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Friday, June 06, 2003  

An Exposition of the Susceptibility of the Traits of Character to Change through Discipline Know that the man who is dominated by sloth will consider unpleasant any spiritual struggle and discipline, or any purifying of the soul and refinement of the character. Because of his deficiency and remissness, and the foulness of his inward nature, his soul will not permit him to undertake such a thing; therefore he will claim that the traits of a man's character cannot conceivably be altered, and that human nature is immutable. He will adduce two things in support of this claim. Firstly, he will say that character [khuluq] is the form of the inward in the same way that the created form [khalq] of man is the form of the outward. No-one is able to alter his external appearance: a short man cannot make himself tall, neither can an ugly man render himself handsome, and vice versa; and thus is the case with inward ugliness. Secondly, he will assert that goodness of character proceeds from suppressing one's desire and anger, and that he has tested this by means of a long inward struggle which demonstrated to him that these things are part of one's character and nature, which can never be separated from the human creature, so that busying oneself with such struggling is profitless and a waste of time. What is required is to bar the heart from inclining to the fleeting fortunes [of this world], and this is impossible. [To such an objection] we would say: Were the traits of character not susceptible to change there would be no value in counsels, sermons and discipline, and the Prophet (may God bless him and grant him peace) would not have said, 'Improve your characters!' How could such a denial with respect to the human creature be made? It is possible to improve the character even of an animal: a falcon can be transformed from savagery to tameness, a dog from mere greed for food to good behaviour and self-restraint, a horse from defiance to docility and obedience, and all of these things constitute a change in character. In order to unveil the nature of this subject more fully we would say that existent things are divided into [firstly], those on the root and branches of which man and his volition have no effect, such as heaven, the earth and the stars, and even the outside and inside of the parts of the body, and the other organs of living things: in short, everything which is already complete in its existence and its perfection; and [secondly], those things which exist in an incomplete form but which are possessed of the ability to be perfected when the condition for this, which may be connected to the volition of man, is met. For a seed is not an apple tree or a date-palm: it has merely been created in such a way as to permit it to become one when it is properly nurtured, a date-stone can never become an apple tree. Therefore, just as a seed is affected by human choice, so that it is susceptible of acquiring some qualities and not others, so also anger and desire, which we cannot suppress and dominate entirely so as to destroy every trace of them, can be rendered, should we so wish, obedient and docile by means of self-discipline and struggle. And this we have been commanded to do, for it constitutes the means of our salvation and our coming to God. Of course, temperaments vary: some accept this thing rapidly, while others do not. There are two reasons for this disparity. Firstly, there is the power of the instinct [ghariza] which lies at the root of one's temperament, together with the length of time for which it has been present: the capacities for desire, anger and pride are [all] present in the human nature; however the most difficult to deal with and the least susceptible to change is that of desire, which is the oldest capacity in man. For it is the first thing to be created in a child, to be followed, perhaps after seven years, by anger, and, finally, the power of discretion. The second reason is that a trait of character may be reinforced as a result of acting frequently in accordance with it and obeying it, and considering it to be fine and satisfactory. In this regard, people are of four degrees. Firstly, there is the man who is innocent and without discernment, who cannot tell truth from falsehood, or beautiful from foul actions, but who rather remains with the disposition [fitra] with which he was created, being devoid of any doctrines, and whose desire was never aroused through the pursuit of pleasures. Such a man will respond very rapidly to treatment, and only needs the instruction of a guide and an internal motivation which spurs him on to the spiritual struggle, through which thing his character will be reformed in the shortest possible time. Secondly, there is the man who recognises ugly acts for what they are, but is not in the habit of acting righteously, for his evil actions have been made to seem fine to him and he commits them under the influence of his desires, which, having won control of him, deflect him from his better judgement. Despite this, however, he knows that he is not acting as he should. The condition of this man is more intractable than that of the first, and he has a far heavier task to perform: he must first uproot the habitual inclination to corruption which has become rooted firmly in his soul, and secondly sow therein the quality of habituation to righteousness. Nevertheless, he is in general susceptible to the effects of self-discipline, should he undertake this in a serious, determined and resolute fashion. Thirdly, a man may consider ugly traits of character to be obligatory and preferable, and to be right and beautiful, having been brought up in this way. The treatment of such a man is almost impossible, and his reform can be hoped for only in the rarest of cases, because the sources of misguidance in his case are so many. Fourthly, there is the man who has been reared to believe in and to work corruption. He believes that merit lies in abundant iniquity and murder, and boasts of this in the belief that this raises his status. This is the most difficult degree, in which connection it has been said that 'Improving an old man is hardship itself, while reforming a wolf is torture'. Thus the first of these [four men] is simply ignorant, while the second is ignorant and misguided, the third is ignorant, misguided and corrupt, while the fourth is ignorant, misguided, corrupt and evil. The other illusory notion which is adduced is the statement that anger, desire, worldliness and the other traits of this kind cannot be torn from the human creature for as long as he lives. This is also an error, into which a faction has fallen which imagines that the purpose of spiritual struggle is the complete suppression and effacement of these attributes. Such a view is absurd, for desire has been created for a purpose, and is an indispensable part of human nature: should the desire for sexual intercourse cease man would die out; and should man feel no anger he would not be able to defend himself from those things which threaten his life. When the basis of desire remains, the love of property must necessarily remain also, which encourages one to guard it. What is required is not the total extirpation of these things, but rather the restoration of their balance and moderation, which is the middle point between excess and defect. With regard to the trait of anger, what is needed is sound ardour, which lies in the avoidance of both recklessness and cowardice, and generally to be strong in oneself but nevertheless under the control of the intellect. It is for this reason that God (Exalted is He!) has said, Severe against the unbelievers, compassionate amongst themselves (Qur'an, 48:29), describing the believers as 'severe': severity can only rise from anger, and were there to be no anger, there could be no Jihad against the unbelievers. And how could one intend to uproot anger and desire entirely when the Prophets themselves were not divested of them? God's Emissary (may God bless him and grant him peace) once said, 'I am only a man, and, like other men, I become angry'. People used to say things he disliked in his presence (may God bless him and grant him peace), and he would become so angry that his cheeks would be flushed, although he would never say anything but the truth, from which anger never caused him to diverge. And God (Exalted is He!) said, And those that suppress their rage, and are forgiving toward people (Qur'an, 3:134) rather than 'those that have no rage'. Restoring rage and anger to a position of moderation, whereat they do not overcome and subdue the intellect but instead submit to its control and authority, is therefore a possibility, and it is this to which we refer when we speak of 'reforming the character'. A man may be so dominated by desire that his intellect is unable to restrain his desire from evildoing, yet he may, by means of self-discipline, restore it to the position of moderation. The possibility of this is demonstrated by experience and observation in such a way as to leave no room for doubt. The proof that it is this moderation which is required in the traits of character rather than one of the two extremes lies in the fact that generosity is a trait which the Law deems praiseworthy, and constitutes a middle point between the two extremes of avarice and extravagance. God (Exalted is He!) has praised this moderation by saying And those who, when they spend, are neither extravagant nor grudging; and there is ever a middle point between the two (Qur'an, 25:67) And He has said (Exalted is He!), Let not thy hand be chained to thy neck, nor open it completely (Qur'an, 17:29). Likewise is the case with the desire for food: moderation should prevail, rather than greed or indifference. God (Exalted is He!) has said, Eat and drink, but be not extravagant, for God loves not the extravagant (Qur'an, 7:31). And in the matter of anger He has said Severe against the unbelievers, compassionate amongst themselves (Qur'an, 48:29). The Prophet (may God bless him and grant him peace) said, 'The best of affairs is the middle course'. There is a secret and an explanation to this. For felicity is predicated on the salvation of the heart from the vicissitudes of this world. God (Exalted is He!) has said, Save him who comes to God with a sound heart (Qur'an, 26:89). Avarice is one of these vicissitudes, and so is extravagance: the heart should be safely between the two; that is, not attentive to money, nor zealous to spend or to withhold it. For the heart of the man who is zealous to spend or withhold is distracted by these two inclinations: his heart cannot be whole until he is purified of both. Since this cannot come about in this world, we ask for the state which most closely resembles their absence, and that which is farthest from both extremes, which is the mean. Just as tepid water is neither hot nor cold, but exists in a middle state between the two, and is, as it were, free of both qualities, so too does generosity lie between extravagance and avarice, and courage between cowardice and recklessness, and temperance between cupidity and indifference; and such is the case with all the other traits of character. It is the extreme, then, of any matter, which is reprehensible. This, then, is what is required, and it is a thing very possible to achieve. Certainly, the guiding Shaykh must make all anger ugly to the aspirant, and all withholding of wealth, and should not allow him any concessions in this regard, for were he to make the slightest concession [the aspirant] would use this as an excuse to retain his avarice and anger, imagining that he possessed only the permitted amount. If, however, he were to try with all his might to pull these traits out by the roots, he would prove able only to destroy its strength and restore it to moderation. Therefore the correct course of action is for him to intend to uproot it, which will permit him to change it to the required level. This secret, however, should not be revealed to the aspirant, for a foolish man might be deceived by it, and think that his anger and his withholding of his money were just. -Hujjatul Islam, Imam Abu Hamid al-Ghazali, The Revival of the Religious Sciences (Ihya' 'Ulum ad-Din) Translated by Shaykh 'Abdul Hakim Murad (may Allah reward him for his effort and initiative)

posted by SuFiSTiC | 6/06/2003 08:19:00 AM |
As for him who fears to stand before his Lord and restrains the ego its desires, the Garden is shelter.
(The Snatchers:40)
Abu Hurairah (May Allah be pleased with him) reported: Messenger of Allah (PBUH) said, "The Fire is surrounded by all kinds of desires and passions, while Paradise is surrounded by all kinds of disliked, undesirable things."
Whoever does good at night is rewarded during the day and whoever does good during the day is rewarded at night. Whoever is sincere in abandoning a desire is saved from catering to it. God is too noble to punish a heart that has abandoned a desire for His sake.
(Abu Sulayman ad-Darani)
Beware of your ego, and trust not its mischief;
The ego is worse than seventy devils.
(Arabic Poem)
Abu Bakar Balkhi
Md Mubaraq
Md Firdaus

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I seek God's forgiveness, and do not claim that my intention in producing this Blog is confined to good religious purposes; how may I do so when I am aware of the hidden desires, egotistic passions, and worldly wishes that I harbour? I do not claim innocence for myself; the ego is indeed an inciter to evil, save when my Lord shows mercy; my Lord is indeed Forgiving, Merciful. O God! I seek Your protection against my committing idolatry [shirk] knowingly, and Your forgiveness for that of which I am not aware! I ask God to make me and all other believers benefit from this Blog and to render my production of it purely for the sake of His Noble Countenance.

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