By: Ismail Rayillume Media.org* -
It has been said by our illustrious predecessors that the intellect lies in the heart . A verse of the Noble Quran states, "In this is a lesson for every man who has a heart or gives ear with full attention" . In a sound tradition, Muhammad stated while pointing his fingers towards the heart, "Verily, God looks not at your bodies nor at your faces but He looks at your hearts" .
Consequently, the scholars of Islam wrote countless texts on how to cleanse and purify one's heart from 'spiritual diseases' that may cause one to defy the sacred law, or at least lead one to do so. Purification of the Heart by Shaykh Hamza Yusuf is one such book that deals with the Islamic science of tasawwuf. Although this is literally translated as sufism, a more meaningful interpretation would be 'purification'. In fact, one of the great saints of Islam, Sidi Ahmad Zarruq defined Sufism as 'sincerity in turning to Allah' . The book is actually a translation of a poem called "Matharat al-Qulub" (literally 'purification of the hearts') written by Shaykh Muhammad Mawlud, a great scholar from Mauritania.
This particular book is different from others that deal with the same topic in that the main text is poetry, albeit translated from the original Arabic, not surprising since poetry is still a massive part of certain cultures in the east and somewhat lost and forgotten in the west. Another welcome difference is that the commentary is divided into subheadings such as 'Definition', 'Etiology', 'Treatment' and 'Discussion', rather reminiscent of a medical textbook dealing with physical diseases.
Chapters include the diseases of 'Miserliness', 'Love of the World', 'Envy' and 'Ostentation'. The latter chapter addresses what we as humans desire from our worship to God. Do we desire some benefit in this world? Do we worship God in hope of the delights of the hereafter? Or are we steadfast out of fear of punishment? Shaykh Hamza states, "Imam Malik said that to seek out Paradise is acceptable, though the motivation behind worship should eventually be solely for the sake of God and fulfilment of His commands" . There are, of course, differences of opinion, as highlighted by an interesting quote from a 8th century (CE) female scholar and major spiritual influence in the classical Islamic tradition, Rabia al-Adawiyya, "Go after the gardener, not after the gardenÉ. O God, if I worship You for Paradise, then put me in the Fire" . Shaykh Hamza goes on to state that the strongest opinion is to worship in order to seek out the pleasures of the next life.
One may ask what the purpose is of such a book. The author of the original poem felt that society's weakness was due to weakness in the heart. Shaykh Hamza powerfully elaborates, "If we examine the trials and tribulations, wars and other conflicts, every act of injustice all over the earth, we'll find they are rooted in human hearts. Covetousness, the desire to aggress and exploit, the longing to pilfer natural resources, the inordinate love of wealth and position, and other maladies are manifestations of diseases found nowhere but in the heart... So if you want to change our world, do not begin by rectifying the outward" .
Does the book fulfil the objectives? It certainly presents all types of feelings and emotions that humankind suffers with to such an extent it would be surprising if one could not find a single chapter relevant to oneself. Having said that, it is an incredibly difficult science to study alone yet this is a perfect introduction. The commentary is excellent and definitely highlights the prevalence of diseased hearts in the modern world, not restricting it to any particular community.
Included in the appendices is a commentary on the famous litany (al-wird al-latif) of Imam Abdallah al-Haddad. Shaykh Hamza ends this particular section with a clear message, "The point is: remember God. The Prophet told his Companions that the remembrance of God is the best of deeds, greater than jihad. Obviously, if one must defend himself, then this jihad becomes necessary. But jihad is a means, not the end. We were created to remember God" .
Also included is a short text on the importance of purification in the month of Ramadan and finally a wonderful excerpt from the work of Sidi Ahmad Zarruq to have one reflect for a long time to come. The book is well presented and easy to read. It is also sufficiently 'non-Muslim friendly' in the choice of words and style of language, important because there is no reason why non-Muslims should not benefit from this work. A relevant and necessary book for modern times.
Ismail Ray is a contributing writer for Illume Magazine.
1 Shaykh Gibril Haddad: http://www.livingislam.org/n/rkx_e.html2 The Majestic Qur'an 50:37. Nawawi Foundation translation.3 Sahih Muslim.4 Iqaz al-himam fi sharh al-Hikam, Ibn Ajiba.5 Purification of the Heart. Hamza Yusuf. Hardcover. Starlatch Press. 2004. Page 62.6 ibid. page 63.7 ibid. page 7.8 ibid. page 183.