Provisions of a Traveler
In our quest to reach Allah we must understand the provisions we need in order to reach our destination. These provisions are of three types: physical, ethical/intellectual and spiritual. We will discuss all of these three types of provisions.
Human beings live in the context of time and space. The physical well-being and development of the traveler (saalik) is necessary in as far as the body being a vehicle for the soul (rooh). So anything and everything that supports the necessary function of a physical body must be acquired as a provision. In the past, guides (shuyookh) have usually discouraged the saalik from engaging in over catering for the physical body. Hence, precepts like reducing food, speech, sleep, and mixing with people were the guidelines for a saalik. In our context of time and space today this approach would be extremely detrimental. Therefore contemporary shuyookh do not promote these precepts.
However the ideal is to slowly reduce dependency upon the physical world in such a way that the saalik does not violate anyone’s rights. These precepts should be stored somewhere underneath the saddle.
Earning a halal living is virtuous. Anything and everything that a saalik does to earn halal sustenance is considered an act of worship (‘ibaadat). But the saalik must realize that earning a living is not living: it is only a means to live. So a saalik cannot afford to be psychologically entrapped in a rat race to earn money and to hoard wealth. If a saalik decides upon a profession or a venture that yields plenty then he should see that as a grace (fadl) from Allah and appropriate charity (sadaqah). This means that a saalik can maintain an adequate standard of living devoid of greed, envy, jealousy, and vanity. He must also enjoy the passion of assisting others through his profession and his wealth. A saalik requires physical companionship as part of his human need. Marriage therefore is a Sunnah of the prophet Muhammad (SA). When a saalik lives with his/her spouse with this in mind the whole marriage (in time and space) will be an act of ‘ibaadah. The saalik must again realize that this companionship is not an end in itself; it is a means or a necessary provision for the journey. The saalik must fulfill his obligations towards the spouse, children, parents, and in-laws because these obligations enhance the marriage. However, the saalik must discern with maturity what is an obligation and what are social vanities.
Likewise a saalik lives in the context of a human society. He must therefore fulfill all necessary social obligations like attending salaat, frequenting masjids, promoting necessary activities in the community like Muslim schools, and working towards the general well-being of the national community. The saalik must also be aware of the global human society and participate wherever and whenever possible without compromising obligations towards the family and the local community.
A prerequisite for the saalik is to understand that this world is temporary and he is merely crossing the road in this world, the world being the road that he is crossing. The saalik does not regard anything or anyone as permanent in this world. Someone who has a mindset of living in this world as if he is not going to die can never be a saalik. Likewise, someone who believes that a particular human being for instance is indispensable then he also will never start this journey. The prophet Muhammad (AS) was the closest human being to total indispensability. But even he had to leave. So as much as it is natural for human beings to comfort each other and to feel secure around family members, friends, and patrons, an ordinary muslim is required to appreciate both his impermanency and theirs. The saalik is someone who wishes to be a notch higher than the ordinary muslim. So the mindset of a saalik must also be a notch higher. If you (the reader of this) feel that this is beyond his/her grasp then do not read any further. This journey might prove to be more than you can handle at this moment.
Aisha (RA) quoted the prophet (SA) as saying,” the world is a house for the one who has no house. And for it, the one who has no brain gathers.” This means that the one who does not construct a house for himself in jannah will expend all his resources (time and money) in this world. Consequently he will have a home in this world but he will be homeless in the hereafter. Likewise someone who waits in the transit lounge of an airport for a plane that will arrive in the next half-an-hour and expends all of this time frantically collecting and gathering peanuts and candy from every available stand at the airport must be a moron (someone who does not use his brain).
A salalik will gather only what is necessary to sustain his wait in the transit lounge and then prepare for the journey ahead. He will realize that his stay in the lounge is but for a short while. He cannot afford to make this time and space his ultimate goal. His goal lies further ahead and he will intelligently make the intelligent decision not to fantasize about the glory of the transit lounge – no matter how grand it may appear. This is the mind-set required for the first type of provision: the physical type.
A saalik needs to arm himself with ethical provisions and weapons. Some ethical qualities serve as provisions like gratitude (Shukr) while others may serve as weapons like self-control. Weapons for the saalik are for defensive purposes only and not for any offensive needs. The saalik has no offensive agenda other than against his own nafs (ego and self).
Works such as Ihya al-Uloom of al-Ghazali are indispensable for a saalik to read and understand. Ethical and moral reform was part and parcel of all Prophets’ mission. There are two phases in the development of human moral excellence. The first phase is known as Takhliyah (also Tasfiyah and Tazkiyah) or catharsis. This phase focuses on removing all detrimental habits, traits and propensities in the saalik. The second phase is known as Tahliyah or beautifying. This phase focuses on helping the saalik don garbs and cloaks of moral perfection.
In the phase of Takhliyah, there are primarily two moral forces that have to be developed and reformed. They are the forces of passion (Shahwah) and anger (Ghadab). Passion and anger are used here as terms and not as actual traits. The development and reformation and then, the ultimate refinement of these two forces form the crux of moral purification on the paradigm of Prophets. The details of this process can be – and have been – written in volumes. The following is but an introductory synopsis on the subject.
Premise and Pre-requisite
The guide (sheikh) of the saalik is always more important than the saalik’s own reading. The Prophet SAW said: “A believer is like a mirror unto another believer.” The sheikh can look into the mirror of the saalik’s being and detect faults and mistakes much more than anyone else. The sole purpose of taking on a sheikh is not so much for the purpose of spiritual progress as it is for purification. Understanding the pitfalls of the devil and the nafs can only be acquired from a human living sheikh and not from a spiritual sheikh who has passed away. The sheikh will always be gracious about most moral deficiencies and try to reform the saalik with the Prophet Muhammad’s example in mind. However, there may occasions when some critical evaluation needs to be dispensed and the sheikh will do so. A saalik must be ready to read between the lines; to understand the direction in which the sheikh is pointing and to be prepared to reform himself according to his immediate abilities.
This readiness – on behalf – of the saalik is half of the journey. Those who tread this path and are not ready to relinquish themselves – morally – will have a much longer journey than those who accept the sheikh’s evaluation and prescription willingly. The first priority for the saalik is to subdue his desire to excel in the spiritual world. The initial enthusiasm is good enough to get the saalik to the gate, but not nearly enough to start his journey. The saalik must hitch a ride from someone somewhere. When a saalik acquiesces and shows eagerness to control this desire, the other desires follow suit – very easily.
This is the easiest method of controlling and developing the force of passion (Shahwah).
The force of anger (Ghadab) can be treated through the method of employing Tawheed to all events and phenomena of and in life. That everything happens because of the Will of Allah is a given in our faith. We are not Muslim if we do not subscribe to this belief. A saalik uses this belief and applies to every event and phenomena in his life. The macro-belief is incorporated in the micro extensions of life. If something does not work out to a saalik’s liking or if someone does something to annoy and irritate him, he sees that particular event and phenomena as appearing only because of the Will of Allah. If a saalik believes this, then the natural conclusion is that he should belief that whatever he wanted did not happen and whatever Allah willed happened. And that is all He wrote and willed.
Once a saalik begins to discipline his thoughts and emotions on this paradigm of Tawheed, he will begin to notice that anger really has no application in his life. There are obviously issues of fighting injustices and preventing violations against life, but they will be discussed later. At this point, the saalik’s ship is not ready to sail and accordingly, he must cast his anchor in the harbor of self-control. If he has no anchor, the ship may capsize even before he begins his voyage. This is why the Prophet SAW and his early Companions dressed themselves with tremendous self-control, restraint and patience in Makkah – before they made their journey to Madinah. In Madinah, they were allowed to express their desire to prevent others from violating human dignity. The Makkah paradigm was the foundation upon which the Madinian paradigm of promoting human dignity was built. For the institute of Jihad, Makkah was the phase of Takhliyah and Madinah was the phase of Tahliyah.
This is a very easy method of controlling and developing the force of anger (Ghadab). The sheikh may see this in a saalik, he may not. The saalik knows exactly how many times he becomes angry and for what reasons every day. The saalik must audit his own emotions and feelings to this end. If he has difficulties, he must notify the sheikh who will assist him through prescriptions.