Contraction & Expansion

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

The following is from the teachings of Imam Abu al-Hasan ash-Shadzili (q.s.).  It is his explanation of contraction and expansion.

Seldom is the servant free from these two states that come on us alternately as the succession of night and day, and Allah (s.w.t.) Requires of us an attitude of servitude with respect to both.  Anyone whose soul experiences a time of contraction either knows the cause for it or does not know it.  There are three causes of contraction: some sin which we have committed; or some worldly goods that we have lost or that are lacking; or an evil-doer who injures us or our honour, or imputes to us irreligion or something else.

When contraction comes from one of these causes, servanthood consists in returning to knowledge of the faith, dealing with it as the religious law has commanded you – in respect to the sin, with repentance, contrition, and seeking cancellation, iqala; in respect to some worldly goods that we have lost or that we lack, with resignation, acquiescence, and reckoning a Recompense from Allah (s.w.t.); and in respect to injury done us by an evil-doer, with patience and forbearance.  We must take care not to harm ourselves, lest two harms unite to injure us - the harm of others toward us, and our harming ourselves.

If we exercise the requisite patience and forbearance, He will Recompense us with ease of heart so that we pardon and forgive.  Perhaps He will Provide us with such light of contentment that we will be able to have compassion on him who has wronged us, or so that we will supplicate for him and our supplication will be answered in his favour.  How excellent is our condition whenever Allah (s.w.t.) Shows Mercy on our account toward someone who has wronged us!  This is the grade of the veritable mystics, swiddiqin, and the merciful.  So we must trust in Allah (s.w.t.), for Allah (s.w.t.) Loves those who trust Him.

Whenever there comes over us a feeling of contraction for which we do not know a cause, we must know that time is in two periods - night and day.  Contraction is an experience most resembling the night, while expansion resembles the day.  So, when contraction comes from no cause known to us, our duty is to remain quiet.  Quietness refers to three things: utterances, desires, and movements.  If we do that, the night will soon depart from us with the rising of our day, or a star will appear to guide us, or a moon will appear to provide illumination.  The stars are the stars of knowledge of the faith. The moon is the moon of Unity, tawhid.  The sun is the sun of intuitive knowledge, ma’arifat.  If we move about in the darkness of our night, we will hardly be saved from destruction.  We should ponder this Saying of Allah (s.w.t.):

It is out of His Mercy that He has Made for you night and day ― that ye may rest therein and that ye may seek of His Grace ― and in; order that ye may be grateful. (Surah al-Qaswasw:73)

This is the rule of servanthood in relation to contraction as a whole.

With regard to him whose time, waqt, is expansion, inevitably he either knows or does not know a cause for it.  There are three causes.  The first is an increase of spiritual blessings through obedience, or the receiving of something from the One obeyed, such as faith, knowledge, and intuitional knowledge.  The second cause is an increase of earthly goods by acquisition, miraculous supply, gift, or present.  The third cause is praise and commendation of men by their flocking to us, asking of you an invocation, and kissing our hand.

Whenever expansion comes upon us for one of these causes, servanthood, 'ubudiyyah, requires that we consider the grace and favour upon us to be from Allah (s.w.t.).  We must take care lest we hold any part of them to be from ourselves, and beware of them lest fear take hold of us - fear of being bereft of what He has Bestowed upon us, so that we become as one despised.  This is relative to the act of obedience and the Favour from Allah (s.w.t.).

The increase of worldly goods is a Grace also like the preceding.  However, we must be cautious of their hidden perils.  In respect to men's praising and commending us, servanthood requires thanksgiving for His Favour in covering our faults.  Also, servanthood requires fear, lest He Bring to light an atom of any hidden part of us so that men nearest us loathe you.

These are, on the whole, the rules of conduct for contraction and expansion in respect of servanthood.  Our Help is with Allah (s.w.t.).  With regard to expansion for which we do not know a cause, servanthood demands that we refrain from questioning, acting affectedly, and rushing upon women and men.  Only say, "Lord, Save, Save, until death."  So this is the matter, if we understand.


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