The Concept of Prioritisation in Islam
Getting our Priorities Right
In the pursuit of goodness it is easy to become side-tracked by worthwhile acts, which may deceptively be shifting your focus from more important acts.
How valuable is growing a beard when you are not acquiring your earnings in a halal way? Or praying in the front row when you are treating your wife badly? Or performing tarawih prayers but then missing fajr?
Understanding the value of what is important, means we can build strong foundations and then embellish the structure. Rather than risk beautifying a crumbly edifice.
The scholar Imam Muhasibi said that the people who are seeking the akhirah are of two kinds:
- People of justice – adl
- People of virtues – fadl
Though we usually understand adl to mean justice, from the Sufi point of view the definition of adl is to:
- To perform the obligations (e.g. fasting and salah)
- To seek the obligations which are required.
There are two further kinds of adl:
adl dhahir – external obligations (between you and other people)
adl batin – internal obligations (between you and Allah Almighty)
- The path to adl is tariqul istiqama. (the middle path that is siratal mustaqeem) by fulfilling obligations.
- The path for fadl is through extra actions (talab az ziyada)g. nawafil which are not obligatory.
Prioritisation – the foundation (faraid) and the decoration (nawafil)
It is incumbent on everyone to know their obligations, but not to know the extras. Whereas every voluntary action is not incumbent on the servant to do or to know.
You must be careful not to neglect the obligations in pursuit of the optional acts of goodness. For example, performing many nawafil and then missing the faraid.
The faraid is the foundation and the nawafil is the decoration. So don’t waste your time on the nawafil when you have not fulfilled your obligations. This is prioritisation. You are not accountable for the extras, but you are accountable for not fulfilling your obligations.
Performing adl provides an excuse for not fulfilling the fadl. But being preoccupied by the fadl and failing to fulfil the adl is to be deceived. It is a sign that you are following your own whims and desires, perhaps for the sake of gratifying your ego, as it brings you praise in the community.
Having adl – How do we reach that level?
You cannot attain the station of adl unless you have three khisaal, (criteria):
- Al ilm – Knowledge
You can’t do anything unless you have knowledge.
The first step is to know la ilaha il allah and the first word of revelation was iqra.
- Al amal – Action
Actions are the application of knowledge. We activate our imaan through actions.
- Sabr – Patience
Having the perseverance and patience are essential qualities for moral and spiritual progress in our attitude and actions.
As it is easy for our us to get carried away with the icing and forget the cake, we need to keep focusing on our priorities- acquiring the knowledge, applying it in our lives and persevering to ensure that we have fulfilled our duties. In this way our account is secure and the icing is not likely to collapse into a pile of sugary mush.
May Allah Almighty make us of those who attain adl in our lives. Ameen
Talk delivered by Shaykh Haytham Tamim on 20th January 2018.
Based on Adab an Nufus (The Etiquette of the Souls) by Imam al Harith Muhasibi, (781–857) who was the founder of the Baghdad School of Islamic philosophy, including the Sufi masters Junayd al Baghdadi and influenced many subsequent theologians, such as al Ghazali. It is a simple guide to spirituality from the third century scholar whose nickname Mushasibi (the one takes account) specialised in introspection, and moral and spiritual development.
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