Success, in this world and the Next By Hamza Yusuf
My advice to you, O Possessor of virtue and courtesy: if you desire to reside in an exalted place amongst the ranks of people, a place where you are high and exalted of virtue and courtesy is..." Thus opens the poem of the great scholar, Ibn al Haddad as translated and commented upon by Hamza Yusuf.
Though short, this poem of council contains an immense amount of wisdom and is similar to the study of the Purification of the Heart.
Shaykh Ibn al Haddad gives the seeker of knowledge the keys to both success in this world and success in the next world. Hamza Yusuf's commentary contains his usual style of putting the obvious before us in a way we will never forget. He reminds us of such things as, "Islam is the only religion where you will find a king at the door of beggars asking for their prayers." This is an inspiring talk that will help us to establish our own priorities for this world and the next.
Bismillahir Rahmanir Raheem
Alhamdulillah, praise and blessings be upon the Prophet. InshaAllah I wanted to go over the poem that was written by Shaykh Abdullah al Haddad. It is a poem, it is very short and yet he really put into it all of the qualities that one needs to have success in this world and in the next. It is a poem of advice and counsel. It is a poem of counsel and it was commented upon by one of the students. It is a beautiful commentary. I thought it was so beneficial I wanted to share it with other people because I had not seen it before. I just recently, somebody was kind enough to bring me a copy from Hadramawt as most of you know is in Yemen. It is a place that the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam) blessed. It is also a place that became a refuge for a lot of the Prophet’s family when they were being persecuted in Iraq. Many of them actually fled to the Yemen and many fled to Morocco and many fled to India which is why you have very large numbers of Al Bayts in places like India, Yemen and Morocco. It is disproportionate to other parts of the Muslim world. It has to do with the fact that those were places were the family actually sought refuge and obviously one of the reasons why they sought refuge was because Bani Ummayah basically set out to eliminate the family of the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam) because they were so worried about the political implications of charismatic figures from among them a major concern of theirs because this was obviously the initial split that occurred between the muslims was where does authority lie and many of the muslims took the opinion that authority lied in the family of the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam) and that many of them became of the party of Ali or Shia Ta’Ali.
Now we disagree with the Shia on one particular which is that we actually believe that the authority that the Prophet’s family was given was a spiritual authority in other words that from many of the family would come some of the greatest scholars of Islam and some of the greatest spiritual guides but the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam) informed the community early on that political sovereignty and spiritual sovereignty would separate and he actually gave a very exact date. He said it would happen 30 years after his death and that occurs with the death of Hasan bin Ali. At that point the political authority became political and was severed from the spiritual reality and that is in no way to detract from Sayyidina Mu’awiyah but Mu’awiyah was a political leader and the people that were under him were political more than spiritual.
That is why his period of khilafah is not considered from the Khulufah-a-Rashideen which does not mean that he was not rightly guided. It has to be understood. It is just that his political authority became divested of the spiritual authority that the first four khilafah had. So that is the difference and a lot of people do not understand that. It becomes a problem because if you study the early history, the early history is actually quite complicated and it has been simplified by scholars because it causes so much trouble when people actually read about what happened because it is very hard to understand how sahaba could have started killing each other. It is very difficult to understand how people that were actually in the presence of the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam) could start fighting over political authority but that shows you how central that issue was early on.
Now what happens and this is something that is absolutely necessary to understand today which a lot of muslims I feel do not fully understand and that is the idea of having an absolute separation between spiritual reality and political reality and the reason for that is when the spiritual and the political become mixed up the political deludes or remotes from its reality. So what you have is state controlled religion and state controlled religion is always a disaster. It has always been a disaster and will always be a disaster until a Prophet comes or a student of a Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam) and that is why students of the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam) were very adept at doing that especially Abu Bakr and Umar because of the gifts that they have been given. The Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam) made it very clear that Umar that if there was a Prophet after the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam) it would have been Umar. In other words his ability to perceive things was so extraordinary that even in the most difficult of circumstances he was able to come up with remarkable solutions for them.
That is important to note which does not mean that we do not want political leaders to have ethics or morals. We just do not want them to be mullahs or ulema because once that happens they have to compromise. That is the nature of politics. Politics is the ground of compromise, it is not the ground of religion. Religion is the ground or principle and if you want the biggest proof for this ask yourself why every great scholar fled from government service in the history of Islam. You have to ask yourselves that question. Why did Abu Hanifah prefer jail over becoming a civil servant? Why? If he understood that to be in a political position was a good thing for a righteous man then he would have been the first to do that because he would have felt that responsibility. Why did he then as a spiritual and religious leader flee from political leadership because he knew what it meant. Nobody is ever pleased with their politicians. It is just the human condition. Even the munafiqun grumbled in Madinah. Nobody is ever pleased with their politicians and once the spiritual person becomes a politician, it is the spirituality that suffers not the politics. It is the spirituality that suffers.
So these people who fled to Hadramawt many of them actually became great scholars and that is where you get the ba’lawi tradition and Shaykh Haddad was part of that. It has continued up to the present day, they have schools. Within their tradition they have a complete Islamic system in other words they have fiqh, they have Arabic texts, they have texts in logic, usool everything including the science of ihsan. The same is true for instance of Morocco, the same is true for Turkey, the same is true for Pakistan, Mauritania. Mauritania you can study the entire Islamic tradition from beginning to end only reading Mauritanian scholars with the exception of the Quran, the hadith, those are givens but I am talking about usool. Sidi Abdullah Hajj Ibrahim wrote the book of usool that is studied in Mauritania which is his versification of Jum al Juwami of Imam Suqi so when you study usool in Mauritania you study his. He versified al-Iraqi’s famous book Al–Alfiyah. When you study grammar, you will study commentaries of the Mauritania grammarians on the classical texts.
So that is one of the unique aspects of Islam, wherever it goes it develops an intellectual tradition and is indigenous to the people. It actually ends up becoming complete in of itself and this has yet to happen in the West but it has to happen in other words we have to develop within our Western muslims, we have to develop the Islamic tradition. It has to be here and the text that we use and the language we speak in has to be indigenous to the people that is part of Islam wherever it goes. One of the ulema said Islam is like water but the vesicle that contains it has a colouring so that Islam is pure but it takes on the colour of the vessel. So in Senegal it has a certain colour. In Indonesia it has a certain colour. That is why when you see it, it is different. In Afghanistan, it is different. So every place it goes it is the same water that has nourished the people but it takes on its own colouring. That is part of the universality because if we were all meant to become Arabs then that is a disaster. It is nothing against Arabs but it is just not what Allah wanted for human beings for us all to become Arabs. I mean people say why do you not speak Arabic to your children? I say because it is not my mother tongue. Their tongue is English. That is where I grew up and that is the language. For me, Arabic is a religious language which is why I learned it. I didn’t learn it to talk to Arabs, to have conversations to say “how much are the tomatoes?”. You can buy tomatoes here, you do not need to go to Arabia. In fact, they come from here.
When we study we should study for Allah and that is why Islam has to be freed of any cultural apparatus. It has to be freed of that Islam. It does not mean that Islam does not adapt to the culture that it is in but Islam in of itself has to be seen of being free of that.
So he wrote this as a counsel and really just put everything that was needed for the purification of the self in it. So it is similar, it is more abridged than say the Mathurat but it really does contain an incredible amount of wisdom in it. All of these texts share similarities because they are largely derived from Imam al Kushayri, Imam al Ghazali, Abu Tariq al Makii, Imam Junaid founding teachers of the science are the same so they are all deriving from these sources.
So he begins “my advice to you of possessor of fadl and adab, if you desire to reside in an exalted place amongst the ranks of people, a place where you are high and exalted”. So he begins by saying wasiyah and the wasiyah is counsel, it is an advice. Allah says in the Quran “that we have counselled those that went before you and you yourself to have taqwa”. So that is called the wasiyah of Allah. It is the advice of God to have taqwa and the wasiyah al ashara are the famous ten commandments so it can also be seen as a type of principle that somebody should follow.
So he is giving counsel and it is to you. Counsel only benefits the people who are willing to accept it. If you given counsel to somebody who is a vile person they will not accept your counsel. One of the things that the poet al Mutanabi said that noble people if you are good to them you possess them in other words if you do good to somebody that is noble it is a type of possession because he feels indebted. It is the nature of good people. If you do good to them they feel indebted. But if you do the same to a vile person he becomes angry and resentful which is very interesting about human nature. There are people who become resentful because you have treated them well so that is what he is arguing. He is arguing I am giving it to you, why? Because you are somebody that has fadl (virtue) and you have adab and these are two really important words in the Islamic tradition because the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam) is somebody who taught you virtuous character. “I was only sent to teach people virtuous character, noble character”. These are called the fada’il.
The fada’il tradition according to Qadi Abu Bakr ibn Al Arabi the famous Andulucian Qadi. He said all of virtues are reduced to four: courage, temperance, prudence and justice. Those are called the moral virtues. All virtues are extensions of one of those four. So for instance generosity is a virtue. Out of these four which would it be classified under? Courage because generous people are courageous people because what prevents you from being generous. It is fear, you are afraid if I give him this thing then I won’t have any money. So it is only fear that prevents you from being generous. So generous people are actually courageous people. They are courageous with their money.
Now chastity which is also a virtue, what would that go under? Temperance. Any virtue that you can think of that is a moral virtue you can find it categorised under one of those four virtues. The Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam) was the most courageous of men but which meant he was also the most generous of men so he was not only courageous in battle but he was courageous in wealth.
Now look at the Quran, what does Allah link in the Quran? “Allah has purchased yourself and your wealth”, both of them are expenditure. You have to expend your wealth and yourself and they are both acts of courage. He is talking to the one who already has virtue. You have to have the same fadl in order for you to recognise virtue because if you are bereft of that then you do not.
Now you also have to have adab because advice is only given when you are receptive to it. Now there are people if you give them advice they become angry at you. Why do they get angry? Well there are a number of reasons. One of the reasons they get angry is they simply think “who do you think you are to be giving me advice?”. So what does that mean? That person feels one of two things. Either you are beneath him or you are equal to him or her and you have no right. But if you actually see somebody as being better than you, you will take their advice. That is why people look to people who they think are in this culture more together, I will go ask him because he has got his act together as opposed to me, I am a mess so this is what people do which in this culture which is one of the things that people do, they go to psychiatrists. I guarantee you the reason people get interested in psychiatry is almost inevitable because they are deeply disturbed people. They are actually trying to work out themselves. They often have real serious problems. That is not everybody but I am talking about a lot of people and that is why if you study the statistics about psychiatrists the number of illicit relationships they get into with their clientele, things like that, you are dealing with people that are not prepared to be giving counsel if things like that happen something very seriously is wrong, there is a breakdown.
So when you give advice one of the things about adab and this is really interesting to me. Adab is the ability to know the place of things and to give things their proper due so it is really translated as comportment or a type of discipline in which you recognise where things belong and part of recognising where things belong is to recognise where you belong in relation to social hierarchies. One of the things that this culture almost never talks about it, it talks about civil rights or human rights a lot but I do not think it is ever mentioned the idea of social rights, is your right to have equality in society you see because that is a “ideal” of democracy – people are equal but in fact they are not. In this culture it is very clear there are social hierarchies and if you fall at the bottom of one woe unto you if you try to crash the party of a higher rank of society so social rights are never talked about.
In the Islamic tradition one of the really interesting things about Islam is that it teaches us that there is an internal hierarchy that is known only to God and therefore it challenges you to recognise that everyone outside yourself may be better than you in the eyes of God and so you have to have comportment with everybody even a person that you might think is lower in social standing. They could be higher in spiritual standing and this is why you had kings at the doors of beggars in the history of Islam. There is no other religion that I know of that has that quality where you literally had kings at the door of beggars asking for their prayers. The other that is really interesting is that in this culture you will not get people from Blackhawk or from Los Gattos going to church in East Oakland. It is just not the way society works yet in the Muslim world the richest man could pray next to the most impoverished man in the same prayer line and it has always been like that and that is something that is really unusual about Islam is it creates a true brotherhood.
There is a recognition that people have things in the world that Allah has given them and other people lack those things but that does not prevent you from seeing this person as essentially equal before God and possibly and in fact probably according to most of the hadith about rich and poor people. The poor person is probably clo