Answered by Imam Afroz Ali
Question: Salam alaikom,
I have a question about Imam al-Ghazzali’s Revival of the Religious Sciences. Zuhd/ the path of renunciation has been mentioned as the way to up root worldly love to make room for the true love Allah. I am a wife and mother. It seems unimaginable for me to abandon my husband and child to seek god when I feel I find him everywhere. What am I misunderstanding? Also if through my own failings and inability to understand certain texts I end up feeling frustrated and further from my faith, should I desist from my readings or just try harder to understand them?
Answer: Praise Be to Allah, Lord of the Worlds, The Compassionate, The Merciful. And, may the peace and blessings of Allah descend upon the Prophet Muhammad, his family, his companions, and their followers.
May Allah reward you greatly and increase you in knowledge. Your quest to “getting it right” is inspiring. There are three aspects to your question:
i) What Zuhd is
ii) How do we understand the various blessing that Allah The Exalted has bestowed upon ourselves
iii) Studying texts of our great scholars
1. What is Zuhd?
A simple explanation to a highly sophisticated virtue is that Zuhd is “detachment from creation”.
The great Companion of the final Messenger, upon whom be peace and blessing of Allah, Ali, may Allah be please with him, said, “Zuhd is not that you ought not to possess (or own) anything, but that nothing should possess you.”
Hasan al-Basri, may Allah be pleased with him, said about Zuhd, “Zuhd in this world is not achieved by prohibiting the permissible, nor by wasting money. Rather, it entails your being more certain in what Allah has in His Hand, than you are about what you have in your hand…”
Imam Ahmad provided a very practical division of Zuhd, as follows:
i) Leaving what is prohibited, and this is the Zuhd of the common people.
ii) Leaving what is not a necessity among the permissible matters. This is the Zuhd of the more pious and elect people.
iii) Leaving all which will busy one from the remembrance of Allah The Exalted. This is the Zuhd of those who have gnosis.
Zuhd is not about abandoning what Allah has bestowed upon us as blessings, rights and responsibilities. It is about these things not becoming the end purpose of our existence as if we exist because of them, and as if we will live in this world with them forever.
2. Understanding blessings in this World from Allah
Zuhd is knowing that all Allah has created is a means to the pleasure of Allah and as a result a Paradisial gift in the Hereafter for our resilience and perseverance in this world. What is created will perish and was created for this purpose. Eagerness for and striving for the material things, rather than seeking Allah through them is delusion. Allah says:
Know that the life of this world is only play and amusement, pomp and mutual boasting among you, and rivalry in respect of wealth and children, as the likeness of vegetation after rain, thereof the growth is pleasing to the tiller; afterwards it dries up and you see it turning yellow; then it becomes straw. But in the Hereafter there is a severe torment as well as Forgiveness of Allah and His Good Pleasure, whereas the life of this world is only a deceiving enjoyment. [Al-Qur’an 57:20]
In other words, if we attach ourselves to the pleasures, emotions and wealth of this world, then it will bear no good fruit in the Hereafter.
Loving Our Children
So how do we see our child, for example? What are we to do with our emotional attachment to them? Experiencing emotions and love for our child is nothing wrong, and in fact a significant blessing from Allah. What occurs is that we misplace our love for our child.
This love is supposed to motivate and drive us as parents to do the best for the child so that they are able to take the best of the means of this world by relying on Allah alone, and that they utilise all the means available to them will help them to their ultimate success- love of Allah.
So our intense love for them is to drive us in this right direction, and our intense pain should be for that which takes them away from divine Love. And if that is our intention, then this is detachment from this world, i.e., Zuhd. But if we love our children as a “trophy”, who we then train to become amongst the best hoarders of wealth (and secretly wish that they will save us from poverty or loss when they get a job and similar motives) and if that is the end motive, then this is attachment to this world, to the extent that for selfish desires we ultimately ruin their lives by making them material-centric for our and their own comfort and sake.
Blessing from Allah are for us to take from in a manner that gains His Acceptance and Mercy over us, by relying, not on the material means, but on the Creator of it. Therefore, work, children, spouses and possessions are all permissible blessings for us to enjoy such that they help lead us to Allah. If we strive to do this, then this is the path of Zuhd, which is a virtue that will lead us to the pleasure of Allah. The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, said, “Practise Zuhd in this world.”
This Ephemeral World
This ephemeral world is in fact a very tiny means which Allah has created for our colossal and ultimate benefit. This benefit is that in this world are the seeds of true happiness for harvest in the vastness of the Hereafter. The Messenger, upon whom be peace and blessings, said, “The world, as compared to the Hereafter, is just like when one of you dips his finger in the sea! Let him see how much water his finger will carry in comparison to what remains.”
3. Studying Texts of Our Great Scholars
I commend you for taking time to read such great works of such a erudite scholar as Imam Ghazali. A word of caution: these texts and indeed Islam as a whole are best understood by learning from a qualified teacher who has thoroughly studied such texts and understands the various concepts like in this case, Zuhd.
SeekersGuidance provides numerous online courses which cover such topics on spiritual development. It also offers a weekly SeekersCircle in which such matters are thoroughly explained. I recommend you take advantage of them as they will greatly benefit you in your continuum of learning.
Insha Allah the answer above is of help to you.