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Zuhd and How the Salaf Understood It

Shaykh Abū Idrīs Muḥammad Khān

Lectures from the seminar entitled, Be in This World as a Stranger, which took place in May 2016 regarding the meaning of Zuhd (abstinence), drawing from the statements of the Salaf.


Class 01: A Basic Definition of Zuhd
Class 02: Statements of the Salaf Concerning Zuhd Pt. 1
Class 03: Statements of the Salaf Concerning Zuhd Pt. 2
Class 04: How the Salaf Enacted Thabāt (Steadfastness)
Class 05: Guidelines of the Salaf Concerning Benefit and Harm

Our noble brother Abū Idrīs (ḥafiẓahullāh) delivers a beautiful series of lectures concerning Zuhd, the statements of the Salaf regarding it and its means of attaining it. It revolves around the ḥadīth of the Prophet (ﷺ), “Be in this world as though you are a stranger or a traveller”. This lecture provides a glimpse into the lives of the Salaf and how they were regarding this word ‘zuhd’ which means ‘to abstain from the luxuries of this dunyā and its temptations’. The Messenger of Allāh was sent as a Mercy to mankind, a set example through his words, mannerisms and guidance, wherein there is no crookedness, it is the best of guidance. The ʿUlamāʾ have advised us, when presented with the Words of the Allāh and His Messenger, we should receive it as though we are being addressed directly, and this in turn will lead to strength of īmān and a strong connection with Allāh. Once this is actualised, it will result in the softening of the hearts.

Some Statements of the Salaf Regarding the Definition of Zuhd

Ibn Taymīyyah (raḥimahullāh) said: Zuhd is that a person abstains from that which will not benefit him in the hereafter.

Al-Warāʾ (raḥimahullāh) said: It is to abandon that which you fear its consequences of in the hereafter.’

Imām Aḥmad (raḥimahullāh) said: Zuhd in the dunyā is that a person has short expectations if it (i.e. he knows it is short and transitory).

From the nobility of the trait of zuhd is that is from the signs of the prophets and the righteous, it brings about a lofty station and is and indication of a person’s certainty in the promise of Allāh, and is a means of attaining His love. The People of Knowledge have said that having zuhd is an indication that a person has piety and taqwá, and it also indicates that a person desires Paradise. If having dislike for this dunyā and longing desire for the hereafter brought about no benefit other than the attainment of the love of Allāh, then this would be sufficient for the servant in terms of honour, nobility and virtue.

Whoever is a zāhid in this life, then it necessitates that he desires the hereafter. Whereas a person whose heart is attached to this worldly life is from the means which leads to the dislike and hatred of Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿāla). And it is due to this that some of the Salaf would say, ‘The mahr (dowry) of paradise is that you forsake yearning for this worldly life.’ And others would say, ‘Indeed the mahr (dowry) of this world is the hereafter.’ Similarly others would say, ‘If you marry the dunyā, then the mahr you pay is your dīn.’ The reality of this dunyā, as the Messenger of Allāh informed us, is that it is green and beautiful, but it is evil is dark. When looking at the sunnah and life of the Messenger you would find that the Prophet was foremost in abstaining from this worldly life, and it is why the Messenger said, ‘By Allāh! The world, its pleasures and provisions and its duration in comparison to the hereafter is like the example of a person who dips his finger in the ocean, what remains when he removes his finger is but a drop.’

The benefits of attaining zuhd in this world can be seen through the statement of al-Ḥasan al-Baṣrī (raḥimahullāh) who said: ‘Zuhd in this worldly life is a repose and brings about tranquility for the heart and the body.’ Zuhd in this dunyā is that a person does not compete for status and glory, and he does not become angry due to it not having reached him, and he does not envy others due to it. He gives no importance to it, and were it to leave him he would not race after it.

Amr ibn al-ʿĀs (raḍī Allāhu ʿānhu) said whilst addressing the people:’‘How far you are from the guidance of the Messenger. Verily the Prophet Muḥammad (ﷺ) was the one who was most ardent in abstaining from the dunyā, but you people are the most who desire it, so what guidance are you upon? The way of the Messenger is opposite to how you are.’

This is at the time of the Salaf, then what about how we are now in these times? The ten who were promised Paradise were still fearful of their affair with Allāh, ʿUmar (raḍī Allāhu ʿʿʿanhu) said, “If a caller were to call from the sky, ‘Every one of you of you will enter Paradise except one’, I would think that I would be that one.”

Zuhd is necessary in order for one to attain īmān. Al-Fuḍayl ibn ʿĪyāḍ said: ‘It is not permitted that your hearts can attain the sweetness of īmān until you abstain from this dunyā, this is when the sweetness of īmān will enter your hearts.’ ʿAlī ibn Abī Ṭālib said, ‘Whoever abstains from the dunyā then his calamities and difficulties will become easy.’ This is because the servant of Allāh will be preoccupied with the hereafter, and will know with certainty that Allāh’s Promise is true, so whatever hardship is faced in the dunyā will become small. Ibn Masʿūd (raḍi Allāhu ʿʿʿanhu) said, ‘As for the one who intends the hereafter, he will not have any interest in the affairs of the dunyā, and whomsoever intends and desires this worldly life, then he will not have any concern for the hereafter. So be from those individuals who place importance in that which remains, and not in that which will perish.’

From the means to attaining zuhd is in the servant’s realisation that this world is transitory and akin to a diminishing shadow, an imaginary visitor, it is not what it appears in true reality. Knowing this reality is essential since a person is unable to abstain from something until he is aware of its true reality. The Messenger of Allāh said, ‘Indeed this world is cursed, except for the remembrance of Allāh.’ So one must look to that which will aid him in remembering Allāh. The intelligent individual should know that this worldly life is filled with hardships and agonies, and this worldly abode will deplete and is not eternal, it is a passing vessel; what is new will become old and worn out, and its reign will perish. Its honoured can be humiliated, and its abundance will decrease, its living will die, and its goodness will expire. This is the reality of this worldly life.

ʿUmar ibn ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz said regarding the dunyā: ‘Its stay is short, and its rich they are poor, the young are becoming old and its living will die. So do not be deceived when it advances towards you while knowing it will soon flee and perish. The ones who are misled are those who are deceived by this dunyā, and to have faith in it is delusion, and things change much. Its hopes are many, but they are false. The life therein is miserable and it is indeed a danger upon man. If you laugh a little, then you will weep much regarding this dunyā.’

Published: June 8, 2016
Edited: June 19, 2022

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