On Renunciation – Imam al-Haddad

Renunciation was said by Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal to be of three degrees. The first is to renounce what is sinful or unlawful, the renunciation of the common people. The second is to renounce what is licit but superfluous, the renunciation of the elect. The third is to renounce everything that may divert the servant from God, and this belongs to the gnostics. “Renunciation is the forerunner of felicity, the manifestation of providence, and the sign of sanctity,” wrote Imam al-Haddad in The Book of Assistance. This does not mean total outward divestment from worldly goods and means, but total inward detachment from them, so that, “one does not rejoice for what one has, nor mourn for what one has not.” He was once heard saying that the jubilation experienced on obtaining a worldly thing is a sign that both one’s reason and one’s upholding of religion were flawed and wanting, for an increase or a decrease in either one means a corresponding response to the Hereafter.

He also stated that true detachment means that one should be indifferent whether one is receiving or giving, and higher than that, that one should be more pleased with giving than with receiving. The Imam was not only entirely detached from material things, but he was also extremely averse to publicity and its consequences. “I detest eminence and fame by nature,” he said, “the most desirable state for me, that which is my wish and aim, is to roam the desert and the lifeless wilderness, but I was prevented from this so that the people might benefit from me.” His concern to avoid publicity led him in his youth to remain secluded in retreat at al-Hujayra mosque.

On Fridays he would depart from the Grand Mosque immediately after the prayer was over and lock himself in the place of retreat. Often when people knocked he did not open. At a later stage he declared, “We find no pleasure in conversing with people.” Yet it fell to him to sit with them and instruct them, and he was enjoined to do so in his early twenties. He complied, for he could not do otherwise, but it remained a great burden, and in 1110 A.H. he wrote: “By God! I now see myself as a caged bird who has extricated himself until only his heel remains caught in the cage.

Since this is now my condition I no longer harbor any remaining desire to sojourn in the world; and I grant no permission to any of my companions to offer me anything of the world or make mention of any of its affairs.” At a later period in his life he is reported to have said, ‘My nature has always been averse to conversing about worldly matters, and this has now become accentuated thanks to age and debility. It is also averse to publicity and the formalities imposed by having to deal with people. Let none consult me about worldly matters, nor even make mention of them in my presence, for it would be inappropriate; speak only of the life to come.As for this world, you should consult other than us. It should suffice you that we have come out and stooped for your sake….” Despite this, they persisted in frequently consulting him about all kinds of worldly matters and he did advise and help. The distance that he felt between his own state and everyone else’s was enormous and he always made allowances for that.

“I have no preoccupation with this world, but I can well believe that others do.There is so much grief in my heart that were it to be divided among the population of Tarim the would all flee. There is not one hair in me that sways for or desires other than God, Exalted be He!” The grief here mentioned is part of that burning Divine love that the gnostics experience, fuelled by longing and yearning, true to the extent that the heart is free from all that is not the Beloved.

Imam ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Alawi al-Haddad, Sufi Sage of Arabia, by Dr Mostafa al-Badawi

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