The Perfect Pleasure – New Letter From Tariq Mehanna

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New letter from Tarek:

“The Perfect Pleasure”

Linguistically, ‘aql signifies the act of withholding or restraining.

Blood money is called ‘aql because it restrains the victim’s family from retaliating.

‘Aql is also defined as “knowledge of the qualities of things, of their goodness and their badness, and their perfectness and their defectiveness,” and “knowledge of the better of two good things and of the worse of two bad things,” and “a faculty whereby is the discrimination between the bad and the good,” and a “spiritual light shed into the heart and brain, whereby the soul acquires the instinctive and speculative kinds of knowledge.”

So your intellect is called ‘aql because it restrains you from doing what isn’t suitable or befitting. This makes it one of the most precious gifts Allah has given you, and is why protecting the ‘aql is one fifth of the maqasid that the entire Shari’ah was designed to fulfill (e.g., one becomes eligible for a physical beating in public for tasting just a single drop of alcohol).

Likewise, a fifth of the body’s oxygen supply is used by the brain. The largest & most complex part of the brain is the cerebrum, which controls thoughts & learning – i.e., the ‘aql. Nearly eight centuries ago, Ibn Taymiyyah wrote that “it’s said that the ‘aql is the brain, as stated by many doctors. This was also stated by Imam Ahmad. A number of his students said that ‘aql is rooted in the heart, and it moves to the brain upon maturing. More likely, thoughts & ideas are rooted in the brain, willpower is rooted in the heart, and the soul is connected to both.”

It was ‘aql that made Ibn Taymiyyah who he was. What set him apart from everyone else wasn’t what he knew, but how he took what he knew and used his ‘aql to connect the dots and put each piece of knowledge in its proper place. Anyone who wants to be like him and help revive the Ummah must balance what he knows with the ‘aql to know what to do with what he knows. ‘Ali bin Abi Talib warned that “if a man’s knowledge outweighs his ‘aql, his knowledge will hurt him.” In fact, both the first (2:44) and last ayat (67:10) in which the word ‘aql appears in the Qur’an refer to people who are doomed because they didn’t have the ‘aql to make use of what they knew.

So ‘aql is the measure of a believer’s worth. We also know this because the Prophet (sall Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) commanded that those standing closest to him during the Salah be those with the most ‘aql, and because any man succeeding him as the Khalifah must be known for his ‘aql, and because al-Hasan al-Basri said that “staying connected to a person of ‘aql establishes the Din.” When al-Hasan would hear someone being praised, he’d ask: “How’s his ‘aql? A man’s din isn’t complete until his ‘aql is.”

Even before Islam, the Arabs would judge a man by his ‘aql. They used to say that “one who lacks ‘aql is relieved (i.e., of having a reputation worth protecting).”

It was also said that you can recognize one who lacks ‘aql because “he becomes angry for no reason, he speaks pointlessly, he’s generous where it isn’t appropriate to be, he reveal secrets, he trusts everyone, and he can’t distinguish between friend & foe.”

This is as common outside of prison as inside. I often see people trusting those they think to be friends, only to be stabbed in the back by those they trusted – all because they just don’t get it. In another time & place, Ibn al-Qayyim wrote that “if you don’t understand people, you’ll see the oppressor as being the oppressed, the one in the right as being the one in the wrong, and vice versa. You’ll be tricked & deceived. The heretic will appear as a friend, the liar will appear as honest, and every denier will wear a false garment to cover his sins, lies, and indecency. And because of your ignorance of how people are, you can’t distinguish this from that. So you must understand people and their various tricks & methods of deception.” Indeed, someone described ‘Umar bin al-Khattab by saying that “he was better than to deceive others and had more ‘aql than to be deceived by others.”

After him, ‘Ali bin Abi Talib said that “one who has ‘aql doesn’t let his share of this life get in the way of his share of the next.”

After him, even the murderer al-Hajjaj bin Yusuf observed that “one who has ‘aql must know his faults.” When asked about his own faults, al-Hajjaj replied that “I’m full of envy & hatred.” And Abu ad-Darda’ once said that “a man won’t attain full understanding until he hates people for the sake of Allah, then comes back to his own self and hates it even more.”

After him, Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr said that “one who has ‘aql must understand the times in which he lives, have full control of his tongue, and focus on what’s ahead of him.”

After him, Ibn al-Jawzi wrote that “the ‘aql is superior to the physical senses only because it allows you to think ahead. The physical senses only sense the immediate, but the ‘aql senses what’s to come and acts accordingly. So one with ‘aql must never ignore the indications of what’s to come.”

This can’t be made clearer than in the hadith of al-Ghamidiyyah, the woman who came and said: “O Allah’s Messenger, I’ve committed adultery, so purify me.” He turned her away, so she returned the next day and said: “O Allah’s Messenger, why do you turn me away? Are you turning me away like you did to Ma’iz? I swear by Allah that I’m pregnant!” He said: “In that case, return after you give birth.” After giving birth, she brought her son in a blanket and said: “I gave birth to him.” He said: “Go nurse him until he’s weaned.” She did so, brought her son holding a piece of bread in his hand, and said: “O Allah’s Prophet, I’ve weaned him, and he eats food.” He turned the boy over to one of the Muslims, had a chest-deep hole dug for her in the ground, and told the people to stone her to death. So Khalid bin al-Walid came forth and threw a stone at her head, and some of her blood splattered onto his face…

All of the misery described above resulted from a moment of pleasure, and could’ve never happened had the woman used a moment of ‘aql to think before acting. Her blood ended up on the face of a man who himself was proof of this, because it was a moment of ‘aql which had brought Khalid into Islam years earlier. He described that “when Allah wanted good for me, He placed the love of Islam in my heart. I came to my senses and said to myself: ‘I faced Muhammad in battle all those times, and each time I’d depart seeing that I was wasting my time and that Muhammad would be victorious.'” Despite having personally defeated the Muslims in battle, Khalid’s ‘aql allowed him to see the signs that victory would eventually go to the Islamic State.

In fact, he helped it happen. Three months later, Khalid’s ‘aql would shine again when he was hastily placed as the leader of three thousand Muslims against a Roman coalition of over 200,000 at Mu’tah after the first three leaders had been killed. The fighting was so difficult that his plan wasn’t to win, but rather to withdraw with the lightest casualties possible. Thinking ahead, he decided to wait. Once night fell, he switched the right flank with the left, the front of the army with its rear, and intentionally made a lot of noise while doing so. Then at dawn, he launched a series of rapid hit & run attacks against the enemy. The plan worked, as the combination of noise & different faces left the enemy thinking that massive reinforcements had arrived that night. This false impression lowered their morale, reduced their strength, and allowed Khalid to safely withdraw the army. In the end, only twelve Muslims had been killed facing a coalition sixty-six times their size.

A few days later, the Prophet sent ‘Amr bin al-‘As to lead a battle at Dhat as-Salasil. This was the stronghold of a tribe that had aided the coalition at Mu’tah, and the Prophet wanted to teach them a lesson. ‘Amr had been a Muslim for only four months, but the decisions he undertook during the journey made it clear why the Prophet chose him as the leader. Firstly, ‘Amr insisted on the army walking strictly at night. Secondly, he forbade anyone in the army from lighting a fire at night. This upset the Sahabah to the point that even Abu Bakr spoke to him. But he stood his ground, and replied that anyone who lit a fire would be thrown into it. Thirdly, when the enemy was eventually defeated and the survivors escaped, the Sahabah wanted to pursue them. But ‘Amr wouldn’t allow them. Though nobody grasped it at first, each decision demonstrated pure ‘aql:

* He limited their walking to nighttime for two reasons: i) to protect them from the midday heat, and ii) to maintain the element of surprise; * He forbade them from lighting fires because they were few in number, and lighting fires would expose this fact to the enemy; * He prevented them from pursuing the enemy because they’d escaped into their own territory, which meant that they could call for reinforcements, set up ambushes, and thereby turn the tables.

So it was the combination of the ‘aql of Khalid and the ‘aql of ‘Amr that helped paved the way to the ultimate prize: Makkah.

This was just a glimpse of how ‘aql made the Salaf who they were, and what it can make anyone who wants to do what they did.

Again, ‘aql is a precious gift, especially considering how rare it is to find someone today who can connect the dots. Ibn ‘Abbas said that “a dark time will come in which good judgment will be suspended and nobody will have a functioning ‘aql, to the point that you won’t find a single person to reason with.” The best way to safeguard any gift is to recognize it, recognize where it came from, and be grateful for it: {“… and if you show gratitude, I will definitely give you more…”} (14:7)

But you also have to use it. Ibn al-Jawzi wrote that “the perfect pleasure is found in instinctive matters. It’s found in knowledge & understanding of the realities of things; in rising through perfection above the deficient; in taking revenge upon enemies – though the pleasure of mercy is sometimes sweeter because it’s shown only to one who has been utterly humiliated & vanquished; in patiently acquiring each virtue and discarding each fault; in grasping the pattern of cause & effect; and in being so ambitious that you don’t fall short in acquiring any virtue.”

Finally, he wrote that “whoever realizes that this life will end, and that our positions in Jannah correspond to our deeds in this life, will work to outdo anyone above him before actually getting there. If you think about it, you’ll realize that everyone in Jannah will be inferior to someone else who occupies a position above him in it. By then, they’ll be unaware of this and will be satisfied with where they are. Right now, though, you’re aware of this fact. So race to acquire the best qualities and take advantage of time as it slips away before you end up swallowing the terrible, bitter drink of regret. Remind yourself that none of the dead did anything you can’t do, and then compete with them:

If you’re impressed with someone’s qualities * Then become him, and you’ll resemble what impressed you; Because if you approach generosity & nobility * You’ll find that nothing will block your way…”

Written by: Tariq Mehanna
Sunday, the 1st of Rajab 1439 (18th of March 2018)
Marion CMU

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