On Trials, Tawakkul, and Subduing the Self

As promised in my last post, below are some excerpts from one of the two extant collections of ‘Abd al-Qādir’s sermons and discourses, the Futūḥ al-Ghayb, a text which gained a selective commentary by none other than ibn Taymiyya (who, it should be remembered, was not entirely anti-Sufi but in fact favored and participated in certain aspects of Sufism). The excerpts I have translated below deal, in general, with the pious believer’s relation to God vis-a-vis the external world. The basic dilemma for ‘Abd al-Qādir is the question of how one can live what would appear to be a rather conventional, active life in the world, while relying entirely upon God and refusing to notionally associate anyone or anything else with God. The goal for ‘Abd al-Qādir, as with many other Sufis and other medieval Muslim ascetics and pious practitioners, is to enter a state in which all attachments, emotional and physical dependencies, and notional conceptions are stripped away from the created world and realigned with God.

How congruent is the world-view expressed in these writings with the image of the powerful Sufi saint, as seen in later hagiography? I will leave the reader to contemplate that question for now; I will take it up in more detail in a future post of excerpts from ‘Abd al-Qādir’s other sermon and discourse collection, al-Fatḥ al-Rabbānī.

3rd Discourse: On Trials

He said, may God be pleased with him and He please him: When the servant is tried with a trial, he first undertakes independent measures of himself, and if he is not delivered from [the trial], he seeks the aid of [other] people, such as holders of power, high dignitaries, lords of this world, spiritually powerful people, and doctors for illness and pains. And if he does not find deliverance in those measures, he turns to his Lord with supplication, humility, and praise. So long as he finds help in himself, he does not turn to [other] people, and so long as he finds help in other people he does not turn to his Lord. Then, when he does not find help in the Creator, he flings himself before Him asking and supplicating, with humility and praise, and neediness with fear and hope. Then God incapacitates his supplication and does not answer him until he is cut off from all means (al-asbāb). Now His power is operative in him, and His action acts in him, and the servant is annihilated from all means and motions, so that he is only spiritually remaining (fa-yabqā rūḥan faqaṭ), and he sees nothing save the action of God (f’il al-Ḥaqq). So he becomes of necessity certain of [divine] oneness, being made profoundly aware that in truth there is no Doer save God, no bringer-into-motion or bringer-to-rest save God, and that there is no good or bad, harm or benefit, giving or withholding, opening or closing, death or life, might or abasement, save by the hand of God.

And he becomes in the divine power (al-qadar) like the suckling child in the hands of the wet-nurse, like the dead body being washed in the hand of the washer, like the ball in the polo-stick of the horseman, turned and changed and modified. He simply is, and there is no motion in himself nor in anyone else, and he is hidden from himself in the action of his Master, seeing no one else other than his Master and His action. He neither hears nor comprehends any other. If he perceives or hears, it is His word that he hears, and His knowledge that he knows, by His blessing he is blessed, with His closeness he is glad. By His proximity is his adornment and exaltation, and by His promise health and peace; by Him is tranquility of soul; by His speech is amicability, from those apart from Him he feels fear and desolation. He takes refuge in and depends upon remembrance of Him, and he puts his confidence in Him and trusts in Him. He is guided, clothed, and attired in the light of knowledge of Him. He becomes aware of the wonders of His knowledge, and he comes close to the secrets of His power. And through Him he hears and takes heed, then upon that he gives praise, glory, thanksgiving, and supplication.

16th Discourse: On Tawakkul and Its Stations

Nothing veils you from the grace of God and commencement in His benefits save your reliance upon people, the means, craft and trade, and acquisition. People are your veil from livelihood (lit., eating) in accordance with the sunna, that is, [lawful] earning (al-kasb).[1] So do not persist in being dependent on people, hoping for their gifts and favor, asking of them, always going to their doors—you thereby associate God with His creation![2] So He punishes you by your being deprived of livelihood in accordance with the sunna, that is, earning of the allowed things of this world. Then, if you repent of dependence on people and your associating of them with your Lord, and turn to lawful earning and live by it, but you trust in [your] lawful earning, are tranquil in it, and forget the favor of your Lord—then you are an associator also. It is a hidden associationism (shirk khafī) more hidden than the first, so God will punish you, and veil you from His favor and commencement in it. And if you repent and cease, from the heart, from associationism, no longer trusting in earning, strength, or power, and look only to God—He is the Provider, He is the Causer, the One Who gives ease, the One powerful over earning, the Source of every good. Provision (rizq) is by His hand.[3] Sometimes He continues you in it [provision] by way of people, either through asking them for something in time or trial or testing, or through your asking Him. Other times, it is by way of lawful earning as recompense. Other times it is from His favor commencing without your seeing the means or cause.

So return to Him, and cast yourself between His hands. And so the veil between you and Him will be lifted, and your beginning and your future are by His favor, so that every need is met in accordance with your state, just as the kind, compassionate, loving doctor does for the sick person, so is protection from Him. Yours is purification from leaning towards other than Him; He pleases you with His favor. So when your heart is cut off from every intention, passion, pleasure, seeking, and loving, then there remains in your heart nothing other than His intention. If He wants the conveying of your portion which you will necessarily receive—it is provision for no one else in the creation other than you—there will be found in you desire for that portion and its conveyance to you. And He will continue you in at time of need, then He will give you success and make you to know that is from Him, He is the conveyer of it to you and the Provider of it to you. So now you will thank Him and know and understand. And He will increase departure from [dependence on] the creation in you, and distance from the people, and the interior [person] will be emptied of other than Him . Then, when your knowledge and your certainty are strengthened, your inner senses clarified, your heart enlightened, your proximity to your Master increased, and your place is in His presence, and you become fit for the preservation of the secrets—you will know when your portion comes to you, grace for you and glorification for your honour—favor from Him, gift and guidance.

God says: And we made among them leaders who rightly guided by Our command when they became patient and firmly believed in Our signs (Q. 32.24). And He says: And those who strive in Us, We guide them in Our path (Q. 29.69). And He says: Fear God; God knows you (Q. 2.282). Then He returns upon you the original formation [?]—so be in accordance with the clear warrant in which there is no difficulty of understanding, and with the prescriptive indications are like the illumining sun, and with His pleasing Word—which is more pleasing than every other pleasure; and true inspiration which is without dissimulation, clarified from the notions of the self and the whisperings of accursed Satan.

God says in one of His books [sic.]: O son of Adam, I am God, there is no god save Me—I say to a thing, Be, and it is. Obey Me, and I will make you to be able to say to a thing, Be, and it will be. And He has done that for many of the prophets, saints, and spiritual elite among the sons of Adam.[4]

46th Discourse: On the Death Without Life in It, and the Life Without Death in It

One day a matter caused me anguish, goading the self (al-nafs), so that it was said to me: What do you want? I replied: I want a death without life in it, and life without death in it. So it was said to me: what is the death without life in it, and what is the life without death in it?

So I said: The death without life in it is my death in relation to my manner of being among people, so that I do not perceive them in relation to harm and benefit, and my death from my self (nafsī, the ‘lower self’), my passions, my will, and my desires in this world and the next, so that I neither experience or am found in any of those.

As for the life without death in it: it is my life in the action of my Lord, without my own existence in it, and the death in that is my existence with Him. And this intention is the most precious intention I have desired since I came of understanding.

[1] Kasb, in Islamic jurisprudential understanding, is profit accrued in accordance with the shari’a. See Cahen, ” Kasb,” in Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition. Brill Online , 2012.

[2] To ‘associate’ is to practice polytheism, effectively; in this case, ‘Abd al-Qādir is arguing, dependence upon creatures—people—is to put them in the place of God, as other gods alongside Him.

[3] Rizq is another deeply multivalenced word, in Sufi discourse and in wider forms of Islamic discourse. I have translated it ‘provision,’ but it could also be translated ‘sustenance,’ ‘livelihood,’ ‘daily bread,’ and so on. The essential idea here is that rizq is something provided by God; in much Islamic thought, rizq, like one’s time of death, is a determined thing (even the Mu’tazila, for instance, tended to accept the determined nature of rizq, for instance).

[4] This final paragraph is, needless to say, curious, and does not immediately seem to go along with the rest of the discourse—it is perhaps an interpolation by later redactors of the text. The lines cited seem to be a ḥadīth qudsī, of unknown provence to me.

2 thoughts on “On Trials, Tawakkul, and Subduing the Self

  1. Pingback: Thicket & Thorp

  2. Pingback: On the Poor Ones and Why They Are Called Sufis | Thicket & Thorp

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