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Al-Hikam al-'Ata'iyya

Al-Hikam al-'Ata'iyya The Aphorisms of Ibn 'Ata' illah Asekenderi

The Muslim religious life not only consists of belief in orthodox tenets of faith and a determined effort to follow the Sacred Law, it also requires one to scale the heights of the Spiritual Path by attaining the states of heart demanded by the Islamic revelation. The Kitab al-Hikam of Shaykh Ibn `Ata'illah is a famous and respected explanation of the journey of the soul (also known simply as ‘the Path'), with the Quran and Sunna as the determiners of the principles contained therein. Although treatises and supplications are included in the work, its substantive feature is the author's spiritual aphorisms

Shaykh Ibn `Ata'illah (d. 1309) lived in Egypt during the reign of the Mamluks. Originally from Alexandria , he moved to Cairo , where his professional life involved teaching Sacred Law in various institutions including the al-Azhar Mosque. He also led a concurrent existence as a Master for disciples of Islamic spirituality. The Hikam is his principal work, one that has attracted universal Muslim approval from his own time up to the present day.

I.

A feeling of discouragement when you slip up
                  is a sure sign that you put your faith in deeds.

Your desire to withdraw from everything
                when Allah has involved you in the world of means
                     is a hidden appetite.

Your desire for involvement with the world of means
                  when Allah has withdrawn you from it
                     is a fall from high aspiration.

Aspiration which rushes on ahead
                  cannot break through the walls of destiny.

Give yourself a rest from managing!
                 When Someone Else is doing it for you,
                     don't you start doing it for yourself!

Your striving for what is absolutely guaranteed to you
                  and your laxness in what is required of you
                     are evidence that your inner eye is dull.

If you make intense supplication
                  and the timing of the answer is delayed,
                     do not despair of it.
            His reply to you is guaranteed;
                  but in the way He chooses,
                     not the way you choose,
                  and at the moment He desires,
                     not the moment you desire.

If something that is promised does not happen
                 even though the time for it is set,
                     do not doubt the promise!
            If you do, that will dim your inner eye
                 and put out the light of your secret.

When He opens a way for you and makes Himself known to you,
                  then do not worry about your lack of deeds.
            He only opened the way for you
                 because He desired to make Himself known to you.
            Do you not see that while He grants gnosis of Himself to you,
                  you have only deeds to offer Him?
                            What He brings you -
                           What you bring Him -
                 What a difference there is between them!

Different states have different outcomes.
            This accounts for the variety of types of action.

Actions are merely propped-up shapes.
            Their life-breath is the presence of the secret of sincerity in them.

Bury your existence in the earth of obscurity.
                  If something sprouts before it is buried,
                        its fruits will never ripen.

Withdraw the heart into the arena of reflection
                  - nothing helps the heart more than that!

If the forms of phenomenal beings
                        are embedded in the mirror of the heart,
                 how can it be illuminated?
            If it is fettered by its appetites,
                  how can it travel to Allah?
            If it is not purified of the great impurity of its heedlessness,
                 how can it aspire to enter the presence of Allah?
            If it has not turned away in regret from its lapses,
                  how can it hope to grasp the subtleties of secret knowledge?

Phenomenal being is utter and total darkness.
            It is only the manifestation of the Real in it that gives it light.

When you see phenomenal being and do not see Him
                 in it, with it, before it or after it,
                  then you are truly in need of light.

You are veiled from the suns of gnoses
                        by the clouds of secondary traces.

One way He shows you the existence of His overwhelming power
                 is by veiling you from Him
                      by that which cannot exist alongside Him.

How can you imagine that something else veils Him
                  when He is the One who is manifest by everything?
            How can you imagine that something else veils Him
                  when He is the One who is made manifest in everything?
            How can you imagine that something else veils Him
                  when He is the One who is manifest to everything?
            How can you imagine that something else veils Him
                  when He was the One who was Manifest before there was anything?
            How can you imagine that something else veils Him
                 when He is more manifest than anything?
            How can you imagine that something else veils Him
                  when He is the One with whom there is nothing else?
            How can you imagine that something else veils Him
                 when He is the One who is nearer to you than anything?
            How can you imagine that something else veils Him
                  when if it had not been for Him, there would not have been anything?

A marvel!
            See how existence becomes manifest in non-existence!
            How the in-time holds firm alongside Him whose attribute is eternal!

II.

You have not abandoned ignorance at all
                       if you want something to take place in any moment
                  other than what Allah has manifested in it.

You put off action until you have nothing else to do?
                       That comes from the foolishness of the lower self.

Don't ask Him to remove you from one state
                  in order to use you in another.
            If He wanted to,
                 He could use you without removing you.

When the aspiration of the wayfarer desires to halt
                          at what has been unveiled to him.
                 then the invisible voices of the Reality call out to him.
                        "What you're looking for is still in front of you!"

When the outward aspect of created things display their beauty to him,
                  then their inner reality calls out to him,
                       "We are a trial!
                         We captivate and tempt you!
                        Do not disbelieve!"

If you make demands on Him, you doubt Him.
            If you seek Him, you are absent from Him.
            If you seek other-than-Him, you are shameless before Him.
            If you make demands on other-than-Him, you are distant from Him.

Every breath you breathe emerges according to a preordained decree.

Don't look forward to being quit of others -
                  that will cut you off from watchful awareness of Him
                       in the place where He has put you.

Don't think that worry and sorrow are out of place
                       as long as you are in this world.
                 It only brings forth what its attribute and quality demand.

A goal you seek by your Lord:
                       no delay here.
            A goal you seek by yourself:
                       not easy.
            A sign of success in the end:
                        turning to Allah in the beginning.
            A radiant beginning:
                       a radiant ending.

Everything that is stored away in the warehouse of invisible secrets
                  has to appear in the visible world of outward manifestation.

What a difference!
                        This one is guided by Him.
                        That one seeks information about Him.

The one guided by Him gains direct knowledge of the Real
                 and verifies the matter from its actual Source.

Seeking information about Him comes from
                       not having reached Him.

This must be the case because when was He absent
                  so as to make it necessary for you to seek information about Him?
            When was He distant so that you would need tracks to lead you to Him?

As for those who have reached Him:
                 "He who has plenty should spend out from his plenty."
            As for those who are travelling to Him:
                  "it is he whose provision is restricted."

Those travelling to Him
                 are guided by the light of turning their faces toward Him.
            Those who have arrived
                  have the lights of face-to-face encounter.

The former belong to lights,
                       but the lights belong to the latter
                  because they belong to Allah, and are His alone.

"Say: 'Allah'
                  then leave them plunging in their games."

III.

Better to look at the defects hidden within you
                        than to look for the unseen worlds that are veiled from you.

The Real is not veiled
                 - it is you that are veiled from seeing Him.
            If there was anything veiling Him
                  what veiled Him would cover Him.
            If he was covered,
                  His existence would be contained.
            If something contains something else,
                 it overpowers it.
            But He is the Conqueror, overcoming His slaves.

Among the qualities of humanness,
                       get rid of every quality incompatible with your slavehood
                  so you can answer when Allah calls and be near His presence.

The root of every act of rebellion, every appetite
                and every moment of heedlessness
                     is satisfaction with one's self.


            The root of every act of obedience, every restraint
                and every moment of wakefulness
                      is lack of satisfaction with one's self.

Better to keep the company of an ignorant man
                       who is not satisfied with himself
                  than a man of knowledge who is satisfied with himself.


            What knowledge does the self-satisifed scholar have?
            What ignorance does the ignorant man who is not self-satisfied have?

The light of the inner eye lets you see His nearness to you.
            The source of the inner eye lets you see your non-existence by your existence.
            The truth of the inner eye lets you see His existence,
                  not your own non-existence or existence.

"Allah was and there was nothing with Him.
                 He is now as He was."

IV.

Do not let the intention of your aspiration veer to other-than-Him.
            Hopes can go no further than the Ever-Generous.
            Do not ask other-than-Him for what you need
                  since He is the One who will bring it to you.
            How can other than the One who put it there relieve it?
            How can someone who is unable to relieve his own need relieve someone else's?

If you do not think well of Him because His qualities are beautiful
                 then think well of Him because of the way He treats you.
            Has He made you used to anything but good?
            Has He bestowed on you anything but favours?

How utterly amazing is someone who flees from something he cannot escape
                 to seek something that will not last!

"It is not the eyes that are blind,
                  but the hearts in the breasts are blind."

Do not travel from phenomenal being to phenomenal being.
            You will be like the donkey going around at the mill.
                 It travels to what it set out from.

Travel from phenomenal beings
                             to the Maker of Being.

"And the final end is to your Lord."

Look at the words of the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace:
                  "Whoever emigrates to Allah and His Messenger,
                        his emigration is to Allah and His Messenger.
            Whoever emigrates to something of this world or a woman to marry,
                        his emigration is to what he emigrates to."

Understand his words, may Allah bless him and grant him peace:
                        "His emigration is to what he emigrates to."

Reflect on this matter if you have any understanding at all!

Peace!

V.

If someone's state does not lift you up,
                  and his words do not lead you to Allah
                        - then do not keep his company!

It may well be that you are in a bad state -
                  but to keep company with someone worse than you
                        would allow you to see good in yourself.

No action from a heart without attachment is insignificant.
            No action from a heart full of desires is great.

Good actions are the results of good states.
            Good states come from grasping the reality
                 of the stations where you alight.

Do not give up invocation of Allah
                  because you are not present with Allah in it.
            It is worse to forget to invoke Him
                 than to be inattentive while invoking Him.

He might raise you up from invocation with heedlessness
                 to invocation with wakeful attention,
            and from invocation with wakeful attention
                 to invocation with presence,
            and from invocation with presence
                 to invocation with withdrawal from all that is other than the Invoked.
            That is not difficult for Allah.

VI.

A sign of the death of the heart:
                 lack of sadness about beneficial actions you have missed,
                 and lack of regret about your mistakes.

Do not become so overwhelmed by your wrong action
                  that it stops you thinking well of Allah.

Whoever has gnosis of his Lord,
                  finds that his wrong action is insignificant
                        beside His generosity.

There is no minor wrong action when you face His justice.
            There is no major wrong action when you experience His bounty.

No deed has more hope of being accepted
                 than the one you do and forget about, thinking it insignificant.

He only sent a warid to you
                  so that it would bring you to Him.
            He sent a warid to you
                  to deliver you from the control of otherness
                  and to free you from being a slave to effects.
            He sent a warid to you
                 to release you from the prison of your existence
                  and to bring you to the open space of inner witnessing.

Lights are the mounts of the hearts and the secrets.

The army of the heart is light.
            The army of the lower self is darkness.

When Allah wishes to help His slave,
                  He reinforces him with the armies of light
                  and cuts off the reinforcements of darkness and otherness.

Light unveils.
            The inner eye judges.
            The heart both advances and retreats.

Don't be overjoyed at obedience because it has issued from you.
            Rejoice in it because it has come from Allah to you.

"Say: 'Let them rejoice in the bounty of Allah and His mercy.
            That is better than what they amass.'"

He prevents those who are travelling to Him and those who have reached Him -
                  from seeing their actions and witnessing their states.

The travellers -
                  because they have not made sincerity with Allah in them a fact.
            Those who have arrived -
                  because when they see Him,
                        He makes them oblivious to seeing their actions.

VII.

The branches of abasement only grow from the seeds of greed.

Nothing leads you on like illusion.
                  You are free when you despair of it.
                  You are a slave when you are eager for it.

Whoever does not advance to Allah by the tenderness of His goodness
                  is chained to Him by the fetters of trial.

Whoever is not grateful for blessings is asking for them to vanish.
            Whoever is grateful for them ties them up with their own tether.

Fear that the fact that He is good to you when you are acting badly towards Him
                 might be bait to draw you on.

"We shall draw them on bit by bit, from where they do not know."

It is ignorance on the part of the murid if he has bad adab
                  to then say when the punishment is delayed,
                        "If this were really bad adab,
                        He would have cut off help or sent me into exile."

Help can be cut off while one is unaware of it
                 - by stopping any increase
                  - or by letting you do what you like.

When you see someone whom Allah has made persist in recitation of wirds
                  and then continues to help him in that,
             do not despise what his Master has given him
                 because you do not discern in him
                       the mark of the gnostics or the radiance of the lovers.

No warid, no wird.
            If a warid had not come, there would be no wird.

Allah makes some people serve Him
                  while He singles out other people for His love.

"Each We help, these and those,
                  from the gift of your Lord
                  and the gift of your Lord is not restricted."

VIII.

It is very rare that divine warids come
                 in other than a sudden flash.

That protects them -
                 because the slaves cannot lay claim to them
                  because they are ready for them.

When you see someone answering all he is asked,
                 and remembering all he knows
                  and interpreting all he sees
                       - that proves that he is an ignorant man.

He made the Next World the place where He will reward His believing slaves
                 because this world is not vast enough to hold what He wants to give them
                 and because He thinks too much of them to reward them
                        in a dimension which lacks any permanence.

If you find the fruit of your deeds quickly,
                  that is a proof of your acceptance!

If you want to learn your value with Him
                 look where He has put you.

When He provides you with obedience and having no need of other than Him,
                 know that He has bestowed His outward and inward blessings on you.

[Warid: "arriving thing"; an overflowing experience which overcomes a person's heart.

Wird: a regular spiritual exercise involving recitation of a litany of dhikr.

IX.

The best you can seek from Him
      is what He seeks from you.

A sign of being deluded is:
      sorrow over loss of obedience while failing to get on with it.