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On the Journey to Allah, Beware of Three

“Travel is an adventure,” or so goes the slogan for a popular on-line travel company.

And though it may be nice to call it an adventure, in reality, sometimes travel can be downright difficult.

Whether it is getting lost in the middle of nowhere or running out of gas when we are miles from a station, or simply miscalculating how many diapers our baby needed for the trip, when things go wrong on our journey, we usually want to right them as quickly as possible.

Similarly, on the journey each of us takes to Allah, we may feel at times we’ve lost our way, that our hearts are in the middle of nowhere.

These can be very difficult times when we may not be sure how to continue moving forward. Sometimes we may not even realize that we’ve gone in the wrong direction until we find ourselves spiritually in very unfamiliar and lonely territory.

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What are the signs that we have deviated from our journey to Allah and what should we do when we realize we are off our charted path?

Beware of Three

The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) warned us of three destructive qualities that can cause our hearts to deviate from their spiritual journey to Allah. In fact, these qualities are so dangerous, so noxious, that they can prevent us from undertaking the journey at all. He said:

“Three are destructive: an obeyed stinginess, a desire that is followed, and a person who is pleased with himself.” (Ibn Majah, 4014)

At first glance, we might overlook the severity of these qualities, thinking, “Those don’t sound so bad.”

However, the destruction they cause to the heart is like the destruction a tornado causes when it touches down on land: not only do they harm the people who harbor them but they can cause the demise of an entire community.

What’s perhaps most concerning is that sometimes qualities can be very difficult to detect by the individual who harbors them. Much introspection and reflection is required on our parts to make sure our hearts are purified from such vices.

Obeyed Stinginess

The first quality the Prophet warned about is an obeyed stinginess, in Arabic: shoh mota’. The word shoh means “stinginess” and mota’ means “that is followed.” Shoh refers to the hidden inclination of a person characterized by preferring to hold and keep for oneself rather than give. When this inclination is obeyed, it becomes bukhl, greed or miserliness.

One of the most destructive and hated qualities found in any person is greed (bukhl). Greed is a very serious disease of the heart defined as the excessive desire to “possess wealth, goods, or objects of abstract value with the intention to keep it for one’s self, far beyond the dictates of basic survival and comfort.”

Greed causes a person to overlook the good they already have and insatiably demand more. Sadly, this is often in effort to fill whatever emptiness that person feels inside. This can not only destroy the individual, but the society around him as well.

Islam teaches that we must fight our inner inclinations of stinginess and even requires that we actively do so by paying an annual charity, zakah. Not paying zakah out of greed is an example of obeyed stinginess in its most lethal form.

But even when giving is optional, society will suffer if humans obey their inner feelings of stinginess. This stinginess may be in the form of withholding money, but can also be in the form of withholding time, resources, and even emotional support and love for others—and often, the latter does more harm than the former.

The ability to fight against the internal stinginess we naturally harbor is an act of maturity and of obedience and consciousness (taqwa) of Allah. Allah Almighty tells us in the Quran that those who are able to overcome their own stinginess are the ones promised success.

We should thus make every effort to overcome our internal stinginess, to go against the desire to withhold and to give generously. Not only will Allah compensate and reward us abundantly, but we will experience the fruits of our generosity at the level of our hearts.

Desire that is Followed

The next destructive quality the Prophet warned against is a desire that is followed. The word desire in Arabic is hawa.

Allah mentions the peril of the one who follows his own hawa in numerous places throughout the Quran. For example, He says:

Have you seen he who has taken as his god his (own) hawa (desire), and Allah has sent him astray due to knowledge and has set a seal upon his hearing and his heart and put over his vision a veil? So who will guide him after Allah? Then will you not be reminded? (45:23)

The Arabic word hawa connotes more than the English word desire, for people naturally desire many things and some of them are totally lawful in Islam.[1]

Hawa is more like a strong passion for something, so strong that if it takes hold of a person, will cause him to act without consideration for what Allah and His Prophet have ordained.

Hawa is one of the most destructive forces upon the heart. It comes from a state of mind where a person feels that his or her vision, opinions, and interpretation of things, is best and most correct and can thus blind him or her from seeing truth as truth and falsehood as falsehood.

For example, the Quran tells of disbelievers who, because they followed their desires were blinded from seeing the truth of Islam.

The Prophet qualified desire as being destructive only when it is followed. But how can we discern if we are following our own hawa? Sometimes, it isn’t easy.

We must do our best to regularly increase our understanding of Islam and make sure that our actions align with what Islam teaches.

We must also be wary of providing our own opinions on matters pertaining to what Allah has ordained for us and should check ourselves when we feel like we’re the only one in the world with the correct understanding of Islam.

Moreover, we should reflect on the things we love and desire most in this world, be they material objects, positions of power and leadership, or even the love and admiration of others, and honestly assess whether pursuing those things is helping or hindering us on our journey to Allah.

Being Pleased with Oneself

The third destructive behavior that the Prophet warned of is that a person be pleased with himself, or in Arabic, have ujb of his own nafs.

The Arabic word ujb can be defined as conceit, the overestimation of one’s own worth and virtue. Conceit leads to arrogance and vanity because it causes a person to feel superior to others and fail to see his own failings and faults.

One of the most frightening things about conceit is that it often accompanies good deeds. For example, if a person has succeeded in fasting or in praying at night, he may feel happy and pleased with his actions.

If these feelings are the result of his appreciation that Allah is the One who has favored him and graced him with the ability to perform such actions, then this is not the conceit the Prophet warned against.

However, if the pride he feels stems from a belief that it is he who is the doer of these deeds and who possesses these good qualities, if he is pleased with himself on account of his own goodness, then this would be considered ujb or the destructive kind of conceit.

Such pleasure with oneself can reach such a degree that the person actually feels he is conferring some sort of favor upon Allah in performing such acts of goodness, rather than realizing that Allah is free from all wants and needs and that these actions really will only benefit or harm the one doing them.

“There is no greater gate from which we enter to Allah Almighty than the gate of humility by which we recognize that we have nothing and are nothing without the help of Allah. In contrast, the quickest path to misery in this world and in the hereafter is the path of exalting, praising, and feeling satisfied with the nafs (self).” [2]

Being pleased with ourselves leads us to commit violations against ourselves and forgo the very happiness that we claim to be pursuing

. It also prevents the kind of critical self-reflection that can lead to positive growth. Thus, if an entire society becomes pleased with itself and conceited due to its accomplishments, that society will surely fail to advance and may destroy itself.

Sometimes we may feel we’ve lost our way on the journey to Allah. Rather than despair, we should remember that Allah’s guidance is always there for the one who seeks it.

And though it may take effort to look inside and purify ourselves of the vices we see, doing so is one of the first steps to getting our hearts back on the right path so as to arrive at our desired destination, both in this world and in the hereafter.

[1] “The Arabic term (hawa) is derived from the Arabic word that means to fall. It is also related to the Arabic word for wind. One’s passion is like the wind, in that it comes, stirs up emotion, and then dies down. One cannot really see it, only its effect.”Hamza Yusuf, The Purification of the Heart.

[2] Mokhtar Maghraoui, “Avoiding Major Ailments of the Heart.” Audio Lecture

(From Discovering Islam’s archive.)

About Marwa Abdalla
Marwa Abdalla received her B.A. in political science from Southwestern University, in Georgetown, Texas, and is currently working toward a degree in Islamic Studies with the American Open University. She is interested in writing about Islam, marriage and family. Her writing has been published in a book entitled Toward the Well Being of Humanity as well as on numerous websites. She lives with her husband and three daughters in San Diego, CA.