Lessons on the Heart From a Dirty Pot

It’s funny how God can shed light on our lives and hearts through the most mundane of things. Today was another such glean, albeit while getting my hands dirty in the suds.

I began my adult life as a cook. Nothing glamorous. I even flirted with culinary school and had aspirations of opening my own restaurant one day. Cooking brings me pleasure; I find it relaxing, though if you ask my wife, it seems to create its own stress for me but that’s another story. So the other day, while cleaning up the dishes, I looked down at one of my old, favorite pans and saw that it was charred black on the underside. My first instinct was to grab a steel wool pad and begin to scrub it clean. Five minutes into scrubbing I realized that this was going to take more effort than I had first predicted.

I see many Muslims, young and old, struggling to operationalize their Islam. To take the Qur’an, the Sunnah, all of the books, the tapes (dating myself), the lectures, and synthesize them into something that can be acted upon. I have seen so many young intrepid seekers reading treatises on spiritual refinement only to be frustrated by the density of its prose, the inaccessibility of its Arabic, or a combination of the two. Part of the this I feel stems from an unrealistic assessment of what spiritual refinement will require of the apprentice. And just like my aching arms and back, I realized I was not going to get that pot clean in one sitting. Similarly, our hearts will not be scrubbed clean in one fell swoop, especially if we have neglected its care and upkeep over the years.

So I set down my pan, stepped back and looked at what I had done. Sweat dripping from my brow, I saw that I had indeed made a bit of progress: some of the shinning stainless steel had begun to show through in one spot. But I was exhausted, not to mention my one-year-old daughter was calling for me to come and play with her. So what I resolved to do was that everyday, I would soak my pan for a few minutes and then after dinner, turn it over, get out a new steel wool pad, and scrub a new spot. I must say, my pan is looking better and better each day. However, to avoid becoming too insufferably pleased with myself, I am cognizant that I also use this pan everyday to cook with, meaning that it will also blacken a little bit each day and thus, if I only scrub just enough to remove today’s cooking, I will make little progress. What’s needed is to go above and beyond, even if only by small increments, so that not only do I make “progress,” but that I also develop a habit of doing good, as Imam al-Haddad quoted once: “goodness is a habit”/الخير عادة.

God willing, I pray this will shed some light on the practical nature of attempting to clean and refine one’s heart. The Prophet said صلى الله عليه وسلم,

أن أحب الأعمال أدومها إلى الله وإن قل

“The most beloved deeds to God are those done with consistency, even if their are infrequent.” — al-Bukhari

And God knows best.

Ramadan Lecture: The Importance of Adab

Delivered at United Muslim Masjid, Philadelphia

الله سبحانه و تعالى المسؤول المرجوُّ الإجابة أن يتولاكم في الدنيا و الآخرة و أن يسبغ عليكم نعمه ظاهرة و باطنة (ألم تروا أن الله سخر لكم ما في السماوات وما في الأرض وأسبغ عليكم نعمه ظاهرة و باطنة – سورة لقمان 20) و أن يجعلكم ممن إذا أنعم الله عليه شكر و إذا ابتُلِيَ صبر و إذا أذنب استغفر فإن هذه الأمور الثلاثة هي عنوان سعادة العبد وعلامة فلاحه في دنياه و أخراه ولا يَنفَكُّ عبدٌ عنها أبدا فإن العبد دائما يتقلب بين هذه الأطباق الثلاث

“Perfect is God the Exalted, the one we implore—and whose answer we await—to watch over you in this world and the next, to shower you with God’s grace, outwardly and inwardly, and to make you among those who, when blessed, give thanks; when tried, persevere and endure; and when sinful, seek forgiveness. For these three conditions are the supports of the servant’s happiness, and the signs of his success in this world and the next. No servant is without them, but is always shifting from one to the other.” [Ibn al-Qayyim al-Jawziyyah – al-Wābil as-Ṣayyib].

نُعِمَ من الله تعالى تترادف عليه فقيدها الشكر و هو مبني على ثلاثة أركان الاعتراف بها باطنا والتحدث بها ظاهرا وتصريفها في مرضاة وليها و مسديها و معطيها فإذا فعل ذلك فقد شكرها مع تقصيره في شكرها (ومن كان يرجوا لقاء ربه فليعمل عملا صالحا سورة الكهف 110)

“The first condition is the blessings which come to the servant from God the Exalted, one after another. What secures them is gratitude, based on three supports: inward recognition of the blessing; outward mention and thanks for it; and its use in a way that pleases the One to whom it truly belongs and who truly bestows it. Acting in accordance with this, the servant shows his gratitude for the blessing—however small it may be.” [Ibn al-Qayyim al-Jawziyyah – al-Wābil as-Ṣayyib]

عن عمر رضي الله عنه أن النبي صلى الله عليه و سلم قال حاسبوا أنفسكم قبل أن تحاسبوا وزنوا أعمالكم قبل أن توزن عليكم

“’Abd Allah Ibn ‘Abbas reports that the Prophet said: take stock of your selves before you are judged; weigh your deeds before they are weighed for you.” [Arba’īn al-Wad’āniyyah].

من ظن أنه بدون الجهد يصل فهو متمن ومن ظن أنه ببذل الجهد يصل فهو مستغن

“He who thinks he will attain his goal without effort is a fool and he who thinks he will achieve his goal purely by effort is presumptuous and arrogant.” [‘Ali Ibn Abi Talib].

ألعلم بلا عمل جنون والعمل بغير علم لا يكون

“Knowledge without action or deeds is madness and action without knowledge is void/useless.” [Imam al-Ghazali]

فاستحي من مولاك حق الحياء واجتهد أن لا يراك حيث نهاك ولا يفقدك حيث أمرك واعبده كأنك تراه فإن لم يكن تراه فإنه يراك

“Have modesty before your Lord as you should; make sure that He never sees you in a situation which He has forbidden you, and never misses you where He has commanded you to be; worship God as if you see God, for even though you can’t see God, know that God sees you.” [Imam al-Haddad]

ينبغي أن توزِّع أوقاتك وترتِّبَ أورادك

“You should structure your time and arrange your regular devotions.” [Imam al-Haddad]

قال لا إله إلا الله وحده لا شريك له له الملك وهو الحمد وهو على كل شيء قدير في يومٍ مائةَ مرة ، كانت له عدلَ عشْرِ رقاب ، وكتب له مائةُ حسنة ، ومحيت عنه مائة سيئة ، وكانت له حرزا من الشيطان يومَه ذلك حتى يُمْسِيَ ، ولم يأت أحد بأفضل مما جاء به إلا رجل عمل أكثر منه

“Whoever says: “La ilaha illal-lah …,” one hundred times will get the same reward as given for freeing ten slaves; and one hundred good deeds will be written in his accounts, and one hundred sins will be deducted from his accounts, and it (his saying) will be a shield for him from Satan on that day till night, and nobody will be able to do a better deed except the one who does more than he.” [Sahih al-Bukhari]

أكثر من السجود فإنه ليس من مسلم يسجد لله تعالى سجدة إلا رفعه بها الله درجة في الجنة وحط عنه بها خطيئة

“Prostrate much because there is no Muslim that prostrates to God except that God raises him one degree in Paradise by it and forgives for him a sin.” [Ahmad]

Endeavor to restrain your souls, and the Ultimate reward will be yours:

وأما من خاف مقام ربه ونهى النفس عن الهوى فإن الجنة هى المأوى

For the one who fears the Station of his Lord and denies the appetites of the lower self, the Garden will be his refuge.” [al-Nāzi’at 79: 40-1]

Listen to and download the lecture here.