Revelation of Mystery (Kashf al Mahjub)

Preference (ithar ایثار)

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Chapter XIV (i)

Preference (ithar ایثار)

 

Allah said:

وَيُؤْثِرُونَ عَلَى أَنفُسِهِمْ وَلَوْ كَانَ بِهِمْ خَصَاصَةٌ

“But give them preference over themselves, even though poverty was their (own lot).” (Q 59:9).

This verse was particularly revealed concerning the poor among the companions.

The true nature of preference consists in maintaining the rights of the person with whom one associates, and even gives away his own share to him. One should bear trouble for the sake of promoting his happiness because preference is the rendering of help to others, and putting it into practice. Allah commanded the Prophet (peace be upon him):

خُذِ الْعَفْوَ وَأْمُرْ بِالْعُرْفِ وَأَعْرِضْ عَنِ الْجَاهِلِينَ

“Hold to forgiveness; command what is right; but turn away from the ignorant.” (Q 7:199).

This will be explained in the chapter on the rules of companionship. Here the aim is to explain about preference only which falls under two categories, in companionship, as has been mentioned; and secondly, in love. Although there is a sort of trouble in preferring the claim of one's companion but in preferring the claim of one's beloved there is only pleasure and delight.

It is a well known tale that when Ghulam Khalil showed malice and started troubling the Sufis on different pretext, he got Nuri, Raqqam and Abu Hamza arrested. They were produced before the Caliph as a group of heretics.  Ghulam Khalil convinced the Caliph that their death would eliminate the root of heretics, since they were their leaders. The Caliph immediately acted on his advice and gave orders for their execution. When the executioner approached Raqqam, Nuri rose and put his head under the sword with the utmost cheerfulness and submission. All the spectators were amazed. The executioner said: “O brave man, the sword is not a thing that people desire to meet as eagerly as you have welcomed it whereas your turn has not yet come.” Nuri answered:

“Yes; my doctrine is founded on preference. Life is the most precious thing in the world. I wish to sacrifice the few breaths left to me on my brethren’s sake. In my opinion, one moment of this world is better than a thousand years of the next world, because this is the place of service and that is the place of proximity, and proximity is attained by service.”

The incident was immediately reported to the Caliph who got so astonished on the tenderness of Nuri and the fineness of his saying that he suspended their execution and later on they were handed over to chief Qadi, Abu al-Abbas b. Ali, to further inquire into the matter. The Qadi took them to his house and questioned them concerning Shariat (religious law) and the Truth. He found them perfect in all respects and he felt remorse for his ignorance and negligence about them. Nuri said:

“O Qadi, although you have asked all but still you have not asked anything to the point, for Allah has servants whose existence is through Him, drink through Him, sit through Him, live through Him, and abide in contemplation of Him.  If they were cut off from contemplating Him they would cry out in anguish.”

The Qadi was amazed at the subtlety of his speech and soundness of his state and immediately he wrote to the Caliph that if those Sufis were heretics, then he was evidence to the fact and declared that there was none in the world a Unitarian. The Caliph called them to his presence and asked them to demand boon. They replied:

“The only thing we desire of you is that you should stop thinking about us, and neither take us as your favorites nor banish us from your court, for your favor and displeasure are alike to us.”

The Caliph wept and dismissed them with honor.

Nafi[1] (may Allah be pleased with him) related:

Ibn Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) desired to eat fish. I sought through the town, but did not find. However after few days I happened to procure it. After cooking I presented it to him. I noticed an expression of joy on his face as he received it. In the mean time a beggar came to his door and asked for something. He ordered his servant to give that fish to the beggar. The servant pointed out, “O master, you have desired fish for several days, now you are giving it to the beggar.” He suggested giving something else to the beggar but Ibn Umar replied, “this fish is unlawful to me, for I have put it out of my mind on account of a tradition which I heard from the Prophet (peace be upon him):

ايما امريء يشتهي شهوة فرد شهوته و اثرعلي نفسه غفرله

“When a person meets his desire and then repel it and prefers other to himself, he shall be forgiven.”

Once ten dervishes lost their way in the wilderness and were overtaken by thirst. They had very little water with them and everyone preferred the claim of the others, so that none of them would drink and they all died except one. The survived drank that water and with its strength escaped death. Someone said to him that it would have been better had he also not drunk. He replied:

“O my brother, had I not drunk at that time according to religious law I would have committed suicide and on resurrection would have punished on this account.” 

The other said: “Then did your friends kill themselves?”

The dervish said; “No, they refused to drink in order that their companions might drink, but when I alone survived I was legally obliged to drink.”

At the time of Hijra (migration) when the infidels of Mecca had conspired to kill Prophet (peace be upon him), Ali (may Allah be pleased with him) slept on the bed of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) who along with Abu Bakr (may Allah be pleased with him) had flown from Mecca and rested in a cave.

Allah called Gabriel and Mikhail and said to them that He had established brotherhood amongst them and had made longer one’s life than other. Now tell Me who amongst you gives his life to his brother and get ready to meet death before him. Both of them desired for life. Allah said:

“Have you noticed the state of Ali that how much superiority he has over you? I established brotherhood between him and My Prophet. Ali accepted killing and death and slept on his bed and sacrificed his life on Muhammad. Now you go on earth and protect him from the enemies.”

Both the angels came and one sat on the head part whereas second occupied the seat near Ali’s feet. Gabriel said:

“O Ali, who can match you because today Allah has given you superiority over angels and you are enjoying your sleep.”

And Allah revealed the following verse in honor of Ali (may Allah be pleased with him):

وَمِنَ النَّاسِ مَن يَشْرِي نَفْسَهُ ابْتِغَاء مَرْضَاتِ اللّهِ وَاللّهُ رَؤُوفٌ بِالْعِبَادِ

“And there is the type of man who gives his life to earn the pleasure of Allah; And Allah is full of kindness to (His) devotees. (Q 2:207).

In the battle of Uhad when Allah put the Muslims in trial, about that time an Ansari woman has narrated:

I went to the battle field to serve the injured. I saw one companion badly injured and counting his last breaths. He requested for some water. As soon as I gave him water, another injured shouted for water. The first injured without drinking returned the water and commanded me to serve the other injured first. As soon as I reached to him and gave him the water, another injured gave a call for water. The second injured also acted like the first one and returned the water without taking any sip. The similar situation kept on occurring until when I reached to the seventh injured, he had already died. I thought to serve those who had called for water earlier but all of the six had also died before I could reach to them. So all seven died but everyone preferred other over his own thirst and Allah praised their act as:

وَيُؤْثِرُونَ عَلَى أَنفُسِهِمْ وَلَوْ كَانَ بِهِمْ خَصَاصَةٌ

“But give them preference over themselves, even though poverty was their (own lot).” (Q 59:9). 

One day, a devotee from Israelites who had served Allah for four hundred years, said, “O Lord, if Thou had not created these mountains, excursion and traveling on earth would have been easier for Thy servants.” The Divine command came to the Apostle of that time to tell to the devotee:

“What business has you to interfere in My kingdom? Now, since you have interfered therefore I have removed your name from the register of the blessed and inscribe it in the register of the damned.”

On hearing this, the devotee shivered with joy and bowed to the ground in thanksgiving. The Apostle said: “O brother, why this thanks giving for damnation.” The devotee replied:

“My thanks giving are not for damnation, but for because my name is at least inscribed in one of His registers. Then he said, “O Apostle, I have a boon to ask”. The Apostle asked him to let him know his request. The devotee said:

“Say unto Allah, since Thou wilt send me to Hell, make me so large that I may take the place of all sinful Unitarians, and they all go to Paradise.”

Allah commanded the Apostle to tell the devotee that the probation which he had undergone was not for the purpose of humiliating him, but to reveal him to the people, and on the Day of Resurrection to whom he intercedes would enter in Paradise.

On my quest Ahmad Hammadi of Sarkhasi narrated this account about his repentance.

Once I along with my camels set out from Sarkhas and took abode in a jungle. I stayed there for a considerable time, during which I always desired to remain hungry and oblige others by giving my share of food in observance of Allah’s command,

وَيُؤْثِرُونَ عَلَى أَنفُسِهِمْ وَلَوْ كَانَ بِهِمْ خَصَاصَةٌ

but give them preference over themselves, even though poverty was their (own lot)” (Q 59:9). 

I sincerely had devoted myself to such people possessing this quality.

One day a hungry lion came from desert and killed one of my camels. After that he occupied a place on higher ground and started roaring. In no time beasts of the jungle gathered around him. The lion came down to the dead camel and tore it into pieces and went back to the higher ground without having eaten anything. The beasts began to eat, and the lion waited until they had gone away after satisfying their hunger. Then he approached in order to eat a morsel, but seeing a lame fox in the distance he withdrew once more until the newcomer had eaten his fill. After that, he came and ate some of the camel’s meat. I was watching all this from a distance. As he intended to leave the hunting place, he spoke to me in an eloquent human voice and said:

“O Ahmad, to prefer others to one's self in the matter of food is an act only worthy of dogs. The men on the way to Allah sacrifice their lives and souls.”

When I saw this clear demonstration I renounced all worldly occupations, and that was also the cause of my repentance.

Jafar Khuldi said that one day, when Abu al-Hasan Nuri was praying in solitude I went to overhear him, for he was very eloquent. In his supplication he was praying:

“O Lord, in Thy eternal knowledge and power and will Thou dost punish the people of Hell, whom Thou hast created; and if it be Thy unchangeable will to make Hell full of mankind.  Thou art able to fill that Hell and all its limbos with me alone and send them to Paradise.”

I was amazed by this prayer, until some one came to me in my dream and said:

“Allah bids thee tell Abu al-Hasan that he has been forgiven on account of his compassion for Allah’s creature and his reverence for Him.”

He was called Nuri because whenever he discoursed in a dark house it used to be illuminated by the Nur (light) of his spirituality. And by the Nur (light) of the Truth he used to read the inner most thoughts of his disciples, so that Junaid had to say that Abu al-Hasan was the spy of men’s hearts. This is the peculiarity of his doctrine. It is on sound principle, and carries great importance in the eyes of those who have insight.

Nothing is harder to a man than to sacrifice his own precious life and things to whom he loves. Allah has made such sacrifice the key of all good deeds, as He said,

لَن تَنَالُواْ الْبِرَّ حَتَّى تُنفِقُواْ مِمَّا تُحِبُّونَ

by no means shall ye attain righteousness unless ye give (freely) of that which ye love;” (Q 3:92).

Who is willing to sacrifice his life, what values him wealth and worldly assets? This is the foundation of Sufism. Some one came to Ruwaym and asked him for advice. Ruwaym said:

يا بني ليس هذا الامرغيربذل الروح ان قدرت علي ذلك والا فلا تشتغل بترهات الصوفية

“O my son, the whole affair consists in sacrificing your own-self. It is well if you are able to do this, otherwise do not occupy yourself with the futilities of the Sufis,” i.e. all except this is futile;

Allah said:

وَلاَ تَحْسَبَنَّ الَّذِينَ قُتِلُواْ فِي سَبِيلِ اللّهِ أَمْوَاتًا بَلْ أَحْيَاء عِندَ رَبِّهِمْ يُرْزَقُونَ

“Think not of those who are slain in Allah’s way as dead. Nay, they live, finding their sustenance in the Presence of their Lord;” (Q 3:169),

وَلاَ تَقُولُواْ لِمَنْ يُقْتَلُ فِي سَبيلِ اللّهِ أَمْوَاتٌ بَلْ أَحْيَاء وَلَكِن لاَّ تَشْعُرُونَ

“And say not of those who are slain in the way of Allah: `They are dead,` Nay, they are living, though ye perceive (it) not.” (Q 2:154).

Know that eternal life is attained by sacrifice of thyself and this blessing is gained by renunciation of self interest in fulfilling Allah’s commandments and by obedience to His friends. But from the standpoint of gnosis preference and free choice are all separation, and real preference consists in union with Allah, for the true basis of self interest is self abandonment.

So long as the seeker’s progress is connected with acquisition it is destructive, but when the attracting influence of the Truth manifests its dominion all his actions are confounded, and he loses all power of expression. Neither can any name be applied to him nor any description can be given of him or anything be imputed to him. On this Shibli says in verse:-

غبت عني   فما احس بنفسي     و تلاشت صفاتي المولصوفة

فا نا اليوم غاءب عن  جميع      ليس  الا   العبارة    الملهوفة

“In your separation I am lost to myself and my attributes are annihilated.

Today, I am lost to all things: Naught remains but a forced expression.”

 


[1] A well-known traditionalist died 120 A.H.

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