Ghazali on Zuhd
Ghazali lived in 5th century Hijri and his book, Kitaab Al-Arba’in Fi Usul ad-Din, ‘The Forty Principles of the Religion,’ which he wrote before his death, is a summary of Ihya Ulumuddin, and his life’s works and thoughts.
In the last ten principles of the forty, he looks at good traits. The first is tawbah. The second is khawf and the third is Zuhd. There is no good translation of the word zuhd, which is commonly translated as asceticism , so we will stick to zuhd.
Ghazali starts his chapter on zuhd with the ayah from Surat Taha, in which Allah Almighty said:
وَلَا تَمُدَّنَّ عَيْنَيْكَ إِلَىٰ مَا مَتَّعْنَا بِهِۦٓ أَزْوَٰجًا مِّنْهُمْ زَهْرَةَ ٱلْحَيَوٰةِ ٱلدُّنْيَا لِنَفْتِنَهُمْ فِيهِ ۚ وَرِزْقُ رَبِّكَ خَيْرٌ وَأَبْقَىٰ
Do not let your eyes crave what We have allowed some of the disbelievers to enjoy; the ˹fleeting˺ splendour of this worldly life, which We test them with. But your Lord’s provision ˹in the Hereafter˺ is far better and more lasting. (20:131)
Allah Almighty was addressing the Prophet (peace be on him) at a time when the idol worshippers were not interested in worshipping Allah and many of them had a great deal of material wealth and luxury.
In the Arabic the actual words translated as ‘Do not let your eyes crave’ are literally ‘Do not stretch your eyes’ meaning do not stare so much at what others have. In every society we have the rich, the middle class and the poor, and often the rich and poor are poles apart. The ayah is addressing the financial differences between people which further manifest in social differences and opportunities. Allah Almighty is saying don’t be beguiled by what He has given to them. For zahratal hyat ad dunya, the splendour and glamour of the dunya may be fascinating and fragrant but is temporal – it does not last. In fact zahrah means flowers, and thus the allure of the dunya is like flowers, within days they wither and die. Moreover, whatever provision we have in this world, came from Allah. He gave it to them. It was not their efforts, but Allah who gave it to them to test them.
Wealth is a test
Those who have wealth are being tested through their wealth. Others are tested through poverty. Some are tested by their beauty, and others by their character and temptations. Appearances are certainly not everything, we have to look beyond beauty beneath the surface. We are all victims of judging by what we see, but that is not the full picture, particularly if the looks are transient. Therefore the first point to understand is that wealth and beauty do not last.
Everything will vanish
The verse ends by saying wa rizqu rabbika khayrun, ‘The bounties of your Lord are more long lasting’. If you want the provision that lasts, it is in the hereafter. All other provisions vanish, Kulman alaha fan:
كُلُّ مَنْ عَلَيْهَا فَانٍۢ
Everyone who (is) on it (will) perish. (55:26)
ۚ كُلُّ شَىْءٍ هَالِكٌ إِلَّا وَجْهَهُۥ ۚ لَهُ ٱلْحُكْمُ وَإِلَيْهِ تُرْجَعُونَ
Everything will perish except His Face. His is the judgement, and to Him you will be returned. (28:88)
What remains is what you have saved in your account for the akhirah – your good deeds and character. We often get upset that someone is wealthy when they do not seem to deserve it, while others are suffering. We should not make a snap judgment like this. If we were to look beyond the surface, we would realise that you cannot compare the two superficially. The wealth is a test. They may well fail the test. They might pass the test. Though very few will, when they have wealth.
In Surat Ash-Shuraa:
مَن كَانَ يُرِيدُ حَرْثَ ٱلْـَٔاخِرَةِ نَزِدْ لَهُۥ فِى حَرْثِهِۦ ۖ وَمَن كَانَ يُرِيدُ حَرْثَ ٱلدُّنْيَا نُؤْتِهِۦ مِنْهَا وَمَا لَهُۥ فِى ٱلْـَٔاخِرَةِ مِن نَّصِيبٍ
Whoever desires the harvest of the Hereafter, We will increase their harvest. And whoever desires ˹only˺ the harvest of this world, We will give them some of it, but they will have no share in the Hereafter. (42:20)
This is straight to the point – you get what you strive for. Whoever wants the harvest of the akhirah will get it, and whoever wants the harvest of the dunya will get that. However, the harvest of the dunya should not come at the expense of the akhirah. It should be used to procure the akhirah.
The wealthy companions
This was the case with the wealthy companions of the Prophet (peace be on him), such as Uthman bin Affan and Abdur Rahman bin Auf and around 10 super wealthy companions. Despite being so rich, they were zuhaad meaning they practiced zuhd.
Zuhd does not mean having no dunya in your life, and living without provisions. It is about not allowing the dunya to reside in your heart.
If you are seek the akhirah, Allah will increase your provisions in the akhirah. However if your focus is the dunya, do not expect to find it in the akhirah.
The story of Qarun
Qaroon was from among the people of Moses, but he betrayed them. And We gave him such treasures that the keys thereof were almost too heavy for the strongest person.
His people said to him:
“Do not glee, for God does not love the gleeful. And seek with the provisions bestowed upon you by God the abode of the Hereafter, and do not forget your share in this world, and do good as God has done good to you. And do not seek corruption in the land. God does not love the corrupters.”
“I have attained all this only because of my own knowledge.”
Did he not realize that God had annihilated before him generations that were much stronger than he, and greater in riches? The transgressors were not asked about their crimes.
Then he came out among his people draped in his ornaments.
Those who preferred this worldly life said:
“Oh, if only we were given similar to what Qarun has been given. Indeed, he is very fortunate.”
And those who were blessed with knowledge said:
“Woe to you! The reward from God is far better for those who believe and do good work. And none attains it except the steadfast.”
We then caused the earth to swallow him and his mansion. He had no group that could protect him against God; nor would he be victorious. And those who wished they were in his place the day before said:
“Indeed it is God Who provides or restricts for whoever He chooses from among His servants. Had it not been for the grace of God towards us, He could have caused the earth to swallow us as well. We now realize that the rejecters never succeed.”
Such will be the abode of the Hereafter; We reserve it for those who do not seek prestige on the earth, nor corruption; and the ending will be for the righteous.
We see from this ayah, that people saw the ornaments and splendour of Qarun and wished for it. They were judging on the surface. Yet look what happened to Qarun. Allah made him sink into the earth with his wealth. He wanted the dunya, he got the dunya. Meanwhile, those who had more sense and knowledge among the followers of Musa responded that Allah’s reward is better for those who believe.
People of knowledge look beyond the surface. They are not distracted by dunya, they keep life in perspective and appreciate that the afterlife is the ultimate abode. They said Allah’s reward is better. Our priority is the akhirah. Stay focused.
Whoever brings forth a good deed, he will receive a better reward than it. And whoever brings forth a sin then the retribution for their sins will be to the extent of their deeds. (28:76-84)
Zuhd is the fruit of knowledge
People of knowledge realise the reward of Allah is better. Otherwise people fall into the traps of shaytan, out of ignorance. They might have a good intention, but it is not enough if you do not have the right knowledge.
Anas bin Malik (may Allah be pleased with him) narrated that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said:
“Whoever is mainly concerned about the Hereafter, Allah will make him feel independent of others and will make him focused and content, and his worldly affairs will fall into place.
But whoever is mainly concerned with this world, Allah will make him feel in constant need of others and will make him distracted and unfocused, and he will get nothing of this world except what is decreed for him.” (Tirmidhi)
This means that if your main concern is dunya, your affairs will be scattered, and poverty will be before your eyes; ironically dunya will not come to you. You will only have what Allah has written for you. .. he will protect your wealth and make your wealth in your heart and give you good character and the dunya will come to you and serve you.
Chase dunya or let the dunya chase you
We see different wordings and narrations in the same direction saying that if your concern is the dunya, the dunya will kick you.
Whomsoever Allah intends to guide He opens his heart to Islam. (6:125)
The Prophet (peace be on him) commented on this and said the word yashrah sadra ‘opens his heart’ means that when light opens the heart, the heart is opened and emptied. The companions asked whether there were any signs that they could recognise for this. He (peace be on him) said it was detachment from the abode of delusion. The fruits of the opening of one’s heart is when you feel a greater attachment to the akhirah than the dunya. And you prepare for death before it comes. (Al Hakim)
We have seen this in the narration of Harith, which is weak but made suitable to quote by the collective strength of the chains.
Once the Prophet (peace be on him) asked the Companion Harith ibn Malik (may Allah be pleased with him):
‘How are you this morning?’
He replied: ‘I am a true believer this morning’
The Prophet (peace be on him) said: ‘Every claim has a reality (proof), so what is the reality (proof) for your claim?’
‘Since this morning, I have distanced myself from the world, I spent my night awake in worship and my day fasting.[Such is my conviction, that] I can almost see the throne of my Rabb being brought for accountability [on the day of Judgement].[Such is my conviction, that] I can almost see the inhabitants in Jannah visiting one another therein, and I can almost hear the screams of the inhabitants of Jahannam.’
The Prophet (peace be on him) said to him: ‘[You are] a slave whose heart has been illuminated with Iman (belief). Remain steadfast on this perception of yours.’ (Musannaf ibn Abi Shaybah, Kitabuz Zuhd of Imam ‘Abdullah Ibnul Mubarak)
It is another beautiful narration, which not that authentic, but its meaning is in line with general principles, it says:
When Allah wants goodness from His servant He makes him renounce the dunya and allow him to see his mistakes and defects. (narrated by Al-Daylami in Musnad al Firdaus and Bayhaqi)
Formula for obtaining Allah’s love and the love of people
In the Forty Nawawi, we have the hadith Sahl ibn Sa’d reported:
عَنْ سَهْلِ بْنِ سَعْدٍ السَّاعِدِيِّ قَالَ أَتَى النَّبِيَّ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ رَجُلٌ فَقَالَ يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ دُلَّنِي عَلَى عَمَلٍ إِذَا أَنَا عَمِلْتُهُ أَحَبَّنِي اللَّهُ وَأَحَبَّنِي النَّاسُ فَقَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ ازْهَدْ فِي الدُّنْيَا يُحِبَّكَ اللَّهُ وَازْهَدْ فِيمَا فِي أَيْدِي النَّاسِ يُحِبُّوكَ
A man came to the Prophet (peace be on him) and said, “O Messenger of Allah, tell me about a deed which will make Allah and people love me.” The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “Renounce the worldly life and Allah will love you. Renounce what people possess and people will love you.” (ibn Majah)
The man wanted a formula that would made his life and akhirah good. The Prophet (peace be on him) give him this remedy. If you want Allah’s love, renounce the dunya. Do not make it your sole purpose. Dunya is not a purpose. It is a means to an end. If you want to be beloved by Allah, practice zuhd in the dunya.
Life is a test – how do you pass it?
The reality is that the world is test. As Allah stated in Surat al Kahf:
ٱلْمَالُ وَٱلْبَنُونَ زِينَةُ ٱلْحَيَوٰةِ ٱلدُّنْيَا ۖ وَٱلْبَـٰقِيَـٰتُ ٱلصَّـٰلِحَـٰتُ خَيْرٌ عِندَ رَبِّكَ ثَوَابًۭا وَخَيْرٌ أَمَلًۭا
Wealth and children are [but] adornment of the worldly life. But the enduring good deeds are better to your Lord for reward and better for [one’s] hope. (18:46)
Allah Almighty wants us to pass the test. If you prepare for the test, you pass the test, but if you don’t listen to the instructions, you will fail. Everything is a test. The dunya is a test to see who is best in their conduct.
If your hard disc is full, you cannot install anything on it. In Al Hikam, Ibn Atta Al Iskandari said:
“How can the heart be illumined while the dunya is reflected in its mirror? Or how can it journey to Allah while shackled by its passions?” [Hikam 13]
If a heart is fully occupied with dunya it cannot reflect light, just as the more images you have on your hard disc, the more storage it takes up. If you want to clear the space for important files, you need to delete all the images which are not important. The heart will not receive the light of Allah, if the heart is fully occupied.
If you want Allah’s love, then you can’t make the love of dunya compete with the love of Allah.
Allah does not like partners. It is shirk. In worship and in love Allah, does not like partners. This is very comprehensive advice.
Tawassut is moderation. It is the best of two worlds. When you detach yourself from what is in people’s hands, and do not compete with them, they will love you. The more you compete with what they are after, the more they will hate you.
Gaining Allah’s love
There are many verses in the Quran which talk about those whom Allah loves, such as the muhsineen (those who do ihsan – support others and help in good things), the mutatahireen (those who keep themselves pure), the mutawabeen (those who repent). In the Hadith Qudsi
Abu Hurairah (may Allah be pleased with him) reported that the Messenger of Allah (peace be on him) said:
“Allah the Almighty has said: ‘Whosoever acts with enmity towards a closer servant of Mine (wali), I will indeed declare war against him. Nothing endears My servant to Me than doing of what I have made obligatory upon him to do. And My servant continues to draw nearer to Me with supererogatory (nawafil) prayers so that I shall love him. When I love him, I shall be his hearing with which he shall hear, his sight with which he shall see, his hands with which he shall hold, and his feet with which he shall walk. And if he asks (something) of Me, I shall surely give it to him, and if he takes refuge in Me, I shall certainly grant him it.” (Bukhari)
If you want to be close to Allah, you cannot be rebel. The first step to gain Allah’s love is to obey His commands. The second step to continue to draw closer to Allah is through voluntary actions. Allah Almighty made it clear and paved the way for us to gain His love. Allah welcomes everyone, but you need to read the terms and conditions and comply with them. If you don’t you will not attain it. Once you have listened and obeyed, then maintained and improved your behaviour and attitude, the third step is reaping the fruits. What you planted, watered, maintained and nurtured will enable you to see things with a different lens. Allah will become like your ears, eyes and hands, supporting you in what you do. This consistency will keep you on the straight path.
To renounce the dunya and gain Allah’s love means you have to clear the junk from your heart. Many brothers and sisters cut ties because of dunya issues – inheritance disputes, conflicts over money. Dunya is less important than having a good relationship with your children, siblings and relatives. Don’t let the dunya distract you from the akhirah. You fail the test when you make the dunya your priority. May Allah forgive us, we do this many times. We need to be careful.
The reality of zuhd
Ghazali did not define zuhd yet. The common name Zahida (Zahda) and Zahid are related to zuhd– meaning the one who is not concerned with dunya. The plural of Zahid is zuhad.
Ghazali defines zuhd as aversion to the world and voluntary withdrawal from it despite the ability to acquire it. It means not being immersed in the dunya. You cannot isolate yourself to the dunya at a practical level, so Ghazali is referring to the state of your heart. When you have the ability to acquire it, you deal with it, but you are not interested in it. Some people might like to appear as if they are Zahid when in fact they are not Zahid, they are longing for dunya but can’t get it. The true Zahid is the one who has the dunya but is not attached to it.
Omar bin Abdul Aziz is a great example. There is a huge difference between how he was before and after his Caliphate. Before it, he was pampered and wore the most expensive perfume and clothes. Once he became the Khalifa he was a different person. His biography is amazing. He had the ability to acquire wealth, but he shunned it. He was focused on delivering justice to his subjects and through it he earned his famous reputation for virtuousness. All the khulafah were people of zuhd, as they were the students of the Messenger of Allah (peace be on him). They were nurtured by him and they learned from how he lived, ate and drank and dealt with money.
The foundation of zuhd
The foundation of Zuhd according to Ghazali is knowledge and light which shines in the heart and spreads through the chest and gives you the realisation that the afterlife is lasting becomes more clear to you. You realise that the world compared to the akhirah is like a piece of clay or glass compared to a jewel. This gives you insight that dunya is not important. Do not swap a jewel for a piece of glass. It would be a big loss.
How do you assess yourself?
The fruit of zuhd is contentment (kana’) with a necessary portion of dunya. The necessary portion is like the provision of a rider. To check you are on the track, you need to feel content when your essential needs are met. If not, you are pretending.
Necessary portion of dunya is known as darura – it is like the provisions you take with you when you travel. We travel light, and we only take what is essential for our needs. We do not take the kitchen sink with us. We are like the one who takes shade under a tree and leaves.
How do we bridge the huge gap between rich and poor?
The Prophet (peace be on him) commanded his companions to give whatever they had surplus to their needs to those who need it. In the hadith in which this is narrated, a man came on his camel and looked right and left, but he did not express his need out of dignity hoping that the Prophet (peace be on him) would be able to see this and help him, without his asking. The Prophet (peace be on him) recognised this immediately. Allah wants us to share what we have, especially when there are times of need and particularly to our family. We need therefore to look around us and identify who is in need and try to support them, particularly in our immediate family as they are our priority, and not wait for them to ask. Then we have an obligation to our extended family and the community. As a community we can identify whose needs are the greatest and raise funds to alleviate their suffering.
How do you cope with friends and family who dismiss you for being aloof as you are not interested in the dunya?
It depends how you interact with them and you present yourself. If you come across as a boring person because you are not interested in what interests them and vice versa then the sense that you are boring will be mutual. The Prophet (peace be on him) used to take part in what was going on in the community. If they were telling jokes, as long as they were not beyond the boundaries, he could laugh with them. If they shared something he was with them and took part in their conversations. Sometimes we say nothing but our face expresses our lack of interest and those around us will be put off by us. Sometimes we might try and people do not respond, so we may need to change our style and learn how to accommodate our differences. We need to learn how to mix with people otherwise they will not be interested in what we have to say. Then we can shift their discussions to what interests us and drive the conversation. We need to remain in touch with people.
In weddings some people wish to have lavish events when you want to have a simple wedding, what should you do?
Often we are a victim of culture. Lavish weddings can put enormous pressure on families and even then the community will still complain about how it was done, and it is impossible to satisfy everyone. One must avoid getting into debt over a big, fat wedding which would put a burden on the marriage from the off-set. It is better to have a small wedding and donate any extra that you may have spent on a good project than wasting the resources Allah gave you to impress others.
Some people spend very little money on themselves and claim it is zuhd, is this miserliness?
It may be or it may not. If he does not prevent paying zakat or his family or on good causes, then that is not miserliness. But if he withholds money from the family to fulfil their needs this is a sign of miserliness.
Shouldn’t we wear good clothes because Allah wants us to show our blessings and be grateful for them?
We can wear good clothes but this should not penetrate your heart. You should have good attire, but if you can never wear cheap clothes that is arrogance and you need to break it and from time to time wear decent but humble clothes. Teach yourself how to be humble.
Did Ghazali return back to the dunya after his isolation?
After ten years of isolation Ghazali did return back. The real zuhd is not to allow dunya in your heart.
Sometimes Allah gives you everything and you realise how pointless it is. Can giving be a means of bringing you to Allah?
Everyone is chasing happiness but happiness is not in material things. People are often deluded that they will attain happiness when the gain wealth and luxury, but when they get it, they find it is spiritless. It is boring. They feel the emptiness and nothing can fill it but Allah and His Messenger (peace be on him). If you are seeking Allah, Allah will guide you to the truth, but you need to work towards it.
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