Continuing our Ramadaan series, this post continues the book entitled “Purification of the Heart: Signs, Symptoms and Cures of the Spiritual Diseases of the Heart” – Shaykh Hamza Yusuf Hanson‘s translation and commentary of Imam Muḥammad Mawlūd’s didactic poem “Matharat al-Qulub” (purification of the heart). The Imam was a 19th century Mauritanian scholar. For notes on the copyright status of the book, as well as links to purchase your own copy, please see the introductory post of the series.
Displeasure with Blame
POEM VERSES 150–154 Displeasure with blame is a well-known disease of the heart. Concern with people’s opinions and desiring their praise and displeasure at their criticisms Are a barrier from achieving the station of excellence in worship. Overcoming that barrier is through the realization That there is no benefit or harm unless it comes from [God], the Possessor of all dominion, Exalted and Majestic is He. Furthermore, what is prohibited from this disease is what leads to the prohibited, just as Imam al-Ghazālī has elaborated. The perfection of sincerity is that you do not give notice to any praise or blame that emanates from people.
The next disease is the displeasure with blame. Blame is not something that people naturally embrace. It runs against human nature to love it. However, the problem occurs when fear of blame is coupled with the urgent desire for praise and approval by others, which is often the case. Being concerned with “creation’s opinion” places a barrier between a person and the station of iḥsān, excellence in worship. (“Creation’s opinion” here in this context simply refers to “other people’s opinions,” as opposed to being concerned with God’s pleasure.) This is considered a disease of the hearts, as it results in guiding one’s actions in deference to the praise of people or in an attempt to avoid their blame or disapproval, irrespective of the integrity and soundness of one’s actions.
The Companions of the Prophet exemplified complete loyalty to the ethics of Islam. Many times they were confronted with having to make decisions that would evoke displeasure among the people and tribes around Medina, but, nevertheless, the decisions they chose to make were in accordance to the teachings of the Prophet . The more that one worries about how one’s decisions will be received by people, the thicker the veil becomes with regard to God and His guidance.
Muslims have a great responsibility. God says, “Thus have We made you a middle nation, so that you may be witnesses for humankind” (QUR’AN, 2:143); hence, the Muslims comprise a people who should enjoin justice and remind humanity of God’s rights. When people give up enjoining what is right or even admitting that there are absolute and objective values, which are not subject to the whims of mankind, then evil spreads. The best of witnesses was the Prophet , then his Companions, and then their Successors. Each generation subsequently takes on this office of witnessing, although hardly to the degree exhibited in the early generations. Towards the end of earthly time, the world will be virtually without witnesses to truth, and truth itself will be scarce. No one will defend it. According to Imam al-Biqāʿī, one of the signs of the end of time is the handing over of the world to the disbelievers, with Muslims abandoning Islam and its claim upon Muslims to defend the truth and censure what is wrong. Sīdī Aḥmad Zarrūq said that the truth has the power to penetrate the hearts of people, including those whose hearts have a seal. Humanity has the right to have among us witnesses to the truth, those who are willing to defend the truth no matter how unpopular it may be.
According to Imam Mawlūd, overcoming the fear of blame is achieved through realizing that there is no benefit or harm except by God’s permission and plan. This should sound familiar, as it is the recommended cure for many of the diseases discussed so far. Two of God’s most excellent names are the Giver of benefit (al- Nāfiʿ) and the Bringer of harm (al-Ḍārr). These attributes are specific to God alone; no one else possesses them in the least. It is only God who can benefit, and only He who can permit harm. If a person is worried about how others receive him, then he is not aligned with reality. According to a hadith, the Prophet said to Ibn ʿAbbās,
Be mindful of God, and God will protect you. Be mindful of God, and you will find Him in front of you. If you ask, ask of God. If you seek help, seek help from God. Know that if the whole nation were to gather together to benefit you with anything, it would benefit you only with something that God had already prescribed for you. And if [the whole nation] were to gather together to harm you, it would harm you only with something that God had already prescribed for you. The pens have been lifted and the ink has dried.
This does not mean that one should be reckless with his or her safety, nor does it mean that one should not take precautions. In the Battle of Uḥud, the Prophet wore two coats of chainmail, and no one knew more of God’s power and authority than he. Having awareness of God’s attributes does not imply that people should stop using their intellects, for we live in a world of causes. There is room for diplomacy and discretion, particularly of knowing when it is best to say the truth. This discretion, however, is not informed by the fear of blame but rather by clarity regarding one’s objectives. Having wisdom is completely different from seeking the approbation of others. The Prophet said that the highest form of struggle (jihād) is to speak the truth in the face of a tyrant.
Imam Mawlūd says that the inordinate fear of blame can lead a person to engage in prohibited matters or to neglect obligations. If one worries about how people will receive him when he practices his faith, this can prevent him from performing obligations. The fear of blame interferes with faith. Deeds that are done for the sake of God cannot share other intentions, namely, pleasing people or seeking their favor. Doing something for the sake of God is the manifestation of strong faith. Whether one receives praise or not from anyone should be entirely inconsequential.