Braving the Obstacles

Abdessalam Yassine

April 7, 2013

Excerpt from “Muslim Women: Journey into the Light V.1
Translated from Arabic by Farouk Bouasse

God accepts only from those who are wary of God (muttaqun) (5:29). That is how the envied son of Adam (Abel) replied when his brother (Cain) threatened to slay him out of envy and jealousy. Relating their story to us in Surat al-Ma›ida, God accepted his sacrifice and refused his brother’s.

Then Cain murdered his brother and became one of the lost ones. He ruined himself as did the people of hell about whom God has said: “They have lost their souls.” (7:53)

The sons and daughters of this world succumb to the control of their egos. Passions gain mastery over their intention and lead them to eternal destruction and manifest loss. Their egos destroy them and their passions hurl them into abysses. They lose their souls when they prefer caprices and succumb to base impulses, turning aside from the lofty appeal to God and to the hereafter.

God, Exalted is He, has said: “And for him who rebelled and chose the life of this world, the abode will be the Fire. And for him who feared to stand before his Lord and restrained his soul from passions, the abode will be Paradise.” (79:37-40)

The victorious, prosperous division is that of those who restrain their souls from passions, who are guided by their resisting will against passions, fearful of standing before their Lord. Their abode will be Paradise in the hereafter. They have pledges and glad tidings of that. They are wary of God and safeguard their religion; God accepts their deeds. They will have precedence over others by their righteous faith, righteous deeds, and firm resolution, not by base, ignoble tendencies.

God promised the pious ones a goodly reward: “Those will be rewarded for their patient endurance with the highest place, and they will be met therein with greetings and peace. To abide therein: how beautiful an abode and place of rest!” (25:75-76). The place is Paradise, the highest place in Paradise. Among what is delightful therein is the greeting from God’s angels who will come to them from every gate. The highest felicity therein is beholding the Face of God, the Sovereign, the Bestower.

No room will there be in those high places for the slaves of passions and egos. The abode and the place of rest will be for the slaves of the Merciful, those who are wary of God.

The main virtue for which they received the lofty reward and the highest rank is patience, as we previously read in the verse: “Those will be rewarded for their patient endurance (sabr) with the highest place” (25:75). And the greeting of the angels, as related in another verse, is: “Peace be upon you, because you persevered in patience.” (13:25)

This patience (sabr), which is the father and mother of virtues: what is it? The imams of the language say: “al-imsak (perseverance, endurance) and sabr (patience). Patience is to hold the ego to the doing of what is determined for it by the Law (1) and by reason (Patience is therefore of two kinds: to keep the ego from doing what is prohibited by the Islamic Law and by reason, and to urge the ego to acquire certain manners and perform certain deeds, acts of worship, and sayings enjoined by the Islamic Law and reason.

To restrain the ego from passions is similar to reprimanding one’s beast and holding it back from eating fodder. That is the linguistic origin of the verb sabara.

Thus we see that the virtue of controling the ego and holding it back from yielding to passions, from the deviations of instincts and from following the steps of Satan as well as of prompting the ego to do acts of obedience—for God’s sake as worship of God, out of fear of Him and belief in His promise—is the virtue around which is centered one’s fortune or misfortune, one’s success or perdition.

God’s promise for the pious ones who persevered in patience is the highest station in Paradise, salutation, and peace. The promise was recounted in the last verses of Surat al-Furqan after God had related to us the virtues of His servants—the servants of the Most Gracious—“who say: our Lord, grant us wives and offspring who will be the comfort of our eyes, and make us a pattern for the righteous (muttaqun) to follow!” (25:74)

Look in the Qur›an, sister in faith, at Surat al-Furqan from verse 63, check the Qur›an’s commentaries, examine and discuss with the believing women the virtues of the servants of God, the Most Gracious. Learn that the Book of God, Exalted is He, came to us in plain Arabic language and its grammar refers in the masculine plural collectively to women and men alike. This is only a linguistic preference (a rule common to other languages also). The servants of God, the Most Gracious, are the women and men who have acquired the moral virtues cited in the noble verses, including patience. The ability of the man and the woman to control their passions is the real criterion, not gender.

Felicity in the hereafter is not confined to those monks who pretend to monopolize it. Here are the servants of God, the Most Gracious, lounging peacefully as spouses on their cushions along with their offspring. Among their commendable virtues, their noble manners and their rightly guided worship, is that they pray to their Lord in this world:

“Our Lord, grant us wives and offspring who will be the comfort of our eyes, and make us a pattern for the righteous (muttaqun) to follow!” (25:74)

The prayer is uttered by either spouse or both of them. The righteous offspring and the sincere affection existing between the husband and the wife is a kind of felicity that begins in this world in the form of comfort of the eyes. Comfort of the eyes is the utmost felicity. What the believing man and woman may rejoice in above all is the assurance that they—and their descendants—are progressing on the path to eternal bliss.

How to acquire the virtues of determination and resolve that resist passions and that have command of the ego and of the destination of one’s progress? In other words, how to achieve felicity? Can patience make one felicitous outside the circle of iman? Is patience a human virtue present in every fitra (2) , or is it along with iman something that is acquired through spiritual education? How is iman renewed, and how does it become worn out? How does iman increase, and how does it decrease? How can one train and strengthen one’s will? How is the ego restrained and dissuaded from passions? These are essential questions that will be broached and examined in this book, God willing.

Let us now ponder the path leading to felicity that is taken by the pious servants of God, the Most Gracious. It is an arduous path fraught with obstacles and ordeals. It fully carries the heavy, profound meaning of the word “patience.” It is a matter of responsibility, strength, and determination. It is a matter of iqtiham (braving obstacles). The word iqtiham carries a mighty significance. Muslim linguists (God have mercy on them) say: “Iqtiham is to brave formidable adversities”.

In Surat al-Balad, an insistent appeal is made by God to man in order that he may brave the obstacles and proceed towards and along the steep path. The appeal is addressed to the human being, male and female alike. We speak elsewhere of our understanding of the obstacles and the means to overcome them. Here we return to the linguistic meaning of sabr and iqtiham and to their prerequisites in a world in constant effervescence and agitation. The righteous sister is recommended to acquire virtues and resist vices, to build up the strength of iman and resolve in order to ascend the ranks of scholarly, moral, and spiritual perfection and attain excellence in jihad.

In this first section of the first chapter, we have given precedence in our presentation to the subjective force of the believing man and woman because it is the decisive factor in the battle between Islam and jahiliyya (3) and the condition for receiving God’s assistance and earning victory. By subjective force I mean the efficacious force of iman that is consolidated by the manners recommended by iman, and the will-power from iman steered towards a destination that is gratifying in the eyes of God, cognizant of the steepness of and the obstacles on the path leading to felicity, and generous in expenditure of one’s money and oneself—regarded as a small investment against the recompense of the highest place in the Garden, the salutation of the angels, peace, and the utmost pleasure of beholding God’s Noble Face.

In the following pages, God willing, we will devote ample space to consideration of the current state of Islam, Muslims and the world, the obstacles set up in reality, the seductive powers of passions, the tangle of paths made by Satan’s steps, the complexities of politics and economy, the deteriorating condition of the man and the woman, the duties of reawakening Muslims, and the lineaments of a future foreshadowing fierce battles in which Muslims, men and women, will inevitably have to engage.

It would be evidence of imbecility and ignorance of our dīn if we engage in discussions about the world’s current and future issues while saying nothing about what is essential. The essential, the quintessential, is to know the destination of this man who speaks of Islam, that woman who acclaims Islam, and those people who raise Islamic slogans, who use violence or diplomacy, who bargain with or oppose, who resist or flatter, despotic regimes in Muslim countries.

This woman, that man, and those people, what is their motivation? What is their utmost knowledge of God? What is the essence of their iman? What kind of education did they have? What kind of education do they circulate among themselves?

We no doubt manifest stupidity and ignorance of our dīn and of the meaning of jihad, indeed we abandon our weapons for that jihad and engage in nonsense, if we resist external tyrannies while in our own interior selves we permit the tyrannical forces of passions to maintain their regimes unchallenged. We cannot know how to overcome the power those passions have over us if we do not know what our motivation is: is it anger for God’s sake and a response to God’s call, or is it the instinct of self-defence, resistance, and joining of forces against injustice that is a common denominator shared by people with patriotic, ideological, and nationalistic motivations?

Our destination and the purity of our intention are menaced by the contagious, artificial argumentation with equals and rivals, friends and adversaries. In the field of social work the temptations to indifference and disengagement lie in wait for the believing women and men. In the field of confrontation, disputation with enemies and opponents is another potential ambush: you strike and they strike, they act and you react. One day—you will not feel it—you will end up discarding your thinking, turning away from your destination, and fully adopting the other’s lifestyle—right down to your fingertips.

Some are fervent in wanting to change the condition of Muslims. Some women agonized over the atrocities perpetrated in Bosnia and Herzegovina. A student girl put on the hijab (4) out of enthusiasm. Another was touched by a sermon. Another, whose relative died, was rebuked, and felt reverence and humility for a few days.

Poor people! Poor woman! They were visited by a shadow of repentance that did not become real. A woman opened the Qur›an, another heard the recital of God’s verses but did not feel a tremor in her heart, nor did her iman increase. All of them run on the expectation of the Islamic dawn with the numerous voices of the blessed Islamic Renascence. (5)

What is their destination, and how will they get there? What willpower do we have, what strength do we have, to brave the obstacles? These are the main questions that must be answered first of all.

Praise is due to God, first and last.


1[Translator’s note:] The Islamic Law is called sharī‹a in Arabic, which means “the way.” The Muslim, submissive to God, follows a way, a disciplined path, a method of life. Sharī‹a, the way, covers the entire normative field of individual and social life; it is not restricted to actionable rules and regulations, which the term “law” normally connotes. It comprehends, for example, the rites of worship, and therefore it can in many contexts serve as a synonym for “din”, the religion as way of life.
2[Translator’s note:] fitra is a Qur‹anic term meaning natural or given disposition, distinct from the changes to it that are the effects of social and environmental factors.
3[Translator’s note:] jahiliyya, from the root jahala, has two meanings, being ignorant and being violent. According to Imam Yassine, the term connotes both ignorance of God and violence against human beings. In the Qur›an jahiliyya has four aspects: misbelief (zann al-jahiliyya), malgovernance (hukm al-jahiliyya), coquetry (tabarruj al-jahiliyya), and tribalism (hamiyyat al-jahiliyya).
4[Translator’s note:] hijab, meaning a screen, is used as term for the Islamic dress for women; however, it is often used to mean the headscarf or head-covering. The style of hijab varies from country to country and from one individual to another; it is essentially loose fitting garments to cover (rather than expose or caricature) the woman’s body, in particular the head and neck.
5[Translator’s note:] By “Islamic Renascence” is meant the general awakening, awareness, and return of the current Muslim generations to their Islamic identity, ethics, and values, and their aspiration to see Islam prevail in their lands as a faith and a way of life.