Ibn Ataillah’s Aphorisms on Sincerity with explanatory notes by Shaykh Abdullah Gangohi

Works are like lifeless forms and the presence of sincerity endows them with spirit.

Works, like ritual prayers, fasting and hajj without sincerity are like lifeless forms. They are like pictures of animate beings and the presence of sincerity therein endows them with life. Sincerity means to perform works solely for the pleasure of Allah. The presence of sincerity renders the work fruitful in the hereafter, and its absence renders it fruitless.

A traveller on the path does not halt at what has been inspired to him, that it [the inspiration] calls unto him saying “Your destination is onward!” The appearance of the beauty of creation does not manifest itself to you, but that its inner voice exclaims “We are a test. Do not be ungrateful”  

When the traveller begins his journey and invokes Allah’s divine name, and occupies himself with the works of taṣawwuf, a multitude of secrets manifest and he enjoys the pleasure thereof, he stops his journey and begins to think it as the object of the path. The reality is quite the contrary. With the presence of divine success and a perfect shaykh, these inspirations call out saying, “Your destination is onward!” These secrets and pleasures you are experiencing are created beings like yourself; they are not the Creator, your ultimate objective.

Similarly, when the beauty of the creation manifests itself and the traveller who lacks a perfect shaykh or has been decreed to be of the unfortunate will occupy himself therein and think this as his or her objective. Divine success alone guides one, and one hears these manifestations calling out, “We are a test. Do not be ungrateful to your Lord and continue your journey!”

Travel not from created being to created being, otherwise you will be like the donkey at the mill, turning round endlessly; his beginning being his end. But turn to the Creator. He states, “Unto you Lord is the final end of it” [Quran, 44:79].

The objective of the traveller is that Allah occupies his mind in every matter. The aim of all the invocations on the path is also to remove focus and reliance on other than Him and to remain forever in His remembrance.

If a worldly person occupies himself with ritual prayers and invocations, and his objective is that others consider him saintly, he is travelling from one created being to another. Meaning, he has travelled from the love of wealth to the love of ostentation. Similarly, if the attainment of reward, attaining high ranks and pleasure be his aim in good works, even though this is legally permissible, it defies propriety of one who seeks Allah, so he is also travelling from one created being to another [reward etc]. Ostentation and reward are all identical; they are other than Him, and such a traveller is like a donkey on a mill travelling round endlessly, whence he begins he ends, not covering any distance at all. The traveller also revolves around the circle of creation and not covering any distance to the Creator. The object of the traveller thus should be to leave created beings, whatever form they may be, and travel to Allah, for He most High states, “Unto your Lord is the final end of it” [Quran, 44:79].

 

Consider the words of the Prophet [Allah bless him and give him peace], “Whosoever migrates to Allah and His Prophet, his migration is indeed to Allah and His Prophet, and whosoever migrates to the world, his migration is for that which he migrates.” So ponder over this hadith if you possess an intellect.

This hadith is scriptural evidence for the previous aphorism. In summary, migrating for the sake of Allah alone is when ones migration is considered valid. Otherwise, ones migration will merely be for a worldly objective and no reward will be attained in the hereafter. Similarly, if a traveller intends ostentation or pleasure in works, then that will be his destination. Proximity of the divine will never be attained by such an individual. On the contrary however, if one disregards all pleasures and rewards and travels solely for the pleasure of Allah then he will achieve his objective.

No work is more befitting divine acceptance than the one that you do not perceive and is considered insignificant.

The most fruitful work and one most deserving acceptance is that the slave does not perceive the work as his own but rather ascribes it to Allah. He perceives that had Allah not bestowed His grace upon him he would not have been able to carry out His servitude.  He also considers the work insignificant and not worthy of acceptance. It is only then that his work is most befitting divine acceptance.

 

Let not obedience make you joyous because you are the creator of your actions, but rather be joyous because Allah has bestowed His grace upon you and enabled you to perform it. Allah states, “Say, in the grace of Allah and His mercy, in that let them rejoice” [Quran, 10:58].

It is highly ungrateful and wrong to perceive your spiritual works as your own. You should be grateful to your Lord that he bestowed His grace upon you and enabled you to perform the work. This is what Allah states in the Quran [10:58], “Say, in the grace of Allah and His mercy, in that let them rejoice.”

 

It does not befit His majesty that he defer the reward of the servant for the work done presently.

It is not befitting your lord that He obliges you with obedience now and rewards you for it in credit in the hereafter. The recompense you receive in this world is that the subtle secrets are disclosed for you and you experience pleasure in worshipping Him. This is a taste of what you will receive in hereafter which will be manifold in comparison.

However, it suffices you as an immediate reward, that He has made you worthy of performing the work. The greatest reward is that you are honoured with divine servitude.  

 

It suffices as an immediate reward for the one who does good works that during servitude He opens the doors of inspiration and bestows divine intimacy in his heart.

The immediate reward received in this world for obedience is that He inspires you with divine secrets and subtleties and you experience pleasure therein. He places divine intimacy in your heart that the material blessings of this world seem worthless in comparison.

 

Whoever worships Allah to attain reward or save punishment has not fulfilled the rights of His majestic and beautiful attributes.

If the servant intends to attain Paradise or salvation from Hell, then Allah willing, he will attain this. However, such a servant only has his own egotistical motives at heart and he has not recognised the Majestic and beautiful attributes of his lord. Perfection is thus to carry out His servitude due to His grandeur, neither for Heaven or Hell, but to continue persevering obediently in His service.

 

When you seek recompense for a deed, sincerity will be demanded from you in return. It suffices you that you are not demanded this sincerity.

If a servant intends to attain reward for his works, Allah will state that works worthy of recompense are those that possess sincerity, whilst you performed these works for your personal gain, therefore they lack sincerity. Sincerity necessitates that one perform the work without intending reward for them, then only will you be safe from the demanding of sincerity.

 

Do not seek recompense for a deed which you have not created. It suffices you as recompense that He accepts it and does not account you for it.

Allah is the creator of every action in the universe. Therefore, the traveller should recognise that the work he has just performed is in reality His creation. This is turn implies that you do not intend recompense for it; otherwise it would be lacking in sincerity. It is enough for you that He has accepted it and not held you accountable.  

You are in greater need of His forbearance when you obey Him than when you disobey Him.

Perfect servitude and also the objective of all works is that the servant observe Allah in all affairs. His works, actions and even his very existence disappear, his reliance be upon Allah alone and his heart be attached to Allah constantly. Conversely, it is highly destructive that the servant attribute all his works and actions to himself and be delighted because of them, as such a person is rejected by Allah.

It is also known that one is in need of Allah’s forbearance when one sins, as it is contrary to Allah’s will and brings about His wrath. Whilst when performing good works one is not in need of His forbearance as His pleasure is in it. However, very often, the matter is quite the contrary. One is in need of His forbearance in servitude more than in disobedience. This is because a servant is naturally remorseful and penitent after sinning and his attention turns towards His mercy and compassion; which is the very objective of the path. Whilst a servant who performs good works is proud of their performance and considers himself worthy of reward, thus his attention is towards himself and not to Allah’s mercy and grace. It will not be unusual if such a person be the recipient of His wrath and displeasure. Therefore such a person is more in need of His forbearance in obedience than in disobedience.   

 

At times subtle ostentation enters unnoticeably.

Ostentation is that works be performed so that others consider one as pious and saintly. This type of ostentation is forbidden and is known to one and all. However, there is another subtle type of ostentation, where good actions are performed and they are done for Allah [not for people] yet he wishes others to find out about his works. He loves to be praised for his works; this type of ostentation is subtle and enters unnoticeably.  

Your wishing that others come to know of your experience is a proof of your insincerity in servitude.

Sincerity in servitude means that one does not cast an eye on other than Him. One focuses wholeheartedly on Allah alone. If one’s works possess this attribute then they are sincere. Conversely, if one wishes that others come to know of your actions then this is proof of the absence of sincerity.

Bibliography:

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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