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Khushu’: The Humbleness of Heart

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Section on Khushu’ from Ma’ariful Qur’an – a must read!

Khushu’: The Humbleness of Heart

Verse 45 (Surah Baqarah) speaks of the humble in heart. The “humbleness of heart” (Khushu‘), which the Holy Qur’an and the Hadith speak of, connotes a restfulness of heart and humility arising out of the awareness of Allah’s majesty and of one’s own insignificance in comparison to it. This quality, once acquired, shows its spiritual fruitfulness in making the obedience to Allah and submission to Him easy and pleasant for one; sometimes it reflects itself even in the bodily posture and appearance of the man who has acquired it, for such a man always behaves in a disciplined and polite manner, is modest and humble, and seems to be “broken-hearted”, that is to say, one who has lost all vanity and self-love. If a man does not bear genuine humility and fear of Allah in his heart, he does not, with all his external modesty and downcast looks, really possess the quality of Khushu’ (humbleness of heart). In fact, it is not proper even to show the signs of Khushu’ in one’s behavior deliberately. On seeing a young man sitting with his head bowed down, the rightly-guided Khalifah Sayyidna ‘Umar   said: “Raise your head! Humbleness of heart is in the heart.” Ibrahim Nakha’i has said: “Humbleness of heart does not mean wearing rough clothes, eating coarse food and keeping the head bowed down. Humbleness of heart is to treat the high and the low alike in matters of truth, and to keep the heart free to devote itself entirely to Allah and to the performance of what Allah has made obligatory for you.” Similarly, Hasan of Basra has said : “The Caliph ‘Umar would speak loudly enough to be heard, whenever he spoke, would walk swiftly, whenever he walked, and would strike forcefully, whenever he struck a man. All the same, he undoubtedly was a man with a real humbleness of heart.” In short, wearing deliberately and by one’s own choice, the looks of a man who possesses the humbleness of heart is a kind of self-delusion and a ruse of Satan, and hence reprehensible. But if a man happens to manifest such signs without knowing it, he can be excused. (Qurtubi)

Let us add that there is another word - Khudu’ - which is often used along with Khushu’, and which appears several times in the Holy Qur’an as well. The two words are almost synonymous. But the word Khushu’, according to its lexical root, refers to the lowering of the voice and of the glance when it is not artificial but arises out of a real modesty and fear of Allah – for example, the Holy Qur’an says: “Voices have been hushed” (20:108). On the other hand, the word “Khudu’” refers to the bodily posture which shows modesty and humility – for example, the Holy Qur’an says: “So their necks will stay humbled to it.” (26:4) We must also define as to what, in the eyes of the Shari’ah, the exact position and value of Khushu’ is with regard to Salah. The Holy Qur’an and the Hadith repeatedly stress its importance as in: “And perform the prayer for the sake of My remembrance.” (20:14)

Obviously, forgetfulness is the opposite of remembrance and hence the man who becomes unmindful of Allah while offering Salah, is not fulfilling the obligation of remembering Allah. Another verse says: “Do not be among the unmindful.” (7:205)

Similarly, the Holy Prophet   has said: “The Salah simply means self-abasement and humility.” Says another hadith:  “If his prayers do not restrain a man from immodesty and evil, he goes farther and farther away from Allah.” Salah offered unmindfully does not obviously restrain man from evil deeds, and consequently such a man goes farther and farther away from Allah.

Having quoted these verses and ahadith in support of other arguments in his Ihya’ al-’Ulum, Imam al-Ghazali suggests that Khushu’ must then be a necessary condition forSalah, and that its acceptability must depend on it. He adds that, according to the blessed Companion, Mu’adh ibn Jabal and jurists as great as Sufyan al-Thawri and Hasan al-Basri, Salah offered without Khushu’ is not valid.

On the other hand, the four great Imams of Islamic jurisprudence and most of the jurists do not hold Khushu’ to be a necessary condition for Salah. In spite of considering it to be the very essence of Salah, they say that the only condition necessary in this respect is that while saying Allahu Akbar at the beginning of the prayers one should turn with all one’s heart to Allah, and have the intention (niyyah) of offering the prayers only for the sake of Allah; if one does not attain Khushu’ in the rest of the prayers, one will not get any reward for that part of the prayers, but, from the point of view of Fiqh(jurisprudence), one will not be charged with having forsaken Salah, nor will one be liable to the punishment which is meted out to those who give up prescribed prayers without a valid excuse.

Imam al-Ghazali has provided an explanation for this divergence of view. The Fuqaha(jurists), he points out, are not concerned with inner qualities and states of the heart (Ahwal), but only enunciate the exoteric regulations of the Shari’ah on the basis of the external actions of men’s physical organs – it does not lie within the jurisdiction of Fiqhto decide whether one will get a reward for a certain deed in the other world or not. Khushu’ being an inner state, they have not prescribed it as a necessary condition for the total duration of Salah, but have made the validity of the prayers depend on the lowest degree of Khushu’ - turning, as one begins the prayers, with one’s heart to Allah and having the intention of only worshipping Him.

There is another explanation for not making Khushu’ a necessary condition for the total duration of the prayers. In certain other verses, the Holy Qur’an has clearly enunciated the principle which governs legislation in religious matters: nothing is made obligatory for men that should be beyond their endurance and power. Now, except for a few gifted individuals, men in general are incapable of maintaining Khushu’ for the total duration of the prayers; so, in order to avoid compelling men to a task they cannot accomplish, the Fuqaha’ have made Khushu’ a necessary condition only for the beginning of the prayers, and not for the whole duration.

In concluding the discussion, Imam al-Ghazali remarks that in spite of the great importance of Khushu’ one can depend on the infinite mercy of Allah, and hope that the man who offers his prayers unmindful will not be counted among those who give up the prayers altogether, for he has tried to fulfil the obligation, has turned his heart away from everything to concentrate his attention on Allah even for a few moments, and has been mindful of Allah alone at least while forming his intention for the prayers. Offering one’s prayers in this half-hearted manner has, to say the least, the merit of keeping one’s name excluded from the list of those who habitually disobey Allah and forsake the prescribed prayers altogether.

In short, this is a matter in which hope and fear both are involved there is the fear of having incurred punishment as well as the hope of being ultimately forgiven. So, one should try one’s best to get rid of one’s laziness and indifference. But it is the mercy of Allah alone which can help one to succeed in this effort.

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