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October 10, 2013

Containment and Fulfillment

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Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim

Sidi Fawwaz dealt with a long discussion on the Zawia Facebook page that related to a question of a new Muslim – why Muslims have an issue with pleasure, why is it that being Muslim is so punitive that you can’t do things which other people enjoy doing, and which you enjoy doing, that you get pleasure out of? Why is it what we are so restricted and accept and take on this restriction?

Allah subhana taala tells us in the Quran as Imam Kamardine reminded us – Allah hu khairu raziqeen. The obvious significance of that is Allah is the Best of Providers. But one could also say that He is the Best of Provision. One could also say that He is the Best of Nourishment. That He is the Best of That Which Satisfies, because that is what provision does – it satisfies. Which means to say that one could look at being satisfied from a number of points of view. We are in a culture that says that satisfaction is really only concerned with what you can get from the world, whether that is physical pleasure, or an emotional pleasure in terms of closeness with another human being, or what you can eat or listen to. It’s a very concrete idea of where your satisfaction comes from. The peculiar thing is that it doesn’t occur to people that when you try and slake that itch that you have on the inside which needs to be satisfied with something in the world, peculiarly that itch, the thirst gets worse.

We are in a culture that says that satisfaction is really only concerned with what you can get from the world

For instance if your sense is that happiness is about eating, then how much is enough? The one meal is finished and you need to have the next one, and its a never-ending story. It’s almost as if each meal leaves you more hungry and less satisfied. This is the way of all physical pleasure. Its the way of all things you think will make you happy. Because what we dont realise is that rather than making us full, the things that we try to get from the world that would seem to make us full bear witness that we are empty. They do not fill us. It is like they attest to the universe. They say to the rest of the world, “Here’s a needy one! Here’s a weak one! Here’s an empty one!”

So the fulfilment that you are after with the pursuit of pleasure in the world eludes you. Now this is not to say that you therefore have to make sure you don’t get pleasure – that’s perverse. What it is saying is that to link your satisfaction and your fulfilment to what you get from life is to think that that which is water is fire and that which is fire is water. There is a wonderful Rumi quote to that effect.

Just the fact that you pray five times a day creates a possibility for you to learn a different taste

That conversation train then specifically started to refer to shariah. Again, people’s take on shariah is sort of punitive. It doesn’t help that we have this Salafi and Taliban-type phenomenon on the world – people with big beards, very fierce eyes and very disapproving index fingers. What shariah gives you is containment. The usefulness of that containment is that it creates a boundary that you don’t waste your life energy in useless excess. You’ve only got so much life energy to you, and you can hook that life energy onto aspiration, or himmah which will either deliver you to a place where you do succeed at the project of having been human, or that you fail. And it should become apparent to us earlier in our lives that to make our happiness dependent on the pleasure that we get from the world is in fact to try and slake our thirst with salt water. It has the opposite effect of what we’re after.

The usefulness of shariah is that it creates just a little bit of limitation and it is not much. You can still be a glutton and pray five times a day. It is hardly as if the limitation is so incredibly punitive. Don’t pinch a bottom that you shouldn’t, don’t get drunk. These are hardly massive infringements. But just that little bit of containment leaves a little bit of your life energy open for another pursuit. Just the fact that you pray five times a day creates a possibility for you to learn a different taste, a different capacity.

There are two possible endeavours. The one endeavour is to base your satisfaction on what life gives you, in other words, what sits in the world. Or to base your satisfaction on what leaves you for life – what sits inside you. Now what sits inside you you always have control over, which basically means to say it is the most deeply empowering thing to base your sense of satisfaction on what sits inside you. What sits outside of you you don’t have control over, so its the most disabling, disempowering thing to construct your happiness and fulfillment on the basis of what’s out there. Far from being punitive, what shariah gives you is it reserves a little bit of your life energy for a different kind of work which is inward work.

The difference between satisfaction and dissatisfaction isn’t the number of peaches you eat

This inward eloquence, this inward work produces a being who is no longer needy of things out in the world, but is satisfied with what his Rabb gives to him. Surely, satisfaction, fulfillment, the state implies that I am sated – I have enough. It is therefore an expression of gratitude. If I know that I have more than is my due, then surely the appropriate thing to say is, “I have been given more than my due, Alhamdulillah.” Whereas if I am needy of the world, of something out there, then I am saying, “I don’t have enough. I am not sated.” So by definition, to pursue fulfillment on the basis of what you want to get is to underscore the fact, to underline the fact, to put the fact in bold, that you are discontent, that you are unfulfilled. Whereas to leave that and to say that “What I have is good enough, I am content, I don’t need to get that,” is to therefore say “Alhamdulillah”, which is to say, “I am fulfilled.”

The difference between satisfaction and dissatisfaction isn’t the number of peaches you eat – it is whether you’ve appreciated the one peach you’ve eaten. So, real satisfaction is not the result of getting a volume of stimulus from the world. Real satisfaction, real contentment is based on learning how to be appreciative – that’s an inner skill. And to learn that inner skill, you need to learn to be satisfied with what you’ve got. You need to be contained.

May Allah keep us steadfast on this path.
May He grant that we truly realise that our deen is blessing enough and that we need no more blessing.
May He keep us on the path of the sunnah.
May He keep us practising our deen.
May He keep us on the musollah.
May He grant that we keep our solah five times a day.
May He grant that we respect the fundamental tenets of our deen.
May He grant that we have nearness to Him, annihilation in Him, speedy journey back home and death before we die.

This discourse was given by Shaykh Ebrahim after a dhikr session on the 5th of October, 2013.

One Comment on “Containment and Fulfillment

Ramla
November 1, 2013 at 6:35 am

Assalam-o-Alaikum.

One of the provisions—well, perhaps THE provision—that Allah grants one is the revelation of a beneficial meaning and reality of a common word (reality). It takes a momin to understand the true meaning and experience the reality of ‘pleasure’, a concept which would throw those who are starving themselves into contortions.

Success, happiness, fulfillment, joy, ecstasy, realization—not only are these not somehow ‘forbidden’ upon the believer, but on the contrary, this is exactly what the believer earns for having believed. In sum, can we really imagine a believer to be a sour-faced, sharp-tongued, rancid creature? It is this that many don’t seem to get, and they blame the one who is joyful, whereas I believe that the condition of unconditional happiness and joy can simply not descend upon someone until they have walked through the tests and doors that Allah has put on the path towards that condition. I am terribly averse to suck-joys—they miss the meaning of ‘heaven’.

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