Our Struggle with Desires

[These are the rough notes of a CII talk delivered by Shaykh Kamaluddin Ahmed on March 31, 2016]

Loving Allah swt But Still Sinning

There are many people who take the name tasawwuf, sufi, love for Allah swt, but it becomes very rare to find someone who has true love for Allah swt and truly follows the Shari’ah. Many people love Allah swt and Prophet sws, and our husn-e-zan is that the vast majority of the ummah falls in this category. However, sometimes there are divisions and separations and violations of Shari’ah.

There are people who do truly love Prophet sws, but still they fall into bid’ah, they violate the Shari’ah. It’s not because they don’t love him sws – they do love him – but the problem is that they don’t have the knowledge and they don’t have the taqwah to follow the teachings of Shari’ah. Sometimes they even end up in the wrong aqeedah.

Similarly, there are people who do truly love Allah swt but, either due to a lack of knowledge or a lack of taqwah, or some sort of a lapse in the Shari’ah, they fall short of the goal. Most of us fall in this category. The goal is what Allah swt says in Qur’an:

وَمَا خَلَقْتُ الْجِنَّ وَالْإِنسَ إِلَّا لِيَعْبُدُونِ
I did not create the Jinns and the human beings except for the purpose that they should worship Me. [51:56]

The whole purpose of our life is ubudiyyah – slavehood, submission, subservience, obedience to Allah swt, and it is the highest level that slave can get.

إِنَّ أَكْرَمَكُمْ عِندَ اللَّهِ أَتْقَاكُمْ


Allah swt says that most honoured of you to Allah swt is the one who has the most taqwah. Those are the ones who truly become his awliyah (friends). Allah swt says:

إِنْ أَوْلِيَآؤُهُ إِلاَّ الْمُتَّقُونَ


Who are the awliyah of Allah swt except the people of taqwah. We must understand how this all relates. If we love Allah swt, what can distract us from Shari’ah? What can make us have a lapse in our taqwah? At the end of the day, everyone of us is a human. It were only the Prophets (as) who were ma’soom (innocent and free from sin). Otherwise every single one of us should be a guard on our nafs, all the way until our graves.

How Nafs Can Keep us from True Obedience

How can the nafs come between us and Shari’ah? Interestingly, the nafs doesn’t make a person love Allah swt less. In fact you will find a lot of people involved in sins of nafs who love Allah swt and Prophet sws a lot. Nafs is not about diminishing our love, nafs is about diminishing our ubudiyyah.

How is it possible that a person has love but they don’t obey? The Arabs used to say Innal muhibba limay-yuhibbu mutī’unthe lover is completely obedient to their beloved. I will amend that statement. Yes, those true ibaad who are mutaqeen, who have taqwah, they will obey their beloved Allah swt. But that person who is a lover of Allah swt, yet has their nafs, and still have some other love, they will sometimes disobey Allah swt due to that other love.

That other love might be a ghayr-mehram, it maybe money, wealth, property, shopping, glitz, glamour, it maybe love for oneself, fame, recognition, it maybe a delusion that a person has attained certain social status in front of Allah swt where they maybe feeling that they are somehow allowed to sin, and they think because they have so many good deeds, their good deeds will absorb their sin. That in itself maybe true – that Allah swt out of His mercy makes our small good deeds wipe away sins. But to plan on that and to believe in that as an ideology – that is haram. It’s a wrong aqeeda and belief. The danger then is that Allah swt may even send His wrath and punishment, and not accept a person’s good deeds as a means of compensation, because of that person trying to justify his sins and inviting others to sin.

Reality is that we all have this filth inside of us. Allah swt says in Qur’an:

قَدْ أَفْلَحَ مَن زَكَّاهَا


Successful is that person who does the tazkiyah of their nafs – the word tazkiyah was used because the nafs is inside. So outwardly, superficially we may follow the sunnah, it might appear that we have nur, but inside we have a nafs. So many of us are carrying this hidden nifaq – this hypocrisy.

We may try to adorn ourselves beautifully according to Shari’ah and sunnah. Like on friday, we will cleanse ourselves, at least outwardly – wearing an imamah, putting oil in our beards. Perhaps if there is somebody whom Allah swt has made handsome and they even have noor on their face, so when they show up for Jum’ah, people may say you are such a wali of Allah swt, a great alim etc. Because that’s their husn-e-zan – they love the person with the outward appearance of the sunnah.

But only the person themselves would know that I did this for the sake of Allah swt, but deep inside my core, I am still struggling with my nafs. No one can see the ugliness of my nafs, and my sad and tragic struggle with it.

Importance of Getting Help from others

Sometimes people will even fall in this trap – one reason being that no one will try to help them anymore. Like Syedna Umar (ra) sent his special du’a on the person in the tabi’in who would point out any mistake or error that he had made. He knew that because I’m the Ameer al-Mu’mineen, I’m Ashra Mubashra, I’m a badri Sahabi, many people will think that I’m not capable of doing anything wrong. And there will be no one to guide me. So he made an announcement that I will make a special du’a of maghfirah for any person who bring to me faults and flaws of mine.

This shows his humility, and it also shows his true human need that we all have. We always need help and guidance in life. Those who are young may take help from their elders. But every now and then the elders know that they also need to take help from those who are younger. This is why Allah swt says:

إِلَّا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَعَمِلُوا الصَّالِحَاتِ وَتَوَاصَوْا بِالْحَقِّ وَتَوَاصَوْا بِالصَّبْرِ


We need to mutually enjoin one another; this is one of the greatest ways in which a person is able to save themselves. This is what happens in the shaykh-murid relationship. And 99.99% of the times, yes, it is the shaykh that helps the murid, but I can say in my own life many of my own students have been very helpful to me. They are even sometimes my guide on this path of seeking pleasure of Allah swt. And I’m sure same is true for many ulema, mashaikh. There is a barakah in having a saleh and mutaqi student.

The great Shaykh Ahmed gangohi (rh) said that you can even learn and do your tazkiyah and purification even if you listen to the words of the hasid – who have envy for you. Others may have love for you because of which they are blinded to your faults. But this person, because he has envy for you, he might actually be able to see the faults that are there. You shouldn’t think that I’m not going to listen to him because his motive is envy. In fact you should listen to him intently. Because of his hasad, he has held up a microscope to you. Allah swt is using him as an instrument to help and guide you.

Importance of Keeping Love Pure

I’m saying all this because this happens in love; love can be spiritual, it can be emotional, it can be physical. Allah swt has give human beings all of these loves. There is a love that is pure and it is for the sake of Allah swt. Nabi sws has said that – al mar’u ma’a man ahabba – a person will be with whom he loves. And in another hadith in which the Prophet sws mentions the 7 people who would be under the shade of the arsh of Allah swt, one of the categories is of those who love one another for Allah’s sake. So this is the spiritual love.

Second is the emotional love. There are different types; love between husband and wife, love between parents and children, there are many levels of emotional loves that Allah swt has put between human beings. People who are students and alumini from darul uloom they have an affinity and emotional love for one another because of their common teacher or shaykh. There is love between people who have the same culture, or who speak the same language. It is permissible to the extent that it does not make one feel superior to others in the ummah.

Then the third is the physical love. Now the physical love has to be strictly only after nikkah. And it is amazing, in our deen, the physical love can not be in any way whatsoever be allowed outside of nikkah between a man and a woman, so the concept of a man and a man, and a woman and a woman is absolutely beyond even the realm of speculation and imagination.

So there are three types of loves. Now what the nafs does is that it tries to corrupt the spiritual love into the emotional love which is not okay. Why? Because the nafs wants to corrupt the emotional love into a physical love that is haram. As long as we have this nafs inside of us, we have to be very careful of our love. Because one thing that can make a person untrue to their true deep love for Allah swt, is the love they have for something else, and the nafs will attack.

One thing is that we can make that untrue love true, it means to make it according to the Shari’ah. It means either this person has to take a step back, be more careful and be more conscious. Or the person has to make nikkah, if it’s a woman who is ghayr-mehram. The point is that to never let the untrue love fester. It maybe that a person genuinely feels that they feel a love that is true and that they can stop their nafs, but it’s only a matter of time and that person is living in a state of danger.

The way Allah swt explains this to us in Qur’an is in several ways. When Allah swt was talking about the greatest emotional love, which is between parents and a child, or husband and wife, so lets take the example of husband and wife. Like one of our close friends Shaykh Maulana Khalil ur-Rehman (db) once gave the example of this verse to explain love. Allah swt says in Qur’an:

وَجَعَلَ بَيْنَكُم مَّوَدَّةً وَرَحْمَةً


That Allah swt has placed between husband and wife muwadda and rehmah. And the point he made was that Allah swt did not use the word muhabbah here. Muwadda means tender, soft affection, and Rehmah means mercy. The reason why Allah swt did not use the word muhabbah, according to him, was because Allah swt saved the word muhabba for Himself and wants the believer to feel this particular feeling of muhabbah for Him. Allah swt says in Qur’an:

وَٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُوٓاْ أَشَدُّ حُبًّ۬ا لِّلَّهِ‌ۗ
But those who believe are most firm in their love for Allah. [2:165]

Indeed those who believe are extremely intense in their muhabbah for Allah swt. When I heard this talk I reflected on it even afterwards, and a few ideas came to our heart.

  1. There is muhabba between husband and wife, but Allah swt is Ahkam al-Hakimeen, He is the most wise of the wise ones. And sometimes Allah swt is teaching and training us how we should feel. And when Allah swt is doing that, He is talking about an intense feeling. Because it’s not the mild feelings, rather the intense feelings that are misused by nafs and shaytan. So the way I would put it is that He, Allah swt, put between you, husband and wife, an intense tender affection as love, and an intense forgiving and overlooking compassion and mercy for each other. An interesting thing, when I reflected upon this, is that these are the two feelings that a person cannot have for Allah swt. Muwaddah – tender love and affection – we cannot have that for Allah swt. Allah swt is beyond the need for our tender, soft, caring affection. And remham – obviously it is beyond the need of Allah swt that we be merciful towards Him. But these two are feelings that Allah swt has put in our ability. These two feelings are used entirely for the makhlooq, creation, but that has to be done inside nikkah. The feeling of love could be something between the creation and the Creator, but because Allah swt has already exclusively reserved these two feelings between the creation, so Allah swt then reserved muhabbah for Himself; which is an intense deep love. The extreme love, the most intense love, is between a believer and Allah swt.
  2. Another way we can understand that Allah swt has allowed love for others, there is a verse in Qur’an which explains the whole concept that yes there will be other relationships in which we truly, genuinely feel love and is permissible, but our love for Allah swt must be ashudd – it must be most intense than any other love. There is another word in Arabic – ahubb – ahubb means you have a lesser loves, but the love for Allah swt, love for Prophet sws, love for Shari’ah and deen must be greater.

 قُلۡ إِن كَانَ ءَابَآؤُكُمۡ وَأَبۡنَآؤُڪُمۡ وَإِخۡوَٲنُكُمۡ وَأَزۡوَٲجُكُمۡ وَعَشِيرَتُكُمۡ وَأَمۡوَٲلٌ ٱقۡتَرَفۡتُمُوهَا وَتِجَـٰرَةٌ۬ تَخۡشَوۡنَ كَسَادَهَا وَمَسَـٰكِنُ تَرۡضَوۡنَهَآ أَحَبَّ إِلَيۡڪُم مِّنَ ٱللَّهِ وَرَسُولِهِۦ وَجِهَادٍ۬ فِى سَبِيلِهِۦ فَتَرَبَّصُواْ حَتَّىٰ يَأۡتِىَ ٱللَّهُ بِأَمۡرِهِۦ‌ۗ وَٱللَّهُ لَا يَہۡدِى ٱلۡقَوۡمَ ٱلۡفَـٰسِقِينَ
Say, “If your fathers and your sons and your brothers and your spouses and your clan and the wealth you have earned and the trade you apprehend will recede and the homes you like are dearer to you than Allah and His Messenger and Jihad in His way, then, wait until Allah comes with His command. Allah does not lead the sinning people to the right path.” [9:24]

Allah swt is saying in Qur’an that if your parents, and your children, and your siblings, and your spouses, and your relatives, and the money, property, assets that you have earned, and the trade and businesses that you constantly fear may decline, and the whole that you are delighted and pleased which are your dwellings, if any of these things are more beloved to you – so the notion is that it can be beloved to you, it maybe natural for it to be beloved to you, if it is more beloved than Allah swt, and Prophet sws, and the sacrifices that establish Haqq in the path of Allah swt, then you should wait and watch.

This will not go unaccounted for. Then wait and watch until Allah swt will bring His command, and indeed Allah swt will never guide the people who are fasiq. Normally fisq refers to sin. Or it refers to unlawful love. But here it is referring to having a permissible, natural, genuine human emotion of love, but having that love more than our love for Allah swt. So this is the danger. Imagine if this is the danger for the permissible loves, then how dangerous would it be for the impermissible loves?

We have to be in a battle with the nafs to make sure that our love for Allah swt and the Shari’ah is greater than any and all permissible love. When it comes to impermissible love, not only is it necessary that our love for Allah swt be greater than it, but the impermissible love also has to be brought in the bounds of permissibility as soon as possible. Otherwise it should be left altogether. Because when these things fester, in the long term, this is the reason why people end up following their nafs.

So this path of tazkiyah and tasawwuf groups two things; abudiyyah and taqwah. This is the goal and the purpose of the path; to fear Allah swt, to remember Allah swt, to become a servant and slave to Allah swt, and out of that extreme love for Allah swt to get rid of all those impermissible loves once and for all, and to place a check on all the permissible loves once and for all, when a person does that, qad aflaha man zakkaha – then indeed successful is that person who have done their tazkiyah.

Allah swt will test our love. Just like it’s a principle of testing in examination that a highschool student will be examined on that level, and a college student is examined at their level. The more true love we have for Him and His blessed Messenger sws, the higher our love is for deen and Shiar’ah, the higher test you’ll be given, the higher tests and struggles you’ll have to face. Maybe that test will be from the permissible love, maybe that test will be some opportunity or feeling in our heart for an impermissible love. The only solution to the test is slavehood, taqwah, consciousness, fear of Allah swt. And the only thing to do if we fail the test is to make real, true tawbah. Tawbah means to repent, to accept, and to make amends, and try to fix and focus on the future, and change for the better.

As hard and true we try to make that tawbah, and the tawbah is not always an instant, it maybe a process, we might need to help each other, inshaAllah those who are committed to the process of tawbah, Allah swt will bring them into taqwah. Once Allah swt brings them out from the sin through their commitment to tawqah, still they must be vary and they should try to enter their graves in that state of taqwah.

May Allah swt grant us this true tazkiyah of the nafs which the great mashaikh, awliya karam have had. And we make du’a that may Allah swt protect all of us from the fitnah of the nafs and the fitnah of shaytan, and grant us tawfeeq to help and get guidance from one another on this path.

وَآَخِرُ دَعْوَانَا أَنِ الْحَمْدُ لِلَّهِ رَبِّ الْعَالَمِينَ