Lying: limitations and necessity

Matters of the Heart

Imam Ghazali’s “Marvels of the Heart”

American Islamic College

Chicago, Illinois

April 3, 2014

Dr. Umar Faruq Abdullah


–       today’s topic is lying

–       sometimes have to do ijtihad and look at a situation and this is a high trust

–       ultimate goal of speech is not to lie, ultimate goal is to use it to access the truth, learn the truth through honest speech, to live the truth and give it to others

–       not the purpose of speech to lie or say things that are contrary to what we mean, but sometimes you have to do that and will discuss some of the situations

–       for instance in a situation where you are taken as prisoner by an authoritarian government and if you tell the truth you are in danger you must lie in this situation

–       we have to protect ourselves and others, we have to cultivate good relations between ourselves and others, especially in our families and especially between spouses and we have to protect the ties that are there and sometimes that even justifies and even requires exceptions to the rule

–       but must never lose sight of fact that purpose of speech is to be a vehicle of truth, we must never make the exception the rule

–       as humans we are speech creatures, our tongues and speech are the great mediator between ourselves and all forms of truth, it’s the means of access we have to God and knowledge and wisdom and supreme gift of intellect and ability to understand revelation

–       when use articulate speech properly then it makes us like the Angels, each of us is clay and spirit and speech is that which enables spirit to dominate, and angels are pure intellect, pure truthfulness and they relate only the truth and that’s the way we’re supposed to be

–       honest speech, thinking about what we say, speaking carefully when we speak these are things that make us best human beings

–       proper use of articulation in speech and writing, very important today when we live in a time when people use words any way they want, a time of linguistic chaos, we must pay attention to language carefully so that we know what each other means when we communicate

–       in history of islam were very careful about language and very careful to define our words, society we’re in today we often use words as powerful instruments of suggestion but we don’t really know what we’re saying or what we mean

o   for instance we use the word modernity, which has a lot of meaning for people today, but what is modernity? It’s not just living in this time, so we have to know about that

o   another example, we use words like nature, what does this mean?

–       We need to use articulate speech which is what frees the intellect and enables us to live as a civilization

–       Proper use of writing and speech is what sets us apart from other living things God has created except for angels and jinn

–       Truthfulness is the key that opens thte door so that we can fulfill the adamic mission that we have, that you are special and unlike anything else as we are the son/daughter of Adam, if you get yourself right the world gets right

–       It’s the state of the hearts and reality of the tongues of the billions of people who don’t believe in God that destroy the cosmos

–       Tonight will talk about the exception, we emphasize this introduction to make clear that we sometimes have to lie, we sometimes have to use puns or word play or misleading speech but that has to be an exception and not a custom or a habit

–       Imam Ghazali tells us about that today, will show us even when we use our language in such a way that it is a departure from explicit truthfulness, that departure itself must be an act of truthfulness

o   In order to be true to self and others, I’ve got to do or say something else

–       Begin by talking about lying, Imam Ghazali makes it clear lying is forbidden/haram/hateful to God—that’s the basic rule and foundation, but lying is haram not in and of itself but because of the harm that it produces, what it leads to, it’s not an absolute prohibition like polytheism would be for instance

–       Lying is forbidden because as a rule it brings tremendous harm and distorts reality, it hurts people and destroys relationships, it infects good character

–       But there are times when lying is obligatory

–       As mentioned before, you’re not allowed to tell a murderer where he can find his victim for instance

–       If you know a person wants to rob you you don’t tell them how much money you have or where it is for ex

–       If you’re taken in by secret police in an oppressive country you don’t tell them things that will lead to harm

–       It is obligatory in islam to protect innocent life, it’s obligatory in islam to protect good relationships between ourselves and cultivate them

o   So if honesty would lead to loss of innocent life then honesty is not permissible

o   If to speak the truth would destroy relationships, it’s sinful to be honest if it would do that because we have to cultivate a sound relationship and sometimes if we say everything on our mind or that we feel it can destroy a relationship

o   You can’t disclose vital secrets to the enemy, that’s regarded as an act of treason. Prophet Muhammad (SAW) permitted lying in war, one of greatest things we see about the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) are the amazing strategies he used which often involved lying

  • For ex when Medina was surrounded by the confederates the biggest assembly ever seen bent on extermination of muslims, a man comes to the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) a Bedouin and says I can help you but will you let me lie and he lets him lie and he goes to Quraysh and tells them a lie about their allies in Medina and does the same to the allies in Medina telling them a lie about Quraysh and manages to break the confederation this way
  • In battle of Uhud, which was an outward defeat for muslims, the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) immediately chases quraysh after that battle and only lets the people in the battle of Uhud come and then Quraysh goes to a great valley and has his men light bonfires around rim of valley. Man goes to head of quraysh and tells him the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) has come to get you and is very angry with you and he looks up and sees bonfires, only one person behind each but assumed there were hundreds so they leave in fear, this was a strategy to save lives

–       Imam Al Ghazali says even when lying is permissible we must avoid it as much as possible, for whoever opens the door to lying it is greatly to be feared that they will become accustomed to it and use it when it is not required or not even allowed

–       Um Qulthum, Uthman’s maternal sister, said I did not hear god’s messenger give permission to lie about anything except in 3 situations:

o   a man says something by which he intends to set things right between others(you know two people are always fighting so you say he likes you and says good things about you to those two people—that’s permissible to do)

o   a man says something in war

  • for example says we’re only 100 people when you’re 10,009

o   when a man speaks to his wife or woman speaks to her husband, and you can say all sorts of beautiful things

  • may say things that are not exactly true, we want to love our spouses but sometimes that means you have to exaggerate
  • for ex don’t tell your husband or wife you don’t love them even if it’s true, for husband and wife to grow together over time you will be tested and you may not always see that same love in the other person but you must try to get back to where you were and try to make it better which requires all sorts of strategies and avoiding hateful words even if they’re true
  • a lot of people believe I have to tell my spouse everything, you don’t tell absolutely everything, if you’ve done things wrong you don’t tell those things
  • there was a man in Medina in the days of Omar which had a big problem with his wives he gets married and divorced married and divorced. He went to his wife and said do you swear to me by Allah that you love me and she says don’t do that and she says no. he goes to omar and brings the wife and he says why did you do this and she said he made me swear by god I can’t lie and Omar said, you have to lie in a situation like this. She said then should I lie and omar replied to her yes but if one of you oh you women out there does not love her husband as one of us the community of men, let her not speak about it. And then he said for it is the rarest of houses that is built on love, rather people live together in marriage in a nice way on the basis of islam doing what you’re supposed to do and character, dignity.
  • And love is extremely important in marriage but marriage has to be a basic dignity and goodness, purpose of marriage is good company, if you do the marriage right then love grows after marriage so it’s not necessarily the foundation of marriage

–       The companion Thawban said all forms of lying are wrongful except what brings necessary benefit to another person or wards of from that other person harm

–       You are not permitted to tell the abominable, obscene things that happen to us. If a person for ex commits adultery you don’t tell people that you did that. If you’ve committed theft for ex you don’t tell people we did that, we’re not allowed to tell people we did that

o   For ex. If someone was in jail you’re not to ask them what they did that put them in jail, that’s not our business

o   Telling that obscene thing that you did is sometimes a greater obscenity than the obscene thing you did itself

–       Imam Ghazali says when you lie, you can only lie to avoid the madhur (that which must be avoided) and there are situations when telling the truth produces something which must be avoided

o   Must figure out which is worst, problem that comes from telling the truth or benefit that comes from not telling that

o   You must weigh that in the scales of justice and you must do ijtihad

–       We often want things in black and white clear, but we have to make judgment and decisions, especially when you speak train yourself to speak in your heart before you do on your tongue

o   This may be difficult because it’s not our habit

o   Often when we speak we may be thinking out loud

o   Must learn to talk in your heart without moving your tongue

o   And before you speak in public, try to say it first in your heart

–       Abu Bakr used to put a pebble on his tongue so he couldn’t speak until he took the pebble off of his tongue so he would think carefully before he spoke

–       It is only permissible to lie when there is absolute necessity or if there is some great need, if it is less than that then it’s better to speak the truth, but you must exercise your judgment, and avoid lying as much as you can

–       Imam Ghazali says but most people lie for personal gain, for hudhur (personal benefit), they lie for ex to get money, fame, friends, and all of this is to be avoided it’s reprehensible. Sometimes they lie to hurt other people or destroy relationships that’s absolutely prohibited

–       What is the greatest lie of all? To lie against Allah and his Messenger, that’s the greatest lie of all. To fabricate things and to say the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) said them when he didn’t say them. We have to be careful when we speak about the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) and have to know what we’re saying

o   Prophet Muhammad (SAW) said whoever lies about me let him or her take his seat in the fire

  • That’s most authentic hadith of all the hadiths and the most frequently transmitted of all hadith

–       We may talk about hadith, but you had better know what you’re saying if you’re going to say you can or can’t do this and this is halal or haram. You’re talking about Allah you had better get it right

o   You don’t say this is halal or haram unless you know what you’re talking about

o   Very important to say I don’t know the answer to that question

o   To tell lies about the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) could be a mistake

–       To say something is haram when it’s not haram or a matter of consensus or to say it’s obligatory when it’s not is a greater sin than adultery or fornication and other kabayr that’s because to lie about the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) and the religion is one of the greatest sins of all

–       One of greatest sins of all is to lie about your dreams. If you see a dream don’t tell it to everybody, you can tell it to some people. If the dream is from God it’s from revelation you’ve got to tell it right can’t add to it or take away from it or make it a little better than it was. Never lie about the Prophet Muhammad (SAW).

o   If you didn’t see the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) don’t make up a dream about him that’s a major sin

–       Prophet Muhammad (SAW) said another thing you don’t lie about are qaramat (miraculous things that happen to God’s saints). Sahaba had many of those. We believe in qaramat, but in Muslim world have people who lie about that and make them up, that’s a huge sin because qaramat are also a part of prophecy because when a saint, a friend of Allah, is given a qarama that shows they are following the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) and are inheriting from him part of his prophecy so must be careful of it.

–       Prophet Muhammad (SAW) said the lie of lies, the most ugly of lies, is that a man be called to be the son of someone other than his father. Should be proud of your parents and don’t ever change that.

o   Never call a person by anything that isn’t valid regarding their parentage

–       It’s also very important to not say things that we don’t really know

–       Also you shouldn’t show your eye what it didn’t see in a dream. So if have a dream and it’s clear get up and write it down, but be very careful not to add. Dreams are a treasure, get them right

–       Next topic: when we don’t lie, but we make a play on words, and we say things that mean two things or more and I mean one thing, but I want you to understand something else (called tarir in Arabic) in English we have puns which is an example of tarir

o   this is something you can do to avoid lying, if you have to lie if you can say something true that gives a different meaning then that’s a good thing to do

o   this is also something of great intelligence and often humorous

o   sometimes have to have a play on words to avoid harm and danger, and sometimes play on words is an incredibly courageous act

–       Prophet Muhammad (SAW) when he went to Medina with Abu Bakr rode behind Abu Bakr and said to Abu Bakr turn the people away from me because it’s not proper that a prophet lie, so he’s saying they’re in enemy territory and if they ask who are you to Abu Bakr and Abu Bakr would say I’m a person who’s urgently looking for something he needs (it’s not a lie he’s looking for guidance) and when ask who is behind you says he’s a guide (which is true the Prophet was the guide for humanity)

–       Often the upright of the ummah say these things that are a play on words to get them out of difficult situations

–       There are types of wordplay you have to be careful of, for example Abdullah ibn Utbah a great early muslim who went to visit the caliph and puts on the most beautiful clothing he has when he visits. He goes with his father and when he comes out the people see this is a garment the prince of the believers put on you isn’t it, and so he said may Allah reward the prince of the believers with good (that’s not a lie). But his father turned to him beware of lying or saying anything like that, he said that because his son wanted the people to believe the caliph did give him the garment and thus he has such great status which is not true so we must be careful to not do that

–       If you only said something one time, don’t say I’ve told you a hundred times, but if you’ve said it multiple times then you can say that because it’s not really the number but that you’ve told it several times

–       In conclusion, remember the purpose of speech, foundation of speech is to keep silent or to say something good. And speech and silence go together like gold and silver, and silence is gold and silence can be greatest honesty and truthfulness of all

–       We’re not about finding situations in which we can lie, basic principle is to speak the truth which opens the gates of all good to us

–       But you cannot cause harm to people

–       There are times when lying is allowed, times when it’s required, but they must be justified and they must also be acts of truthfulness



Singing and Poetry


Matters of the Heart

Imam Ghazali’s “Marvels of the Heart”

American Islamic College

Chicago, Illinois

Dec. 12, 2013

Dr. Umar Faruq Abdullah


–       Singing and poetry are charismatic and thus they are very powerful, they are filled with emotion and fill people with emotion

  • Can be good if content is good or very harmful if that’s not the case

–       Imam Ghazali said poetry is just speech which if it is good/beautiful it is really good, if it is ugly/evil then it’s truly ugly/evil

–       Song, poetry and joking all have gradations

  • There are types of poetry highly recommended even can be said to be obligatory sometimes

–       So neither song or poetry can be said to be across the board permissible or across the board forbidden or obligatory or reprehensible, it depends on the type of poetry and song, the situation for it, the way it’s done the circumstances, the people addressed by it, it must be dignified with sound content and good intentions and good purpose

–       Because poetry and song are among the most powerful and charismatic and emotive forms of speech there are many warnings about them in quran and hadith must take it very seriously especially as a poet or a singer because we will be called to account for things we will say and must hold ourselves to standards

–       Imam Ghazali says if we were to say much song and poetry is just distraction, amusement and play, but the life of this world is play and distraction, that doesn’t mean its forbidden but means it needs to be used with wisdom and for the right things and not to be abused

–       Among the statements of the salaf that warn us about singing is the statement attributed to Abdullah ibn Masud (one of great companions) also transmitted as a hadith

  • He says: singing makes hypocrisy grow in the heart like water makes greens grow
  • This can also be said about poetry, public speaking, and other things as well
  • This doesn’t mean it’s forbidden but we have to watch out and means person who sings or poet or any performer has got to watch his or her heart they have to be very careful
  • This pertains to character of singer/poet/speaker in particular
  • This means poet/singer/speaker must beware of presenting themselves to people in order for them to be affected, in order for people to like their voice and call them back, in order for them to be popular
    • This is difficult because must realize are doing this for the sake of Allah and His truth and not for the people
    • That’s what can make hypocrisy grow in the heart
    • Especially when performer begins to cultivate people in a hypocritical way

–       One of most important things is anything we say that’s good, we have to do

  • May Allah protect us from setting us standards that we do not keep in our lives
  • we have to make sure we do these things we talk about
  • so in case of singer and poet, as a Muslim have to speak good things, true things, guidance, justice, wake and liberate the people
  • but when we talk about these beautiful things you have got to make sure you do it or try to do it—we cant just talk about justice and love of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) if we don’t have that, we have to make sure poetry and song we perform are about things we do in our lives otherwise it becomes a proof against us

–       especially the people who sing about the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) or beautiful things about Allah, but that person should be a rememberer and lover of Allah and the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) and then the poetry becomes true because it’s coming out of a heart that doesn’t just have a beautiful tongue but lives that message

–       Imam Al Ghazali says danger of hypocrisy of poetry or singing doesn’t make them a proof that it’s haram

–       But we have to guard our hearts

–       Al Fudayl ibn Fudaad said singing is the spell of zinah (adultery), it is the charm that leads to adultery/fornication

  • Yazid ibn Walid said beware of singing because it diminishes modesty, it destroys virtuous manhood (muruwah), and it makes one do what drunkness does
  • They’re saying there are certain types of poetry and song that causes this—not all kinds, that’s what they’re talking about
  • When Muslims talk about poetry and singing often are talking about it in context of debauchery which is not good, it’s the spell of adultery and we don’t accept that
  • These are warnings about unlawful singing and they’re also about singing unlawful things or giving poetry to people who are not good people (corrupt people)

–       Imam Ghazali says singing and poetry that instill love of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) and create in people a desire to worship Allah and draw near him, and also poetry/singing about Eid and happiness of it or about marriage or childbirth or an old friend coming home—this is all good and highly praiseworthy

  • But he says as for mubah singing and poetry, meaning that which is just amusement and distraction and play but not haram, it’s just light. Imam Ghazali says can any amusement be greater than the Ethiopians that played before the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) and Aisha
  • Hadith about Ethiopian singers who began to dance and sing in Prophet Muhammad (SAW)’s mosque and Prophet Muhammad (SAW) told them play your games, and he brought Aisha and put her on his shoulders so she could watch them
  • Imam Ghazali said could you think of any diversion greater than that
  • These things are clearly permitted if they’re in the right place

–       Then Imam Ghazali says but I say permissible amusement, diversion entertainment and fun gives the heart rest, it lessens the degrees of fatigue and exhaustion that come to us from thought

  • When our hearts are always forced to do the same things, our hearts become blind
  • To give our hearts rest means to help them be more serioius

–       Then Imam Ghazali says that’s why student of fiqh studying it day and night is supposed to take a break (utla) vacation every Friday

  • That day gives you energy for the rest of the days of the week
  • And he says the same thing about prayer, that you pray a lot (if you do nafl) but sometimes you have to take a break that’s why also in laws of prayer you have times when it’s forbidden or reprehensible to pray that’s also because it makes you take a break

–       Imam Ghazali said about children let them play don’t make them work all the time

–       Imam Ghazali then says taking a break is a great help in doing work, amusement and diversion helps us to be serious, no one has the patience to do pure seriousness or to accept the bitter truth all the time except for the souls of the prophets

  • But prophets were also light with their companions as a mercy to them and a lesson to us

–       Imam Ghazali says amusement that is halal is medicine to heart from sickness of fatigue and exhaustion, so it should be permissible but not excessive just as we shouldn’t be excessive in taking medicine

  • Then says good fun with good intentions can be something which makes you draw near to Allah because you get refreshed
  • This is true even for person who hears singing about Allah and the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) who don’t get anything from it but pleasure and rest
  • As for person who is moved by legitimate pleasure and diversion to have a desire to worship Allah and be near Him and love his Prophet Muhammad (SAW) that is something that is much more that is praiseworthy, that’s something very good even though the person that is complete doesn’t need that because they’re approaching a higher degree similar to prophets in that regard

–       Whoever has comprehensive knowledge of how our hearts work and how to cure our hearts and different subtleties can be shown to our hearts to drive them to the truth knows with absolute certainty making your heart have rest giving it a break by things like this is a beneficial medicine that we cannot do without

–       In our society, singing, poetry, humor have important social, cultural, political, psychological functions

–       Live in society overwhelmed with song and poetry, to have good singing and poetry and comedy this plays extremely important political, cultural and social function

  • But have to keep standard high
  • Meaning whatever we perform and say it’s got to be truth and not falsehood, good language, done with sincerity to utmost of our ability and we have to practice or try to practice the beautiful things we talk about

–       We must avoid excessive exaggeration, must be just even when talking about an oppressor

–       Don’t just seek to please people or make them laugh, don’t just seek to be successful, make your performance a trick to get to the people’s hearts

  • Thing about comedy in our time in society with confused people about muslims something only way to get to them is to laugh about it

–       Also beware about ghafla of the hereafter, don’t forget hereafter

  • Everything Imam Ghazali talks about is path to the hereafter so keep it in mind

–       Now talking about humor, Arabic word is mizah (meaning to mix it up)

–       Umar ibn Khattab said beware of any joking or humor that removes truth, don’t joke in a way that removes the truth

–       So humor is not forbidden, it has degrees can say certain types are obligatory or forbidden, recommended, reprehensible etc but the person who is jesting has to watch his or her heart and tongue and the audience they’re working with

–       Talked earlier about mirah (argumentation) used it to mean those kind of argumentative and complaining words people use to abused other people or declare them to be nothing to be liars or ignorant—always mirah has in it animosity, aspect of putting self above others and looking down on them

–       Imam Ghazali compares joking (mizah) to mirah and mizah is very different

  • Says first of all it’s attempt to be pleasant and agreeable to people
  • To make people happy so they’re not contracted, afraid
  • One of important things is building up energy and releasing it as humans
  • One of things humor does it touches on the pressure points and builds up tension and releases it and you laugh
  • That’s good thing it enables us if we’re sincere to talk about things we may not have been able to otherwise and overcame hatred, fear confusion etc

–       So mizah must not go too far, must not be profane or hypocritical, shouldn’t overdo it

–       Prophet Muhammad (SAW)  and his companions did mizah

–       Prophet Muhammad (SAW)  said verily I jest but I do not say anything but the truth

  • Important when you jest don’t lie just to make people laugh
  • Must seek to imitate prophet in that

–       Mizah if it goes too far it destroys your dignity, your scrupulousness, you have honor and don’t want to harm that you don’t want people to take you too lightly

–       Most reports of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) ‘s jesting are with his wives and with women and children, also jested with companions but most with the former and this is a sunnah for us

  • Means when we deal with our wives, children, or women you should smile and be funny
  • And also in other way around for woman nice for her to be light and ease

–       Imam Ali used to say part of virtuous manhood when you’re traveling is to joke, because traveling can be very difficult so good to lighten it up a little but not with haram

–       Prophet Muhammad (SAW)  was said to be most cheerful and sportive of people with his wives

–       Also transmitted the Prophet Muhammad (SAW)  smiled very much, he was usually smiling

  • Also in Arabic laughing includes smiling

–       One time an elderly lady came to the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) and he said to her ‘no old lady is going to go to the garden’ and she began to cry and then he said ‘verily you on that day will not be an old woman you’ll be a young woman’

  • She cried but what did Prophet Muhammad (SAW)  do he gave her good tidings she would be in the garden so she was happy after that

–       Prophet Muhammad (SAW) also tells us about the garden because there we are all youthful

–       Woman named Um Ayman came to the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) and said my husband invites you to come eat w/ us and Prophet Muhammad (SAW) said who is he is he the one who has white in his eyes and she said by Allah there’s no whiteness in his eyes and Prophet Muhammad (SAW) said no indeed there is whiteness in his eyes and she said no by Allah and she thinks he means her husband is blind but he’s being light and joking referring to all people have whiteness in their eyes

–       Woman came to Prophet Muhammad (SAW) because she needed a camel to ride and he said we’ll put you on the son of a camel and she said no but he wont be able to carry me and he said there is no camel but he’s the son of a camel

–       But too much joking and too much laughter, especially when laugh out loud, deadens the heart and can lead to negligence of hereafter thus there are warnings about joking which is often connected to excessive laughter

  • But its very wrong to say or do anything just to get a laugh

–       Prophet Muhammad (SAW) said that verily a man will speak a word by which he makes the people sitting with him laugh and because of it he falls into the fire the distance between the earth and the plaidies (a constellation)

–       In another hadith Prophet Muhammad (SAW) said if you knew what I know you would cry a lot and you would laugh little

  • You must never forget you’re a traveler on path to hereafter and will face our lord for judgment for every word and deed and that’s not easy—don’t forget that
  • But don’t let that ruin your life, we have to balance

–       Man sees muslims laughing excessively on Eid and says if these people have all been forgiven this kind of behavior is not the deeed of thankful people (Because they’re going too far) and if they’re not forgiven this is not the deed of fearful either

  • So be balanced in being serious and at ease

–       Are you laughing out loud when cloth of your burial has just been finished being made? We don’t know that so it’s all balncing, don’t forget hwat life is all about

  • Don’t be person who cant be humorous and light but also don’t forget what life is all about
  • This is not meant to make us gloomy but about counterbalancing and help us overcome our natural tendency towards forgetfulness and negligence
  • All of this is about path to hereafter and getting the balance right

–       Last thing discussing tonight is derision, laughing at people and mockery (sukhriyah and istihzab)

–       When talking about poetry/singing always talking about degrees

–       When talk about derision and mockery that is haram, not good

–       This is because in them you have this animosity towards others, looking down on others

–       Allah says in Quran you who believe let not one group mock another group, it may be that these are better than they. Nor should women mock other women, it may be that these are better than they

–       So mocking, when think of it think of especially the tongue, but mocking means more than just that also means imitating or mimicking people

  • Also making pointed references to people without mentioning them
  • Laughing about aspects of them
  • Also means calling people’s attention to their defects so others laugh at them
  • When do this in people’s presence it has same sense and moral weight as backbiting

–       Ibn Abbas said it’s a minor sin that will be recorded against you in your book that you smile at someone’s derision or mockery of a believer—so when heart that don’t smile or listen to it

  • And its major sin to laugh out loud about it

–       Imam Ghazali says this shows us clearly that laughing at people is a great sin, good character and healthy heart mean to respect the other and uphold their rights

  • Person of good character respects other and does not see self as better than others

–       Derision and mockery like other forbidden speech show disdain for the other and when laugh at them shows we ridicule them and regard them to be below us

–       That’s why Allah says in that verse maybe they’re better than you

Plagues of Tongue continued

Matters of the Heart

Imam Ghazali’s “Marvels of the Heart”

American Islamic College

Chicago, Illinois

Dec. 5, 2013

Dr. Umar Faruq Abdullah


–       Prophet Muhammad (SAW) said I am the righteous of my ummah people of taqwa in my ummah are free of excessive formality

  • This means in way we speak and things we do
  • We should be natural and honest
  • Prophet Muhammad (SAW) directs us to be proper and honest, but be real and natural and avoid all unnecessary artificiality

–       Al Ghazali says artificiality in speech generally reflects hypocrisy of (riyah) that we’re showing off by overdoing it

–       Prophet Muhammad (SAW) said that the most strongly disliked of you to me and the furthest seated of you from me on day of judgment will be those that ramble on and on in their talk, who are longwinded in their speech, and those who have high sounded and effected speech.

  • Our scholars tell us this is because people who speak like this are not concerned with truth and falsehood, that’s what supposed to be concerned with and with politeness and dignity
  • Rather they speak all the time and don’t take care with what they say and don’t take caution

–       Prophet Muhammad (SAW) said three times truly the overly fussy will perish (mutatidoon)

  • These are people who in word and deed are overly meticulous to a fault, they go to extremes, they are wordy and fussy

–       Omar would say rambling types of speech are from the rambings of satan

–       Imam Ali said many speeches are nothing but the ramblings of satan

  • They said this because these ramblings, to just talk on and on, you forget because you speak so much what you began with
  • This is speech that encourages falsity and lies and absurdities and other kinds of nonsense in our speech because we’re not paying attention to what we say and we don’t care about it enough

–       Next thing talk about tonight is obscenity and profanity, then cursing after that. These are two different things though (fush in Arabic is obscenity—refers to words and deeds that display or are explicit about wrongful things or acts of disobedience that are ugly or should not be mentioned or done in public)

  • Always here talking about things that are said and done
  • Obscenity is strongly connected to adultery and fornication (zinah)
  • This is because adultery and fornication are among the ugliest of acts and among the most destructive of all things people do
  • The word obscenity applies to all ugly traits that people regard to be shameful and ugly

–       Imam Ghazali says worst types of obscenity are forbidden, but obscene language has degrees, begins with reprehensible and goes down until reaches that which is forbidden and repulsive

  • Obscenities in all forms all pertain to when we make explicit or when we do publicly things that people do in privacy, and things they are ashamed to do in public or speak about in public
  • That can be things that are legitimate like sexuality between husband and wife or otherwise, but don’t talk about them explicitly in public
  • Obscenity most common with reference to sexual acts and bodily functions, but it includes all other forms of abusive language of things people don’t do in public or don’t like to hear about in public
  • It is also a type of obscenity although generally reprehensible to speak explicitly about traits people have which can be embarrassing, like stuttering, obesity, pimples, a blind eye, also things like hemerroids or having a limp and so forth; these are qualities people have but polite not to draw attention to them
    • Very wrong to nickname people according to attributes they have that they would like to not have spoken about

–       Fuhsh is always taking these things shouldn’t be in public or talked about and then doing that

–       As imam ghazali says muslim should try to be polite and kind, when we talk about these things its good to have round about ways to do that

  • Quran when talks about bodily functions or sexuality it uses metaphorical terms, Quran is very careful about language it uses and teaches us in that courtesy and adab

–       Imam ghazali says in his society men wouldn’t even say your wife … they would say the mother of your children or mother of so and so as nice way of speaking

–       Profanity are ways of going too far, transgressing breaking limits in word and deed

  • They spring from desire to offend and abuse, to hurt
  • They violate personal and public sanctity
  • They reflect khubth (maliciousness, wickidness) and lowliness, baseness
  • Although people who use profanity and obscenity are not necessarily malicious or lowly and base
  • Another reason why people use profanity and obscenity is because that’s all they hear because of the company they keep, that’s often coupled with ignorance grow up believing to talk like that is a sign of strength or other characteristics
  • Root of that is something very undignified, in striving to be noble and upright people then its very important we get the language right

–       Among people most punished in the fire, they’re people that offend other people in fire because of way they are punished, are people who go after profanities and obscenities

  • Contriving profanities

–       Prophet Muhammad (SAW) said God loathes, detests the speaker or do’er of obscenities who seeks intentionally to do them, who goes to pains to say or do them

–       Imam Shafi said keep your ears unpolluted, clean from listening to profanity just as you keep your tongues unpolluted or clean from speaking it for the listener is the partner of the speaker

–       This is important for us today because many things hear on radio or tv or read on internet are obscene or profane, there are programs that may be funny but are foul and profane and make reference to unspeakable things to us

–       Al Ahmad ibn Qais (great man, contemporary of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW)) also Awais al Qarni (contemporary of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) from Yemen, was never able to see him though)

  • Al Ahmad ibn Qais was a Tamimi (huge and powerful tribe), he was born in Iraq believed in Prophet Muhammad (SAW) but didn’t see him, he went and met Umar and he brought his whole tribe of Tamim into Islam, very known for his wisdom and courage
  • Al Ahmad said shall I not inform you of the greatest sickness of all, the sickness of all sickness, the profane/obscene tongue and lowly character

–       A desert arab once came to the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) and he asked him for counsel, give mea  word I can hold to for the rest of my life,, Prophet Muhammad (SAW) said to him you must hold to the taqwa of Allah and if a person reproaches you (blames you) for something he knows is in you, do not you reproach him for something that you know is in him. Then the evil consequenes (waba) of this will be upon him and its reward will be yours, and never revile anything (don’t insult anything, don’t speak evil of anything). Bedouin said and after that I never insulted anything/anyone

–       Will conclude by discussing cursing

–       In English language when say cursing we usually mean you want injury or misfortune to come to that person

–       In Arabic however lana or curse has a more specific meaning, a little bit different

  • Meaning is to be banished, to be put at a distance far away from Allah’s mercy that’s what cursing means
  • Maloun is the one who is driven away from Allah, banished from Allah’s mercy, is of a great distance from Him

–       So cursing for us is not just that something bad happens to a person or misfortune overtakes them, means to ask Allah to damn them, put them in the fire, to deprive them of good, of blessing, of faith and mercy

  • That’s very heavy thing, its not generally  anything that you want to be on your tongue
  • Instead we should ask Allah to bless, guide, and help people

–       Imam Ghazali says cursing is also close to making duaa against people

  • Also if you want injury and misfortune to come to people its not kind of thing we should do

–       There are cases of extreme disbelief, very evil innovation, of deviation that reflects God’s curse

  • Why do people do things like that, because they’ve been put at a great distance from God’s mercy so they deserve that curse but it’s a divine prerogative and should not be on our tongue

–       Imam Ghazali says silence is always the best and safest policy

–       There was an early Ummayad Ibn Awm done great harm by a judge, one day people were with Ibn Awn and began to curse the judge in Ibn Awn’s presence and he said nothing, and asked why didn’t you say anything why don’t you curse him? He said then there would just be two words that would come from my scroll on day of judgment la illahi illAllah and cursing this person, I prefer it to just be one word laillahi illAllah

–       When people curse other people that’s extremely serious will be taken to account for that

  • Asking God by his prerogative as creator to deprive these people of good, do you want to go back to Allah with that

–       Prophet Muhammad (SAW) said cursing a believer is like killing him, and will that makes us curse is like will that makes us want to murder

–       Prophet Muhammad (SAW) also says believer is not given to cursing

–       Prophet Muhammad (SAW) also said do not curse each other with the curse of God or with God’s loathing (may God loath/hate this person) or with jahanam (hell)

–       Imam Ghazali notes that Muslims in his time take cursing very lightly, they do it all the time and in some Muslim societies see that today

–       Prophet Muhammad (SAW) was once traveling with his companions and one of men on his camel cursed his camel, Prophet Muhammad (SAW) said to him servant of God don’t travel with us on a cursed camel (let your camel go)

–       In another hadith Prophet Muhammad (SAW) was traveling in a group of people and there was woman from ansar of Medina and her camel was misbehaving she became irritated with it and she cursed camel. Prophet Muhammad (SAW) said take off everything of that camel and let it go where it likes for she the camel is cursed

  • Some of commentators say this is because the woman’s duaa was accepted
  • Others say this was a lesson to her and others
  • Cursing is not to be done lightly and best thing is never to do it at all
  • Don’t ever curse anyone or ask Allah to destroy anyone
  • Worst you can do is Allah treat him/her as he deserves to be treated

–       Abu Darda would say no one curses the Earth (the land, like city you live in or country) but that the earth will say back may God curse the one of two of us who is the most disobedient to Allah because earth enver disobeys

–       Prophet Muhammad (SAW) said no man accuses another man of kufr and nor does he accuse him of gross deviation but that it comes back to him if the other person is not like that

  • We don’t go around saying so and so is a disbeliever, extremely dangerous thing to do and we’re always threatening our own well being will come back to us if its not true of that person

–       Prophet Muhammad (SAW) said do not curse the dead and thereby offend those who are living

–       Al Ghazali said preoccupy yourself instead with things that will benefit you, with the remembrance of Allah (dhikr) and if cant do that then keep silence and be safe

–       Remember statement of Al Ahmad the sickest of sicknesses is a foul tongue and bad character

  • Greatest manifestation of heart is to have a beautiful tongue, kind and polite tongue and noble character

Plagues of the Tongue

Matters of the Heart

Imam Ghazali’s “Marvels of the Heart” (Book 24, Ch. 3 & 4)

American Islamic College

Chicago, Illinois

November 14, 2013

Dr. Umar Faruq Abdullah

–       Tonight talk about plauges of the tongue, 20 plagues

–       first is speaking of only about what concerns us

  • because most cant do that, not speaking about just what concerns us becomes a plague of tongue

–       another is superfluous or excess talk, if can say it with one word use economy in our speech

–       in book 24, ch. 3 and 4

–       last week emphasized that as humans, we are speech creatures

  • ability to speak, language, the tongue is one of most distinctive qualities
  • been given by God the gift of articulate, clear, careful speech
  • your gift of articulate speech is one of greatest things God gave us humans, it is the medium between us and access of infinite seeds of beneficial and true knowledge
  • also medium that enables us to worship God, ask His forgiveness, turn back to Him
  • other animals express themselves and can tell you things like about danger or hunger, but don’t have articulate speech, aren’t able to carry on discourse like humans can
  • bayyan (word in Quran for articulate speech) is one of the greatest things God gave us (cited in beginning of Surah Rahman)—articulate speech makes us like the angels; bayyan is something we should always have before us in our focus, because when we do speak we want our speech to be bayyan, which is meaningful, clear beneficial speech
  • bayyan implies that speech is used properly and not be misused or abused

–       Imam Ghazali tells us there’s no limit to good we can do with our tongue, benefits you can bring for yourself, for example doing dhikr, you can benefit others

  • But also there is no limit to the harm that you can do with your speech

–       If you or I could imbibe the true meaning of first line of surah Fatiha, there is infinite light in those words, and it unveils itself to you according to the capacity of your heart and the strength of your spirit

–       As a rule, this tongue of ours and everything connected to it (speech), is the most disobedient, harmful, and heedless of all human organs and activities

  • We have to guard the tongue, have to train ourselves to pay attention to what we say as that is essential to good character
  • We let down our guard all the time because we speak all the time
  • First part of controlling the tongue is being conscious of the tongue, learning to observe it as we observe the way we eat, drink, etc.

–       Imam Ghazali cites words of Al Idli (great saint of Islam) who said (paraphrased) “there’s a certain thing I’ve been trying to do for 20 years but never been able to do it, but will never give up trying to do it either. He said it’s about being silent about what does not concern me. Learning to talk about only what concerns me”

–       Imam Ghazali opens this evening’s reading by telling us we are the best that we can ever be, we are in most excellent condition possible for us when we are in control of the words we speak, when we are conscious of our tongues and careful of what we say, when we measure out our speech

  • You’ll also be the happiest with yourself knowing that I tried to be wise with what I said, didn’t speak wrongly

–       Especially when we use our tongues carefully and avoid the 20 plagues of the tongue

–       Imam Ghazali said even when you’re speaking about what’s permissible, not doing anything wrong, still have to be very careful because it’s so easy to step out of bounds and be unaware of where our words are taking us and the effect they have on other people

  • You have to not only be conscious of yourself but also your listener when you speak, are you hurting or helping the other person when you speak?
  • Be conscious of how does the other person hear what you’re saying

–       Two easiest forms of worship and most convenient are silence and good character, and yet be careful how we use silence to not hurt others thinking you are condescending, etc.

–       Imam Ghazali begins with not speaking about anything which is not our business and not speaking superfluous (excess) talk

  • Begins with these as they are least problematic of all aspects of speech
  • This also gives us a handle
  • As we know our good character begins with what we eat and how we eat, so pay attention to each bite and sip these small things paying attention to them enables us to pay attention to big things
  • Also when discussing tongue, begin with talking about easiest things to control of the tongue
  • So easiest thing is to try not to speak about things that do not concern us, it’s not sinful just wiser not to do it
  • Same with trying not to speak too much
  • This enables us to get control over the tongue

–       Said last week will reemphasize, Umar ibn AbdulAziz (fifth rightly guided caliph) said whoever regards his speech as part of his action, his speech will be little except in what concerns him

  • remember your words are part of your actions
  • this is what we want to strive towards

–       Prophet Muhammad (SAW) said in a hadith (Tirmidhi) ‘part of the good/beautiful Islam of a person is that he leave aside what does not concern him’

–       Imam Ghazali focuses on that in tonight’s lesson

–       When it comes to speech, speaking about what does not concern us, means that anything which you can think of if you didn’t say it and remain silent about it wouldn’t be wrongful/sinful (there’s certain times when you need to talk, when it’s wrong to be silent) and if there’s no need to say the thing, and it would not cause others harm and is not something necessary to say in order to protect our condition or help us in our lives, then it’s something that doesn’t concern you and best to leave it if you can

  • This means not to speak to others and ask questions to others about things that are harmful or hurtful to them, or reveal things or make someone reveal things  (Ex: did you fast today? Not a proper question to ask—may make some of information of a person from registry of secrets [book of angels about secret things you do, want to fill it with many secret acts of good deeds as they are better than public acts of good deeds] out of registry of secrets into registry of public knowledge [value of their fast as secret is better than value of fast of being in public registry])
  • So this is all speech which does not concern us, it is not evil necessarily

–       As Prophet Muhammad (SAW) said in hadith, it’s part of the beautiful Islam of a person that he put aside what does not concern him, so that’s important thing in that standard and answers question of what does beautiful Islam require of us

–       We’re not mechanical and rigid, before speak or keep silent, keep in mind what is best in terms of beautiful interpretation of Islam and let that be your guide

–       We have to be judges, often Muslims want to have simple answers for every question, but especially when it comes to complex things like speech have to be best judge, for instance it’s good to joke

  • Imam Ali said sign of muruwah is that you joke with your companions when  you travel because it makes travel easier
  • We have to seek to develop within ourself good judgment
  • One of beauties of silence is it enables us to understand the other, what does he really mean, what is he trying to say, etc. being able to relate to that person
  • So much of what we say reflects whether we have good judgment or not, whether we are careful or not

–       Imam Ghazali said one’s silence should be thought, when you’re silent you should be thinking, also when you’re silent try to get your heart to be silent

  • Heart speaking is things like what did he mean by this, what is he saying when he says this
  • Heart also has to have good judgment, don’t worry about or think about these certain things
  • When get tongue to be silent, only speak beneficial way and are thinking about person you are speaking to, when get heart to be silent then you go into depths of wisdom
  • Silence is beautiful, learn to think, the more you think the more you learn to think
  • Believer’s silence should be fiqr (Thought/reflection)

–       Our gaze should be ibra aka admonition, so be reflective if see someone doing something wrong learn from people’s errors and learn lessons from things we look at

–       Our speech should be dhikr, the remembrance of God. Dhikr is when you ttalk you remind people of what is good, beneficial, what is true, what is false. One of most important aspects of good character is counsel, you have good character and someone asks you a question, draw from depths of your heart and give counsel, you just have to have good character to do that, and you give counsel seeking their benefit. You’re trying to remember God and truthfulness in what you say

–       Every breath you take, every minute you spend is your capital, it’s like extra money you can use to invest. So speech we have to use to do business, that’s not our capital that’s what we have to do. But then have extra time and words and when you use those breaths speak with beautiful words of goodness and benefit, speak of Allah, spread the knowledge that you have

–       Want to invest our speech properly and use our silence to best ability we have

–       Imam Ghazali is calling us to path of hereafter, Allah says rather you prefer the life of this world, but the hereafter is better and more lasting, Imam Ghazali says none of us have knowledge can never lay claim to being a scholar unless he knows that the world to come is true and is much better and more lasting than this  world. This has to be reflected in way we speak and everything we do

–       Imam Ghazali tells us don’t be like the people of Moses with your words

  • Surah Baqarah verse 61, children of Israel brought out from pharaoh and must wander in desert for 40 years and God sends down food from heaven for them and yet they grow bored
  • And remember when you said Moses we cannot bear only one kind of food, even though it’s heavenly food sent by God, so then they said call upon your Lord for the things that Earth grows. Moses replied are you willing to exchange what is better for what is lesser (God’s direct provision for what you can grow in ground)
  • Keep those words in mind, when leave use of tongue to benefit ourselves and others, then we are exchanging what is higher for what is lower. So can speak in benefit or in nonsense, that’s a misuse of time and breath and a foolish bargain if speak nonsense instead of words of benefit and carefulness
  • Instead of saying things which in the sight of Allah and will be equivalent to great gifts in next life, we speak in way that brings no benefit to us

–       So spend your time in thought and remembrance and looking at world around you for admonition and guidance, and maybe then God will shower upon you understandings and mercy, show Allah you know the value of the beautiful word and then He will give you great gifts

–       Imam Ghazali then gives us some examples

–       He says what do we mean by this? Good example of speech that doesn’t concern us

  • When someone gets back from a trip, they tell people of every detail of their trip and go on and on about it. He’s not saying cant tell people about your journeys, but most of that talk is unnecessary and doesn’t have any benefit, and it may involve things like backbiting or lying. We shouldn’t add things that didn’t happen or take out things to change the reality. And you might do other things, like speak ill of things God created (that was such an ugly place, etc. but these are things God created don’t want to pass judgment on them)

–       Imam Ghazali also says must pay very careful attention to questions you ask, often questions are things that do not concern us and may lead to conversations that are not beneficial. They may also harm or hurt other people

  • For example, often when ask questions, maybe we’re fishing for information, almost as if we’re spying on people. Can’t ask them things like what did you say to so and so or what did they say to you.
  • Even something like asking are you fasting, it’s not evil, but try to avoid these things and talk about things that are really beneficial

–       Imam Ghazali says don’t ask a person a question that they may have to lie to answer, don’t ask them questions that are really embarrassing for them

–       Imam Ghazali said you don’t walk up a stranger and ask them where are you from, it might be impolite because stranger may be from a place where he doesn’t want to say, that if people know he’s from there they won’t take him seriously. So something like someone being from a village may be looked down upon by others and make them feel uncomfortable

–       We have to think deeply about things we ask and how it will affect the listener

–       Imam Ghazali says best example he can think of not speaking of what does not concern you is a story of Luqman the wise in the company of the Prophet David

  • Luqman came to visit David, Luqman is a black man from far in the south, he was a very wise man. He came to David and David was making armor, Luqman did not know what David was doing and wanted to ask but his wisdom kept him from asking. Then he also realized silence will teach him. When David finished making the armor he held it up and said what a beautiful piece of armor for battle is this, and Luqman then said ‘silence is wisdom’

–       Next thing is superfluous speech, excess speech; we need to be temperant in our speech.

–       Prophet Muhammad (SAW) was able to say many things in only a few words, in 3-10 words (jawami al-kalam)

–       Speak with words that are few but indicate a lot

–       Words should be veils of light

–       Our words should emerge from silence filled with thought and reflections

–       Superfluous speech is excess speech, have two things in excess: words and money

  • When it comes to excess words, don’t spend them, hold them back
  • When it comes to excess money, be generous

–       Superfluous speech is saying more than is enough, it often reflects lack of good judgment and lack of self control

–       Also excess speech is often a type of carelessness and heedlessness

–       Also too many words makes us forget the other words, maybe we had something really great to say but we talked so much we don’t even remember where it all began

–       Again we must not be mechanical, must not be robots, you have to feel the situation. There is a time and place for everything, sometimes extensive speech and speech just filing the time is not just good it’s necessary, sometimes it’s a way to show people we love and respect them, sometimes it’s an act of hospitality so use judgment to know when to speak how much

  • We have to exercise judgment, but we always seek economy

–       But superfluous speech in general is regarding to be blameworthy if there is no justification for it even if it is not about bad things, learn to speak briefly and to the point

  • Pick the words most clear and meaningful

–       Our tongues should always stand behind our hearts, meaning heart should be the leader and tongue should be the follower

  • But to have tongue follow heart, meaning we think about what we say before we speak

–       Prophet Muhammad (SAW) had very few words that expressed great meanings, and Quranic speech is a miracle in that as well and it speaks to all times and places just as the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) spoke to all times and places

–       It’s very important for us to be careful what we say, hold to adab of watching what we say, then what we say won’t cause harm

–       On day of judgment we are speaking to the whole world, what we have spoken before will become public domain

–       At Tayyib ibn Rubah (successor of the successors) said  those who were before you greatly disliked superfluous speech

–       Prophet Muhammad (SAW) said (Hassan hadith) ‘good tidings to anyone who holds back the excess of his tongue, but spends the excess of his wealth’

  • Let us be generous with our time and wealth, but think about what we say

–       Imam Ghazali tells us a beautiful story about Suleiman

  • Brought to Suleiman an ifrid (scholarly jinn) and he had someone go out and had someone watch him to tell him what the ifrid does. Ifrid goes out to market and looks up at sky and then down at people and shakes his head in dismay. Ifrid said I looked at sky and saw angels how fast they write and then down at the people and how fast they dictate
    • So angels will write every word we say

–       Imam Ghazali tells us speaking of what doesn’t concern us and superfluous speech, they overlap. He said they have the same reasons, the same harms.

  • So talking too much and about what’s not our business are caused by same things, harmful in same way, and have the same cure
  • They’re harmful because they’re a waste of our breath, should be using our time to do things that are beneficial, to say things that are good, to do dhikr to help people, to reflect
  • And it’s a waste greater than we can imagine, on day of judgment every day we spent will be presented to you and you will regret greatly if you did not bring benefit in each day
  • Do not exchange what is most noble for that which is not noble at all, don’t take golden words and use words that are utter nonsense
  • It’s difficult to control speech that doesn’t concern us as it goes out of bounds, difficult to control excessive speech because it goes on and on

–       Imam Ghazali says we do them because we as humans desire to know things we don’t know, so try to control tongue and watch and listen and be silent and you’ll hear things you need to hear and know

  • We also do it out of speaking naturally openly and in a friendly manner, and this is way we gain friendships, we don’t want to negate this, it makes us want to speak. But when we speak, speak of what concerns you, what benefits you and others and smile and listen
  • Also we do it sometimes just to pass time

–       Cure from standpoint of knowledge is never forget that your death is always at hand, remember the afterlife and how vulnerable and weak we are

  • Take admonition from what you see in others
  • Know always that death is at hand and therefore you will be asked about every word you said
  • Your breaths are your capital, you want to use them well
  • Use your tongue as a trap to trap great things, not to trap things you don’t want or need

–       Remember words of Umar ibn AbdulAziz Whoever calls death frequently to mind will be content in this world with very little

  • Means you’ll be able to forgive other people easily, will be able to survive difficult circumstances you’re in

–       Cure of this in practice is to cultivate silence, learn to be silent

–       One of ways we learn to cultivate silence is pick good friends, keep good company

–       Another thing extremely beneficial in this is solitude, try to be alone for some time be alone and think

–       In Islam have amazing act of worship of itikaf, go to mosque stay there all night and fast next day. Remember itikaf can be done any time of year, not just in Ramadan. Find a good safe place to do itikaf, Maliki school requires you to fast but Shafii doesn’t require to fast. In Maliki school, you do not speak or study, you just recite Quran, do dhikr and worship. That puts you in solitude and silence which is beneficial

–       Another thing Imam Ghazali says is find a nice pebble and put it in your mouth and then when you have to talk you take it out of your mouth, then you don’t talk so much

  • This is what Abu Bakr would do so that he wouldn’t speak much

–       Also force yourself to not speak about certain things that do concern you, as way to practice to gain ability to control our speech and definitely not speak about things that don’t concern us

–       Ibn Abbas said when you do speak about what concerns you, be careful to find the right time and place to do that

  • It’s not just as if anything that concerns me is valid to talk about at any time and any place
  • Many people cause themselves trouble by speaking of what concerns them to wrong people, in wrong place or wrong time

Four Major Tasks in Discipline Regarding Eating

Matters of the Heart

Imam Ghazali’s “Marvels of the Heart” Ch. 23.3

American Islamic College

Chicago, Illinois

Oct. 24, 2013

Dr. Umar Faruq Abdullah


–       All of our passions and appetites, good or bad, are rooted in the stomach, in the food we eat, the way we eat and the way we think about it

  • A healthy stomach is one which is controlled and leads to an amazing heart capable of things we cannot imagine
  • A heedless stomach that eats whenever it occurs to one to eat, that will also be a stomach that produces a sick heart

–       Imam Ghazali

–       Ch. 23.3 gives us lots of examples of hunger control, many are extreme examples of people with incredible discipline

–       Gives example of awliya who met a Christian monk that said Jesus fasted for 40 days and that was a miracle, but awliya said if I were to go 40 days without food would you enter my religion so man said I’ll do it for 50 days and he did it and monk came into Islam

  • We’re not recommending any of us do that, but the spiritual awareness is great
  • These extreme examples are moments that are way of seeking balance

–       Hunger is not a value in and of itself, no point in starving yourself or making yourself endure pangs of thirst Imam Ghazali says it’s a value because it leads to moral, ethical, and spiritual gifts that are beyond education and it makes it easy for you to be most perfect human being you can be

–       Disciplined hunger is a key to the garden, it awakes our best and deepest natures

  • You have the spirit which is angelic and when you hunger then you’re able to develop the angelic aspect of your soul, it opens up the basirah (inner eye)

–       Basir eye (outer eye) which sees shape, color, etc. it does not see beauty, it can’t say this is good or bad, that’s basirah (inner eye)

  • Basirah takes all messages from senses and says this has meaning
  • So hunger opens up inner eye
  • It gives us insight and access to truth and truth recognition

–       Hunger gives us truth recognition, ability to think and reflect, access to true knowledge, ability to understand reality as it is not illusion

  • Gives us receptivity, sensitivity, compassion
  • You don’t just see the truth, you are moved by the truth

–       It gives us light, intense spiritual pleasure

  • So you want to worship and you enjoy every minute of it

–       It gives us humility, a sense of utter dependence on Allah

–       This is why hunger is important, this is also why fasting is such a great task and gift of Allah

  • This is why Ramadan for us is such a great thing
  • Most  Muslims what do we get out of Ramadan, is hunger, and yet we all love Ramadan and we don’t hear anyone saying in lament oh no Ramadan is coming
  • Our community is happy Ramadan is coming, because it is the generous guest that brings so many gifts, which are the gifts of voluntary hunger
  • We have sensations in Ramadan that we don’t have in any other time of the year
  • But again if Ramadan is right you should be able to pray taraweh, because you’re fasting right so you have the energy and desire

–       Imam Ghazali focuses on 4 major tasks (duties) in the discipline regarding this (hunger/eating)

–       First and most important: eat and drink what is halal, what is pure and lawful and good

  • Our main purpose is to know God and worship him, that’s why we were created
  • And if we eat and drink what is not halal but is haram, then worship becomes of futility and the knowledge of God becomes an impossibility
  • To eat and drink the haram and then to talk about worshipping Allah is like talking about building a palace on the waves of the sea without a foundation
  • If we get that right, eat halal, then inshAllah nothing is futile after that, everything else becomes possible and maybe even easy
  • Animals have rights in Islam and we should protect those rights, it has to be raised properly, can’t be abused or mistreated
  • Also part of our tradition, beware of making meat a daily habit that we exceed on

–       Second: limiting the amounts we eat

  • Have to limit it to something that is reasonable and healthy
  • We don’t have to eat so much
  • When we overeat we are abusing ourselves

–       Third: restricting the times we eat

–       Fourth: picking the foods we eat

–       All of this must be done in gradual steps, it must be step by step and degree by degree

  • Don’t try to change your eating and drinking habits radically in one day or two, that can hurt you
  • Imam Ghazali says there are no standards here that apply to everybody, so what is good for one person may not be for another
  • So be very careful about this
  • If you decide you want to change this, do it little by little
  • If your habit is to overeat or eat a lot, can’t change that all at once, you have to change it according to your constitution, it must suit you so as not to harm yourself and be able to bear it
    • It’s not the point to cause you harm and pain be careful to not do that

–       Imam Ghazali emphasizes way we eat and how we eat differs from one person to another, your mizaj (your personal constitution and conditions)

–       Imam Ghazali says whoever is not capable of such discipline must not neglect to look out for himself

  • In other words, don’t neglect yourself, pay attention to yourself, bring yourself under control to whatever extent you can even if you can’t do what some people call “discipline”
  • You must not allow yourself to be immersed and drown in uncontrolled passions

–       Imam Ghazali says make it a point that you don’t just eat every time you have an impulse, be conscious of the way you live

–       One of main purposes of the prophetic law, of the shariah, is that the shariah is gauged to stop us from following our whims and our passions

  • This is one of main purposes of prophetic law
  • Prophetic law is there to bring about spiritual perfection

–       Imam Ghazali then gives us some practical advice

–       One of things he tells us about is that you can reduce your excess food by taking away small quantities every day

  • One of things you notice about Imam Ghazali is in his society, his culture is very different from ours
  • In his culture the basic food is bread, a round loaf of bread; so he says if you want to eat one which should be enough but you’re eating two, then take that second one and cut it up into 28 pieces and first day eat 27 and leave one out and progressively leave out one piece each day
  • Whole point here is reducing things slowly, important to do it by degrees
  • Whole purpose of that is to try to achieve the prophetic norm which is so essential to good health which is to fill 1/3 of your stomach with food, 1/3 with drink, and 1/3 for air

–       Imam Ghazali then tells us something really important, we need to be aware of ourselves and relate to our nervous systems, to listen to our bodies, that is an element of good health

  • We need to distinguish between honest hunger and dishonest hunger
  • You have within you an appetite that is absolutely sadiq (truthful), then you have another appetite which is indulgent so learn to distinguish between those two things
  • That is why when we eat, we need to pay attention to eating, enjoy your food mouthful by mouthful slowly
  • Overeating is self abuse, when we eat more than our honest appetite demands we are hurting ourselves, usually when people abuse themselves we are not aware of that

–       Balance between what tastes good and what our body truly needs and wants and welcomes and demands

  • Your nervous system will tell you that, have to learn to pay attention to it and how you feel after the bite you just ate
  • Ask yourself what if I were to stop now, would that be okay
  • Because usually when we are halfway through the first course we would be okay, usually dishonest appetite that wants a full stomach and fears the pain of hunger

–       Don’t rush when you eat, eating is an act of worship, stop for a while and think, take your time and look at the food, utilize all sense in interacting with food including hands when you touch the food it prepares nervous system to digest what you’re eating

–       The unneeded bite is usually self abusive

–       And it reflects an infantile need to fill up the empty space

–       Never forget to remember the miracle of Allah in the miracle of food before you, every bite you eat is a miracle we couldn’t produce that

–       Imam Ghazali tells us story about a man who brought loaves of bread for his companions, and one of them is looking to loaves and wants the best one, and man says the loaf of bread you shunned for another one that it had in it a thousand wisdoms of God and a thousand workers who worked for it

–       Be thankful when you eat, and do not eat new food on undigested food

–       Imam Ghazali gives us example of Umar bin Khattab, he would eat just a few pieces of bread a day, and he was told Yazid ibn Sufyan ate excessively and ate farid

  • And Umar said take me to his house when he eats, so first dish was farid and he ate it and then second dish was meat and he didn’t eat it he sat there
  • And Umar said Yazid you’re going to eat one meal on top of another, one food on top of another

–       We should be aware of how long it takes to digest different foods, meat takes 3 hours fruit about 30 minutes

  • Let stomach digest food you’ve eaten then eat new food

–       Ghazali then goes into many examples of the salaf, most of salaf never ate more than once a day, usually at time between tahajjud and sunrise, and disliked people eating in excess had great fear of it

–       In Islam we honor and respect healthy culture, and as we develop our culture in US we have to develop a really healthy and sound culture

  • But culture can go wrong just like people can
  • And many of Muslim cultural traits today have gone wrong
  • Have to be very careful of how we change that
  • We have to be polite, some of our cultures encourage overeating, if enter such a space just be conscious of what you eat before and after and focus on self

–       Imam Ghazali says hypocrite is like a beast of prey who does not care about his neighbor’s hunger or brother’s need, he gulps and gulps

–       When we control our food then we have food to give away to others

–       One of things Imam Ghazali points out is statement of great teacher of past Abu Sulaiman al Darani, who says putting aside a single appetite of many appetites we have, anything you really desire choose I’m not going to do that, anytime that you deny yourself a single type of desire of many desires we have that are legitimate, it’s more beneficial for the heart than fasting for an entire year

–       Many Muslims today we have forgotten this teaching, we become often very self indulgent

–       Al Ghazali says anything that makes it easy for you to attain your desires, to fulfifll your shahawa (appetites) is not a good sign

–       We live in a consumer sign that encourages high consumption, you do have to consume, but what is good, proper, and balanced and what you need is not that much but the needs that we manufacture by false appetites and illusions, those have no limits and our society is not very concerned about that

–       Advertising as an industry seeks to create a culture of consumption and we have to be conscious and wise of that

–       Imam Ghazali stresses that extreme discipline we see in some of exemplars of Islamic civilization are not praiseworthy as extremes, they’re only praiseworthy because they are necessary means of self training so that the blance is established

  • If we have not been spiritually disciplined, then to talk about the golden mean, that’s not really meaningful because first have to discipline ourselves by denying
  • Breaking the passions, not break them so don’t have them, break them so they don’t have a hold on us but we havea  hodl on them

–       In all matters, and especially all aspects of good character, ultimate goal is always the mean, the middle, the center, balance

  • This is what the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) tells us when he says best of all things are the ones that are in the middle
  • Extremism is always wrong and is not praiseworthy

–       One of things Imam Ghazali emphasizes is that in practice of voluntary hunger and self discipline in how you eat whole purpose is to imitate the angels, we imitate prophets in everything, but they also enable us to imitate the angels and that enables us to attain perfection in its highest level

  • And that means it lets us attain balance

–       Ghazali gives us example of ant, example of a fiery hot ring jeweler makes and an ant is trapped inside and has a red hot ring around him, so the ant can only survive if he gets in the middle, if he goes to edge of ring he will be burned, so the ant will go to the middle of the ring

  • We are like ant because we are surrounded by appetites and they are like burning ring of fire, if we get close to appetites in not balancing and controlling them then we will get hurt, but if we balance them and get in middle we will succeed and be like the angels and even greater than us because we have all dimensions of physical and spiritual creation

–       Ghazali ends by telling us of two great dangers

  • On the spiritual path, on the path of the hereafter, if you’re on the path and you are disciplining yourself then there are also grave dangers, he talks about two
  • One of them is that you become proud of your discipline, for ex everyone else eats a lot but you don’t have to oh how good you are and you want people to see and know that
    • So now you have overcome little desires like food and drink, but are being overcome by powerful desire of fame and status
    • Humility must remain there all the time, and there must be no show
  • Another thing he says can happen is that they conquer their desires in certain things but not in others
    • For ex maybe don’t have to eat certain things but can’t resist another thing like chocolate
    • Says if you’re going to eat your chocolate, if cant resist it, eat it but eat it wherever can see it
    • And be very careful you’re very proper in front of others but eat it in private where no one can see

–       Ghazali always writes in his book on a level accessible to everybody, but he has greater knowledge and insight than even what he writes


Hunger as spiritual discipline

Matters of the Heart

Imam Ghazali’s Ihya Ulum Al’Din

Disciplining the Soul (prologue & ch. 23.1-23.2, pg. 105-132)

American Islamic College

Chicago, Illinois

Oct. 10, 2013

Dr. Umar Faruq Abdullah


–       Today will talk about amazements of hunger

–       Imam Ghazali in these chapters tells us about how important it is to control what we eat, not to be controlled by what we eat

–       Imam Ghazali in prologue begins with the praise of Allah, and praises Allah for good food and drink that makes us strong and healthy and then he points out this is one of the most important tests of human beings

  • In doing this he sets the context for the chapter that is before we talk about hunger, which is part of the sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW), its very important to talk about eating right which is also part of that

–       When we eat, its important to eat well and in a way that is healthy

  • We should enjoy looking at the food, smelling it, touching the food
  • One of the things about touching the food, one of the wisdoms in touching the food is that your hands give a signal to your nervous system about what you’re eating and your nervous system prepares your digestion
  • And we should eat regular meals and taste it and enjoy it
  • Good to eat more meals and less food
  • Important to be aware of each bite, and to think about it and eat it well, not to shovel food unaware
  • Good to stop halfway through the first serving and think about do I need to eat more, and if you stop and wait you can tell I can stop eating this
  • Important to not eat food on top of undigested food, part of healthy food is to know how long it takes to digest certain things, this is also the sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) to not eat food on top of undigested food

–       Then Imam Ghazali talks about hunger, hunger is a spiritual discipline, its not a way of punishing ourselves, we don’t mean by hunger starvation

  • What we mean is eat as little as we can and still be healthy, not fill ourselves up, and also to delay eating (one way to delay eating is to mindfully take one bite, put down utensil fully chew and swallow before reaching for next bite)

–       Prophet Muhammad (SAW) said ‘eat and drink up to the middle of the stomach, up to the half of the stomach’

–       Prophet Muhammad (SAW) ‘the son of Adam can fill no receptacle, no container or vessel worse than his stomach, it is enough for the son of Adam to eat a few mouthfuls to keep his back upright, but if he must eat more, then let him fill one third with his food, one third of his stomach with his drink, and keep on third for his breath’

–       Imam Bukhari transmits ‘the believer eats into one collection of intestines or one set of bowels, and the disbeliever eats into seven sets of bowels’

  • Imam Ghazali says this means disbeliever or hypocrite eats seven times as much as the believer who embodies this practice, and that they eat also with seven times the appetite

–       Abu Sulaiman al Darani (great Islamic figure and spiritual guide) said for me to leave aside a single bite of my dinner meal is more beloved to me than standing all the night in prayer until the dawn

  • He said that because the fact to be able to stop eating when you’re still hungry takes a lot of discipline
  • This is one of the keys to spiritual discipline

–       Al Tussari (awliya of history) says no righteous deed more excellent than leaving aside extra food that you don’t need in imitation of the manner of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW)

  • Its not just a health and diet issue but also you want to be like the Prophet Muhammad (SAW)

–       Aisha (wife of the prophet) said the first reprehensible innovation to occur after the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) was eating until full, because he and his companions didn’t do that

–       We must eat with adab, this is the first element of self discipline, its not just a sunnah and good for our health, if you can control the way you eat and drink you can control everything else it’s the very foundation

–       Last week talked about importance of raising children, one of first things is to teach children how to eat properly

  • The first appetite that begins to dominate the child is eating and drinking, and that’s true of all of us
  • And eating is what got Adam and Eve out of the Garden, they were told not to eat of a certain tree and they did and that was their fall
  • All of this is essential for spiritual development of children but we have to eat that way

–       Among most important of etiquettes of eating, Imam Ghazali says good etiquette of eating is to eat after hunger comes, and to stop eating before you are full

  • Halfway through the first serving stop and pay attention to your body, your mind wants you to fill your stomach but your body knows this is abuse of the body to overeat
  • That takes habits, we have to work at that because we’re so used to eating until we’re full or more than full

–       Imam Ghazali tells story of a king who asked a number of physicians what is the medicine that causes no sickness, they knew medicines have side effects

  • The medicine that has no sickness/side effects is that you not eat food until you have an appetite for it, and that you lift your hand from it stop eating while you’re still craving it
  • That’s the sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW)

–       When we talk about hunger, we talk about spiritual discipline, talk about voluntary hunger, we’re not praising starvation or deprivation, not praising hunger of masses who do not have anything to eat

  • Talking about voluntary hunger that has spiritual contentment
  • Do it for Allah’s sake and in imitation of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW)
  • This hunger is reducing the amount of food so it’s as little as is still healthy for you, and that we delay it and put if off
  • But not talking about starving ourselves

–       Al Bayani says the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) used to experience hunger without it being required by circumstances

  • Meaning he would be hungry even when he had enough food to eat
  • We know most of the time the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) had barely enough food to eat
  • But the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) also did it by choice, its not just circumstance its also his sunnah

–       Aisha said had we wanted to eat our full, we would have eaten our full, but the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) used to prefer others over himself

  • In other words this was his sunnah but also he’s giving away his food

–       The Prophet Muhammad (SAW) was offered by Allah through Angel Gabriel all of the treasures of the world, and the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) refused and he said ‘No, rather I will be hungry for a day and eat my full another day if I am hungry I will be patient and turn to God in fervent supplication, and if I eat my full I will give thanks,” (Tirmidhi)

–       Eating is most basic thing we do very important, therefore Imam Ghazali now tells us about the self discipline and purification that all of that process of making yourself having the best character possible begins with the stomach that’s the most important thing

–       Imam Ghazali tells us we have in our heart the idol of the pig that tells us eat and drink, eating on impulse in mass is obeying this idol we don’t want to do that

–       Imam Ghazali says the greatest of all things that destroy human beings and put them in the fire, moral perils, morally destructive habits is the appetite of eating and drinking, and all other appetites and passions are rooted in the stomach as do diseases and afflictions

–       Overeating is self abuse

–       Also out of this comes the sexual appetite which is good but has to be controlled, and also the appetite for speech which is important but we have to control our speech

  • And that inability to control our speech also comes from not controlling the food

–       All moral vices are related to being heedless of food and drink, a heedless stomach leads to a sick heart, it leads to a dead heart spiritually and also physically

–       Shakikh Al-Bakhly was a great scholar of Islam, he said ‘worship is a skilled craft, its workshop is solitude, and its tool is hunger’

–       Abu Sulaiman al Darani (another great wali) said ‘hunger in the presence of Allah in the eyes of Allah is one of his storehouses of treasures, he only gives it to the person he loves (or to the person who loves Him)’

–       In Ramadan you can get to where you have pleasure in the empty stomach

  • All nations before us had to fast, you cant have proper spiritual development without that
  • When you break the fast don’t gorge yourself, eat what is healthy a 1/3 of food and a 1/3 of drink, good to eat and then when finished to drink and leave the other 1/3 for your breath

–       Zakah of your body is hunger, and you can do that through fasting

  • Imam Malik recommended you fast 3 days of every month
  • Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) is Mondays and Thursdays
  • Fast of Dawud is one day you eat and one day you fast

–       Imam Ghazali says all felicity, all happiness insists in a person’s having possession of himself

  • Be in possession of your Self
  • All unhappiness in this world and next is when your Self is in possession of you
  • One of main ways we can get possession of ourselves is food discipline and drink discipline, using hunger as a tool for worship
  • This is not easy to do be merciful on yourself this is hard to do

–       Imam Ghazali tells us 10 basic benefits of hunger

–       First of all hunger is not a benefit because of the fact that it causes you pain, discomfort or difficulty, it’s a benefit because it brings you immense spiritual gifts

  • If we were to say hunger is beneficial because of pain it cuases us its like saying benefit of medicine is that it’s bitter, the important thing in medicine is not the bitterness but its cure just like important thing of hunger is its cure if it is used properly its immense cures for our mental and physical health
  • This again shows us greatness of Ramadan
  • Fasting is just part of this, when we break fast and when we eat we have to control our intake

–       Disciplined hunger for Allah’s sake in the imitation of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) opens doors of Garden and closes the doors of Fire

  • It opens doors of Garden that Adam and Eve left because of appetite

–       First Muslims were those that said hunger is the key to the hereafter, key that unlocks good of hereafter

–       Imam Ghazal says knock on heaven’s door with hunger and eating properly

–       Imam Ghazali says whoever closes one of the doors of the fire immediately opens one of the doors of the Garden, because fire and garden are counterparts and linked in this amazing way

  • He says its like east and west, if you face east you put your back to the west and same thing with doors of garden and fire

–       It is said that hunger for the sake of Allah in imitation of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) is one of the treasure houses of Allah

–       10 important benefits of hunger by Imam Ghazali, this is why we want hunger:

–       1. Purification/purity of the Heart: that purification includes awakening our deepest and best instincts, the tariha (profound instincts we have to know what is good and love what is good, to love Allah)

  • it awakens in us our instincts
  • it also sharpens the inner eye (basira) so we understand things as they are
  • overeating on the other hand leads to blinding the heart
  • Abu Yazid al Bisqami said ‘hunger is a rain cloud, if God’s servant hungers for the sake of Allah his heart rains down wisdom’
  • It’s said in our tradition ‘the likeness of hunger is thunder, the likeness of contentment with that hunger is like a rain cloud and wisdom is like the rain it comes from that cloud, and this hunger gives you knowledge, thought wisdom’
    • Thunder glorifies praises of Allah
  • Al Shibli says ‘I never experienced hunger for a single day in my life for the sake of Allah but that I found in my heart an open door of wisdom and insight that I had never found there before’
  • Hunger for Allah’s sake opens the doors of knowledge and insight that lead to the knowledge of Allah Himself and the ultimate realities of Allah who is the Real (al Haq)

–       Our heart has the ability to understand reality as it is in its incredible greatness and hunger is essential to that

–       Belief that hunger is connected to insight and wisdom is an ancient belief, of Chinese, Greeks etc.

  • They also held these ancients that overeating can harden and deaden the heart

–       Luqman al-Hakim said ‘if the stomach is filled, thought falls asleep, wisdom becomes mute (deaf), and the limbs of the body sit down and do not worship’

–       2. Receptivity of the Heart (sensitivity of the heart)

  • heart is able to pick up things
  • person can have a pure heart but it’s not receptive and tender
  • there are people who do dhikr and don’t get pleasure from it Imam Ghazali says
  • hunger gives us light in the heart that produces receptivity and then we get intense pleasure from conversing with Allah in prayer, from dhikr, from reading Quran
  • and it removes the veils which can be over the pure heart
  • it also removes waswas (insinuations over heart)

–       3. Breaking our stubbornness of the rebellious soul, giving us true humility

  • removing false exaggerated sentiments of exaltation, excessive joy and arrogant exuberance which are all traits that lead to rebellion and heedlessness
  • it gets us down to where we ought to be, you see not your glory and uniqueness but you see glory and greatness of Allah
  • and then it gives you one of greatest spiritual gifts of all which is the sensation of other dependents, and other need for Allah (ibtirah)
    • Allah will always answer the prayer of this person
    • Hunger makes our dependence on Allah a spiritual reality
  • Imam Ghazali says so let the servant of God, let ourselves, be in constant hunger (not to hurt health) in utter need of our Lord , witnessing this utter need with the gift of spiritual delight
    • Look at that need of hunger, experience this hunger this ibtirah, taste that utter need with the gift of tasting the spiritual delight along with that

–       4. Don’t forget for a moment the reality of this world

  • you’re here to be tested and you’re here to be afflicted, we’ll all go through that so be ready and be aware
  • and more important than that be aware of Allah’s punishment which is real, don’t want that
  • when humans are resurrected on Day of Judgment they are hungry and thirsty, don’t get that until Allah gives us that
  • remember that people who are living in hunger and affliction and trial right now
  • eating our full makes us forget the hungry and even forget hunger
  • don’t forget the afflicted, the poor, the hungry, it’s so easy even if we live in difficult straits we’re very well to do compared to people in other lands

–       5. It breaks the passions that lead to disobedience of Allah and it gives us power to bring the self under control

–       6. It drives away sleep and gives you constant wakefulness

  • you need to be able to sleep, but need to be able to wake up too
  • when you go to sleep you should be able to fall asleep
  • need to also be able to wake up
  • hunger helps us to train ourselves that way, wakefulness fills our heart with light and enables us to shine like a brilliant star in night sky, it enables you to witness the beauty of God and creation, it also brings about the gift of being able to see the secrets of the unseen
  • too much sleep wastes away our life with little benefit, sleep is brother of death

–       7. It makes worship easy

  • it makes regular and constant worship easy, it makes fasting easy (when you’ve practiced hunger) you can fast with power
  • it means also you use yourself really well, every breath  you take is a precious jewel, use that jewel of time well

–       8. It gives us health

  • we mean by that physical health, strength
  • it helps us get rid of sickness

–       9. It reduces expenses

  • when we overeat and when eating becomes our major event, then your stomach becomes your creditor
  • Ibrahim ibn al Adham (awliya) would ask his students about price of food in the market and they would say its expensive and he would say then reduce the price by reducing the intake

–       10. It makes it possible to develop ithar (preference and service of the other)

  • make your hunger a message to you from the poor and needy of the world and then help them
  • Al Hasan Al Basri says ‘we have by Allah seen many of our brothers and sisters sell the amanah (Trust) that Allah took of us for money. They would get thousands of pieces of gold and silver, what did they do of it, they made their houses bigger and their graves more narrow. Oh you fool, you think it’s your food that you’re digesting? It’s your religion that you’re digesting. Where is the poor man, where is the widow, where are the needy that Allah commanded you to take care of?
    • Make your grave expansive and a palace
    • And your house make it content
  • It’s so good for us to be generous

Signs of a healthy and sick heart

Matters of the Heart

Imam Ghazali’s Ihya Ulum Al’Din

Disciplining the Soul (Ch. 22.6-22.8, pg. 46-66)

American Islamic College

Chicago, Illinois

Sept. 26, 2013

Dr. Umar Faruq Abdullah


–       Tonight discussing looking for the signs of health and signs of sickness, what are those signs that we can look for to indicate heart is well, that it’s healing and what are signs that indicate heart is in trouble

–       Imam Ghazali begins with a theme that the human is good, human is created in best of fashions and every part of us is miraculous (physically and spiritually) and every organ has a beneficial purpose

–       We say we are healthy when those parts of our body are able to fulfill purpose for which they are created, and say its sick when they cannot do that properly

–       In order to know whether the heart is healthy or sick, we have to go back to what is the heart all about and what is it supposed to do

–       In past class, discussed our well being is nothing more than the well being of the heart just as our depravity is nothing more than the sickness of the heart, and salvation and happiness in this world and next is a function of the heart

–       Heart attaches to things, it doesn’t necessarily attach to what is good and beneficial, sometimes when attaches to things very powerfully, sometimes to things that help it and sometimes to things that harm it

–       Heart is sick whenever it cannot perform its essential function

  • Its essential function is knowledge, heart is that part of us that is capable of knowledge and loves knowledge, is capable of cultivating knowledge in the most perfect way
  • If heart comes to be well, then it will want to learn and will be capable of that
  • Heart has ability to know things as they really are, as God willed and created them to be and heart is capable of wisdom, of intimate direct knowledge of God
  • Heart is supposed to worship and all worship is based in the heart
  • Heart delights in these things, healthy heart finds pleasure in the mention of Allah (in dhikr), it finds peace in that
  • Heart uses the body and all faculties of the body for that purpose of knowing and loving God

–       The sign of the knowledge of God is the love of God, and whoever knows God loves him and prefers nothing over him

  • Therefore when we do not know God and we love other things more than Him this means the heart is not well
  • For that reason, Imam Ghazali says most human hearts are not way they ought to be or can be

–       The healthy human being is the one that relates to God and loves God

–       Imam Ghazali says some diseases are easy to recognize and their symptoms actually show themselves to us, but other diseases are hidden and are not easy to know and they can often be among the most critical of all, if we are afflicted with such a disease want to know them

–       Diseases of the heart are hidden diseases, they’re usually hidden from the people that have them

  • For instance, you may be able to see the defects of another person for instance that they’re lazy or arrogant, but for that person its hard for them to see that
  • For that reason they neglect and ignore them because they don’t realize those diseases are there

–       Even when we come to know them, then it’s difficult to have the patience and endurance to be treated, and that’s because diseases of the heart their medicine is challenging, because it means going against the grain of the imbalance within us to do the thing you don’t want to do

–       Even if we have the patience to drink the biter medicine, where is the doctor? Imam Ghazali says the ulama (religious scholars) are doctors, but problem there is ulama also have problems in their hearts

–       Diseases of the heart are chronic and often are out of control

  • If that’s the case with us who are the heirs of the seal of the prophets there are going to be problems with others as well

–       Imam Ghazali said knowledge of curing the hearts has almost passed away and then he says many Muslims reject it outright

  • A lot of Muslims today don’t want to hear about the heart, the diseases of the heart, or that they may have a disease of the heart
  • If you say you need to control your appetite or anger, they have a problem with that
  • Even if they don’t reject this knowledge outright they refuse to admit they’re sick and they prefer the world, and their outward acts of worship become customary habits they do

–       How do we know we are getting better? How do we know we’re on the path to getting well?

  • We can say this is so when you decide to do something about it, when you decide I care about my heart and my state and that I’m going to do something about that

–       Hadith of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) ‘ the true mujahid is the one who does jihad against himself in the obedience of Allah’

–       Hadith of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) ‘a group of sahaba came back to Medina after performing jihad and Prophet Muhammad (SAW) said to them welcome to you all, you have come back from the lesser jihad to the greater jihad, and then they asked the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) what is the greater jihad and he replied the jihad of the nafs (against the self)’

  • So when we engage in this greater jihad against the self, this is a major sign of health, that you’ll get better and you’ll be alright
  • And it leads to greater health and strength

–       Most basic/standard type of jihad of the nafs is balancing through opposites

  • Given example of avarice aka greed, when you want money and don’t want to spend it or give it away, you just want more and more money (bukhl) and this is a major disease of the heart and puts us far from God
  • One of basic types of jihad against avarice is to spend money for people who deserve it and need it, and we do this to balance ourselves
  • Anything you can do easily, if it’s easy for you to be avaricious and hold on to that money, then that’s part of my character
  • Character is that part of self that’s easy to do and is part of you
  • And so we make ourselves give money to impact our character
  • Character effects our actions, but our actions when done with difficulty and by deliberation if done over and over again then they will mold and change the character
    • That’s the basis of the jihad of the nafs, you make yourself do it, you don’t want to spend you make yourself do it

–       And then how do you find the balance? Because always good character is the middle ground between the two extremes, extremism can never be good character by its very nature is much closer to kufr than iman

–       You find the balance by looking for ease, pleasure and spontanaiety

  • Look for the deed that springs from the negative trait that you’re making war against
  • Ex: I don’t like to give up my money
  • Look at that deed, if it remains more easy and pleasurable than its opposite, its still hard for me to give to others, then you haven’t won the jihad yet
  • Doesn’t mean go to the other extreme of wastefulness of just throwing your money away
  • When you know the nature of character good or bad, you can use that knowledge to balance your character
  • Means if now I just want to keep giving my money away, then I need to get back to the middle
  • And this pertains to everything

–       When the heart becomes balanced, then the heart is sound, it’s the heart that has done this jihad over and over again until it’s balanced

–       Once we get that balance in us, then all these attributes of courage and temperance, then world becomes something we control it doesn’t control us, you no longer are the slave of the world, that’s why good character opens up the door to God because now we’re not attached to God

–       This means things other than God, they do not dominate you, you in fact can dominate them and use them to your advantage

  • This produces a self that is content, that is at peace
  • Your nafs will be one filled with happiness and pleasing to God
  • you become among the muqarabeen (those closest to the sidiqeen)

–       Imam Ghazali then says you are more squarely situated on the path, and that’s sirat al mustaqeen (Straight path), the straight path is the path of moral balance, the path of being in tune with yourself

  • Once you have balanced yourself so now avarice and wastefulness is gone, you are now on the straight path in so far as that aspect of character is concerned and you want to stay on the center of the straight path

–       This something that is difficult to attain, because we are always seeking the median

–       Imam Ghazali calls it the real middle ground, that’s very hard to find

–       In Surah 11 Verse 112 ‘so be upright as you have been commanded’

  • Because of this verse the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) who had all black hair developed white hairs because of this surah because it’s very hard to fulfill that verse, to stay steadfast on that path
  • Because this balancing, staying steadfast on center of straight path is very challenging, we recite Al Fatiha at least 17 times a day (in 5 prayers) in which we say guide us to the straight path, and we need to repeat that over and over again

–       This shows us how much the heart and good character are absolutely central to our faith

–       Once you become balanced, you will grow and once you grow you have to rebalance so it’s a constant struggle though if you’ve done it before it won’t be very difficult later

–       Your character is what comes easy to you, what delights you, what is spontaneous for you to do

  • We always have to inspect our character and play close attention to our attributes and our character traits
  • Always have to review ourselves, why did I do this thing, how did I do it, was it easy to do? If its easy to do then it’s part of our character and must work on it

–       Imam Ghazali mentioned sicknesses of the heart are hidden, so how do I get to know them? Four ways to do that

–       When Allah wills mercy and good for any of His servants than He gives them the insight to understand how important self criticism is, to search out their faults—I need to know what is wrong with me, not what is right with me

  • This is a sign of a great mercy of Allah, that we want to know what is wrong with me and what can I do better

–       People of great inner eye (basira) they are called such because they are able to see their faults and are attune to their faults, and observe their action to find where they are weak and can get better and then they can treat them

–       If I don’t want to know my faults, then there’s something wrong with that intellect, the stronger the intellect and higher our spiritual station, the more passion that we have to learn our faults and we take ourselves to task

–       This is the character of the great saints and men and women of great faith

–       One of great examples of it is Umar (second caliph)

  • He used to say ‘may Allah have special mercy on any person who gives me the gift of showing me my faults’

–       Four ways to learn our faults

–       1. Most basic is to find a spiritual guide, the shaykh who is a knower of God who is intelligent and wise and has insight and is selfless and compassionate and who gives sincere advice, having already balanced himself developed good character in himself

  • But they are very rare and very difficult to find
  • It’s a sunnah of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) that we have spiritual guides

–       Since that’s hard, we usually have to resort to tricks/devices

–       2. First one is to find an honest friend who has insight and who is sincere in his/her religiosity

  • It’s hard to find that though, sometimes our friends may not be completely sincere, sometimes they just want to flatter us, sometimes they may be jealous or motivated by improper things

–       3. If you cant find a friend who will help you, who do you go to? Your enemy

  • Your enemies can help you find your faults
  • My enemy is probably not completely wrong, and if they’re saying I have a certain bad quality, then it’s good for me to consider is that true and check that out
  • Often is the case that enemy has shown you a defect that you can set aright

–       4. You look at people in general and mix with them, and when you see they have faults then you look for that fault within yourself

  • it’s more like they have that quality, may Allah guide them, but then don’t I have that quality too? Because the human nature that causes you problems I also have a human nature with potential for faults
  • this is a sign of noble character, when we see faults in others go back to see if that is in me, maybe I have that problem

–       then Imam Ghazali goes into some basic things about training

–       here talks about you’ve got to train our anger, train our appetite and passion, but don’t mortify it, don’t wipe it out

  • but this means usually have to discipline ourselves and be patient

–       statement of Jafar ibn Muhammad (Jafar al Sadiq) who says ‘the scholars and people of great wisdom have reached consensus from ancient times that eternal pleasure can only be attained through denying ourselves passive pleasure’

  • so we can’t just eat and drink everything we want to, have to have discipline in that

–       a man asked Junayd (great imam) ‘when does the heart’s sickness become its cure?’ and imam replied ‘when the self goes against its passion’

  • so you know you have avarice so you’re going to go against that so then the avarice becomes my cure

–       it is wajib to believe that you must go against your passion, you must control your anger, must control your appetite

–       then uses example of the falcon and the riding animal and how you train them

  • example of falcon, Muslims were great at training them
  • falconer sees a rabbit and lets falcon go and when he calls falcon it comes right back to him
  • he does that by taking falcon and put it in a dark room where it can’t see, then they also hood it, falcon in a dark room cannot fly, then you’re very good to the falcon you speak to it and you give it good meat to eat so then falcon attaches itself to you and forgets how to fly—it no longer lives in world where it takes off and flies and does what it wants
    • once it forgets about flight, then you let it fly again, its as if you gave it the gift of flight it was in the darkness and you cared for it and so now the falcon loves you and will obey you and now it will come back to you when you set it off for flight
    • this is why sometimes you have to deny yourself for ex food or drink, not killing yourself and must have guidance in this, you want to take away the attachment you have to these things and then you give it back carefully under control and then you will obey
    • want to train yourself for your intellect to obey like a falcon