Back in the mid 1990′s I purchased a copy of Revelations of the Unseen (Futuh al-Ghayb) by Shaykh ‘Abdal Qadir al-Jilani. The English translation of the book had been undertaken by Muhtar Holland who had also earlier translated Imam al-Ghazali’s Inner Dimensions of Islamic Worship, a book I had enjoyed reading and which I had learned a lot from.
As with many sufi-oriented books, there was quite a bit of stuff in Revelations of the Unseen that frankly seemed a bit barmy to me, but here is the forty-second discourse from the book which I did find useful:
On the two conditions of the self [nafs]
The Shaikh (may Allah be well pleased with him, and grant him contentment) said:
The self [nafs] has two conditions and no third: The state of wellbeing and the state of tribulation. When it is undergoing tribulation, the signs are anxiety, complaining, resentment, protest and suspicion toward the Lord of Truth (Glorious and Exalted is He), and lack of patience, contentment and compliance. Indeed, there is likely to be ill-mannered behavior, the association of creatures and material objects with the Creator, and unbelief. When, on the other hand, it is in the state of well-being, the signs are greed, impetuosity, and the pursuit of carnal lusts and pleasures. As soon as it gratifies one desire, it goes after another, belittling the blessings it already possesses, such as food, drink, clothing, spouse, dwelling and means of transport. It finds faults and defects in each one of these blessings, wanting something superior and finer that is not part of its destined lot, while shunning what has been allotted to it. Thus the person gets into all kinds of trouble, and wades into many perils in a long and weary process that has no end or termination in either this world or the hereafter. As the saying goes: “Truly the harshest of punishments is the desire to have what is not one’s allotted share.”
When the self is undergoing tribulation, it wishes only to see it removed, forgetting all about enjoyment, lust and pleasure, and wanting none of them. Once relieved of suffering, however, it reverts to its frivolity, greed and impetuosity, to its recalcitrant disobedience of its Lord and its dedication to sinful rebellion against Him. It forgets all the trouble and pain, all the misfortune it went through previously. Now it is afflicted with even harsher trials and tribulations, because of the major sins it has perpetrated and committed, to wean it away from these and to restrain it from sinful acts in future, since well-being and comfort had failed to reform it, and its safekeeping lay rather in tribulation and pain.
If the self had behaved itself well when the affliction was removed, and had practiced obedience, gratitude and contentment with its lot, things would have been better for it in this world and the hereafter. It would have experienced increasing comfort, well-being, approval from Allah (Almighty and Glorious is He), pleasure, and help toward success.
Anyone who wishes for safety in this world and the hereafter must therefore cultivate patience and contentment. He must give up complaining to people, submit his needs to his Lord (Almighty and Glorious is He), practice obedience to Him, wait for happiness to come from Him, and be devoted exclusively to Him (Almighty and Glorious is He), since He is better than any other and than His entire creation. His deprivation is actually a gift, His punishment a blessing, His trial a remedy, His promise ready cash, His word a deed, His will a state of being. Surely His word “and His command when He intends a thing, is to say to it ‘Be,’ and it is” (36:82). All His deeds are good and wise and beneficial, although He keeps knowledge of the benefits concealed from His servants and reserves it to Himself alone. For His servants, therefore, it is most fitting and proper to be in a state of contentment and submission, to be dedicated to servanthood by fulfilling commandments, observing prohibitions, and submitting to the decree of destiny, to abandon preoccupation and combat with Lordship, which is the source of destiny’s decrees, to be silent on questions of why and how and when, and to give up suspicion of the Lord of Truth (Almighty and Glorious is He) in all His phases of movement and repose.
All of this rests on the authority of the hadith of Ibn ‘Abbas (may Allah be well pleased with him and his father), from whom it is transmitted by ‘Ata’. Ibn ‘Abbas said: “I was riding behind the Messenger (Allah bless him and give him peace) when he said to me: ‘My boy, take care of Allah and He will take care of you. Take care of Allah and you will find Him in front of you. So when you have something to ask, ask Allah, and when you seek help, seek help from Allah. The pen has already run dry from writing all that is to be, so if His servants were to strive to bring you some benefit not decreed for you by Allah, they would not be capable of it, and if His servants were to strive to cause you some injury not decreed for you by Allah, they would not be able to do it. So if you can relate to Allah with honesty and certitude [yaqin], do so; and if you cannot, there is much good in being patient with what you dislike. Know that help resides in patience, joy with sorrow, and “with hardship comes ease” (94:5).’ “
It behooves every believer to make this hadith a mirror for his heart, to wear it as his undergarment and his outer garb, to treat it as his own hadith, on which he should act in all conditions, be he in motion or at rest, so that he may be safe in this world and the hereafter, and receive honor in both domains through the mercy of Allah (Almighty and Glorious is He).