Wednesday, June 08, 2005

The Inward Adab of Supplication

Notes from Sheikh Ibn Ata’illah’s (d.709h) Hikam with its commentaries by Ibn Ajeebah and al-Shurnubi with anecdotes from Imam Qushayri’s Risalah
Worldly Provisions are decreed by Divine will previous to the suffering of human race. This is why human entreaty is not the reason for Divine provision. Man’s supplication is therefore the manifestation of his servitude, poverty and humility to his Lord. Sheikh Abu al-Hassan al-Shadhili al-Maghribi is recorded to have said, ‘The concern of your supplication should not be success in the fulfillment of your need, since this may leave you unanswered, rather your purpose should be a humble call to your lord’.

How can your supplication entail Allah’s pre-eternal bestowal? The Divine order is exalted and way above the alliance of causes. Allah’s intention is absolute, where there is no room for qualification and his will is prevalent where none rescinds His command.

Allah’s favor in you is not because of your supplication, it is because He wanted to favor you- prior to your existence. Do you not ponder? Where were you, when His favor embraced you and His shelter embosomed you in pre-eternity? There were no sincere acts and neither the states of the hearts at that time!? Yet there was none but purely His Grace and a Great measure of Benevolence for you. Hence, there is no consideration for anything but His decree so await His kindness.

There are people whose etiquette at times leads them to pay no heed to their question whilst solely relying on His distribution and busying themselves in His remembrance. For them, etiquette is to busy themselves in His remembrance rather than their own. Allah says about such people, ‘I shall give the best of what I give to those who ask, to whosever busied himself with my remembrance over his quest’. They know Allah is the knower of the hearts and is the best planner. For the one who remembers Allah, invoking unites his dispersed heart and pervades his will and his broken resolve.This station is indicated to in this verse, ‘and those who strive in our cause-We will certainly guide them to our paths’ (29:69). For others, to bring about the supplication to the tongue is to exhibit one’s absolute slavehood and neediness in front of his Lord. Allah says, ‘Call on your Lord with humility and in private’ (7:55). The former make no complaints about their state knowing that it is not concealed to Him. For the latter, the early stage of their supplication is to mediate to their lord by means of their need of Him ‘faqr ilayhi’. It is then they realise that the Divine Entity is limitless and their need of Him is limited, thus it is merely impossible for them to intercede by their need. The Salik’s station is to mediate through his poverty and the Arif’s station is to supplicate without this mediation or to stay silent.

For many, supplication is a means of relieving emotional frustration and stress. Upon commencing the supplication one wants to pour out his/her concern and hurriedly awaits a response. This is not the spirit of supplication. Of course, supplication is a means of relieving one’s tensions but some inward etiquettes have to be maintained therein.

1- One should commence by exhibiting his/her state of poverty and humility showing that Allah alone is the self-sufficient entity. This is the key to a successful supplication. Allah indicates towards this in the Qur’an saying, ‘Call on your Lord with humility and in private’ (7:55). If you establish your human attributes and realise what your true station is, your Lord shall help you with his Divine attributes so that your poverty is overruled by his prosperity and his majesty supersedes your modesty. Oh seeker! Know surely that the best of your times is when you realise your poverty and insufficiency without your Lord. This is when you will be returned to your real station; humbleness in front of your Lord and you will realise that He is the only self-subsistent one. Ibn Ata’allah said, ‘times of need are eids for the seekers’.

The following humble call of Ibn Ata’illah is a successful supplication on the basis that it is said with sincerity and humility, ‘Oh my Lord! I am poor in my state of prosperity, so how am I not poor in my state of poverty? Oh my Lord! I am ignorant in state of my knowledge, so how am I not ignorant in state of my ignorance? Oh Lord! From me is what I am worthy of from sin and forgetfulness, and from you I await what is expected from your generosity, forgiveness and subtlety. Oh Lord! You attributed your subtlety and forgiveness to me, prior to the existence of my weakness; will you deprive me of them after my weakness? Oh Lord! How can you leave me in despair when you have ensured me your security? How can I remain to suffer when you are my helper? Or how can I be failed when you are subtle with me? Oh Lord! Every time my guilt has silenced me, your generosity has given me the power to speak. Every time my sinful attributes have brought about despair, your absolute mercy has enticed me. Oh my Lord! You surely know even though obedience from me is not constant, yet my love and firm will are continuous. Oh my Lord! Afflictions have brought me to you, and my awareness of your generosity has carried me to you. By you alone I seek help so help me! Upon you alone, I rely so do not leave me in dimness. You alone do I ask so don’t fail me in my concern. Towards your kindness I incline so don’t refuse me. To your Excellency I am attached so don’t banish me, and at your door I stand, do not reject me’. [Paraphrased]

Yahya Ibn Ma’adh used to say in his prayer, ‘Oh Lord! How may I call you whereas I am a sinner, or why should I not call you whereas you are the Generous one’.

2- When exhibiting neediness and absolute slavehood to Allah, One must consign his matters to Allah and rely on Him. This means one should remember that Allah alone is the true benefactor and His divine will governs the origination of phenomena in their appointed times so it may be long before your prayer is answered. This does not mean, however, there is a delay, rather Allah is wise and everything he does is plenteous of wisdom. On the contrary, the answer may also reveal before the question is uttered in his court. Allah says, ‘And He who puts his trust in Allah, then He is sufficient for him’ [65:3]. In another verse He says, ‘And he who trusts in Allah, then surely Allah is All-Powerful, the All-wise’ [8:49].

Ibn Ata’illah says, ‘No request shall halt if you seek it by your Lord, and no requirement will be easily achieved if you seek by it by yourself’. In another aphorism he says, ‘One of the signs of success in the endings is to turn to Allah in the beginnings’. But how do we test our level of reliance on Allah? Simply, it’s when missteps occur in our pathway. Ibn Ata’illah says, ‘One of the signs of relying on one’s own action is the lack of hope when missteps occur’. The one who puts his complete trusts in Allah Most High, does not loose hope no matter what goes wrong practically. He knows the Divine One is aware of this and puts that misstep in his way; which may be merely for the reason to test his level of hope so he may reflect on this.

3- Waiting patiently for a response is the sign of true steadfastness and strong hope. Response here does not necessarily mean the solution itself to your quest, rather a divine reply to the servant’s call which may have a much more powerful affect than the solution itself. It is narrated that Yahya Ibn Sa’eed al-Qattan [student of Imam Abu Hanifah and Hadith teacher of Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal] saw Allah in his dream so he said to Him, ‘O lord! How many times have I called you and you have never replied?’ to which He replied, ‘Oh Yahya! It is because I love to hear your voice!’ The response from Allah may be in form of the fulfillment of the need or in another mode, Allah Most High says, ‘Your Lord does create and choose as He pleases; no choice have they in the matter’ (28:68). However, his reply will never be unjust or unwise. Some of the mystics sang,

Allah made a house for his friends,
Whose roof is made up of worries and anxieties,
And its walls are affliction;
He then enters them in it and locks it saying
''the key to your door is patience'''

I would like to add here the fact that Allah loves to be called. The Prophet (May Allah give him peace and blessings) said, ‘Ask Allah for his grace; surely Allah loves to be asked…’ This is why Sheikh Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani said, ‘constant supplication leads to the fulfillment of need’. Ibn Ata’illah comments on this reality saying, ‘Whenever He causes you to ask about your concern, know that he wants to bestow upon you’. Some mystics are noted to have said, ‘Oh Lord! If you did not want me to achieve my need from your graceful generosity, you would not have inspired me to ask’.

Allah may abandon you of something harmful to you whereas you deem it to be good and beneficial. The following verse indicates on this major reality and helps one to reflect on the nature of his quest, ‘It is possible that you dislike a thing which is good for you and that you love a thing which is bad for you. But Allah knows and you know not’ (2:216). The response of your supplication is to be considered from this perspective too.

It is sufficient to know the following hadith at this stage in which Allah Most High says, ‘. . . if he approaches Me a span, I approach him a cubit; if he approaches Me a cubit, I approach him a fathom; and if he comes to Me walking, I come to him running’.

From the requisites of a successful supplication is Halal earning. It is reported that Prophet Muhammad (May Allah give him peace and blessings) said to Sa’d, 'purify your earning and your supplication will be heard'. It is reported from some mystics who said, ‘supplication is the key to fulfillment of needs and halal consumption is its teeth’. One possible reason why there is no response to supplications is because haram earning is widespread. May Allah give tawfiq. Ameen.

Some friends of Allah are at the station of ijabah, which means their supplications are never turned back. This station is only achieved by eliminating the sins of the body and heart and beautifying the outward with shari’ah and inward with tasawwuf, namely, the embellishment of patience, reliance and God-consciousness. These people are the true embodidment of the 'al-Takhliyyah qabla al-Tahliyyah' code.

May Allah give tawfeeq and adab, suffice our needs and give us true taqwa, reliance, patience and servitude.
al-Multaji Ilallah,
Munawwar Ateeq Rizvi