wearing black over white.” The monk replied: “Because black is worn by people afflicted by tribulation. We are sinners, and sinning is the greatest tribulation.”
40. He also said: “’Utba al-Ghulam passed by a place one day and began quivering and sweating profusely. He was asked about that and replied: “I once sinned in this place during my youth.”
41. Malik b. Dinar performed the Pilgrimage (Hajj) walking from Basra. He was asked: “Why don’t you ride?” He replied: “Does it only please a rebellious runaway slave that he should return repenting to his master riding? I swear to God, if I were to reach Mecca walking over burning embers that would be insufficient.”

Al-Sha’rani comments: “Know this point well my brother. And beware at all costs of treating lightly the incumbency of repenting for sins you may have committed long ago. This is owing to the fact that you are certain that you have sinned, while you doubt if you will be forgiven. Therefore, seek God’s forgiveness by night and day.”

He continues: “Among their characteristics, May God be pleased with them, is their fear that God will take them to task for their oppression of their own souls, or their oppression of others. This is especially true if one of them saw his righteous deeds as being scant. He would be intensely afraid and deeply distressed by the lack of goods deeds he could present as a source of atonement on the Day of Resurrection for those he has wronged. Therefore, he is not pleased by all of the righteous deeds he has done, as long as he knows of a single act of oppression he is guilty of, be that usurping someone’s wealth, an affront to someone’s honor, or unjustly striking someone.”

It is mentioned in a prophetic tradition that the Prophet, peace upon him asked: “Do you know who the bankrupt one from my community will be on the Day of Resurrection?” Those hearing this replied: “God and His Messenger know best.” He, peace upon him, said: “The bankrupt one of my community on the Day of Resurrection will be one who comes forth with a wealth of fasting, prayer, and charity, having performed many pilgrimages. However, he will come forth having insulted this one, usurped the wealth of that one, spilled the blood of another, and beaten yet someone else. Each of them will take his deserved share from his good deeds. If those deeds are exhausted before they are all compensated, their evil deeds will then be cast upon him and then he will be thrown into Hell.” Muslim

42. ‘Abdullah b. Unays used to say: “The Mighty Lord will call out on the Day of Resurrection, ‘I am the King, the Judge. It is not fitting that anyone enter Hell or Paradise, while he has oppressed someone, until I avenge the oppressed.’ ”
43. Wahb b. Munabbih said: “A youth form the Children of Israel repented from all of his sins. He then devoted himself to God, fasting and praying at night for seventy years. He would avoid the shade during the daytime while fasting. He would eat no fat. After he passed away one of his brothers saw him in his dream and asked him: “How is God treating you?” He responded: “He took me to account and then forgave all of my sins, except for a toothpick I took from its owner without his permission. For this alone I have been thus far been given no assurance of Paradise.”

Al-Sha’rani adds: “[The idea of being punished for the smallest sin] is supported by the following prophetic tradition: ‘God has hidden three things in three other things; He has hidden His pleasure in obedience to Him; He has hidden His anger in rebellion against Him; and He has hidden His saints among His ordinary worshippers.’ Perhaps He mentions His anger being hidden in sin to indicate that this implies the servant falling into a sin that he considers being inconsequential, such as taking a toothpick or washing one’s hand in a neighbor’s dirt, as has been mentioned.”

Note: One may view such an idea as an indication of a lack of mercy. However, if we took these teachings seriously it would be impossible for the type of oppression and injustice we witness contemporarily to occur. If one internalized the idea that he may be punished by God for a toothpick or a handful of dirt he has usurped, how difficult would it be for him to usurp whole countries? The idea of these aphorisms is that they inspire us to take our religion and its teachings seriously, especially those that relate to the rights, honor, and dignity of other human beings. Again the point here is not to emphasize how severe God’s wrath is. Rather it is to emphasize the degree to which He hates oppression. Ponder this point well, and try to reform your relations with other people.

44. Al-Harith al-Muhasibi mentioned: “A person who used to cheat people when weighing their goods by putting some dirt in the plate of the scale [along with the goods] was tortured in the grave until one of the righteous people prayed that God relieve him from the torment he was experiencing and his prayer was answered.”
45. Abu Maysara used to say: “It reached us that a deceased person was tormented in his grave with a blow so severe that it caused his grave to burst into flames. He asked: “Why am I being beaten like this?” The angels replied: “You passed by an oppressed person once who sought your help and you refused to help him. And on another occasion you prayed without ablution while being absolutely certain that you were in a state of ritual impurity.”

Note: Again, the gravity of oppression is stressed. As for praying without Ablution, the point is not that such an apparently small act is severely punished, the point is that the person made no effort to comply with God’s commandment. When one makes an effort to comply, one is rewarded for that effort, even if one falls short. The best example of this is the man who killed one hundred people and then repented but died before getting an opportunity to do any good deeds. He was forgiven because of his effort to repent and reform his ways.

46. Shurayh al-Qadi used to say: “Beware of bribery for it blinds the heart of the wise man.”
47. When Al-Hasan al-Basri saw one of the rulers or a member of his entourage giving charity to a poor person he would say: “You give charity to the poor seeking to show mercy to them. Have mercy on those you have oppressed by returning to them their usurped property.”
48. Hudhayfa, May God be pleased with him, used to say: “Among the signs that Doomsday is approaching is that you will find the rulers tyrannical; the scholars profligate; and trustworthy people treacherous.”
49. Maymun b. Mihran used to say: “A man will curse himself during prayer and not realize it.” He was asked: “How is that?” He responded by reading the Qur’anic verse: Surely the curse of God is upon the oppressors. (10:18) [An oppressor] has wronged himself with sin, and he has wronged people by usurping their wealth and assailing their honor.”
50. Malik b. Dinar used to say: “The one trusted by a traitor is a traitor, and the trusted by a cheat is a cheat.”