Making Our Work Beautiful

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

The following is extracted from Shaykh ibn ‘Atha’illah as-Sakandari’s (q.s.) Kitab at-Tanwir fi Isqath at-Tadbir.

We may ask what “beautify the way you request” actually means in the Prophet’s (s.a.w.) advice, “Stay warily conscious of Allah and beautify the way you beseech and request.”  In reality, beautifying the way we ask has many dimensions.  Shaykh ibn ‘Atha’illah (q.s.) described for us here what Allah (s.w.t.) had Disclosed to him of these dimensions through Divine Generosity.

We should know, and may Allah (s.w.t.) be Merciful to us, that people who search for sustenance are of two basic types.  Firstly, there are people who search for means of livelihood with obsessive preoccupation, to the point that their attention is diverted from Allah.  Aspiration and attention, if focused obsessively on any one thing, divert a person from everything else.  Shaykh Abu Madyan (q.s.) once described this effect, “The heart can face in only one direction — the direction it faces seals the heart off from any other focus of attention.”  Indeed, this saying comments succinctly on a moment of Divine Speech:

Allah has not made for any man two hearts in his (one) body ... (Surah al-Ahzab:4)

By these Revealed words, we understand that Allah (s.w.t.) does not give a person’s heart the ability to face in two directions at any one moment.  This is because human beings are too weak to face two ways at once.

If a person tries to focus attention in two directions simultaneously, surely one of these will be warped and spoiled.  This ability to be directed in many ways at once and focus full attention in various directions in a single moment without any disturbance or interference is a Characteristic of Divinity Alone.  For this reason, Allah (s.w.t.) has revealed that, Allah (s.w.t.) is Divine in the Heavens and Divine on the Earth; meaning that Allah (s.w.t.) Turns Attention to the denizens of Heaven and to the denizens of Earth at the same time.  Turning to Face the Heavens and its inhabitants does not distract Allah (s.w.t.) from Turning to Face the Earth and its inhabitants.  Neither does Caring for the Earth distract Allah (s.w.t.) from Caring for the heavens.  Nothing distracts Allah’s (s.w.t.) simultaneous Attention from any other direction or dimension of being. For that reason, Allah (s.w.t.) repeats in this moment of Revelation the word, ‘Divinity’ in relation to many dimensions or directions at once.  If the word ‘Divinity’ had not been repeated in this way, we would not benefit from this insight and would not comprehend what it makes obligatory upon us.  This repetition makes clear to us that people who seek livelihood and sustenance in an obsessive way that alienates them from Allah (s.w.t.) are not beautifying the way they seek.

Another dimension to beautifying our way of seeking is to ask Allah (s.w.t.) for sustenance without specifying the amount, the time, or the means by which it might come.  Is it not better to leave it to Allah (s.w.t.) to Give sustenance in whatever way, at whatever time and by whatever means that Allah (s.w.t.) Wills?  This is the way to request politely with proper comportment, adab.  Those who request sustenance and specify the amount, the means, or the time by which it should arrive have set themselves up as lords over the Lord.  Clearly negligence and forgetfulness have clouded their hearts.  One Sufi has said, “Once I yearned to leave aside making a living by intermediate means.  I beseeched to be Given instead two pancakes each day that would suffice me and give me respite from the daily weariness of working.  Then one day, I was thrown into prison.  In the dungeon, I was given only two pancakes each day to keep me alive.  This wretched condition persisted for a long time, until my spirit was broken.  One day, I was considering my sorry state when I heard a Voice Tell me, ‘You asked Me specifically for two pancakes each day but you did not ask Me to Give you well-being.  I have Given you what you begged for, so why complain now?’  So I beseeched Allah (s.w.t.) for Forgiveness and turned to Allah (s.w.t.) for Help.  Suddenly, I found the door to my prison cell broken.  I was able to slip out and be free.”

O believers, take this lesson to heart!  Do not give in to dissatisfaction by asking to be Removed from one condition and Placed into a different one when you are in a condition that accords with the state of your heart and mind.  That is rude and impudent towards Allah (s.w.t.)!  Instead, be patient so that you avoid receiving just what you have asked by your own designs and efforts while being frustrated from enjoying it in peace, comfort and tranquility.  How many people have left one kind of work to engage in another kind only to find weariness and difficulty as a result of choosing for themselves.  In another book, Shaykh ibn ‘Atha’illah (q.s.) wrote a truism that encapsulates this teaching: “Asking for isolation when Allah has Set you up working with others is a manifestation of hidden selfishness, while asking to work for a living when Allah has Set you in isolation is a decline in your lofty aspiration.”


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