Commentary on the Qasida ‘Fana Fillah’ by Shaykh ibn Al-Habib



It occurred to me that maybe we can explore one of these qasidas. I’d like to talk about Fana Fillah – Annihilation in Allah. Since being exposed to the poetry of Shaykh Muhammad ibn al-Habib this is probably the qasida that has kind of been closest to my heart. So I’m going to play with the English translation and see where we end up.

Oh seeker of annihilation in Allah – say all the time ‘Allah-Allah’. As human beings we are absolutely defined by language, by speaking, by discourse and on one level the discourse is between us and other people but this is not the principle conversation we are having. We are like madmen muttering in our beards – all of us. If you expressed outwardly what was happening inwardly they’d probably lock you up in a lunatic asylum. We talk to ourselves all the time. Mutter-mutter-mutter-mutter-mutter! So our experience of the world is completely filtered by the nature of our internal dialogue. This is something we are very familiar with and have worked with for years.

Change what you are talking about to yourself to something benign.

What the Shaykh says here: if you want to escape the exile of this perpetual sense of this place of disquiet based on this internal noise then change what you say in the noise. That you are going to be making a sound, that you are going to be talking to yourself, that there will be internal dialogue, initially that you cannot dub because that’s the human condition. But what he is saying is change the nature of your internal dialogue – say all the time ‘Allah- Allah’ – not necessarily just on the tongue but replace the noise which is going on anyway in your head with a different kind of noise. We all have noise going on in our head. We always have this subtext, it’s like a tape recorder running and we are talking to ourselves. The aim is to completely switch-off the tape recorder but for most of us this is quite a challenging prospect. So the Shaykh said put something else in its place. Change what you are talking about to yourself to something benign – ‘Allah-Allah’. That’s the first trick.

The second trick he says: And withdraw into Him from other-than-Him and with your heart – see Allah. In other words, see only Allah. We carry our noise in our head and mostly it’s about wanting to manage the world – what do I want to get? So this noise that’s going-on in your head isn’t completely distracted from what you are trying to achieve in the world. It’s part of the same thing. Part of stopping this is changing what you’re trying to achieve in the world. And the first way to change that is to see that everything that happens to you comes from Him. You cannot be in charge of outcomes. You don’t have control over outcomes because He is the Lord of outcomes. So whatever your concern is – Ah! I want a car! Ah! I want a wife! Ah! I want a job! – whatever it is that you want, whatever it is that’s keeping you occupied, whatever the ‘I want, I want’ is (because we all want!) that’s rolling on in your head , understand that what you are actually after is the cessation of need.

Neediness is like an emptiness.

Isn’t that so? Whatever you want is – let’s do it physiologically – I’m thirsty so there’s like a hole in my being called thirst that seeks to be filled with something called water. I’m hungry. There’s a hole in my being called hunger that seeks to be filled by something called food. Neediness is like an emptiness. It’s like a hole. However, there’s one thing that fills all the emptinesses and that is Allah. In other words, if you have that then you are never empty again. So, make all your endeavour, even the process of trying to get the food, get the water, make all of your endeavour a subset of the same problem and the main problem is an end to neediness, being one with the Rabb. This is not metaphorical. This is the reality. All neediness is about separation.

In other words, my thirst is defined by the fact that water is other than me. My hunger is defined by the fact that food is other than me. I’m here with a state of hunger. Food is on the other side of the fence. If it was in me I wouldn’t be hungry. If the water was in me I wouldn’t be thirsty. Any need that you have is defined as a lack in self of what is other than self. If we say that there’s a realm where all things are the same then how can you be needy when you are part of that because other then you doesn’t exist. In other words, there’s no hunger. There’s a cessation of all neediness. That might not say that your body won’t get hungry but you yourself don’t suffer neediness. You don’t suffer lack.

All neediness is about separation.

Gather your concerns in Him and He will be enough in place of other-than-Allah. That’s what we’ve just indicated. So, so far the Shaykh has told us – change the nature of your internal dialogue. Be deliberate about what goes on behind your eyeballs all the time. All the time repeat and bring it back to Allah – ‘Allah-Allah’. Second trick is understand everything you ever want is actually your ‘wanting’ Allah. The hunger is a veil. What you want is the end of neediness. There cannot be an end to neediness until other-than-you and you become the same, until your own sense of existing separately is annihilated and you experience yourself as connected with everything. The there is an end to neediness.

Be a pure slave of Him and you will be free from other-than-Allah. If you want something from the world the world has power over you because you want something that you don’t have control over. Being a pure slave means that you deal with the moment not on the basis of what you want from life or the world or other than you. You act on the basis of what other-than-you wants from you. Not what you want to get but what you should be contributing. Now if you make that your problem, if you make yourself a pure slave of Allah, if you make that your problem, if what makes me contented is not what I’m getting from the world but what makes me contented is the quality of what I’m putting into the world surely I always have control over that. So when I become the pure slave of Allah I only act on the basis of what the situation requires of me rather than what I want to get out of the situation, I’ll always be happy. And the short circuit of this is to recognize that you are unhappy and understand the only reason why that unhappiness is there is because you want something from life.

What you get from the world will never be satisfying.

The only way to answer that, how do you fix it, is not to say what do I want from life but what does my Rabb want from me and act accordingly and make that your pleasure. Make doing what Allah wants from you at this point, make that the issue. Make that your pleasure. We are designed to seek pleasure. We are designed to seek a sense of fulfilment, of happiness. That isn’t the issue. The issue is how we construct our happiness. We construct our happiness on things in a way that reduces us to unhappiness because we construct our happiness on things we can’t produce. Your happiness is based on climate control. We had this yesterday. It was too hot for you in the room. For Zahir it was too cold. So it’s like this, the human condition. You can’t find the external that satisfies. He has made it like that. External will never satisfy. What you get from the world will never be satisfying. Choose to make what satisfies you the quality of what you are putting in, your pure slavehood. So your discontent can only be based on the degree to which you are not a pure slave. If there’s any discontent it’s your slavehood that is the issue. It’s never the world. The world is perfect.

Submit yourself to Him and be humble and you will win a secret from Allah. This thing of being humble – we actually had this conversation at breakfast. Most people spend their lives trying to become significant and trying to be seen, standing out. The problem is that every human being, if you look at just the scale of things, any human being who stands out against existence is by definition laughable. If you sat in bed one day and you saw this cockroach come crawling up towards you and he stood up and he raised one of his little cockroach fists against you and defiantly said ……..! I mean, this is laughable. What’s this! Swat! But that’s exactly what we do. We are like cockroaches. We want to stand out. We want to be the big significant one who is seen. As soon as you want to be seen you are corresponding to weakness because it’s the nature of the very small when the very small stands up against that which is incredibly vast, to become annihilated. Our strong suit is not in standing out. Our strong suit is in standing in. And that’s humility. That’s disappearing. Alhamdulillah.

Choose to make what satisfies you the quality of what you are putting in.

So far the Shaykh has said three things to us. He says change the nature of your internal dialogue. He says see that whatever you want is actually the end of neediness. See that whatever you want is the Rabb and therefore become the pure slave. Make what makes you happy what Allah wants from you rather than what you want from Allah. The third condition is – disappear. Stand-in. Don’t stand out. Learn how to become insignificant because for no other reason you learn how to succeed. If you pursue significance you are only learning how to fail because the human being who claims significance will fail. There’s no such thing as a significant corpse. Corpses are always scary things that people get rid of no matter how apparently loved they were before they popped their clogs. The moment they are dead they are scary. You’re not designed to be significant. You’re designed to become dust!

Invoke Him with gravity and sincerity in the presence of the slaves of Allah. So far the Shaykh has only given us advice in terms of managing yourself. But he says, listen, understand that you are with other people because we are designed like that. Allah has created the human condition is such a way that we cannot actually do this thing on our own. You cannot achieve the highest in yourself by being on your own just like you cannot be born on your own. We come in this world through the kindness and the generosity of other people. We are helped out of this world through the kindness and generosity because other people bury you. So we are beings of community. But what he is saying to you is that when you engage in community be grave and sincere. In other words, make this issue of becoming a pure slave of Allah your core problem because if you don’t make that your core problem guess what else is going to become your core problem? It’s going to be becoming one of the significant ones in the circle. That’s how it happens. That’s how we are. If you don’t attend to this then you attend to politics and there are always pecking orders. That’s how we are. From one point of view human communities are very little different from baboon troupes. Everybody has a place in the pecking order and everybody is always jockeying for a place in the pecking order. You need community. You need other people, but don’t play this game of being a part of the pecking order. Escape the pecking order. And how do you do this?

Make what makes you happy what Allah wants from you rather than what you want from Allah.

Conceal it when He is manifested to you with lights from the essence of Allah. With us, other is impossible, for existence belongs to Allah. “We were sitting in this dhikr and I saw Shaykh Shadhili!” “Ooh!” This is nonsense. Conceal this. It is not to say these things don’t happen. It is nobody else’s business. At the very best it’s the business of you and your Shaykh. Nobody else’s business and if you articulate you only articulate for one reason – “Hey! Aren’t they so advanced! SubhanAllah! This Kamardine is an elevated soul. He sees Rasul every time he goes into dhikr!!” Stay out of the politics. You need circles. You need community because we are each other’s protection. But stay out of politics. This is if you are sincere. Otherwise you are playing a game and don’t think that we are exempt from game playing just because we are sufis. SubhanAllah! I’ve seen more politics – you put three people in a boat – there will be two parties – a minority and a majority. That’s how it is. We can’t help ourselves. So stay out of politics.

Constantly cut through your illusion with a pure tawheed of Allah. Understand that nothing that faces you comes from other-than-Him. This is the truth that sits behind the observation we had yesterday of Sadia’s point that your Path is in front of you. Other than Allah doesn’t exist. So everything that’s in front of you is from Allah. So don’t think the Path is this thing in Morocco and that I suddenly have to learn Arabic and become a person other than who I am! That’s crazy! It’s like saying you have to recreate another identity before you can even start being on the Path. How can that be true? It can’t be true. Allah is behind absolutely every situation that you are in. Allah is present in the pub right now in the centre of town where people are trying to smash each other over the head with brandy bottles. If that wasn’t true then that thing wouldn’t exist. So Allah is in every situation. You don’t have to create a foreign place of sherbet and robes and Arabic to find Him. That’s insane. This is an illusion. The Shaykh says this is an illusion. Constantly cut through your illusion with a pure tawhed of Allah. In other words, everything is Allah and if you don’t see that you are deluded.

Understand that nothing that faces you comes from other-than-Him.

So the oneness of action appears at the beginning of dhikr of Allah, and the oneness of attribute comes from love of Allah, and the oneness of His essence gives going-on with Allah. You start off this thing by compulsion. You do dhikr because in a sense you are forced to because it’s a community and then you become one in attribute. You know when we do dhikr we insist that everybody does the same movement. That’s oneness in attribute. You are creating the same sound, so, superficially on the level of attributes we are the same. We’re not the same inside. That’s a different matter. That creates a context for love of Allah to develop. What does love of Allah mean? It means, I’m sure when you love something you take pleasure in it. Now this isn’t taking pleasure in a word. It’s not making the sound ‘Allah’ in Arabic. This is finding that your connectedness with the rest of the world is pleasurable.

What is Allah? Allah is the continuity that all things have come out of, all things exist by. You are also connected with that. Love of Allah means that when you experience that you love it. It’s deeply pleasurable. It’s pleasurable like this morning. I sat here waiting for you and this cat came up to me. It came to me in circles. Then finally it was rubbing against me. That was deeply pleasurable. That’s love – something deeply pleasurable – connectedness. That’s love of Allah. So it’s not this separate big picture person in the sky – you love Him like you have to love your father because it’s kind of like a duty! So you have a oneness of action. You start getting a oneness of attribute when you start loving the feeling of being connected with all things. That gets to the point where there’s nothing other than that. In other words, moment by moment by moment – this experience of being connected with everything else isn’t just an experience during dhikr. It is your continuous experience.

Joy to the one who walks on the path of dhikr of Allah,
Believing in a living Shaykh who is a Gnostic of Allah.
He holds constantly to His love and sells his self to Allah.
And so gets what he seeks of the power of knowledge in Allah.
Our gifts are from a Prophet who is the master of the creatures of Allah.
May the purest of blessings be upon him in quantity as great as the knowledge of Allah.
And his family and Companions and everyone who calls to Allah.

Everything that he’s said up to now has been instruction. Now he’s beginning to describe. So we are now suddenly on familiar territory: the love of the Shaykh, the love of the Rasul (SallAllahu alaihi wasalam), getting up for tahajjud. This is almost as if what has gone prior to this and the Shaykh has explained the purpose of the other things we do all the time. Say the word Tasawwuf and you have an idea that you have to be connected to a shaykh. If you are associated with Tasawwuf you understand that you are a follower of the Rasul (SallAllahu alaihi wasalam) and that requires you to do your prayer etc. But you have to go the further mile because you get up in the middle of the night looking for that. But that’s the ski of the issue. That creates the context. The essence is what the Shaykh has just described. In a sense he’s saying if you don’t do what he described prior to this then this other stuff is kind of like theatre. It’s not for real. You can have the connection with the shaykh etc but you don’t build this into it.

..this experience of being connected with everything else isn’t just an experience during dhikr.

Deliberately changing your internal dialogue and replacing whatever noise is going on in your head now with the noise ‘Allah’. You make all your concerns one point, one issue that you therefore are a pure slave of Him. Every moment you construct on the basis of what does He want from you rather than what you want to get out of the moment. The principle reason why you are associated with other people is so that they help you invoke Him with gravity and you stay out of the politics. If you do that then the other things make sense. If you don’t do that then the other things are theatre.


This discourse was given by Shaykh Ebrahim after a dhikr session.

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