by Shaykh Muhammad Maulud
Translated into English by Shaykh Hamza Yusuf
This is an edited transcription of the audio tapes of the course Shaykh Hamza gave based on his translation of Shaykh Muhammad Maulud’s Matharatul Qulub: The Diseases of the Heart. This class took place in Hayward, California in 1999.
Part 1: Shaykh Hamza’s Preview to the Course
Allah subhanahu wa t’ala says, “On that day nothing will benefit the human being, neither wealth nor children, only the one who brings Allah a sound heart.” A sound heart is one that is free of defects and spiritual blemishes. Though the spiritual heart is centered in the physical heart, the heart being referred to here is the spiritual heart, not the physical heart. In ancient Chinese medicine, the heart houses what is known as “chen” which is “a spirit.” The Chinese character for “thinking,” “thought,” “love,” “virtue,” and “intending to listen” all contain the ideogram for the heart. In fact, in every culture in the world, people use metaphors that deal with the heart; in English, we call people who are cruel, “hard-hearted people.” There is also the idea of having “a cold heart” and “a warm heart.” People who do not hide their emotions well “wear their hearts on their sleeves.” When deeply affected, we say, “he affected me in my heart” or “in my core.” In fact, the English word “core” means “inner most,” and in Arabic, the equivalent “lub” comes from the Latin word, meaning “heart.” Thus, the core of the human being is indeed the heart. The word “courage” also comes from the same root word as for “heart” because courage is centered in the heart. The most ancient Indo-European word for heart means “that which leaps.” The heart leaps or beats in the breast of man. For example, people say, “my heart skipped a beat” in reaction to seeing somebody. Many such metaphors are used for the heart.
Three Types of People
The ancients were aware of the spiritual diseases of the heart, and this is certainly at the essence of the Islamic teaching. One of the first things the Quran does is define three types of people: the mu’minun, the kafirun, and the munafiqun. The mu’minun are people whose hearts are alive while the kafirun are people whose hearts are dead. The munafiqun are people who have a disease or a sickness in their hearts; thus, Allah subhanahu wa t’ala says,”In their hearts is a disease, and they were increased in their disease.” This is also in accordance with another verse: “When their hearts deviated, Allah made them deviate further.” When somebody turns away from Allah subhanahu wa t’ala, Allah subhanahu wa t’ala causes them to deviate even further from the truth.
The Heart and the Brain
The actual physical heart in our breast beats at about 100,000 times a day, pumping two gallons of blood per minute, 100 gallons per hour, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year for an entire life time! The vascular system that sends this life-giving blood is over 60,000 miles long: it is more than two times the circumference of the earth. Furthermore, it is interesting to note that the heart starts beating before the brain is formed; the heart begins to beat without any central nervous system. The dominant theory was that the central nervous system is what is controlling the entire human being from the brain, yet we know now that in fact the nervous system does not initiate the heartbeat. It is actually self-initiated; we would say, it is initiated by Allah subhanahu wa t’ala.
The heart is the center of the human being. Many people think the brain is the center of consciousness, yet the Quran clearly states, “They have hearts that they are not able to understand with.” According to the Muslims, the center of human consciousness is the heart and not the brain itself, and it is only recently that human beings have learned there are over 40,000 neurons in the heart; in other words, there are cells in the heart that are communicating. Now, it is understood that there is two-way communication between the brain and the heart: the brain sends messages to the heart, but the heart also sends messages to the brain. The brain receives these messages from the heart, which reach the amygdala and the thalamus. The cortex receives input from the amygdala and thalamus that it processes to produce emotion; the new cortex relates to learning and reasoning. These processes are recent discoveries, and although we do not fully understand them, we do know that the heart is an extremely sophisticated organ.
According to the hadith, the heart is a source of knowledge. The Prophet, sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, said that wrong action is what irritates the heart. Thus, the heart actually knows wrong actions, and this is one of the reasons why people can do terrible things, but, ultimately, they are affected negatively. In Crime and Punishment, the brilliant Russian author Dostoevsky’s indicates that crime itself is the perpetrator’s punishment because human beings have to live with the result of their actions: their souls are affected. When people do something against the heart, they act against the soul, and that actually affects human beings to the degree that they will go into a state of spiritual agitation, and people will use many ways to cover this up. This is what kufur is: “kufur” means “covering up.” To hide their agitation, people use alcohol, drugs, and sexual experimentation; they also seek power, wealth, and fame, taking themselves into a state of heedlessness, submerging themselves into the ephemeral world which causes them to forget their essential nature and to forget their hearts. Thus, people become cut off from their hearts.
Wrong Actions Sicken the Heart
One of the things about being cut off from the heart is that the more cut off from the heart one becomes, the sicker the heart grows because the heart needs nourishment, and heedlessness starves the spiritual heart. When one goes into a state of unawareness of Allah and the akhira, one becomes unaware of the infinite world in relation to the finite world, unaware that we are in this world for a temporary period. When we look at the infinite world in relation to the finite world, suddenly our concerns become focused on the infinite world and not on the finite world. On the other hand, when people are completely immersed within the finite world, believing that they will be here forever, believing that they will not be taken to account for their actions, this action in and of itself ultimately leads to the spiritual death of the hearts. However, before it dies and becomes putrid and completely fowl, the heart will show many symptoms. These are the spiritual diseases of the hearts.
Shubahat and Shahawat: Two Types of Diseases
There are two types of diseases of the heart. The first are called shubahat, and these are diseases that relate to understanding. For instance, if somebody is fearful of his provision from Allah, afraid he will not get his food for the day, then there is a disease in his heart because a sound heart has complete trust in Allah subhanahu wa t’ala, and a sick heart has doubt. For this reason, a sound heart does not worry. It is the nafs (ego), shaytan, hawa (caprice), and dunya (the love of this ephemeral world) that lead to this state of fear or of anxiety. The heart in it of itself is an organ designed to be in a state of stillness, but the stillness will only come about by the remembrance of Allah subhanahu wa t’ala. The Quran states, “Isn’t it by the dhikr of Allah that the heart is stilled?” This is what the heart wants: it wants to remember Allah subhanahu wa t’ala. When Allah is not remembered, the heart goes into a state of agitation: it goes in a state of turmoil, and it becomes diseased because it is not being fed. Just as we need to breathe because cells need life-giving oxygen and if we stop breathing, cells die, similarly, the heart also needs to breathe, and the breath of the heart is the remembrance of Allah subhanahu wa t’ala. Dhikr is what feeds and nourishes the heart. The company of good people is the food and exercise of the heart. All of these things are necessary for the heart to be sound and healthy, and this is basically the purpose of Revelation. The Quran has come to remind people that our hearts need nourishment. Thus, Allah subhanahu wa t’ala tells us that the human being who will be in a good state in the next world is the one who brings a sound heart.
When we are born, we enter the world in a state of fitra: the original inherent nature of the human being; then we learn to be anxious. We learn anxiety from our mothers, fathers, and society. Thus, the Quran says that the human being is created in a state of anxiety (hala’), and the one group of people who are removed from this state of anxiety are the musallin: the people of prayer. This “prayer” is not the five daily obligatory prayers; rather, it is the prayer of people who are always in a state of prayer (dhikr); they are always in a state of connection with Allah subhanahu wa t’ala, and this is the highest station. This is the station of people who are not diverted from the remembrance of Allah subhanahu wa t’ala by buying, commerce, or anything else. They are the ones who remember Allah subhanahu wa t’ala, as the Quran states, “standing, sitting, and reclining on their sides.” These are the people who are not the people of heedlessness (ghafla).
The second type of the diseases of the heart is called shahawat, and these are the base desires of the self. For instance, food and sex are shahawat; they are appetites. These become diseases when they grow out of proportion from their natural states. In Islam, we have a method or a means by which our hearts can be remedied and return to their sound state again. The dhikr that the Prophet sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam did more than any other dhikr was “Oh Turner-Overer of the hearts, make my heart firm on your deen,” and it is important that Muslims be reminded of this.
The Text: Mat-hartul Qulub
In Arabic, “Mat-hara” is ism makaan (a noun of place), and it means “a tool of tahara (purification),” and that is what Mat-hartul Qulub is. This text is the alchemy of the heart: it explains how to transform the heart. Mat-hartul Qulub was written by a great scholar, Shaykh Muhammad Maulud al-Musawir al-Ya’qubi from Mauritania. He was a brilliant scholar of West Africa who mastered all of the Islamic sciences as well as the inward sciences of Islam. He wrote this didactic poem in order to teach people the means to purify their hearts because he looked around and realized that everybody he saw had a diseased heart. Though he recognized the benefit in learning the abstract sciences of Islam, such as grammar, rhetoric, and logic, he felt that people may not have a great deal of need for that knowledge given the fact that on the Day of Judgment, the heart is the only thing about which we will be asked. The state of our hearts is the only thing that may benefit us because “actions are by intentions” as the hadith states. Since all our actions are rooted in intentions, and the place of intention is the heart, every action we do is rooted in our hearts. Thus, in reality when we are asked about our actions, we are asked about the intentions behind the actions, and given the fact that intentions emanate from the heart, what we are actually being asked about is the human heart. When Shaykh Muhammad Maulud realized this, he said that suddenly Allah subhanahu wa t’ala inspired him to write this text, and he based it upon many of the previous texts that had gone before, such as the last book of the Ihya ‘Ulumudin by Imam Abu Hamid al-Ghazzali.
Rectification Begins with the Self
If we look at the world today, the tribulations, the trials, and every war that we have, we will see that every bit of human suffering is rooted in human hearts. The reason people are aggressive against other people is due to diseases of the heart: covetousness, the desire to conquer, the desire to exploit other people, and the desire to steal their natural resources are all from diseases of the heart. A sound heart cannot commit such acts. Every murderer, every rapist, every idolater, every fowl person, every person showing an act of cruelty has a diseased heart because these actions emanate from diseased hearts. If the hearts were sound, none of these actions would be a reality. Therefore, if we wish to change our world, we cannot go about it by attempting to rectify the outward; rather, we change the world by rectifying the inward because it is the inward that precedes the outward.
In reality, everything that we see outside of us comes from the unseen world. The phenomenal world emerges from the unseen world, and all actions emerge from the unseen realm of our hearts. Thus, if we want to rectify our actions, we must first rectify our hearts. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the famous American preacher and civil rights activist, said that in order for people to condemn injustice, they have to follow four stages: the first stage is that they must ascertain that injustices are indeed being perpetrated. People must point out the injustices, and in his case, it was injustices against the African-American people in the United States. The second stage is to negotiate: people must go to the oppressors and demand justice. If the oppressors refuse, then Dr. King said that the third stage is self-purification. He said that we must ask ourselves, are we ourselves wrongdoers? Are we ourselves oppressors? The final stage is to take action once we have looked into ourselves.
One of the things the Muslims of the modern world fail to recognize is that when we look at all of the terrible things that are happening to us, we often refuse to look at ourselves and ask ourselves, why are these things happening to us? If we ask that in all sincerity, the answer will come back in no uncertain terms that this is all from our own selves. We have brought all of the suffering upon ourselves. This is the only empowering position that we can take, and this is the Quranic position. Allah subhanahu wa t’ala says quite clearly that He places some of the oppressors over other oppressors because of what their hands were earning. According to Fakharudin ar-Razi’s explanation, radi Allahu ‘anhu, this verse means that whenever there is oppression in the earth, it is a result of other people’s oppression. Thus, those people who are being aggressed upon are being oppressed because of their own oppression. However, this is obviously with the exception of tribulation. There are definitely times when the mu’minun are tried, but if they respond accordingly with patience and perseverance, Allah subhanahu wa t’ala always gives them victory.
The Impure Oppress and the Pure Elevate
There is no doubt that the Prophet sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam and the sahaba were being oppressed when they were in Makkah, but Allah subhanahu wa t’ala later gave them victory. Within 23 years, the Prophet sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam was not only no longer oppressed, he had conquered the entire Arabian peninsula, and all of the people who had previously oppressed him were begging him for mercy. Even though they deserved to be recompensed with punishment, the Prophet sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam forgave them, and this is the difference between somebody whose heart is pure and somebody whose heart is impure. The impure people oppress, and the pure people not only forgive their oppressors, they actually conquer them by the power of Allah subhanahu wa t’ala, and then they elevate them. This is what Muslims must recognize: the only solution to all of our problems is that we have to purify ourselves, and this is what Mat-hartul Qulub is about; it is a book of self-purification. If we take this book seriously, work on our hearts, and actually implement what we learn from it, we will begin to see changes in our lives, around us, and within our own family dynamics. It is a blessing that we have this book and that this teaching still exists in our community. All that is left is for us to take this teaching upon ourselves and to take it seriously.
Medicine for the Diseased Heart
If you use the techniques that are given by the imams, you will see results. However, it is just as the prescription that the doctor gives you: the doctor can only write the prescription; he can give you the medicine, but he cannot force you to take the medicine. It is left for us to take the medicine. The imams have given us the medicine: our teaching is there; it is clear; it does work; and we can change ourselves with it. If we do, Allah subhanahu wa t’ala has promised that we will be rewarded in this world and in the next. Thus, all that is left for us to do now is to go through these diseases and then set out to implement their cures in sha Allah.
Part 2: Introduction and the Disease of Miserliness
Praise is due to the One who has clarified what is needed to purify the heart and adorn it.
Praise and peace be upon Muhammad and his family as long as he is the means by which it is achieved and grant him safety.
The lights of the pearls of tasawwuf in relation to other lights is like the pearl in relation to the oyster shell
Or like the ninety-nine lines written in gold next to the one line written in ink.
Having said this, the condition of people, in this time of preoccupation and movement, seems to seek from me a book about the rectification of the hearts. Suddenly, I find a down-pouring of the bounty of Allah.
I responded by bringing forth a clarifying poem that fulfills the most important needs.
It draws the distant close even for one of slow comprehension, and with it the illiterate becomes literate.
Courtesy with Allah
I began by starting with the heart of beginnings [which is courtesy spelled backwards]
Since this is the highest and noblest of beginnings.
Thus, have courtesy with Allah, the High, the Majestic by practicing incessantly modesty and humility,
Dejected out of shame, humbled, imploring Him.
Shaykh Muhammad Maulud says in this poem, “Fa qultu badian bi qalbi al-bada’,” and this line has two meanings. The first, more literal meaning is “I begin with the heart of beginnings.” The word “al-bada’,” has to do with “beginning,” and the word “qalb” has two meanings: “heart” and “to turn over.” Thus, this is a play on words, and so the author is also saying, “I am beginning by flipping the beginning over.” If you flip over the word “bada’” (beginning), you get “adab” (courtesy). Hence, the author says he begins with adab because courtesy is the highest and noblest of beginnings, and Muslims should have adab with Allah.
The word “adab” has many meanings in Arabic. A person who is erudite is called “adib,” because, generally, with learning comes manners. Thus, the root meaning of the word “adab” is related to “courtesy.” In addition, a mu’addib is a teacher of children, and the word literally means “the one who is causing somebody to have adab.” An educator of children is someone who teaches the students how to behave properly, and proper behavior is at the heart of this science. Thus, the shaykh emphasizes the extreme importance of having proper adab with Allah and of behaving properly with Him before anyone else.
Shame and Humility
We show adab to Allah in two ways: one, by expressing haya and the other, by having dhul. The root-word of “haya” is related to life. “Hay” means “living,” and “hayat” means “life” itself. According to a famous Hadith, “Every religion has a quality that is characteristic of that religion, and the characteristic of my religion is haya.” Haya is important not only in Muslim culture but in many other cultures as well, such as the Filipino culture. “Hayah,” meaning shame in Tagalog, is significant to the Christian Filipinos as well as for many other northern Filipinos. (This is from the Muslim influence because the Muslims had a strong and lasting influence on the Filipinos before the Spanish arrived there).
Although this is no longer the case, there was once a time when if you had grown up in this culture, you most probably would have heard the phrase “shame on you” as a child. In modern American culture however, “shame” has become a bad word. We are told that shaming a child is a bad thing to do because it will harm the child’s self-esteem. Therefore, everything a child does is okay, and we must make him feel good about himself, no matter what he does. If he just slit his brother’s throat, they say, “well, he has had a trying childhood, so we have to make allowances for him.” This is an extreme this culture has reached.
Anthropologists have divided traditional cultures into shame and guilt cultures where guilt is an inward mechanism, and shame is an outward mechanism. The word “guilt” comes from a German word that has to do with debt. When indebted, you feel an obligation to the person to whom you are indebted. The idea with guilt is that if you have done something wrong, there is an internal mechanism that caused you to feel guilty about your actions and thus you want to relieve that guilt by rectifying your wrongdoing.
Most primitive cultures are not guilt-based cultures but shame-based. For them, the reason why you refrain from doing something wrong is because you loathe being shamed by other people and do not desire others to say such things as, “how could you?” “how dare you!” or “shame on you!” Furthermore, you do not want to bring shame upon your family, your tribe, and the like due to your own actions. While this culture has almost entirely lost and even dishonors this concept, Islam not only honors the idea of feeling shame for your wrong actions, it takes it to another level by instructing you to have shame before Allah and the unseen world. Thus, you recognize that even if people cannot see you, Allah and the angels always see you, so you have shame before Him and the angels. Hence, Muslims have a shame-based culture; however, that shame transcends the cultural sense of feeling shame towards one’s elders or towards one’s parents and takes it to another level which has an int! erior mechanism that is not akin to guilt.
“Haya” is having shame before Allah, and the author of this poem says that is part of having proper adab with Allah. Thus, if you want to have correct behavior (adab) with Allah, then have a sense that Allah is always watching you so that you feel shameful to do something that is displeasing to Him. This is similar to the way most healthy people do not desire to act in a manner that displeases their parents because their parents are the means by which they came into existence. Their parents supported them; the mother cleaned the child when he was young and spent nights awake for him. By having this shame with his parents, the child honors them.
In addition to haya, Shaykh Muhammad Maulud says to have dhul. A dhalil person is someone who is lowly, abject, and humble. Although this is a negative quality when displayed towards others, it is a noble quality when shown toward Allah. The Quran mentions that people who incur the anger of Allah get dhul thrust upon them. The shaykh advises being dhalil before Allah alone. Al-dhalil is someone such as a slave who is afraid to do anything in the presence of his master; there is a type of humility before God contained in this idea.
Thus, according to the shaykh, a person with adab is one who possesses haya and dhul. Furthermore, he says that not only should you feel this haya and dhul, but you should also feel dejected out of shame before Allah. That is, you should feel you are munkasir, broken. You become broken in the presence of Allah when you recognize that you are bringing to Him nothing but yourself and your wrong actions. When you seriously ponder upon all that Allah has given you and then reflect over what you have given to Him in return, you really feel this breaking (inkisar) out of shame; you become humbled before Allah in awe, and you realize you can only implore Him to change your state.
Give up your desires for His, emptied of desire for what His servants have, hastening to fulfill His commands, fearful of the subtle fault of bad manners. The Prophet sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam is reported to have said “none of you truly believes until his desires are in accordance with the very thing that I brought.” Muru’ah (virtuous merit) is what the Prophet sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam brought, and that is what Allah wants from us. Thus, the shaykh says that adab with Allah is to give up your designs for what Allah desires for you to be emptied of desire, having no tam’a. Tam’a is greed, avarice, desire, wanting something out of situations, and having ulterior motives behind your actions. Al-tama’a is one who desires to know what he may gain out of all situations, asking himself, “what’s in it for me?” According to the shaykh, we must rid ourselves of this attitude. We should desire nothing from the servants of Allah; rather, all of our desires should be sought from Allah because He is the One who possesses everything.
Furthermore, the shaykh says that you should be quick to fulfill Allah’s commands and constantly be aware of the hidden fault of having bad adab with Him. The subtlety of bad adab is illustrated by the hadith, “A man amongst you will say a word giving it no consideration at all, and it will drag him 70 seasons in the hell fire.” Thus, as this hadith demonstrates, if you do not learn the commands of Allah, you will not know when you are breaking them. For example, if you do not know what is a stop sign, you just pass right through it, unaware of having done something wrong. The problem is that accidents tend to occur when people, whether knowingly or unknowingly, do not follow the rules. Similarly, when we breach adab with Allah, bad things happen: we bring harm upon ourselves, and this should be a serious fear of ours.
Once, a Mauritanian shaykh and I saw a mouse coming out of its hole, and we noticed that every time the mouse heard a sound, it would stop and shoot back into the hole. “That’s taqwa,”the shaykh explained. Taqwa is worrying about being eaten alive by your own mistakes. Having this kind of fear of Allah ultimately turns into love, and that is the highest maqam (spiritual station). We do not fear Allah because we think Allah is horrible-the contrary is true: Allah is the Merciful, the Compassionate, the Forgiving. However, at the same time, we wish not to incur the wrath of Allah because Allah does have wrath. Similarly, our parents will sometimes do painful things to us out of love, and often, we are not aware of the reason.
Servitude to Allah
If you realize your attributes of servitude, you are assisted with the attributes of the Independent One. Realize your abjectness and impoverishment, and you will gain dignity and wealth from the All-Powerful. Shaykh Muhammad Maulud then explains that if you realize the qualities of haya (shame), dhul (humility),and faqar (poverty) in yourself and empty yourself of all of their opposites, such as shameless behavior and arrogance, then you will gain dignity and wealth from Allah. Thus, by realizing your ‘ubudia (servitude) to Allah, you truly gain freedom.
Freedom is gained because in completing your servitude to Allah, you are no longer a slave to yourself, and such a person is in actuality the only free human being. If you cannot control yourself, you are a slave to yourself. Someone may claim to be free, but when the food shows up, he cannot resist and stop himself. Such behavior does not indicate freedom as far as Muslims are concerned. Another person may also claim freedom, but when an opportunity to have an illicit relation emerges, he cannot control himself, even if he is the president of the United States. One former president of the United States of America was a Rhodes scholar who went to Cambridge and received the highest level of education, yet he was a slave to the lowest aspects of himself. He is unable to control himself. Such a person is not free; he is ‘abd al-hawa, a slave of his passions.
On the contrary, when such a situation arises for a person who is ‘abd Allah, he has taqwa of Allah. Thus, even though the temptation might be there, as it is natural for human beings to have shahwa (desire), he can control it because he is not an ‘abd (slave) to his desire; rather, he is a sayyid (master) of it. If one has desire for one’s spouse, then the shahwa is mubah (permissible). However, if the desire is for someone with whom such a relationship would be illicit, then the ‘abd Allah does not even consider it, and such a person is a truly free person. The same applies to any other shahwa because the ‘abd Allah is not a slave to any of his desires. They serve him, and he does not serve them.
The stronger your taqwa is, the more control you have over your desires. According to Imam al-Ghazzali, the stomach and the genitals are the two most dominant desires, and if you can control these two, then the other ones become easy. In addition, the desire of using the tongue is something that also causes people trouble. There are people who cannot stop backbiting no matter how much they are admonished to stop. I have seen this occur a great deal. In fact, I once pointed out to a person that he was saying something wrong, and in less than three or four minutes, he began to say the same thing and was not even aware of what he was doing. This inability to control the tongue is a major problem for most of us. We speak badly about others, complain, and say other things that we should not be saying. Learning to control the tongue is an important matter.
Another problem with human beings is that we perceive these qualities that the shaykh mentions, of being impoverished and being humble, as abject qualities. We do not wish to be poor, yet the Prophet sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam chose poverty over wealth. He had no money or jewelry in his house; he slept on the ground on a “bed” made of leather and palm fibers; he had only two pillows in his room for his guests to sit upon. He lived in total poverty. In this culture, if people lived like that, they would most likely be in a state of total humiliation and degradation, being concerned about what other people think, not about what is best for them. On the contrary, the shaykh says that if you realize your true state of ‘ubudia to Allah, you will have dignity with Allah; that is, you will be mu’azaz with Allah no matter what your living conditions are in this world.
In Surat Yasin, we are told about the two people who came to warn the town’s people of Allah’s punishment, yet the town’s people threatened them in return. Then Allah says, “‘Azazna bithalithin:We gave them ‘iza with a third.” Allah gives ‘iza to whomever He wants. He says, “Ya’izu man yasha’u wa yudhilu man yasha’u. Tu’izu man tasha’u wa tadhilu man tasha’u: You give iza to whomever You want, and You humble whomever You want.” Amazingly, there are people in the world today who are out on the streets begging while their ancestors were people who used to rule the world. Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala can do so to any people He wants.
A secret of creation is that if you realize the true attribute in yourself before Allah, Allah gives you its opposite. For example, if you realize humility before Allah, Allah will make you ‘aziz before other people, giving you dignity because of your realization of your true state of humility with Him. If you are arrogant with Allah, He may let it go for a while, but when He takes you to account, He completely humbles you before everyone. This is a big secret that the shaykh gives us in this poem.
The Tongue: the Heart’s Articulator
Indeed, there is no salvation like the heart’s salvation as all the limbs respond to its desires.Here, the shaykh reminds us that there is no salvation like the salvation of the heart because every limb answers to the heart. Thus, if your heart is saved, your limbs are saved whereas if your heart is not saved, your limbs are not saved. In relation to this, a hadith says, “the heart lies under the tongue” which means that the tongue is the interpreter of the heart as it tells you what is in the heart. A munafiq (hypocrite) is wretched for this very reason: he says with his tongue what is not in his heart. This is in opposition to the purpose of the creation of the tongue as the tongue was created to express what is in the heart. Thus, the hypocrite is in fact oppressing his tongue as well as his heart.
A hadith warns us that the tongue is what takes people to the hell fire. If the heart is rectified, then the tongue becomes sound as the tongue is the heart’s articulator. For this reason, Allah says, “Ya ayuhallathina amanuttaqu Allah wa qulu qawlan sadida. Yuslih lakum a’amalakum.” (33:70-71). Allah tells you to be upright in the way you speak because when the tongue serves to translate what is in the heart, this is an indication that the heart is upright. Thus, if your tongue is upright, this means that your heart is upright. According to a hadith, all the limbs shake every morning when they wake up in the spiritual world and say to the tongue, “Itaqi Allah fina ini istakamta istakmina wa ini’wajajta i’wajajna: fear Allah with us because if you are straight, we are all straight, and if you go crooked, we are all crooked.” Thus, the significance of the tongue is clear from this hadith, and therefore a good deal of spiritual work should be perform! ed upon the tongue, such as practicing much dhikr (remembrance) of Allah. We should replace empty chatter with remembrance of Allah, using the tongue for what it was created for, and not wasting time with it. The tongue is second in its importance only to the heart and is connected strongly to the heart.
Stages to Allah
After you have a firm grasp of this foundation, then a mastery of the heart’s infirmities is the second stage.According to the shaykh, the beginning foundation of this science is realizing what adab is and that the whole point of existence in this world is to have adab with Allah and with His creation. That is, you were created simply to have adab with Allah and to have adab with the creation of Allah. According to a hadith, the Quran is called, “madabatu Allah:the place you learn adab with Allah” because the Quran was revealed to teach us adab.
The shaykh says that after you have a firm grasp of this foundational understanding of adab, then a mastery of the heart’s infirmities is the second stage. Your ultimate goal, the highest station, is to be with Allah, and you cannot reach the higher maqamat (spiritual stations) without having mastered the primary stations. You want to raise yourself in degrees, and you cannot get to the level you wish to reach without going up the stages (darajat). Allah says that He raises people in degrees. The first degree is recognizing that you want adab, and then you have to recognize that what is preventing you from getting it is a diseased heart.
The Obligation of a Pure Heart
Knowledge of the heart’s aliments, what causes all of them, and those things that remove them is an obligation incumbent upon every responsible individual.Knowledge of the diseases of the heart, what causes them, and how to remove them is an obligation incumbent upon every human being: it is a binding obligation on every adult Muslim. According to the scholars of Islam, you must have some knowledge of the diseases in order to be able to free yourself from them. This ruling is based on the Quranic verse: “Qad aflaha man zakaha wa qad khaba man dasaha: the one who nurtures his soul is the one who has success, and the one who stunts its growth is destroyed”(91:9-10). Thus, the Quran is talking about tazkiya of the nafs. Allah also says, “Yawma la yanfa’u malun wa la banuna illa man ata Allaha bi qalban salim: on that day, neither wealth nor children will benefit, only the one who comes to Allah with a pure heart” (26:88-89). Thus, according to the Quran, the only people saved on the Day of Judgment are people with qulub salima (sound hearts). “Salim” (sound) is related to the word ! “aslama” because “Islam” is moving towards that state of soundness.
The Inherent Nature of Man: Good or Evil?
This is the ruling of Imam al-Ghazzali. This ruling does not apply to one who was granted a sound heart according to scholars other than al-Ghazzali.Al-Ghazzali reckoned the heart’s illnesses inherently part of a human being. Other scholars deemed them predominant in man but not necessarily qualities inherent to his nature.In agreement with Imam al-Ghazzali’s ruling, the shaykh states that purification of the heart is an obligation upon every individual. Imam al-Ghazzali is really the master of this science, and this poem is an abridgement of al-Ghazzali’s fourth volume of the Ihya, the section on munjiat wal muhlikat. Not only is al-Ghazzali radi Allahu ‘anhu a master of this science, he is also the mujadid (reviver of Islam) of the fifth century according to the consensus of the ‘ulama who came after him. Al-Ghazzali considers knowledge of the diseases of the heart fard ‘ayn, incumbent upon every individual Muslim, because he considers the diseases of the heart to be instinctual, something that is inherent to the human condition and part of the Adamic nature (kharaiz). Some other scholars disagree: they maintain that while these diseases are predominant in man, nevertheless, there are some people who are born with a completely pur! e heart having none of the diseases, and therefore knowledge of this science is not obligatory upon those people.
For example, there are altruistic children who have no problem with sharing: they are not greedy about toys. Although this is not the norm, they do exist. Some hearts, for some reason and whatever secret, do not suffer from diseases of the heart, but most do. Children manifest diseases such as greed, avarice, and hatred. Little children will say, “I hate you.” They have learned the concept of hate, and at that brief moment of uttering those words, hatred is what they feel. Thus, these diseases begin to show up even in children, and we believe that all children are born into fitra (a natural, inherent state). Hence, if these diseases are in fact inherent, do Muslims then believe in the Christian concept of original sin, that people are corrupt by nature?
The difference between the Muslims and Christians on this issue is that according to the Muslims, there is an inclination to these diseases that is instinctual. Muslims do not believe in any way that this inclination is a result of the wrong action of Adam ‘alayhi salaam because we do not believe that Prophet Adam’alayhis salaam did anything to bring the wrath of Allah upon himself; we do not believe that he fell from Grace. Such ideas are Christian. According to the Quran, Adam ‘alayhis salaam is a prophet who made tawbah to Allah, and Allah accepted his tawbah, and therefore, he has no blemish. His offspring do not suffer because of anything he did.
What, then, do we mean by the fact that there is an instinctual inclination that manifests in the erring of human beings? This relates to the black area of the heart. The heart is a spiritual organ, and inside the heart, there is a black dot, a seed that has the potential of spreading like cancer and overwhelming the heart. For example, although most people are unaware of this, many people in the world have tuberculosis. They have a bacillus in their lungs, but it is dormant. If they were in a situation where they began to get ill or starve and their immune system shut down, then the tuberculosis would emerge. Similarly, there is a dormant element in the human heart that, if nurtured, will destroy the human being. For this reason, a hadith says that if the son ofAdam does something wrong, a black spot appears on his heart. If a person makes tawbah, the black spot gets erased, but if he does not, the black spot continues to grow until the whole heart be! comes pitch black. This is when one loses his humanity. We often refer to this as hard-heartedness.
This idea of the heart’s ability to become corrupt, lose its light, and turn black is found in many cultures. For example, a Hausa man in Africa once explained to me that Hausas refer to someone who has a really bad heart with a word which meant “black-hearted.” Hausas are dark skinned people, and there is no racist connotation attached to this phrase. “Black” and “white” are used similarly in the Quran. Allah says, “Their faces become bright, and their faces become black.” This “white” does not refer to white skin but refers to light. There is a light, and the absence of that light is darkness. For this reason, a black person can have light in his face while a white person can have a completely dark face and visa-versa. We are speaking here about spiritual entities and not about skin colors.
Understand that complete obliteration of these diseases until there is no trace is simply not in the capacity of human beings.While knowledge of the diseases and their removal is obligatory, keep in mind that to remove these diseases until nothing is left is not in the human capacity. The Quran says, “Wa man yuka shuha nafsihi fa ulayka humulmuflihun: the one who has protection from the evil of his soul is from the people of success.” Allah does not say “the one who removes that shuh (evil) or the one the shuh is removed from.” Rather, Allah says, “the one who is protected from it.” This is similar to that bacillus sitting in the lungs: if you are protected from it, it never becomes tuberculosis; it only remains dormant.
According to a hadith, every child is born on fitra. Many Muslims think this hadith means that every child is born a Muslim. However, the hadith does not say that. The Quran refers to Islam as “din al-fitra,” so Islam is fitra, and this means that we are naturally inclined to Islam. “Fitra” is the inherent nature that human beings incline towards naturally, and what the human being is naturally inclined to is goodness. When human beings are raised and nurtured correctly, they usually incline towards the truth. However, they also have the susceptibility to go astray.
Obviously, there are various factors that affect the fitra state; one of them is legitimacy. According to the sharia’, there is no fault on the child, but there is an effect that illegitimacy has in the unseen realm, and this is confirmed by several hadiths. Thus, it is important for people to choose righteous mates before having children. If there were no reality to the parents, there would be no meaning to choosing righteous people as mates.
When choosing a husband, a woman should look for his taqwa, and when choosing a wife, a man should look for her din. One of the salaf said, “Don’t marry your daughter except to a taqy (a man of taqwa) because if he loves her, he will show her ihsan (goodness), and if he doesn’t like her, he will not oppress her.” When marrying, you should think of future generations and want your children to be raised properly. The parents are important, and the effects they have on a child are extraordinary, so you want parents who have taqwa and din.
Be as it may, here I am giving you what you need to know of their definitions, their etiology, and their cures.The shaykh says he is going to give us the definitions of the diseases of the heart from their root, explaining how the diseases are caused and how to cure them. He begins with bukhl, not because it is the worst disease but because he is going in alphabetical order.
The Diseases and their Cures
To begin with, the refusal to give what is necessary either by sacred law or by virtuous merit is the essence of miserliness that is mentioned [among the diseases of the heart].A bakhil is a miser. Bukhlun is miserliness. According to the shaykh, the refusal to give what is necessary either by sacred law or by virtuous merit is at the essence of miserliness. Thus, there are two aspects to bukhl, one that relates to the sacred law (shari’a) and the other to muru’ah (virtuous merit). Muru’ah is an important concept in Arabic, and it comes from the word for “man.” Its meaning has connotations of chivalry, manhood, and virtue.
As for the necessities of sacred law, they are such things at zakat, support of one’s dependents, and similar rights due to others, such as relieving one in distress.An example of the first aspect of bukhl that is related to shari’a is failure to give zakat. If you are not giving zakat, you are bakhil by shari’a, and that bukhl is haram (forbidden). The same is true for a man who is not giving support (nafaqat) for his wife and children because men are maintainers and caretakers of women and children. If a man gets divorced, he must pay child support because that is a shari’a right of the mother of his children. Similarly, the shari’a demands that you fulfill the rights of other people and spend on others where the need exists if you have been given the capacity to do so. Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala says, “In their wealth there’s a haq (right) to the beggar and to the one who doesn’t have money and so his needs are not taken care of.” The miser is the one who does not take care of people even though he is able to do so. These examples are rel! ated to shari’a.
Examples of meritorious character are not giving people a hard time over some paltry matter or abandoning nitpicking over trivialities.Avoiding such things is even more important for a neighbor, a relative, or a wealthy person or when hosting guests or concerning something in which such behavior is simply inappropriate, such as purchasing a shroud. The same is true for one buying a sacrificial animal or purchasing something one wants to donate to the needy.Not being bakhil by standards of muru’ah (virtuous merit) has to do with not constricting people or making matters difficult for them. The shaykh’s example of this is not giving people a hard time over some paltry, insignificant, trivial matter. For instance, if someone owes you ten dollars, and you give him a hard time over it even though you have plenty of money and have no need for it, then you are considered bakhil by the standards of muru’ah, not by shari’a. You have a right to that money by shari’a, but by muru’ah, such an attitude is despicable. The shaykh points out that refraining from such an attitude is even more important when dealing with a neighbor or a relative.
Furthermore, it is even worse to lack virtuous merit if you are wealthy because a wealthy person should have a type of magnanimity, a generosity that allows one to say, “don’t worry about it” to others. According to a hadith, there was a wealthy man who had no good actions to his record except that he used to say to his servant when he went to collect money, “If they don’t have it, tell them they don’t have to worry about it.” On the Day of Judgment, Allah says to the angels, “this man was forgiving of people’s transgressions against him, and I am more worthy of forgiving transgressions.” Thus, Allah says, “if he is going to forgive people for the debts that were owed to him, then I’ll forgive him for the debts he owes Me.” Having this kind of muru’ah is not insignificant: wealthy people are encouraged to let go of debts they really do not need paid off. If the wealthy see the indebted are having a hard time, they should just say “Bismillah. Don’t worry ! about it;” such an attitude is encouraged by the shari’a also.
Similarly, if you are hosting a guest, and your guest spills something on the carpet, you should not say, “Can’t you watch yourself a little bit? That’s a brand new carpet I have;” saying such a thing is not showing muru’ah. On the contrary, you should try to keep them from feeling bad, saying such things as, “Don’t worry about it. I love tea on my carpet. In fact, I heard a proverb that says, ‘The best thing for a carpet is spilt tea.'” Obviously, this proverb makes the guest feel good when he spills tea. The point is that you do not show more concern for you carpet than for your guest.
The shaykh also gives the example of buying a funeral shroud. Haggling over the price is inappropriate because the funeral shroud should remind you of death, and you should put things into perspective, forgetting about the ephemeral world. The same advice applies to buying a sacrificial animal. Since you are sacrificing an animal for Allah, you should want to get a good animal and not say, “No, no; that’s too much.” In addition, when purchasing something you wish to donate to needy people, you should desire to get something that is good and not cheap or else bukhl is exhibited in that act. Similarly, trying to get a bargain for something you are going to give as sadaqah for the sake of Allah is bukhl.
E.J. Cullen wrote a brilliant short story about a rummage sale for the church, “How Some People Feel about Jesus.” In it, Cullen pointed out that people cared so much about the church that they were going to sell their worst junk to support it with their rummage sales. Muslims may learn from this important idea: it is shocking that some Muslim mosques are also having these rummage sales. You should give the masjid the best things you have, not the worst things or the garbage you wish to get rid of.
Thus, one who makes matters difficult for one whose rights make it clearly inappropriate to do so has indeed torn away the veils of dignity. This is as the majestic and wise guides have stated.The same goes for one who fulfills his obligations without good cheer or spending from the least of what he possesses.If you owe someone, such as your neighbor, a right and go to fulfill that right to him but are an unpleasant with him in doing so, then that is inappropriate. Furthermore, the shaykh says that by being unpleasant, you have torn away the veils of your dignity and of your muru’ah, and this is according to the “majestic and wise guides” who are the ‘ulama. Thus, someone who fulfills his obligations without good cheer falls into this category, such as a man who frowningly or proudly says, “Here’s your zakat” to the receiver. The proper way to give zakat is to actually put your hand down, allowing the recipients to take it with their hands above yours. You should give it to them with a smiling face feeling honored to pay your zakat. Indeed, the recipients of your zakat truly are honoring you by helping you to fulfill the haq of Allah.
Thus, by the standards of both shari’a as well as muru’ah, bukhl is considered low in Islam as karam (generosity) is one of the highest qualities of our Messenger sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam. In fact, it could be said that his karam follows immediately after his rahmah (mercy). “Inna akramakum ‘inda Allah atqakum: indeed, the most karim of you in the sight of Allah is he who has the most taqwa” (49:13). The Prophet sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam was the most atqa (person with taqwa) of us, so he was the most generous, the noblest. “Karim” means generous and noble, so the Arabs view generosity as nobility. Allah is al-Karim, the Generous. Therefore, it is important to recognize that doing just what the shari’a states is not enough: you should go above and beyond that by showing generosity to Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala.
Its root is love of this world for its own sake or just so the self can acquire some of its fleeting pleasures.The origin of this disease is love of dunya (this ephemeral world). You are bakhil because you love the stuff with which you are bakhil. If you did not love it, then giving it up would be easy: you would just say “bismillah” and give it up. However, when you love something, you want to hold on to it. In Mexican culture, they say kudah, meaning he has no hand to give out; he got cut off at the elbow; he is cheap. Similarly, another word for bakhil is mumsik. “Mumsik” means “constipated”; the idea is that the mumsik is unable to let go of what is actually of beneficial to let go. Thus, if you do not give out from your wealth, it will poison and kill you. You must let it go. For this reason, imsak is miserliness.
Furthermore, the root word for pure gold (‘ikyan) is ‘iky which is the meconium stool of an infant. Thus, gold is related to feces. In a hadith in the musnad of Imam Ahmad, the Prophet sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam said, “Allah has made what comes out of the son of Adam a metaphor for the dunya.” Ultimately, the dunya is like that: it is beautiful while it lasts, but in the end, it is what it is.
The height of dunya is gold, and the desire to hold on to it is like someone who cannot let go of his waste matter. Zakat is considered the waste matter of your wealth; it purifies your wealth. For this reason, bani Hashim, the family of the Prophet sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam cannot take zakat. It is the filth of your wealth because everyone who earns money will always have doubtful (shubahat) or prohibited matters (muharramat) in their wealth acquisition: there are always doubtful matters concerning financial transactions, and by giving zakat, you are purifying your wealth. Similarly, when you eat food, there is benefit and harm in your food. Hopefully, the body absorbs the benefit and removes the harm. The Prophet sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam said a du’ah after coming out of the bathroom: “Praise be to the One who has provided me with its delight [the taste of the food] and retained in me ! its benefit [its strength, the energy derived from food] and removed from me its harm.” The idea here is much like the idea behind zakat: with it, Allah allows you to remove what is harmful from your wealth. When the bakhil holds on to his wealth, it harms him in the end.
According to Imam Ali, the worst person is the bakhil because in dunya, he is mahrum (deprived), and in akhira, he is mu’adhab (punished). In dunya, he does not even benefit from his wealth. There are several hidden millionaires in America who live middle class lives and have millions of dollars in the bank. These millionaires do not want to spend their money because they want to save it. Such is the nature of a bakhil: he does not benefit from his wealth in the dunya, and then, in the akhira, he is punished for hoarding it. Once, the Prophet sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam asked who was the sayyid of a certain tribe. The tribe’s people replied, Jad ibn Qays “illa nastbakhilahu: except he’s a little bit of a miser” to which the Prophet sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam replied, “he cannot be your sayyid” because the sayyid cannot be a miser. He then asked rhetorically, “! ;Is there any disease you know that is worse than miserliness?” The point is that one cannot be a sayyid and a bakhil at the same time.
Hence, the origin of this disease is either love of dunya for its own sake, simply because it is dunya, or because the self wants some benefit from the dunya. However, ibn Hazam would probably say that one of the benefits that the self is trying to secure by hoarding wealth is to alleviate the fear of poverty. The fact that the bakhil has millions in the bank makes him feel good even though he is not benefiting from it. This feeling is assuaging his hala’ (anxiety). The amazing thing is that such people never feel good because they are always worried about such things as the stock index, NASDAQ. They pace up and down when the prices are falling, exclaiming, “Oh look at that! What’s going to happen? I am only worth six billion now; I was worth 12 billion.” There is such a man, and he is 70 years old; even if he set out to spend one million dollars every day for the rest of his life, he would be unable to finish the amount of money he h! as. Bukhl is a deep disease; ultimately, it is a type of worshiping of money. How wretched is the servant of the dinar and the dirham, “trusting in the almighty dollar,” as they say. One day, when the stock market crashes, it is gone; and it may be sooner than when we think.
The Cure to Bukhl
Treat it by realizing that those who indeed have achieved it [dunya] did so only by exhausting themselves over long periods of time. By doing so, they finally did accumulate the very things they were seeking.
Bukhl’s cure is realizing that those who achieved dunya did so by exhausting themselves over a long period of time. Thus, ask yourself how bad you want dunya. If you want it really bad, you have to work for it, and working for it means working day and night while life passes you by. Many people spend a tremendous amount of time at work; they never have time for their families because of dunya. They possess that “I have to keep working and making more and more” mentality. It becomes an obsession. Actual life passes them by, and the experiences of life are lost. People are obsessively searching for wealth and security, and in the end, their lives are over. The shaykh is telling us to look at those people and how they exhausted themselves chasing after the dunya.
Meanwhile, just as they are approaching the heights of its splendor, suddenly, without their permission, death assails them.
Just as they are beginning to get everything they want, suddenly, without their permission, death assails them. Dodi and Diana are good examples of that. People in England were devastated by Diana’s death. They thought, “No, no! She can’t die.” Her life was the life people wanted: fame, beauty, lineage, and wealth. She “had it all” as the saying goes. She was right at the prime of her life, only 38 years old. Death is not invited in; it comes without invitation. It simply arrives when it is time to go, and it takes the person. All those wealthy people have to die too.
[Treat it also by recognizing] the disdain shown to misers and the hatred people have for them even amongst themselves.
Nobody likes a miser. Even misers do not like each other.
With the same treatment, treat the one whose heart’s ailment is love of wealth.
The disease of hub al dunya (love of the ephemeral world) is treated as you treat bukhl. The two diseases are related as we have already seen.