[2/2] AL-BUTI: Commentary on the Hikam (#3)

I will give you an example that will resolve the above to satisfaction. Lady Maryam - upon our Prophet and upon her peace - when birthpains came to her - you have all read the Sura of Maryam - felt pain and foresaw what was going to happen with her, what people were going to say about her: "And the pangs of childbirth drove her unto the trunk of the palm tree. She said: Oh, would that I had died before this and had become a thing of naught, forgotten! Then (one) cried unto her from below her, saying: Grieve not! Thy Lord has placed a rivulet beneath you, and shake the trunk of the palm tree toward you, you will cause ripe dates to fall upon you." (19:23-25) The scholars all said here: She had rested her back against the trunk of a date-palm tree of huge size at a time there was not, at the head of that date-palm tree, any date nor fruit, for it was not yet the season for them. The tree was bare of fruit. Allah then created in front of her the rivulet, and He created for her in the height of the date-palm tree a bunch of ripe dates. Now, the God Who created the date-bunch instantly - is He not able to make it fall, or to make some of the dates fall in front of her? But He said: "And shake the trunk of the palm tree toward you, you wilt cause ripe dates to fall upon you." Imagine, what can that weak hand of hers do to that trunk which is very much like that column [in the mosque]? You all know the strength of the trunk of the date-palm. What can one do? So then: Is there any efficacy to the hand? Yet Allah ordered her to do something; to exert some effort; to knock at Allah Almighty's door. If Lady Maryam had said: "The God Who created the rivulet for me, and created those fresh, ripe dates for me, is able to let some of them fall in front of me just as He wishes; therefore I shall not move my hand, nor move the tree-trunk." If she had said that, it would have been misconduct with Allah Almighty. She actually moved her hand, after which Allah Almighty made them fall. Was the fall of the ripe dates effected by the moving of the hand or by Allah's subtle kindness? It was effected by Allah's subtle kindness (lutf).

So then, dear brethren: Our works in the marketplaces, our studies in the universities, our tilling of the fields and our farming, our medication at the hands of physicians - all the means that exist - are but the same thing as what Lady Maryam did when she was tasked with shaking the date-palm tree-trunk. If there were any efficacy to her hand, then it is the same with our works by which we strive and all our activities. But who is he that says there is any efficacy there? And that is the answer to the question mentioned before.

I am tasked with rising in the morning and going out to knock at the door of Allah's sustenance with the means which He has made licit. I am tasked with observing and respecting the causes which He has thus named for me: "causes" - and so I interact with them. That work in response to Allah's command is part of worship, part of the condition of being Allah Almighty's servant. This means that when you know that these causes have no actual efficacy, but [you say]: "Allah has commanded me, therefore, I hear and I obey" - at that time you are performing one of the greatest of all acts of worship to Allah Almighty. When the farmer goes out to his field, tills, plants, strives to his utmost, knowing that Allah has tasked him with a duty, and that it is Allah, thereafter, Who creates the results: that farmer is performing an act of worship which is among the greatest acts of worship. The young man who marries in order to practice continence, knowing, however, that it is Allah Who creates continence and it is He Who shall give him happiness through that marriage - it is Allah Himself Who gives him happiness - he is performing an act of worship which is among the greatest acts of worship. The sick man who knocks at the door of the physician to ask him for the remedy to his ailment, is performing an act of worship which is among the greatest acts of worship. This is all on condition that you know that efficacy belongs only to Allah Almighty. Whether you are in the world of dispossession (`alam al-tajrid) or in the world of causes (`alam al-asbab), you must know this. "The foremost energies cannot pierce the walls of foreordained destinies."

When a human being becomes immersed in this doctrine - his heart, not his tongue - he shall be far away from suffering, far from emotional and nervous upheavals; he shall no longer be affected. Why? If some merchant toils and gathers all the causes to use them to his benefit, after which it appears that his efforts all went to loss, and he goes back to his house with peace of mind, in his knowledge that efficacy does not belong to those causes but to Allah alone, Who wished that no [positive] outcome should be realized - he cannot say: had I done such-and-such, this result would not have happened; had I preceded so-and-so and submitted my project two days earlier, I would have been the one to succeed instead of him. The one who believes that efficacy belongs to Allah, his core does not ever burn with the flames of such words. Rather, he finds himself face-to-face with the words of Allah's Messenger - Allah bless and greet him - in the authentic narration of Muslim in his Sahih: "If something bad happens to you, do not say: if only I had done such and such, then such and such would have happened. Say: Allah foreordained it to take place, and whatever Allah wishes, He does (qaddara Allah wa ma sha'a Allahu fa`al). For `if only' begins Satan's work."4 But Satan cannot use `if' and begin his work through it except in a heart that is devoid of such doctrine. Similarly, someone whose relative was afflicted by some illness, then he took that relative to the physicians and used all kinds of medicine and remedies, but Allah foreordained to take the patient away. Then someone might come to him and say: "You made a mistake. The physician you went to was not a specialist. You should have taken the patient to So-and-so. If you had done so, he would have known the cure. Someone ailed more than that and was healed at his hands." If one's doctrine is absent, one will [at those words] feel an anguish that will not let him sleep at night. He will say: "It is true, by Allah! Oh no, no, no! -" But look at him who possesses true doctrine and true belief in Allah, who has fastened his heart to Allah, and before whose eyes and insight all causes have melted away so that he no longer see anything other than the Causator. He shall sleep in all tranquility. He shall say: "Leave me alone, you and your talk! The physicians, their medicine, ailments and their remedies are all servants bound to obey Allah's foreordained destiny, and it is not Allah's foreordained destiny that is subservient to the knowledge of physicians and their remedies and all the rest." His mind is at peace.

Let us plant this certitude firmly in the core of our beings. It brings immense benefits to us. Among its other benefits is that this doctrinal certitude leads you to what the spiritual masters (al-rabbaniyyun) have called "oneness of perception" (wahda al-shuhud). I am not saying "oneness of being" (wahda al-wujud) - beware! What is the meaning of the expression "oneness of perception"? When I interact with causes with full respect to Allah's ways, His orders, and His Law, and know that the sustenance that comes to me is from Allah; the felicity that enters my home is from Allah Almighty; my food is readied for me by Allah - I mean even the smallest details; the wealth with which I have been graced, comes from Allah; the illness that has been put in my being or that of a relative of mine comes from Allah Almighty; the cure that followed it is from Allah Almighty; my success in my studies is by Allah Almighty's grant; the results which I have attained after obtaining my degrees and so forth, are from Allah Almighty's grant - when the efficacy of causes melt away in my sight and I no longer see, behind them, other than the Causator Who is Allah Almighty, at that time, when you look right, you do not see except Allah's Attributes, and when you look left, you do not see other than Allah's Atttributes. As much as you evolve in the world of causes, you do not see, through them, except the Causator, Who is Allah. At that time you have become raised to what the spiritual masters have called oneness of perception. And this oneness of perception is what Allah's Messenger - Allah bless and greet him - expressed by the word ihsan [which he defined to mean]: "That you worship Allah as if you see him."5 You do not see the causes as a barrier between you and Allah. Rather, you see causes, in the context of this doctrine, very much like pure, transparent glass: the glass pane is present, no one denies it, but as much as you stare at it, you do not see anything except what is behind it. Is it not so? You only see what is behind it. The world is entirely made of glass panes in this fashion. You see in them Allah's efficacy in permanence, so you are always with Allah Almighty.

None has tasted the sweetness of belief (iman) unless he has reached that level of perception. At that time you will find yourself, when you enter your house, enjoying the pleasures of this house and whatever sustenance and good things are in it, you will know that it is Allah Who has bestowed all this upon you, so you will love Him. When you find that Allah has tied together your heart and the heart of your wife with mutual love, you will know that the secret of this love is not effected by your wife, but comes from Allah, the Lord of the worlds. When you look at yourself in the mirror, finding yourself in good health, you immediately know that it is Allah Almighty that has bestowed good health upon you. When food is placed before you and you look at it, you imagine that Allah - so to speak - has carried this food and placed it before you after he subordinated to this purpose His heaven, His earth, the pastures of His livestock, and then said to you: "Eat!" You will live with Allah Almighty! If you become thirsty and drink some cold water you will forget the water and remember only the One Who quenched your thirst. And when you lie down in bed at night and find yourself falling sleep, you will know that the One Who made you sleep is Allah - not sleeping pills at all, nor the efficacy which Allah subordinated to the physician. And so forth. You interact with causes, but this certitude shall make you as I described: you will see causes as very, very transparent glass panes which, as much as you stare at them, you will no longer see other than what is behind them.

The disbeliever, on the other hand, or the denier, or the doubter, or the sceptic, will look at these causes as one of us would look at glass panes that have been completely painted over. These panes have become thick obstacles that prevent you from seeing what is behind them. As much as you look, you cannot see what is behind them. At that time one will divinize causes, and all those things. It is not permitted for the Muslim to fall into this spot in any way whatsoever.

We have now determined the working relationship between the words of the Imam Ibn `Ata' Allah al-Sakandari in his second hikma and his words in the third. There remains one question which might arise in the minds of some people: "If everything is according to qada' and qadar, then the believer is foreordained by Allah to be a believer, and the disbeliever is foreordained by Allah to be a disbeliever. Therefore, the disbeliever's disbelief is not by his free choice, nor is the believer's belief by his free choice." Our preceding discourse might lead some of you to this difficulty. What is the answer? It is actually a different question, unrelated to what we have said today. I shall answer this question, Allah willing, but what I say now will not suffice and I therefore direct you to what I said in detail, in depth, and at length in my book Al-Insanu Musayyarun aw Mukhayyar? ("Is Man Controlled or Endowed With Free Choice?"). I believe that I answered this problem there in great detail. However, I shall answer now succinctly.

Everything is by qada' and qadar, just as Allah's Messenger - Allah bless and greet him - says, including helplessness and intelligence.6 Allah's foreordained destinies are two kinds. The first kind is directly created by Allah Almighty. This is all part of "the world of creation" (`alam al-khalq): stars and their orbits, the order of the universe which is unrelated to man's free choice, human birth and death, human illness and cure, vegetation, earthquakes, eclipses - all these matters are part of Allah's foreordainment and created by Him directly, without any part for free choice. This comes under the heading of "creation" in the verse "His verily is all creation and commandment" (7:54). The Creator does not make you in any way responsible for what He created without any choice on your part. "Allah tasks not a soul beyond its scope" (2:286).

The second kind of foreordained destinies is what Allah has foreordained - and what is foreordainment? It is Allah's knowledge of what shall take place. Allah only creates something in correspondence with (tilqa') His knowledge. This second kind of foreordained destinies is one that takes effect or circulates through the free choices of human beings. For example: your prayer, your fasting, your pilgrimage, your purification-tax (zakat), your acts of obedience, your acts of piety, your acts of disobedience - we seek refuge in Allah! - and all your deeds freely undertaken: are they foreordained by Allah or not? They are foreordained by Allah, in the sense that Allah knows that you will pray by choice. When, according to Allah's knowledge, you rose to pray, He put you in a position to pray (aqdaraka `ala salatik) and created in your entity the motions of your prayer. He is the Creator [of all this]. Allah knows that you will perform pilgrimage to the Sacred House. At the time you determined to go on pilgrimage, He put you in a position to do so and created for you the causes that facilitate it for you. Allah knows that So-and-so will disobey Him by drinking wine. At the time he finally determined to drink wine, Allah put him in a position to do so and created in his hand, his feet, and his mouth the power to do it.

So then Who is the Creator of the acts of obedience? Allah. And Who is the Creator of the acts of disobedience? Allah. But to what does reward and punishment apply? Reward and punishment do not apply to the actual deed which is created by Allah, but to the resolution (al-qasd), the "earning" (al-kasb) as Allah Almighty said: laha ma kasabat wa `alayha ma iktasabat - "For it is what it has earned, and against it is what it has deserved" (2:286). If I determine to come to this place so that we should remind each other of one of the matters of this Religion, and say: "Ya Allah! O my Lord, I have determined to do this"- at that time the Creator creates power in my person, enables me to walk and come here, and when I sit in this place He enables me to think. He does all this, but on the Day of Resurrection what will He reward me for? Will He reward me for something which He Himself created? Rather, He will only reward me for my having determined (qasadtu). And so Allah has made my act subservient to my determination.

This is a brief summary of the topic. Perhaps we shall elaborate on it in the next lesson, Allah willing. And praise belongs to Allah the Lord of the worlds.

NOTES by GF Haddad

1 Narrated from Abu Hurayra by Bukhari and Muslim.

2 I.e. in the sense of a personified force independent of the Creator, as in "Mother Nature."

3 "Things do not act of their own nature. Neither does water quench thirst, nor does bread sate hunger, nor does fire burn, but Allah creates satedness simultaneously with eating, and hunger at other times. Likewise, drinking is the drinker's doing while quenchedness is from Allah, and killing is the killer's doing while death is from Allah." Ibn Khafif (d. 371), al-`Aqida al-Sahiha (41), in Ibrahim al-Dusuqi Shatta, Sira Ibn Khafif (Cairo: al-Hay'a al-`Amma li Shu'un al-Matabi` al-Amiriyya, 1977) p. . A man asked al-Tustari (d. 283): "What is sustenance?" He said: "Perpetual dhikr." The man said: "I was not asking about that, but about what sustains one." He replied: "O man, things are sustained by nothing but Allah." The man said: "I did not mean that, I asked you about what is indispensible!" He replied: "Young man, Allah is indispensible." Abu Nu`aym, Hilya al-Awliya' (10:218 #15022). "Satiation, quenching, and combustion are phenomena which Allah alone creates, since bread does not create satiation, nor does water create quenching, nor does fire create combustion, although they are causes for such results. But the Creator is Himself the Causator (al-Musabbib), not the causes. This is just as Allah said: "You threw not when you did throw, but Allah threw." (8:17) He denied that His Prophet was the creator of the throw, although he was its cause. Allah also said: "And that it is He Who makes laugh, and makes weep, and that it is He Who gives death and gives life." (54:43-44) Thus He dissociated making-laugh, making-weep, the giving of death and of life from their respective causes, attributing all to Himself. Similarly, al-Ash`ari (d. 330?) dissociated satiation, quenching, and combustion from their causes, attributing them all to the Creator Who said: "Such is Allah, your Lord. There is no God save Him, the Creator of all things." (6:102) "Is there any creator other than Allah?" (35:3) "Nay, but they denied what they could not comprehend and whereof the interpretation had not yet come unto them." (10:39) "Did you deny My signs when you could not compass them in knowledge, or what was it you did?" (27:84)." Ibn `Abd al-Salam (d. 660), al-Mulha fi I`tiqad Ahl al-Haqq in Rasa'il al-Tawhid (p. 11-27) and al-Subki, Tabaqat al-Shafi`iyya al-Kubra (8:219-229).

4 Narrated from Abu Hurayra by Muslim, Ahmad, Ibn Majah, Malik in his Muwatta', and al-Tabarani, all as part of a longer hadith which begins: "The strong believer is better and more beloved to Allah than the weak believer" (al-mu'min al-qawiyy khayrun wa ahabbu ilallh min al-mu'min al-da`f).

5 Narrated from Abu Hurayra by Bukhari, Muslim, Ahmad, al-Nasa'i, and Ibn Majah; from `Umar by Muslim, al-Tirmidhi, Abu Dawud, Ibn Majah, Ahmad, and al-Nasa'i; and from Abu Dharr by al-Nasa'i, all as part of a longer hadith.

6 "Everything is by qadar, including helplessness and intelligence." Narrated from Anas and Ibn `Umar by Muslim; from Ibn `Umar by Ahmad and Malik; and from Ibn `Abbas by Bukhari in his Tarikh. The latter narrates it both with qada' and qadar.