Renunciation: Perspective

This is the second in a series of articles on how to live simply and practice renunciation from the On Demand Course: Living Simply or How to Practice Zuhd in Complex Times

The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) put his hand on Ibn Umar’s shoulder and said “Be in this world as though a stranger or one journeying.”

Yes, you are here and you seek to make your life comfortable. However, the stranger is like the visitor. You are going somewhere for a visit, for some time. Make your life comfortable, enjoy yourself, but not at the expense of your ability to get to your homeland. 

Where do you live? Where’s your place of residence? You should have in your heart, “With Allah in Paradise, God-Willing. That is my aspirational place of residence.”


The one journeying does not stop in the worldly. They are fully directed towards their ultimate purpose. To attain this, you leave simple prowling and lounging around the worldly. You prioritize the hereafter.

Imam Abu al-Hasan al-Shadhili was born in an age where people respected the righteous. It had become their norm that if they decided to pursue the path of righteousness, they would exaggerate living simply, eating simply and dressing simply, but it became too much. 

Imam Shadhili pursued the path of righteousness. He was a great, great scholar. Once, he was dressed in the finest of clothes and even the best dressed of people used to look at him and be amazed. A dervish came into his presence, dressed in coarse clothing, looking dirty and dishevelled. He gave Imam Shadhili a glance meaning “What is up with you? You think you are righteous and you dress like this?”

Imam Shadhili realized. He took him aside and said, “There is a fundamental difference between my dress and yours. Your dress tells people that you are in need and you need their help and assistance. As for my dress, it tells people that I have no need for you and I have no need for what you have.”

Although he appeared to be renouncing the worldly outwardly, inwardly he was attached to the worldly. He was aspiring for better. The better clothing others had, the greater money that others had, the better food that others had. It is about the renouncing of attachments. 


Ibn al-Qayyim mentions that it requires six things. Otherwise, we will stumble from one worldly folly to another. Worldliness is not just material. Renunciation is detaching rather than simply leaving. The consideration is how this relates to my ultimate purpose. That is the criteria. 

The first is attachment to money. Money is not an end, It is a means to the good of this life in a manner pleasing to Allah. Most importantly, it is a means to the good of the next. 

The second is attachment to forms. Such as a person considering, “I have a bigger house. I have a bigger car. All the neighbours have upgraded their fridges so we need a nicer fridge.” 

The third is attachment to leadership, position, and status. Someone may ponder, “How come I did not get elected to the board? How come I am not part of the managing team? How come it is my brother who makes the decisions on things in the family?” 

Whereas someone else could be in that position, not because they are attached to it, but rather because they have a sense that they are serving and benefiting others. They would still be serving and benefiting whether they had the position or not.

This attachment could be linked to religious leadership, social leadership or leadership within the family or in one’s career.

Please Allah

The fourth is attachment to people. This is where you are attached to what people think of you so you do not make your decisions by what will be good for you and a means to the good pleasure of Allah.

This could be the case where one considers, “If I leave the family gathering slightly earlier to attend the class someone may mind,” so they do not attend the gathering. “If I visit so and so, so and so may mind,” so they do not maintain relationships with someone they should. 

Or it could be where one wanted to shift one’s career path towards something that is of greater benefit to God’s creation but “What will the family say? What will so-and-so say? What will my friends say?” So they do not. 

By this, you disadvantage yourself. You miss out on ways of pursuing the good. You miss out on ways of seeking reward from Allah, of seeking everlasting standing with Allah. The good pleasure of Allah is, amongst other things, in being of benefit to Allah’s creation.

The servants most beloved to Allah are those of greatest benefit to His servants. These are increasingly difficult things. Detachment from money is the easiest. 

Complete Renunciation

The fifth is detachment to one’s self-concern. This is where you are concerned with looking good. You are concerned with your self-opinion. Where one thinks it is all about them.

However, life, the universe and everything are about Allah and what is beloved to Allah. Your joy, happiness, contentment, and sense of serenity only come when you leave making your life revolve around yourself, to making your life revolve around Allah and what is beloved to Allah. 

Make your life revolve around Allah, the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace), the Book of Allah, and the things pleasing to Allah. That is where joy is. 

The sixth attachment that you renounce is to renounce attachment to all besides Allah. Perishing things are seen as a means, but never as an end. 

What does it mean to leave attachment to all besides Allah? To seek things for the sake of Allah. In that sense, they are worthy of pursuit. But if you lose it, you are not moved. If you gain it, you are not distracted away from Allah. All you pursue is for the sake of Allah. This is the Quranic call: 

قُلۡ إِنَّ صَلَاتِی وَنُسُكِی وَمَحۡیَایَ وَمَمَاتِی لِلَّهِ رَبِّ ٱلۡعَـٰلَمِینَ

“Say: ‘Verily my prayer, my worship and sacrifice, the works of my life, and those when I die, are but for Allah, Lord of all Worlds of Beings” [Quran, 6:162; tr. Keller, Quran Beheld]

Whatever you pursue, pursue it for the sake of Allah. True renunciation is to facilitate seeking Allah in life and then making that happen in one’s life.

That is where joy is because Allah tells us in the Quran:

أَلَا بِذِكۡرِ ٱللَّهِ تَطۡمَىِٕنُّ ٱلۡقُلُوبُ

“Verily by the remembrance of Allah do hearts find peace.” [Quran, 13:28; tr. Keller, Quran Beheld]

Remembering Allah is not just the remembrance of the tongue. It is the remembrance of living for Allah. When you consider what you want, what you keep, what you prioritize in your time and what you deprioritize, ask the question, “What is in it for Allah?” If you are comparing between A, B or C, what is more pleasing to Allah? Strive to pursue it.