Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim
One day she fled from all the indignity. On the street suddenly she fell and broke her hand. In that utter helplessness she put her face on the ground and said, 'O my Intimate One, I am a stranger without mother and father. I am enslaved and now my hand is broken. None of this saddens me. All I need is for You to be pleased with me, to know whether You are pleased with me or not.'
She heard a voice say, 'Do not be sad. Tomorrow a grandeur will be yours such that the closes of the heavenly company will take pride in you.'
That incident of the mystic Rabia reminds me of the life story of the Master of Mystics, the Messenger of God Muhammad, peace and blessings of God be with him, in his early day of his mission when people outrightly not only rejected his message but also tortured and humiliated him and the very vulnerable small community consisting of mostly slaves, socially marginalised poor and destitutes who followed him. In those trying days he went to a city called Taif to invite people to Truth, yet they not only rejected him but also chased him out of the city and threw rocks at him to drive him away. The Prophet bled so profusely from the stoning that his feet became clotted to his shoes and he almost collapsed outside the city walls. There at the height of his deep sadness and suffering the supplication prayer that was uttered by the Prophet remains etched in human history forever. These were his words in translation:
Ashkoo dhu'fa quwwati,
Wa qillata hilaty,
Wa hawany alla nas,
Ya arham-ar rahimin
Anta rabbul mustadaafeen,
Wa anta rabbi,
Ila man takilny,
Ila baeedin yatajahhammuny,
Am ila aduwwin mallaktahu amry,
In lam yakun bika ghadabun alayy,
Wa laakinn aafiyatuka
heeya awsa'uw lee
A'uzu biNoori wajhik
Allazee ashraqtu lahuz- zulumatu
Wa saluha 'alayhi amrud-dunya
Min an yanzila bi ghadabuka
Aw yahilla alayya sakhatuka,
Wa la hawla
Wa la quwwata
|To You, my Lord,|
I complain of my weakness,
and my lack of support
and the humiliation I suffer from my fellowmen.
O the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful!
You are the Lord of the weak,
and you are my Lord.
To whom do You leave me?
To a distant person who receives me with hostility?
Or to an enemy You have given power over me?
As long as You are not displeased with me,
I do not care what I face.
Your forgiveness is all
that matters to me
I seek refuge in the light of Your Countenance
By which all darkness is dispelled
and dissolved are all challenges of the world
and the hereafter,
lest Your wrath descends upon me.
I desire Your pleasure and satisfaction
To You is the supplication
Until it reaches Your Rida
Verily there is no power
other than You.
What is Rida
There is a state of being, or you can say a state of the heart when one is in such perfect contentment, in such state of grace that nothing really matters except what God - the Beloved wills and decides. In the Islamic vocabulary this state is called Radiyatan Mardiya (Well-Pleased and Well-Pleasing) both from the word Rida.
Rida is an Arabic word which literally means "contentment", "satisfaction" and "being well pleased." But these apparent meanings in translation do little justice when it comes to the Sufi tradition - the inner tradition of Islam, within which this Quranic term Rida unveils much deeper meanings and stands as a sign-post of spiritual maturity of an aspirant.
The word Rida is mentioned in the Quran in a number of places and within diverse context. The term is used both for God and human being. In the Quranic expression there is a reciprocal relationship between God and His best creation - mankind when it is mentioned, "God has rida with them, and they have rida with God." (radi Allahu anhum wa radu anhu Q 5:119; 9:100; 57:22; 98:8)
The pre-eminent scholar of early Sufism Louis Massignon defined Rida as "Riḍā is the name given in the Qur’ān to the ‘state of grace’ sought by the old Christian monks in their rahbaniyya (monastic life)."
The most concise definition of rida within early Sufism was formulated by Muḥasibi (d. 857) in his Book of Resolution and the Return to God (al-Qaṣd wa al-ruju‘ ila Allah):
I asked, ‘what is the meaning of rida?’ He replied, ‘the joy of the heart with the passing of divine decree.’ I then asked, ‘what is its opposite?’ He replied, ‘sakhaṭ.’ I asked, ‘What is the meaning of sakhaṭ?’ to which he replied, ‘dissatisfaction of the heart, its sakhaṭ, and its dislike for the arrival of the divine decree, as well as the heart’s many wishes for control.
Muhasibi also give example of Rida by mentioning two examples from early communities of Muslim and companions of the Prophet:
It was once said to Abu Bakr, may God be pleased with him (during an illness), ‘shall we call a physician for you?’ to which he replied, ‘He has already seen me.’ It was then said to him, ‘What did He say to you?’ He replied, ‘.... Verily, I do as I please.’
And Uthmān, may God be pleased with him, asked ‘Abd Allāh b. Mas‘ūd in his sickness, ‘What is your complaint?’ He replied, ‘my sins.’ It was then said to him, ‘What do you desire?’ He replied, ‘the mercy of God.’ It was then said to him, ‘Shall we not call a physician for you?’ to which he replied, ‘the Physician is the one who made me sick.’
Junayd (d. 910), Muḥasibi’s most famous student, sometimes identified as the patriarch of Sufism, would himself define rida as the “relinquishing of choice”
Ruwaym (d. 915) defined riḍā as the “anticipation of the decrees (of God) with joy,”
Ibn ‘Ata’ (d. 922) declared that it is “the heart’s regard for what God chose for the servant at the beginning of time, and it is abandoning displeasure (tasakhkhut).”
If the human being meets God with riḍā for His decree, then God will meet the human being with His own riḍā, since a prophetic tradition has God declare, “He who has riḍā encounters My riḍā when he meets Me, and he who has sakhaṭ encounters by sakhaṭ when he meets Me.” that is to say that God declares, the one who with contentment wishes to meet Me, I am well-pleased to meet that person, whereas one who distaste meeting Me, I am also displeased to meet that him.
Elaborating on the nature of the virtue that is demanded by God, one of the early Sufis would state that there are in fact two kinds of riḍā made incumbent on the human being: riḍā with God (riḍā bihi) in so far as He is the Arranger (mudabbir) of affairs, and riḍā with what comes from God (riḍā ‘anhu) by way of His decree.
Unless a soul matures and have unshakable faith in God as well as the love is strong enough, the station to be well-pleased with whatever the Beloved sends is hard to attain, specially when the person is facing trial and tribulation.
The litmus test lies in being able to exhibit a genuine state of satisfaction in the face of the bitter situations of life, in response to those circumstances of loss that naturally elicit distress, anxiety, suffering and pain. A famous story of Rābi‘a (d. 801), founder of the love tradition in Sufism, succinctly illustrates this point. She once heard the famous jurist and ascetic Sufyān al- Thawrī (d. 778) pray, “O Lord, have riḍā with us,” to which she responded, “Are you not ashamed to ask Him for riḍā when you yourself do not have riḍā with Him.”
When pressed to describe the one who has attained the virtue in question, she explained that it is “when his joy in misfortune is like his joy in blessing.” Her contemporary, the highway bandit-turned-ascetic, Fuḍayl b. ‘Iyād (d. 803), would similarly observe that one can only be characterized by riḍā when both “the deprivation and (the receiving of) the gift (from God) are equal in his eyes.”
Abū ‘Alī al-Daqqāq (d. 1015 or 1021), the teacher of Qushayrī would clarify, “riḍā is not that you do not feel the trial, it is only that you do not object to the divine ruling and the decree.”
In other words, genuine riḍā does not mean that one becomes numb to all pain, or that one finds pleasure in suffering, but that the joy in submitting to the divine will far exceeds the discomfort of any tribulation which may accompany life, so that it is as if the tribulation did not exist, or as if the tribulation were no different from worldly gain. Riḍā, in this light, is the overwhelming peace which ensues from surrendering the heart to God’s pre-eternal decree, from abdicating the impulse to control one’s destiny.
Muḥāsibī explains the reasons for why one must never respond to God’s bitter decrees with either stoic indifference or dejectedness and despair. One must recognize, he argues, that God is just in His decree, that He is not despotic in His will. This should in turn lead one to have a good opinion (husn al-ẓann) of Him. One must also realize that “the choice of God most High is better than your own choice for yourself,” since there are consequences for events which the human being does not anticipate in his short-sightedness. One cannot see the full trajectory of his life, much less his fate in the next world. Riḍā therefore requires not only a relinquishing of one’s own will before the Divine will, but a humbling of the intellect through a recognition that, in His omniscience, God has in mind the best interests of the soul. For Muḥāsibī one must understand that the divine physician surgically inflicts pain for one’s best interests. Even His deprivation is a theodical gift, for in withholding what the soul may desire for its own perceived welfare, He manifests benevolent generosity. As Sufyān al-Thawrī poignantly observed, “God’s withholding is actually a giving, because He withholds without miserliness or loss. His withholding is a choice, and (the consequence) of beautiful discernment (husn al- naẓar).”
Higher stations of Rida
While the semantic field of riḍā includes the notion of contentment, it also signifies much more.
The higher levels of riḍā are reserved for those who become so immersed in their contemplation of God that the world, with its joys and pains, recedes into the background. The affairs of the world become eclipsed for such folk by the overpowering luminosity of the Arranger of Affairs. Through an experience of self-transcendence, they are able to rise beyond earthly experiences of suffering and joy to behold the One in an experience of divine unity. Riḍā, in such a state, is the consequence not of an act of the intellect, where one acknowledges the justice and wisdom of divine decree, nor of the will, where one surrenders it to God, but an experience of being blinded by light of God.
Hujwiri said, “[H]e who is satisfied with the affliction that God sends is satisfied because in the affliction he sees the Author thereof and can endure its pain by contemplating Him who sent it; nay, he does not account it painful, such is his joy in contemplating his Beloved."
Above such a level there is one, continues Hujwīrī, whose being becomes so thoroughly extinguished in the divine origin that his existence itself becomes “an illusion alike in His anger and His satisfaction; whose hearts dwell in the presence of Purity, and in the garden of Intimacy.”
Those who attain such a rank “have no thought of created things and have escaped from the bonds of ‘stations’ and ‘states’ and have devoted themselves to the love of God.”
This station is achieved when one has attain fana with God, one who has reached the station about which Christ could describe in saying, "I and my Father is One."
From being content to being satisfied and well-pleased
The nature of riḍā is such that it is organically interconnected with other virtues – with some more closely than others. Perhaps its closest relationship is with qanā‘a, which connotes the idea of “contentment” in a more restricted sense. While the semantic field of riḍā includes the notion of contentment, it also signifies much more. In Sufi psychology qanā‘a is typically understood to refer to one of the first stages of riḍā. This point was made by Abū Sulaymān al-Dārānī (d. 830), when he observed that “the relation of qanā‘a to riḍā is like the relation of abstinence (wara‘) to renunciation (zuhd): qanā‘a is the first stage of riḍā, and abstinence is the first stage of renunciation.”
Makki would also relegate qanā‘a to the preliminary stages of riḍā when he stated that the “first (level) of riḍā is qanā‘a.”
To the extent that riḍā requires happily relinquishing one’s desire in the face of divine decree, it naturally follows that one cannot attain higher levels of this virtue without first realizing contentment.
Love and Rida
It is love that serves as the foundation of riḍā and ultimately makes it possible to ascend through its various levels. “When a man is truthful in his love (of God),” writes Abū Sa‘īd al-Kharrāz (d. 899) in his Book of Truthfulness, “there emerges between him and God, most High, a partnership of surrender ... he has trust in the excellent choice of the one whom He loves. He abides in his excellent direction, and tastes the food of existence through Him.” As a consequence, “his heart is filled with joy, bliss, and happiness.”
Likewise, Hujwīrī states that riḍā “is the result of love, inasmuch as the lover is satisfied with what is done by the Beloved.”
Dhū al-Nūn al-Miṣrī (d. 860) claimed that “riḍā has three signs: abandoning personal choice before the divine decree has been decided, not experiencing any bitterness after the decree has been decided, and feeling the tumult of love in the very midst of trials.”
Ghazālī (d. 1111) said If His servants bear them (difficulties and trials sent by God) with patience, they are favored, but if they do so with riḍā, they are singled out as His chosen ones.
Love therefore stands out as one of the most closely allied virtues to riḍā. Without an intense
experience of love the higher reaches of riḍā remain closed.
And this the open secret of Rida of the near ones of God. For them Rida is the perfected contentment out of Love of the Beloved where the focus is not on the self but that of the Beloved (which is the quintessential rule of love where the interest of beloved is all that it matters). May Allah grant us His Rida so that He may be well-pleased with us and we with Him.
Allahumma inna nas aluka ridaka wal jannat. Wa nuzubika min shakhatika wan nar.
O Allah, we ask You for Your Rida and the Garden and we seek Your protection from Your displeasure and the Fire.
* Contentment, Satisfaction and Good-Pleasure (Riḍā) in Early Sufi Moral Psychology - by Atif Khalil
* Concerning Rida from Al-Ghunya li-Talibi Tariq al-Haqq by Shaikh Abdal Qadir Jilani
Photography Credit: Claudia Henzler / Award-winning photo-artist Claudia Henzler has traveled to distant corners of the world to tell pictorial stories of human issues with an extraordinary gift to capture soul-stirring images. Her carefully woven “tapestry in imagery,” skillfully draws diverse elements of all cultures and blends them into one common thread of humanity. Visit her site here.
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