Gaining closeness to Allah through 4 motivating factors
The one who loves Allah Almighty, he competes in doing whatever that brings him closer (qurba) to Allah Almighty.
What is qurbah
The word qurb meaning bringing near appears in multiples forms 96 times in the Quran, including muqarrabūn (مُقَرَّبُون) and qareeb, someone who is close physically close or related.
Qurbah in the Qur’an
Qurbah has been used twice in the Qur’an in (قُرْبَةٌ) singular form and (قُرُبَاتٍ) plural form in the same verse.
وَمِنَ ٱلۡأَعۡرَابِ مَن يُؤۡمِنُ بِٱللَّهِ وَٱلۡيَوۡمِ ٱلۡأَخِرِ وَيَتَّخِذُ مَا يُنفِقُ قُرُبَـاتٍ عِندَ ٱللَّهِ وَصَلَوَٲتِ ٱلرَّسُولِۚ أَلَآ إِنَّهاَ قُرۡبَةٌ۬ لَّهُمۡۚ سَيُدۡخِلُهُمُ ٱللَّهُ فِى رَحۡمَتِهِۦۤۗ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ غَفُورٌ۬ رَّحِيمٌ۬
‘But among the bedouins are some who believe in Allah Almighty and the Last Day and consider what they spend as means of nearness to Allah Almighty and of [obtaining] invocations of the Messenger. Unquestionably, it is a means of nearness for them. Allah Almighty will admit them to His mercy. Indeed, Allah Almighty is Forgiving and Merciful.’ (At-Tawba: 9:99)
How do you draw closer to Allah Almighty
Imam Al-Muhasibi (d.243. H) said:
The one who really loves Allah Almighty, he competes in what draws him close to Allah Almighty as long as He is alive.
If we examine ourselves, we can tell how much we love Allah Almighty by assessing how much effort we put in doing the acts that bring us closer to Allah Almighty. Imam al-Muhasibi broke the acts down according to four types of motivation.
1. Motivated by the glory of God
Imam al-Muhasibi said:
The most honourable and best are those who do things because of the glory of Allah Almighty.
To perform deeds to glorify Allah Almighty is called ta’dheem. The motivation comes from hearts that are filled with awe for the majesty of Allah Almighty, and their actions are a reflection of this and an expression of the glory of Allah such people feel in their hearts.
Imam Al-Muhasibi continues:
Their deeds were good and their actions were kareem (noble and generous). As much as they honoured and glorified Allah Almighty in their hearts, their action would be (a reflection) in proportion to their glorification.
Such people do not simply pray 2 rak’at in 2 minutes but their actions are generous, like Aisha (may Allah be pleased with her) mentioned about the Messenger of Allah Almighty’s (ﷺ) prayer:
The Messenger of Allah Almighty (ﷺ) never exceeded eleven rak’at in Ramadan or in other months; he used to offer four rak`at, do not ask me about their beauty and length, then four rak’at, do not ask me about their beauty and length, and then three rak’at.’ (Bukhari)
He performed four rak’at at a time, but they were prolonged and beautified, as he was experiencing the sweetness and the delight of presence within his prayer. It was something beyond ritual and monotonous action – it was an expression of love, faith and closeness to Allah Almighty.
Just as in salah it is not the quantity but the quality which counts, in charity, again what counts is the internal state of the donor. Whether the donation is £5 or £5000, donating with the intention of honouring Allah Almighty glorifies the donation. It is how one deals with Allah Almighty. The Prophet (peace be on him) comparing two donations said:
‘A Dirham was better than a hundred thousand Dirhams.’
The companions said: ‘O Messenger of Allah Almighty (ﷺ), how?’
He said: ‘A man had two Dirhams and gave one Dirham in charity, and the other person went a portion of his wealth and took from it a hundred thousand Dirhams and gave them in charity.’ (Sunan an-Nasa’i)
True tadheem (glorification) is reflected by pure actions
Another example is that of a Shaykh who was raising some funds for a masjid. He was going from shop to shop asking the business owners to support the cause for Allah Almighty’s sake. There was a wealthy man who never went to the masjid, or prayed or practiced his deen. In fact he was actually critical of ‘practicing Muslims’. The Shaykh wanted to go and ask this business owner to support the masjid, even though he had been advised not to approach him for his animosity towards practicing Muslims, let alone a Shaykh.
The Shaykh approached businessman, saying, ‘We are collecting some funds for the masjid, please support us.’
The man said, ‘You are crooks. I will not support you’. He insulted and embarrassed the Shaykh who left. The people said, ‘We told you so… he wasn’t going to help’.
The Shaykh undeterred returned to ask again, thinking he must have had a bad experience in the past’. The man was annoyed again and refused to give a single penny. The Shaykh insisted, ‘Give me something for Allah Almighty’s sake’. The man said, ‘Since you insisted, there you go’, and spat in the hands of the Shaykh.
The Shaykh took back his hand. He refused to accept that man could spit at Allah Almighty. He replied, ‘This is for my beard, this is not for Allah Almighty’s sake’ and wiped spit on his own beard. The Shaykh glorified Allah Almighty in his heart, and would rather accept the insult for himself than Allah Almighty. He said, Definitely you didn’t mean to do that. This cannot be for Allah Almighty’s sake, it’s for me. Someone like me, you can spit on. But not for Allah Almighty. So now give me something for Allah Almighty.’
The businessman experienced a moment of realisation. He became remorseful and began to cry. He then donated a huge amount. This was the due to the ta’dheem, glorification and honour of Allah Almighty the Shaykh had in his heart. His reaction spoke beyond his words. It was full of awe and wisdom.
Anyone else in that position would probably have hit the businessman, or called him ‘a kafir’ for spitting on Allah Almighty. But the Shaykh’s wisdom and state led the man to transform. The man became a regular musalli who donated generously to the masjid. One little action with wisdom changed the outcome completely.
The story of a highway man
Bishr Al- Hafi (d.227 H) was a highwayman. One day he found a piece of paper on the ground, which had the Name of Allah Almighty. Bishr was saddened that the Name of Allah Almighty should be on the ground, so he wiped it clean, perfumed it and raised it high in his house. He saw a dream and a voice called out to him. ‘Bishr, you have elevated our Name, and henceforth we shall elevate your name.’ This was the beginning of his transformation from a highway brigand to a wali (someone close to Allah Almighty).
No good deed is ever small if it arise from a heart full of the glorification of Allah Almighty.
Imam Al-Muhasibi said:
There is nothing beloved to them and sweeter in their hearts than doing something that will make them closer to Allah Almighty.
It’s not any particular thing (ibadah, prayer, fasting, charity, service, helping others), rather it is anything which is done as a means of drawing closer to Allah Almighty.
The crux is singling out Allah Almighty (first) in everything in a drawing closer to Allah Almighty.
2. Motivated by gaining nearness to Allah Almighty
Imam Al-Muhasibi mentioned about the second group of people:
Some people do things because they want to be close to Allah Almighty.
Their determination is all about refraining from anything prohibited by Allah Almighty and staying from anything He dislikes. By doing so, they gain closeness to Allah Almighty by default and seek His reward.
Their fear is that by not refraining from a prohibition, they will not be amongst His awliyya’,(those whom He loves the most). Their underlying concern is achieving closeness to Allah Almighty.
Their motivation is different from the first category who are motivated by expressing the glory of Allah Almighty. Here in the second category, they are keen in drawing closer to Allah Almighty by doing the obligation and refraining from the prohibition.
3. Motivated by the fear of Allah Almighty and His punishment
Imam Al-Muhasibi mentioned about the third group of people:
They do goodness because they are engulfed by the fear of Allah Almighty and the punishment of Allah Almighty.
These people do good motivated by fear: fear the fire of Hell, fear of Allah Almighty’s wrath, fear of Allah Almighty. If you sit with them, you can feel their fear.
Imam Al-Ghazali (d.505 H) reported that:
Al-Hasan Al-Basri (d.110 H) was given a drink of cool water in a very hot day. He took the glass whereupon it fell from his hands and he fell unconscious. When he regained consciousness, he was asked: ‘What is the matter O Abu Saeed?’ He said: ‘I remembered the desire of the inmates of Hell when they say to the people of Paradise: ‘Give us some of the water from some of the provision that Allah Almighty has granted you’ (Al-Araf: 7:50)
Imam Al-Qurtubi (d.671 H) recorded in Adh-Tadkhirah a report from Al-Hasan Al-Basri:
A man said to his brother: ‘O brother have you been informed that you will pass over the Sirat (bridge over Hellfire)?’ The man affirmed positively. Then his brother said: ‘Have you ever been told that you will go over it safely?’ ‘No,’ answered his brother. Then the man said: ‘Why do you laugh then?’ Al-Hasan added that his brother was never seen laughing again.
Such people live in the world as though they have one foot in this world and the other in the Hereafter. Their thoughts and actions are motivated and connected to the life beyond this world.
Their actions are controlled by the fear of Allah Almighty and the punishment of Allah Almighty to the extent that they cannot even think of the reward of Allah Almighty. They are only motivated by escaping the fire, they want to be saved from the fire. Paradise is not their first priority, rather it is secondary after gaining salvation from the fire. They are governed by fear and it’s a tough way to live.
Some people’s disposition is like this, for example Ibn Al-Jawzi (d.597 H). Many of his books had topics like ‘The Disturber of the Hearts’.
We also saw this quality in Abu Bakr al-Siddeeq (may Allah be pleased with him) who said:
If one of my feet were inside Paradise and the other outside it, I would not feel safe from the punishment of Allah Almighty.
In other words, he would only feel safe and rest until both his feet were in Jannah. Fear can therefore inform the intention, increase sincerity, eliminate showing off, and control arrogance etc. The presence of fear eliminates desires for dunya.
Imam Muhasibi said:
Because of the fear in their heart, they have no more desire anymore.
Similarly Ibn ‘Ata’illah al-Sakandari (d.709 H) said:
Lust is not expelled from the heart except through an overwhelming fear of Allah or a deep longing for Him.
4. Motivated by shyness
Imam Al-Muhasibi mentioned a fourth group:
They do things because of Hayaa’: they are shy before Allah Almighty.
They feel shy before Allah Almighty during the day and night, whether they are in public or private. Their shyness is born out of their certainty of the Day when they will appear before Allah Almighty and they will be questioned by Him.
They feel shy about every bad deed they have done even if it was in secret, as they know they will have to answer to Allah Almighty. They know deep down that Allah Almighty is watching them and He sees everything. It’s the same whether they see Allah Almighty or He sees them. They know nothing is outside the awareness of Allah Almighty; He knows their thoughts and the innermost secrets of their heart; He knows their motivations and intentions, He knows everything they love and the hidden desires of the Nafs. Their entire being is known to Him. And if they know that Allah Almighty is aware of them at all time, then how can they allow themselves to do anything that Allah Almighty will not be pleased with. Their shyness before Allah Almighty is helping them to control and filter their action, and more importantly prevent them from committing bad deeds.
They are training themselves both outwardly and inwardly to be mindful of Allah Almighty, which is at the core of ihsan. It is knowing that Allah Almighty is watching us and so we ought to be on our best behaviour.
Uthmaan ibn Affan (may Allah be pleased with him) was known for his shyness before Allah Almighty.
Imam Al-Muhasibi said that out of these four levels of motivation (whether it is for the glory of Allah Almighty, wanting to be close to Him, out of fear of Him, or shyness), we are not included in any of these. May Allah Almighty forgive us.
And I think Imam Al-Muhasibi is speaking on our behalf as well.
May Allah Almighty forgive us and enable us to taste and live the realities of these levels.
Delivered by Shaykh Haytham Tamim on 17th November 2019. Based on the book Ādāb an Nufus by al Harith ibn Asad al Muhasibi (170-243H=781-857). Transcribed by Abu Shama.
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