Ahmad Zarruq was a 15th century Muslim scholar from Morocco. A Berber of the Barnusi tribe, he lost both his parents within a week of his birth and was raised by his grandmother, an accomplished jurist in her own right. The following counsel has been translated by Sh. Hamza Yusuf:
Know (may Allah give you and us success, and rectify our worldly and other worldly lives and grant us adherence to way of the truth in our journeys and in our sojourns) that:
Repentance is a key. And Taqwaa [awareness of Allah] is vast. And Uprightness is the source of rectification. Furthermore, a servant is never free of either blunders or shortcomings or lassitude. Therefore never be neglectful of Tawbah [repentance], and never turn away from the act of returning to Allah, and never neglect acts that bring you closer to Allah. Indeed, every time one of these three occurs, repent and return.
Every time that you make a mistake, listen and obey. Any time you display shortcoming or lack of enthusiasm, don’t desist in your efforts. Let your main concern be to remove from your outer state anything that is displeasing, and then maintain its outward state from continuous counsel.
Continue doing this until you find that your fleeing from anything outwardly displeasing is second nature, and your avoidance of the boundaries of prohibited things is as if it acts like a protective net that is placed before you.
At this point, it is time to turn inward, toward your heart’s presence, and to its reality with both reflection and remembrance. Don’t hasten the end result before you have completed the beginning.
But likewise, don’t begin without looking toward the end result. This is so because the one who seeks the outset at the end loses providential care; and the one who seeks the end at the outset loses providential guidance.
Act in accordance with principles and the appropriate legal rulings, and not in accordance with stories and fantasies. Don’t even consider stories of how things went with others, except as a tonic to strengthen your resolve. Certainly not as a reference based upon their outward forms, or what they seem to be telling us.
In all of this, depend upon a clear path you can refer to, and a foundation that you can depend upon in all of your states. The best of these is the path of Ibn Ata’illah, given that in it is a clear direction to Allah.
Do not take from others’ words unless it is in accordance with your own path, but submit to their implications if you desire realization.
Avoid all forms of vain and foul speech to your absolute utmost. Put aside anything that you cannot discern its benefit immediately.
Beware of being extremely hard on yourself before you’ve obtained a mastery over it. But also beware of being too lax with it in anything that concerns sacred rulings. This is so because it is constantly fleeing from moderation in everything, and it inclines towards extremism in both matters of deviance and guidance.
Seek out a companion to help you out in your affairs, and take his counsel concerning matters that occur from both your inward states and your outward affairs. If you do indeed take his companionship, then treat him in a manner commensurate with his state and give him of your counsel based upon his inabilities and abilities, because a perfected friend is no longer to be found. Indeed, in these times even a suitable companion who is agreeable rarely lasts!
And beware of the majority of people in matters that concern your religious and your worldly states, unless you have ascertained he has some sound relationship with his Lord based upon a knowledge that is free of his caprice or love of leadership, and a sound intellect free of the pitfalls of hidden agendas.
Do not be heedless of the machinations of others or their hidden states. Consider these two from both their origins and their actions. A person of character and family-distinction rarely affects you with other than good. And yet a person of low origin’s roots usually cause him to disregard you when times get tough.
Be extremely vigilant of the dominant qualities of a given people in any given land, and don’t be heedless of the Divine Wisdom in the creation. And notice gathered-ness and separation, some of this we have already covered in our book Al-Qawaa’id, so take a look at it there.
Organize your time in a manner appropriate to the time-specific needs using gentleness and toleration. And be very wary of either harshness or laxity. This is so because too much laxity concerning permissible matters pulls the heart backward in its journey, until even a man of resolve ends up looking like a foolish boy.
Work for this world as if you would live forever, but work for your next life as if you would die tomorrow. Thus do not neglect the externals of your worldly needs. In the meantime do not be heedless of your end and final resting-place.
Be extremely vigilant about avoiding positions of leadership, but should you be tried with such matters at least know your own limitations. Be absolutely sincere to Allah with the sincerity of one who knows full well Who is placing demands upon him.
Surrender completely to His Decree with the submission of one who knows he can never overcome Him. Have a firm foundation for all of your affairs and you will be safe from their pitfalls.
Organize your devotional practices, and you will find your time extended due to the barakah [blessings] in it.
Never be fanatical about anything, whether it is the truth or whether it is false, for your heart will then remain in a state of soundness towards others.
Never claim anything you are entitled to – not to mention what you’re not entitled to – and you’ll be safe from tricks and treachery. This is so because anyone who claims some rank above his own will fall in humiliation.
Whereas those who claim a rank they want will have it stripped from them. While those who claim a station less than their true rank will be elevated to even higher levels than they actually deserve.
Never give your companion anything of your state other than what his own state wants. This is so because if you go down to his level, he will show you contempt. Whereas if you attempt to raise him up to your level, he will abandon you.
Never demand a right from anyone whether an intimate or a stranger. The reason for this is a stranger in reality owes you nothing, and someone close to you is too precious to direct your blame to him.
Never assume that anyone in this world can really understand your circumstances other than from the perspective of his own circumstances. This is so because in reality everyone only sees things in accordance with their frames of reference and their personal path. However when aims, purposes and aspirations are similar, people tend to work together toward a common goal.
Never belittle any talk that involves absent people, even if there is no harm in it due to the possibility of harm entering into it. Guard your secrets even if you feel safe with someone, because the one you divulge your secret to is not a safer place than your own heart from whence it emanates.
Never leave an atom’s weight of your regular devotional practice. Never be lenient with yourself in either lax times or times of high resolve. Indeed, should you miss some of your practice in a given time, redress it in another time. If you’re not able to do your usual practice, at least occupy yourself with something else similar.
Never obey your ego even for a moment, nor believe any of its claims no matter what it tells you.
Be vigilant about your resolve in all of your affairs to your utmost. In fact, should you resolve to do something, then do it immediately before the resolve wanes.
Examine your soul constantly in matters that you are obliged to do, or are needed to be done. Anything you are in no need of doing, leave it. Even if it is something that is recommended. That means not involving yourself in anything other than absolutely necessary things, and real discernable needs.
Treat others just as you would want to be treated, and fulfill to them what is due to them. All of this is really epitomized in the words of the poet when he said,
If you desire to live such that your religion is safe, And your portion is full and your honor is sound, Guard your tongue and never mention another’s faults Remembering you yourself have faults and others have tongues.
Watch your eye; Should it ever reveal to you the faults of others say to it,
“O my eye! Other people have eyes too!”
Live treating others well and avoid aggression. And should others aggress against you. Leave them but in the best way. The source of these words is in fact nothing other than the traditions of the Prophet ﷺ when he said, “Be vigilant of Allah wherever you are, and follow a misdeed with a good deed, and it will remove it. And treat others with the most excellent of character.”
In another, he ﷺ said, “Every child of Adam makes mistakes, and the best of those who make mistakes are those who seek to redress them. Again, the Holy Spirit inspired my heart’s core that no soul will die until it fulfills its decreed portion of this world and its appointed time here. So be conscious of Allah and make your request with dignity.”
In summation: Repentance, Awareness of Allah and Uprightness are the foundations of all that is beneficial. The Truth is clear, and its details are weighty and significant. The affair belongs only to Allah. Success is in His Hands.