Book of Wisdoms – Shaykh Nuh HM Keller

and similar verses that indicate that paradise is entered by virtue of works, they do not contradict these hadiths. Rather, the meaning of the verses is that entering paradise is because of works, although divinely given success (tawfiq) to do the works, and being guided to have sincerity in them, and their acceptability are the mercy of Allah Most High and His favor (Sharh Sahih Muslim, 17.160–61).

The true spiritual path is one of gratitude. Abu Sulayman al-Darani used to say, “How can a sane man be conceited about his spiritual works, when his works are but a gift from Allah and a blessing from Him that he should thank Him for” (Nata’ij al-afkar, 1.114). And Abu Madyan has said, “The heartbrokenness of the sinner is better than the forcefulness of the obedient” (Diwan, 50).

Ibn ‘Ata’ Illah in this aphorism is apprising the traveller not to be veiled from the true path by his own high resolve. While irada or “will” is presupposed by the way, indeed the word murid or “disciple” is derived from it, the path ultimately sublimates it into its opposite through tawhid, disclosing it to be a mere cause, conjoined with the soul’s ascent not out of logical necessity but out of Allah’s pure largesse. For this reason some sheikhs term a traveller of the former spiritual vantage a murid or “desirer,” and one of the latter a faqir or “needy.” The prophet Moses (upon whom be blessings and peace) said when he reached the land of Midian,

“My Lord, I am truly in need of what good You have sent down to me” (Qur’an 28:24).

This humble sincerity of slavehood, or we could say realism, enables the genuine spiritual traveller to benefit in the path from both his good and his evil.

He benefits from his good by not seeing it as from himself, for as Abu Bakr al-Wasiti says, “The closest of all things to Allah’s loathing is beholding the self and its actions” (‘Uyub al-nafs, 39), that is, because it contradicts tawhid, for Allah says,

“Whatever blessing you have, it is from Allah” (Qur’an 16:53).

And he benefits from his evil by his faith (iman) that it is evil, which is itself an act of obedience; and by repenting from it, which rejoices Allah Most High. Anas ibn Malik (Allah be well pleased with him) relates from the Holy Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) that he said:

Truly, Allah rejoices more at the atonement of His servant when he repents to Him than one of you would if he were on his riding camel in an empty tract of desert, and it got away from him with all his food and water on it, and he gave up all hope of finding it, so he came to a tree and laid down in its shade, having despaired of ever seeing it again. While lying there, he suddenly finds it standing beside him, and he seizes its halter, and overjoyed, cries, “O Allah, You are my slave, and I am your lord,” making a mistake out of sheer joy” (Muslim, 4.2104: 2747).

The secret of true repentance (tawba) in the spiritual path is this divine rejoicing it is met with from Allah Most High. Abul Hasan al-Shadhili, the sheikh of Ibn ‘Ata’ Illah’s own sheikh, used to daily pray to Allah: “And when we disobey You, show us even greater mercy than You do when we obey You” (Invocations, 27).

Ibn ‘Ata’ Illah made this the first aphorism of his Book of Wisdoms to apprise the traveller that when failings happen, there is also work to be done: to repent to Allah, to realize that Allah is generous, and to hope for the best from the spiritual path. The mark of relying on Allah is that one’s hope is undiminished. The mark of relying on one’s self is that it soars until there is a misstep, when it plummets along with its injured pride. Discouragement in the path is an incomprehension of the Divine Omnipotence, while certitude in the path and in one’s Lord is of the adab of those who know Allah.


© Nuh Ha Mim Keller 2000

Abu Madyan al-Ansari, Shu‘ayb, and al-‘Arabi al-Shawwar. Al-Minan al-rabbaniyya al-wahbiyya fi al-ma’athir al-Ghawthiyya al-Shu‘aybiyya. Compiled by al-Shawwar, Edited by Muhammad al-Hashimi (as Diwan al-Qutb al-Rabbani al-‘Arif bi Llah al-Ghawth al-Samadani al-Shaykh Sayyidi Shu‘ayb Abu Madyan ibn al-Husayn al-Ansari [. . .]). Damascus, Matba‘a al-Taraqqi, 1357/1938.

al-Ansari, Zakariyya, Mustafa al-‘Arusi, and ‘Abd al-Karim al-Qushayri. Nata’ij al-afkar al-qudsiyya fi bayan ma‘ani Sharh al-Risala al-Qushayriyya. [al-‘Arusi’s commentary on al-Ansari’s Sharh of al-Qushayri’s al-Risala.] 4 vols. Cairo. 1290/1873. Reprint. Damascus: ‘Abd al-Wakil al-Durubi, n.d.

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