How to Avoid Evil Habits?
Lantern of the Path
Imam Ja'far al-Sadiq (A.S.)
Do not show off your actions to someone who neither gives life nor causes death, and who cannot take away from you your burdens. Showing off is a tree whose only fruit is hidden association of other gods with Allah, and its root is hypocrisy. The vain one will be told on the Day of Judgement; 'Take what you consider to be the reward of your actions from those you took as your partners with Me. Look to those whom you worshipped and called on, from whom you entertained hopes and whom you feared. And know that you cannot conceal anything inside of you from Allah: you will be deceived by yourself.'
They desire to deceive Allah and those who believe, and they deceive only themselves and they do not perceive. (2:9)
Showing off most frequently occurs in the way people glance at others, speak, eat, drink, arrive somewhere, sit with others, dress, laugh, and in the way they perform prayers, pilgrimage, jihad, recitation of the Qur'an, and all outward acts of devotion.
However, he who is sincere towards Allah, who fears Him in his heart, and who sees himself as lacking even after he has exerted himself with every effort, will find that Allah is contented with him as a result, and he will be among those whom one expects to be free from showing off and hypocrisy, provided he continues to be in that state.
An envious man harms himself before he harms the person he envies, as was the case with Iblis: by his envy he brought the curse upon himself, whereas to Adam he brought about his election, guidance, elevation to the true contract, and his being chosen. Therefore be envied rather than envious, because the punishment of the envious is always worse than that of the envied; thus is provision apportioned.
So how does envying benefit the envious, and how does envy harm the envied? The root of envy lies in the blindness of the heart, and rejection of Allah's overflowing favour: they are two wings of disbelief. Through envy the son of Adam falls into endless grief and is utterly destroyed, and there is no way he can save himself. The envious does not really repent, for he continues to dwell upon and believe in his envy; indeed it is such an inherent part of his nature that it manifests itself unopposed and without apparent reason, causing him harm. A person's basic nature does not change, even with treatment.
It is said that Ka'b al-Ahbar was questioned about what is soundest and what is most corrupt in faith. 'The soundest thing is scrupulousness and the most corrupt is greed,' he replied.
Avarice is the wine of Satan, which he gives to his chosen ones with his own hand. Whoever becomes drunk upon it sobers up only in the pain of Allah's punishment in the proximity of the one who gave him the drink. If there were no other reason for Allah's wrath with respect to greed except man's preferring this world to faith, that would still be a sufficiently severe chastisement. Allah said,
These are they who buy error for the price of right guidance, and chastisement for forgiveness. (2:16)
The Commander of the Faithful said, 'Be gracious to whoever you wish and you are his prince. Seek help from whoever you like and you are his equal. Be in need of whoever you like and you are his prisoner.' He who is greedy is stripped of his belief without feeling it, for belief prevents the bondsman from being greedy in creation. He also says, 'My friend, the vaults of Allah are full of marks of honour, and He does not neglect to reward of someone who acts well.'
Whatever a person might possess is tarnished by defects. Belief makes him rely on trust, moderation, forsaking desire, clinging to the obedience of Allah, and despairing of people. If he does that, then he is keeping close to his belief and he has acted correctly. If he does not, belief parts company with him and leaves him to his bad nature.
The corruption of the outward being comes from the corruption of the inward. If you put your innermost being in order, Allah will put your outward being in order; if you fear Allah inwardly, He will not rend the veil publicly. But he who betrays Allah inwardly, Allah will expose in the open.
The greatest corruption is born of prolonged expectation, greed, and pride, as Allah told us in the story of Qarun when He said,
Do not seek to make mischief in the land; surely Allah does not love the corruptors. (28:77)
Elsewhere He said,
[As for] that Future Abode, We assign it to those who have no desire to exalt themselves in the earth nor to make mischief; and the good end is for those who have precaution. (28:83)
These defects come from what Qarun did and believed. The root of corruption lies in loving this world, amassing its wealth, following the self, elevating its appetites, loving praise, agreeing with Satan, and following his footsteps: all of these faults combine with a love of paying Allah no heed and forgetting His favours.
Therefore you should flee from people, reject this world, interrupt your rest, break with your normal habits, cut off the source of worldly appetites at the root by constantly remembering Allah and clinging to obedience to Him, and enduring people's aversion, the over-dependence of a comrade, and hostile malice on the part of your family and relatives. If you do that, then the door of Allah's kindness will be opened to you, since He has good regard for you, as well as forgiveness and mercy. You will have left the company of the heedless and freed your heart from the captivity of Satan. You will come to the door of Allah in the company of those who come to Him, and you will travel a path on which you may hope to be permitted to come to the Noble, the Magnanimous, the Generous, the Merciful.
Do not covet anything avariciously; for if you ignore it, it will come to you anyway, if it is destined to be yours. Then you would find ease in your heart with Allah, praise for leaving it; but you will be blamed for your haste in seeking it, for not trusting Him, and for not being content with the decree. Allah created this world the same as a shadow: when you chase it, it tires you out and you can never catch up with it. If you leave it alone, it follows you inexorably, and gives you no cause for fatigue.
The Holy Prophet said, 'A covetous man is bereft; yet in spite of his deprivation, he is blamed wherever he is.' For how could he be other than bereft when he flees from the covenant of Allah, and opposes His words:
Allah is He Who created you, then gave you sustenance, then He causes you to die, then brings you life. (30:40)
The covetous person is in the midst of seven difficult evils: thinking, which harms his body but brings it no help; anxiety, which has no end; weariness, from which he will find rest only in death, although he has the greatest weariness when at rest; fear, which only makes him fall into what he fears; sorrow, which makes his livelihood disturbed without any benefit to him; reckoning, which will not save him from the punishment of Allah unless He pardons him, and punishment, from which there is neither flight nor escape.
The one who trusts in Allah spends morning and evening in His protection and well-being. Allah has hastened for him what suffices him, and prepared for him things which only Allah knows. Avarice is what flows out from Allah's anger. When the slave is not bereft of certainty, he is not covetous. Certainty is the earth of Islam and the heaven of iman.
A person who is deluded is wretched in this world, and is duped in the next world because he has sold what is better for what is baser. Do not admire yourself. Sometimes you may be deceived by your property and your bodily health into supposing that you will last forever. Sometimes you are deceived by your long life, your children and your friends into thinking that you will be saved by them. Sometimes you are deceived by your beauty and the circumstances of your birth, which bring you your hopes and desires so easily that you think that you are truthful and successful in achieving your goal. Sometimes you are deceived by the regret you show people for your shortcoming in worship, but Allah knows the opposite of that is in your heart. Sometimes you make yourself worship in a spirit of reluctance; but Allah desires sincerity. Sometimes you imagine that you are calling on Allah when you are calling on another. Sometimes you imagine that you are giving good counsel to people, while your real desire is that they bow to you. Sometimes you blame yourself when you are really praising yourself.
Know that you will only emerge from the darkness of delusion and desire by sincerely turning in repentance to Almighty Allah, and to whatever you know about Him, and to recognize the faults in your self which are not consistent with your intellect and knowledge, and which the faith, the law and the customary practices of the Holy Prophet and the Imams of guidance do not tolerate.
If you are content with your present condition, there is no one more wretched than you in knowledge and action, nor anyone with a more wasted life. You will inherit grief on the Day of Resurrection.
A Description of the Hypocrite
The hypocrite is content to be far from the mercy of Allah, because his outward actions appear to be in line with Islamic laws; and yet he is heedless and ineffective, mocking and transgressing its truthfulness in his heart.
The mark of hypocrisy is disregard for lies, treachery, insolence, false claims, insincerity, foolishness, error and lack of modesty, making little of acts of disobedience, desiring believers to lose faith, and making light of misfortunes in the faith; pride, praise, praise of love, love of praise, envy, preferring this world to the next and evil to good, inciting slander, love of amusement, dealing with prevaricators, helping aggressive people avoiding good deeds, disparaging those who do good, considering good the evil done by the hypocrite and recognizing as odious whatever good another person does; and many other things like that.
Allah has described the hypocrites in more than one place. He said,
And among men is he who serves Allah [standing] on the verge. So that if good befalls him he is satisfied therewith, but if a trial afflicts him he turns back headlong; he loses this world as well as the next; that is a manifest loss. (22:11)
In describing them, Allah said,
There are some people who say, "We believe in Allah and the Last Day", but they are not at all believers. They desire to deceive Allah and those who believe, but they deceive only themselves while they do not perceive. There is a disease in their hearts, so Allah added to their disease. (2:8-10)
The Holy Prophet said, 'The hypocrite is he who, having made a promise, breaks it; when he acts, he does evil; when he speaks, he lies; when he is trusted, he betrays; when he is given provision, he is reckless; when it is withheld, he makes much of his life.'
He also said, 'A person whose innermost being contradicts his public face is a hypocrite whoever he is, wherever he is, in whatever time he lives, and whatever rank he has.'
Slander is forbidden to all Muslims, and he who slanders has sinned in every instance. Slander is when you mention something about a person which is not a fault in Allah's eyes, or when you censure what the people of knowledge praise.
As for discussing someone who is not present with regard to something which Allah censures, when that person is guilty of it, then this does not amount to slander, even if he dislikes it when he hears it; and you are free of any slight of that person. This is in order to make the truth clear from the false by the clarification of Allah and His Messenger. However, this has a precondition, in that the person who says it must seek only to clarify what is true and false, in the faith of Allah. If he means to deprecate the person of whom he talks without meaning to make things clear, then he is taken to task for his corrupt goal, even if he is correct in what he says.
If you really slander someone, then seek pardon from that person. If you do not go that far nor reach that point, then ask Allah's forgiveness for that. Slander eats up good deeds as fire eats up wood. As Allah revealed to Moses, 'The slanderer will be the last to enter the Garden, if he repents. If he does not repent, then he will be the first to enter the Fire.' As He said,
Does one of you like to eat the flesh of his dead brother? You would hate it. (49:12)
The various aspects of slander occur when you mention a fault in someone's character, intellect, action, behaviour, belief, ignorance and so on.
The origin of slander may be one of ten types: venting one's anger, pleasing other people, suspicion, believing a report without investigating it, having a bad opinion, envy, mockery, astonishment at some action in another which one does not comprehend, dissatisfaction or impatience with others, and embellishment of oneself at the expense of others.
If you seek Islam, then remember the Creator and not the created; then the circumstances of slander will be a lesson for you, and a wrong action will be replaced by a reward.
Ignorance is a form whose composition is of this world. When it advances, there is darkness; when it retreats, there is light. The bondsman vacillates with it as shadows vacillate with the sun. Have you not looked at man? Sometimes you find that he is ignorant of his own qualities and praises them, while he recognizes their faults in others and criticizes them. At other times you find that a person knows his own nature and criticizes it, while praising the same in others. He vacillates between protection and disappointment. If he encounters integrity and protection, he is correct. If he encounters lack of assistance and desertion, he errs. The key to ignorance is being satisfied with the knowledge one possesses, and placing all one's trust in it. The key to knowledge is the desire to exchange one level of knowledge for a higher level, together with divine grace and guidance. The lowest quality of an ignorant man is that he lays claim to knowledge which he does not deserve; his most common characteristic is ignorance of his own ignorance, and the most extreme aspect of his ignorance is to reject knowledge. There is nothing whose affirmation is the reality of its negation other that worldly ignorance and greed. All ignorant people are alike.
Reluctance to Act
A person who feels reluctant to act falls short of what is correct, even if he does right; while a person who acts voluntarily is correct, even if he errs. The reluctant one obtains only contempt in the end, and weariness, toil and misery while he is carrying out the action. The outer being of a reluctant person is showing off, and his inner being is hypocrisy: they are the wings with which he flies. The reluctant person never has any of the qualities of the righteous nor any of the marks of the believers, wherever he is. As Allah said to His Prophet [s],
Say, I do not ask you for any reward for it; nor am I of those who affect [i.e. act with reluctance]. (38:87)
The Holy Prophet said, 'we, the company of prophets, the fearfully aware, the trusty, we disavow the reluctant.' So, fear Allah and do away with reluctance, and it will mark you with the sign of belief. Do not be occupied with something whose garment is affliction, with food which in the end is emptiness, with an abode whose end is ruin, with wealth whose end is to be inherited by others, with comrades whom in the end one must take leave of, with glory which in the end is abasement, with loyalty which in the end is abandonment, or with a life whose end is grief.
The Ruin of the Reciters
Someone who recites without knowledge is like a vain man who has neither property nor wealth; for people do not hate someone for his lack of possessions, but they detest him for his vanity. He is always at odds with creation in that which is not obligatory upon him, and he who contests creation in what he is not commanded to do is contesting the process of creativity and absolute lordship.
As Allah said,
Among men is he who disputes in respect of Allah though having no knowledge, nor guidance, nor a book giving light. (31:20)
None will have a harsher punishment than someone who claims a right to the mantle of knowledge without having either the truth or the meaning of it.
Zayd ibn Thabit said to his son, 'My son, do not let Allah see your name in the register of the vain reciters.' And the Holy Prophet said, 'A time will come for my community in which hearing the name of the man who recites will be considered better than studying, and studying will be considered better than doing the thing with experience ... The greatest number of hypocrites in my community are among the reciters of the Qur'an.'
Be where the faith recommends you to be, and where you are commanded to be. Conceal your inner state from other people as much as you can. Make your acts of obedience to Allah have the same relationship as your soul has to your body, so they become an indication of the state you have attained between yourself and your Originator. Seek Allah's help in all your affairs, and beseech Allah humbly at the end of the night and at the end of the day. Allah said,
Call on your Lord humbly and secretly; surely He does not love those who exceed the limits. (7:55)
Transgressing is one of the attributes, indeed, one of the hallmarks, of the reciters of our time. Be fearful of Allah in all your affairs, so that you do not fall into the arena of desire and destroy yourself.
Satan can get control over Allah's servants only by whispering to them when they have abandoned their remembrance of Allah, become disdainful, feel complacent when faced with His prohibition, and forget that Allah sees their secret.
Whispering is what comes from outside the heart by tacit permission of the intellect, and is sustained by man's own nature; once it becomes established in the heart, there is error, misguidance, and disbelief. Allah called on His bondsmen with His subtle call and told them about the enmity of Iblis:
Shaytan is an enemy to you, so take him as an enemy. (35:6)
Be with him like a man who, standing near the shepherd's dog, has recourse to the dog's master in order to keep the dog away from him. It is the same when Satan comes to whisper to you, to lead you off the true path and make you forget to remember Allah. Then seek refuge from him with your Lord and his Lord. He will defend the truth against falsehood, and help wronged ones, since He says,
Surely he has no authority over those who believe and who rely on their Lord. (16:99)
Man will only be able to do this if he knows how he comes, and can recognize his methods of whispering, by constant watchfulness, sincerity in the arena of service, awe of the All-Aware, and increased remembrance of Him.
However, anyone who neglects to spend his time in awareness must undoubtedly be the prey of Satan. He should draw a lesson from what Satan does with such a person's self: he leads it to misguidance, deception and haughtiness by duping the person into admiring his own actions, his worship, and his insight.
Satan's insolent behaviour towards him causes a curse to descend on his knowledge, his gnosis and faculty of reasoning for all eternity; yet he has no power over those who are not negligent. Therefore hold to the firmest rope of Allah, which means seeking refuge with Allah, and having a sound need of Allah at every breath. Do not be deceived when Satan makes your acts of obedience appear beautiful in your eye: if he opens ninety-nine doors of goodness for you, it is only so that he may overcome you by opening the hundredth. So meet him with opposition, block his path and reject his charm.
The concept of pride embraces all those aspects of vanity found in those who are proud of their actions, little knowing what their end will be. Whoever is proud of himself and his actions has strayed off the path of right guidance and has claimed what is not his.
Anyone who claims something to which he has no right is a liar, even if he conceals his claim for a long time. The first thing which happens to the proud man is that he is stripped of his object of pride, so that he will know that he is contemptible and incapable, and will testify against himself; and that will be a firmer proof against him. This was the case with Iblis.
Pride is a plant whose seed is disbelief, whose earth is hypocrisy, and whose water is transgression. Its branches are ignorance, its leaves are misguidance, and its fruit is being cursed to remain in the Fire forever. Whoever chooses pride has sowed disbelief and cultivated hypocrisy. It is inevitable that it must bear its fruit and he will end up in the Fire.