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Part 3

Excerpts from Shaykh Fadhlalla's book Transformative Worship in Islam: Experiencing Perfection.

Outward abstentions

1. Abstention of the Tongue

This concerns useless, foolish, or discourteous speech, as well as anything which would be contrary to what pleases Allah. The Prophet said:

Whoever is silent is saved. When the discussion reaches Allah, then be silent. Whoever knows his Lord, his tongue becomes still.

That is to say, one is incapable of speaking about the absolute Source and Essence. Divine knowledge is to be tasted and witnessed personally and the tongue is incapable of expressing what is beyond the senses and the mind. The Messenger of Allah said:

Whoever speaks too much speaks frivolously. Whoever speaks frivolously has little modesty. Whoever has little modesty has little restraint, and whoever has little restraint enters the Fire.

2. Abstention of the Eyes

This involves restraining them from seeing whatever is forbidden according to the shari`ah of Islam.

Tell the people of faith to avert their eyes and to guard their private parts... [24:30]

Lowering the gaze is expected from the serious seeker. Desires that arise from seeing can cause distractions that can be subtle and subconscious as well as gross and action-oriented. A blind person may be spared these distractions (unless he or she regains his/her sight).

3. Abstention of the Ears

The ears must be restrained from hearing whatever is forbidden in shari`ah, like slander and gossip, music and songs that entice lower tendencies, and listening to the talk of the misguided and the corrupt.

4. Abstention of the Sense of Smell

This refers to abstaining from both foul odors as well as exciting scents. Foul odors cause aversion and disgust, whereas sweet scent may excite desires and pleasures.

5. Abstention of the Sense of Taste

The meaning here relates to avoidance of whatever may veil the faculty of reason, such as imbibing intoxicating beverages, or by acquiring a taste for usury and unfair profit, abuse of orphans, the poor and the weak, and various other ‘prohibitive’ tastes and habits which will hinder one’s spiritual progress.

And do not approach the property of the orphan except in the best manner... [6:152]

But those who take usury will rise up on the Day of Resurrection like someone tormented by Satan’s touch. [2:275]

6. Abstention of the Sense of Touch

This relates to abstaining from touching whatever may lead to forbidden actions, or to excesses in permitted actions, or to go beyond the limits of balance.

They will say to their skins, “why have you testified against us?” They will reply: “Allah has caused us to speak, it is He who gives speech to everything and He created you in the first instance and to Him you will return.” [41:21]

Nor were you discreet lest your ears or your eyes or your skins testify against you. [41:22]

The senses have been created to function in harmony and balance regarding worldly interactions. Anyone who uses the body and its various parts in a manner for which it was not created is considered to be a wrongdoer and out of balance, which is the opposite of harmony, and, therefore, of justice.

One explanation of the following verse:

And the places of prostration (masājid) are for Allah, so therefore do not call upon anyone with Allah, [72:18]

is that the human points of prostration include the seven points where the physical body touches the ground. These include the forehead, the two hands, the two knees, and the two feet. These places of prostration are for Allah: they belong to Him and are His slaves, so do not use them in anything which is not pleasing to Him or in anything for which they were not created.

Inner Abstentions

Inner abstentions are five:

The First Abstention

refers to restraining the mind from being occupied with base or worldly concerns. The mind is where reasoning and intellect are developed for interaction with the world. When used properly they lead to rational and good understanding. The Prophet has taught that the contemplation of one hour is better than the actions of seventy years.

The Second Abstention

is to use the mind and intellect to learn about creation and appropriate boundaries and limitations.

...those who preserve Allah’s limits. [9:112]

The Third Abstention

involves restraining the imaginal power (khayāl – the faculty which enables us to construct entities or ideas which do not physically exist, such as a ‘flying cat’) so that its activity is limited to the purpose for which it was created, which is the perception of things in their true higher reality without being overcome by fantasy and foolish imagery. Allah did not create this power for any reason other than to deduce the meaning behind the world of matter. The power of imagination inspired the Pharaoh and his people to imagine that the transformation of the staff of Musa into a serpent was merely a result of magic.

The Fourth Abstention

is restraining the power of illusion (and values or meanings given to events or situations) which makes one hate someone one minute and love someone else the next. This ‘wahm’ prevents one from steadfastness and perseverance on the path of spiritual evolvement. It will cause one to fall prey to the delusion of love and hate and other confusions.

Whoever possesses a ‘Tranquil Soul’ is free of all of this as he is in the station of witnessing his Beloved and His acts, and ‘anything the Beloved does is loved’. Whoever is in this state of witnessing One Reality has no enmity for anyone nor concern. Allah addresses the one who has attained this station:

O soul that art at rest! Return to your Lord pleased [with Him] and well-pleasing [Him]. [89:27-28]

Whoever truly fasts is the one who possesses a soul that is at rest or tranquil and is not possessed or controlled by his lower self.

The Fifth Abstention

deals with restraining the combined senses as they manifest themselves, both in subjective thoughts (wahm) and in the imagination, and as they constantly appear to the self in both form and meaning. This is naturally an obstacle to progress on the Path, because anyone who is occupied with the senses is veiled from the real significance that lies behind them.

Likewise, anyone who is preoccupied with their illusions and self-given values will be veiled from true meaning. "The One who is veiled, is veiled, regardless of whether it is by one veil or a thousand." Consequently, the one who fasts must abstain from the likes of these so that he may be free of all veils and witness his Beloved in the manner we have discussed.

The Fast of the Gnostic

The Men of Allah consider the self to be like a tree with ten branches. Each branch naturally takes its share of nutrients which the tree imbibes from the earth. If, however, we suppose that nine of these branches are cut off then the power of those branches and the nutrients which originally went to them would now go to the one remaining branch; it would grow larger and its fruit would be sweeter and bigger. So it is with the self of man. If man ceases to be attached to the world which surrounds him and his attachment is to the trunk then no doubt the fruits of his thought will be loftier, greater, more powerful, and more honorable.

The fast of the Gnostic consists of abstaining from witnessing anything other than Allah. Consequently, anyone fasting at this level abstains from anything other than their Beloved, for they assert that there is nothing in existence other than Allah (the Exalted), Allah’s Names, Attributes and Actions; thus, everything relates to Allah, by Allah, and from Allah. This is because anybody who does not restrain his self from witnessing other than Allah is a mushrik, and the fast of the mushrik is not accepted, nor is his prayer, because praying and fasting cleanse the inner from the impurity of seeing another with Allah, and from the illusion of the grossness and the filth of ‘otherness’ with the water of Unity and the light of faith based on knowledge. It is obvious in prayer and other acts of worship that one cannot cleanse the inner unless the outer is cleansed by way of wudu’ or ghusl. Likewise, the fast is not valid for the mushrik, whether his shirk be open or concealed, because every mushrik rejects Reality (i.e. a kāfir) and every kāfir is a mushrik, as Allah has stated:

And whoever associates (others) with Allah has indeed gone far astray. [4:116]

The following verse elucidates the meaning of concealed shirk:

Thus, whoever seeks to meet his Lord then let him do good actions and not associate anyone in the worship of his Lord. [18:110]

If this is an allusion to one who was openly associating others with Allah, Allah would have said: ‘...and not associate anyone with his Lord.’ But when He says ‘in the worship of his Lord’ we know that this is an allusion to one who secretly or inadvertently associates others with Allah, who are referred to as being ‘believers’ and ‘Muslims’, as Allah has said:

And most of them do not believe in Allah without associating (others with Him). [12:106]

And recall what the Prophet said:

The infiltration of shirk into my people is more hidden than the creeping of a black ant upon a black stone on a dark night.

The awakened seeker must give up the illusion of seeing actions as coming from other than Allah so that by this realization he may arrive at the station of the Unity of Action. Then he must go past the illusion of seeing Attributes other than those of Allah. That is the station of the Unity of Attributes. Finally, he must go past the veil of ‘independent’ entities or events – in Truth, there is no Reality except the One Reality, Allah. That is the station of the Unity of Essence, which is the goal of the Path, and indeed, the goal of existence itself.