Home > Ibadah (Worship) in Islam, Imam Ibn Taymiyyah, Tazkiyah > Slaves of the Material World and of Desires

Slaves of the Material World and of Desires

Shaykh al-Islam ibn Taymiyyah writes in his work Al-‘Ubudiyah (Being a True Slave of Allah):

Hence in this ummah the issue of shirk is subtler than the noise made by the footsteps of an ant.

According to a sahih hadith, the Prophet (salallahu ‘alayhi wasalam) said: “Wretched is the slave of the dirham, and the slave of the dinar, and the slave of velvet and brocade. He is doomed to failure. If he is afflicted with a thorn, may he not be able to remove it. If he is given, he is content, but if he is not given, he becomes angry.”

The Prophet (salallahu ‘alayhi wasalam) described such a person as being a slave of the dirham and dinar, and of velvet and brocade, and stated that he is doomed to failure; he also prayed that if such a person were pricked by a thorn (a minor affliction), he would not be able to remove it.

This is the situation of a person who may be afflicted by calamity, but is not able to overcome it, because he is doomed to failure. So he can neither achieve his aim nor rid himself of the thing he hates.

This is the situation of one who is a slave to wealth and material possessions, who was described as being content when he is given something and angry when it is withheld from him. Allah says:

“And among them are men who slander you [the Prophet] in the matter of (the distribution of) alms. If they are given part thereof, they are pleased, but if not, behold! They are indignant!” (al-Tawhah 9:59)

Neither their pleasure nor their anger is for the sake of Allah.

This is also the situation of a man who is attached to a position of leadership or to a beautiful image, or any other kind of desire. If he gets what he wants, he is happy, but if he does not achieve it, he becomes angry. So he is a slave to whatever it is that he desires, because enslavement is essentially the enslavement of the heart: whatever the heart is enthralled by, is the thing of which the heart is a slave.

For this reason the Arab poets said:

“The slave is free so long as he is content, and the freeman is a slave so long as he is greedy.”

“I followed my desires and they enslaved me. If only I had been content with my lot, I would be free.”

It is said that greed and longing are like chains around the neck and shackles on the feet. Even if the chain is removed from the neck, the feet are still shackled.

It was reported that ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab (radhiAllahu ‘anhu) said, “Greed is poverty, and resignation is wealth. When any one of you gives up hope of something, he becomes independent of it.”

This is something which anyone can feel in his heart, for when he gives up hope of something, he no longer wants it or longs for it; he no longer feels in need of it or of the one who can help him to get it. If he longs for and hopes for something, then his heart is attached to it, and he feels that he is in need of it and of the one who he thinks can be the means to this end. This is the case in matters of wealth and power and beautiful images or people, etc.

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Taken from the English translation by Nasiruddin al-Khattab- pg61/62

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