Caprice, Opposition, Self-Criticism

Issue 969 » October 20, 2017 - Muharram 30, 1439

Living The Quran

Al-Jathiyah (Kneeling Down) Sura 45: Verse 23 (partial)

"Hast thou considered one who takes his caprice as his god, God having led him astray knowingly, and sealed his hearing and his heart and placed a cover upon his sight?"

The caprice that people are said to take as their god is defined as the inclination of the soul to passion and lust (shahwah). The verb from which caprice derives, hawa/yahwi, means both "to blow" and "to fall or tumble," and when combined with the preposition bi means "to overthrow." Caprice can thus be said to be something that blows the soul one way and another and overthrows the soul through the calamities of this world, making it tumble into an abyss in the Hereafter. The word hawa, meaning vacant, from the same root, is also used to describe the vacuity of the hearts of disbelievers on the Day of Judgment. In this vein, the Prophet is reported to have said, "The intelligent person is one who takes his soul to account and works for that which follows death. The inept person is one who allows his soul to follow his caprice, yet hopes for God" (Ahmad ibn Ajibah). References to God's misleading or causing to go astray can be understood in light of 2: 26, And He misleads none but the iniquitous, to mean that going astray is a result of one's own iniquities and not the outcome of arbitrary predestination. Those who are led astray are thus those whose hearts, according to several verses, are "veiled," "covered," or "sealed" so as to prevent spiritual comprehension.

Compiled From:
"The Study Quran: A New Translation and Commentary" - Seyyed Hossein Nasr

Understanding The Prophet's Life


One of the characteristics of modern democracy is that it considers opposition to form part of the general structure of the state. The opposition has a recognised leader and there is communication with him/her which entails no problems. That is because the person in power is also a human being who has both supporters and critics, and neither is more entitled to respect than the other. The fact is that this view is very close to the teachings of the Rightly-guided khalifate. Ali ibn Abi Talib did not allow those who opposed him to be killed, nor did he muster armies to attack them. He told them, "Hold whatever opinion you like, provided that you do not provoke unrest or shed blood." In other words, this great man viewed opposition as constructive and not destructive. He did not think that opposition to a person was objectionable in itself.

Ali told the Kharijites, "Be with whomever you wish: and the agreement between us and you is that you do not shed blood, waylay people on the roads or wrong anyone. If you do that, then I will fight you." Abdullah ibn Shaddad stated, "By Allah, he did not kill them until they acted as highwaymen and shed blood." As-Sanani said, "That shows that simple disagreement with the ruler does not mean that those who differ with him should be fought. This is the correct way in which to view the noble hadith: 'Whoever abandons obedience and separates himself from the community and then dies, dies the death of ignorance [Bukhari]," that is, like the people of the Jahiliyya without a ruler.'" All that applies when the opposition does not become an armed rebellion. When it becomes that, another ruling comes into play. Abdullah ibn Umar reported that the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said, "Whoever carries weapons against us is not one of us." [Ibn Majah]

Compiled From:
"The Sunna of the Prophet" - Muhammad al-Ghazali



According to the Quran and the prophetic tradition, the default feeling of a believer should not be self-righteousness. This is what the Prophet taught his Companions. Hudhaifa, one of the Prophet's Companions, had knowledge about the names of the ten hypocrites of Medina who were unknown to the other Companions. Umar b. al-Khattab used to ask Hudhaifa if his name was among the ten hypocrites! Why did Umar ask Hudhaifa this question? Clearly, he did this because he did not feel self-righteous at all. In fact, it shows a high level of self-criticism that is rare to find.

Abu Bakr al-Siddiq used to say: "I would not feel safe from God's deep devising even if one of my feet was in Paradise." Why did Abu Bakr say this? Because he thought that he does not deserve Paradise as a guaranteed reward from God. This is Abu Bakr, about whom Umar said: "If the faith of Abu Bakr is put on one side of the scale and the faith of the nation of believers is put on the other side, the side of Abu Bakr will outweigh the other side."

A feeling of self-righteousness is the origin of all sins. If one feels self-righteous and thinks that he has secured an exclusive or special status, surely he will start to feel that he cannot make mistakes. But if you fear God and think that you are the least of the believers, you will avoid committing evil deeds. The sense of self-righteousness is the origin of every forbidden lust of arrogance, miserliness, greed, extravagance, and so forth. If we avoid this feeling, we will keep away from falling into these lusts. This was the practice of the prophets, messengers, and righteous people.

However, the virtue of self-criticism should not turn into self-destruction. Self-destruction happens when a person blames himself so harshly that he begins to feel desperate. For example, if a person continues to tell himself that he is no good, he has never done a sincere good deed, and so forth, he will eventually feel hopeless and abandon everything. This course of action is unacceptable. Moderation and balance are virtues that lie between two vices; blaming oneself until one feels desperate and not blaming oneself at all until one becomes conceited. With moderation, our inner self will improve and we will advance in the course of our spiritual journey to God.

Compiled From:
"A Journey to God: Reflections on the Hikam of Ibn Ataillah" - Jasser Auda