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The Parables of the Muwaḥḥid and the Mushrik and the Attainment of Excellence in Ṣalāh

Imām Ibn al-Qayyim

An explanation of the differences between the mushrik and the muwaḥḥid in their beliefs and acts of worship and the promised outcome for each of these individuals, as well as the blessing of ṣalāh and the forms of it that are accepted.

Narrated by Imām Aḥmad (رضي الله عنه) and al-Tirmidhī, on the authority of al-Ḥārith al-Ashʿarī (رضي الله عنه), who narrated that the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) said: “Indeed, Allāh issued five commands to Yaḥyá ibn Zakariyyā. He was tasked with their fulfilment himself, and to order the Children of Israel to also enact them. But Yaḥyá was slightly slow in his fulfilment of these commands, such that ʿĪsá (عليه السلام) said to him: “Indeed, Allāh—the Most High—has commanded you to enact these five commands yourself, and order the Children of Israel to likewise act in accordance with them. So, either you shall order them or I shall”. So, Yaḥyá responded: “I fear that if you were to precede me to them that the earth shall swallow me, or that I may be punished.” So Yaḥyá gathered the people in Bayt al-Maqdis until the masjid had completely filled. When they had seated themselves on its balconies, he said: “Indeed Allāh—the Blessed, the High—has commanded me to enact five commands and has ordered me to command you to also act in accordance with them.

The first of them is that you worship Allāh and associate nothing with Him in worship. For the parable of the one who associates partners with Him is like the one who purchases a servant using the purest gold and silver in his possession. Then, he says to him: “This is my home and this is my work. So work and keep your duty towards me”. Then, this servant works but is dutiful to other than his master. So whom among you would be pleased for his servant to behave thus?

And, indeed, Allāh has ordered that you perform ṣalāh. So, if you begin praying, do not turn away. For Allāh puts His face to the face of His servant whilst he prays, provided His servant does not turn away.

And He has ordered you to fast. Its parable is that of a man in a group of people that possesses a box of musk such that they all are enamoured with him or with his scent. For the aroma of the fasting person with Allāh—the Most High—is more wrought with goodness than even the scent of musk.

And He has ordered you to give charity. Its parable is that of a man that has been captured by the enemy who has secured his hands to his neck, bringing him forward to slit his throat. Then, he says to them: “I shall offer both paltry and extravagant sums [i.e., all the money I possess] in return for my safety.” Thus, he is granted safety from them.

And you have been ordered to remember Allāh—the Most High. Its parable is that of a man who travels while being closely and quickly pursued by his enemy until he comes upon a fortified sanctuary. By it, he is able to achieve protection from them. Such is the circumstance of the servant; he is not able to attain protection from Shayṭān except by engaging in the remembrance of Allāh—the Most High.”

The Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) then said: “And I, also, order you with five commands with which Allāh has likewise ordered me: to hear and obey [the rulers in that which is not disobedient], to fight in His ([i.e. Allāh’s] cause [to make His word the highest after fulfilment of its prerequisites and negation of its preventers], migration [from Makkah to Madīnah, from the land of disbelief to that of Islām, from engaging in disobedience to repentance], and to adhere to the gathering [of the pious predecessors and those who follow them]. For, indeed, the one who abandons the gathering [by abandoning the path of the pious predecessors, leaving the Sunnah and following innovation, or shows disobedience to the rulers] by a hand span has thrown off the reins of Islām from his neck [i.e., the boundaries, rulings, orders, and prohibitions of Islām, or has broken his covenant with Allāh]. And whoever issues a call of the time of ignorance [by leaving the path of the pious predecessors, refusing to show obedience to the rulers, or calling one’s tribe to fight on their behalf to oppress others] will be among the juthā of Jahannam [its rock piles, or he shall kneel on their knees therein].

A man said: “O Messenger of Allāh! Even if he prays and fasts?” He (صلى الله عليه وسلم) replied: “Even if he was to pray and fast. So claim only Allāh’s title. He has named you Muslims, believers, and servants of Allāh.”1

Imām Ibn al-Qayyim comments:

The Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) has mentioned in this glorious, authentic ḥadīth—which is most befitting to be memorised and fully understood by every Muslim—the means by which one is able to save himself from Shayṭān, while attaining success and safety in this world and the hereafter.

The Parable of the Muwaḥḥid and the Mushrik

The Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) has mentioned the parable of the muwaḥḥid (monotheist) and the mushrik (polytheist). The muwaḥḥīd works for his master in his home, giving his master the fruits of his labour. While the mushrik works for his master in his home, while giving the fruits of his labour and its profits to others. This is the example of the mushrik. He labours for other than Allāh—the Most High—while inhabiting His home. He uses the blessings bestowed upon him by Allāh to gain closeness to His enemies. It is well-known that such a servant would be the most contemptible, detestable one in service to any human being. He would be the greatest source of anger for that master, who would desire only to cast him out. Despite that servant being a created being like himself, both enjoying the blessings bestowed by another [i.e., their Creator]. How, then, would the circumstance be should it apply (i.e. servitude) to the Lord of everything in existence? There is no blessing enjoyed by the servant except that it is from He who has no partners. There is no good except that it comes from Him, no evil except that it is diverted by Him. He alone created His servant, shows mercy to him, controls his affairs, provides for him and sustains him, forgives him when he errs, and satisfies all his needs. How, then, could it ever be befitting for one to set up equals to him, directing his love, fear [of punishment], hope [of reward], and oaths of allegiance to them, or to treat them in the same manner as Him? Such that they love other than Him in the same way as they love Him, or greater. Fearing and putting their hopes in them like they do with Him, or to an even greater extent.2

The reality of their circumstance, in terms of both speech and action, reveal that they love the rivals they have set up with Allāh—whether living or dead—and fear them, putting their hopes in them, in terms of the way they treat them, seeking their pleasure, and fleeing from that which is displeasing to them, all in a manner that is greater than the love, fear, and hope they harbour for Allāh, and in their fleeing from His displeasure.

The Keys to Paradise

Allāh—the Exalted in Might— has made Paradise ḥarām upon the people who commit shirk such that no mushrik shall ever enter paradise.3 Rather, only the firm muwaḥḥid shall be able to enter it. The key to its gate is tawhīd. Its door shall never open for those who do not possess this key. Just as a door shall not open for the one whose key lacks teeth. The teeth of this key are: ṣalāh, fasting, zakāh, Ḥajj, struggling in His cause, enjoining that which is good, and forbidding evil, true speech, fulfilling covenants and trusts, joining the ties of kinship, and being dutiful to one’s parents. So whichever servant possesses the correct key of tawḥīd, embossed with teeth borne from fulfilling His commands, shall approach the gates of Paradise with its key without which it shall never open.4 He shall not be prevented from it except if he still possesses sins, misdeeds, or burdens whose effects were not alleviated by means of his repentance and seeking forgiveness in this world. In such a circumstance, he shall be prevented from entering Paradise such that he may firstly be purified from it, provided he was not already purified by means of the rigours and horrors of the Day of Judgment. Otherwise, he must enter the Fire to rid himself of that filth, gaining purity from sins and its foul dirt. Afterwards, he shall be extricated from it and allowed to enter Paradise. For it is the land of goodness, none but the good shall enter it.

The Most High said:

الَّذِينَ تَتَوَفَّاهُمُ الْمَلَائِكَةُ طَيِّبِينَ ۙ يَقُولُونَ سَلَامٌ عَلَيْكُمُ ادْخُلُوا الْجَنَّةَ

“Those whose lives the angels take while they are in a pious state (i.e., pure from all evil, and worshipping none but Allāh alone) saying (to them): Salāmun ʿalaykum (peace be on you) enter you Paradise.”
(Al-Naḥl, 16:32)

The Most High also said:

وَسِيقَ الَّذِينَ اتَّقَوْا رَبَّهُمْ إِلَى الْجَنَّةِ زُمَرًا ۖ حَتَّىٰ إِذَا جَاءُوهَا وَفُتِحَتْ أَبْوَابُهَا وَقَالَ لَهُمْ خَزَنَتُهَا سَلَامٌ عَلَيْكُمْ طِبْتُمْ فَادْخُلُوهَا خَالِدِينَ

“And those who kept their duty to their Lord will be led to Paradise in groups, till, when they reach it, and its gates will be opened (before their arrival for their reception) and its keepers will say: Salāmun ʿalaykum (peace be upon you)! You have done well, so enter here to abide therein.”
(Al-Zumar, 39:73)

The command to enter here is preceded by “so” [or the prefix ‘ف’] which indicates the reasoning for their entry. That is, because of your goodness it is said to you: “Enter it”.

As for the Fire, it is the home of contempt, disdain and wickedness in terms of the speech, action, food, and drink therein. It is the home of the wicked. Allāh—the Most High—said:

‏ لِيَمِيزَ اللَّهُ الْخَبِيثَ مِنَ الطَّيِّبِ وَيَجْعَلَ الْخَبِيثَ بَعْضَهُ عَلَىٰ بَعْضٍ فَيَرْكُمَهُ جَمِيعًا فَيَجْعَلَهُ فِي جَهَنَّمَ ۚ أُولَٰئِكَ هُمُ الْخَاسِرُونَ

“In order that Allāh may distinguish the wicked (disbelievers, polytheists and doers of evil deeds) from the good (believers of Islamic Monotheism and doers of righteous deeds), and put the wicked (disbelievers, polytheists and doers of evil deeds) one on another, heap them together and cast them into Hell. Those! It is they who are the losers.”
(Al-Anfāl, 8:37)

Thus does Allāh heap the wicked ones together, forming a heap as if to ride one atop of another, then they are all placed in Jahannam with its people. None but the wicked reside therein.

The Three Categories of Mankind

Mankind may be divided into three categories:

  1. The righteous, those unmarred by filth.
  2. The evil, of which no goodness is attributable.
  3. Those who possess aspects of both goodness and evil.

In consideration of this, there are also three abodes.

  1. The abode of the purely righteous,
  2. the abode of unadulterated evil
    —these two abodes shall never cease to exist—
  3. and the abode of those who have mixed righteousness with evil.

The latter home shall one day cease to exist, for it is the home of the disobedient. Such that none from among the muwaḥḥidīn who have engaged in disobedience will remain in Hell forever. Rather, they will be punished commensurately with their actions before being extricated from the Fire and permitted to enter Paradise. Then, there shall only be the abode of pure goodness and unadulterated evil.

The Categories of ‘Turning Away’ During Ṣalāh

His (صلى الله عليه وسلم) statement in this ḥadīth: “And, indeed, Allāh has ordered that you perform ṣalāh. So, if you begin praying, do not turn away. For Allāh puts His face to the face of His servant whilst he prays, provided His servant does not turn away.” This ‘turning away’ that has been forbidden in ṣalāh may be divided into two categories:

  1. Turning away from Allāh—the Exalted in Might—with one’s heart to other than Him—the Most High.
  2. Turning away from the ṣalah with one’s gaze.

Both forms are forbidden. And Allāh will continue to face His servant as long as His servant continues to face his ṣalāh without turning away from it. Such that should he turn away from it with either his heart or his gaze, then Allāh turns away from him. When the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) was asked concerning a man who turns away during his ṣalāh, he (صلى الله عليه وسلم) said: “It is an embezzlement [of his attention and care shown towards Allāh’s worship]. Shayṭān has managed to embezzle from the ṣalāh of the servant”.5

The Parable of the One Who Turns Away from His Ṣalāh

The parable of the one who turns away from his ṣalāh with either his heart or gaze may be likened to a ruler that seeks an audience with a man. The ruler positions this man before himself, calling and conversing with him. All the while, this man turns to the right and left of the ruler, or is completely absent-minded such that he does not even comprehend that which he is being addressed with, as his heart is not present with the one before him. So, how does this man think the ruler will treat him? Would it not be accurate to say, at the very least, that he would leave his audience with this ruler in a state of shame, contempt, disdain, hate, with a demoted standing before him? Such a person could never be equivocated with the the one whose heart is present, fully concentrating and facing Allāh—the Most High— when performing ṣalāh. The one whose heart fully appreciates the magnanimity of the One he stands before. His heart is full of respect and reverence towards Him, his neck lowered in humility, ashamed to turn his attention to other than his Lord, or turn away from Him. Ḥassān ibn ʿAṭiyyah said concerning this disparity between these two [states of] prayers: “Certainly, two men may be performing the same ṣalāh although the disparity in blessings between them is like the distance between the heavens and the earth”. This is because the heart of one of them is fully present before Allāh—the Exalted in Might—while praying, while the other is mindless and unattentive.

For, if a person was to face someone but place a veil between himself and this other individual, he would not be considered having fully faced him with concentration and attentiveness. What then should be said regarding one who intends to face the Lord of everything in existence but is separated from Him with the veil of false desires and perpetual whisperings? Despite his very soul being replete with the love to face Him in ṣalāh. Has the praying person who is distracted by external whisperings and foreign thoughts—whose consciousness continually traverses to a fro—truly faced Him?

The Predation of Shayṭān upon the Praying Person

The servant of Allāh is attacked by Shayṭān when he begins performing ṣalāh. As the servant now occupies the greatest of stations, the closest of them to Allāh, and the most infuriating and severe of them to Shayṭān. Such that Shayṭān aspires and strives—to the very best of his abilities—to ensure that the servant does not perform it in a complete manner. He consistently makes false promises to him [i.e. regarding that which may or may not occur, such that he desists from prayer and righteous actions], arousing his desires [e.g. that there is no hereafter and its likeness], causing him to be forgetful and distracted while praying.6 He assaults them with his cavalry and infantry [i.e., making every effort] towards ensuring the servants perceive the ṣalāh as insignificant. Until when they perceive it as such, they finally abandon its performance completely.

If Shayṭan finds himself unable to deter him from praying such that the servant disobeys him, instead choosing to occupy the station of ṣalāh, then the enemy of Allāh resorts to trying to come between him and his heart and soul during its performance. He begins reminding him of matters he was unable to remember prior to beginning it.7 To the extent that he may have even forgotten a thing and his need for it, losing hope in ever recovering it, but he is reminded of it during his ṣalāh. Such that his heart is occupied with thoughts of it, completely removed from concentrating on Allāh—the Exalted in Might. So he performs it in an absent-minded fashion. In so doing, he deprives himself from the concentration and attentiveness to Allāh, His generosity, and closeness to the praying person, all of which is attained by the one who prays with full concentration on his Lord—the Exalted in Might—whose heart is fully present while praying. While the distracted one leaves his ṣalāh in the very same state he began it in, with his errors, sins and burdens in tow. Failing to rid himself of them by means of his ṣalāh.

Ṣalāh as an Expiator of Sins and a Source of Comfort

Ṣalāh is only a means of expiation for the sins of the one who performs it in a manner that fulfils all its rights, perfecting solemnity and submissiveness within it, standing before Allāh—the Most High—with one’s heart and soul. Such a person, after having performed it this way, finds ease within himself, as if released from a heavy burden. Thus, he is in a state of strength and vitality, calm, comfortable and tranquil. To the extent that he wishes he never had to conclude his prayer. For it represents the comfort of his eyes, bliss for his soul, paradise for his heart, and a place of rest in this worldly life. He feels imprisoned and constricted until he finally begins its performance. He feels enjoyment within it and not in ridding himself from the responsibility of having to perform it. Those who truly love it say: “Let us pray and find relief and enjoyment in the performance of this ṣalāh”. Just as their leader, role model, and Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) said: “O Bilāl! Relieve us by means of this ṣalāh”8, and he did not say “relieve us from having to perform it”.

The Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) also said: “The comfort of my eyes has been placed in the performance of ṣalāh”.9 Thus, how can the one who finds the comfort of his eyes in the performance of ṣalāh find it elsewhere? How can he ever tolerate not performing it?

The Two Types of Accepted Acts of Worship

The accepted ṣalāh and [therefore] the accepted act of worship is one wherein the servant prays a ṣalāh that truly befits his Lord—the Exalted in Might. If the manner in which he prays his ṣalāh is truly concurrent and appropriate to His Lord, it is acceptable. Accepted acts of worship are of two types:

  1. The servant who prays and engages in other acts of obedience while his heart is in full attachment to Allāh—the Exalted in Might—to where he remembers Him consistently. The actions of such a servant are presented before Allāh. Allāh looks upon them, seeing that they were done sincerely for His face and seeking His pleasure, that they were borne from a pristine, clean heart, full of love for Allāh—the Exalted in Might—seeking closeness to Him. Those acts of worship are beloved to Him, He is pleased with them, and they are accepted before Him.
  2. A servant who engages in acts of worship out of routine, with mindlessness. He intends by his performance of them obedience and seeking closeness to Allāh. His limbs are occupied with engaging in obedience, while his heart is absent from truly remembering Allāh. Likewise in the rest of his acts of worship. When such actions are raised before Allāh, they are not presented before Him, nor does He look upon them [with pleasure]. Instead, they are merely placed with the records of actions such that they may then be presented to the enactor on the Day of Judgment. On that day, there is discernment among his actions such that he is rewarded for those that were performed sincerely for Allāh, and those that were not done seeking His face are rejected.

His acceptance of such actions take the form of rewarding its enactor with a tangible reward. For example, he is granted palaces, food, drink, and Ḥūr al-ʿAyn.10 While those whose hearts are in full attachment to Allāh are rewarded additionally with Allāh’s pleasure. As Allāh is pleased with the action and the one who has completed it. Allāh increases his closeness to this person, elevating his position and standing, and rewarding him without reservation. The state of such a person is one matter, while the state of the former is another.

The Classes of Worshippers in Ṣalāh

In terms of a person’s performance of ṣalāh, it may be divided into five classes:

  1. The one who oppresses himself through carelessness while being deficient in his performance of its wuḍūʾ, its time, its limitations, and pillars.
  2. The one who is dutiful to its timings, limitations, and apparent pillars, while also in performing its wuḍūʾ correctly. However, he is most ineffectual at guarding against the whisperings associated with it. Such that he is transported with those whisperings and external thoughts from his prayer.
  3. The one who is cognizant of its limitations and pillars, while also struggling effectively to guard himself from the whisperings and external thoughts associated with its performance. Such a person has busied himself with combatting his enemy, preventing him from absconding with his prayer. This person is considered both a praying person and a mujāhid [one who struggles in the cause of Allāh].
  4. The one who when praying has perfected its rights and pillars, fully acknowledging its limitations and boundaries. To the extent that his heart is ensconced in the care and attention paid to its rights and boundaries such that not a single aspect of it is overlooked. Rather, all due care and attention is paid to performing it in the most exemplary, excellent, perfect and complete manner. His heart firmly entrenched in the matter of ṣalāh and worshipping his Lord—the Most Blessed, the Most High.
  5. The one who prays while observing everything mentioned in the previous class but has additionally placed his heart before his Lord—the Exalted in Might. He observes Him with his heart, fully cognizant of His gaze, full of love and glorification for Him as if he sees Him. To the extent that all whisperings and idle thoughts fade away, removing these separating veils of distraction that separate him from his Lord. The inherent disparity in the ṣalāh of such a person when compared to others is greater than the distance between the heavens and the earth. For, in his ṣalāh, he is completely occupied with his Lord—the Exalted in Might, the comfort of his eyes residing only in it.

Thus, the first class is deserving of punishment, the second will be taken to account, the third will have his misdeeds expiated, the fourth is rewarded, and the fifth is brought closer to Allāh by means of his ṣalāh. For he has received an allotment of those to whom the comfort of their eyes are found in their performance of ṣalāh.


[1] Authentic: narrated by al-Tirmidhī: 2863 and graded authentic by Shaykh al-Albānī in Sunan al-Tirmidhi edited by Aḥmad Shākir.
[2] Referencing al-Baqarah 2:165:

وَمِنَ النَّاسِ مَن يَتَّخِذُ مِن دُونِ اللَّهِ أَندَادًا يُحِبُّونَهُمْ كَحُبِّ اللَّهِ ۖ وَالَّذِينَ آمَنُوا أَشَدُّ حُبًّا لِّلَّهِ ۗ وَلَوْ
يَرَى الَّذِينَ ظَلَمُوا إِذْ يَرَوْنَ الْعَذَابَ أَنَّ الْقُوَّةَ لِلَّهِ جَمِيعًا وَأَنَّ اللَّهَ شَدِيدُ الْعَذَابِ

And of mankind are some who take (for worship) others besides Allāh as rivals (to Allāh). They love them as they love Allāh. But those who believe, love Allāh more (than anything else). If only, those who do wrong could see, when they will see the torment, that all power belongs to Allāh and that Allāh is severe in punishment.

[3] Referencing al-Maʾidah 5:72:

إِنَّهُ مَن يُشْرِكْ بِاللَّهِ فَقَدْ حَرَّمَ اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ الْجَنَّةَ وَمَأْوَاهُ النَّارُ ۖ وَمَا لِلظَّالِمِينَ مِنْ أَنصَارٍ

“Verily, whosoever sets up partners in worship with Allāh, then Allāh has forbidden Paradise for him, and the Fire will be his abode. And for the Ẓālimūn (polytheists and wrong-doers) there are no helpers.”

[4] Translator note: ‘Keys’ here is metaphorical. Referencing the authentic ḥadīth narrated by al-Bukhārī: 29 on the authority of Wahb ibn Manabbih (رضي الله عنه), that he was once asked: “Is the testification that there is nothing worshipped in truth except for Allāh not the key to Paradise?” He replied: “Of course, but there are no keys without teeth such that if you bring a key with teeth, its doors shall open for you. Otherwise, it will not.” See also The Keys to Goodness and Evil by Imām Ibn al-Qayyim (unpublished).
[5] Authentic: narrated by al-Bukhārī: 751.
[6] Referencing the verse in al-Nisāʾ, 4:120:

يَعِدُهُمْ وَيُمَنِّيهِمْ ۖ وَمَا يَعِدُهُمُ الشَّيْطَانُ إِلَّا غُرُورًا

“Satan promises them and arouses desire in them. But Satan does not promise them except delusion.”

[7] Referencing the authentic ḥadīth narrated by al-Bukhārī: 608.
[8] Authentic: narrated by Abū Dāwūd: 4985 and graded authentic by Shaykh al-Albānī. See Sunan Abī Dāwūd edited by Muḥī al-Dīn ʿAbd al-Ḥamīd.
[9] Authentic: narrated by al-Nasāʾī: 3949 and graded authentic by Shaykh al-Albānī in al-Sirāj al-Munīr: 772.
[10] Regarding al-Ḥūr al-ʿAyn, Shaykh Bin Bāz said: “Al-Ḥūr al-ʿAyn are women. The actual extent of their beauty and loveliness is known only by the One who created them, but they possess beauty, purity and excellence in their behaviours and mannerisms such that the true believer recognises their condition upon seeing them…They are women who have been created by Allāh as a means of honouring the people of Paradise, and as an enjoyment for its men.” Source: Fatāwá Nūr ʿalá al-Darb 4:351. Shaykh Ibn ʿUthaymīn said: “They are women whose features are all beautiful. Specifically, their eyes possess stark whites and blacks, widened and round, among the most lovely and beautiful of women.” Source: Liqāʾ al-Bāb al-Maftūḥ 7:193. See also a detailed description of them as related by Ibn al-Qayyim in Rawḍat al-Muḥibbīn: 345-346.

Source: Al-Wābil al-Ṣayyib: 37-50
Translated by: Riyāḍ al-Kanadī

Published: May 31, 2024
Edited: June 12, 2024

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