Purification of the Heart: Words of advice

We conclude our Ramadaan series with the following, which is extracted from an appendix in “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.

Words of advice from Aḥmad Zarrūq

Sidi Ahmad al-Zarruq was a great scholar from Morocco who died in 1492. One of the seminal things he said was that the fragrance of his teaching would disseminate in the world long after his bones were laid to rest. It is one of his karamāt, or saintly miracles, that his teachings are still alive and still enlighten many people around the world. May God be pleased with him. He offered the following:

May God give you and us success and rectify our worldly and other-worldly lives and grant us adherence to the way of the truth in our journeys and in our sojourns. Know that repentance is a key, taqwā (God-consciousness) is vast, and uprightness is the source of rectification. A servant is never free of either blunders or shortcomings or lassitude. Therefore, never be neglectful of repentance, and never turn away from the act of returning to God the Exalted, and never neglect acts that bring you closer to God the Exalted. Indeed, whenever one of these three occurs, then repent and return to God in penitence.

Every time that you make a mistake, listen and obey. Anytime you display shortcomings or show lack of enthusiasm, do not desist in your efforts. Let your main concern be to remove from your outer state anything that is displeasing, then maintain this state through continual counsel. Persist in doing this until you find that your fleeing from anything outwardly displeasing is second nature and that your avoidance of the boundaries of prohibited things becomes a protective mesh that is placed before you. At this point, it is time to turn inward toward your heart’s presence and to its reality, by way of reflection and remembrance.

Do not hasten the end result before you have completed the beginning. But likewise, do not begin without looking toward the end result. This is because the one who seeks the outset at the end loses providential care, and the one who seeks the end at the outset loses providential guidance.

Act in accordance with principles and the appropriate legal rulings, and not in accordance with stories and fantasies. Do not even consider stories of how things went with others except as a tonic to strengthen your resolve. Indeed, do not take them as a reference based upon their outward forms or what they seem to be telling us.

In all of this, depend upon a clear path you can refer to and a foundation that you can rely on in all of your states. The best of these is the path of Ibn ʿAṭā’allāh, given that it is a clear direction to God.

Do not take from the words of others unless it is in accordance with your own path, but submit to their implications if you desire realization. Avoid all forms of vain and foul speech to your absolute utmost. Put aside anything whose benefit you cannot discern immediately.

Beware of being extremely hard on your soul before you have obtained mastery over it. But also beware of being too lax with it in anything that concerns sacred rulings. This is because [the soul] constantly flees from moderation in everything, and it inclines towards extremism in matters of both deviance and guidance.

Seek out a companion to help you in your affairs, and take his counsel concerning matters that occur from both your inward states and outward affairs. If you do indeed take his companionship, then treat him in a manner commensurate with his state and give him of your counsel based upon his inabilities and abilities, for the perfect friend is no longer to be found.

Indeed, in these times, even a suitable companion who is agreeable rarely lasts. And beware of the majority of people in matters that concern your religious and worldly states unless you have ascertained a person has some sound relationship with his Lord based upon a knowledge free of his caprice or love of leadership and based upon a sound intellect free of the pitfalls of hidden agendas.

Do not be heedless of the machinations of others or their hidden states. Consider these two from both their origins and their actions.

A person of character and family distinction rarely affects you with other than good. And yet a person of low origins usually disregards you when times become difficult. Be extremely vigilant of the dominant qualities of a given people in any given land and do not be heedless in the divine wisdom in creation, and notice gatheredness and separation. Some of this we have already covered in our book al-Qawāʿid, so take a look at it there.

Organize your time in a manner appropriate to the time’s specific needs using gentleness and toleration and be very weary of either harshness or laxity. This is because too much laxity concerning permissible matters pulls the heart backward in its journey until even a man of resolve ends up looking like a foolish boy.

Work for this world as if you will live forever, but work for the next life as if you will die tomorrow. Thus do not neglect the externals of your worldly needs. In the meantime, do not be heedless of your destiny and final resting place.

Be extremely vigilant about avoiding positions of leadership, but should you be tried with such matters at least know your own limitations.

Be absolutely sincere with God with the sincerity of one who knows full well who is placing demands upon him. Surrender completely to His decree with the submission of one who knows he can never overcome Him.

Have a firm foundation for all of your affairs, and you will be safe from their pitfalls.

Organize your devotional practices and you will find your time is extended due to the barakah (blessings) in it. Never be fanatical about anything, whether it regards the truth or falsehood; this way your heart will remain in a state of soundness towards others.

Never claim anything you are entitled to, let alone what you are not entitled to. This way you will be safe from tricks and treachery. This is because anyone who claims some rank above his own will fall in humiliation, whereas those who claim a rank they warrant will have it stripped from them. But those who claim a station less than their true rank will be elevated to higher levels than they actually deserve.

Never give your companion anything of your state other than what his own state warrants. This is because if you descend to his level, he will show you contempt, whereas if you attempt to raise him up to your level, he will abandon you. Never demand a right from anyone, whether one is an intimate or a stranger.

The reason for this is a stranger in reality owes you nothing, and someone close to you is too precious for you to censure.

Never assume that anyone in this world can really understand your circumstances other than from the perspective of his own circumstances. This is because in reality people see things in accordance with their frames of references and their personal paths. However, when aims, purpose, and aspirations are similar, people tend to work together toward a common goal.

Never belittle any talk that involves absent people even if there is no harm in it due to the possibility of harm entering into it.

Guard your secrets even if you feel safe with someone because the one you divulge your secret to is not a safer place than your own heart from where it emanated.

Never leave an atom’s weight of your regular devotional practice. Never be lenient with yourself in either lax times or times of high resolve. Indeed, should you miss some practice at a given time, redress it in another time. If you are not able to do your usual practice, at least occupy yourself with something else similar.

Never obey your ego even for a moment. Never believe any of its claims no matter what it tells you.

Be vigilant about your resolve in all of your affairs to your utmost. In fact, should you resolve to do something, then do it immediately before the resolve wanes. Examine your soul constantly in matters that you are obliged to do or are in need to be done.

Anything that you are in no need of doing leave it, even if it is something that is recommended. That means not involving yourself in anything other than absolutely necessary things and real discernible needs.

Treat others just as you would want to be treated, and fulfill that which is due to them. All of this is really epitomized in the words of the poet when he said, “If you desire to live such that your religion is safe and your portion is full and your honor is sound, guard your tongue and never mention another’s faults remembering that you yourself have faults and others have tongues.”

Watch your eye. Should it ever reveal to you the faults of others, say to it, “Oh my eye, other people have eyes too.” Live treating others well and avoid aggression, and should others aggress against you, leave them but in the best way. The source of these words is in fact none other than the traditions of the Prophet when he said, “Be vigilant of God wherever you are, and follow a misdeed with a good deed and it will remove it; and treat others with the most excellent of character.”

In another tradition the Prophet , said, “Every child of Adam errs and the best of those who err are those who seek to redress them.”

Again the holy spirit inspired my heart’s core that no soul will die until it fulfills its decreed portion of this world and its appointed time here.

So be conscious of God and make your request with dignity.

In summation, repentance, awareness of God, and uprightness are the foundations of all that is beneficial. The truth is clear and its details are weighty and significant. The affair belongs only to God. Success is in His hands.

You can download this text as a PDF here, and find the entire series here.

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