How to bring light to your heart. Tips on following the Sunnah. (Ghazali’s Secrets part 2)
We are still reading from the book of Imam Ghazali Kitaab Al-Arba’in Fi Usul ad-Din, The Forty Principles of the Religion, which is a summary of his great work, Ihya Ulum ad-Din.
In his chapter on Following the Sunnah, he talks about the importance of following the Prophet (peace be on him) and establishing a bondship with him. Not just following him in ibadah but in all spheres of our life.
Internal and external aspects of following the sunnah
Ghazali mentioned how wudu has an impact on the soul. Its effect is more than just washing you externally as it is also a mechanism for internal purification. Therefore though it may be that once is enough to wash yourself once, and the minimum compulsory acts (fard) of wudu are to wash the face completely once, wash both the hands to the elbow once, wipe over (masah) a quarter of the head and to wash feet and ankles. Yet the sunnah is wash the nose and mouth as well and to repeat the washing of the body parts except the head, three times. Therefore why do we not stop at the obligation? The answer is that the Prophet (peace be on him) has access to the Unseen. He had knowledge we are not party to. He came to perfect human conduct and to help us to excel and reach our destiny safely by following his guidance. Therefore, we simply have to follow him. If he repeated it three times, we accept that there is wisdom which we are not privy to.
Consequently we would lose out if we neglect to follow his Sunnah and only follow with regards to acts of worship. Sometimes the Prophet (peace be on him) explained the reasons why he did things a certain way, but not all the time. Ghazali advises us to follow him in every way in order to optimise our chances of success, elevate ourselves and be better connected to Allah Almighty. It will enable us perfect our character and conduct. In Surat al Hashr, Allah Almighty said:
قُلۡ اِنۡ كُنۡتُمۡ تُحِبُّوۡنَ اللّٰهَ فَاتَّبِعُوۡنِىۡ يُحۡبِبۡكُمُ اللّٰهُ وَيَغۡفِرۡ لَـكُمۡ ذُنُوۡبَكُمۡؕ وَاللّٰهُ غَفُوۡرٌ رَّحِيۡمٌ
(O Messenger!) Tell people: ‘If you indeed love Allah, follow me, and Allah will love you and will forgive you your sins. (3:31)
وَمَاۤ اٰتٰٮكُمُ الرَّسُوۡلُ فَخُذُوْهُ وَ مَا َنَهٰٮكُمۡ عَنۡهُ فَانْتَهُوۡا ۚ وَاتَّقُوا اللّٰهَ ؕ اِنَّ اللّٰهَ شَدِيۡدُ الۡعِقَابِۘ
And whatever the Messenger has given you – take; and what he has forbidden you – refrain from. And fear Allah (59:7)
Take aata is a general word lafadh aam. That means whatever he gives you, take it. And whatever he forbids you, refrain from it, whether you understand the reason behind it or not.
Do not try to rationalise every aspect of religion
Some people try want a logical explanation for everything we have to do. They say they will not follow blindly. Their approach is scientific and insists on a reason for every rule. Ghazali rejects this mentality as you cannot philosophically explain the reason behind every rule in Islam. Yes, Islam is a reason which appeals to the intellect but there are areas which we have to defer to those with greater knowledge.
We should not overcomplicate the deen by demanding the rationale for everything because we do not have the capacity to understand all the rationale. We do not have a comprehensive knowledge or perspective. We cannot explain why we go round the Kaaba anticlockwise or why we do it 7 times.
We are limited. We are allowed to pose questions and we can suggest reasons, but ultimately we submit to and defer to the higher intelligence of Allah and His Messenger (peace be on him) and to authentic and reliable sources.
The heart is a mirror
Ghazali says that there are 3 secrets he will divulge from his own experience. He likens the heart to a mirror. The cleaner the heart, the sharper the images. The more dusty the heart, the more blurred the images are. That is why we need to polish the heart, illuminate it and straighten it. If it is distorted the image will not reflect reality, it will be misleading.
Polish the heart with istighfar
When you polish the window, it becomes clearer; if you polish your car, it becomes more shiny and attractive. Thus polishing gives the object a new lease of life, and makes it ten year younger.
How do you polish your heart? By removing filthy desires and blameworthy characteristics. Ghazali elaborated on this inhis Ihya Ulum ad Din in the chapter Removing Bad Characteristics and Removing Filthy Desires.
Of course, you do not polish something brand new because it is already polished. However when you have a rusty heart, encrusted with dirt, and tarnished, it needs polishing. The polishing process is important. Like the frying pan, which becomes hard to clean over time. Unless you keep cleaning it after every use, layers of fat will get burnt on.
We are not in the habit of polishing our heart regularly, because we feel lazy and the lack the will and energy sometimes. We feel apathy and procrastinate, and so accumulate layers of dirt. These affect the heart. Stay on top of polishing it. Don’t leave it til later. The you leave it, the more is spreads. The quicker you do it, the more effectively you can clean it.
The heart is polished by istighfar and tawbah and dua
The stain is like oil you need to remove it ASAP otherwise it is very hard to remove. When is heart is not polished, it becomes locked – qulubuna ghulf. Some people in our midst have heart which are half-locked. Others are paralysed spiritually to differing degrees.
They cannot feel what they should feel in that situation. Their hearts are numb. That is a warning sign. It means you need to work on cleaning your heart so it can feel again. How can you tell? A very simple method is to see whether you are moved by the Quran. If you are reading the Quran and you come across the ayahs about the attributes of Allah or the reward of people of Jannah and it has no impact on you, then ask yourself why that is. This is how test yourself.
Do you have a paralysed heart or a beating heart? When you feel your heart is engaged in what you are reciting this is a good sign.
In order to keep polishing the heart you also need to remove filthy desires. Ghazali did not say remove desire altogether, because Allah Almighty created us with desire. If you channelise this desire in a halal way, it is fine. For this reason, in the intimate relationship between husband and wife there is a reward. The Companions were surprised by this. They asked the Prophet (peace be on him) to clarify that they would be rewarded for sleeping with their wives, he replied that if they were to have physical relations out out of wedlock it would haram, so when they have it within the relationship that Allah permitted for it be channelled through, it is rewarded.
Islam does not abolish desire. Islam is about channelling desire in a halal way.
Some Companions asked for permission to be castrated so they would have no desire and would be able to focus fully on ibadah. The Prophet (peace be on him) forbid it. ‘Abdullah ibn Mas‘ood said:
We were on a campaign with the Messenger of Allah (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him), and we had no women with us. We said: Why don’t we get ourselves castrated? But he forbade us to do that. (Bukhari and Muslim)
When he was asked why he forbid it, he replied with the ayah from the Quran:
‘O you who believe ! Make not unlawful the good things which Allah has made lawful for you, but commit no transgression.’ (5.87)
Therefore we should be grateful for what Allah Almighty has given us and remember that He made us a moderate ummah. We do not permit celibacy and we do not permit unbridled desire. Aisha narrated that the Prophet (peace be on him) said:
“Marriage is part of my sunnah, and whoever does not follow my sunnah has nothing to do with me. Get married, for I will boast of your great numbers before the nations. Whoever has the means, let him get married, and whoever does not, then he should fast for it will diminish his desire.” (Ibn Majah)
We need to live a balanced life – that means fulfilling the needs of the body, soul and intellect. Follow desires in the moderate way. This is a huge chapter in Ihya al Ulum ad Din, called Kitab Kasr al Shahwatayn ‘How to Break the Two Desires’, namely for food and drink and intimacy. It elaborates in systematic detail how not to give in to every desire.
In order to polish the heart, you also have to purge yourself of any residual blameworthy characteristics, like anger. The hot tempered, explosive person, the impatient person the grumpy person all have to work on themselves as these traits affect the soundness and purity the heart. The softer and kinder you are, the better your heart will be.
Thinking badly of others
If you have bad opinion about someone, you treat them with coldly, and you can create problems, which then lead you to have a heavy chest. A heavy chest disturbs your work, your life and your ibadah. It stays in the heart. When you rid yourself of this, you attain lightness. When you offload your grudges and bad opinions, Allah Almighty enlightens your heart.
Make a list of the good and bad things about yourself. Write the good things on the right and bad things on the left. Be genuine. If you are kind, write it down but also write your flaws, perhaps you are miserly. See which of traits on the list needs to be fixed as a priority. This will be the one on the left side is troubling you the most and creating the most problems for you. Work on that as it will help you to polish your heart. This is the mother of all problems, so work on it.
Shed your baggage
Quite often the sadness we experience and the sense of heaviness in our chest, comes from an accumulation of issues we did not deal with at the time. You might have done something wrong and not apologised or someone said something to you and you did not address it at the time, can fester in your heart. Had you addressed it you might have discovered it was a misunderstanding and what you perceived was not what they had meant. They would have apologised if they realised what you thought and explained that they had not meant to hurt you, but in your mind, you build stories upon stories based on false assumptions. The shaytan preys on that and builds a mountain of suspicion and pain out of nothing. And you carry that load for so long and it disturbs your ibadah.
Do not carry loads. The more you carry the more you sink. If you address the issues at the time, they dissipate and dissolve like sugar in water. It might be a spouse, sibling, parent or friend. Speak to them calmly about it and inshallah it will be resolved.
Imam ibn Atta Illa Askandari, the well known Maliki Sufi scholar, said how do you expect your heart to be polished when the dunya is reflected on your heart.
“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 you want your heart to shine, the dunya should not be the first priority in your heart.
Make the akhirah your priority
Most of time our priority is dunya. If you check what you are planning to do tomorrow, it will consist of work and a long of list of dunya related tasks. What about the akhirah? It might be to pray, but if you compare what you do for dunya and what you do for akhirah which is longer?
Illuminate Your heart with dhikr
The illumination of your heart comes from the dhikr of Allah and improving your knowledge of Allah and His attributes. If you have drawn your curtains, you will not see the light. So you need to open your curtains to receive the light of Allah. If you want your heart to shine, you need to do dhikr. The more dhikr you do, the lighter your heart will be- engage in daily morning dhikr and perform salah.
Follow the obligations and etiquettes of salah, as the more you perfect your worship, the more you feel its impact in your life. Salah is the best form of ibadah. Salah is the purest, sincerest form of ibadah, so work on improving it. Nothing matches salah in our ibadah. I feel very sorry for those who are not praying. Those who are not praying are missing out a lot. Pray, because this is what makes you closer to Allah and makes you a better person.
Therefore pray with sincerity and prepare yourself for it, as the Prophet (peace be on him) used to. When the time for prayer came, he was like a different person, because he was so focused on his meeting with Allah Almighty in salah and conversing with Him in salah. He prepared himself for this meeting. We do not know what he saw or window Allah Almighty opened for him. We wish that we feel that inspiration in our salah. We follow what he does without knowing what he received in his salah, but we hope to receive some of that. This is why he said:
Pray the way you have seen me praying. (Bukhari)
We are all searching for serenity and peace especially during these years of pandemic. Alhamdulilah, it also came with goodness as well as pain, but whatever Allah Almighty sends is full of goodness. This is how you bring light to your heart.
Shaykh Haytham Tamim – The Thursday Al Ghazali Class
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