This was delivered by Habib Ali al-Jifri and translated by Ustadh Wael Zubi on 10th August 2022/12th Muharram 1444 in Slough. Habib Ali al-Jifri commented upon selections from The Book of Wisdoms by Ibn Ata’illah al-Iskandari. The day retreat was organised by Ihya Initiative.
Note: Each wisdom that Habib Ali al-Jifri commented upon will be uploaded individually.
In the Name of Allah, Most Merciful and Compassionate
All praise to Allah, Lord of the Worlds. And salutations and greetings upon our Master Muhammad and upon his family and companions.
I intend to study and teach, take and give a reminder, take and give benefit, take and give advantage, to encourage the holding fast to the book of Allah and the way of his messenger, and calling to guidance and directing towards good hoping for the countenance of Allah and His pleasure, proximity and reward, transcendent is He.
Wisdom 32: Your being on the lookout for the vices hidden within you is better than your being on the lookout for the invisible realities veiled from you.
Imam Ibn Ata’illah says, “…being on the lookout for the vices hidden with you…”. What he is talking about here aren’t exterior faults or apparent faults. He is not talking about faults that you can easily see or pick out in yourself because our vices and faults are in 2 categories. The first category are vices or faults which are self-evident to the person that can see them easily/clearly: even if the person denies them in front of others he/she knows that they are there when they’re alone. There are other faults which are hidden from himself that his own ego hides from him. Between these 2 types of vices, the ones that are hidden and evident, there are vices that oscillate between the two. The kind of fault which is apparent but hides: that’s a fault you see in yourself but don’t acknowledge; this is the most dangerous because it is to do with your whole understanding of the self shifting where you justify the faults.
The Prophet ﷺ said in a tradition, “How will you be when you stop enjoining good and forbidding evil?”
The companions replied, “Is that even possible, O Messenger of Allah? We cannot even imagine that we would ever do that.”
The Prophet ﷺ was speaking about the condition of his community and those who would come after. He ﷺ said, “How will you be when you have left enjoining good and forbidding evil?”
The companions said, “Is this even possible? Is this going to happen?”
He ﷺ said, “Yes and even worse.”
They said, “What can be worse?”
He ﷺ said, “How will you be when you have left enjoining good and forbidding evil?”
The companions were even more surprised and said, “Is this even possible? Will it happen?”
He ﷺ said, “Yes and even worse.”
They said, “What can be worse than enjoining evil and forbidding good?”
He ﷺ said, “How will you be when you perceive good as evil and evil as good?”
Meaning there is a shift in perceptions. Meaning if you don’t even enjoin evil or forbid good but your perception has shifted. This is more dangerous than enjoining evil and forbidding good. A person can enjoin someone to do something bad and know that the thing is bad. That person, there is a way for them to turn back, because they know actually know this thing is wrong. But, when a person’s perception has shifted, that is when the major calamity happens.
When it comes to our vices, there are vices which are apparent which we can see in ourselves and those around us can see them; not always but sometimes the people around us can see them. There are (also) other hidden vices which are even hidden from us. There are (also) other vices which we don’t want to acknowledge so we end up denying that they are vices.
The Imam here uses ‘تشوفك’ for ‘being on the lookout for’ which actually means ‘ you are longing for’. ‘تشوف’ in Arabic means to have an intense desire to see someone. It is intense and it is this intense looking out for something that makes you look at every minute thing and analyse things in detail. This intense desire to see something: like the desire of the scientist who is looking through a microscope to find a cure for some illness; or the astronomer who is looking out for a distant star that hasn’t been discovered yet; or a person in love who is looking out in the crowd to see the person he loves; or a prospector panning for gold: all these people will endure hardship and be patient/forbearing because they are on the lookout for something and their desire to reach this thing is so intense that it makes them put up with all manner of hardship to reach their final goal. When a young person is on social media and is on the lookout on their page at how many likes they have; one of our friends here, Shihabuddin, was telling me yesterday that he was looking at how many hits someone has on TikTok: this is ‘تشوف’. This is when you are intensely looking out for something. How many viewers? How many subscriptions? This is ‘تشوف’.
Imagine what this Imam is attempting to do, he is telling you to use that same intense desire to find something, to look at your own hidden faults. It is burdensome for the human being to even acknowledge a fault let alone to go looking for it; even the self-evident one is trying to hide it under a pillow. When I first sat down, I told you that I am sorry we are 25 minutes late because Oxford held us back. What has Oxford got to do with our delay? We were the ones that were late. This is the attribute of the ego that it wants to disown any claim that says the fault is anything to do with it. Do you know why? This is one of the hardest things on the self and I said earlier I will mention it. Like we said, it doesn’t like to remember its mortality, it likewise doesn’t like to see its faults. For the same reason. Because, it reminds it that it’s a creature and of its slavehood and it reminds it of the dominion of another over it. Whereas, the ego that incites to evil, it wants to live with the false claim of its lordship like the Pharaoh who said this claim about himself, ‘I am your Lord, Most High.’ Even the believers, in their inner-most ego, that is the kind of claim they make. Where the ego is still in its evolution, it claims the attributes of lordship. But, the believer never says it with an open expression as they don’t accept it and don’t say, ‘I am the Lord, Most High.’ So, it comes with the same false claim but in a twisted way with machinations and veils to hide it. My seeing my faults reminds me that I am a servant.
That is why, Ibn Ata’illah says in the first wisdom: Perhaps a sin which leaves you feeling humbled and insignificant is better than a good deed which leaves you feeling haughty and arrogant. The mistake of Adam was better than all the worship that Satan did because he was never intending to do that in the first place. Allah said, ‘He wasn’t determined to do that deed.’ Yet, when he did that, he was broken and sought Allah’s forgiveness and he was humbled. It was then that Allah put the custodianship on him that He had spoken to the angels before he had even created him: ‘I am going to put a vicegerent on earth.’ That is when Allah put the mantle of vicegerency on Adam. Some people mistakenly say: May Allah forgive our mother Eve as she told our father Adam to eat the apple so here we now are down here. Firstly, it wasn’t even her. Allah says, ‘Satan led them astray so they both ate from the tree.’ Allah says in the Qur’an that Iblis misled them both, He didn’t say that Iblis misled Eve and then she told Adam to eat from the tree. Let the men take heed of this and not in an argument with his wife say: ‘We’ve had enough. It’s because of you lot that we ended up down here exiled from the garden.’ The Prophet ﷺ came and even told you that paradise is under the feet of a woman. Your mother.
Secondly, God never created Adam that he live in the garden forever but rather He let Adam roam in the garden/paradise for a while in preparation for him becoming Allah’s vicegerent on Earth. That is why before God even created Adam, He told the angels that He is going to make a vicegerent on Earth. He said Earth not paradise. That is why we don’t have the notion of the original sin or fall in our creed. We see this as a false belief. Rather, we see that Adam repented, asked for forgiveness and to be excused. Then, Allah put the mantle of vicegerency on him that He had created him for in the first place. That is why we understood from the the first wisdom of Ibn Ata’illah: Perhaps a sin which leaves you feeling humbled and insignificant is better than a good deed which leaves you feeling haughty and arrogant; the good deed can leave you with an inner-sin.
Let’s go back to the wisdom that we were reciting. This ‘longing to see’, if you can leave this gathering with this longing to see your own inner faults, if you can leave with this one thing, you have left with something great; even if you don’t end up reading the other aphorisms ever. I don’t want you to just leave this gathering as a researcher into your own faults. I want you to go and intensely look and analyse your faults because there is a felicity beyond this which you will experience in this world before the next. But, this kind of happiness, requires that one be courageous. You have to be courageous to confront your own faults. The problem is that everyone around you wants you to be cowardly in facing your own faults. Everyone and everything. Everything around you. Everything around you wants you to not have this intense longing to see your own faults. Some people may think that seeing one’s faults may make one feel depressed/down. It may make you go heavy on yourself or cause you to beat yourself up. Some motivational speakers, trainers and coaches will come on and tell people to look in the mirror and say: I am great. I am great. I am great. I am perfect. I am perfect. And, so on. I am not belittling their work because it is important to take people out of depression but I am talking about a specific thing which is not acknowledged. The problem I am talking about is specific: you are content with the faults in you that you can change and you leave them unchanged. These self-affirmations that they tell you to do like something on a prayer bead, I tell you to say: I can do it. I can do it. I can do it. And, what is it that you can do? You can look for these faults, Allah will help you to find these faults, and Allah through His enabling grace will help you remove these faults.
These slogans and memes such as ‘Be Yourself’. ‘Be Yourself’ meaning don’t be a hypocrite, yes, but ‘Be Yourself’ meaning be exactly how you are and you don’t change or evolve or grow or fix any faults, you want to see your faults are natural and you want to change your natural disposition; this is when you start perceiving wrong as right and right as wrong. That is when you last losing your humanity, your Adamic-ness, because by doing that you leave the primordial disposition that Allah created you on. You become a coward in following your own faults. I am not talking to you about following the faults of others and pestering others. Just pester yourself, follow your own faults and your capricious desire for something.
This longing to see these faults will lead you to go study and look at how to find these faults in you and how to treat them. It will first take you on a stage of discovery as how to find these faults and then another stage of discovery as to how to remedy these faults. You will find these in one of the quarters of the Ihya under the attributes that lead to destruction written by Imam al-Ghazali or the summaries by various scholars and if you’re looking for expansion then the various commentaries by scholars that came after him like Imam Zabidi.
Also, by looking at the mirror. What is the mirror that you look at? The mirror that you look at is the states and conditions of the righteous. That is the mirror you reflect on because things are known by their opposites. When you start telling yourself that you have good character, you are a person of sagacity and are level-headed, read the story of the life of Imam Ali Zain al-Abideen and how he dealt with a man that spoke to him out of tone.
Imam Ali Zain al-Abideen, the son of Imam al-Husayn said to him, ‘Every fault you have mentioned is a fault I have. The faults you haven’t seen are even greater. Do you have anything that you need me to do for you as a payment for your good advice?’ Before that, Imam Ali Zain al-Abideen had stopped the people, who had got angry, from hitting the man. The man just wept and said, ‘I bear witness that you’re a descendant from the Prophet’s house. I’m sorry. You’re detractors made me turn you and offered me 1000 dinars for saying something to you that will cause you to say something out of tone. They said if I can make you lose your forbearance that they will give me 1000 dinars.’
Imam Ali Zain al-Abideen said, ‘I’ll give you 1000 gold dinars and you don’t need to do that.’
He swore at Imam Ali Zain al-Abideen and left with 1000 gold dinars. No, that’s not what happened, he left with a heart that was full of love for Imam Ali Zain al-Abideen. He loved the light that he witnessed in Imam Ali Zain al-Abideen. He loved the reality that he was missing in himself that he found in Imam Ali Zain al-Abideen because like we said things are known by their opposites.
When we read the biographies of the righteous and their manners and conducts of how they felt with others, even narrations that are to do with them which are so far away from our day-to-day reality and condition, we are at one polar extreme and they are at another, even these, some of us may say I am going to become depressed if I read these things. Yes, you can become depressed if you don’t read them right. But, if you read them in order to use them as a proof against yourself, to give yourself a criteria of what is good and bad, that will help you with the third type of fault. The third fault is where your ego cowers from acknowledging the fault. Remember we said that there are 3 faults: the apparent, hidden and those in between them which is the one you hide from yourself. The way to treat that third type of fault which is the fault that you know but you deny it’s a fault: the treatment is to see the lives of the righteous which are very far from our reality.
30 years, I mentioned this same story of Imam Ali Zain al-Abideen, the son of Imam Husayn. Someone listened to me talk and said, ‘What kind of state do you want to teach people about Islam? Do you want them to be weaklings; humiliated; unable to stand up for themselves, by telling them stories like this? How can they stand against those who oppose them if you make them this weak? Islam is about being strong, chivalrous and fighting back? It is not about being like this.”
I told him that I differ from you on this. I am talking about real strength because to restrain yourself in a moment of anger is what requires real strength. If it weren’t power, it wouldn’t be difficult. If it weren’t powerful, it wouldn’t be difficult because to surrender yourself to your anger and to be swayed by anger is the easiest thing to fall into. How many times in a moment of anger have you acted in a way that was hasty and you live to regret it? You wrong people that you didn’t want to hurt and you love them. Has that every happened in your life or no? So, why do you not take yourself to task and restrain yourself? Because, at that moment you are weaker than your anger. Where does our strength lie?
The Prophet ﷺ said, “The strong person isn’t the one who can wrestle others. The strong person is the one who can control themselves in a moment of anger.” He ﷺ also said, “Connect to those who sever you, give to the one who bars from you and pardon those who wrong you.” This is his ﷺ scale. He ﷺ also said, “No servant was given anything after being able to pardon others except glory.” Allah, glory be to Him, says, “And, avert with that which is better. The one between you and him there is enmity, let him be like a friend and custodian. None will be able to carry it except those who are patient.” What does that mean? It is difficult and needs strength. But, you want me to leave the words of God and His Prophet ﷺ and the deeds of his perfect inheritors to the illusion that if I do this, I will be weak? You want me to leave my intellect that tells me to restrain itself at a moment of anger is real strength? You want me to leave this and instead run to the fact that I will be perceived as weak if I don’t act angrily? When Allah revealed a verse of jihad, He said, “Allah has given to those who are weak and humble.” The whole affair is to do with one’s criteria. But to correct one’s criteria, what does that require? It requires knowledge of the Shariah and for one to use their rational mind to asses, yes. It requires philosophy of wisdom and not so called wisdoms we might see. It also requires something else: your desire to see. Once you see these faults: feel humbled, turn to God, and say: God, I am humbled by this fault I see in myself, I am humbled that I didn’t see it before and I’m humbled that I can’t do and didn’t do anything about this fault. This state of humility is what will raise you. This state of humility and brokenness will open for you doors of directly knowing God.
Allah says in a Hadith Qudsi, “I am with those whose hearts are broken for My sake.” It’s a tradition which was an answer in response to Moses. Moses said, “God, where do I find Your presence?”
God replied, “You’ll find My presence with those whose hearts are broken for My sake.”
That moment you feel broken because of a fault discovered in yourself, at that moment where you feel that brokenness, you will find His presence with you, because your brokenness takes you back to your origin and essential reality. When I am broken, I am closer to my own essential reality, which is my slavehood. Whenever I am closer to my essential reality, I am closer to the Absolute Truth, glory be to Him. At that point, you will receive Divine support and help from His Lordship, and you will be given a mantle which will remedy those maladies in you. Then, you will be able to ascend and evolve. As you evolve, your inner sight will also evolve and grow. As your inner sight grows and opens more and more, you will find a deeper fault within yourself; that will make you feel broken again. That brokenness will save you from becoming conceited as you journey in your journey of ascent. The brokenness that every state will give you will mean that you will find Him with you but you will find Him in a way that is loftier than the stage before it. As your witnessing of His witness expands so will your receiving of His help to remedy your maladies. As you increase in your ability to receive His help and remedying yourself of your maladies, you will become more luminous.
Then, you will find a third fault in you that you didn’t discover which was even deeper in your core. Therefore, your brokenness will be even more lofty. You will turn to Him and seek refuge Him with your weakness. Your brokenness will be more intense and lofty. Then, you will receive a manifestation of His witness which is even loftier than the ones you received before. He will pour it to your heart from the nectar of Divine knowledge and He will make your spirit intoxicated with the wine of nearness. He will prepare your secret to pierce through with inner-sight. When that inner-sight open, you will see all of the faults. At that point, your brokenness will come in totality. When your totality witnesses the totality of your brokenness, then your witnessing of His witnessing is at its fastest. At that point, the person will come to know what the people of God mean when they say ‘the great and manifest opening’. At that point where the eye of the spirit and the eye of the heart, there is no veil, and between the world of the firmament and the divine throne to the lowest earth, there is no veil: this is received at the first moment of the opening. The one who is successful and given real success is the one who is not even distracted by what they witness from the Divine throne to the lowest earth as he seeks the Creator of the heavens and the earth. That person sees that what is other than the One he seeks is but a veil. There are veils of darkness which are bad deeds. There are also veils of light. These are the veils that happen as you are journeying to the presence of God. Things are being unveiled and these things become a distraction from the One you seek.
The knower of Allah, Imam Ali al-Habashi said in his praise of the Prophet ﷺ when he speaks about the journey of the night ascent: Allah is Great! You didn’t reach your rank except that it called out to you that what you seek is beyond me.
What was the end of that ascension? A presence that only God and His Prophet ﷺ had together in private; even Gabriel was left behind. Every believer has a journey that he receives from that journey the Prophet ﷺ made. Every believer has an ascent that he receives from the ascent of the Prophet ﷺ. Every one of you has an ascension. Every one of you has an ascension. The Prophets made their ascent with their spirits and bodies; that’s their miracle. The true inheritors also make an ascent with their spirits as part of their inheritance. Me and you, the beginning of our ascension, it starts with this longing to see our faults. ‘Your being on the lookout for the vices hidden within you is better than your being on the lookout for the invisible realities veiled from you.’
Some may ask: Why are you telling me to look at these calamities within myself when a minute ago you were telling me about the Beatific Reality that you can witness in the angelic and spiritual realms? Don’t you remember he is saying that the more of your vices you see, the more of the spiritual realities you will be able to see? The mulk is the tangible world. The world of the malakut (angelic/spiritual realm) is the world we witness with other than our sense faculties; it is a metaphysical realm. Some people may say: Why are we talking about these spiritual realities and witnessing them when we just need to deal with our faults? No, because as human beings, we do seek spiritualities; our spirit does. What bars the spirit from being able to obtain what it truly desires is the desires of the ego; that is what comes and bars it from attaining those things. It is because the spirit longs and the ego wants. You cannot let your spirit obtain what it longs for until you stop your lower self from getting what it wants and is out on the lookout for. The spirit longs for those worlds of Divine intimacy and nearness. Why does the spirit long for this? What is its purpose in longing for this? That is the world of its origin; it longs for where it came from. Before our spirits were placed in our bodies, they were gathered in a valley, Allah spoke to them without a veil, and they heard the Divine speech. Allah said, “Am I not your Lord?”
All of the spirits replied, “Yes, You are.”
That is why in our lifetime, if we can once at least, we should make the journey and renew that covenant because that valley is next to Arafah.
The longing for the spirit is the longing for the world from which it comes and a longing for the sanctified beauty that it knew. The longing of the ego is just to do with its own desires and wants. Why is it that the ego wants to know strange, wondrous and marvellous thing such as people wanting to watch videos of people with paranormal realities to see what they’re thinking? Or, to see so-and-so who is a Sufi that can give you a kashf (unveiling)? Or, they want to read about astrology or read the column of one? It is because the ego seeks these wondrous things from its own desire but not from the same place as the longing of the spirit which is a longing for the luminous world it came from. This is the difference between the longing of the spirit and the ego constantly being on the lookout. The ego wants to know these things just like it knows about the paranormal and mysterious and just like it likes to eat exotic foods. This is its own portion of the desire. It feeds nothing but its own darkness. It allows it to get further and further away from its acknowledgement of slavehood to God. That moment of feeling ecstatic because I can be paranormal like superman. I can fly. I can levitate. I can tell someone about something going on inside them so they can feel afraid or in awe of me. I can speak to the spirit of a dead person and become a medium so I can tell the person what the dead person is saying. All of this comes from that same place: the ego’s desire to make a claim of lordship. I can do these paranormal things like levitating or eating broken glass with nothing happening to me: these are all claims of lordship. When I am talking about these things, I am not saying that they are right or wrong in themselves, I am saying the ego’s longing to have these things is wrong. What does the ego want out of this? It wants to make the claim of lordship: I am the Lord, Most High. That is why it longs for these unveilings more than having its faults unveiled because the latter is a burden.
Last thing, because time doesn’t permit to speak more about this wisdom; this one wisdom alone needs an entire course. Leave here on the lookout and be courageous in looking for the faults within yourself. One of the signs of this is that you will be happy if Allah gives you a person that can show you your faults even if the person does it wrongly or in a way that isn’t rightly-guided or they want to put you down. Don’t be concerned about whether they did it in the right or wrong manner. Be content to know your faults. Ask Allah to guide them to the right way of giving advice. But, that person has given you an opening because now you can see your faults which are better than the unveilings of the unseen.
If you occupy yourself with: He wasn’t trying to advise me. He wasn’t trying to show me my faults. He was trying to show me up and scandalise me. What’s that got to do with you? What’s his intention got to do with you? The important thing is, is that which he has told you true.
You say: He went against the Prophetic guidance in giving advice.
Forget this, brother. Is the advice true or not?
You say: He scandalised me in front of everyone.
Brother, just tell me one thing, is what he said true or not.
You reply: No, he scandalised me. He is exaggerating.
Forget that. Is it true or not?
You reply: No, people were behind him. He hates my success and wants to see me fall on my knees.
Do you want me to take my turban off for you? Just tell me, was what he said true or not.
You reply: I don’t want to talk anymore.
Just go and pray two cycles of prayer on your own and ask Allah to open your inner-sight. Even if Allah shows you, let Him show you that this person was true in what they said to you even if they weren’t right in how they said it or why they said it.
By doing this, two bounties have been given to you. The first is that you were shown your faults. Umar ibn al-Khattab said, “May God have mercy upon a person who shows me my faults.” He considered being shown a fault to be a gift. This is a gift you were given. The second is that the manner in which they did it wrongly is also an opportunity for you to see yourself and how your ego tried to get away by busying yourself with how the person said it. So, you’ve seen the second fault. Your ego is like a magician that is always tricking you. You have come out with these two bounties.
Your being on the lookout for the vices hidden within you is better than your being on the lookout for the invisible realities veiled from you.
If you like, please write these words: That He lets you see a fault amongst the faults of your self and He gives you His enabling grace to remedy this fault, it is better for you than Him allowing you to witness the Throne one thousand times.
These are notes which are close to verbatim of the translation. Any mistakes, errors or misinterpretations of words are from the Treasures for the Seeker admin. Please correct us when you spot any mistakes.