Al-Ghunya li-Talibi Tariq al-Haqq - 2

Concerning contentment [rida].

As for contentment [rida], the fundamental guidance on the subject is contained in the words of Allah (Almighty and Glorious is He):

Allah is well pleased with them, and they are well pleased with Him. (58:22)

--and in His words (Blessed and Exalted is He):

Their Lord gives them good news of mercy from Him, and good pleasure, and Gardens [of Paradise] in which they shall have lasting bliss. (9:21)

Furthermore, according to a traditional report, transmitted on the authority of Ibn 'Abbas (may Allah be well pleased with him and with his father), Allah's Messenger (Allah bless him and give him peace) once said:

The full flavor of true faith [iman] is tasted by one who is content with Allah (Almighty and Glorious is He) as a Lord [Rabb].

[The Caliph] 'Umar ibn al-Khattab once wrote to Abu Musa al-Ash'ari (may Allah be well pleased with them both):

"The point I wish to emphasize is this: All goodness resides in contentment [rida], so if you are capable of being content, [well and good]. If not, you must be patient [fa-'sbir]."

It was Qatada (may Allah the Exalted bestow His mercy upon him) who said, in commenting on the words of Allah (Almighty and Glorious is He):

And if one of them receives tidings of the birth of a female, his face remains darkened, and he is inwardly furious. (16:58)

--"This describes the attitude of those Arabs who attribute partners to Allah [mushriki 'l-'Arab]. Allah (Almighty and Glorious is He) has thus informed us of the badness of their attitude. As for the believer [mu'min], he is worthily disposed to be content with whatever Allah (Exalted is He) has allotted to him."

The judgment of Allah (Almighty and Glorious is He) is better than a man's judgment on his own behalf. That which Allah has decreed for you concerning something you dislike, O son of Adam, may be even better for you than that which Allah has decreed for you concerning something you like. You must therefore observe your duty to Allah (Exalted is He), and be content to accept His decision.

Allah (Blessed and Exalted is He) has told us:

But it may happen that you hate a thing that is good for you, and it may happen that you love a thing which is bad for you. Allah knows, and you know not. (2:216)

That is to say, [He knows, and you do not know] what is in the best interest of your religion [din] and your worldly life, for Allah (Almighty and Glorious is He) has kept concealed from His creatures the things that are to their advantage. He has charged them with servitude ['ubudiyya] to Him, by requiring fulfillment of the commandments and observance of the prohibitions [of the Sacred Law], submissive resignation to that which is foreordained [maqdur], and contentment [rida] with the divine decree [qada'] in every respect, whether it be in their favor or to their disadvantage. He has appropriated the consequences and the benefits unto Himself exclusively (Almighty and Glorious is He). It is therefore necessary for the servant to be constantly engaged in worshipful obedience to his Master [Mawla], to be content with whatever Allah has allotted to him, and to harbor no doubts about Him.

As you should also be well aware, the amount of trouble experienced by any individual creature is in proportion to his quarrel with destiny [qadar] over that which is foreordained [maqdur], his compliance with his own desire [hawa'], and his lack of contentment [rida] with the divine decree [qada']. Whenever someone is content to accept the divine decree, that person can enjoy rest and relaxation. Whenever someone is not content with it, on the other hand, his experience of misery and trouble can only be prolonged, and he will still obtain nothing from this world except that which has been allotted to him. As long as his personal desire persists in making its demands upon him, he cannot be content to accept the divine decree, because that desire is in contention with the Lord of Truth (Almighty and Glorious is He), and so his troubles can only intensify and multiply.

The procurement of ease and comfort is the result of opposition to personal desire [hawa'], because it is bound to involve contentment [rida] with the divine decree [qada']. The procurement of trouble and discomfort, on the other hand, is the result of compliance with personal desire, because it is bound to involve contention with the Lord of Truth (Almighty and Glorious is He). So may desire not be there, and if it is, let us not be!

Should contentment [rida] be classed as one of the spiritual states [ahwal], or as one of the spiritual stations [maqamat]? On this point there are differences of opinion among the qualified scholars and experts in the spiritual path [tariqa].

According to the people of 'Iraq, it is one of the spiritual states [ahwal]. It is not subject, they maintain, to active acquisition [kasb] by the servant [of the Lord]. It is rather an occurrence or visitation [nazila], a condition that settles for a while within the inner feeling, like all the other spiritual states [ahwal], then changes and passes away, as another state arrives to take its place.

According to the Khurasanis, on the other hand, contentment [rida] is one of the spiritual stations [maqamat]. They consider it to be the final stage of absolute trust in the Lord [tawakkul], so that it represents the ultimate degree to which the servant [of the Lord] can attain through his own acquisitive capacity [iktisab].

It is possible to reconcile these two views, by stating the case as follows:

The initial stage of contentment [bidayat ar-rida] is subject to active acquisition [muktasaba] by the servant [of the Lord], which means that it is one of the spiritual stations [maqamat]. But its final stage [nihaya] is one of the spiritual states [ahwal], which means that it is not subject to active acquisition.

In simple terms, someone who is content [radi] is someone who does not object to the foreordainment [taqdir] of Allah (Almighty and Glorious is He).

It was Abu 'Ali ad-Daqqaq (may Allah the Exalted bestow His mercy upon him) who said:

"Contentment [rida] does not mean that you are not affected by the experience of trial and tribulation. Contentment [rida] simply means that you do not object to the divine decision [hukm] and decree [qada']."

The wise elders [mashayikh] (may Allah the Exalted bestow His mercy upon them) have often said:

"Contentment with the divine decree [ar-rida bi'l-qada'] is Allah's most splendid gateway, and it is this world's Garden of Paradise. That is to say, when someone is blessed with the honor of contentment [rida], he has already received the most abundant welcome, and has been honored with the most exalted nearness."

It is said that a pupil [tilmidh] once asked his teacher [ustadh]: "Is the servant aware that Allah (Blessed and Exalted is He) is well pleased with him?" "No," replied the teacher, "how can he know that, when His good pleasure [rida] is imperceptible?" But the pupil said: "Oh yes, he does recognize it," so the teacher asked: "How?" The pupil then explained: "When I find that my inner feeling is well pleased with Allah (Exalted is He), I know that He is well pleased with me." So the teacher said: "You have done very well, young man!"

It is indeed true that the servant will not be well pleased with Allah, unless the Lord of Truth (Glorious is His Majesty) is well pleased with him. Allah (Almighty and Glorious is He) has told us:

Allah is well pleased with them, and they are well pleased with Him. (58:22)

--That is to say, because of His good pleasure [rida] with them, they are well pleased with Him.

It is said that Moses [Musa] (peace be upon him) once had a request to make of his Lord (Almighty and Glorious is He), so he said: "My God [Ilahi], point out to me a deed, such that, if I perform it, You will be well pleased with me." The Lord said: "You are not capable of that," so Moses (peace be upon him) sank to the ground, prostrating himself [sajid] in humble submission. Allah (Almighty and Glorious is He) then conveyed to him by way of inspiration [awha ilai-hi]: "O son of 'Imran, My good pleasure resides in your contentment with My decree [inna rida'i fi rida-ka bi-qada'i]."

Let us also consider the following wise sayings:

"If a person wishes to arrive at the stage of contentment [rida], let him stick to the course upon which Allah (Almighty and Glorious is He) has conferred His good pleasure [rida]."

"Contentment [rida] is of two kinds, namely: (1) ready approval of Him [rida bi-hi], and (2) resigned acceptance of Him [rida 'an-hu]. There is ready approval of Him as a Manager [Mudabbir], and there is resigned acceptance of Him with respect to what He decrees as a Ruler [Hakim] and as a Judge [Fasil]."

"When someone is content [radi], it means that even if Hell [Jahannam] were to be placed on his right side, he would not ask for it to be moved over to his left side."

"Contentment [rida] means the expulsion of disagreeable feelings from the heart, so that nothing remains except happiness and joy."

Rabi'a al-'Adawiyya (may Allah the Exalted bestow His mercy upon her) was once asked the question: "When is the servant [of the Lord] content [radi] with the divine decree [bi-'l-qada']?" To this she replied (may Allah the Exalted bestow His mercy upon her): "When he is happy with affliction, just as he is happy with gracious favor."

It is said that ash-Shibli (may Allah the Exalted bestow His mercy upon him) once uttered the expression:

There is neither any power nor any strength except with Allah. [la hawla wa la quwwata illa bi'llah.]

--in the presence of al-Junaid (may Allah the Exalted bestow His mercy upon him), so al-Junaid (may Allah bestow His mercy upon him) told him: "In saying that, you are prompted by a feeling of annoyance, and the feeling of annoyance is due to the lack of contentment [rida] with the divine decree [qada']."

It was Abu Sulaiman [ad-Darani] (may Allah the Exalted bestow His mercy upon him) who said:

"Contentment [rida] means that you do not ask Allah to grant you the Garden of Paradise, and that you do not appeal to Him for refuge from the Fire of Hell."

Dhu 'n-Nun al-Misri (may Allah the Exalted bestow His mercy upon him) once said:

"These are three of the symptoms of contentment [rida]: (1) the lack of personal preference in advance of the divine decree [qada'], (2) the absence of bitterness in the wake of the divine decree, and (3) the arousal of love in the midst of trial and tribulation."

He also said (may Allah the Exalted bestow His mercy upon him):

"It is the happiness of the heart with the bitterness of the divine decree [qada']."

When Abu 'Uthman [al-Hiri] (may Allah the Exalted bestow His mercy upon him) was asked to explain the saying of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace):

What I ask of you is contentment [rida] in the wake of the divine decree [qada'].

--he said: "That is because contentment [rida] in advance of the divine decree [qada'] is only the prior determination to be content, while contentment [rida] in the wake of the divine decree [qada'] is the actual experience of contentment [huwa 'r-rida]."

As we learn from a traditional report, someone once told al-Husain ibn 'Ali ibn Abi Talib (may Allah be well pleased with him and with his father) that Abu Dharr (may Allah be well pleased with him) used to say:

"Poverty is dearer to me than affluence, sickness is dearer to me than health, and death is dearer to me than life."

So he said: "May Allah bestow His mercy upon Abu Dharr. As for myself, I say: 'When someone relies upon the excellence of Allah's choice, he does not wish for anything other than that which Allah has chosen for him."

[Abu 'Ali] al-Fudail ibn 'Iyad once said to Bishr al-Hafi ["the Barefoot"] (may Allah the Exalted bestow His mercy upon them both):

"Contentment [rida] is more meritorious than abstinence [zuhd] from this world, because when someone is content [radi], he does not wish for anything above his actual situation."

The view expressed by al-Fudail is the correct one, because it refers to contentment with one's actual condition [ar-rida bi'l-hal], and all that is good resides in contentment with one's actual condition. Allah (Almighty and Glorious is He) said to Moses [Musa] (peace be upon him):

"O Moses! I have preferred you above mankind by My messages and by My speaking [to you]. So hold that which I have given you, and be among the thankful." (7:144)

That is to say: "Be content with that which I have bestowed upon you. Do not go looking for another situation, and be among the thankful." In other words: "Be content with making the most of your actual condition [hifz al-hal]."

Likewise to our own Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace), He said (Exalted is He):

And strain not your eyes toward that which We have given for some pairs among them to enjoy-- the flower of this world's life, that We may thereby put them to the test. (20:131)

As well as giving this instruction to His Prophet (blessing and peace be upon him), He also commanded him to make the most of his actual condition [hifz al-hal], and to be content with the divine decree and bestowal of provision [ar-rida bi'l-qada' wa 'l-'ata'], in His words (Exalted is He):

And the provision of your Lord is better and more lasting. (20:131)

That is to say: "That which We have bestowed upon you--in the way of Prophethood [Nubuwwa], knowledge ['ilm], satisfaction [qana'a], patience [sabr], authority in religion [wilayat ad-din] and the rôle of exemplar [qudwa] therein--is far superior to that which We have bestowed upon anyone other than you."

All goodness therefore resides in making the most of one's actual condition [hifz al-hal], in being content with it, and in refraining from taking an interest in any condition apart from it, because the only possibilities, as far as that [other condition] is concerned, are the following: (1) it is your own allotted portion [qism], (2) it is the allotted portion [qism] of someone other than yourself, or (3) it is not a portion [qism] allotted to anyone, but something that Allah (Exalted is He) has caused to exist as a temptation [fitna].

If it is indeed your own allotted portion [qism], it is bound to come your way, whether you wish for it or not. It is therefore inappropriate for you to exhibit bad manners and greediness in its pursuit, for that would be judged unworthy by the standard of reason ['aql] and knowledge ['ilm].

If it is the allotted portion [qism] of someone other than yourself, you must not waste your time and energy on that which you cannot obtain, and which will never come your way. If it is not a portion [qism] allotted to anyone, but merely a temptation [fitna], how could any intelligent person be content, and how could any sensible person consider it worthwhile, to seek and attempt to procure a temptation for himself?

Certain experts on the subject have said:

"Contentment [rida] with the divine decree [qada'] means that there is no significant distinction, as far as you are concerned, between what you like and what you dislike about His decree (Almighty and Glorious is He)."

One of them has said:

"It means patience [sabr] in enduring the bitterness of the divine decree [qada']."

Another has said:

"It means laying the palms of one's hands on the ground [i.e., prostrating oneself] in the presence of Allah (Almighty and Glorious is He), and submitting [taslim] to His rulings [ahkam]."

Another has said:

"It means leaving it to the Manager [Mudabbir] to select the best option."

Yet another has said:

"It means giving up personal preference [ikhtiyar]."

One of them has said:

"The people who really experience contentment [ahl ar-rida] are those who eradicate personal preference from their hearts. This means that they accord no special preference to any of the various things they may want for themselves, nor to any of the things by which they intend to please Allah. They make no requests of Him, and they do not try to find out about a ruling [hukm] before it comes down [from Him]. So, when a ruling [hukm] does come down from Allah, inasmuch as they are not eagerly awaiting it, and have not tried to learn about it in advance, they are content with it and take pleasure and delight in it."

The same person has also said:

"Allah has some servants who see it as a gracious favor, bestowed upon them by Allah, when the sentence [hukm] of trial and tribulation is imposed upon them, so they thank Him for it and accept it gladly. But then they come to realize, in the wake of their delight in gracious favors, that their preoccupation with the benefaction [ni'ma], instead of with the Benefactor [Mun'im], amounts to a shortcoming. Their hearts are now preoccupied with the Benefactor [Mun'im], instead of with the benefaction [ni'ma], and so the affliction runs its course over them, while their hearts are unaffected by it.

"Once they have settled into this spiritual station [maqam], and have made it their permanent residence, their Master [Mawla] will transport them to a level that is even loftier for them and more elevated than that, because there is no limit and no end to His gifts (Almighty and Glorious is He)."

At the very least, contentment [rida] must mean that one ceases to yearn for anything apart from Allah (Almighty and Glorious is He), since Allah (Almighty and Glorious is He) has declared it blameworthy to yearn for anything other than Him (Almighty and Glorious is He).

Yahya ibn Kathir is reported as having said: "I read the Torah [Tawrah], and in it I saw that Allah (Glory be to Him and Exalted is He) says:

'Accursed is he whose reliance is placed upon a creature like himself.'"

In one of the traditions [akhbar], it is reported that Allah (Glory be to Him) says:

By My Might, My Majesty, My Generosity and My Glory, I shall cut off with despair the hope of anyone who pins his hope on anything other than Me. I shall cause him to wear the garment of shame among the people. I shall banish him from My proximity, and I shall cut him off from access to Me. Will he go on pinning his hope, in the midst of adversities, on anything other than Me, when adversities are under My control, and I am the Ever-Living [al-Hayy]? Will he go on appealing to others apart from Me? Will he go on knocking with his mind at the doors of others apart from Me, when they are locked and their keys are in My hand?

In another tradition [khabar], it is reported that Allah (Almighty and Glorious is He) says:

Whenever a servant holds fast to Me, rather than to My creation, that fact becomes known from his heart and his intention [niyya], so the heavens and the earth and all within them conspire to bring about his downfall, but I provide him with a means of escape therefrom. And whenever a servant clings to a created entity, rather than to Me, I cut away the cords of heaven from above him, and I turn the earth into a swamp beneath his feet. Then I bring him to ruination in this world, and I make him suffer misery therein.

One of the Companions [Sahaba] (may the good pleasure [ridwan] of Allah the Exalted be upon them all) is reported as having said: "I once heard Allah's Messenger (Allah bless him and give him peace) say:

"'If someone takes pride in human beings, he deserves to be treated with contempt.'"

In the words of another wise saying:

"If a person relies upon a creature like himself, he deserves to be treated with contempt. Because of his ambitious desire [tama'] to get whatever he wants, he is prevented from consulting his inner feeling, distracted from his true aspiration, and exposed to degradation and abasement. Two things are therefore stacked against him, namely, humiliation in this world and remoteness from Allah (Almighty and Glorious is He), without the addition of one single atom to increase his sustenance."

One of the experts had this to say:

"I know of nothing more harmful to spiritual aspirants [muridin] and seekers [talibin] than ambitious desire [tama']. I know of nothing more detrimental to their hearts, nothing more likely to make them suffer degradation, nothing more injurious to their inner feelings, nothing more likely to keep them far removed from their goal, and nothing more serious as a distraction from their true aspiration.

"As for why this is so, the reason is simply that it amounts to a form of polytheism [shirk], wherever they may be, because one of them has attributed a partner to Allah (Almighty and Glorious is He), inasmuch as he has focused his ambitious desire [tama'] on a creature like himself, who is powerless to cause any harm or provide any benefit, and incapable of giving or withholding any gift. He has thereby assigned the power of the King [Malik] to His slave [mamluk]. So what of his claim to piety [wara']? His claim to piety will not be recognized as genuine, until he attributes all things to their Owner [Malik] (Almighty and Glorious is He), then seeks to obtain them from Him, and does not seek to obtain them from anyone other than Him."

As someone else has explained:

"Ambitious desire [tama'] has a root and a branch. The root of it is heedless neglect, while its branch consists of hypocritical ostentation [riya'], promoting an undeserved reputation [sum'a], pretense and affectation, and a fondness for acquiring prestige in the eyes of the public."

Jesus ['Isa] (peace be upon him) once said to the Disciples [Hawariyyin]:

"Ambitious desire [tama'] is the deadly enemy of inspiration [wahy]."

One of the experts on this subject is reported as having said:

"It happened one day that I felt a strong desire for something belonging to this world, but then an invisible voice [hatif] called out to me, saying: 'O you there! Since the free man with spiritual aspirations [al-hurr al-murid] can find whatever he seeks in the presence of Allah, it ill befits him to depend in his heart upon servile creatures ['abid]."

You should also know that Allah has certain servants ['ibad] who are unconscious of the fact that ambition must be focused on the One who has the power to grant what they desire, until they receive the blessing of grace [baraka] from an unexpected source. Only then do they realize that the state of ambitious desire [tama'] is a defective condition among the spiritual states [ahwal]. It is a lower degree than all the degrees attained by those, among the people of absolute trust in the Lord, whose knowledge is based on direct experience [al-'arifin min ahl at-tawakkul].

No trace of ambitious desire [tama'] can enter and settle in the heart of the spiritual aspirant [murid], unless it be on account of total remoteness from Allah (Almighty and Glorious is He), due to his having focused his ambition on a creature like himself, and because fear has not deterred him from doing so, even though he is well aware that his Master [Mawla] knows absolutely everything about him.

 

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