Allah Almighty and Glorious has said:
مَا زَاغَ الْبَصَرُ وَمَا طَغَى
“The sight (of the Messenger of Allah , at the time of his Ascension), did not deviate nor overstep the bounds” (Surah 53 an-Najm: Verse 17).
This is said to mean, “He maintained the conduct proper to the Divine Presence.”
The Most High also said:
آمَنُوا قُوا أَنفُسَكُمْ
مَلَائِكَةٌ غِلَاظٌ شِدَادٌ لَا يَعْصُونَ اللَّهَ مَا أَمَرَهُمْ وَيَفْعَلُونَ مَا يُؤْمَرُونَ
“Save yourselves and your families from the fire” (Surah 66 At-Tahrim: Verse 6).
According to the commentary of Ibn Abbas, this means, “Teach them the stipulations of the divine law and refined behaviour.”
Ali bin Ahmad al-Ahwazi informed us from Ayi’sha that the Messenger of Allah said:
“The child owes it to his parent to make good his name, his upbringing, and his education in conduct.”
It is related that Said bin al-Musayyib said, “Whoever does not know what rights Allah Almighty and Glorious has over him and has not been educated in His command and prohibition is cut off from right behaviour.”
It is reported that the Messenger of Allah said:
“Allah Almighty and Glorious had educated me in refined behaviour and made good my education.”
The essence of adab, the most beautiful and fitting, refined behaviour, is the gathering together of all good traits. The adib, the refined person, is he in whom are gathered all these good characteristics. From this is taken the word maduba, banquet, a name for the coming together (of such people).
I heard Abu Ali al-Daqqaq say, “Through his obedience the servant attains to paradise. Through refined conduct in obedience he attains to Allah. I also heard him say, “I saw someone who, during the prescribed prayer before Allah, wanted to stretch his hand to his nose to remove something that was in it. His hand was seized!”
He could only have been hinting that it was himself because it is not possible for a human being to know that someone else’s hand was seized. Abu Ali used never to lean on anything. One day when he was at a gathering, I saw that he was without any support. I wanted to put a pillow behind his back. He drew a little away from the pillow, and I imagined that he was wary of it because there was neither a dervish robe nor a prayer carpet over it. But he said, “I do not want to lean.” After this I marvelled at his state, for in fact he never did lean on anything.
I heard Abu Hatim al-Sijistani say that al-Jalajili al-Basri said, “For the testimony of unity (tawhid) to be in force, faith is prerequisite, for whoever has no faith cannot testify to the unity. For faith to be in force the divine law is prerequisite, for whoever does not hold to the divine law has no faith and cannot testify to the unity. For the divine law to be in force refined conduct is prerequisite, for whoever has not refined his conduct cannot hold to the divine law, has no faith, and cannot testify to the unity.
Ibn Ata said, “Adab, refined behaviour, is to hold fast to the commendable things.” When asked, “What is the meaning of this?” he replied, “It means that you behave properly toward Allah both in secret and in public. If you are like that, you are a man of refined culture even if you are a foreigner.” Then he recited:
When she conversed, her speech was all graciousness,
And when she kept silent, her silence was all fair.
Muhammad bin al-Husayn informed us that Abd Allah al- Jurayri said, “For twenty years, in my times of sitting in solitude, I have not stretched out my feet. It is better to act beautifully toward Allah.” I heard Abu Ali al-Daqqaq say, “If someone keeps company with kings and lacks refined behaviour, his ignorance will consign him to death!”
It is related that Ibn Sirin was asked, “What way of behaving brings one closest to Allah Most High?” He replied, “Realisation of His Lordship, work in obedience to Him, praise to Him in happy times, and patience in times of trouble.”
Yahya bin Muadh said, “When the Gnostic abandons his courtesy in the presence of the One he knows, he has been ruined like all the rest of the spiritually ruined.”
I heard Abu Ali say, “To abandon good conduct brings about expulsion. Someone who behaves badly upon the carpet of contemplation is sent out to the gate, and someone who behaves badly at the gate is sent out to look after the animals.”
Hasan al-Basri was asked, “People have got hold of much knowledge of forms of refinement. What will give them profit and bring them to union later?” “Acquiring knowledge in religion,” he said, “renouncing this world, and understanding the rights of Allah over you.”
Yahya bin Muadh said, “Whoever is educated in the conduct of Allah Most High joins the people who love Allah Most High.” Sahl said, “The Sufis are those who seek help from Allah, for the sake of Allah’s business and persevere with Allah’s forms of conduct.”
It is related that Ibn al-Mubarak said, “We have greater need of a little bit of refinement than of a lot of knowledge.” I heard Muhammad bin al-Husayn say that bin al-Mubarak said, “We sought for right conduct once the teachers of right conduct had left us.”
It is said that if one has three traits, one is never a stranger. They are avoiding doubters, behaving well, and restraining oneself from causing harm. On this topic, Abu Abd Allah al-Maghribi recited this to us:
Three things adorn the stranger far from home:
First, fine conduct, second, fine character,
Third, leaving doubters alone.
When Abu Hafs entered Baghdad, Junayd said to him, “You have trained your companions to the conduct of sultans!” “Beautiful outward behaviour is the model for beautiful inward behaviour,” Abu Hafs told him.
Abd Allah bin al-Mubarak said, “Refined behaviour is to the Gnostic what repentance is to the beginner.” I heard Mansur bin Khalaf al- Maghribi say, “A dervish was addressed, ‘O uncultured one!’“ ‘I am not uncultured!’ he said. ‘Why, who has taught you culture?’ they asked. ‘The Sufis taught me!’ said he.
I heard Abu Hatim al-Sijistani say that Abu-l- Nasr al-Tusi al- Sarraj said, “People have three levels of refinement. For the people of this world, refinement largely consists of eloquent speech and rhetoric, along with the memorization of sciences, of the names of kings, and of the poetry of the Arabs. For the people of the next world, refinement largely consists of training the ego and disciplining the body, preserving the limits of the law and abandoning desires. For the elite, refinement largely consists of cleansing the heart of vices, guarding inner secrets, being faithful to one’s promises, protecting the present, not turning aside in thought along with refined behaviour in the stations of the search, in the moments of presence with Allah, and in the stages of closeness to Allah.”
It is told that Sahl bin Abd Allah al-Tustari said, “Whoever overpowers his ego through refining conduct is serving Allah with sincerity.” The perfection of refined conduct, it is said, is not unimpaired except in the prophets and the possessors of true integrity. Abd Allah bin al-Mubarak said, “People have had much to say about fine con duct. As for us, we say that it is the real understanding of the ego.”
Shibli said, “To be carefree about speaking with the Truth, glory to Him, is to abandon right conduct.” Dhu-l- Nun al-Misri said, “The culture of the gnostic is above all other culture, for it is the One he knows Who is the educator of his heart.”
A Sufi said, “The Truth, glory to Him, said, ‘When I sustain someone with My names and attributes, I attach him to right or refined conduct. When I show someone part of the reality of My Essence, I attach him to his own destruction. Choose whichever of the two you will: refinement (adab) or destruction (atab)!’“
One day while he was with his companions Ibn Ata stretched out his feet. “Not putting emphasis upon one’s refined behaviour is itself considered refined behaviour among the people who have attained refinement,” said he. A hadith has been related that testifies to this story. The Messenger of Allah had Abu Bakr and Umar with him. Then Uthman entered, and he covered up his leg, saying, “Shall I not be ashamed before a man in front of whom the angels are ashamed?” He was pointing out that even though he held the modesty of Uthman in great esteem, the affection that existed between himself, Abu Bakr and Umar had been more pure. It is with nearly this meaning that they recited:
I act with restraint and modesty,
But sitting with loyal and generous men
I open myself spontaneously
And say what I say without reticence.
Junayd said, “When love is sound, the rules of behaviour are dropped.” Abu Uthman al-Hiri said, “When love is sound, attachment to good behaviour in the lover is assured.” Nuri said, “Whoever has not been educated for the present, his present is disaster!” Dhu-l- Nun al- Misri said, “When the student abandons the exercise of refined behaviour, he returns whence he came.”
I heard Abu Ali al-Daqqaq discuss Allah’s saying,
وَأَيُّوبَ إِذْ نَادَى رَبَّهُ أَنِّي مَسَّنِيَ الضُّرُّ وَأَنتَ أَرْحَمُ الرَّاحِمِينَ
“. . . Ayyub, when he called to His Lord, ‘Trouble has touched me, and You are the Most Merciful of the Merciful” (Surah 21 Al-Ambiya: Verse 83).”
He said, “Because Ayyub (Upon him be peace) maintained the correct refinement of address (and would not presume to tell his Lord what to do), he did not say, ‘Have mercy upon me!’
For the same reason Isa (Upon him be peace) said,
إِن تُعَذِّبْهُمْ فَإِنَّهُمْ عِبَادُكَ وَإِن تَغْفِرْ لَهُمْ فَإِنَّكَ أَنتَ الْعَزِيزُ الْحَكِيمُ
‘If You punish them, they are Your servants’ (Surah 5 Al-Ma’idah: Verse 118). Isa also said,
إِن كُنتُ قُلْتُهُ فَقَدْ عَلِمْتَهُ
‘Had I said it, You would have known it’ (Surah 5 Al-Ma’idah: Verse 116).
Because he was aware of the conduct proper to the divine presence, he could not insult divine Omniscience by saying, ‘I did not say it.’
I heard Muhammad bin Abd Allah al-Sufi say Junayd said, “A righteous man came to me one Friday and asked, ‘Would you send along with me a poor dervish who would bring happiness to my house and eat something with me?’ I looked around and saw that among those present was a poor dervish in whom the signs of need were visible. So I extended him the invitation and told him, ‘Go with this gentleman and bring him happiness.’ So he went. But it was not long before the man came back to me and said, ‘O Abu-l--Qasim, that poor man ate nothing but a mouthful and left!’ ‘Perhaps you said some rough word to him,’ 1 suggested. ‘I said nothing!’ he assured me. I looked around and saw that the poor dervish was back again sitting with me! ‘Why did you not complete his happiness?’ I asked him. ‘O Master,’ he told me, ‘I left Kufa and came to Baghdad without anything to eat, but I hated the idea that because of need, bad behaviour should appear from me in your presence. When you gave me the invitation, I was happy because it originated with you. So I went, but I had no heart for it. When I sat at his table, he set a meal before me and told me, “Eat, for it is dearer to me than 10,000 dirhams!” When I heard that from him, I knew that his aspiration was low, and I shied away from eating his food.’ ‘Did I not say to you that you had behaved badly toward him?’ I said. ‘Abu-l-Qasim, I repent!’ he cried. So I asked the dervish to go with him and make him happy.”