Allah, the Almighty, said:

{…and they give others preference over themselves, even though they are in privation…}[al-Ḥashr 59:9]

قَالَ اللهُ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ: "وَيُؤْثِرُونَ عَلَىٰ أَنفُسِهِمْ وَلَوْ كَانَ بِهِمْ خَصَاصَةٌ"

Altruism is a choice to favor someone in particular [over oneself].315 Selfishness is [tolerated] willingly, and that is praiseworthy,316 but it may also be tolerated unwillingly. Altruism is of three levels:

الْإِيثَارُ تَخْصِيصٌ وَاخْتِيَارٌ، وَالْأَثَرَةُ تَحْسُنُ طَوْعًا وَتَصِحُّ كَرْهًا. وَهُوَ عَلَى ثَلَاثِ دَرَجَاتٍ.

The first level is to favor the creation over yourself, as long as this does not lead to sin, does not interrupt your journey, and does not waste your time. This is not attainable except through three qualities:

  1. esteeming rights317

  2. abhorring possessiveness

  3. desire in magnanimity

الدَّرَجَةُ الْأُولَى أَنْ تُؤْثِرَ الْخَلْقَ عَلَى نَفْسِكَ فِيمَا لَا يَخْرِمُ عَلَيْكَ دِينًا، وَلَا يَقْطَعُ عَلَيْكَ طَرِيقًا، وَلَا يُفْسِدُ عَلَيْكَ وَقْتًا. وَلَا يُسْتَطَاعُ إِلَّا بِثَلَاثَةِ أَشْيَاءَ:

  1. بِتَعْظِيمِ الْحُقُوقِ

  2. وَمَقْتِ الشُّحِّ

  3. وَالرَّغْبَةِ فِي مَكَارِمِ الْأَخْلَاقِ

The second level is favoring the pleasure of Allah over the pleasure of others, even if this results in great hardship, costs a great price, and overwhelms one’s strength and body. This can be attained through three qualities:

  1. the soundness of one’s homecoming318

  2. the wellness of one’s Islam

  3. the strength of one’s resolve

الدَّرَجَةُ الثَّانِيَةُ إِيثَارُ رِضَا اللَّهِ عَلَى رِضَا غَيْرِهِ، وَإِنْ عَظُمَتْ فِيهِ الْمِحَن، وَثَقُلَتْ فِيهِ الْمُؤَنُ، وَضَعُفَ عَنْهُ الطَّوْلُ وَالْبَدَنُ. وَيُسْتَطَاعُ هَذَا بِثَلَاثَةِ أَشْيَاءَ:

  1. بِطِيبِ الْعَوْدِ

  2. وَحُسْنِ الْإِسْلَامِ

  3. وَقُوَّةِ الصَّبْرِ

The third level is one’s denial of their altruism out of recognition that it is only Allah who favors [whomever He pleases]. This is so because one’s claim of altruism is a [false] claim of ownership.319 Then, one must refrain from beholding their denial of their altruism.320 Then, one must be unconscious of their refraining.321

الدَّرَجَةُ الثَّالِثَةُ إِيثَارُ إِيثَارِ اللَّهِ، فَإِنَّ الْخَوْضَ فِي الْإِيثَارِ دَعْوَى فِي الْمِلْكِ، ثُمَّ تَرْكُ شُهُودِ رُؤْيَتِكَ إِيثَارَ اللَّهِ، ثُمَّ غَيْبَتُكَ عَنِ التَّرْكِ.

315 One who is altruistic is acting deliberately out of an autonomous choice to be good, not a mere inclination.
316 For the selfish one has no control, and what they withhold from you is, in fact, withheld by the true Owner of all things and Disposer of all affairs: Allah.
317 The rights of others over him/her.
318 Determination to return Home (paradise).
319 One who thinks of themselves as altruistic thinks in the first place that they own that which they give. This is a false claim of ownership, because the true Owner is only the One.
320 Because you would still be mindful of your actions (your denial of your power and influence). Such mindfulness crowds out (or competes with) your mindfulness of Allah in your consciousness.
321 Because you would still be mindful of your abstentions. This means that you are still conscious of your self. To the sheikh, that may still compete with your consciousness of the True One, Allah.

Manâzil as-Sâirin


Shaykhul-Islam Abu Isma‘il Abdullah ibn Muhammad al-Ansari al-Harawi (396-481H)

Translation and Footnotes


Hatem al-Haj