Poverty of the Soul by Yasmin Mogahed:
In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful
“When speaking about poverty, we need to understand that there is external poverty and there is internal poverty. However, one is far more dangerous than the other. One form determines how we live temporarily whilst the other determines how we live eternally – the poverty of the soul. The unmoved soul. It is the soul that has been created but fails to understand why. It is the soul that lives a purposeless life. The heart that beats but has already died. The heart beats for material things but the soul remains untouched. There is only one thing that can cut or stab the soul, that is to deprive it from its only true need: To be near its Originator, to be near God. (Spiritual deprivation).
One day the Prophet ﷺ asked his companions to describe the poor person. They said the poor person is one who has no money or property. The Prophet ﷺ replied: the poor person from among my Ummah is the one who will come on the Day of Judgement with a good record of prayers, fasts and zakkah, but also has abused somebody, slandered somebody, stolen the wealth of another, has killed or beaten somebody. Then all of the oppressors will receive a portion of this person’s good deeds. If his good deeds fall short, he will be thrown into the fire of Jahannam. The Prophet ﷺ is saying in this hadith that true poverty is not being poor in this world, it is standing poor on the Day of Judgement without any good deeds left.
Despite the reality, we continue to live this life, feeding our bodies, but starving our souls. The sad irony of this focus is the body we tend to is only temporary, while the soul that we neglect is eternal.
When a body dies, we cry. But the death of a body is not true death. It is only the removal of a shell, and the movement from one realm to a truer realm. We weep for the departing bodies but our hearts remain unmoved by those bodies who are alive but whose hearts and souls have died because of the alienation of that which gives them life: God.
What impoverishes and kills the heart? It is allowing the heart to love anything as it should only love God. See, the heart was created with a very particular nature for a very particular use. When you fail to use anything for the purpose which is was created, it breaks, it drowns, it dies. The heart was created by and for God. The heart was created to know and love God. The heart was to be given to God, to be filled with God. The heart that is filled with any other thing suffers the most painful impoverishment and death.
The human heart is like a boat in the ocean of Dunya. The boat that allows the ocean water to enter breaks and then drowns. The human heart that allows the Dunya to enter the heart also breaks and drowns. And it becomes owned. Owned by this life. Owned by our gadgets, our facebook, our jobs, the distractions, the fashion trends, the marketing tools. The money, the power, the status. The heart that is owned by this life is a prisoner of the worst kind. The heart that is owned by any other master than the Master of masters is the weakest of all slaves. That is true oppression. True death. True poverty. As human beings we enslave ourselves to different things. Some of us are enslaved to money. Some of us are enslaved to other people. We love them as we should only love Allah. Some of us are enslaved to status, to our careers. I tell you to ask yourself: what do you love most? Most of the people will say with their tongues that they love God most. We say this with our tongues and our minds, but our hearts and actions say otherwise. How do you know? Ask yourself: what is your refuge? When you’re most broken, where do you go? When you’re afraid, where do you hide? When you need, who do you ask? What do you fear most? What do you stay up at night worrying about? Who? What makes you cry most? What do you think about most? What occupies your mind in salah? Is it really God? Is it really Allah on your mind most? Is it really your fear of standing before Him that makes you cry in your bed at night? No, probably not. It’s the person who left you, the money you lost, the career you couldn’t have, the raise you didn’t get. What are you afraid of most? Just the thought of losing that one thing that causes you so much anxiety, that you feel it physically. Is it your husband? Is it your wife? Is it your money? Is it your job? Is it your image? Is it your figure? What is it?
When you’re given a choice, what do you do? When Allah says to dress and act a certain way, and society says the opposite. Who do you choose? Who defines beauty for you? Who defines success? When Allah says interest is haraam, but your financial ambitions command otherwise. When society’s standards for the size of your home or the brand of your car command otherwise. What do you choose? Who defines richness? Who defines poverty? What type of poverty are you most afraid of? The truth is we choose what we love most. When we love money most, that’s what we choose. When we love people more, they fill our hearts. We think of them most. Our life loses center. We leave the orbit of the Creator, and we enter the orbit of the creation. A painful and unstable orbit. In the orbit of the creation, we rise and fall with the creation. The waves of praise and criticism. Our standards for success and failure come from the creation, from society. The standard for richness. The standard for poverty. Comes from creation. Comes from society.
But the Prophet ﷺ gives us a different standard. He says: “richness is not having many possessions. Rather, true richness is the richness of the soul.” But how do we avoid true impoverishment of the soul? No one likes to fall, and few people would ever choose to drown. But in struggling through the ocean of this life, sometimes it’s so hard not to let the world in. Sometimes the ocean does enter us, the ocean does seep into our hearts. And like the boat that breaks, when Dunya enters it shatters our hearts. It shatters the boat. If you allow this life to own your heart, you will sink down to the depths of the sea. You will touch the ocean floor, and you will feel as though you are at your lowest point. Entrapped by your sins and the love of this life. You will feel broken, surrounded by darkness. That’s the amazing thing about the floor of the ocean – no light enters it. But this dark place is not the end. Remember the darkness of the night precedes the dawn. And as long as your heart still beats, there is still hope. This is not the end. You don’t have to die here. Sometimes the ocean floor is only a stop in your journey. And it’s when you’re at your lowest point when you have to make a choice: you can stay there at the bottom until you drown, or you can gather pearls and rise back up. Stronger from the swim and richer from the jewels. If you seek Him, God can raise you up, and replace the darkness of the ocean with the lightness of His sun. He can transform what was one of your greatness weakness, into your greatest strength. And a means of growth, purification and redemption. Know that transformation sometimes begin with a fall. So never curse the floor. The ground is where humility lives. Take it, learn it, breathe it in, and then come back stronger, humbler and more aware of your need for Him. Come back having seen your own nothingness and His Greatness. Know that if you have seen that reality, you have seen much. For the one who is truly deceived is the one who sees himself, but not Him. Truly deprived is the one who has never witnessed his own desperate need for God. Reliant on his own needs, he forgets that the means, his own soul, and everything else in existence are His creation.
Seek God to bring you back, for when He does, He will rebuild your ship. The heart that you thought was forever damaged will be mended. What was shattered will be whole again. Know that only He can do this, so seek Him. And when He saves you, beg forgiveness for the fall. Feel remorse over it, but not despair.
As Ibn Qayyim (RahimAllah) says:
Shaytaan rejoiced when Adam (as) came out of Paradise, but he did not know that when a diver sinks into the sea, he collects pearls and then rises again.
There is a powerful and amazing thing about Toubah/repentance. And turning back to Allah. We are told that it polishes the heart. What’s amazing about a polish is that a polish does not just clean, it makes the object that was cleaned even shiner than it was before it got dirty.
If you come back to God seek His forgiveness and refocus your life on Him. You have the potential to be richer, as if you have never fallen before. Sometimes coming back gives you wisdom and humility that you may never otherwise had had.
Ibn Qayyim writes, one of the Salaf (pious predecessors) said:
“Indeed a servant commits a sin by which he enters Paradise, and another does a good deed by which he enters the Hellfire.” It was asked how is that, so he replied “the one who committed the sin constantly thinks about it, which causes him to fear it, regret it, weep over it, and feel ashamed over it in front of his Lord, the Most High, due to it. He stands before Allah, broken and with his head in humility. So this sin is more beneficial to him than doing many acts of obedience. Since it caused him to have humbleness and humility which leads the servant to happiness and success. To the extent that this sin becomes the cause of him entering into Paradise.
As for the doer of good. He does not consider the good deed as a favour of his Lord upon him. Rather, he becomes arrogant and amazed with himself saying “I have achieved such and such.” So this further increases him in self admiration, pride and arrogance. Such as this becomes his means of destruction.”
Allah reminds us in the Quran never to lose hope. He says: O My servants who has transgressed against their souls, despair not in the Mercy of Allah. For Allah forgives all sins. For He is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.
But how can we fill our hearts with the true richness? How do we escape the constant bombardment from every direction to worship other things? Commanding us to take idols to our hearts and loving them as we should love Him. How do we escape true poverty of allowing any competitor of entering into our hearts. How do we escape the poverty of enslaving ourselves to another deity, which Allah speaks about in the Quran when he says: There are men who take for worship others besides Allah, as equal with Him. They love them as they should only love Allah. But those of faith are overflowing in their love for Allah.
To escape true poverty we need to be overflowing in our love for Allah. Your strongest love should be for God. But you can’t love someone you don’t know. You need to know Him. You don’t know someone that you don’t speak to. Speak to Him. Ask of Him. And you can’t love someone you don’t remember. Remember Him. And remember Him often.
And so this is a call for all those who have been enslaved by the tyranny of the self and imprisoned in the dungeon of the nafs and desires. It’s a call to all those who have entered into the ocean of Dunya. Who have sunk into its depths and became trapped in its crushing waves. Rise up. Rise up to the air. To the real world above the prison of this ocean. Rise up to your freedom. Rise up to the light of this life. And leave the death of your soul behind you. Your heart can still live and be stronger and purer than it ever was. Remember that the polish of toubah makes the heart more beautiful than it ever was. Remove the veil that you have sewn with your sins. Remove the veil between you and life. Between you and freedom. Between you and light. Between you and God. Remove the veil and rise up. Come back to yourself before it’s too late. Because many of us think we can live our lives however we want and then at the time of death say “La illaha ilAllah”. But at the time of death the tongue cannot speak except what the heart commands. Whatever is in the heart, will come out of the tongue. The impoverished heart will have nothing but love of Dunya to speak of on that day. If our heart is empty of Allah during our life, how can it be full of Allah during our death. If our heart is full of this life. Love of status. Love of wealth. Love of the creation over the Creator. It is that that will speak at the time of death. If the heart was full of grudges, jealousy, hatred, that will speak. But if it was full of the love of Allah – that will speak. If in your life your heart only carried La illaha ilAllah” truly no shelter, no refuge, no deity worthy of worship except Him. Then, and only then will the tongue be given permission to say La illaha ilAllah Muhammadu Rasūllullāh”
Allahumma ja’alnā minhum. Aameen Ya Rabbal Alameen.