Saturday, April 18, 2009

The Book of Illumination & The Book of Wisdom


The above book published by Fons Vitae is a translation of al-Tanwir fi Isqat al-Tadbir, a Sufi text composed by the most renowned Muslim saint and jurist of the 13th century, Ibn Ata'illah al-Iskandari, one who is famously and continually quoted for his pearls of wisdom in Kitab al-Hikam (The Book of Wisdom).

One of the aphorisms in Kitab al-Hikam which my guru expounded yesterday evening (that has inspired this posting) was on the issues of tadbir and takdir. Tadbir literally means arranging but in the context of this aphorism by Ibn Ata'illah, it is the pre-occupation one has in taking care of business by selfishly planning and calculating one's affairs. Takdir is of course the opposite, that which He has pre-ordained for you.

Words from the publisher:
"What happens if you stop taking care of yourself? Will anyone else step in to take care of you? This Sufi text by the renowned Shadhili master, Ibn Ata'illah al-Iskandari, asks and answers this basic existential question about the way we live our lives. In Kitab al-Tanwir fi Isqat al-Tadbir, Ibn Ata'illah proposes that if you desist from selfish calculation to secure your own welfare, then you invite Allah to step in and take care of you, materially as well as spiritually."

"Quoting al-Jilani, the Shaykh says, "My brothers and sisters, I did not arrive in union with God by staying awake all night in worship, by staying aware all day fasting, or by staying engrossed learning knowledge! Rather, I arrived at union with God by generosity and humility and letting my breast be at peace." He adds, a Sufi master has said, "How do you expect to enter into God's presence when something behind you is dragging you back…" Then Ibn ‘Ata’ Allah goes on to present ways in which the "whole heart" is realized fully in one's life and how we shift our attention away from being overly self-preoccupied and endlessly absorbed in self-directed calculation into a state of utter trust."

Certainly, we can appreciate that especially for a novice, this shift from tadbir to takdir is akin to making that leap of faith into darkness, into uncertainties and into the unknown. How could that be possible, the rational mind asks. It demands a great deal of faith in the words of Allah in Surah Hud verse no 6:
"No creature is there crawling on the earth, but its provision rests on Allah..."

While He provides, our task as He has subtly and categorically taught us through His instruction to Maryam a.s was 'to shake the tree'.
"And shake the trunk of date palm towards you, it will let fall fresh ripe dates upon you. So eat and drink and be glad... (Qur'an, 19: 25-26) If He had wanted, He could have just made the fruits fell onto Maryam's lap but Maryam despite undergoing the pains of childbirth was compelled to make an effort of her own.
More so for us! And going back to the Sufi Aphorisms, Ibn Ata'illah says 'and while you should avoid putting in conscious effort in managing your affairs, your effort should be focused on you being effortless.'

We recall the story of Maryam a.s. and surely we empathize with her as she was in the state of utter helplessness that she even lamented 'would that I had died before this, and had been forgotten and out of sight!' (Qur'an 19:23)
Buy nay, her effort was guided, she was instructed to do a specific thing that God knew she needed to do. The guidance on effort came from Him alone and so she did, she shook the tree. Imagine, if she were to come out of that agonizing episode and tell people 'look, I shook the tree, if it was not for my effort, I would have been in a more dire state.' Of course she did not. Likewise, can we say upon reaping the fruits we thought we sow, that it was entirely our own effort?

O son, your duty as has been advised to me by many wise men is that, before you achieve anything, your job is to shake the tree for that is a job of a servant of Allah. Afterwards, should you be fortunate enough to earn something from the 'effort' that you have put in, your job then is to return all praise and all efforts to Him. Outwardly, Shari'a-wise, you make the effort but inwardly, haqiqat-wise, you leave all things to Him and to Him alone.

And this brings me to a du'a which I got an ijazah for, from a student of as-Sayyid Muhammad bin ‘Alawi al-Maaliki al-Hasani (rh), a du'a said by Nabi Adam a.s.
The gist of the du'a goes something like this:
O Lord you know my secrets and my intention, please forgive me. You know my wish please fulfill it. You know my true self please forgive me. And please let iman grows in my heart, so that I become truly certain that I will not receive anything except what You have ordained for me. And please let me be pleased with what you have destined for me.

Wallahu'alam. May Allah have mercy on me for any unintentional mistakes in this transmission. May the fragrances of Ibn ‘Ata’Illah's gnosis engulf our hearts and minds. Ameen.

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