Four Ways to Reform Ones Inner-Self
Allah Most High has granted Hujjatul-Islam Imam Ghazali rahimahullah a peculiar understanding of the intricacies of the human soul, along with a remarkable talent of instruction and moral grooming. Imam Ghazali holds that there are four ways to recognise one’s evil traits.
THE FIRST WAY IS TO FOLLOW AN ACCOMPLISHED SHAYKH
The best way to become aware of one’s evil traits and to rectify the same is to entrust oneself to such a person who strictly abides by the Holy Law and all its injunctions whether these be related to outward or inward deeds, who is able to recognize virtues and vices and who is able to suggest a suitable remedy for various spiritual ailments.
A SATANIC MISGIVING AND ITS REPLY
People tend to say things like ‘where to find such a Shaykh in times as corrupt as ours. Fraud, deceit, ostentation and show have become so rampant that it is simply not possible to distinguish between an impostor and a genuine spiritual mentor. By causing people to recall countless instances anyone was deceived by so-called scholars, saints or dervishes, the devil wants people to lose hope and become desperate. Such people frequently cite this poem:
“O God! Where are your simple minded servants supposed to go, now that fraud, lust for power and cunningness have become the dervish’s way of life.”
Keeping in view these corrupted times, the above complaint made by Allamah Iqbal is neither unjustified nor inappropriate. But it would be wrong to take this verse to mean that nowadays there is no hope for betterment of one’ affairs, that there is no way to reform oneself, therefore one is at liberty to do as one pleases.
It needs to be seen whether only scholars and divines are affected by this degeneration of morals, whether only they have become corrupt and wicked or whether the same holds true for other segments of society. Who does not know that in spite of countless breakthroughs in the field of medicine, in spite of latest diagnostic devices and surgical instruments and in spite of highly effective medicines there is hardly any doctor who is indeed an expert in his profession and through whom people actually get cured. Among thousands of lawyers or attorneys only a handful seem to be trustworthy and reliable, among hundreds of thousands of traders only a selected few are honest in their dealings, and among hundreds of thousands artisans there seem to be some who are skilled and integer. But yet no one prefers his own opinion over a doctor’s diagnosis, nor does anyone dispense of a lawyer’s services when it comes to any legal proceedings, nor has anyone stopped to deal with traders, nor with artisans and craftsmen. Rather people carefully choose some suitable person whom they entrust their affairs.
Nowadays neither pure ghee is available in the markets, nor milk, nor flour, nor spices. But yet no one has heard of anyone who stopped using any of these items, who stopped purchasing flour and started eating anything else instead. Rather he tries hard to find unadulterated, pure foodstuff and somehow succeeds. Why not proceed similarly regarding matters of religion? After all Allah Most High has promised us that there shall be men of truth who have attained spiritual perfection until the Day of Judgment, and anyone who sincerely looks for them shall find them, for sure. Says Almighty Allah in the Glorious Qur’an:
‘O Ye who believe! Be careful of your duty to Allah and be with the truthful ones.’
‘Sadiqeen’ i.e. truthful ones refers to such people say or do, and this is the essence of saintliness. Imam Razi rahimahullah in his Tafseer-e-Kabeer, has written the following concerning this Ayat.
This injunction to be with the truthful is directed to come until the Day of Judgment. It also constitutes a promise from Allah Most High that there shall always be true men of Allah among the Muslims, no age shall be void of such pious souls’.
From this Imam Razi further concludes that the consensus of the Muslim Ummah concerning any matter is a valid legal proof, for if there shall always be truthful ones among the Muslims, then it is not possible that the whole community should agree on error for true men of Allah do not fall into error.
It is true that this is an age of deterioration and decline with regard to everything, especially goodness and virtue. Fraud, deceit, ostentation have become rampant whereas originality and authenticity are rare. In the golden era of Islam there was an abundance of goodness, piety, sincerely and virtue. One would find goodness wherever one turned. Today one has to look hard to find men of Allah, and even then they seem not to be of the same calibre as in the days of the pious ancestors.
Allah Most High however has tremendously increased the reward for enduring all these hardships. In one Hadith has been mentioned that the Messenger of Allah salallahu ‘alayhi wasalam is reported to have said: Towards the end of time a person doing good shall get a reward equivalent to fifty men of virtue. The companions, asked ‘O Messenger of Allah, a reward equal to fifty men of his times or of our times?’ To this the Messenger of Allah replied ‘No, he shall get a reward equal to fifty of you’. Just think, anyone who remains steadfast in this age of tribulation, anyone who continues to do good shall get a reward equal to fifty Abu Bakrs, Umars and other companions.
The recompense for their efforts has been increased because it has become so difficult to attach oneself to any pious, righteous servant of Allah, and because preserving on goodness has become as difficult as holding burning embers in one’s hands.
ONE MORE SATANIC MISGIVING
While looking for a Shaykh the accursed devil again deceives people. He deludes them into thinking that the conditions of the pious ancestors and high-remarking saints of days gone by which are described in various books, are the standard of saintliness even today. So when people begin to look for someone who matches these descriptions and consequently fail in their endeavour, they lose hope and give up all thoughts of self-reform.
The misgiving here is that deterioration and degeneration are unavoidable with the passage of time. The Holy Qur’an and the sacred Ahadith, too, bear witness to this fact. Today neither men like Abu Bakr, Umar or other companions are born. Neither shall there be saints like Junaid or Shibli, nor can one hope to find someone like Maroof Kurkhi or Zun-Noon Misri. Anyone who begins his search with such lofty ideals in his mind will surely remain deprived. However if one tries to find someone fulfilling the minimum requirements of saintliness, he then will easily find true men of Allah who have attained spiritual perfection.
HOW TO RECOGNIZE A WALIULLAH
The friends of Allah can be recognized by a number of factors:
- Basic knowledge of religion, that means as much knowledge as suffices to discharge one’s religious obligations, even though such a person be not an attested scholar.
- Being regular in the observation of one’s religious duties, not neglecting any of the Faraaidh and Wajibaat, and abstinence from everything unlawful and in immediate repentance in case one committed a mistake in this regard.
- Keeping oneself engaged in Divine remembrance whether this consists of reciting various Tasbeehat and Awraad or, if done merely to seek the good will and pleasure of Allah, imparting sermons or writing concerning any religious topic.
- Having got permission from any Shaykh who himself has attained spiritual perfection to counsel and instruct others with regard to reformation of their inner state.
- The fifth sign of Waliullah is that if one spends a few days in his company one inclines towards the hereafter and begins to abhor the frivolities of this worldly life.
So if anyone fulfills these criteria, then such a person shall suffice as a spiritual guide and mentor. And if one happens to have found several men matching this description, then one should attach oneself to the one to whom one feels the most attracted.
THE SECOND WAY OF REFORMING ONE’S INNER STATE
If one could not succeed in finding a spiritual mentor who fulfils the criteria above, then according to Imam Ghazali rahimahullah, such a person should turn to any sincere and well wishing friends of his, asking them what kind of vices and evil trails perceive in him. Then one should concern oneself with the rectification of the weaknesses pointed out by them.
Once Sayyidina Umar Farooq radhiallahu anhu approached Sayyidina Salman Farsi radhiallahu anhu and said to him: ‘Your my brother, so tell me what weakness do you see in me?’ Sayyidina Salman Farsi was first reluctant to reply due to his respect for Sayyidina Umar, but when the latter insisted he said ‘I perceive two weaknesses in you, the first is that there is more than one dish on your table cloth. Such was not the habit of Allah’s Messenger salallahu ‘alayhi wasalam. The second is that you keep one suit of cloths above your requirements, one you wear at night and the other you use during the day.’ To this Sayyidina Umar replied; ‘Don’t worry, these two shall be remedied right now, in sha Allah.
Sayyidina Umar Farooq and all other pious ancestors of this Ummah were very concerned regarding any weakness of character and they would waste no time in remedying the same. Once a foreign delegation came to meet Sayyidina Umar. In order to honour the guests the place of assembly was duly made up and decorated. As soon as the formalities were over Sayyidina Umar picked up a leather-bag, went to a well, fetched water and brought it to an old woman living in his neighbourhood.
When people asked him why he did so he replied that today due to the arrival of the foreign delegation it was necessary to make the court appear grand and splendid, therefore I was worried that this display of pomp and splendour might cause me to develop pride within myself. Therefore I had to do something to humble myself.
This too, was a peculiarity of the noble companions and the pious ancestors of this Ummah, that they would sympathetically point out each others weaknesses and shortcomings, without scorning at each other or hurting each others feelings. Nowadays finding friends like these is not easy, either. If so-called friends perceive a vice in someone they will tell the whole world about it, but not the person concerned. Such people cannot be considered as friends. One should make sure to befriend only such people who are righteous and sincere.
THE THIRD WAY
To reform one’s self with the help of one’s adversaries. This may be done by carefully listening of what kind of evil traits and vices one has been accused. Thereafter one ought to do some introspection and analyse one’s inner state of being in order to determine how many of those accusations are true and how many of those vices actually exist. Then one should concern oneself with the elimination of those vices. This is what the divines of days bygone used to do. Here comes to my mind an incident concerning a Buzurg of our times, Imam Rabbani Mawlana Rasheed Ahmed Gangohi rahimahullah. During his stay in the Khanqah Quddoosi Gangoh when Mawlana Gangohi had begun to deliver discourses on Hadith as well as sermons of reformative nature during which he would admonish people particularly with regard to Shirk and Bid’at in its various forms and manifestations. Ahmed Reza Khan Barelvi who was in those days one of the foremost propagators of innovations brought up all kinds of accusations false charges and calumnies against Mawlana Gangohi, using extremely foul language in his various pamphlets and writings. Mawlana Gangohi, had Mawlana Muhammad Bakhsh to read those pamphlets to him, as he had almost lost his eyesight in his old age. Answering of letters and other correspondence was done by his disciple Mawlana Muhammad Yahya Kandhlawi rahimahullah.
Since these pamphlets comprised most vulgar abuses, malicious propaganda and scandalous accusations it was not easy for the Mawlana to read them out to his Shaykh Mawlana Gangohi. He therefore did not submit those pamphlets to his mentor for a few days. After a couple of days Mawlana Gangohi asked; ‘Moulwi Yahya, what’s the matter? Does our friend no longer remember us? Since quite some time I have not got any of his pamphlets’. The Mawlana replied: ‘Sir, we have received several of his pamphlets, but when I went through them I found that they contain nothing but abuses and calumnies, so I thought why should I cause you anguish by reading them out to you.’ Such were Mawlana’s own considerations.
But then there were such pious, noble servants of Allah who had sacrificed all their longings and desires, their honour and esteem for the sake of their Lord and Creator. Mawlana Gangohi rahimahullah said to him: ‘Don’t do that. Read out to me whatever pamphlet you receive. I want to hear what he writes because may be there is anything true about whatever he charges me with, so I can correct myself.
THE FOURTH WAY
Whenever one perceives some evil or objectionable trait in anyone else, one ought to do some introspection whether this weakness exists within oneself also. And if there be any such apprehension, then one should immediately attempt to correct oneself. This too, is a method of through which one can reform oneself, and as a matter of fact one ought to employ all of the above methods, especially the first one, according to one’s best ability.
Taken from: “The World Within” by Mufti Muhammad Shafi Uthmani rahimahullah