THE VICES OF THE TONGUE
The uncontrolled use of the tongue engenders numerous gross vices which impede the progress of the self towards its goal, and these vices do not belong to a particular organ of the body, i.e. the stomach, the ear or the eye. The sway of the tongue includes everything existing actually or potentially. It translates into words, inner thoughts, fancies and emotions. The functions of other senses are limited, but the function of the tongue is all-embracing, like that of the mind. It is influenced by the mind, and in turn the mind is affected by it.
The words and expressions uttered by the tongue gives rise to corresponding emotions in the mind and leave definite impressions upon it. Indecent and false speech induces dreams of a similar nature: The evils of speech are many and it is an arduous task to guard against them all. So silence or keeping speech limited to bare necessity is a golden rule.
Some of the vices pertaining to speech are as follows: One should not waste his life in useless speech. Every moment of one’s life should be given to contemplation or devotion. The physical cure for talkativeness consists in checking it by retiring into loneliness or by putting small pebbles in the mouth. Talking of immoral things, uttering indecent words, ridiculing joking, abusing, cursing and similar vices should be avoided. Contradiction, disputation, and quarrelling should not be resorted to. One should not endeavour to pry into the secrets of others. One should not make false promises since this deforms and darkens the soul. Falsehood in speech is a heinous sin.
But it is permissible in an emergency when the end in view is good, e.g., the protection of a Muslim refugee against a tyrant, the restoration of happy relations between wife and husband, or reconciliation between two Muslims. In all other circumstances lying is strictly forbidden. In cases where truth and falsehood appear to have equal claims, the former must be adopted. Except in a serious emergency, falsehood is immoral and truthfulness imperative.
Slandering (ghiba) consists in speaking about a person in such a manner that if he heard it his feelings would be injured. It is worse than adultery. He who commits it feeds on the dead body of his brother. A statement may be true, nevertheless it may be slanderous. The various forms of slander are: talking of others’ physical defects, low birth, bad character, evil habits, etc. Slandering is not only done with tongue, but also by means of gestures and writing. Suspicion is also a form of slander, for thinking ill of a person is not lawful. Any thought about a person which tends to lower him and is actually not based on positive proofs must be taken as satanic. The causes of slander are many but a few of them are mentioned below:
(2) Seeking the pleasure of others
(3) Self-defence or self-justification, i.e. when a person charged with a crime attempts to exonerate himself by imputing the crime to someone else.
(4) Self-glorification. Sometimes one finds fault with another person in order to praise oneself by implication, e.g., one may charge a person with ignorance in order to advertise one’s own knowledge.
(6) Feeling of pleasure at another’s misfortune.
(7) Carelessly giving out the name of a person who has committed a fault.
(8) Anger for the pleasure of Allah. One may express his anger at another’s transgression, and may mention his name while expressing his anger. This kind of indignation should be expressed without naming the person, else it would amount to slander. But there are certain exceptional cases when slandering is allowed. Such cases of emergency are noted below.
(l) One can slander the wrongdoer for one’s own safety and the safety of the public before a lawful authority, i.e. the king or the judge.
(2) One can disclose the faults of another in order to prevent him from following an evil path.
(3) The oppressed can ascertain the opinion of a lawyer against a wrong-doer.
Tale-bearing is the communication of a person’s words to another through words, gestures, writing and action in a manner harmful to the former. Flattery or exaggerating the merits of a person produces six evils, four in the flatterer and two in the flattered. The flatterer is generally prone to the evils of talkativeness, falsehood, hypocrisy and pleasing a tyrant; the flattered becomes proud and neglects to improve himself. Selfpraise is bad, therefore, it is prohibited. But a teacher may describe his own virtues so that his pupils and disciples may be encouraged to follow them.
VICES PERTAINING TO GHADAB
Allah has provided man with the instinct of self-assertion to preserve him against conditions, internal and external, which tend to destroy him. This equipment is essential for man. But it ought to be controlled by religion and guided by the intellect into moderation in order to become a virtue. Lack or excess of self-assertion makes it an evil. A person without self-assertion has no self-respect. Both the high and the low despise him. An excessively self-assertive man, however, loses self-control and is, therefore, unable to discriminate between good and evil.
Excessive self-assertion may degenerate into anger, malice, envy, emulation, pride or vanity. Man is aroused to anger against the person who threatens to deprive him of the object of his desires. The angry man wishes to destroy the opposition and to take his revenge. The objects, whose deprivation aroused anger, are:
i) necessaries, e.g., food, abode, etc.
ii) luxuries, i.e., things desired on account of habit, e.g., wealth; and
iii) special requirements which are necessary for some persons and not necessary for others. Anger associated with comforts and special requirements ought to be eradicated. With regard to the necessaries it can only be brought into moderation.
Returning evil with evil is not allowed under any circumstances. The oppressed, of course, is allowed to retaliate provided the injury inflicted by him does not exceed the injury received. But forgiveness is better than retaliation because it is not humanly possible to adjust absolutely accurately the injury inflicted to the injury received.
When one is unable to ventilate one’s anger, it turns into malice (hiqd) against the other person. The lowest grade of malice shows itself in not being pleased with the other man, not praying with him and not guiding him along the right path. All this degrades the malicious man in the eyes of Allah, though he is actually not a sinner. Therefore, a person should not express one’s aversion to, or try to shrink from one whose behaviour is objectionable. Rather, he should be more decent in his dealing with the man whom he wishes to reform.
The worse grade of malice is envy. If a man does not possess something desirable which is possessed by others, he experiences either envy (hasad) or emulation (qhibta). In the former case, it is unpleasant to him that a desirable object or quality is possessed by another man, and he wishes that the possessor may lose it. In the latter case, the possession of such a thing by another person is neither unpleasant to him nor does he wish that he may lose it. He only wishes to possess it himself.
Control of self-assertion leads to virtues like forbearance, forgiveness, mildness, etc. Forbearance is developed by suppressing anger. It is advisable to forbear so long as there is no opportunity for revenge and to forgive when such an opportunity exists. Forgiveness (‘afw) is very praiseworthy. If one foregoes one’s right to please Allah, one will gain in one’s honour on the day of Judgement. Mildness (rifq) is opposed to Severity. Severity is necessary in extreme circumstances but as human nature is liable to excesses one is advised to act with mildness.
Al-Ghazzali has formulated a system of religious training to curb excessive self-assertion in accordance with ethical principles. Try to know evil exactly as it is. Realize, for instance, that it is incorrect to regard anger as valour. Look for its cause and remove it. Anger is due to the loss of the desired object. Such loss of the object was, however, ordained by Allah. Anger is temptation caused by shaitaan. Therefore, one must not love any object so much that its deprivation may cause anger.
And since it is Allah who has ordained the loss of the object, who could be angry with Him? Since the temptation, was caused by the devil, it must be suppressed. To subdue one’s anger one should lie down calmly. Knowledge and practice will eradicate the evil. Realize that Allah does not like anger, since all is from Allah, against whom should there be anger? Think of the divine punishment when you are angry. The power of Allah over man is much greater than that of man over man. Allah may forgive you, if you forgive others. Think of what Allah and His prophets have said against anger. Is it not foolish to give your wish precedence over the wish of Allah?
The final abode of man is the pit of the grave. The present world is only a passage. From this world one must take with him only what is necessary for the next. Unnecessary things will be a burden to him. Renounce them and anger will not be aroused at their loss.
Think of the consequences of your anger to all those who are connected with you. Again, think of the troubles and difficulties you will create in the world by your anger, The object of your anger will become your enemy. Think of the unpleasant. expression on the face of the opponent and realize that, when angry, you too look as ugly as he. Try to imagine the look on the faces of the learned men, wise men, and the prophets. Think of the excellent consequences of pardoning and forbearing.
As regards envy, try to realize that it is injurious to you both here and hereafter. The spiritual injury caused to the envious is that he is displeased with Allah for what He has given to the other person. The worldly injury is that he knows no rest. On the contrary, the envied is benefited doubly. To avoid ridiculing others think that it is not good and that you yourself are liable to be ridiculed. To avoid greed for wealth try to be contented with what is necessary for you so as to acquire freedom from humiliation for being in need.
The best course for getting free from the evils enumerated above is, to begin to practise the virtues which are the opposite of these evils. Forbearance, mildness, forgiveness and humility will overcome the different evil forms of self-assertion. Engage in religious practices and observances so that no time is left for the commission of evil deeds.
PRIDE, VANITY, LOVE OF WEALTH AND LOVE OF POSITION
Anger, malice, envy and emulation are aroused when man is not in possession of the objects of his desire. Pride and vanity, on the other hand, occur when he has secured such objects. Pride is feeling of superiority over others, vanity is admiration of the self.
Pride may be subjective or objective. Subjective pride is a habit of the self and objective pride is the action resulting from this habit. By considering oneself superior to others, one feels gratified and is prone to be proud. Even learned men, worshippers and devotees are seldom free from it. There are two evil consequences of pride, the refusal to accept the truth and contempt of fellowship.
The worst form of pride is that which does not allow one to acquire knowledge and to accept the truth. There have been proud men like Pharaoh and Namrood who challenged Allah and refused to recognise prophets. Their pride was due to ignorance and insurgence. Because of sheer vanity, one disobeys the commandments of Allah, for when a proud man hears a truth from another man, he does not accept it because of his pride and begins to challenge it.
Usually the proud man thinks himself superior to others and looks down upon them. This kind of pride is in any case, very bad. Real pride, Greatness and honour belong only to Allah; by appropriating them to himself a man tries to make himself equal to Allah and thus offends Him.
Only that man thinks himself superior believes that he has some qualities of perfection. Perfection may be religious or worldly. A learned man is very prone to feeling proud. He despises others and expects honour from every one. Worshippers and devotees usually create an impression on the minds of the people. They expect to be honoured. They regard themselves as saved and others as lost.
Pride destroys fear of Allah in them and makes their actions futile. Pride is manifested in their words and acts, sometimes in acts only. Worldly perfections, whose possession causes pride, are of five kinds: Pedigree, beauty, strength, wealth and number of relatives and friends.
There are three causes of pride. One cause is in the man who is proud. The other cause is in the attitude towards the person in relation to whom one is proud. The third cause is related to some third object outside the other two. The cause which is in the proud man is vanity or self-admiration. When one admires oneself because of his learning, one regards oneself superior to others. The cause which resides in a person’s attitude to the other supposedly inferior person is rancour and envy. The cause which is outside these two is hypocrisy. So in fact there are four causes: Vanity, rancour, envy and hypocrisy.
Pride is shown in the attitudes, expressions and activities of man. One may show it by his face, by looking through the comers of his eyes, by his voice, the manner of his walking, sitting or talking. Some people exhibit their pride in all these ways, others in a few ways. Still others exhibit their pride in some ways and humility in others. Thus there are people possessing diverse habits. Some like other people to stand before them and wait in service.
Some do not like to go to meet others, though they could teach some good things to them. Some do not like others to sit near them. Some do not like to do even the most trifling things with their own hands. Pride and humility can also be shown in dress. It is humiliating to bear reproaches and injuries from others. The life of the Prophet is a model of humility. It must be imitated.
The cure for pride lies in knowing Allah and one’s own self fully. This will show that man is a helpless creature and that pride befits Allah alone. One shall contemplate about the origin of man. When one knows fully the nature of one’s self, one must continue to do acts which are the reverse of those which cause pride till one gets used to humility. The qualities possessed by a person’s forefathers must not make him proud if he himself is devoid of them.
Let him consider the origin and the end of his forefathers as well. If he is proud of his beauty, let him think how full of filth his inside is. Beauty is transient. A donkey, an ox or an elephant is stronger than man. Even a minor sickness robs man of strength. Strength, therefore, is not a thing to be proud of. Wealth and friendship and number of helpers are also unstable. They are lost easily, Wealth may be stolen. The friendship of powerful men cannot be depended upon. A king may be pleased with a bad thing and become angry at a good thing.
Knowledge has been praised by Allah. But the responsibilities it entails are great. A man who knows and then commits a sin receives greater punishment than an ignorant man. Therefore, a learned man ought to fear Allah and ought not to be proud of his learning.
Though self-knowledge is not enough to cure pride, yet it is necessary to be conscious of being proud, for without such awareness one will not try to cure it. There are several tests for detecting pride in oneself. If a person quarrels with another and later discovers the opponent to be on the right, but finds it difficult and unpleasant to acknowledge the truth and to apologise to the opponent, then surely, there is pride in him. The remedy is to acknowledge the truth publicly and to apologise to the opponent.
If a man finds himself with his equals in a gathering, and feels it unpleasant to give them preference over himself, he suffers from pride. The remedy is to sit with them with humility. If one finds it unpleasant to accept an invitation from a poor man or to go to the market for his poor companion, or to bring things for his household and for his friends from the market, he is proud. Humility is the means between pride and dishonour. Allah loves moderation in actions.
Vanity implies the regarding of one’s possessions great and having no fear of losing them, forgetting them to be a gift from Allah. If to this is added the conviction that he has a right on Allah, and thereby hopes to be rewarded in this very world, it is called Idlaal. It implies the wrong notion that he can oblige Allah by his actions. Vanity and Idlaal both are the precursors and causes of pride.
Vanity differs from pride. Pride is the sense of superiority over others. Vanity is the sense of self-admiration, self-elation. Vanity or self-admiration generates many evils. It is one of the causes of pride. But the evils generated by it in the sphere of religion are all the more terrifying. If one is vain about his acts of worship, he becomes careless about them. He does not consider his sins to be sins. He hopes to be excused by Allah for his smaller sins. He is not afraid of Allah.
If one is vain of the correctness of his opinion, his acts, his Intellect or wisdom, one ceases to make progress in knowledge. One does not ask anybody about anything.
The cause of vanity is ignorance; the cure for it is knowledge. Vanity is manifested either;
(i) in such facts as are in the power of man, as charity, or
(ii) in such things as are beyond his power, like beauty, strength, pedigree, etc. Often there is more vanity in the first case than in the second. The worshipper’s vanity of his worship, learned man’s vanity of his knowledge, the beautiful man’s vanity of his beauty are all hollow, since all these qualities are Allah’s s gifts.
VICES PERTAINING TO LOVE OF WEALTH (MAL)
The evils of this world are many, but the greatest of them all is the love of wealth (Maal). This love is often accompanied by suffering and misery. Its lack may lead to despair and disbelief and its possession to revolt and rebellion. Wealth, however, has its benefits which may lead to salvation. It is praised in the Qur’an and in the Hadith.
The religious benefits of wealth are obvious. One may spend it on personal, social, or religious welfare. The religious disadvantages of wealth are of three kinds: it may lead directly to sin; it may give power to commit sins and may supply the means for it; and from what is allowed and necessary one is led to luxuries and then by degrees one is carried to what is forbidden. Loving and caring for wealth often leads one to forget Allah. The cure for this is to spend all one’s wealth except what is essential for supporting life and for peace of mind.
Miserliness means failure or reluctance to spend on items that constitute duties, refusing to spend on other people and subjecting them to suffering by not spending petty sums of money on them. Several factors determine the limits of man’s duties, e.g., the status of the man himself, the persons he is dealing with, e.g., relatives, neighbours or friends, the occasion, and so on.
But in all these cases the ultimate arbiter is one’s reason. When a man spends on items that constitute his duties he is not miserly. He is generous when he spends beyond the limits of duty quite cheerfully, and without the idea of expecting a return from any man in any form. The highest form of generosity involves varying degrees of self-sacrifice. The worst form of avarice implies failure to spend even on oneself in spite of the most pressing needs because one is unwilling to part with money.
Constant meditation upon the purposes of wealth, upon death, and upon the sufficiency, of Allah for one’s self, and one’s children, hastening to spend any money when occasions arise, and banishing all evil thoughts and reluctance are the remedies for avarice and miserliness.
Learned men differ as to whether the rank of ‘a wealthy man who is thankful to Allah’ is higher or that of ‘a poor man who is contented and patient’. In general, poverty is better than wealth, yet it is true that certain companions of the Prophet were wealthy. They possessed wealth so that they might not have to beg and might spend it for the pleasure of Allah. They had earned it lawfully. They had not usurped the right of others. They were not miserly but spent most or all of their wealth in the way ordained by Allah. In spite of this, it is said about ‘Abd ar-Rahman b. ‘Auf, one of the most generous of the companions, that he shall enter paradise with the poor and on his knees. Therefore, in wealth there are great dangers.
THE VICES PERTAINING TO JAH
Jah means winning and dominating the hearts of others. It is gained by creating in others a conviction about the perfection, of certain qualities in oneself which people consider good, e.g., learning, piety, ancestry, beauty and strength. In this way all those persons whose hearts one wins are always ready to render homage and service voluntarily. Wealth can buy slaves whose homage and services one can command by force. Both Jah and Wealth are thus the means of commanding the respect and services of others, in one case forced, in the other voluntary.
The love of Jah can be attributed to two causes. One of these is the attainment of material freedom. A man seeks Jah as a prudential measure for future security. The second is founded on the divine quality of man. The heart of man inclines towards qualities of three kinds according to the three fundamental elements in his nature, namely, the divine, the beastly and the ferocious.
The divine quality predisposes one to be without a rival in perfection. None can be unparalleled in perfection; nevertheless the desire for it is always present. If it is impossible to be unrivalled in perfection, the next best course is to be a master of others. Therefore, the desire for having power over others naturally dominates man.
But the heart of men can be dominated only by creating in them the conviction about the perfection of qualities in oneself. The achievement of perfection has its limits. One always falls short of the ideals. Hence the inordinate lover of Jah lapses into hypocrisy, and tries to deceive the people that he is greater than he actually is. Perfection lies in knowledge and freedom. Knowledge means the knowledge of the truth and of Allah, freedom means freedom from the appetites of the body and the love of the world. The ignorant seek power, but not knowledge and freedom.
Just as the desire for wealth, which is essential for the fulfilment of one’s basic needs, is right, so is the desire for Jah that is necessary for following the path prescribed by Allah. One may win the hearts of those whose help is necessary for him in his journey to Allah. Wealth and Jah are desirable only as means and not as ends, But if a man desires them as ends there is no harm as long as he does not deceive others in achieving them. It is permissible to desire the position for which one is qualified. We are permitted not to proclaim our faults to avoid losing the respect of others. But we are prohibited from creating upon others the impression that we possess qualities which we do not possess.
Love of Jah proves fatal morally and spiritually. Therefore, it is necessary to be cured of it. There are two ways in which it can be cured.
(1) One must acquire the firm belief that Jah is not lasting. It ends with death. This will help only a far sighted man. Most men think only of the present or of the near future. They most know that every man possessing Jah is envied, and before long will make enemies.
(2) The practical way is to make people lose respect for oneself. This, however, should not be done by committing sins. One must investigate the causes which give pleasure on being praised and remedy them.
Praise is either true or false. If it is true, it relates either to qualities of perfection in knowledge and piety or to one’s worldly goods. A wise man will not get pleasure from hearing the praises of his worldly goods for they are not lasting nor do they reflect any virtue in him. As for the qualities of knowledge and piety, their possession, and not others praise of them, must give him pleasure. He must be thankful to Allah for their possession. There is always likelihood of many enemies pretending to be admirers.
Praise increases prestige. The knowledge that Allah alone is powerful, will cure a person of his love of praise.
At the lowest level of the love of Jah a person is pleased when he is praised and pained when he is censured. He hates and becomes vindictive towards the man who speaks ill of him. At the highest level in the conquest of this desire a person does not merely become indifferent to pain and pleasure, but is pained when he is praised and is pleased when he is censured. This is the stage of perfection, and it cannot be reached without very intense and persistent effort
Riyaa’ (hypocrisy) is manifested in the intention to win people by acts of piety. The love of wealth and of dominance over the hearts of men (Jah) is the root of all Riyaa’. If, however, Jah comes without a person’s desiring or seeking it, there is no harm in it. The Prophet and the early Caliphs had it.
Hypocrisy may betray its presence in innumerable ways, e.g., in a thin, lean and neglected body, neglect of dress, virtuous and pious talk, long prayers, ostentatious charity and a meek deportment. All kinds of hypocrisy in worship are the objects of Allah’s wrath.
There are two kinds of hypocrisy: manifest and concealed. Manifest hypocrisy is the obvious cause of an action. It is manifest because it is known to the hypocrite and can be easily understood by others. Concealed hypocrisy by itself is not the cause of action, yet the action which is seemingly done for its own sake is often encouraged by this concealed hypocrisy. In some cases concealed hypocrisy is neither the cause of action, nor does it make the action easier, and yet it is hidden in the heart. As it has no influence on actions, it is difficult to detect it in the absence of its symptoms.
The most evident symptom of this is a sort of pleasure on knowing that the people know of one’s worship. A still more concealed hypocrisy is that in which there is neither a wish to know that the people know one’s worship, nor any pleasure in the publicity of one’s worship, and yet one finds it agreeable when the people greet him first, or they are friendly to him or make concessions to him in dealing with him and one feels a little pain if such treatment is not accorded to him. This shows that the worship was not wholly sincere but that there was subtly concealed hypocrisy behind it.
The kinds and divisions of concealed hypocrisy are innumerable. As long as one finds a difference between men and animals with regard to their knowledge about one’s worship, there remains an admixture of concealed hypocrisy in the sincerity of one’s actions. If one is sincere in one’s actions, one is concerned with the knowledge of Allah alone.
The remedies for hypocrisy are stringent and unpalatable and its cure difficult, but hypocrisy is a deadly disease, and must be cured. The chief cause of hypocrisy is the love of Jah which has three forms:
(a) love of the pleasure of praise,
(b) dislike of the pain of censure, and
(c) greed and the desire for the possession of things belonging to others. The greed for the possession of things belonging to others may be cured by acquiring the conviction that the real giver of things is Allah and that greed leads to humiliation and pain very often in this world, and invariably in the next. The knowledge of the dangers and harms of hypocrisy is the only way of curing it.
There are also practical remedies. One must make it a rule to perform acts of worship in secret, except when he participates in congregational prayers. Though we cannot quite control the entry of harmful ideas into our hearts, we must learn to hate such ideas, and nip them in the bud. Constant vigilance and great solicitude for the purity of one’s actions is necessary.
The most successful way of combating hypocrisy is not only to keep fighting it down inwardly, nor merely to dislike or hate it, but to concentrate on its opposite, and to strive all the more along the way leading to Allah.
ALLAH SPEAKS TO MUSA
Allah one day said to Nabi Musa in secret: ‘Go and get a word of advice from Shaitaan.’ So Musa went to visit Iblis and when he came to him asked him for a word of advice. ‘Always remember,’ said Iblis, `this simple axiom: never say “I”, so that you never may become like me.’
So long as there remains in you a little of self-love you will partake of infidelity. Indolence is a barrier to the spiritual way; but if you succeed in crossing this barrier a hundred ‘I’s’ will break their heads in a moment.
Everyone sees your vanity and self-pride, your resentment, envy, and anger, but you yourself do not see them. There is a corner of your being full of dragons, and by negligence you are delivered up to them; and you pet them and cherish them night and day. So, if you are aware of your inner state, why do you remain so listless. (Conference of the Birds)
THE FLY AND THE HONEY
A fly in search of honey saw a beehive in a garden. The desire for honey put her into such a state that you would have taken her for an Azad, and she called out: ‘I will give an obol (ancient Greek coin) to anyone who will help me get into this hive.’ Someone took pity on her, and for an obol helped her in. But no sooner was she in than her legs became stuck in the honey. Though she fluttered her wings and skipped about it became worse, and she moaned: ‘This is tyranny, this is poison. I am caught. I gave an obol to get in but would gladly give two to get out.’
‘In this Valley,’ continued the Hoopoe, ‘no one must remain inactive, and one must enter it only after having reached a certain stage of development. Now it is time to work instead of living in uncertainty and passing one’s time heedlessly. Rouse yourself from apathy, renounce inner and outer attachments, and cross this difficult valley: for if you do not renounce them you will become more heedless than the worshippers of many Allahs, and you will never become self-sufficient. (Conference of the Birds)
The Holy Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) said: “For every religion of the world there is a distinctive morality, and the distinctive morality for Islam is Modesty.” – (Ibn-i-Majah)
Extracted from THE ETHICAL PHILOSOPHY OF AL-GHAZZALI