July 22, 2008
The righteous traits of character cannot take firm root in the soul until it has grown accustomed to every good habit, renounced every evil one, and persevered in this in the wise of one who feels a love for and takes pleasure in beautiful deeds, and loathes and is hurt by ugly ones. As long as worship and renunciation of forbidden things are felt to be unpleasant and burdensome their performance will be defective, and cannot bring one to full felicity.
For the sole purpose of the acts of worship is to influence the heart, and this influence will only grow strong when they are persistently repeated. The purpose of such traits of character is to cut the love of this world away from the soul and to set firmly therein the love of God (Exalted is He!), so that one would love nothing so much as the meeting with Him.
Such a man will then employ his wealth only in ways which will bring him to Him; likewise with his anger and desire, since these will be under his command, and weighed up in the scales of the intellect and the Law so that he is contented and happy with them. It is wrong to deem it unlikely that one’s delight might be in prayer and that one’s worship might become delectable, for everyday life draws even more wondrous things from the soul: we see kings and the voluptuous rich in constant misery.
Since the soul commonly takes pleasure even in vain things and inclines towards ugliness, how could it not take pleasure in the Truth were it to be restored to it for a while and made to persevere therein? The soul’s inclination to these disgusting things is unnatural , and resembles an inclination to the eating of mud; yet even this may gain control over some people and become a habit.
As for the inclination to wisdom and the love, knowledge and worship of God, this resembles the inclination towards food and drink. It is the expression of the heart’s nature, and is a divine command, while an inclination to the demands of one’s desires is in itself something strange, and is not part of its nature. The heart’s food is wisdom, knowledge and the love of God (Exalted is He!), and it only diverges from the demands of its nature when afflicted by some disease, just as the stomach may be afflicted by an illness which prevents it from desiring the food and drink which give it life.
Thus, every man’s heart which inclines to anything but the love of God (Exalted is He!) is afflicted by a disease in proportion to this inclination, unless he love a thing because it helps him to love God and to practice his religion– which not the symptom of illness.
We have come to know beyond all doubt that good traits of character may be acquired through self-discipline. Further, the relationship between the heart and the members, the soul and the body is a circular one: the effect of every attribute which appears in the heart must emanate onto the member, so that these move only in conformity to it; similarly, every act performed by the members has an effect which makes its way up to the heart, thereby constituting the circle.
How many sages there are who deem the wasting of a day and a night a paltry thing, and continue to do so, procrastinating day after day until at last their natures depart from the acquisition of understanding: likewise is it with the man who underestimates small sins, and procrastinates and delays his repentance day after day, until such time as death seizes him, or his heart falls dead from the weight of sins and their blackness.
You have therefore come to know that good character proceeds from one’s nature and innate disposition (Fitra), sometimes from accustoming oneself to beautiful deeds, and sometimes from seeing and keeping the company of people who perform them, who are the companions of charity and the brethren of righteousness. For one nature can purloin both good and evil from another. The man in whom all three aspects are manifest, so that he is virtuous by nature, by habituation, and by education is possessed of the supreme virtue.
~ Shaykh Abdul Hakim Murad on Imam Al-Ghazaali’s “Disciplining the Soul”.