Ibn Ataillah’s Hikam with explanatory notes by Shaykh Abdullah Gangohi

How can the heart be illumined whilst images are reflected in its mirror? How can it travel to Allah, whilst it is still shackled with the fetters of desire? How can it hope to enter Allah’s presence whilst it has not purified itself of forgetfulness? How can it hope to understand subtle secrets whilst it has not refrained from offensive acts?  

When images of wealth, offspring, desires and endless hopes exist in the heart, how can it be illuminated? It is only when these things are absent that light can enter. A heart occupied with the accumulation of material things and shackled with the chains of endless desires cannot travel to Allah because the chains at its feet prevent it from travelling.

A heart absorbed in the impurity of forgetfulness, and heedlessness of the hereafter cannot enter the presence of Allah. Just as a ritually impure person cannot enter the mosque. Similarly, a spiritually impure person cannot enter the presence of Allah and gain His proximity.

Likewise, a person not abstaining from reprehensible and offensive acts cannot hope to attain the knowledge of subtle secrets. It is only when he repents from these acts that he will have the ability to comprehend these secrets.  

There is no minor sin if His justice confronts you, and there is no major sin if His grace confronts you.

If Allah’s justice manifests itself and He confronts you with it, then there is no minor sin. Every sin is accountable for, because the slightest disobedience of such a Majestic Lord is so severe that it alone suffices in leading one to destruction. Whilst if Allah’s compassion and mercy manifest then the enormity of a sin, no matter how great, is insignificant; it is forgiven and thus non-existing.

When you commit a sin let it not despair you from attaining resoluteness, for perhaps it is the last sin decreed for you.

Committing a sin is human nature and is not contrary to attaining steadfastness and uprightness in the path. Despairing of ever attaining an unchanging station with your Lord after sinning and then to indulge in more sins is a grave mistake. What is contrary to resoluteness however, is perseverance in sinning, not seeking forgiveness and intentionally resolving to sin again. It is quite probable that this be the last sin decreed for you after being remorseful and penitent of this committed act.   

Absence of sadness over missed works and the absence of remorse over committed sins is the sign of a dead heart.

Just as the body is nourished by food, the soul is nourished by good works. Like malnutrition of the body leads to death, likewise malnutrition of the soul leads to a dead heart.  Thus not being remorseful over missing good works, like fasting and ritual prayers etc, is a sign of a dead heart and the sign of a living heart is the pleasure in performing good works and remorsefulness over committing sins.

Let no sin reach such enormity that it prevents your good opinion of Allah and cause despair from divine mercy. For whosoever knows his Lord considers his sin insignificant in comparison to His compassion. 

Do not imagine your sins to be so great that they despair you from Allah’s compassion and mercy. Thinking that I have sinned tremendously and am not worthy of forgiveness and have no right to divine compassion. This disparity is an outcome of not recognising Allah’s attributes. His attributes of compassion, mercy, generosity and forgiveness are infinite and your sin is finite and insignificant in comparison. So do not despair but continue in hoping for divine forgiveness. However, do not be so optimistic of His mercy that you continue to sin heedlessly and without seeking forgiveness.

In summary, you should not regard your sin so grave that it despairs you of His forgiveness, neither should you consider it so trivial that it prevents you being penitent and remorseful. You should seek forgiveness, be remorseful and have a firm resolution of not sinning again.    

Shazad Khan


Danner, V. (1984). Sufi Aphorisms: Kitáb al-Hikam. Leiden: Brill.

Gangohi, A. (n/d). Ikmál al-Shiyam [The Perfection of Character Traits]. Kutub Khana Yahya: Saharanpur.


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