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November 21, 2013

The Convictions of Virtue

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Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim

The trunk called the human virtue produces two main branches that all other virtues and branches flow from or start from. And the two branches are generosity and courage. All human virtue is in these two broad classes. There isn’t a third. There are only these two.

Generosity is everything about us which grants or gives us kindness – the quality of compassion; of empathy; of finding yourself in the suffering of others; and the ability to find the other interesting and significant; the capacity to listen; the capacity to be there for your brother or for your sisters in times of difficulty and distress; the ability to lay aside your own comfort and convenience for the benefit of others – is all related to this quality of generosity. This quality also, this branch of generosity, of the two branches, is most like the trunk of the tree of virtue. So one could describe the virtue of generosity as the core virtue and without that core virtue, your humanity is deeply compromised.

“Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu” – a person is a person by other people.

In South Africa we have been granted this virtue called “Ubuntu.” Ubuntu can be loosely translated as humanness and it’s described in the Xhosa expression, “Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu.” Which means a person is a person by other people. Which means you are deeply connected with others. You don’t have an independent existence from your community. You exist by them and for them. You are the same as them. There is a kindness that is like a thread that weaves everything together. Without that deep sense of connectedness, of oneness, all other virtue is nonsense. So, at the fundamental stem of our humanity, all virtues that are closest to that stem are virtues that relate directly to the quality of generosity.

The second virtue, the virtue of courage relates to all of those things that allow us to act on what is just. That allow us to confront when necessary. That allow us to command what is right and forbid what is wrong. Virtues of courage are virtues that allow us to act nobly. To be the one who will stand firm in the teeth of the catastrophe. The one who won’t quail when it looks as if the whole city is going to pot. The one who can look forgone disaster in the eye and be at peace with that possibility. And it’s precisely that ability to look forgone disaster in the eye and be at peace with the possibility, that allows you to be a moral person. Because the issue of morality, for most of us, actually is about this theme of courage. It is about being able to do what is right when it threatens your own interests to do so. When you could be injured by doing it. When your own interests could be harmed.

..one who can look forgone disaster in the eye and be at peace with that possibility

So if one has a look at all of the virtues that are related to this root of courage, honesty, for example – you only know somebody’s honest if they speak the truth when it is not in their interest to do so. Clearly honesty has got something to do with truthfulness. But if somebody’s truthful, and if you ask somebody where they live and they tell you truthfully where they live, you’ve not tested the person’s honesty because it’s not going to harm them if they speak the truth about where they live. But if you ask somebody about something that could harm their interest and they still speak the truth, you know they are honest. Similarly, you know somebody’s just when they are in a situation when what is in their own interest and what is the just thing to do are not the same and they do what is just. All of the virtues that relate to courage have that element. They require you, at some level, to be willing to take a bullet. Willing to be injured for what is right.

Everybody recognizes these two core virtues. The kuffaar recognize it. Everybody recognizes that without these two things, we somehow aren’t human. We’ve left the species. There’s no society in the world – even a kaafir society, a deeply atheist society – that would consider cruelty to people a virtue; that would consider dishonesty a virtue, that would consider brazen selfishness a virtue.

These two virtues are based on a conviction of life. They’re based on mirror assumptions about the nature of existence. So we can refer to the underlying requirement that enables these virtues to happen as two mirror convictions.

The virtue of generosity requires a conviction that the universe is an abundant place. In other words, that Allahu khairul-raziqeen – Allah is the best of providers. Without this understanding, or this conviction rather, that the universe works and that Allah has your best interest at heart and is the best of providers, even a significantly better provider than you are personally. You cannot be generous, it is not possible to be generous if you are deeply convinced that you are giving away the last and there will never be again. It is not possible to be kind, if by being kind, you have this deep seated conviction that you are doing your own interests harm that the world will not be kind to you.

This conviction that Allah is the best of the providers, that the universe is abundant, implies that the nature of the universe is superfluity, is overflowing-ness. That Allah has no need for us. This is not a transaction. You don’t have to be a good person to be able to get your spleen to work. He’s given you a working spleen whether you are a rotter or you are a generous man. He will provide for you irrespective of your gratitude to Him. So, it’s not a transaction. Which confirms the fact that He is Khairul raziqeen, that there is abundance.

If there is any sense that this is a transaction, then clearly we are not talking abundance, we are talking limited goods because limited goods require transaction; implies “How much are you giving me for what I’m giving you.” But Allah is not like that. He is fecund, He is fertile, produces superfluity, overflow, overflow. Whatever scale is true to your life is a fact of my infinity and that’s His nature. Every single attribute of generosity.

So, our own generosity is really just us exercising that conviction. And the point is that conviction. The point is not the generosity. It’s not to say that you shouldn’t be generous. But every time you are generous, you are exercising this conviction that Allah Khairul raziqeen. The second conviction, the conviction that sits behind the virtue of courage is a conviction which is described to us as, Hazbun Allahu wa nai’mal wakil – Allah is sufficient for me, I don’t need another protector.

Whenever you act in a cowardly fashion, whenever you do what is in your interest even if it is demonstrably not the right thing to do, you are basically saying to yourself and to the world, “I can look after myself. I am my own protector. I’m the one who safeguards me.”

The nature of the universe is superfluity, is overflowing-ness. Allah has no need for us.

In other words, being courageous means that you fundamentally affirm to yourself that the universe is a friendly place. The universe cannot be a friendly place, if it is unconscious and arbitrary. If – like the kuffaar say – this is all just accidents. Accidents aren’t friendly. Look at what happens to people when they’re in a car accident. Tell me if that’s friendly. Bits of us stuck over the windscreen. That’s not friendly. That’s unfriendly. So if you can’t claim that the universe is a friendly place without recognizing that there’s a deliberateness, there’s a conscious deliberateness aimed at you, it’s not accidental. Conscious deliberateness means there is a Being there. Allah’s there. It’s not accidental. To claim the universe is accidents is to claim that it’s not friendly. Accidents aren’t friendly. So, our courage is really a mechanism whereby we build on this second conviction. Which is, Hazbun Allah wa ni’mal wakil.

These two convictions, Allah khairul raziqeen & Hazbun Allah wa ni’mal wakil – between them provide us the insight of how to deal with the problem of time.

If you say, Hazbun Allah wa ni’mal wakil it means that you have no fear for the future. You know that whatever’s coming to you, He will be your Guardian Lord. And insofar as He’s decided what’s coming to you is going to take you out, there’s nothing that you can do about it to change that matter. If you affirm, Allah Khairul raziqeen you are saying that Allah’s been sufficient for me. Whatever I’ve accumulated in the past, I can be generous with it, I can give it away because He has demonstrably provided my entire life, so, why should I worry now? So, the virtues of generosity and courage are not ends in themselves. The virtues of generosity and courage are basically about producing a conviction; they help to build on a conviction – the conviction of a virtuous man. The conviction of the virtuous man is that I can lose my past and that I can make myself defenseless to my future because Allah khairul raziqeen and Hazbun Allah wa ni’mal wakil.

Which is why the kuffaar fundamentally struggle with morality. And why in these kaafir societies – like United Kingdom and Western Europe – despite the fact that they have this incredibly civilized country, at the drop of a hat, the citizens go crazy. There’s no moral fibre left. Although they’ve tried to teach them morality, four generations of atheism has made certain that it is impossible to have a moral citizen. Because you cannot have people who are truly generous and courageous if they’re deeply convinced that there’s no such thing as a Creative Genius as the Lord behind all of existence. Which means that they cannot affirm that Allah khairul raziqeen or that Hazbun Allah wa ni’mal wakil.

The purpose of being alive is not action. The purpose of being alive is this conviction.

The purpose of being alive is not action. The purpose of being alive is this conviction. And these twin convictions are not statement of faith, they’re statements of eye-witnessing. You see, when you say Hazbun Allah wa ni’mal wakil, you’re not making an outrageous proposition that I’ve just seen a man flying on a carpet, sort of statement of faith. When you say Allah Khairul raziqeen, this is an absolutely cold and clinical assessment of the truth of the matter.

If you look at absolutely everything that has gone to constitute your life to this point, there is absolutely no way that you could have done it or paid for that. Which means He’s provided for you beyond your ability to reckon, so Allah khairul raziqeen. This is truth. This is not assumption. There is a sense that belief is somehow about assumption. This is not assumption. This is demonstrable, so true. You say, Hazbun Allah wa ni’mal wakil. If you just consider for a moment all the things that could conceivably go wrong; that could kill you right now – why are you alive? You shouldn’t be alive. No human being should be alive. You could be destroyed in an instance by anything from a microbe to a meteor. Which means that Allah withholds catastrophe all the time. All the time. Because it is the nature of that which is very small to be overwhelmed by that which is catastrophically vast. And you haven’t been overwhelmed.

So to say these two convictions are convictions, they have a different character from a statement of faith. They are convictions like I’m convinced that my backside is on this carpet now is a conviction. It’s a certainty. These are certainties. Allah khairul raziqeen is a certainty. Hazbun Allah w ni’mal wakil is a certainty. They’re not assumptions, they’re not things that you have to assume or believe. They’re things you can be certain about like you’re certain the sun comes up in the East. Like you’re certain a rock is hard, you’re certain water is wet and cold. You can be certain that Allah khairul raziqeen and Hazbun Allah wa ni’mal wakil.

May Allah grant us strength.
May Allah grant us nearness to Him.
May Allah grant us annihilation in Him.
May Allah grant us death before we die.

This discourse was given by Shaykh Ebrahim after a dhikr session on the 8th of October, 2011.

One Comment on “The Convictions of Virtue

Afia Mansoor
November 22, 2013 at 4:45 am

This is so beautiful!

We are truly blessed to know you Shaykh Ebrahim… alhamdulillah!

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