8 Advices:Imam Al-Ghazali’s letter to his student
وَذَكِّرْ فَإِنَّ الذِّكْرَى تَنْفَعُ الْمُؤْمِنِين
“And remind, for indeed, the reminder benefits the believers.” (51:55)
* The script within square brackets are Shaykh Kamaluddin Ahmed[db]‘s personal comments on the text of the letter.
Imam Al-Ghazali rahimahullah wrote a letter to one of his students and this student was a graduate from the Madrassa (Islamic Institution of Learning) that Imam Al-Ghazali was teaching at. The Student actually wrote Imam Al-Ghazali a letter asking him for some final words of advice, which he promised in his letter, that he would bind close to his heart and do his utmost effort to practice upon through out his life. Imam Al-Ghazali wrote him a very long letter which has been printed in the Arab world as a small Risala or Treatise.
Imam Al-Ghazali rah begins this letter to his student, whom he affectionately calls ‘ walad’ ( Walad in Arabic means: Son), by saying “Ya ayyuh al walad-ul-mehboobi i.e. O my beloved Son”. And, in the course of this long letter, one of the things that Imam Al-Ghazali rah mentions are: 8 particular pieces of advice which are taken from a very famous story of a Shaykh of the Muslim Ummah by the name of Shaykh Shaqiq-al-balki rah:
Shaykh Shaqiq-al-balki rah had a student named Hatim al asan rah. Hatim al asan was once in the company of his Shaykh, when Shaykh Shaqiq asked him: You have had my company for thirty years, what have you learnt in the 30 years that you have been with me?
[This also gives us an insight into the way people in the early Islamic period organized their relationship - it was a long term commitment. One could only imagine what it would be like to associate with a Shaykh, a wali of Allah swt, somebody like Shaykh Shaqiq rah for 30 years!]
So, after 30 years of having the student, the Shaykh asked him what have you learnt or got out from these 30 years, Hatim rah responded that: “Shaykh, there are 8 useful lessons that I have learnt from you and I hope that they will be enough for me, and they will be sufficient to bring about my nija’at, my forgiveness and salvation on the day of judgement.”
So the Shaykh asked him, what are they? [And this is how he replied. Imam Al-Ghazzali included this story in his letter so as to counsel his student.]
I learnt that to be human is to Love. So, Instead of loving the temporary things (like other human beings do), I fell in love with amaal-e-saalih (righteous actions).
When I was in your company, what I learnt from your company is how to observe humanity.
[All of the lessons have this common feature: it shows that one of the things he learnt from his Shaykh was how to understand humanity.
- It is interesting how even in the West and all over the world in general, Humanities is a major area of study.
- The secular tradition was to study philosophy, history, literature, liberal arts, fine arts etc in order to understand what the human experience was.
- However, in our Deen, or the Sacred Sciences, it means to drown yourself in Qur'an, in the Seerah(Life of Nabi-e-karim saw), in the Sunnah Ahadith, Teachings and Kaifiaat(States) of Nabi-e-karim saw to look at the path of the Siddiqin(The Righteous), the Shuhada(The Martyrs), and Saliheen. And, the basis of all these sources is to understand Humanity.
- Hatim al asan begins every lesson with that: I learnt from you, what to learn from humanity itself and from human beings.]
So, he says that I observed humanity and I saw that it is the very part of human nature that every single human being is in love with something or someone or some idea . [He reflected on the human experience that: to be human is to love.] When I looked at the people around me, I realized that all of them had different objects of love. But, I noticed what was common to all of them, was that whatever they chose to love- whatever they chose to give their heart to – they could only take it up to the grave. But when they entered their grave, none of their beloveds could enter with them – none of their beloveds could take the next step in the journey with them.
So, Hatim says that I learnt how to understand humanity from you and when I saw this about humanity that:
1. Every human being loves something
2. All of the objects that people love don’t go past their grave
…I realized that what I should do since I am also human and I will also inevitably love something, I should love what is best i.e that which would enter ones grave and be a friend to one in the grave and be a companion to a person on the next stage of the journey…when I reflected on what that was, I realized that nothing could lay claim to that except: Al-amaal-us-saalih (Righteous Actions, Ibadaat/worship etc)
And so, I fell in love with amaal-us-salih. I gave my love, my muhabbah to amaal-us-salih.
[ Now, if we just take this one lesson:
- It shows how much one learns when they associate themselves for a long period of time with the Ullema and Mashaikh
- Now, one thing is to say that I want to do amaal-e-salih, one thing would be to say that I want to be regular and consistent in amaal-e-salihaat ; Here, he is saying that I fell in love with amaal-e-salih! That person whose human state is such that the greatest object of their love(in terms of things) are those things that are pleasing to Allah swt; those actions that are righteous and pious - then imagine what type of life that person would lead!
- This is something that we have to learn, but we can learn it gradually - like a piece-meal: We should start with some amal-e-salih and try to fall in love with them.
- For most of us, there would be no better amal to start with than our Salah.
- Now, the question is: How can I fall in love with Salah? That is going to be when you enjoy Salah.How to enjoy Salah? A person will be able to enjoy Salah, when they feel Allah swt in their prayer.How can we feel Allah swt in our Prayer? That is called dhikr; by feeling Allah swt outside our prayer. The more and more a person remembers Allah swt outside their Salah, the more they will be able to remember Him inside their Salah --> When they remember Allah Ta'ala inside their Salah --> they will start enjoying their Salah --> once they start enjoying their Salah, they will be passionate about their Salah; they will love their Salah.
- And, that is how our pious elders were and that is what they were trying to train people to become like - and it is one of the major aspects of Tazkiya and Tasawwuf - to take a person who is cold, dispassionate and habitual about his/her amaal and to make her/him passionate and loving about their amaal and their ibadaat towards Allah swt.
- One way in which we could begin to learn and practice this advice is: Try to think in terms of love; that I have to love these amaal.
- That is why there are so many adaab in our Deen for all of the acts of worship, so that the acts become more enjoyable and we perform them with love. For e.g. Adaab of Salah include: praying at a clean place, making wudu externally and trying to purify ourselves of all types of worldly thoughts and distractions before we pray, to dress in good clothing, to apply perfume etc. Why? To make it a more pleasurable experience, and to make it an act of love!
- Just like we see in this world, when people do an act of love, they try to gift wrap it, give out an invitation, make sure the table is clean, prepare the meal nicely, put up candles, flowers for decoration etc i.e. these little etiquettes not only manifest love but are actually creating and amplifying the feeling of love.
- So, if we want to make our Salah an act of love, we need to start focusing on the adaab of Salah. As opposed to praying like most of us do it: hastily, rapidly, praying as an obligation only - Imam An-nawwawi calls it the prayer of Ibaad and he means it in a negative sense like the concept of enslaved humans is that they are forced to do what their masters tell them. We don't want our salah to be like that, instead we should focus on beautifying it; making it an act of love.
- cont'd, iA
[These are some highlights of Shaykh Kamaluddin Ahmed db's Tazkiya Talk on 28-10-2010]
Listen and Download the original lecture:
Topic: Eight Advice from Imam Ghazali’s Ayyuhal Walad – CII ONLINE TALK
Date: 28/10/2010(to download: right click + save target as / save link as)MP3 – TALK + Q&A (Duration = 49:44) [11.30MB]
MP3 – TALK (Duration = 33:49) [4.84MB]
* FOR WOMEN ONLY: BRIDGES by Zaynab Academy Online presents: A Course on Islamic Spirituality: “Al-Ghazali – Letter to a Disciple”, by Shaykh Kamaluddin Ahmed. FOR DETAILS