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Sufism and the Perennial Conflict of Good and Evil - Page 2

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Article Index
Sufism and the Perennial Conflict of Good and Evil
What the Prophet Brought
Umm ul-Ahadith, The Hadith of Jibril
The Relationship between Shari‘ah and Haqiqat
All Pages


The struggle between good and evil is a perennial conflict that has been ongoing throughout human history. It has been unfolding from the time of the first man and woman, Adam and Eve, as evidenced by the dramatic showdown between their two children, Abel and Cain.

Abel, who represented good, was always in conflict with his brother, Cain, who represented evil. Both sought to worship Allah, and both were asked to render a sacrifice. However, under the influence of Satan, Cain chose as his gift the worst, most diseased sheep in his flock. Abel presented his best yearling. Abel’s sacrifice was accepted, but Cain’s was rejected. Out of overwhelming envy, Cain slew Abel. Regarding this, Allah says:

وَاتْلُ عَلَيْهِمْ نَبَأَ ابْنَيْ آدَمَ بِالْحَقِّ إِذْ قَرَّبَا قُرْبَانًا فَتُقُبِّلَ مِن أَحَدِهِمَا وَلَمْ يُتَقَبَّلْ مِنَ الآخَرِ قَالَ لَأَقْتُلَنَّكَ قَالَ إِنَّمَا يَتَقَبَّلُ اللّهُ مِنَ الْمُتَّقِينَ

And convey unto them, setting forth the truth, the story of the two sons of Adam — how each offered a sacrifice, and it was accepted from one of them whereas it was not accepted from the other. [And Cain] said: “I will surely slay you!” [Abel] replied: “Behold, Allah accepts only from those who are conscious of Him. Even if you lay your hand on me to slay me, I shall not lay my hand on you to slay you: behold, I fear Allah, the Sustainer of all the worlds.”

Through this one sees Abel’s purity of heart and his tolerance for his brother. More importantly, it shows his acceptance. Acceptance is a profound concept, because it goes far beyond mere tolerance. When we say we tolerate someone, we mean that we put up with his shortcomings and faults. To accept someone is to acknowledge his right to be himself, withholding both judgment and criticism. It represents a higher state of submission to Divine Will and issues from a place of unconditional love, making it a rare quality indeed.
Allah gave every person the right to defend himself from harm, but Abel adhered to an even higher standard. He said, “I am not extending my hand and I am not even defending myself.” Here again, we see another example of utter submission to his Lord and acceptance of His Divine Will.
Abel was motivated by the same high level of faith that guided Sayyidina Ibrāhīm when he was cast into the fire by Nimrod. Jibrīl came and asked Ibrāhīm if he needed help. His reply was, “No, for truly Allah is seeing me and will give me what I need.” He was not mistaken, for Allah then said:

ُلْنَا يَا نَارُ كُونِي بَرْدًا وَسَلَامًا عَلَى إِبْرَاهِيمَ

We said, “O Fire! be thou cool on Ibrāhīm”

In this tremendous trial, Sayyidina Ibrāhīm ¡ showed the highest level of submission to Allah, for even though he recognized Jibrīl as Allah’s messenger to the prophets, he said, “The one sending you knows what I need. I seek whatever He Wills.” If Jibrīl had said, “Allah is sending me to ensure that you are safe,” then Sayyidina Ibrāhīm would have accepted. There is tremendous subtlety in this affirmation of tawħīd, for keep in mind, this all occurred in the course of a great physical struggle between good and evil: the conflict between Sayyidina Ibrāhīm and Nimrod, who was the representative of Satan. Here, too, is another example of that perennial struggle.

Goal of the Believer: Perfection of Divine Service

Today, many Muslims believe that the purpose of Islam is to take them to Paradise and save them from Hell. In reality, this is only a secondary goal.

وَمَا خَلَقْتُ الْجِنَّ وَالْإِنسَ إِلَّا لِيَعْبُدُونِ

I have only created Jinns and men, that they may worship Me.

Muhammad al-Asad, in his commentary on this verse, states:

Thus, the innermost purpose of the creation of all rational beings is their cognition (ma'rifah) of the existence of Allah and, hence, their conscious willingness to conform their own existence to whatever they may perceive of His will and plan: and it is this twofold concept of cognition and willingness that gives the deepest meaning to what the Qur’ān describes as “worship" (ibādah). As the next verse shows, this spiritual call does not arise from any supposed “need" on the part of the Creator, who is self-sufficient and infinite in His power, but is designed as an instrument for the inner development of the worshipper, who, by the act of his conscious self-surrender to the all-pervading Creative Will, may hope to come closer to an understanding of that Will and, thus, closer to Allah Himself.

Sayyidina Alī said:
All goodness is found in four character traits:
aš-šamt—knowing when to keep silent
an-nuţaq—awareness of what you speak
an-nazr—awareness of what you observe
al-ħaraka—awareness of where you are moving.

And he said:

Every speech, if it is not in dhikrullāh, is considered laghaw, idle talk, of no importance. And every silence not in thinking and meditating on Allah is considered heedlessness. And everything observed by the eyes from which one does not take an example is heedlessness. And every movement not in ta'abudun, worship, is useless, faţara. May Your Mercy envelop someone who made his speech Your Remembrance (nuţuq dhikruk) and made his silence contemplation and remembrance, and made his vision an example and made his movements worship. By that way the person will be saved from his tongue and his hand."

From these examples, we see that mankind was created to worship Allah. The Prophet came to teach us how to accomplish that fundamental purpose.