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The Enslavement of the Heart

Shaykh Sulaymān al-Sulaymī

‘Allāh has sent us to deliver whomsoever chooses, from the worship of men, to the ʿubūdiyyah (worship and servitude) of Allāh. And from the narrowness of this world, to the vastness of this world and the Hereafter. And from the oppression of the (false) religions, to the justice of Islām.’

And know that al-ʿIbādah (worship) has four principles, and they are, [i] ascertaining that which Allāh and His Messenger love and are pleased with, establishing that with [ii] the heart, [iii] the tongue and [iv] the limbs. So al-ʿubūdiyyah is a comprehensive term for all of these stages.

Shaykh Sulaymān al-Sulaymī

I. True Freedom

Without doubt, we all hate the slavery and subjugation we see upon the earth today. That being the subjugation of men over men, where some subjugate others, humiliating them and trampling over them. This is indeed hated. However, what we will talk about today is different to this. It is as Rabīʿ Ibn ʿĀmir (رضي الله عنه) said, “Allāh has sent us to deliver whomsoever chooses, from the worship of men, to the ʿubūdiyyah (worship and servitude) of Allāh. And from the narrowness of this world, to the vastness of this world and the Hereafter. And from the oppression of the (false) religions, to the justice of Islām.”1

II. The Noble Ones:

The ʿubūdiyyah (submission and worship) mentioned here is the ʿubūdiyyah to Allāh, which makes a person the noblest of all the creation upon the earth. One of the Salaf said in a couplet:

“What has made me noble and precious,

Is that You, O Allāh, have made me enter into Your submission,

And You have made me one of the followers,

Of Your Prophet, Muḥammad .”

This ʿubūdiyyah– this submission and worship – is what Allāh refers to in His Book:

وَمَا خَلَقْتُ الْجِنَّ وَالْإِنسَ إِلَّا لِيَعْبُدُونِ ‎﴿٥٦﴾‏

“I have not created the Jinn and Mankind, except to worship Me. ”
[al-Dhāriyāt, 51:56]

In another āyah, Allāh says:

يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ اتَّقُوا رَبَّكُمُ الَّذِي خَلَقَكُم مِّن نَّفْسٍ وَاحِدَةٍ ‎﴿١﴾‏

“O Mankind! Worship your Lord who created you from a single person. ”
[Al-Nisāʾ, 4:1]

But how do we define this ʿubūdiyyah? This ʿubūdiyyah is all that Allāh loves and is pleased with, whether it is an action of the heart, tongue or limbs.2 We, however, will specifically discuss the ʿubūdiyyahof the heart.3

III. Enslavement of the Heart:

Allāh – the Most High – has placed in everyone that He has created, a heart which must be filled; either with submission and servitude to Allāh, or with submission and servitude to other than Allāh. Every single heart has feelings, desires, and inclinations. The question is: will those feelings, desires, and inclinations be directed to Allāh alone, or will they be directed to other than Allāh? Only the former truly being the subjugation and servitude to Allāh. The ʿubūdiyyah of the heart to things other than Allāh are many. Sometimes it is submission and servitude to money, sometimes to power and position, sometimes to women; and other such things that people covet very much. However, what they covet can either lessen their servitude and worship of Allāh, or completely nullify it!

IV. The Slave of Wealth:

Someone may ask: what is the proof that some people submit themselves to money and other such things? The proof is in the ḥadīth of the Prophet () where he said, “Wretched is the worshipper of the Dirham, wretched is the worshipper of the Dīnār…”4 Someone may ask: how does this servitude to money manifest itself and what is its nature? It is when the heart becomes so in love with money, that it covers up, or suppresses the love for Allāh. Even to the degree that the person’s attempts to attain that wealth by any means possible – neither caring whether that wealth comes to him through lawful means; in obedience to Allāh and His Messenger (), or means that are unlawful and prohibited in the Religion.

Understand by reflection, that every single heart in all created things has feelings, desires and inclinations. It has the desire to love, to gain good and beneficial things for itself; It can feel fear, terror, and also it can submit and surrender. When its feelings, desires and inclinations are all directed towards Allāh, then it is a heart that worships and serves Allāh alone. Therefore, it fears only Allāh, seeks and desires only Allāh’s mercy, it loves Allāh and whatever He loves; and it surrenders and submits itself only to Allāh. However, when these feelings desires and inclinations are directed to other than Allāh, then it is a heart that worships and serves that object which has captured and enslaved it.

V. Significance of Wealth:

The forbiddance of the heart submitting to other than Allāh should not be misunderstood to mean that Muslims must forsake the world and dealing with it. Rather, the true position of a Muslim is that which was with the Companions (رضي الله عنهm). They held the wealth in their hands, yet none of this was in their hearts.5 The point being made is that we are not trying to call the people to the opinion of some of the Ṣūfīs, who believe that it was forbidden for a Muslim to possess wealth and take part in any worldly transaction. Rather, it is obligatory for the Muslims to be the richest of people so that they may use this wealth as a means to help people and worship Allāh – the One free from all imperfections.

Another form of submitting to other than Allāh is when people submit and surrender their hearts to power and leadership. They are willing for humiliation to take hold of them and to abandon their scruples in order to gain votes during elections, or other similar matters. They are prepared to humble themselves in front of other people, doing whatever is necessary for them to do in order to win over other people’s favour and thus gain that position. This is thus another form of submitting one’s heart to other than Allāh.

VI. The Sincere ʿUbūdiyyah to Allāh:

As opposed to all of this, the true ʿubūdiyyah to Allāh, the true submission and surrender of one’s heart to Allāh, is the same as when we say: Tawḥīd is to single out Allāh alone for worship. When the person has this ʿubūdiyyah, he worships Allāh alone, fears Allāh alone, loves Allāh and all his inclinations and desires are directed only to Allāh. For this reason, Tawḥīd is the greatest deed a person can perform and the most beneficial deed a person can possess for himself upon the Day of Judgement. This is why the Prophet () said, “Whoever testifies that there is no deity worthy of worship besides Allāh, sincerely, from his heart will enter Paradise.”6 Meaning, he actualized Tawḥīd in his life. Likewise, based upon this, we understand that any act of worship, any good action or nice manner – when it is not accompanied by this Tawḥīd– will not be accepted by Allāh upon the Day of Judgement, no matter of what value it seemingly was.

VII. The Greatness of Tawḥīd:

What shows to you the greatness of this submission and worship of Allāh in the heart, is the incident related in Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī (6/494) that the Prophet () said, “A man sinned greatly against himself. So when death came, he said to his sons: When I die, burn me and crush me and scatter my ashes into the sea. For by Allāh, if my Lord takes possession of me, He will punish me in a manner in which He has not punished anyone. So they did that to him. Then Allāh said to the earth: Bring forth what you have taken – and there he was! Allāh said to him: What induced you to do what you did? The man said: Due to fear of You, O my Lord. So Allāh forgave him because of this.” This shows us the greatness of khashyah (fear), since this fear he had was one of the meanings included in al-ʿubūdiyyah– the servitude to Allāh.

This is why all actions – even if they were to fill the heavens and the earth – will not be accepted by Allāh, unless these actions have sprouted from a person having pure submission, worship and servitude to Allāh, worshipping Allāh alone and not associating any partner along with Him in this worship – not falling into Shirk. Allāh – the One free from all imperfections – says:

إِنَّ اللَّهَ لَا يَغْفِرُ أَن يُشْرَكَ بِهِ وَيَغْفِرُ مَا دُونَ ذَٰلِكَ لِمَن يَشَاءُ ۚ وَمَن يُشْرِكْ بِاللَّهِ فَقَدِ افْتَرَىٰ إِثْمًا عَظِيمًا ‎﴿٤٨﴾‏

“Allāh does not forgive that any partners should be set up with Him, but He forgives anything lesser than that to whomsoever He chooses. Whosoever commits Shirk with Allāh has indeed invented the most grievous sin. ”
[Al-Nisāʾ, 4:48]

Allāh – the One free from all imperfections also says:

وَقَدِمْنَا إِلَىٰ مَا عَمِلُوا مِنْ عَمَلٍ فَجَعَلْنَاهُ هَبَاءً مَّنثُورًا ‎﴿٢٣﴾‏

“And We came forth to what they brought from their actions, and We made it scattered dust. ”
[Al-Furqān, 25:23]

That which shows us the greatness of Tawḥīd also is this second incident: A Jewish boy who used to serve the Prophet () had become ill. So the Prophet () went to visit him and sat by his head and said, “Accept Islām.” The boy looked at his father who was with him. So his father said to him, “Obey Abū al-Qāsim. So he accepted Islām. As the Prophet () was leaving, he said: “All praise is for Allāh who saved this boy from the Fire.”7 Meaning, that although this person had no good deeds, yet because of his saying this statement purely and sincerely from his heart, it was enough to save him from the Hellfire, and cause Him to enter Paradise.

VIII. The Fruits of Tawḥīd:

So as this Tawḥīd strengthens in the heart, becoming stronger, firmer, and more well-rooted, then as a result, one’s deeds will likewise multiply and his worship of Allāh will become greater and more firm. Since, if a person realizes with ihklās (sincerity) and yaqīn (certainty) in his heart. That Allāh – the Most High – is the one who has created him, then he knows that he should only worship Allāh – the One free from all imperfections. As this becomes firmer in his heart, good deeds become more apparent and multiply in number.

Reflect upon the great Wisdom of Allāh, in that when he created Hellfire, He created it with different levels and degrees. The highest level being the one having the least punishment and torment in it – which is for those people who had Tawḥīd, yet had many sins. Though they will be punished at this level, until they are purified from their sins – due to this Tawḥīd and ʿubūdiyyah to Allāh alone in their hearts – they will eventually be saved from the Fire and admitted into Paradise. This level of Hellfire will then have no inhabitants left in it. This shows the greatness and virtue of Tawḥīd and the worship of Allāh alone, due to which they will eventually be rescued from the Hellfire, not being eternally condemned in it.

IX. The Prophetic Method:

What also shows the importance of Tawḥīd is the life and example of the Prophet (). It can be divided into two stages: The first stage is when he () was in Makkah. The second stage was in al-Madīnah. In Makkah his message was only to teach one thing; the worship of Allāh alone without any partners – Tawḥīd or ʿubūdiyyah to Allāh alone. The Prophet () did not call the people the leave any other sin, or to do any other good deed. During this period, he only called the people to single out Allāh in worship, since this is the foundation upon which all else is built.

We must understand that once a person has truly submitted his heart to the worship of Allāh alone, he will then begin to fulfill all the obligations which Allāh has placed upon him to the best of his ability. This is made clear by the statement of ʿĀʾishah (رضي الله عنه) who said: “The first part (of the Qurʾān) to be revealed was a sūrah giving a detailed account of Paradise and Hell. Then, when people entered into the fold of Islām, there came the revelation of what was ḥalāl (lawful) and ḥarām (unlawful). Had the first revelation been: ‘Do not drink wine,’ they would have said: ‘We shall never give up wine.’ Had the first revelation been: Do not commit adultery and fornication, they would have said: ‘We shall never give up adultery and fornication.’” This then is the foundation for which, if a person agrees, he will then agree and desire to give up all other sins and acts of disobedience.

It was only after Tawḥīd, the worship of Allāh alone; and the willingness to submit to Him, was understood by the Companions (رضي الله عنهm) and it had settled in their hearts, that Allāh – the One free from all imperfections – began to order them with the various commands. It was then that the command was revealed to establish Prayer, pay the zakāt (obligatory charity), fast in Ramaḍān, then afterwards the command to make Ḥajj; and so on until all the commands which Allāh – the Most High – and the Messenger () have forbidden. Once this worship of Allāh alone, and the submission to Him have settled in the hearts, it is also upon the Muslim to leave, forsake and avoid that which Allāh and His Messenger have forbidden.

X. The Principle of Ease:

There is a very important principle here that shows the greatness of the Religion of Islām and the Sharīʿah in terms of prohibitions; whether they came by way of the Qurʾān or from the tongue of the Messenger (). It is required of the Muslim to give up all that Allāh and His Messenger () have forbidden, without compromise or distinction. As for the orders of Allāh, whether in the Qurʾān or from the Prophet (), the Muslim is required to fulfill them to the best of his ability. This is because the Religion is one of ease. For example, regarding the command to perform Ḥajj, Allāh revealed in His Book:

وَلِلَّهِ عَلَى النَّاسِ حِجُّ الْبَيْتِ مَنِ اسْتَطَاعَ إِلَيْهِ سَبِيلًا ۚ ﴿٩٧﴾‏

“It is a command upon mankind to perform Ḥajj for Allāh to the House, for whomsoever has the means to do so. ”
[Ālī ʿImrān, 3:97]

Meaning, the command is to be fulfilled is one is able, to the best of his ability. Since no Muslim – man or woman – can fulfill every command of Allāh, whether it be from the obligatory duties or the recommended ones. As for those matters that Allāh and His Messenger have forbidden, then they must be completely avoided, without any weakening in resolve.8

This message of ʿubūdiyyah to Allāh – the One free from all imperfections – and singling Him out alone for worship, is the common message of all the Prophets and Messengers (عليهم السلام). Every single Prophet and Messenger came to his people saying:

يَا قَوْمِ اعْبُدُوا اللَّهَ مَا لَكُم مِّنْ إِلَٰهٍ غَيْرُهُ ‎﴿٥٩﴾‏

“O people: Worship Allāh alone, none other than Him has the right to be worshipped. ”
[Al-Aʿrāf, 7:59]

This was the message of the Prophet Nūḥ, Ibrāhīm, Mūsá, ’ʿĪsá Ibn Maryam (عليهم السلام); and the seal and last of the Prophets, Muḥammad (). They all cam with this message.9


  1. Al-Bidāyah wa-al-Nihāyah(7/40) of Ibn Kathīr
  2. Imām al-Maqrīzī says in Tajrīd al-Tawḥīd al-Mufīd (p. 82), “And know that al-ʿĪbādah (worship) has four principles, and they are, [i] ascertaining that which Allāh and His Messenger love and are pleased with, establishing that with [ii] the heart, [iii] the tongue and [iv] the limbs. So al-ʿubūdiyyah is a comprehensive term for all of these stages.”
  3. As regards the importance of the heart, the Prophet (ﷺ) said, “Indeed there is a piece of flesh in the body, if it is correct, the whole body is correct, and if it is corrupt, the whole body is corrupt. Indeed, that is the heart.” Related by al-Bukhārī (1/126) and Muslim (no. 1599) from al-Nuʿmān Ibn Bashīr (رضي الله عنه).
  4. Related by al-Bukhārī (no. 6435) and Ibn Mājah (no. 4132) from Abū Hurayrah (رضي الله عنه).
  5. Shaykh al-Islām Ibn Taymīyyah says in Wasiyyah al-Ṣughrā (p. 55), “He should regard wealth like he regards the toilet. He has need of it, but it has no place in his heart and he resorts to it only when necessary.”
  6. Ṣaḥīḥ: Related by Ibn Hibbān (no. 4) and Aḥmad (5/236) from Muʿādh (رضي الله عنه). It was authenticated by Shaykh al-Albānī in al-Ṣaḥihah(no. 2355).
  7. Related by al-Bukhārī and Aḥmad, from Anas Ibn Mālik (رضي الله عنه).
  8. This principle is taken from the ḥadīth of the Prophet (ﷺ), “Whatever I have forbidden you, then avoid as much of it as you can. Whatever I have ordered you to do, then do as much of it as you are able.” Related by al-Bukhārī (no. 7288) and Muslim (no. 1337)
  9. Imām Aḥmad relates in al-Zuhd (2/30) that ʿUmar Ibn al-Khaṭṭāb (رضي الله عنه) said: “Take account of your own souls before account is taken of you. Weigh your actions before they are weighed. Indeed, when you are brought to account tomorrow it will be much easier if you have brought yourselves to account today. So do so, before there comes to you the great Judgement: “That day you will be brought to Judgement. Not a secret of yours will be hidden.” [Sūrah al-Hāqqah, 69:18]
    From a talk delivered by the honourable Shaykh – ḥafiẓahullāh – at the Jam’iyyatul-Qurʾān wa-al-Sunnah conference, 1994; U.S.A.
    Published: June 22, 2007
    Edited: July 18, 2023

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