This is the transcript of the speech I gave at the United for Change Conference in CT on Sept. 29, 2012
Poverty of the Soul: United for Change Conference
Today, I’m going to talk about poverty. But, then you already knew that. Yet, the poverty I speak about today isn’t the apparent kind. You see, before we can begin to speak about a concept, we need a criterion. We need definitions.
In speaking about poverty, we need to understand that there is external poverty and there is internal poverty. And one is far more dangerous than the other, because while one form of poverty determines how we live temporarily, the other form, determines how we live eternally.
Today, I will speak on the latter form. Internal poverty is the poverty of the soul. It describes the unmoved soul. The soul that has been created, but has still failed to realize why. It is the soul that lives a purposeless life. The heart that beats, but has already died. Because while the body cries and bleeds and feels pain from the material world, the soul is untouched by these things. There is only one thing that can cut or stab or impoverish the soul. There is only one thing that can kill it: to deprive it of its’ only true need: to be close to its’ Originator. To be near God.
Spiritual deprivation is the true impoverishment. We can see this, for example, through a prophetic tradition by Imam Muslim. One day the prophet (S.A.W.) asked his companions:
“Do you know who is a poor person is? The companions replied that a poor person is a person who had no money or property. The Prophet (S.A.W.) replied: ‘The poor person from among my ummah is one who will come on the Day of judgment with a good record of prayers and fasts and zakat (Obligatory charity) but also has abused somebody: Slandered someone: Stolen the wealth of another, had killed or beaten someone. Then all the oppressed persons will receive a portion of the aggressors’ good deeds. Should they fall short of his aggression, then the aggrieved person’s sins and faults, will be transferred from them to him, and he will be thrown into the Fire (Hell)!”
In this hadith, the Prophet (pbuh) explains that the true poverty is not one’s lack of wealth in this life. True poverty is standing poor on the Day of Judgment. Despite this Reality, we continue to live this life feeding our bodies, but starving our souls. The sad irony of this focus is that the body we tend to is only temporary, while the soul we neglect is eternal. When a body dies. We cry. But the death of the body is not true death. It’s only the removing of a shell and the movement from one realm to another, Truer realm. We weep for the departing bodies. But our hearts are unmoved by those bodies which are alive, but whose hearts and souls have died because of the alienation from that which gives them life: God.
What impoverishes and kills the heart? It is allowing the heart to love anything as it should only love God. See the heart was created with a very particular nature and for a very particular purpose. When you fail to use any created thing for the purpose for which it was created for, it breaks. It drowns. It starves. It dies.
The heart was created by and for God. The heart was created to know and love God. The heart was created to be given to God. To be filled with God. The heart that is given to or filled by any other thing, suffers the most painful impoverishment and death.
The human heart is like a boat in the ocean of dunya. The boat that allows the oceans water to enter breaks and then drowns. The human heart that allows this dunya to enter, breaks and drowns. And becomes owned. Owned by this life. Owned by our gadgets, our facebook, our jobs, the distractions, the fashion trends, the marketing tools, the money, the power, the status.
The heart that is owned by this life is a prisoner of the worst kind. The heart that is owned by any other master, than the Master of masters, is the weakest of all slaves. That is true oppression. True death.
As human beings we enslave ourselves to different things. Some of us in here are enslaved to money. Some of us have enslaved our hearts to other people. We love them as we should only love Allah. Some of us are enslaved to status or to our careers. I tell you to ask yourselves what do you love most? Most of us in this room will say we love God most. We say this with our tongues. We say this in our minds. But our hearts, our actions, say otherwise.
How do you know? Ask yourself: what is your refuge? When you’re most broken, where do you go? When you’re afraid, where do you hide? When you need, who do you ask? What do you fear most? What do you stay up at night worrying about? Who, what, makes you cry most? What do you think about most? What occupies your mind in salah? Is it really God? Is it really Allah on your mind most? Is it really your fear of standing before Him that makes you cry in your bed? No. Probably not. It’s the person who left you. The money you lost. The career you couldn’t have. The raise you didn’t get.
What are you afraid of most? Just the thought of losing what thing causes you so much anxiety that you feel it physically? Is it your husband, your wife, your money, your job? Is it your image? Is it your figure? What is it?
When you’re given a choice, what do you do? When Allah says to dress and act a certain way, and society says the opposite, which do you choose? Who defines beauty for you? Who defines success? When Allah says interest is haram, but your financial ambitions command otherwise, when societies standard for the size of your house or brand of your car command otherwise…which do you choose? Who defines richness?
Who defines poverty?
What type of poverty are YOU most afraid of?
The truth is we choose what we love most. When we love money most, that’s what we choose. When we love people more, they fill our hearts. We think of them most. Our life loses center. We leave the orbit of the Creator and enter the orbit of the creation—a painful and unstable orbit. In the orbit of the creation, we rise and fall with the wave of the creation, the wave of praise and criticism, our standards for success and failure come from the creation, from society. The standard for richness, the standard for poverty…comes from the creation. From society.
But the standard given to us by God’s messenger (pbuh) is different. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) told us: “
النَّفْسِغِنَى الْغِنَى وَلَكِنَّ الْعَرَضِ، كَثْرَةِ عَنْ الْغِنَى لَيْسَ
“Richness is not having many possessions. Rather, true richness is the richness of the soul.”
[Sahih Bukhari, Book 76, Number 453]
But how do we avoid true impoverishment of the soul? No one likes to fall. And few people would ever choose to drown. But in struggling through the ocean of this life, sometimes it’s so hard not to let the world in. Sometimes the ocean does enter us. The dunya does seep into our hearts. And like the water that breaks the boat, when dunya enters, it shatters our heart. It shatters the boat.
If you allow dunya to own your heart, you will sink down to the depth of the sea. You will touch the ocean floor. And you will feel as though you were at your lowest point. Entrapped by your sins and the love of this life, you will feel broken. Surrounded by darkness. That’s the amazing thing about the floor of the ocean. No light enters it.
But, this dark place is not the end. Remember that the darkness of night precedes the dawn. And as long as your heart still beats, this is not the death of it. You don’t have to die here. Sometimes, the ocean floor is only a stop in the journey. And it is when you are at this lowest point, that you are faced with a choice. You can stay there at the bottom, until you drown. Or you can gather pearls and rise back up—stronger from the swim, and richer from the jewels.
If you seek Him, God can raise you up, and replace the darkness of the ocean, with the light of His sun. He can transform what was once your greatest weakness into your greatest strength, and a means of growth, purification and redemption. Know that transformation sometimes begins with a fall. So never curse the fall. The ground is where humility lives. Take it. Learn it, breathe it in. And then come back stronger, humbler and more aware of your need for Him. Come back having seen your own nothingness and His greatness. Know that if you have seen that Reality, you have seen much. For, the one who is truly deceived is the one who sees him own self—but not Him. Deprived is the one who has never witnessed his own desperate need for God. Reliant on his own means, he forgets that the means, his own soul, and everything else in existence are His creation.
Seek God to bring you back up, for when He does, He will rebuild your ship. The heart that you thought was forever damaged will be mended. What was shattered will be whole again. Know that only He can do this. Seek Him.
And when He saves you, beg forgiveness for the fall, feel remorse over it—but not despair. As Ibn ul Qayyim (RA) has said: “Satan rejoiced when Adam (peace be upon him) came out of Paradise, but he did not know that when a diver sinks into the sea, he collects pearls and then rises again.”
There is a powerful and amazing thing about tawbah (repentance) and turning back to Allah. We are told that it is a polish for the heart. What’s amazing about a polish is that it doesn’t just clean. It makes the object that it polished even shiner than before it got dirty. If you come back to God, seek His forgiveness, and refocus your life and heart on Him, you have the potential to be even richer than if you’d never fallen at all. Sometimes falling and coming back up gives you wisdom and humility that you may never otherwise have had. Ibn ul Qayyim (RA) writes:
One of the Salaf (Pious Predecessors) said: “Indeed a servant commits a sin by which he enters Paradise; and another does a good deed by which he enters the Fire.” It was asked: How is that? So he replied: “The one who committed the sin, constantly thinks about it; which causes him to fear it, regret it, weep over it and feel ashamed in front of his Lord – the Most High – due to it. He stands before Allah, broken-hearted and with his head lowered in humility. So this sin is more beneficial to him than doing many acts of obedience, since it caused him to have humility and humbleness – which leads to the servant’s happiness and success – to the extent that this sin becomes the cause for him entering Paradise. As for the doer of good, then he does not consider this good a favor from his Lord Upon him. Rather, he becomes arrogant and amazed with himself, saying: I have achieved such and such, and such and such . So this further increases him in self-adulation, pride and arrogance – such that this becomes the cause for his destruction.”
Allah reminds us in the Quran to never lose hope. He says: “Say: ‘O my Servants who have transgressed against their souls! Despair not of the Mercy of Allah. For Allah forgives all sins: for He is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.’” (39:53)
But how do we fill our hearts with the true richness? How do we escape the constant bombardment from every direction commanding us to worship other things? Commanding us to take idols of the heart and love them as we should only love Allah? How do we escape the true poverty of allowing any competitor into our hearts? How do we escape the poverty of enslaving ourselves to another deity which Allah speaks about in the Quran:
2:165 Yet there are men who take (for worship) others besides Allah, as equal (with Allah.: They love them as they should love Allah. But those of Faith are overflowing in their love for Allah. If only the unrighteous could see, behold, they would see the penalty: that to Allah belongs all power, and Allah will strongly enforce the penalty.
To escape the true poverty, we must be overflowing in our love for Allah. Ashadu hubban lillah. Your strongest love should be for God. But you can’t love someone you don’t know. We need to know Him. You don’t know someone you never speak to. Speak to Him. Ask of Him. And you can’t love someone you don’t remember. Remember Him. Remember Him often.
And so, this is a call to all those who have become enslaved by the tyranny of the self, imprisoned in the dungeon of the nafs and desires. It is a call to all those who have entered the ocean of dunya, who have sunk into its depths, and become trapped by its crushing waves. Rise up. Rise up to the air, to the Real world above the prison of the ocean. Rise up to your freedom. Rise up and come back to life. Leave the death of your soul behind you. Your heart can still live and be stronger and purer than it ever was. Does not the polish of tawbah remake the heart even more beautiful than it was? Remove the veil you have sewn with your sins. Remove the veil between you and Life, between you and Freedom, between you and Light…between you and God. Remove the veil and rise up. Come back to yourself before it’s too late.
Because many of us think we can live our lives however we want, and then at the time of death just say la illaha illah Allah. But at the time of death, the tongue cannot speak—except what the heart commands. Whatever is in the heart will come out. The impoverished heart, will have nothing but love of dunya to speak of on that day. If or heart is empty of Allah during our life, how can it be full of Allah during our death? If our heart is full of love of this life, love of status, love of wealth, love of the creation over the Creator, it is that which will speak. If the heart was full of grudges, jealousy, hatred…that will speak. But if it was full of the love of Allah, that will speak. If in your life, your heart carried only ‘la illaha illa Allah’…that truly there is no refuge, no shelter, no deity worthy of worship but Him’—then, only then, will the tongue be given permission to say: “la illaha illah Allah, Muhammad rasool Allah. “
Allahuma ajalna minhum, wassalamu alaikum wa rahmat Allah wa barakatu.