Showing posts from September, 2020


 THE ROOT OF ALL SINS   Takabbur   (تکبّر)   (arrogance, grandiosity) leads to  Hasad   (حسد)   (jealousy, envy). It is because the person believes that he is superior to other people. If someone else progresses beyond him or receives something better than him, he feels upset and jealous that how come this other person progressed beyond me in anything. It should have been me who should have had that job, that status, that wealth.    This  Takabbur  leads to  Bughz   (بغض)   (keeping a grudge). People who lose temper at others frequently often suffer from Takabbur. People do Gheebat  (غیبت)   (backbiting) because they believe that they are better than the person they are badmouthing. Thus, Takabbur is the root of many spiritual ills. Imam Ghazali (may Allah bless him) has written in his book  Iḥyā′ ‘Ulūm al-Dīn  that  Takabbur  is the mother of spiritual illnesses. Once a person develops it, it gives rise to many other spiritual illnesses. Therefore, it is important to get it treated.


 PIOUS NEIGHBOURS - A GREAT BLESSING The second thing that the Holy Prophet  ﷺ  termed a great blessing and a sign of being fortunate for a Muslim, is having “pious neighbours”. These days we have forgotten this blessing. We live for years in a house but do not know who lives on either side of our house. The Holy Prophet  ﷺ  said that there are so many rights of neighbours, and Jibrai’l (Gabriel) Amin (peace be upon him) kept stressing upon the rights of neighbours so much that I started thinking that neighbours will also get a share of inheritance. Such is the importance of neighbours. That is why when you are looking for a house, among other things, also look for what kind neighbours you would have. If the neighbours are pious and moral, consider it a great blessing because a person has to deal with his neighbours all the time and has to be in their company. If a person has pious neighbours, then their companionship will be good too, and companionship has a great influence on a perso


 WEALTH IS USELESS WITHOUT  BARAKAH   May Allah Ta’ala grant us this understanding that what’s really important is not how much wealth we have got, it is Allah Ta’ala’s blessing. That is why the Holy Prophet  ﷺ  did not pray for increase in his sustenance, he prayed for  Barakah (blessing) in his sustenance. This blessing comes only from Allah Ta’ala. Even if you make a lot of money but it doesn’t have Allah’s blessing with it, it will not provide you with, peace, tranquility, happiness and comfort. But if you have Allah Ta’ala’s blessing with you, even a small income will provide you with comfort and peace of mind.


 THE FIRST SIN   Takabbur  (arrogance, grandiosity) is a source of many evils of the mind and soul. It is said that the first sin that was ever committed in this universe was that of  Takabbur . When Allah Ta’ala ordered all creations to prostrate before Hazrat Adam (peace be upon him), Iblis (Satan) refused to prostrate and said;    “… I am better than him. You have created me of fire, and created him of clay.” (7:12)   Iblis believed that he was superior to Hazrat Adam (PBUH) and that is why he disobeyed Allah Ta’ala, and that was why he was condemned till the end of time.


  ABOUT TAKABBUR (ARROGANCE, GRANDIOSITY) WHAT IS  TAKABBUR   (تکبّر) ?   Kibr   (کبر)  means believing oneself to be superior to other people. If someone is 30 years old and the other person is 20 years old, then it is obvious that the 30 years old will believe that he is older than the 20 years old. This is not  Kibr .  Kibr means that a person believes that he is superior to or better than someone else.   When a person believes himself to be superior, this is also reflected in their behaviour and content of their speech. This is  Takabbur   (تکبّر) . This is the difference between  Kibr  and  Takabbur .  Kibr  means having a ‘belief ‘in one’s mind that they are superior to others, and  Takabbur  refers to the ‘behaviour’ resulting from that belief acting in a manner which is consistent with that belief of being superior to others, for example, talking to others in a way which belittles and humiliates them. This  Takabbur  stems from  Kibr  so it is important to get this belief trea


  One crucial point to understand in the pursuit of self-improvement is that this journey never ends. There is no point after reaching which a person can relax that they have achieved everything they needed to achieve. For an individual this journey only ends when life itself ends. In fact, if someone starts getting these thoughts in their mind that they have achieved perfection in their quest for self-purification, they need to take a reality check, because on this path that is the gravest error of all. From here on, we will begin the description of nature and treatment of individual undesirable psychological traits.


 Hazrat Dr Abdul Hai (may Allah bless him) used to say that if parents keep measuring their child’s height every day how many inches they have grown, they would be disappointed every day as the growth after one day would be negligible. But if they measure the child’s height after a year or two, they would be pleasantly surprised at how much the child has grown. Similarly, on the path of self-purification, people sometimes get impatient and feel a failure that even after engaging in it for so long, they still slip up and do things they know they shouldn’t do. But if they compare their progress with what their conduct and behaviour was like some months or a year ago, then they may realize that they are making gradual progress.


 IT IS NOT BEYOND US In the Holy Quran Allah Ta’ala has said repeatedly, “We have not made human beings accountable for anything that is beyond their control”. The same is true for controlling one’s inner desires and urges. It does happen a lot that when a person starts the process of purification of inner-self that they make mistakes. They make vows and then they break them. They feel regret over their actions, and yet when the next opportunity comes, they may make the same mistake. But if they persevere and observe patience, slowly and gradually, over a period of time, they start making less mistakes and start becoming more successful in restraining their inner urges. Hazrat Thanvi RE used to recite this piece of poetry often;  اندریں راہ می تراش و می خراش تا دمِ آخر دمِ فارغ مباش On this path, there is always room for improvement. It does not end till the end comes.


  Forbearance  in this context means that if upon reflection a person feels that what they intend to say or do isn’t the right thing to say or do, then even if they have a strong desire or urge to do it, they must stop themselves from doing it by reminding themselves of the consequences of committing those actions. Wise elders have said that Jannah is not so cheap that we won’t make any efforts for it, we won’t give up anything for it, and it still will be forced upon us. When we pursue a career, we give up years of pleasures which we spend studying and training for it, and give up many nights’ sleep for it. We need to reflect upon what have we given up amongst our wishes, our desires, our impulses, our comforts, to earn Jannah?   If one keeps practicing reflection and forbearance, over a period of time they gain much better control over their internal desires and urges.


 THE TREATMENT OF UNDESIRABLE PSYCHOLOGICAL TRAITS Hazrat Thanvi (may Allah bless him) said that for treatment of undesirable psychological traits a person needs two things. The first is reflection, and the second is forbearance.    By  reflection  it is meant that a person should develop a habit that whenever they are about to say or do something, they should first pause and reflect for a few moments about whether what they are about to say or do is the right thing to say or do, or not. Initially, it is quite difficult to reflect every time one is about to say or do something. However, if a person keeps practicing, over a period of time it becomes relatively easier.


 HUMANS ARE NOT ANGELS   It is these internal drives to do wrong that make us human. Unlike us, angels have no desire to do wrong. They have no anger, no greed, no lust, no arrogance and no grandiosity. But that is exactly why they do not get any  thawab  (reward) for not committing any sins. Humans, on the other hand, have all these innate desires and drives to do all of these wrongs, and that is exactly why they get huge reward for stopping themselves from committing these acts. And in fact, the greater the inclination in them to commit a particular sin, the greater the effort they have to make to stop themselves from committing that sin, the greater the reward they get for abstaining from that sin. And when they do succeed in controlling these desires and refraining from acting upon them purely for the sake of pleasing Allah Ta’ala, they become superior to angels.


 DIFFERENCE BETWEEN INNER DRIVES AND BEHAVIOUR   One difference which is importance to understand here is between inner drives and observable behaviour. For example, angry and aggressive temperament is a drive, physically hitting someone is behaviour. If a person is used to habitually responding to any situation not of their liking by screaming and yelling, then regardless of how many times they are told that it is wrong to do so, they are unlikely to stop it. Even if they do want to stop it, it takes a mammoth effort to do so when one’s self-control has been taken over by feelings of rage and anger. That is why it is important to treat the inner drives of anger and aggression, and the core beliefs about self and others that make a person believe that it is okay to scream and yell at others, before they will truly be able to control their behaviour in most situations. 


 The same is true of the process of purification of inner-self. For example, a person used to become unduly and excessively angry over trivial matters, and responded by screaming, yelling, physical violence and aggression to the most trivial of perceived slights. If this person starts undergoing this process, initially they may still feel as angry as they used to and feel like screaming and yelling, and breaking the other person’s jaw, but they may be able to rein in their anger and not express it as violently as they used to. After a period of time, they may be able to not express their anger at all or express it only a little, and after an even longer period may stop feeling as angry from inside over the same perceived slight at which they would have exploded previously. It is a life-long struggle, they may still feel anger, but controlling and restraining that anger becomes much easier for them.


 THE GOAL IS TO WEAKEN UNDESIRABLE PSYCHOLOGICAL TRAITS   When we start doing any activity for the first time, it seems extremely difficult to keep doing it regularly, whether that be regular exercise, or praying Salah 5 times a day. However, if we persevere and keep doing it, after a few months it becomes a bit easier, and after a year it may become second nature. It doesn’t mean that one does not have to make any effort to do it now, it means that it takes a lot less effort to do it now than it did when a person had first started doing it.


 The true purpose of establishing this mentoring relationship is not just to learn which  Zikr  (remembrance) to do, which  Tasbeehat  to recite, or to discuss worldly affairs like which business would be more profitable. It is to keep critically looking at one’s own words and behaviour throughout the day and to keep reflecting on, for example, whether what I said at a particular time was suggestive of  Takabbur  (arrogance, grandiosity), had I become excessively or unjustly angry on such and such occasion, or whether what I did on a particular occasion was because of having too much love of this material world. The next step is to discuss these concerns with the mentor to find out if our behaviour or words were reflective of one of the undesirable psychological traits, and if yes, how to treat it. We should then try to follow the mentor’s advice, and if we find it difficult to follow, we should discuss it with the mentor too. 


 NEED FOR A MENTOR   It is generally not possible for people to step outside of themselves and look critically at their own selves to judge whether their thoughts, beliefs, feelings, emotional responses, speech and behaviour are suggestive of having desirable psychological traits, or undesirable ones. If people could recognize and accept that they are unduly arrogant or become angry unjustly, they would probably have stopped doing so long time ago. That is why it has been recommended that people who want to embark on the path of self-improvement should get a mentor who they can discuss their thoughts, emotions, speech and behaviour with to find out whether these are reflective of desirable or undesirable psychological traits, and if the latter, how to change those undesirable traits. In the terminology of Tasawwuf such a person is called a Shaykh.


 ABOUT SOME TERMINOLOGY   Because almost all of the original literature on Tasawwuf was written in Arabic, Farsi (Persian) and Urdu, one has to either translate or coin terms when writing about in English. As mentioned previously, there are two types of our unique patterns of thinking, feeling, and emotional responsiveness; one which we are supposed to develop and enhance, which is Akhlaq-e-Fazila (اخلاقِ فاضلہ), and the other which we are supposed to weaken and attenuate, which is called Akhlaq-e-Razeela (اخلاقِ رذیلہ). From now on, I will use the term “Desirable Psychological Traits” for the former, and “Undesirable Psychological Traits” for the latter.


 On the other hand, this anger also serves the purpose of protecting our life, our honour, our property, our family. It is anger which makes us take action when someone is attacking our family, our property, our honour. If someone is attacking my family and I do not feel any anger, that is not desirable, that is not normal. So, the goal is not to get rid of anger completely, the goal is to tame one’s anger so that we express our anger only in the circumstances we are allowed to get angry in, and only to the extent we are allowed to get angry to, so that our response is proportional to the harm that was done to us and we do not go overboard in our anger. The core point to understand here is that all these drives are normal and natural, and have been given to us for a purpose. It is their uncontrolled, unchecked expression which is undesirable. 


 It is important to understand that it is not the existence of undesirable thought patterns an emotional response patterns which is a problem, as they do perform certain functions. It is their unchecked expression which is a problem. And that is why the primary goal of Tasawwuf is not to remove these thought and emotional response patterns completely, the goal is to moderate them, to bring them under control, so that their expression is within the limits set by Shariah. The emotion of anger is a good example in this regard.    If a person habitually becomes excessively angry over trivial matters and loses control, this may lead to numerous wrongs. Externally, it may lead to violence and aggression against people, destroying their property, making hurtful comments about them, harming them financially, etc. Internally, it may lead to hating people, holding grudges against them, becoming jealous of them, wishing them harm, etc.


 As we grow up, all of us develop certain recurring patterns of thinking, core beliefs, and emotional responsiveness, that make us who we are. We are born with some of these, and pick up the rest from our social environment like the beliefs and practices of our parents, our extended family, and later our peers. These core beliefs, thoughts patterns, and emotional responses determine almost all of what we do and what we say. Some of these core beliefs, and our patterns of responding emotionally, are desirable under Shariah, and some are not. The primary purpose of  Tazkiyah  (تزکیہ) , also known as  Tasawwuf   (تصوّف) , Tareeqat  (طریقت) , Sulook  (سلوک) , Ihsan  (احسان) , or more colloquially Sufism, is cultivating and enhancing the desirable beliefs and patterns, and ameliorating/ attenuating the undesirable beliefs and pattern.  Zikr (remembrance, recitation of  Tasbeehat ) is an aide for this process of purification of inner-self, it is not the primary objective, as some people seem


  We have been commanded to perform certain Ibadah (acts of worship) which involve our body organs, for example, praying Salah (Namaz), fasting (Sawm), giving Zakat, performing Hajj, among others. Similarly, we have been commanded to NOT do certain things which are also actions of our body organs, for example, doing Gheebat (backbiting), hitting other people, telling a lie, among others. What some people are not fully aware of is that we have also been commanded to perform certain Ibadah which are actions of our minds, our thoughts, our beliefs, and our emotions, and not of our body organs. These include harbouring thoughts and beliefs like Shukr (شکر) (being grateful to Allah Ta’ala), Sabr (صبر) (patience), Tawakkul (توکّل) (placing one’s trust solely in Allah Ta’ala) Tawazu (تواضع) (humility) and Ikhlas (اخلاص) (sincerity of intention), among others. Similarly, we have been commanded NOT to entertain certain beliefs for example, Takabbur (تکبّر) (believing oneself to be superior to o


  THE PRIMARY GOAL OF  TASAWWUF  (SUFISM)  (تصوّف) In describing the reasons for sending the Holy Prophet  ﷺ  to this world, Allah Ta’ala says;   “…We have sent in your midst a messenger from among you, who recites to you Our verses, and PURIFIES YOU, and teaches you the Book and the wisdom, and teaches you what you did not know…” (2:151)   The word  Tazkiyah   (تزکیہ)   literally means ‘purification’. It has been described in this verse as one of the Prophetic functions separate from the teaching of the Book, and wisdom, so it is important to understand what it refers to.


  The next series of posts was prompted by a dear friend who recently asked me what is the purpose of establishing an Islahi Ta’alluq (a mentorship relationship in religion) and how does it work. As he cannot read Urdu, I promised him I will translate some authentic material into English. What follows draws heavily on talks on this topic by Mufti Taqi Usmani DB though is not a literal translation as Mufti sahib’s talks were delivered to an audience with some prior knowledge of this topic, which may not be the case here. May Allah Ta’ala forgive any unintended mistakes as I am just a novice, and not an expert on this topic. Aameen Translating specific terms from one language into another is always a difficult task. For example, the English words closest to the Urdu word Takabbur (تکبّر) would be Arrogance or Grandiosity but they do not quite convey the full meaning and connotation of the word Takabbur which is defined as a person’s belief that he is superior to others and others are inf


 When I open my fridge and take out whatever I want to eat or drink, do I ever stop to reflect for a moment how many millions and billions there are in this world who are not sure when or if or how they will get their next meal? Even when I sit down to enjoy a book, I sometimes think how blessed I am that I have the peace of mind and health to enjoy it, without having to worry about my physical safety, my next meal, my next pay check, the safety of my children, a roof over my head, and so many other things that so many other people in the world can not just take for granted. If we just start thinking of all of God’s blessings that we enjoy every moment we are living and breathing, and start thanking Him for all of those blessings, then we will never be able to forget God. The end…


 My mentor had further said, “If you didn’t have the correct  Niyyah  (intention) as yet, make it now. After that your studying, talking about studying, worrying about studying, preparing for exams, all will become part of Allah’s  Zikr  (remembrance). None of these activities is devoid of Allah’s  Zikr .”   What I learnt from that simple yet profound advice was that there are so many things we do in our routine life which we consider  Dunya  (material world), but if we change our way perspective most of them can become  Deen . I found out that remembering God all the time was much easier than I had originally thought.


 STEP 4: ALWAYS REMEMBER GOD   Reading this heading someone might think, “I have got a job, I have to study, I have to look after my kids, how could I possibly remember God all the time?” Indeed. But there is a way.   When I had just started learning about  Deen  (religion), one day I very proudly said to my mentor, “Hazrat (Sir), I do not feel like studying (medicine) anymore. I feel like keep doing Allah’s  Zikr  (remembrance) all the time.” I was so surprised when he replied, “What did you say? Do you think  Deen  (religion) and  Dunya  (material world) are two separate things? They are one and the same. It is only a matter of changing one’s perspective.” He further explained, “For example, you are studying to become a doctor. If you are doing it with the intention that you will earn a lot of money through your profession, you won’t get any reward from God. But if you do it with the intention that you will help God’s creation (people), then it will bring huge rewards from God. It do


  The story is of Hazrat Thanvi RE. I read it quite a while ago and am quoting here from memory so may Allah forgive any unintended mistakes. He spent all his life mentoring people in the ways of religious knowledge and self-improvement. After his terminal illness had begun, one day he asked to meet someone to explain a point of religion. His nephew, who he had raised as an adopted child, said, “Hazrat. You have spent all your life in teaching and educating people. There is hardly anything you haven’t taught people about. You are so sick now. Why don’t you just lie down and rest?” Hazrat Thanvi kept listening quietly and then replied, “You are right, but what is the use of having those moments of life which are not spent in helping other people?” I wish this sentiment expressed by him becomes a guiding principle of all our lives. Aameen.


 I will end this section with a piece of poetry and a true story.    The petry belongs to the famous Persian poet Sheikh Saadi RE who has said in his  Bostaan ,   طریقت بجز خدمتِ خلق نیست بہ تسبیح و سجادہ و دلق نیست   It means that  Tareeqat  ( Tasawwuf ) is nothing but doing service to other people. It is not just reciting  Tasbeeh , sitting on a prayer mat, and wearing a saffron robe.


Sometimes some Muslims ask about whether giving charity to non-Muslims carries as much reward as giving charity to Muslims. There is a verse of the Noble Quran which says; …And whatever good you spend is for your own selves, and you shall not spend but to seek the pleasure of Allah… (2:272) While describing the background of the revelation of this verse, Mufti Muhammad Shafi RE has written in Ma’ariful Qur’an that in the days of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), some well off Muslims had stopped giving charity to poor non-Muslims in the hope that it will persuade them to convert to Islam. This verse was revealed to clarify that the primary reason Muslims should be giving charity should be to earn reward from Allah Ta’ala, and in that regard giving charity to poor non-Muslims carries reward from Allah just like giving it to poor Muslims.  


 Some people find it hard to part with what they possess, on a permanent basis. Even for them there is a way of doing charity, and that is through giving loans to deserving people. It has been said that giving loans is in some ways a greater virtue than giving charity, as usually people asking for loans are the ones who have fallen on hard times but do not want a handout. It has also been said that the person who is lenient and easy going in recovering their loans, will receive special dispensation from God on the day people would need it most.


 Unfortunately, we have started counting our worldly success in numbers, the bigger the number, the more successful we are! And it is true of both companies and individuals. That is why we are prepared to exploit our fellow human beings by any means to achieve that, whether it involves underpaying people, cutting down their benefits, or refusing to help others in their desperate times. True success is what the Noble Qur’an promises again and again, “… and there is no fear for them, nor shall they grieve.” (2:62) People believe this verse pertains only to the Hereafter, because such a state cannot be attained in this world. That is not correct. If we start helping as many people, and as much, as is within our capacity, in the right way, and with the right intention, this state can be achieved very much in this world.


 The other important aspect of giving  Sadaqah  (charity) is that our first responsibility is to those who are closest to us. We will be asked first to account for why we didn’t help a struggling family member, relative, neighbour, or employee. For example, it always amuses me when I go to a fast food chain which offers its employees zero-hour contracts, (meaning it promises its employees no guaranteed hours and hence no income, but they have to commit to being available immediately if it calls them) and the cashier asks me at the end if I want to donate some money to their charity foundation! Doesn’t it occur to its owner that if they were truly charitable at heart, their first concern should have been the welfare and wellbeing of their own employees?


  Sometimes people worry that if they spend money on others, they will become poor. Once upon a time my mentor told me an allegory about it. There was a very poor man who got tired of being poor. He prayed to God, "O God, please give me all my sustenance of my entire life in the next 3 days so that I can enjoy it at least once, and then continue to be poor." God replied, "Ok. You will get all your sustenances for your entire life in the so and so grain room over the next 3 days." When the poor man woke up next morning and went to the specified room, he couldn't contain his happiness on seeing it full of food. He invited the whole village to a feast and shared the food with them all. The same happened for the next 2 days. On the 4th day, the poor man knew there will be no more food in the grain room but he decided to check anyway. He was shocked to see that the room was full of food from top to bottom. In surprise he asked God, "O God, you had said I will ge


  The third way of helping people is of course through money, though one does not have to be a millionaire to help other people. Hazrat Thanvi RE used to say that the reward for a person who gives one rupee out of his total possession of 100 rupees to a poor person is exactly the same as that of the rich person who gives 1,000 rupees out of his wealth of 100,000 rupees to someone poor. In fact, the first person may get much greater reward because his need for that one rupee might have been much greater than that of the wealthy person’s need for his thousand rupees. Wise elders taught us that the easiest way of getting into a habit of sharing what we have with others, is to specify a percentage of our income we will give to others with every salary/income. When I started giving my children pocket money I suggested that they should donate 5 % of every pocket money to a charity of their choice. Someone might ask what is the point of doing it as this was my money and I could have done it m


  The second way of helping people which does not require any money is through our actions. For example, if one sees an older person struggling with their groceries and help them carry it, or offers one’s seat in public transport to an older person or a mother with a baby, it may make life a little bit easier for them. I feel very proud of my nephews and nieces who have volunteered their time and expertise to different charity organisations all over the world helping those in need, and to my children who put leaflets in the letterboxes of the neighbours on our and neighbouring streets during Covid-induced lockdown, offering to do their shopping and drop it at their homes.