Key Concepts in Islamic Sprituality (4)

Key Concepts in Islamic Sprituality (4)

Humbleness(2)

Reflecting on his life, one can see in the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HF) the perfect example of humbleness. Indeed, the reason why the Prophet Muhammad was chosen to be the ‘Seal of the Prophets' and was given the final message of Allah lies mostly in the fact that he was a true servant of Allah and the most humble person before Allah and His people. At least nine times a day in their prayers Muslims bear witness that the Prophet Muhammad was a servant of Allah and His Apostle. This means that among all his qualities there are two that are exceptional: first, he managed to be a servant of Allah and second, he was rewarded by being appointed as the Apostle of Allah. The Prophet was so humble that he never admired himself; he never felt superior to others. He never separated himself from the masses and always lived a very simple life. He maintained the same conduct while he was both alone and powerless as well as when he ruled the Arabian Peninsula and Muslims were whole-heartedly following him.

He lived very simply and was always with the people, especially the poor. He had neither a palace nor guards. When he was sitting with his companions, no one could distinguish him from others by considering his seat or clothes. It was only his words and spirituality that distinguished him from others. Just before his demise, the Prophet announced in the Mosque: “Whoever among you feels that I have done injustice to him, come forward and do justice. Surely, enacting justice in this world is better in my view than being taken account of in the Hereafter in front of the angels and the Prophets.”Those present in the Mosque wept, for they were reminded of all the sacrifices that the Prophet had made for them and the troubles that he had undergone in order to guide them. They knew that he never gave any priority to his own needs and never preferred his comfort and convenience to others. They therefore responded with statements of deep gratitude and profound respect. But one among them, Sawadah b. Qays, stood up and said: “May my father and mother be your ransom! O Messenger of Allah! On your return from Ta’if, I came to welcome you while you were riding your camel. You raised your stick to direct your camel, but the stick struck my stomach. I do not know whether this strike was intentional or unintentional.” The Prophet replied: “I seek refuge from Allah from having done so intentionally.”

The Prophet then asked Bilal to go to the house of Fatimah and bring the same stick. After the stick was brought, the Prophet told Sawadah to retaliate by hitting him back. Sawadah said that the stick had struck the skin of his stomach. The Prophet therefore lifted his shirt so that Sawadah could in return strike his skin. At that moment, Sawadah asked: “O Messenger of Allah! Do you allow me to touch my mouth to your stomach?” The Prophet gave him permission. Sawadah then kissed the stomach of the Prophet and prayed that because of this act of his, Allah would protect him from fire on the Day of Resurrection. The Prophet said: “O Sawadah! Will you pardon me or do you still wish to retaliate?” He replied: “I pardon you.” The Prophet then prayed: “O Allah! Pardon Sawadah b. Qays as he pardoned Your Prophet, Muhammad!”(1) Thus, in Islamic spirituality it is very important to feel humble and that we are nothing in front of Allah. Not just as a claim that we may utter without firm belief, but as a deep sense of nothingness. Once a person saw Imam Sajjad (PBUH) in Masjid al-Haram, next to Ka‘bah at Hijr of Isma‘il. He said: ‘I went to Hijr Isma‘il and saw Ali b. Husayn (PBUH) there saying his prayer. Then he went for Sajdah (prostration). I told myself: this is a pious man from a pious family, so let me listen to him while praying in his Sajdah.’ Then he quoted the Imam (PBUH) as praying: My Lord, your small and little servant has come to your door, your captive has come to your door, the one who is poor has come to your door, the one who begs you has come to your door.(2)

In the Qur’an, Allah warns the believers that if they turn away from His religion, Allah will soon bring forward a people that among their characteristics is their humbleness before the believers: O you who have faith! Should any of you desert his religion, Allah will soon bring a people whom He loves and who love Him, [who will be] humble towards the faithful, stern towards the faithless, striving hard in the way of Allah, not fearing the blame of any blamer. That is Allah’s grace which He grants to whomever He wishes, and Allah is All-bounteous, All-knowing.(3) In Islamic literature, especially that by Persian poets, great emphasis has been put on spiritual poverty. For example, in a long poem in his Mathnawi, Rumi illustrates the significance of this feeling of nothingness and humility and the fatal danger of pride and arrogance. Rumi argues that whomsoever people flatter and prostrate before indeed poison him.

If he is not spiritually strong, he may be deceived and feel proud of himself. In this way, he may become arrogant and damage himself and lose his humility. When people flatter someone who is clever he will realize that this can be detrimental. Rumi goes on praising those who are humble in contrast to those who are arrogant. The example of someone who has not established humbleness in himself is like the one who drinks a poisonous wine. In the beginning he may feel happy and joyful, but after a few minutes he will collapse. Another example that Rumi provides is the fight between two kings. When one king wins the battle and becomes victorious he will either imprison the defeated king or kill him, but he will never punish the beggars or the poor subjects of the defeated country. Indeed, he may help and promote them. Rumi says that the reason is that these types of people are humble and have no ambition of becoming a king and therefore they do not pose a threat to the new king. Another example is a caravan which is going from one place to another. When the thieves come to rob the caravan, those who have no money will be safe. Or when wolves attack they may attack anything that comes before them. They may even attack each other and this is why when they want to sleep they sit in a circle so that they can carefully watch each other.

But Rumi says if there is a dead wolf they will not attack him. We know that the Prophet Khiḍr made a hole in the bottom of a boat because there was an unjust ruler in that area who used to confiscate every boat or ship passing by. Thus, the only way for that boat to be saved was to make it unusable. If a mountain or hill has lots of valuable minerals inside, people will excavate the area to bring out all the soils, sand and minerals out of it. But an ordinary hill or mount which has nothing special inside will remain intact. Someone who is walking is standing on his feet and his neck is straight. Therefore, the enemies may cut off his neck with their sword, but no one would cut off the head of a shadow person, since the shadow is so “humble” that no one thinks that it may pose any threat. When a ladder is going to collapse the one who climbs higher is very stupid. When the ladder collapses his bones will be damaged more severely. After mentioning these examples, Rumi finally asserts that whatever he said were like the branches whose root or principle is much deeper. The underlying principle is that to feel arrogant is to associate one’s self with Allah. This is polytheism (shirk).

Rumi goes on saying that since you have not yet died and again gained life through Allah, you are not enjoying a spiritual life. Without such a death, whatever position you take is shirk. But if you die and become selfless, that is, if you are revived through Allah you may go higher and higher. In such condition, whatever you possess is for the sake of Allah and will be spent for the sake of Allah. This is pure tawhid or monotheism. It has been suggested that poverty means to not possess something and at the same time to have the desire to possess it. For example, he who feels in himself a certain lack of human perfection and sincerely desires to remedy this lack is a 'faqir'. Furthermore, it has been suggested that in Sufism “the longing of love is born of faqr ('spiritual poverty')”.(4) I think there are some problems with this understanding of poverty. First, poverty is much more than not to possess and then desire to possess. I think poverty is an awareness of our absolute need and dependence on Allah and as long as we are what we are this need cannot be removed. Second, this sense of poverty is a spiritual gift and virtue that should be maintained forever. Poverty is not a transient station towards richness or affluence. Rather, poverty itself is the greatest wealth and fortune that human beings can ever have.

The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HF) is quoted as saying: My honour is from spiritual poverty. I have been honored over and above all prophets by being graced with spiritual poverty.(5)

Conclusion

In this paper, we have discussed the concept of love as the strongest foothold in Islam, and as a distinguishing factor of a true believer. Knowledge, coupled with reflection and the grace of Allah (SWT), can increase our love. Secondly, we discussed the concept of thankfulness as equal to faith, as taught in the Qur’an. Understanding the different levels of thankfulness can help us to be aware and thankful in all situations. In this paper, we also discussed humbleness and spiritual poverty, through which one can attain piety, spirituality and alleviation from worries and difficulties. This concept is not implying that human beings have no value, and neither does it underestimate the value of human beings; rather, it fully appreciates the value of humans: by serving the Most Perfect and the Most Pure Allah, we can get closer and closer to perfection.May Allah (SWT) help us understand how much we need Him, how much He has given us, how to really ask from Him in the best way, and how to make Allah (SWT) pleased with us so we can become enlightened and pure. This is the power and will of Allah (SWT), and there is no limit to it.  Allah (SWT) has all the power and all the reasons to be kind to us, and if there are any obstacles, they are only due to us.

Bibliography

‘Amili, Muhamamd Hurr, Al-Jawāhir al-Saniyyah fi al-Ahādith al-Qudsiyyah by Hurr ‘Amili, p. 284.

Guénon, René, “Al-Faqr or Spiritual Poverty” in Studies in Comparative Religion, Winter 1973, pp. 16-20

Majlesi, Mohammd Baqir, Bihār al-Anwār

Nurbakhsh, Javad, Spiritual Poverty in Sufism, tr. Leonard Lewisohn

Nuri, Mirzā Husayn, Mustadrak Wasā’il al-Shi‘ah

Qummi, Sheikh Abbas, Mafātih al-Jinān

Reyshahri, Mohammad, Mizān al-Hikmah

NOTES:

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1. Mustadrak Wasā’il al-Shi‘ah, Vol. 18, pp. 287 & 288.

2. Bihār al-Anwār, Vol. 96, p. 197.

3. (5:54)

4. Nurbakhsh, Javad, Spiritual Poverty in Sufism, tr. Leonard Lewisohn.

5. Bihār al-Anwār, Vol. 69, pp. 32 & 55.