AKRA FM, April 21, 2000
Prof. Dr. Mahmud Es'ad COSAN
THE DESIRES OF THE SELF
As-salaamu alaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh!
My Dear Brothers and Sisters, may the peace, mercy and bounty of Allah be with you all. I would like to read a "bouquet" of ahadith of the beloved Prophet Muhammad Mustafâ and explain the meanings.
a. The Idol of "the Desires of the Self"
The first hadith is reported by Abû Umâma al-Bâhilî and included in the collections of Hulwânî and Tabaranî. The Prophet --Sal-lal-lâhu 'alayhi wa sallam (SAS) -- said:
RE. 373/11 (Mâ tahta zillis-semâ-i min ilâhin yu'badu min dûnillâh, a'zama 'indallàhi min hawan mutteba'.) Sadaqa rasûlullàh, fî mâ qàl, aw kamâ qàl.
This hadith is about the (hawâ) desires of (nafs) the self (ego), and following these desires. Our beloved prophet said: (Mâ tahta zillis-semâ-i) "There is nothing under the sky (min ilâhin yu'badu min dûnillâh) among the deities and idols that people worship beside Allah (a'zama 'indallàhi min hawan mutteba') anything greater, in the sight of Allah, than the desire of the self which is followed."
This is the meaning word-for-word. Let me paraphrase: Following, fulfilling or obeying the desires of the self is such a deadly offense, a major sin, that it is worse than worshipping false deities and idols.
The word hawâ in Arabic is spelled as ha (with two "eyes"), waw and ya. There is a dagger alif (alif-i Maksura) on waw so that it is pronounced as "hawâ." There is also the word hawa' which means "air" (the air that we inhale and exhale). It is spelled different: ha (with two "eyes"), waw, alif and hamzah.
Hawâ-i nafs are the desires of the self; anything that the self wants and runs or "flies" after. Hawâ-i yahwî is a verb with a meaning to "fly away in the space." I think the desires of a person "fly" in the space of the heart continuously; that could be why the word hawâ is used. Allah knows the best.
In the Qur'an:
(Wan-najm-i idhâ hawâ) "By the star as it plunges, shoots, disappears..." Here, the word hawâ appears as a verb.
Although the word nafs is not in the hadith, hawâ-i nafs is implied by the phrasehawan mutteba'in: the desires that are followed, fulfilled or obeyed. These desires of the nafs are similar to idols and false deities.
Although Allah sent messengers and prophets from the time of Adam AS to all nations to guide them to the straight path and warn them about falsehood, some people worshipped some idols and considered some creatures of Allah as their deities. We see their evidence in the history and read about them in the books about the history of world religions. For instance Sumerians had many deities: The Sun God, Moon God, The Abundance God, The Mother Goddess, The Love God, The Wine God, and alike. It is very tragic, sad, sometimes funny because it is Almighty Allah Who created them, the heavens and earth, and Who provides them the sustenance. They did not understand this fact; they assumed false creators and deities for themselves; they worshipped idols that they shaped by their own hands.
We may wonder why a person would worship the Sun. The Sun looks brighter than anything else in the sky; however, there are other heavenly bodies that are larger and much brighter than the Sun. Although they are greater, they are far away, so we do not see them as bright.
Some worshipped the Moon, while some others worshipped animals, rocks, mountains, and some human beings. Some worshipped the spirits of their ancestors. Unfortunately people continue worshipping false deities. We can find the details in books such as Religions of America. Once a professor of History of Religions saw this book on my desk and commented, "This is an excellent book," and he added, "Can I borrow it?" I remember that book contained information about details of almost every division or group in Christianity, religious community and alike in America, yet it had no mention of Islam. I would understand if it stated that Islam would be considered in another volume. Yet, the author could have summarized the fundamentals of Islam in several pages. We consider the authors of such books as "scholars" in their fields, but they hide information from their audience.
People living in the United States and in India have many different beliefs. Some consider the polar bear to be sacred, while some consider the cow holy.
We consider such behaviors strange and comment, "It is impossible!" In addition to the false deities and idols, there are also other things that people worship. You see people standing in a respectful position and ready to take orders. They follow the orders of the nafs. They worship their own nufus (selves).
You may question, "What do you mean by worshipping the self?" The person who worships his nafs fulfills every desire of his nafs. His nafs orders "do this" and he does it right away. His nafs tells him, "Do not do that!" and he avoids that even if it is good for him. His nafs asks for bad things in general. The nafs does not like working, but loves sleeping and lying in bed. Every accomplishment is achieved by hard work. A student has to study to pass the courses. Parents has to work to earn money and to maintain the order in the house. A housewife, too, has to work in the house cooking, cleaning, ironing, doing laundry, mending and alike.
Work is an important activity and essential to maintain life. The nafs does not like to work. It wants entertainment, resting, and sleeping all the time. It does not care about the laws or the constitution. It avoids all kinds of work. That means that the nafs is not something good.
Also, the nafs wants comfort for itself. It wants everybody serve and respect it. Yet, everybody is equal before Allah just like the teeth of a comb. Only the virtuous, those who stay away from wrongdoing, those who have good manners will be better. Allah does not look at the rank, the position or the wealth of a person; instead He looks at the purity of heart. Yunus Emre, a man who collected firewood from mountains, became a walî (close friend of Allah) while many rulers, kings, and presidents earned abodes in Hell.
It is the nafs who gives orders to man to do the evil things. It is pointed in the Qur'an that the nafs orders bad deeds. Bismil-lahir-rahmanir-rahîm:
(Innen-nafsa le-ammâratun bis-sû-i il-lâ mâ rahima rabbî) ["Surely the nafs incites to evil except inasmuch as my Lord had mercy; truly my Lord is All-forgiving, All-compassionate."] (Yusuf: 53)
If the nafs is not trained, it incites to evil. It can be trained. Man can be trained. If a child is well educated in the family, taught in school, trained by good teachers, he becomes an excellent adult. When we study the lives of great personages, we realize that they had excellent teachers and trainers. Everybody agrees that this is a natural way.
Although the nafs can be trained, many people spend their lives without trying to train their nufus. They come to this world as ignorant and leave this world as ignorant. They do not acquire an understanding of this life in this world and of their responsibilities. They fail to acknowledge their Creator, the Lord of the universe. They live in darkness and in sin, and they leave this world in spiritual debt.
The reason for this nafs not to be trained is that only few people acknowledges that it has to be trained. In our tradition, our civilization, and our history people used to know the fact that the nafs has tendency to ask for evil and that it has to be trained. Yunus Emre, Rumî, Ashrafoghlu, Ibrahim Haqqi, Abdul-Ahad-i Nurî, Ismail Haqqi Burusevî and many other personages insisted on the training of the nafs and pointed out the dangers of untrained nafs.
When the nafs is not trained, it ruins a person's life in this world and in the hereafter. The Qur'an already points out to this fact. The training of the nafs is a very important spiritual training. Those who earned the respect, love and affection of masses are the gentle, knowledgeable, and blessed people who went through the training of their nufus. In this Twentieth Century, people use many kinds of modern and effective tools and vehicles in all fields except they lack the training of the nafs. We see people at high positions, yet their nufus are not trained. They terrorize the people under their supervision. We put them labels such as egoist, sadist, bloodthirsty and alike. These labels indicate that the person lacks the training of the nafs. His nafs has spiritual diseases. Yet few people are aware of this fact.
I notice sometimes the feet of some brother when he is making wudu'. The skin is cracked and the toenails are bent. Though I am not a dermatologist, I can recognize that there are some fungi on his feet. He has some kind of a disease on his toenails. He insists on saying, "My skin is cracked; toes, bent." He is not aware that he has a fungus problem.
Just like the case above, the diseases of the nafs are not known during our time. What is worse is that the diseases are brought to the nafs. The illicit desires of the nafs are encouraged, and the nafs gets stronger and stronger. While it was like a little worm in the beginning, it turns into an unbeatable dragon with seven heads as mentioned in Chinese tales. It causes the destruction of nations; it initiates wars, genocide, and annihilation of lands. The wars in Balkans, Bosnia and Kosovo are fresh examples. The mankind suffered so much from the sadist feelings, illicit desires, and their encouragement.
Why is it so? Unfortunately, people "worship" their nufus and go after the desires of their nufus. They cannot see the diseases of the nafs, nor do they know the cure or hospital for these diseases. They do not know that the nafs must be treated and trained.
The children are raised with a growing nafs. Candy, chocolate, sweets, or toys, anything the child wants is bought by the parents. He would have a room full of toys, yet he still wants new toys. All of his wants and desires are met. Hence, his nafs grows wild. When the child gets older, for instance in high school, he starts disobeying the parents. Then, the mother complains: "He does not listen to us!"
What do you expect? You did everything the child wanted. His nafs grew wild and strong. The child cannot overcome his nafs. He cannot use his judgment to choose the right behavior and follow your advice. He disobeys the parents, disregards the teachers, and becomes a menace to the society.
All of this originates from following the desires of the nafs and upholding such desires as if they are orders of Allah.
What is the message of this hadith to Muslims? "The nafs is like an idol, like a false deity. Following the desires of the nafs is similar to worshipping a false god. Be aware and do not follow the desires of nafs. See the truth with your reasoning and conscience. Even if your nafs opposes, do what your conscience and your mind suggest." When the nafs is not trained, it could be a strong and dangerous enemy.
My dear brothers and sisters, we have to start working on the training of our children at an early age.
"Son, we love you, but this does not mean that we must buy everything you want."
"But, I want it, Mom! I really want it! I will cry, scream and put up a show!"
"Son, it is not right to do something like that. Do not do anything like that. We have limited money. If we spend some for that, we cannot afford other things. We work hard for the money. You should help, and be patient. You have plenty of toys. There are many children without the toys that you have. They cannot eat what you eat. Look at the children in Africa. They have no food. They are hungry. They cannot even chase the flies off their face. Do you see them? We should send them some money for food." With words like these, we should teach them how to overcome the desires of the nafs.
Ramadhan is a good time to resist the desires of the nafs. Islam teaches this. Thus, self controlled, good people are raised in the Muslim society. This has to be appreciated. It should not be forgotten that the nafs is an enemy. If it is not trained, it could inflict serious harm on us.
How do we train our nafs? Where can we get a good training for our nafs? What methods can we use? How do we cure the diseases of the nafs? From where can we get the cure? What is the prescription? We need to ask these questions to true scholars and knowledgeable teachers. We must put the answers into practice.
Books written by famous personages in this field should be consulted, and their recommendations, followed. That would lead to the pleasure of Allah.
b. Self-Sacrifice for the Sake of Allah
The second hadith is reported by Abdullah Ibn-i Omar RA--the son of Hadrat Omar-- and included in the collections of Hulwanî and Ibn-i Asâkir. The Prophet SAS says:
RE. 373/12 (Mâ taraka abdun lil-lâhi amran lâ yatrukuhû il-lâ lil-lâh, il-lâ aw-wadahul-làhu min mâ huwa khayrun lahû minhu fî dînihî wa dunyâhu.)
This hadith is on the same subject as the previous one: "If a person decides not to do something that he intended to just for the sake of Allah, Allah will have him do something much better for his life in this world and for his hereafter." The person might have intended to do something which could be displeasing to Allah SWT, and he realizes it and changes his mind thinking, "If I do this, Allah gets angry at me. I should not do it to receive the mercy of Allah."
We face many events in life. For instance, somebody does something not quite right. We may think that he did something wrong; it is against the law and traditions. It is not ethical. We may think of teaching him a lesson by punishing him. Then, we look at ourselves and realize that we would respond like that just because we are angry at him. Then we decide to be patient and do nothing just for the sake of Allah. He may continue insulting or disturbing us. We do not want to lower ourselves to his level, so we remain patient.
When we change our mind just for the sake of Allah, Allah will provide us opportunities for our worldly life as well as religious life. Allah SWT says, "Since you gave up something for My sake, I will put something in your way which is beneficial for this world and for the hereafter."
A poet put it in nice words: "If Allah closes a door for a servant, He opens one thousand doors for him." Allah SWT opens doors and ways for opportunities. He creates possibilities for the servant.
Allah gives many opportunities for a person who decides not to go through a door for the sake of Allah. He had the intentions, yet he changed his mind not to incur Allah's wrath. The main rule for a good Muslim is to observe the pleasure of Allah. If he is going to do something, he will seek the pleasure of Allah in it. If there is displeasure of Allah, then he will stay away from that. Even if it is difficult, one has to prefer the option which has pleasure of Allah. We all must have self-sacrifice for the sake of Allah, saying,
"Ilâhî anta maqs?dî wa ridàke matlûbî." [My Lord, You are my purpose, and your pleasure is what I seek.] When we change our mind about doing something so that we comply with the pleasure of Allah, Allah will provide opportunities for better things in this world and in the hereafter.
For instance, suppose that an employment opportunity has been announced at a business which deals with something that is considered "unlawful" according to Islam. A Muslim is told about it:
"There is a job for you at such a business with a good salary and other benefits." The unemployed person responds, "Well, the dealings of that company is considered as 'unlawful' in Islam."
"Come on, now! What century are we in? Do you still consider such things?"
"It does not matter in what century we live. The 'unlawful' acts are offensive and harmful to any individual, society, and family, physically and spiritually, in this world and in the hereafter. Allah gave rules to keep people happy and healthy, for them to stay away from evil. His orders are good and proper, so are His prohibitions. There is a wisdom in His orders and prohibitions. I cannot accept that job offer. It pays a good salary, but no thanks. I cannot do that kind of a job. That job would keep me away from my worship and put me in sin up to my neck. No, I cannot take that job."
The neighbors insists, "You have been unemployed for many months, and now you are turning a good opportunity down."
The final word comes, "I would not turn it down if it were not unlawful."
Here, the person did not accept a material gain because he wanted not to offend Allah. To reward him, Allah provides him with many opportunities which will be much better than the job offer he turned down. In the beginning he gives up something, and he looks like he loses, yet later, Allah opens him doors for better possibilities. He becomes a winner. He finds a better job than the one he turned down. It will be more beneficial for him in this world and in the hereafter. He will be happy in this world and in the hereafter.
In our daily dealings, we must prefer the ways and choices which are pleasing to Allah. The approval by people, advertisement, fame and alike do not matter. We must prefer something if it is pleasing to Allah. Here is our motto:
(Ilâhî anta maqs?dî wa ridàke matlûbî) "My Lord, you are my purpose. Everything I do is for earning your pleasure. I seek your pleasure."
In brief, this hadith tells us, "Abandon the evil and give up benefits if necessary for the sake of Allah. Allah will provide opportunities for better."
c. Following the Prophet SAS
I would like to complete my discourse with the third hadith which is reported by the Mother of the Believers, 'Aisha-i Siddiqa. It is recorded by Imam Bukharî, Muslim and Ahmad Ibn-i Hanbal--may Allah be pleased with them. Our beloved Prophet SAS said:
RE. 373/2 (Mâ bâlu aqwâmin yatanezzehûna 'anish-shay-e asna'uhû, fawallàhi in-nî le-a'lemuhum bil-lâhi wa ashad-duhum lahû khashyah.) "What is happening to some people that they abstain from doing something that I do?" Why do they hold themselves back from following my path? If it were something wrong, I would not have done it. Why are they still hesitant about following me?
(Fawallàhî)By Allah, (in-nî) verily (le-a'lemuhum bil-lâhi) I know Almighty Allah best among them." Of course, the Prophet was the most knowledgeable about Allah SWT. Nobody would have a comparable knowledge. He means, "I know what Allah loves and what He dislikes, what incurs His mercy and what incurs His wrath. If those things were not to be done, I would have avoided it. They should not hesitate about following me."
(Wa ashad-duhum lahû khashyatan) "I am the one who fears Allah the most." I am the most god-conscious among them. What do they think of themselves and hesitate about following my path? This was reported by the wife of the Prophet SAS, the mother of the Believers, Aisha-i Siddiqa.
We may wonder why the Prophet uttered these words. Some of the companions of the Prophet, with a good intention to please Allah more, decided to abstain from some natural activities.
For example, one of them said "I will never get married because, If I get married, my responsibilities will increase, and then, I cannot fulfill my ibadah (servitude) to Allah SWT properly. Instead of getting married I will dedicate myself to my worship to Allah." He thought if he did this, Allah would like him better.
Another sahaba (companion) said, "Since we eat food everyday, our nufus (egos) are becoming uncontrolled. From now on, I will fast everyday." Of course Allah likes if someone fasts. In addition to the required fasting in Ramadhan, there are other days recommended for voluntary fasting. It is an excellent act of worship to train our nafs. This sahaba thought if he does this nice ibadah everyday, he will get more rewards.
Another sahaba said, "We sleep all night. That is too much sleep. I heard the Prophet offered prayer whole night until his feet are swollen. From now on, I will not sleep at night and make ibadah every night."
Islam is a religion suitable to the nature of man. Islam recommends the "moderate" way, not the extremes. It is natural to follow the orders of Allah SWT. In Islam, every person is born pure, innocent, and sinless. Contrary to some other religions, a newborn does not inherit his ancestors sins according to Islam.
A newborn infant requires the care of parents. The infant comes to this world with a need of food. It starts with the milk of the mother, and the child learns how to eat other types of food. Later in life, he feels he has to work to earn his food.
That means, eating food and drinking water are only natural rights of a human being. Islam does not forbid them. However, certain times Islam controls these acts as in fasting to train the nafs. Nevertheless, Islam does not permit the total self-deprivation of food or water for extended periods of time. Islam teaches that everything has to be in moderation without deviating to the extremes. The Prophet SAS taught us like this, and he himself did like this.
It is makruh to fast everyday of the year; it is not right. It is much better to eat some days and fast other days. This way our nafs is trained better.
Why did Allah created the night? He could have created the Earth as a still, not revolving, heavenly body. He could have made it always day time. There is a wisdom in all of them. Allah who has power over all things created the day and night. Allah says in the Qur'an:
(Wa ja'alnâ nawmakum subâtâ. Wa ja'alnal-layla libâsâ. Wa ja'alnan-nahâra ma'àshâ.) ["We made your sleep a resting; the night, a cover; and the day, for you to work."] (Nebe: 9-11)
Human beings work during the day and rest at night . Some people work at night and sleep daytime. There is a difference between the night-time sleep and day-time sleep. One cannot be substituted for the other one. There is a wisdom in all of this. Sometimes a person falls asleep when he is listening to a lecture or a talk. A virtuous man should not see the sleep as an enemy. Of course, it is not right to sleep too much and become a slave to sleep, either.
There are times that we need to be awake. To be able to overcome the urge for sleep at these times, one has to have a proper schedule of sleeping. Islam teaches us to go to sleep just after ish'a (late evening) prayer and get up early for tahajjud (night time) prayer. We are recommended to go to masjid for fajr (morning, before sunrise) prayer.
In addition to the night time sleep described above, the Prophet SAS, advised us to take a nap before noon. This is nap is very useful for the body. It will balance the night sleep and getting up early. You feel stronger and more awake. This has many other benefits such as living longer, becoming very healthy and feeling more energetic. It also eliminates situations of coming home extremely tired.
Now we understand the reason for the utterance of the hadith above. It is a warning for the extremists. "What is happening to some people that they do not do things I do? By Allah, I know Allah better than anyone else, and I fear Allah more than anyone else. I would do the best things and most rewarded acts."
What does this show us? We need to learn the sunnah of Prophet SAS because we might make big mistakes while we do things according to our judgment with limited knowledge.
Even the medicine must be taken in a certain dose. If you take more than the recommended amount, it may be dangerous for you. They usually write this on the box. Although the medicine is good for curing the disease, too much of it can be dangerous for the body. Sometimes some people take high dose of medicine, for example, a student cannot
answer the question in school, comes home and swallows 20 pills of medicine. He could die or enter a state of coma. In reality, he took a medicine which is very useful curing the diseases. However, the doctor says you should not take 20 pills at once.
We have to do certain things in a day in an orderly way. For example, It is very rewarding--just like going for jihad-- for a father to work to earn a lawful income for his family because he works so that his children does not become needy to others. It is also good for mothers to do certain works in a day. That means, work is necessary. When a person works, his body gets tired and needs rest. The body needs not only rest but also nutrition. That is why we need to sleep and eat. We have to do other things in life. We need to visit friends and relatives; we need to have time to learn the Qur'an and other things. There are many different activities to do. One should spend time for ibadah, but he should not neglect his other duties.
Spending 24-hours per day in worship, every day of the year for a life-time is not possible. Attempts for such an activity are not permissible, either. Besides, if a person is aware that he is in the presence of Allah at all times, and he seeks the pleasure of Allah in everything he does, he will be in constant ibadah. Then, his work, his rest, his sleep, everything he does will be considered as an act of worship. Islam is the way of spending life in accordance with the pleasure of Allah. It is not a way of isolation or staying away from the society. It is a way of serving the society, be useful to mankind, producing something useful. It is a way of earning money, spending on good things and sharing what Allah has given with others. It is a way of winning hearts and getting prayers.
There is this side of Islam, too. We talk about it as our elderly, such as Yunus Emre, Maulana Jalal-ad-Din al-Rumî, talked about it. Muslim scholars who spend their lives studying Islam have told about these issues and wrote books to explain the subtleties. Out of ignorance, some people may go to extremes, which is not right.
The scholar would have the detailed knowledge about a matter and warn people: "That is not correct. Here is the evidence. Do what the Prophet instructed us to do!" He would prevent an innovation in religion and point to the straight path.
When man is left alone, he would use his limited knowledge and may go astray off the straight path hoping that he was doing something good to earn the pleasure of Allah. That is why the Prophet SAS warned us that we follow his examples. Live a natural life with moderation and without extremes.
The Prophet also meant that he was a human being and he got married, had a family and children. He told us not to abstain from marriage. He also said that he slept certain times of the day, so we should not abstain from sleeping and resting. He said that he fasted on certain days, so we should do the same and avoid the extremes.
Sometimes the excess of something would be as harmful as the lack of it. We need to look at the mater in detail and find the optimum choice. In Islam, the optimum approach is the approach of the Prophet SAS and his Sunnah. That is why we ought to follow his path which is the path that Allah likes best. To follow the path of the Prophet, we need to study it.
When a person follows the path of the Prophet SAS, he will receive prosperity not only in the hereafter, but also in this world. Throughout the history, our elderly, our teachers, the perfect spiritual guides, followed the path of the Prophet and prospered. Allah granted them honor, respect, rank, and wealth in this world. Allah knows, they will attain felicity in the hereafter.
When we disobey Allah SWT as an individual or as a society, we incur material and spiritual diseases. Then the injustices dominate the world, and suffering overcomes the tranquillity. Everybody must learn about Islam and live accordingly so that the injustices come to an end in the world.
I request from all of you that you take part in conveying the message of Islam. Let everybody know about the beauty of Islam, so that they may live accordingly to attain felicity in this word and in the hereafter. Try with all your might to teach Islam to your family members, relatives, neighbors, and the whole world. May the whole mankind become beloved servants of Allah and be happy in this world and in the hereafter.
As-salamu alaikum wa rahmatullah. May the peace, mercy and blessing of Allah be with you all.
April 21, 2000 -- Australia