On Not Showing Off: The Muhammadan Covenants

On Not Showing Off: The Muhammadan Covenants on

Abdul Aziz Suraqah

Imam ‘Abd al-Wahhab al-Sha’rani (b. 898/1493) was one of the scholarly saints and revivers of Islam in the sixteenth century. His greatest contributions to Islamic spirituality and scholarship are his over three hundred books, one of which is al-Uhud al-Muhammadiyya (The Muhammadan Covenants), samples of which shall be reproduced here in a series of translations by Abdul Aziz Suraqah. Described as a spiritual hadith commentary, in each chapter Imam al-Sha’rani opens with saying “A general covenant has been taken from us from Allah’s Messenger (Allah bless him and give him peace) that we... ,” and proceeds to mention divine commands and prohibitions given by Allah and His Messenger, as well as the spiritual benefits obtained by doing them (in the case of obligations) and the spiritual harms of violating them (in the case of prohibitions). He explains in his introduction the Covenants that the commands encompass the recommended (mustahabb) and the obligatory (wajib), and the prohibitions encompass the offensive (makruh) and the unlawful (haram).


Covenant 265

On Not Showing Off

A general covenant has been taken from us by Allah’s Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace) that we, out of fear of Allah’s chastisement (Exalted and Sublime is He), abstain from showing off to anyone in our acts of worship, whether that ostentation is during the act or after it, such as one of us—and Allah’s refuge is sought!—liking to have the effects of obedience appear visible on his person, like having light shine on his face, or having a good repute for the future, or having a prostration mark on his forehead like a goat’s knee, or like having many people offer the funeral prayer over him (for insincere reasons), or enjoying to hear people say to him as he passes by with his face is beaming with light “Give us something for the sake of Allah, O Master! Grant us succor, O Shaykh” and similar motives, all of which signal ostentation even if they do not accompany the act of worship.

I was once sitting with my master ‘Ali al-Khawwas (may Allah have mercy upon him) as he was weaving [something] with strips of palm leaves. A person passed by who was from the worshippers [muta’abbidin] that would pray through the night and fast through the day, and light was beaming from his face. I said to my master, “Look at the magnificent light on that man’s face!” The Shaykh raised his head upwards and said, “O Allah, protect us from evil with what You wish and how You wish. Verily You have power over whatever You will!” I asked him, “Why [do you say that]?” He replied, “Dear son, when Allah wants good for a servant, He places his light within his heart so he can recognize the good and evil that he has done or left undone, and He makes his face like that of ordinary people. But when Allah wants evil for a servant, He takes the light in his heart and moves it to his face, and empties his inward of light and makes it darkened so that he falls into every iniquity and vice, while the people say to him ‘Give us something for the sake of Allah, O Master!’—seeing the light upon his face even though his heart is empty and darkened.”

I said to him, “O master! Is it not possible for Allah to make a person’s face and heart both filled with light?” He replied, “It is possible, however Allah Most High has commanded us to conceal our righteous actions in this life, therefore no perfection of ours should be displayed unless it is in a situation where others will emulate us in it.” I said to him, “But a servant cannot acquire light on his face through his own efforts.” He replied, “That is correct; however, nothing ever appears on someone except that he had a prior inclination to it, and were it not for his inclination it wouldn’t have appeared.” I said to him, “In that case one needs an accurate scale by which to measure.” He replied, “That’s right; it is possible that a servant’s perfection shows due to a hidden inclination that he does not sense in himself, so one must thoroughly examine himself.”

I heard my brother Afdal al-Din (may Allah have mercy upon him) say, “The one who is perfected and who perfects others is the one whose worship is as much as the angels yet nothing of it appears on him outwardly. That is the one who shall leave this world with plentiful rewards without an atom’s weight of it diminished. It is for this reason that some of the senior masters did not have tails on their turbans, or rosaries [sibha], nor did they part their hair or wear woollen garments or sit on prayer mats. They had entered the ranks of the common folk and are were thus nearly indistinguishable from everyday people in their appearance. That is because those things have become hallmarks that identify their wearer as one of the people of the spiritual path. As for the one who wears a shawl, lets the tail of his turban hang down, wears woollen garments, and sits on a prayer mat without a good intention, then it is as if every hair on his body says to the people “I am from the righteous!” The test that will reveal this is when he stops wearing such attire and instead wears the clothing of the common folk all of the time—he will feel loneliness in himself, and that is because he no longer has the outward trappings of shaykhood, and without them he is no Shaykh, so he has become like a blacksmith without coal!”

He also said, “I once sought to have a red shawl made for me like the ones worn by the followers of Shaykh Ahmad al-Badawi. I sought the counsel of my master ‘Ali al-Khawwas and he said, ‘Wear it if you are able to fulfill its due.’ I asked, ‘What is its due?’ He replied, ‘That you follow in the footsteps of my master Ahmad al-Badawi.’ I said to him, ‘I’m unable to bear that!’ He said, ‘So leave it [the shawl].’ Then he said, ‘By the might of my Lord, I have, out of love for my master Ahmad, put a small red rag inside the hemline of my pocket, but I am too ashamed to wear it.’”

The same may be said with regard to every type of patchwork garment [khirqa, traditionally put on a person to signify his joining of a particular spiritual order]: if a person is not following in the footsteps of the masters from whom its investiture was received then he should stop wearing it. Where is the way of Shaykh ‘Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani, my master Ahmad al-Rifa’i, and my master Ibrahim al-Dasuqi (just to name a few examples) reflected in those who wear their patchwork garments today?

I once saw the successor of my master Ahmad al-Badawi wearing the turban and cloak of Shaykh Ahmad, and his face was sallow, as if he were suffering from a sickness. I asked him why he was so sallow and he replied, “Out of awe for the owner of this turban and cloak!” Then he said, “I swear by Allah, when I put these on I feel as if my flesh and bones are melting away!”

One day my master Ahmad al-Rifa’i saw a disciple wearing a white cloak. He said to the disciple, “Dear son, you have worn the attire of the Prophets and the raiment of the pure; if you fail to follow their path you must remove them!” Understand this.

The Shaykhs we have encountered who have followed this way include my master Shaykh Abu al-‘Abbas al-Ghumri, my master Ibrahim al-Shadhili, my master ‘Ali al-Mursifi, and my master Muhammad al-Shannawi. They did not distinguish themselves from the common folk in their clothing, may Allah be pleased with all of them entirely.

I heard Shaykh Amin al-Din (may Allah have mercy upon him) say, “I heard my master Abu al-‘Abbas al-Ghumri say to my master Muhammad b. ‘Anan, ‘Popularity breaks backs. It is possible that a person makes a display of his righteousness and all of his rewards are given to him in full in this life, through people having a belief in his sanctity, and through having his needs met and receiving gifts, and so on, and then when he goes to the Afterlife he will be empty handed and bereft of any righteous works.’”

Therefore it is known that Allah Most High has not asked us to do anything except worship Him sincerely for His sake and to not associate as a partner in His worship anyone among His creation, including our own selves (except in the portion whereby we merely ascribe the action to ourselves due to legal responsibility [taklif]). What abject loss awaits the one who shows off with his actions in this worldly realm, and what severe regret lies in store for him on the Day of Resurrection! Those for whose sake he showed off shall have nothing to give him on the Day of Resurrection in return for his ostentation toward them, nor did he worship Allah Most High sincerely so that Allah will reward him for his devotions. The Most High said, “Whosoever hopes in meeting his Lord then let him perform righteous works, and let him not associate anything in the worship of his Lord.” (Quran 18:110)

I heard my master ‘Ali al-Khawwas (may Allah have mercy upon him) say, “One of the conditions of a righteous deed [being accepted] is that the one performing it not see himself as superior to anyone of Allah’s creation because of it. If at any point due to that deed he feels that has a virtue that someone else does not have, it will no longer be considered a righteous deed—unless his intention was gratitude.”

Furthermore, it is not hidden to any intelligent person that the servant does not truly deserve anything in return for his service to his Master, and that is because serving the Master is obligatory upon the servant according to the sacred law, as it is the requirement of servitude. Any servant who fails to see the graces of his Master upon him—in giving him permission to stand before Him, not to mention granting him plenteous rewards—then he is blind of heart among the servants, for had his Master expelled him like others from His presence and prevented him from standing before Him, he would perish among the perished.

Know dear brother that ostentation most often enters into the virtuous supererogatory actions; ostentation does not appear in obligatory actions unless they are beautified, such as making a display of humility [khushu’] in them, and so on.  The difference between the two lies in the fact that when the servant is performing obligatory actions, he is a servant by compulsion, whereas he is a servant by choice when performing voluntary actions. So it is as if he says to himself, “I have done what Allah Most High has obliged me to do, and I have gone above and beyond with voluntary deeds that I could have abstained from had I wanted.” Because of his voluntary deeds he sees himself having a position of virtue over his brother, which is not seen in obligatory deeds. This is why it is commanded for a servant to say while in the prostration of recitation “My face has prostrated to the One who created it and fashioned it, and brought forth its hearing and sight by His might and power.” In the obligatory prayer one does not say the phrase “by His might and power,” and that is because he is not likely to see himself superior to others because of the obligatory prayer. . .

Imam Muslim and al-Tirmidhi and others narrated in a raised [marfu’] tradition: “The first people against whom judgment will be pronounced on the Day of Resurrection will be a man who had learned knowledge and taught it [to others] and recited the Quran. He will be brought and Allah Most High will make known to him His favors, which he will acknowledge, and then Allah Most High will ask him, ‘What did you do with them?’ The man will reply, ‘I learned knowledge and taught it [to others] and recited the Quran for Your sake!’ The Real, Exalted is He, will say, ‘You have lied! You only learned so that it might be said “So-and-so is a scholar”; and you recited [the Quran] so that it might be said “So-and-so is a reciter”—and so it was said.’ Then he will be ordered to be dragged on his face till he is cast in the Hellfire.”

Ibn Khuzayma recorded a raised tradition in his rigorously authenticated collection: “Verily, Allah Most High shall say to the reciter [of the Quran] on the Day of Resurrection, ‘Did I not teach you the Quran which I revealed upon My Emissary?’ The man will say, ‘Indeed my Lord.’ Allah Most High will then say, ‘So how have you practiced what you learned?’ Then man will say, ‘I would stand in prayer while reciting it during the day and the night.’ Allah (Exalted and Sublime is He) will say, ‘You have lied!’ and the angels will say to him, ‘You have lied!’ Then Allah (Exalted and Sublime is He) will say, ‘Rather, you [recited] so that it may be said “So-and-so is a reciter,” and thus it was said.’ This person shall be the first of those to kindle the Hellfire.”

Imam Ahmad and others recorded a raised tradition that says: “Whosoever of this nation does a work of the Afterlife for the sake of this world, he will have no portion of the Hereafter.”

Al-Tabarani and others recorded a raised tradition that says: “Whosoever adorns himself with a deed of the Hereafter though he neither wants nor seeks the Hereafter [with it], he shall be cursed in the heavens and in the earth.”

Al-Tirmidhi and others recorded a raised tradition that says: “In the final days (Akhir al-Zaman) there shall appear men who acquire the world by means of the religion. In front of the people they will don garments of gentility, and their tongues will be sweeter than honey, but their hearts will be those of wolves. Allah (Exalted and Sublime is He) will say, ‘Do they delude in My name, and do they act haughtily before Me? I swear by My Countenance, I will surely send a tribulation against them that will leave the forbearing among them bewildered!”

Al-Tabarani recorded a raised tradition that says: “Whosoever seeks the lower world with an action of the Hereafter, Allah will blot out his face, obliterate his mention, and record his name in the register of the denizens of the Hellfire.”

Ibn Majah recorded a raised tradition on the authority of Ibn ‘Abbas (al-Hafiz al-Mundhiri said, “Perhaps it is a halted [mawquf] tradition”): “Within the Hellfire there is a valley from which the Hellfire seeks refuge four hundred times each day. This valley has been prepared for those of the nation of Muhammad who show off, such as the one who carries [i.e., has memorised] the Book of Allah and the one who gives in charity for other than Allah’s sake, and the one who performs Hajj to Allah’s House or wages Jihad in Allah’s path [but for other than His sake].”

Imam Ahmad recorded with a good chain of transmission, as did Ibn Abi al-Dunya and al-Bayhaqi in a raised tradition: “That which I fear most for you is minor association [al-shirk al-asghar].” The Companions asked, “What is minor association?” The Prophet replied, “It is ostentation [riya’]. Allah (Exalted and Sublime is He) will say when He recompenses people for their deeds, ‘Go to those for whose sake you showed off in the world and see if you find any reward with them!’”

Al-Tirmidhi, Ibn Majah, Ibn Hibban (in his rigorously authenticated collection), and al-Bayhaqi all recorded a raised tradition that says: “When Allah assembles the first and the last on the Day of Resurrection for a day in which there is no doubt, a caller will call out, ‘Whosoever has associated a partner with Allah in his good deeds, let him seek his reward with that person, for Allah is the most self-sufficient of all partners when it comes to association [shirk].’” . . .


By Abdul Aziz Suraqah , 15 Dec 2014

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