Delivered at Women’s’ Ramadaan Thikr talk at Pinelands Masjied, Cape Town 3 June 2018 (18 Ramadaan 1439)
Detachment is not that you should own nothing but that nothing should own you
(Sayyidina) Ali Ibn Abu Talib R.A.
Ramadaan is a time of reflection and a means by which we can practice “Tazkiyatul Nafs”–Purification of the Soul. Allah ﷻ [(Azzawajal) Mighty, Majestic, Glorious and Exalted] enjoins us to purify our souls in his noble book. In Surah Ash-Shams, (91) Verses 9-10:
قَدْأَفْلَحَمَنْزَكَّاهَا * وَقَدْخَابَمَنْدَسَّاهَا
He who purifies it (the soul) will indeed be successful. And he who corrupts it is sure to fail.
How do we find the meaning of this verse so that we can implement it in our daily lives? According to Imam Ghazali Rahimahullah(Allah have mercy upon him), Tazkiyyatul Nafs means“completing the perfection of one’s soul by cutting down its desires, and allowing its noble characteristics to evolve.”
If we do not limit or train or cut down our desires, it acts as a barrier to spiritual growth – allowing our better natures (higher selves) to surface and grow. Conversely, if left unchecked, following ones nafs (ego/primal desires) could lead to obsessiveness and can be so all-consuming causing imbalance and could even lead to self-abuse and destruction. (e.g. drug addiction, or any other kind of addiction).
Ramadaan offers us the opportunity to limit our nafs. For those of you who were here for the talk by Fatima Essop , the first Sunday of Ramadaan, you will recall her message that staying away from food and drink helps us to humble and train the ego / nafs, to cut down our desires which is one of the main objectives of fasting.
Fatima also quoted Surah Al Nazi’aat (79) Verses: 40-41:
And as for him who fears to stand before his Lord and forbids the soul from lower desires then surely the Garden that is its abode
There are many aspects ofnafsbut today I want to talk about only one of them – limiting our material and emotional attachments to this world and its offerings. Everything that Allah ﷻhas created has opposites –light, dark, good, evil and so on. Attachment has its opposite, detachment. Moving from the extreme of attachment towards detachment is a migration that presents much challenge to the human psyche. We find ourselves forming attachments to the world and its many bedazzlements, to the extent that it sometimes becomes an obsession or drive. Some of us are attached to success, wealth, status. Some attachments are formed with material possessions, such as an attachment to a beautiful car you may own, or a house that must be kept in immaculate condition, or with state of the art décor, or even to things like shoes or clothes.
The most powerful attachments are less tangible and take the form of emotional attachments to the people we love. Sometimes attachments are less obvious and take the form of an idea that people have of themselves and how they see the world; and how they would like the world to see them. It is, I suspect it is not uncommon to have a combination of different powerful attachments. I see these attachments as part of the clutter and obstacles to purifying our souls. How do we begin to detach ourselves and ennoble ourselves and purify our souls?
Perhaps it is to remind ourselves that these attachments are as valuable as their date of termination. The only problem is that the date of termination is uncertain as it inevitably is determined by the date of one’s death, therefore its value becomes somewhat diminished. Death, as we know is the ONLY absolute certainty of LIFE. If we know we are to die, why do to attach ourselves to things, thoughts and feelings that are finite, as we will inevitably have to detach ourselves from them at the point of our departure for this world, whenever that is. The harder we cling to it, the more difficult it will be to let go of it. Even more alarming is the thought of building all our hopes and dreams on a transient and temporary world. Allah SWT says in Surah Al- Ankabut (29) : Verse 64:
The life of the world is nothing but a game and a diversion. The abode of the hereafter—that is truly Life if they only knew.
Surah Al-Ghaafir / Mu’min (40) Verse 39:
O my people, this worldly life is only [temporary] enjoyment, and indeed, the Hereafter – that is the home of [permanent] settlement.
That is not to say that one should not live life, have hopes and dreams, own things. That is part of the human experience. The problem is when those things, thoughts and feelings own you. We can test ourselves in how we react to loss. That gives us a measuring stick of the worth we place in the object of our loss and the level of attachment we have to it. How do you feel when your brand-new car gets a dent or a scratch, does it rip at your insides a little? How about your expensive leather couch gets a stain, do you physically feel a pain? If we pin all our desire and energy on anything so uncertain, we are sure to be distraught by the loss of it. I am reminded of the words of a song–“My life is for rent, nothing I have is truly mine”. Is this not true though, we have the use of things and the gift of relationships, be they with our partners or children, we own nothing in reality, even if we have paid up houses or cars, for the majority, even those are owned by financial institutions, to whom we are enslaved over a period of years until the debt is paid, giving us a shallow illusion of ownership. The truth is that a paid-up house remains here after you depart and is of no use to you. Maybe for your children who then repeat the cycle of owning and clinging to something which will ultimately have zero personal value to them at the point of death. What is the sense in engaging your consciousness in acquiring and consuming things until you die. Then what? The one who has the most wins? This, for me is compelling proof that the bedazzlement of the world is a distraction from the substance of a meaningful life. Have things, love with all your heart, but understand that they will be lost one day and be prepared to let go. Wouldn’t it then be better to mentally detach yourself now so that if you experience loss it is an experience and not a suffering?
It becomes easier if you accept that everything in life is on loan. It goes without saying therefore, that the Giver of life, is also the taker thereof and therefore the benefactor of everything. We could be dispossessed of anything at any time. It is on long-term or sometimes short-term loan. Insurance companies have no problem fear mongering you into taking life insurance to cover your family but cannot guarantee you or your loved ones eternal life. As a human being, how much do you really control? Whether you are struggling to maintain what you have, whether it be millions, or enough to get through day by day, it is still a struggle. There can be no control in this kind of struggle. Struggle to control is almost an oxymoron. Letting go could begin by allowing that scratch on your car or the stain on your couch to be a reminder of the transience of everything you ‘own’or think you control, including our children.
What about rejection by a loved one. Being rejected by a spouse or partner can be humiliating and devastating if you allow it to be. If someone has chosen to leave you, let that not be a reflection of how you feel about yourself, but rather how the person leaving may feel about themselves. Perhaps they are searching and seek answers from another person instead of introspecting and turning to Allah Azzawajal. Perhaps you have been released you from being the fulfiller of their own dreams. I have written about the subject of expecting happiness form others more extensively, and that is another aspect of constraining the nafsfor another day. For now, consider that if you were a disappointment to someone, who rejected you, perhaps they were seeking too much from you and are likely to find themselves in the same position with someone else. Consider whether you are not in that same endless trap and find a way out before it too consumes you.
The ultimate loss through the death of a loved one is obviously difficult. If you’ve ever experienced the loss of a loved one through illness, you may be familiar with the feeling of not doing enough to try to get them back to health, blaming doctors or medications etc. etc. The passing of my beloved father, who was my Imaam, my teacher and my mentor (May Allah make him amongst those who are foremost amongst His slaves), extremely difficult for me. He was ill for 9 months and I constantly thought he would get better and regain his health and I thought there must be more that I could do to speed up that process. My father had been a focal influence in my life and I had a deep attachment to him. He was my back-up and his passing felt like a rug was being pulled out from under my feet. I struggled to believe that he was passing away. I looked to blame the incompetence of doctors, the hospital and so on, but eventually I realized it was his time and mercifully, I was able to let go before he peacefully passed on in the waqt(time) of Fajr on a Friday and was buried before the Jummuah salaah. It was his time. He returned unto his Creator and journeyed to the next phase of his existence. I miss him every day, but I can continue my life with the invaluable tools he had left me and knowledge he passed onto me, with peace and the acceptance that he has continued his journey, where I would have to follow when it is my time. His passing was the point for me in which Allah, in His infinite mercy, pulled me towards an acceptance that as much as I loved and depended on my father, HeAllah ﷻis my support. Heis my guardian and protector. I realised how much I sought my father’s approval. It was time to seek only Allah’s approval.
Life is a gift, as is everything else made available to us on this earth, but like everything else it can be taken away, lost, destroyed. The most excruciating pain I could conceive would be to lose a child and even though I’d rather not entertain the thought, I am acutely aware that I have no control over their or my time on this earth. I was tested when my son wanted a gap year in Australia this year at an Aborigine School in Queensland in the Australian outback in the middle of nowhere. I knew it would be good for him for character building amongst other life lessons and I agreed. Closer to the time of his departure I had misgivings and a voice in my head kept saying ‘he is not coming back’. I was distraught and I almost let my fears overcome me, Then with His mercy, I remembered Nabi Ebrahim A.S., who on the command of Allah SWT was not only prepared himself to kill his beloved son, but also left his wife and that same infant son in the middle of the dessert, and trusted his Lord. I felt ashamed and knew in my heart that if Allah decides that I will lose my son, it is His will and it matters not whether he is here or in a distant country, Allah controls all. I had to detach myself and let him go. Don’t get me wrong, I still make dua for his safe return, but I have relinquished control unto Him and only with His mercy, الْحَمْدُلِلَّهِ. (All praise is due to God alone).
Sheikh Ahmed Saad Al-Azhari Al Hasani, whom we have been blessed to have as a guest speaker at the Pinelands Masjied this Ramadaan, says in his book “Contemplating the Quran”:
“Although attachments are at root part of human nature…the danger lies entirely in attachments that cause selfishness, stinginess, cowardice and fear to pervade the heart. It is expected of every Muslim that they acknowledge the Bestower before they acknowledge what is bestowed; for doing so brings about gratitude and generosity as well as preoccupation with the Giver rather than the gift. On the other hand, to recognize only the blessing afflicts man with miserliness and destructive attachment to it”It is for that reason that Allah ﷻ enjoins us to give freely. He quotes Surah Al Baqarah (2) Verse 254:
Oh believers give freely of that with which We have provisioned you before there comes a day when trade will not avail you (money), nor friendship or intercession (close ties).
Detachment does not mean giving up everything and living the life of a hermit. We are social beings and have dependencies on each other. Detachment is more about not letting things of this world whether they be things or relationships, consume and own us, so that they define your existence here. Instead to be ever grateful for their loan and use thereof during our journey through life. Travel light my father taught me….
I too struggle. My personal reminder to aid my detachment of all that I love in this world is to submit to my Creator as my benefactor, and the owner, controller, designer of everything in this world and beyond. Any control we think we have is but the illusion of control. The ultimate control lies with the Master of the universe and unto Him is our return. Perhaps if I continue practicing this over and over, and not give up even if I fail sometimes, I may be able to purify somewhat of my tarnished soul.
May Allah, in His infinite mercy , help us all.
With love, Radia 💚