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Ibn`Atta’: Discovering One’s Flaws

Ibn`Atta’: Discovering One’s Flaws

In his well-known book, Al-Hikam (Words of Wisdom), sheikh Ahmad Ibn `Ataa’illah As-Sakandari says:

“Trying to discover the flaws within you is better than trying to discover the worlds hidden from you.”

One may start his journey to Allah the right way. But unfortunately, he might feel self-conceit or feel that he is doing Allah a favor and forget the very fact that he/she has many flaws. After setting the rules of how to perfect the beginning of a new phase in the journey, Ibn `Ataa says: “Trying to discover the flaws within you is better than trying to discover the worlds hidden from you”.

A believer, who has been active and has done some extra rituals, might feel a certain spiritual awakening. Then, he/she will think that they are able to feel or see the unseen or have the piercing sight about which the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said:

Beware of the piercing sight of the believer, for he sees with the light of God”. (At-Tabarani)

Therefore, Ibn `Ataa’ is warning us by saying: “Trying to discover the flaws within you is better than trying to discover the worlds hidden from you”.

If one thinks that he is free from flaws, then surely there is a problem. Flaws are in the nature of human beings. Only Allah has the perfect attributes, glory to Him. And as much perfection Allah has, as much imperfection we have. Allah is the Generous, but human is a miser:

{Say: “If you were to own all the treasure-houses of my Sustainer’s bounty, you would still try to hold on to them tightly for fear of spending: for man has always been stingy”}. (Al-Israa’ 17:100)

Allah is Almighty, but a human is a weak creature.

{God wants to lighten your burdens: for man has been created weak}.(An-Nisaa’ 4:28)

Allah is always Merciful, but a human could be cruel. Allah is much-forbearing, but a human has limited patience. Allah is forgiving, but a human does not forgive easily. Allah is Wise, but a human is prone to being hasty in judgments. Allah is The Knower, but a human has very limited knowledge. Allah is The Just, but humans often do injustice to others.

In addition to the above imperfections, one should put effort at this stage of the journey in order to discover the flaws within oneself specific to him/her. This is much better than trying to discover the worlds hidden. One cannot have a true insight about the hidden worlds before purifying himself, in any case.

We should also know that a human will never purify himself completely, but he should do as much as he can. Trying to mend one’s inner self eventually helps in realizing the quality of humbleness. Then, a certain degree of self-purification and humbleness make one spiritually elevated and brings about divinely bestowed knowledge and spiritual insights.

There are several ways through which one could discover his/her flaws. This includes the following:

  1. Critics: If someone criticizes you, think twice about this criticism. Could it be criticism that helps me discover one of my flaws? You have to take into consideration every criticism that comes from everybody, even if it comes from those people who are not in good terms with you. You have to ask yourself: What can I learn here?
  2. Friends: A good friend helps you discover your flaws when he/she offers you a sincere advice. `Umar ibn Al-Khattab (may Allah be pleased with him) said: “May Allah have mercy on the person who bestows on me my flaws”. `Umar considered showing him one of his flaws as a gift that he is presented. A sincere friend comes to you directly and tells you nicely about your flaws. From your end, you should listen deeply to your friend and look within yourself for those flaws and try to work on them.
  3. Trials: When you are put to a test, this test will reveal your flaws and shortcomings. Allah Almighty says:   {Are they, then, not aware that they are being tested every year once or twice? And yet, they do not repent from or remember [their mistakes]}. (At-Tawbah 9:126) The verse here is talking about the hypocrites; Allah always puts them to tests, but they never repent to Him and they do not bethink themselves of Allah. If you are under pressure or put to test, you have an opportunity to discover your flaws.

We pray to Allah to help us discover and fix our flaws. We pray to Allah to grant us forgiveness. He Almighty is the Most Generous.


About Dr. Jasser Auda

Jasser Auda is a Professor and Al-Shatibi Chair of Maqasid Studies at the International Peace College South Africa, the Executive Director of the Maqasid Institute, a global think tank based in London, and a Visiting Professor of Islamic Law at Carleton University in Canada. He is a Founding and Board Member of the International Union of Muslim Scholars, Member of the European Council for Fatwa and Research, Fellow of the Islamic Fiqh Academy of India, and General Secretary of Yaqazat Feker, a popular youth organization in Egypt. He has a PhD in the philosophy of Islamic law from University of Wales in the UK, and a PhD in systems analysis from University of Waterloo in Canada. Early in his life, he memorized the Quran and studied Fiqh, Usul and Hadith in the halaqas of Al-Azhar Mosque in Cairo. He previously worked as: Founding Director of the Maqasid Center in the Philosophy of Islamic Law in London; Founding Deputy Director of the Center for Islamic Ethics in Doha; professor at the University of Waterloo in Canada, Alexandria University in Egypt, Islamic University of Novi Pazar in Sanjaq, Qatar Faculty of Islamic Studies, and the American University of Sharjah. He lectured and trained on Islam, its law, spirituality and ethics in dozens of other universities and organizations around the world. He wrote 25 books in Arabic and English, some of which were translated to 25 languages.

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