The Hikam of Ibn ‘Ataillah al-Iskandari
“Sometimes you encounter works which just make you re-evaluate your whole connection to Allah ta’ala. They make you realize the faqr [poverty] of your affair, and your distance from that which you thought you were close to, subhan’Allah. The Hikam is one such text. It has been serving wayfarers throughout the ages in their quest to know their Lord, azza wa jal.” (source)
I’ve just started listening to a series of recorded lessons by one of my teachers on al-Hikam al-Ata’iyyah – the Hikam (pl. of hikmah, or wisdoms) of Sh. Ibn Ata’illah (d. 709 AH), rahimahullah [may Allah have mercy on him and accept from him]. The Hikam is basically a series of aphorisms for the spiritual seeker, touching on faith, our relationship with Allah, purification of the soul, proper manners for one on ‘the path’, and so on. Each line is succinct, eloquent, and carries within it so many layers of depth and meaning.
The first line of the Hikam is the following:
“Of the indications that one is relying on work is a loss of hope when one fumbles.”
The shaykh, hafidhahullah [may Allah preserve him] explained that the author, rahimahullah, is talking here about how a person may mistakenly build an attachment to the means that have been made available to him/her in helping them become close to Allah. While of course working and striving are essential for the seeker, one should not become so conscious of one’s own efforts that they forget the deeper reality of the situation, which is that all the work that we do, all the resources and opportunities that have been made available to us, are in truth only by the tawfeeq of Allah, and by His facilitation for us. What will enter us into Paradise, in reality, is not our own deeds, but the grace and mercy of Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala.
A sign that divulges to us where we’ve truly placed our reliance can be found in those moments when we fumble or err in our course of striving to obey Allah. At those times, do we lose hope? Do we give up? If so, this is indicative of a lack of depth in our tawheed and a reliance on ourselves and our own abilities (which inevitably fail and disappoint us).
The shaykh went on to say that from among the reasons Sh. Ibn Ata’illah began with this hikmah was not to discourage us from taking means that are made available to us, but instead to alert us, from the very beginning of this path, about the danger that comes with this self-reliance. One may all too easily be led into arrogance, delusion, ostentation and other spiritual ailments that can invalidate even seemingly genuine acts of worship and build many obstacles on our path to Allah.
If you are like me, this one line of the Hikam is sufficient in its intensity to leave you reeling for many days 🙂 I am sure it is indicative of the power of the text in its entirety and the beauty of this work.
InshaAllah, I hope to continue posting on some of the beautiful lessons learned in the Hikam, some resources and links on the text I can find online, and also a little bit about our visit to the grave site of Sh. Ibn Ata’illah rahimahullah here in Cairo.
(PS – There is an excellent commentary on the Hikam by Sh. Said Ramadan al-Bouti of Syria for those who are interested in studying the work in more depth, and it even comes with a CD of some of his lectures: Al Hikam al-Ata’iyyah Sharh wa Tahleel [3 volumes], published by Dar al-Fikr.)