Renunciation: Taking Steps

This is the third 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

There are a few things that facilitate this renunciation. Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali explains this in a beautiful work that is available in English called Jami‘ al-Ulum wa al-Hikam (The Compendium of Knowledge and Wisdom). He mentions that this renunciation is facilitated by several things. 

The first is to know the transience of this worldly life and the fleeting and perishing of all that is in it. That is done by reflection. Look at the things around you. 

Make that active. For instance, if you are about to buy a standing computer desk, ask yourself. “Is this worth it given the hereafter?” You may realise it is, because due to facilitating several things or you may realize that it is not.  

Reflect before you make choices, but also reflect when you recite the Quran. Reflect when you hear about the example of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace). Reflect when you read about the life of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace). 

Have a daily connection to the Quran with reflection. Have a daily connection to the hadith of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace)  even if you read one hadith a day, and reflect.

The second is to know the everlastingness of the next life and all that is in it. This is central. These two together are central to the message of the Quran from the beginning to the end.

The third is to know and have faith in Allah. Know Allah in His majesty, mercy, and His perfection. Know the names and attributes of Allah in their perfection, majesty, mercy, and their beauty. As one of the great righteous said, “When dawn breaks, small lights are no longer needed.”

Attachment to Allah 

The little attachments we have are like little lights. They give us a little bit of light in our lives, but you have to fuel and protect them. They require all this effort, yet, they will get extinguished eventually.

The attachment to Allah trumps all other attachments. Likewise, what Allah has promised in the hereafter.

What was the aspiration of Asiya (the wife of Pharaoh)? Even though she lived in the most majestic of palaces and had the finest of whatever she would have wanted, what did she ask Allah for? 

رَبِّ ٱبْنِ لِى عِندَكَ بَيْتًۭا فِى ٱلْجَنَّةِ

“‘My beloved Lord, build me an unsurpassed home with You in the luxuriant grove of paradise” [Quran, 66:11; tr. Keller, Quran Beheld]

She asked for a bayt as well. Very interesting. In Arabic, technically a bayt is just a room, a place to live. She just asked for a bayt, because what matters is Allah and all else that He has promised. We need to cultivate that Quranic consciousness. One, by reciting the Quran devotionally, but also with reflection. 

If you do not know Arabic, when you read the Quran daily, read the translation (at least some) of what you recite. Read the translation every day and reflect. Reflect, even if it be for a few moments. Reflect on Allah, reflect on the promise of Allah, reflect on what Allah calls you to. And reflect on what all of this means in your life.

What it means in your life is renunciation. What is with Allah is incomparably better for those seeking virtue. 

On Renunciation 

Renunciation is a theme of the Quran from the beginning to the end. Every call in the Quran, even the Fatiha. Allah tells us:

ٱلۡحَمۡدُ لِلَّهِ رَبِّ ٱلۡعَـٰلَمِینَ

“All praise is Allah’s, Lord of all Worlds of Beings” [Quran, 1:2; tr. Keller, Quran Beheld]

It is Allah who is worthy of all praise. Meaning, nothing else is really all that. If you disconnect it from Allah. All praise belongs to Allah. Any praise that anything else is worthy of is only as it relates to Allah.

He is the Creator and the Sustainer of all that exists. Why be busied by what Allah created away from Him? The Lord (Rabb) is the One who cultivates things towards an ultimate end. 

Likewise, every verse of the Fatiha calls us to this reality. When we say:

ٱهۡدِنَا ٱلصِّرَ ٰطَ ٱلۡمُسۡتَقِیمَ

“Guide us the Straight Way” [Quran, 1:6; tr. Keller, Quran Beheld]

Meaning, show us the way to navigate this life uprightly in a manner pleasing to you towards our eternal good, which is with You in the next life. Allah says:

فَٱصۡبِرۡ عَلَىٰ مَا یَقُولُونَ

“So bear patiently with what they say” [Quran, 20:130; tr. Keller, Quran Beheld]

This is a command to our beloved Messenger (Allah bless him and give him peace). This is the critics. If you think we suffer from Islamophobia, just look at the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) and what he faced, and what his companions faced.

What “They” Say

This of course is very important in our times. Many people give up on doing what they know would be right because of what people say. An example of this is when prayer time has entered and one is far from home. They could easily stop the car at a mall and pray, but they feel shy regarding people. That is worldliness because one is worried about what people will say.

The reality is that if you do these things smartly and wisely, you can pray pretty much anywhere on God’s earth.  

Some Muslim men will not cover their heads in public. Muslim men, purely because of what people may say. Whereas, you could do it with dignity and follow the Sunna of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace). 

People may not wear hijab because they may think, “In my family, they are religious but they do not wear hijab.” 

وَسَبِّحۡ بِحَمۡدِ رَبِّكَ قَبۡلَ طُلُوعِ ٱلشَّمۡسِ وَقَبۡلَ غُرُوبِهَاۖ وَمِنۡ ءَانَاۤىِٕ ٱلَّیۡلِ فَسَبِّحۡ وَأَطۡرَافَ ٱلنَّهَارِ لَعَلَّكَ تَرۡضَىٰ

“And exalt the limitless glory of your Lord in praise well before the rise of the sun and before it sets; And of the reaches of the night glorify His incomparable perfection, and at the ends of the day, that haply you may come to be well-pleased.” [Quran, 20:130; tr. Keller, Quran Beheld]