COMMENTARY ON THE HIKAM of Ibn 'Ata'llah al-Iskandari

by Ibn 'Ajiba


A feeling of discouragement when you slip up

is a sure sign that you put your faith in deeds.

Reliance on a thing means to lean on it and to put one's trust in it. Deeds are the actions of either the heart or the body. If an action is in harmony with the Shari'a, it is called obedience. If it is contrary to the Shari'a, it is called disobedience.

The people of this science divide actions into three categories: actions of the Shari'a, actions of the Tariqa, and actions of Reality. This can be re-phrased as actions of Islam, actions of faith and actions of ihsan , or actions of worship, actions of slavedom and actions of pure slavedom, which is freedom. Or it can be referred to as the actions of the people of the beginning, the actions of the people in the middle and the actions of the people of the end. The Shari'a is that you worship Him; the Tariqa is that You aim for Him, and the reality is that you witness Him. You could also say that the Shari'a is putting the outward right, Tariqa is putting the conscience right, and the reality is putting the secret right.

Putting the limbs right is achieved by three matters: tawba , taqwa and rectitude. Putting hearts right is achieved by three matters: sincerity ( ikhlas ), truthfulness and being at peace. Putting the secrets right is achieved by three matters: watchful fear ( muraqaba ), witnessing and gnosis. You could also say that putting the outward right is by avoiding prohibitions and obeying commands; putting the secrets right is by freeing oneself of vices and taking on virtues; and putting the secrets, which are the arwah (spirits), right is achieved by making them give out, breaking them until they are disciplined and training them into having adab , humility and good character.

Know that we are speaking about the actions necessary for purifying the limbs, hearts or arwah . They have already been specified for each category. As for knowledge and gnosis, they are the fruits of purification and refinement. When the secret is pure, it is filled with knowledge, gnosis and lights.

Moving to a station is not valid until one has mastered what is before it. Whoever has a radiant beginning, has a radiant end. So a person does not move to the actions of the Tariqa until he has performed the actions of the Shari'a and trained his limbs to perform them so that he meets the preconditions for repentance, possesses the pillars of taqwa and puts in action the various types of rectitude. That consists of following the Messenger, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, in his words, deeds, and states.

Once the outward is pure and illuminated by the Shari'a, then he moves from the outward actions of Shari'a to the inward actions of the Tariqa, which is purifying oneself from the attributes of humanity as will be discussed. When he is free of the attributes of humanity, he is adorned with the attributes of spirituality, which is proper adab with Allah in His prescencings ( tajalliyat ), which are His manifestations. Then the limbs have rest from toil and all that remains is good adab . One of those who are recognised said, "Whoever reaches the reality of Islam does not flag in action. Whoever reaches the reality of faith, cannot turn to acting by other than Allah. Whoever reaches the reality of ihsan cannot turn to anyone except Allah."

In travelling through these stations, the murid should not put his faith in himself nor on his actions, state, and strength. He must put his trust in the bounty of his Lord, His granting him success and His guidance. Allah says, " Your Lord creates and chooses whatever He wishes. The choice is not theirs." (28:68) Allah says, "If your Lord had wanted to, He would have made mankind into one community but they persist in their differences, except for those your Lord has mercy on." (11:118) The Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said, "None of you will enter the Garden by virtue of his actions." They asked, "Not even you, Messenger of Allah?" He said, "Not even me, unless Allah envelops me in his mercy."

Reliance on the lower selves is a sign of wretchedness and despair. Reliance on action comes from lack of being certain about things coming to an end. Reliance on generosity and states comes from lack of the company of the Men [of Sufism]. Reliance on Allah comes from realisation of gnosis of Allah. The sign of reliance on Allah is that your hopes are not lessened when you slip into disobedience nor are they increased when you do good. You can say that his fear is not great when needlessness issues from him, just as his hope is not removed when he is aware of it.

His fear and hope are always in equal balance because his fear is the result of witnessing majesty and his hope is the result of witnessing beauty. The majesty and beauty of the Real are not affected by increase or decrease. So what issues from them is not the same as what issues from someone who puts his trust in deeds since, when the deeds of such a person are few, his hope is little, and when his needs are numerous, he has great hope because of his shirk with his Lord and his realisation of his ignorance. If he were to be annihilated to himself and go on by his Lord, then he would have rest from his toil and achieve gnosis of his Lord.

He must have a perfect shaykh who will bring him out of the trouble of his self to his rest by witnessing his Lord. The perfect shaykh is the one who gives you rest from trouble, not the one who directs you to trouble. Whoever directs you to action, tires you. Whoever directs you to this world, cheats you. Whoever directs you to Allah has been faithful to you, as Shaykh Ibn Mashish, may Allah be pleased with him, said, "Direction to Allah is direction to forgetting the self. When you forget yourself, you remember your Lord. Allah Almighty says, 'Remember your Lord when you forget.' (18:24)" The reason for toil is remembering the self and being concerned with its affairs and portions. As for the one who is absent from them, he only has rest.

As for the words of Allah, "We created man in trouble" (90:4), they are specific to the people of the veil, Or you could say specific to the living selves. As for those who have died, the Almighty say s, "If he is one of Those Brought Near, there is solace and sweetness and a Garden of Delight" (56:88), meaning he will have the solace of arrival and the sweetness of beauty and the garden of perfection. The Almighty says, "They will not be affected by any tiredness there" (15:48). Rest, however, is only obtained after toil, and victory is only obtained after seeking. "The Garden is surrounded by disliked things."

O you passionately in love with the meaning of Our beauty,

   Our dowry is expensive for the one who proposes to Us:

An emaciated body and spirit full of care

   and eyes which do not taste sleep,

And a heart which does not contain other than Us.

   If you want to pay the price,

Then be annihilated if you wish for eternal annihilation.

   Annihilation brings one near to that annihilation.

Remove the sandals when you come

   to that quarter. He was radiant in it.

Cast off both beings and remove

   what is between us from between Us.

When you are asked, "Who do you love?"

   Say, "I am the One I love and the One I love is me."

We read in Solving the Riddles , "Know that you will not attain to the stages of nearness until you ascend six steep slopes. The first is the limbs abstaining from legal disobedience; the second is the self abstaining from normal familiar customs; the third is the heart abstaining from human flippancy; the fourth is the self abstaining from natural impurities; the fifth is the spirit abstaining from sensory favours; the sixth is the intellect abstaining from illusory imaginations. After the first slope you look down at the founts of wisdom. After the second you look at the secrets of divinely granted knowledge. After the third there appears to you the signs of the intimate conversations of the malakut . After the fourth, the lights of the stages of proximity shine to you. After the fifth, the lights of the manifestation of love appear to you. After the sixth slope, you descend to the meadows of the Holiest Presence and there you withdraw from what you witnessed of the human subtle meanings of dense sensory things. When He desires to single you out and select you, He will give you a draught from the cup of His love. That drink will increase your thirst, as taste will increase your yearning, nearness will intensify your quest, and intoxication will increase your restlessness."

One of the excellent men was confused by the words of the Almighty , "Enter the Garden for what you did" (16:32) since the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said, "None of you will enter the Garden by his actions." The answer to that is that the Book and the Sunna go alternate between the Shari'a and the reality, or you could say prescription and realisation. They prescribe in some places and speak of the reality in others regarding the same thing. The Qur'an may legislate in one place while the Sunna gives the reality, and the reverse also occurs. The Messenger, peace be upon him, explained what Allah revealed. Allah says, "We have sent down to the Reminder to you so that you can make clear to mankind what has been sent down to them.." (16:44) His words, "Enter the Garden for what you did" is legislation for the people of wisdom, who are the people of the Shari'a, and the words of the Prophet are realisation for the people of power, who are the people of the reality. The words of the Almighty, "But you will not will unless Allah wills." (81:29) is reality, while the words of the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, "When one of you has a good action, a good action is written for him" is Shari'a.

In short, the Sunna qualifies the Qur'an and the Qur'an qualifies the Sunna. So a person is obliged to have two eyes: one looks at the reality while the other looks at the Shari'a. If he finds that the Qur'an legislates in one place, there must be the reality in another, and the reverse is true. There is no contradiction between the ayat and the hadith nor any confusion.

There is another answer, which is that when Allah Almighty called people to tawhid and obedience, they would not enter it without desire and so He promised them a reward for actions. When their feet were firm in Islam, the Prophet, peace be upon them, brought them out from that and made them rise to sincere slavedom and realisation of the station of sincerity. So he told them, "None of you will enter the Garden by his actions." Allah knows best. Here the answers of the people of the outward are of no use at all. When someone moves from outward actions to inward actions, the effect of that must appear on the limbs. The Almighty says, "When kings enter a city, they lay waste to it." (27:34) The appearance of its effects is divestment or withdrawal ( tajrid ).