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On the Way to God

Through Self-Negation

Abu Saʿīd ibn Abi-l Khayr

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When "He brings forth in him the desire to attain this goal."

From Abu Sa‘īd ibn Abi-l Khayr’s discourses

On the Way to God Through Self-Negation 

He was asked, ‘‘When shall a man be freed from his wants?” 

“When God shall free him,” he replied; “this is not effected by a man’s exertion, but by the grace and help of God. First of all, He brings forth in him the desire to attain this goal. Then He opens to him the gate of repentance (tawba ). Then He throws him into self-mortification (mujāhada ), so that he continues to strive and, for a while, to pride himself upon his efforts, thinking that he is advancing or achieving something; but afterwards he falls into despair and feels no joy. 

Then he knows that his work is not pure, but tainted, he repents of the acts of devotion which he had thought to be his own, and perceives that they were done by God’s grace and help, and that he was guilty of polytheism (shirk ) in attributing them to his own exertion. When this becomes manifest, a feeling of joy enters his heart. Then God opens to him the gate of certainty (yaqīn ), so that for a time he takes anything from any one and accepts contumely and endures abasement, and knows for certain by Whom it is brought to pass, and doubt concerning this is removed from his heart.

Then God opens to him the gate of love (maḥabba ), and here too egoism shows itself for a time and he is exposed to blame (malāma ), which means that in his love of God he meets fearlessly whatever may befall him and recks not of reproach; but still he thinks ‘I love’ and finds no rest until he perceives that it is God who loves him and keeps him in the state of loving, and that this is the result of divine love and grace, not of his own endeavour. Then God opens to him the gate of unity (tawḥīd ) and causes him to know that all action depends on God Almighty.

Hereupon he perceives that all is He, and all is by Him, and all is His; that He has laid this self-conceit upon His creatures in order to prove them, and that He in His omnipotence ordains that they shall hold this false belief, because omnipotence is His attribute, so that when they regard His attributes they shall know that He is the Lord. What formerly was hearsay now becomes known to him intuitively as he contemplates the works of God. Then he entirely recognises that he has not the right to say ‘I’ or ‘mine.’ 

At this stage he beholds his helplessness; desires fall away from him and he becomes free and calm. He wishes that which God wishes: his own wishes are gone, he is emancipated from his wants, and has gained peace and joy in both worlds....

First, action is necessary, then knowledge, in order that thou mayst know that thou knowest naught and art no one. This is not easy to know. It is a thing that cannot be rightly learned by instruction, nor sewn on with needle nor tied on with thread. It is the gift of God.” 

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On another occasion he said on the topic of spiritual progress:

‘Books! ye are excellent guides, but it is absurd to trouble about a guide after the goal has been reached.” “The first step in this affair (Sufism) is the breaking of ink-pots and the tearing-up of books and the forgetting of all kinds of (intellectual) knowledge.”


Abu Saʿīd ibn Abi-l Khayr

Oriental Pattern


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* Living Islam – Islamic Tradition *