When I first became associated with the shuyukh in the early days of being with the Murabitun and exposed to the shuyukh of Shaykh Abdal Qadir, I was intrigued by this notion of adab, courtesy. This was an angle on things that i had never thought of prior to this. There was an insight into life verbalized in a way which was completely foreign to me – this idea of courtesy. Shaykh Abdal Qadir, remember, quoted the Rasul on a number of occasions when I heard him speak, saying that he (SallAllahu alaihi wasalam) only came to perfect good character. Events over the last week have brought this issue of courtesy to the fore for me again. Adab. So I’d like to take the opportunity this evening to explore a little about what this means for us.
If one uses the metaphor of a soccer game, because this is now where this courtesy is heading – soccer madness – then adab or courtesy suggests that it is far more important how you play the game than winning the game. This means that when you are courteous you are willing to forego the outcome that you want, the outcome that’s beneficial to you, in the interest of giving attention to the process itself, in other words, in the interest of doing the thing well.
Everything has an adab.
So the adab for example of a transaction is not that you try and get as much money by giving the person as little as possible, the adab of a transaction is that you will not sell something or buy something unless the price is fair. The adab of a journey is that you won’t break the speed limits and you won’t put other people’s lives in danger just so you can get to the outcome quickly. Everything has an adab. Everything has a courtesy to it and you can define the courtesy as the rules that are concerned with the quality of what you are doing rather than the outcome of what you are trying to achieve. So it’s the rule whereby you give attention to the process rather than the outcome, what you are doing rather than the result.
You do your salah to do your salah well.
Everything has a courtesy, everything has a rule which defines the doing of it well. So, salah has a courtesy. If you’re doing your salah in order to earn brownie points in akhira this is a cheap way of doing your salah and it’s a discourteous way of doing your salah. That’s not to say that there isn’t an akhira and there might be brownie points but this is quite beside the point. You do your salah to do your salah well. You do your salah to offer up to your Rabb an act of submission which is so profound that the only thing that can be more profound than that is death itself. Complete handing-over. That is the courtesy of the salah. All the postures of the salah confirm this. Allahu Akbar. Handing-over. Complete submission. Like a dead man. I’m a man who has disappeared. I’m no longer of this world. I no longer stand out.
The purpose of courtesy in the first instance is in a sense negative. You can understand it as a negation because it pulls your attention from the thing you want from the outcome and it demands that you give attention to the process itself. So never mind whether you are going to win or lose the game. Are you playing the game well? Are you playing the game fairly? Are you playing the game honourably? So you might want to win the game but you will be willing to forego the winning of the game in order to play a good, clean game. And that is a metaphor for everything that you do.
So there’s in the first instance the experience, the demands of adab as negating, as loss, give-up something. This loss, this giving-up has on its underside a blessing that is hidden. Every moment that you are in, everything that Allah gives you is a meaning disguised as an image. We can say that the moment is like an orange. The outside of the orange, I don’t know if you’ve ever eaten orange peel but it’s bitter and unpleasant to taste, but if you squeeze the orange, if you crack open the orange then what’s inside is absolute nectar, absolute delight.
Everything that Allah gives you is a meaning disguised as an image.
So if you give attention to the moment like an orange and you give it the kind of attention that basically splits it open, reveals its secret, you get a sweetness out of that which far exceeds the outcome that you were trying to get for yourself. The joy of knowing that you’ve played the best game that you can, by all the rules of good sportsmanship far outweighs the sweetness or the joy of beating the opposition. If you’ve played the very best game that you could have played and you know this, it doesn’t matter whether they beat you or not. If you play a really bad game and you beat them, all that you’ve demonstrated is that you are no better than an animal, that you aren’t able to be human with the human beings. Human beings are those who peculiarly can do what’s right rather than do what’s comfortable, rather than do what’s expedient to them.
So the rules of adab, or the rules that define correctness as opposed to expediency, and everything has an adab associated with it, every single action a human being can take as a template, has a sense of what is the courteous way of doing it. There’s a courteous way of receiving praise. You might have noticed these days people seem to find it very difficult to accept praise. You say something nice to somebody and he acts as if you’ve insulted him. He doesn’t know how to deal with this. He says, “No, no, no! You must be mistaken” or he says, “You’re very kind” in a way as to say I know better than you about this matter and I know I’m really a rat. Now this is not the courtesy because it’s not recognizing that when someone praises you they are offering you a gift. And when I offer you a gift what do you say? “Alhamdulillah, thank you very much” and if you don’t say that you’ve been very badly brought up. It’s just discourteous. I mean, I didn’t have to say something nice. I could have said something awful. And we do say awful things to each other all the time, so when someone says something nice to you, you know the adab of the matter is thank you very much, that is very kind of you, thank you. Not, “that’s very kind of you” in a cynical way – (I know you’re just trying to be nice to me!), but I recognize that you’ve done me a kindness. You could have done me an injury if you’d wanted to.
So everything has a courtesy to it and when you do that, when you indicate the correct courtesy, you’re opening the string of blessing, because you change the nature of what’s happening from taking something to receiving something. If you view gratitude as a metaphor for all courtesy, because in a sense all courtesy is being correct, it’s indicating the proper form, it’s like the proper form when someone gives you something is to be grateful. Now Chaharane gives me something and I just take it and I don’t say something and I just walk away. Chaharane is furious. He says, “This bastard, how did he grow up? I’ll never give him anything ever again!” In other words when the self acts in an ungrateful way, the self disables the generosity of the other. But fortunately, my mother was a good Dutch woman who used to beat me with a wooden stick and she taught me, be grateful. That’s the courtesy when someone gives you something. The courtesy is gratitude. Thank you very much, very kind of you. And when I say that to Chaharane it gives him pleasure o give me something.
..everything has a courtesy to it..
So with your adab you either cultivate a world which is resisting you or you cultivate a world which is on your side. Your lack of adab cultivates a world that resists you because you cultivate a world that just experiences that you are trying to take the outcome that you want, you’re not willing to pay the price of doing the right thing. When you just try and take the outcome that you want, when you don’t pay the price of doing the right thing, the world says, “You know what? We’re not going to give you what you want.” And understand, they are many and you are one. The world is big and you are small. When you resist the world, the world wins. You don’t win. There are too many of them.
So this issue of courtesy and there are so many angle on what the Path means and what the Path entails, one of the angles in that the Path is nothing other than learning courtesy and if you understand what courtesy means the you understand it is actually about foregoing outcomes and results completely in the interest of doing what’s right. And when you do that, the floodgates of blessing of your life open-up for you.
May Allah Grant us success on this Path.
May Allah Grant us nearness to Him.
May Allah Grant us annihilation in Him.
May Allah Grant us death before we die.
This discourse was given by Shaykh Ebrahim after a dhikr session on the 6th of November, 2009.