What does Ibn Ataa’ tell us about keeping priorities straight? (Part 1)

Philosophy 09 Apr 2021 Sadaf Riaz

Sheikh Ahmad Ibn ‘Ataa’illah As-Sakandari says in his well-known book, Al-Hikam (Words of Wisdom) that:

“A sign of following one’s whims is to be active with optional good deeds while being lazy with required obligations.”

Deep understanding and sound knowledge is the next step in our journey to Allah. The Prophet (PBUH) said:

“If Allah wishes good for someone, He grants him knowledge (fiqh) of the faith.” (Al-Bukhari)

Fiqh means the full comprehension and deep understanding of Islamic law. The most important step in our journey towards Allah is the deep understanding of Islamic law.

Fiqh of Priorities

In Islamic law, there are secondary issues (furu) and principals (usul). Principals have priority over secondary issues. There are required optional good deeds and obligations. Obligations take priority over good deeds. There are minor and major sins. In terms of avoiding major sins, it takes priority over minor sins.

As the heart is the most important organ in the human body and its actions are also more important than other organs. That’s why the heart has a higher priority over other organs. Thus, the most harmful sin is that which is committed in the heart as compared to the sin committed by other body organs.

A person without knowledge of priorities will be following the outward appearance instead of the essence of faith.

Priorities over Mosque rebuilding or Hajj 

What will you do if you are having enough money by which you can either decorate the mosque or perform Hajj? In both cases, your priority must be to perform Hajj instead of improving the building of a mosque. Performing Hajj is the pillar of Islam and is an obligation. On the other hand, improving mosques is not necessary and is optional thus, we need to perform Hajj first. The Shiekh says, “You will be following your whims not the right path” in case if you are giving priority to optional deeds over obligations.

However, if your mother needs medication then you need to spend your money on her instead of performing Hajj. Taking care of your mother should be your first priority and it is an immediate obligation. If you do the opposite, then you are not following proper knowledge.

Priorities over optional or obligatory prayer

For example, if you have less time either to perform the two rak’ah optional prayer or to perform obligatory prayer on time. In such a case, you need to offer obligatory prayer instead of an optional one. If you miss the obligatory prayer because of optional prayer for greeting the mosque then this is the sign of following whims.

Unfortunately, many of us are devoted to performing optional good deeds instead of basic obligations of the faith.

Being kind to parents is also an obligation

“For your Sustainer has ordained that you shall worship none but Him. And do well unto [your] parents. Should one of them, or both, attain to old age in your care, never say “Ugh” to them or scold them, but [always] speak unto them with reverent speech”. (Al-Israa’ 17:23)

Returning the trusts to people is obligatory

“Then let him who is trusted fulfill his trust, and let him be conscious of Allah”.(Al-Baqarah 2:283)

A believer is also not supposed to curse. The Holy Prophet (PBUH) said:

“It is not fitting for a believer to be curser or a defamer”. (Al-Bukhari in his Al-Adab al-Mufrad)

(To be continued) (Part 2)


(Written by Sadaf Riaz)