The Beginning of Guidance

Discussion in 'Tasawwuf / Adab / Akhlaq' started by Unbeknown, Jan 3, 2013.

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  1. Unbeknown

    Unbeknown Senior Moderator

    The Shaykh, the Imãm, the great scholar, the Proof of Islam (Hujjat al-Islãm), and the Blessing of Mankind, Abü Hãmid Muhammad ibn Muhammad ibn Muhammad alGhazãll at-Tûsi(may God sanctify his soul and illuminate his grave!) said:

    Praise be to God as is His right! May the blessings and peace be upon the best of His creatures Muhammad, and upon his family and his companions after him!

    I see that with great eagerness you set out to acquire knowledge; you express that your desire for knowledge is genuine and that your thirst for it is excessive. But know that if, in your quest for knowledge, your aim is rivalry, boasting, surpassing those who are equal to you in age and merit, attraction of others’ attention to you, and amassing the vanities of this world, then you are in reality trying to ruin your own religious nature and destroy yourself, to sell your [happiness of the] Hereafter for [happiness of] this life; your bargain is a dead loss, and your trading without profit. [In such a case] the teacher who is assisting you in your disobedience to God, is like one who sells a sword to a highwayman, as the Prophet (may God bless him and greet him!) said,

    “Whoever assists (a man) in sin, even by half a word, is his partner in it•“

    However, if, in seeking knowledge, your intention and the purpose between God (exalted is He!) and yourself is to receive guidance and not merely to acquire information, then rejoice — the angels will spread out their wings for you when you walk (in your pursuit of knowledge), and fishes of the sea will pray [to God] for your forgiveness when you make efforts [to acquire knowledge].

    At the very outset, however, you should know that guidance which is the fruit of knowledge has a beginning and an end, an outward aspect and an inward. It is not possible to reach the end except after the completion of the beginning; it is not possible to discover the inward aspect except after knowing the outward.

    Take notice, (in this book) I give you counsel concerning the beginning of guidance, so that thereby you may test your carnal soul and examine your mind. If you find your mind inclined towards the beginning of guidance and your carnal soul obedient and receptive, then go ahead, look for the end, and penetrate to the bottom of the oceans of various forms of knowledge. If, however, you find that, when you meet the beginning of guidance face to face, your mind procrastinates and puts off acting in accordance with its demand, then know that your carnal soul which is inclined to seek knowledge is ‘that carnal soul which certainly commands you to do evil.’ It has been roused in obedience to Satan, the accursed, in order that he may lower you into the well by the rope of his deception, and by his wiles bring you gradually to the abyss of destruction. His aim is to press his evil wares upon you in the place where good wares are sold, so that he may unite you with ‘those who are the greatest losers in respect of their works, whose efforts in this life have gone astray, though they imagine that they are producing excellent works.’ In order to deceive you, Satan calls your attention to the excellence of knowledge and the high rank of the learned [in Paradise] and to the statements of pious men as well as the prophetic traditions on these; he diverts your attention from the following sayings of the Prophet (may God bless him and greet him!) which urge men to transform their knowledge into action:

    “Whoever increases in knowledge and does not increase in guidance, only increases in distance from God.”

    “The most severe punishment on the Day of Judgment will be that of a learned man who did not derive benefit from his knowledge [by acting in accordance with it.”

    “God, I seek the protection of You against knowledge which does not benefit, against the mind which does not humble itself, against the action which ¡s not lifted up to God, and against the supplication which is not accepted by Him.”

    “During the night in which I was carried [to the near presence of GOD] I passed by some groups of people whose lips were cut by fiery scissors. I asked them, ’Who are you?’ They replied, ‘We are those who used to advise others to do good and yet ourselves did not do it, and used to prohibit others from doing evil and yet ourselves did it.’”

    Beware, then, O unfortunate man, of listening to the fair words of Satan, lest he lower you into the well by the rope of his deception. Woe to the ignorant man once, for he has not acquired knowledge! But woe to the learned man a thousand times, for he has not acted in accordance with what he learned!

    Know that people who seek knowledge are of three types.

    1. There is the man who seeks knowledge as a provision for the life to come. By seeking knowledge he intends only the glorious face of God and the happiness of the Hereafter. Such a man is one of those who will be successful in the Hereafter.

    2. There is the man who seeks knowledge for the help it gives in his transitory life in this world to obtain power, influence and wealth; yet he is aware of the worthlessness of his condition and the meanness of his aim. Such a man is in jeopardy. If his appointed term [i.e. death] comes upon him before he repents, a bad end (sa’-al-khãtima) to his life is to be feared for him and his fate will depend upon the will of God. If, however, God gives him grace to repent before the arrival of the appointed term, and he adds action to his knowledge and makes up for the action he neglected, he will join those who will be successful in the Hereafter, for

    ‘The man who repents of sin is like the man who has no sin.’

    3. The third man has been overcome by Satan. He has made his knowledge a means to increase his wealth, to boast of his influence and to pride himself on his numerous followers. By his knowledge he explores every avenue which offers a prospect of realizing that for which he hopes from this world. Despite this, he feels that he has a high status with God, and with his garb and jargon* he bears the brand and stamp of learned men along with his mad desire of this world openly and secretly. Such a man is among those who will be destroyed in the Hereafter and is one of those who are stupid and deluded in this world, for there is no hope for his repentance since he imagines that he is one of the gooddoers. He is unmindful of the words of God (exalted is He!):

    “O! you who believe, why do you say that which you do not do?”

    This man belongs to that group of people concerning whom the Messenger of God (may God bless him and greet him!) said,

    “For you I fear one who is not the Antichrist (Dajjal) more than I fear the Antichrist.” Someone asked him, “Who is that, O the Messenger of God?” He replied, “An evil scholar.”

    The reason for this is that the aim of the Antichrist is to lead men astray. The evil scholar, although he turns men from this world by his words and speech, calls them to it by his actions and states. [It is a fact that] a man’s actions and states speak more eloquently than his words and speech; human nature is more inclined to share in actions than to follow words and statements. The corruption which the deluded scholar causes with his actions is greater than the improvement he effects by his words; for the ignorant man does not venture to set his desire on the world till the scholars have done so. Thus the scholar’s knowledge becomes a cause of Gods servants venturing to disobey Him. Despite this his ignorant soul feels presumptuous; he is filled with expectation and hope of divine favour, and this leads him to feel that by his knowledge he has done favour to God, and this suggests to him that he is better than many people.

    Be, then, of the first group, O seeker after God. Guard against being of the second group, for many a procrastinator is suddenly overtaken by his appointed term [i.e. death] before repenting, and becomes a loser. But beware, I repeat, beware of being in the third group and of destroying utterly [in the Hereafter] without any hope of your prosperity there.

    You may ask: What is the beginning of guidance in order that I may test my carnal soul thereby?

    [As a reply to this question] know that the beginning of guidance is outward piety and the end of guidance is inward piety. Only through piety good consequences can be achieved, and only the pious are guided. Piety means carrying out the commands of God (exalted is He!) and turning aside from all that He prohibits, and thus has two parts. Take notice that in this book I give you counsel by a brief explanation of the outward aspect of piety in both its parts.

    source: translation of Bidaya-al-Hidaya by Dr. M.A Quasem

    * the first name that sprung to mind

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