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September 27, 2018

“I am My slave’s opinion of Me”

Shaykh Ebrahim Discourse delivered 19/8/17. 
Audio is available at the bottom of the page.

Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala promises us that He is His slave’s opinion of Him. That very simple phrase carries with it an almost terrifying responsibility and accountability. We know that wherever you turn in the Face of Allah. And whatever that Face is saying to you, whatever expression that Face has towards you, is a reflection of your opinion of The Face. What comes first is the opinion. This means to say that in the most deep and profound sense, the world that we deal with is our product. What we experience from the world is our own creation. The way in which we experience the world – how we experience the world’s engagement with us, other people’s engagement with us – is absolutely and singularly our own accountability.

This is a lesson which people in this age swallow very hard at. It is so easy for us to make the woes of our life the fault of some other. “I’ve been oppressed, therefore I am poor, and the world is miserable.” “The city that I live in is violent and therefore I’m unsafe.” “People around me are self serving and therefore I have to control them.” “My life is difficult, my life has problems and I am needy of other people’s intervention in my interest, otherwise my life is a disaster.” All of this experience of the world, which is challenging to us, which is injurious to us, which makes us feel like we’re the victim of the world, this is absolutely our own creation. What comes first is not the world’s behaviour towards you, what comes first is your opinion of the world. No matter how justified you think your ill feeling is, no matter how correct you think it is that you think you should have a sense of being treated like a victim and being treated unfairly, no matter how just your outrage is – understand, the thing that you’re outrageous at is your product. You have made it. Because He has said, and He doesn’t lie, He is His slave’s opinion of Him. So if you have a bad experience of His Face, this is your opinion of your Rabb that has produced that Face. And if you’re miserable, and you seek to change your experience of the world, then don’t seek to go and get more from the world, or demand that the world treats you better. Change your opinion of the world, change your opinion of your Rabb. Learn, wherever you see curse, to find the blessing. Make it your habit to find the blessing. It is such an easy thing to do.

So the man has lost his foot in an accident. He could spend the rest of his life wailing about the fact that he has a missing foot. He could also say, well what’s the benefit that has come out of this? And if he thought about it carefully he’d say, well at least I have another foot, I can still walk, I’ve got a leg, I’ve experienced such kindness from other people, who have rallied around me and helped and supported me in my crisis. If he looked for it he could find at least as many if not more blessings to the injury that he’s had than curses.

What you have to understand is that if you take whatever He gives you – whatever His Face provides you with – if you take that and you choose to find in it blessing, then what will come subsequently will be blessing. But if He presents you with something and you choose to find in it curse, then He will visit you with more curse. And how do we know this? Because Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala has given us other human beings as the practice ground and as the kindergarten to understand how the rules of intent work. He says all our actions are judged by their intention. All our actions are judged by Him by their intention. Also, our actions are judged by other people based on their intention. How often have you heard someone say “such and such behaved so badly… but don’t worry his intentions were good” and that forgives the behaviour. We ourselves judge people by their intention. We know that if we are kind with somebody and he responds in an ungrateful way, then you will not ever give that person anything again. So you give somebody some food or some help or whatever, and he treats you like it was owed to him, he treats you like it was his right over you to get it. Next time the person asks for anything you’re going to say, “I’m not giving him anything, he’s ungrateful.” That person’s ingratitude disables your generosity. If, however, you do the slightest thing for the person and you get a sense of genuine gratitude out of the person, then the next time it’s easier to give to that person. So Allah gives us our interaction with other people as the practice ground, where we can learn how He deals with us.

In any moment where you haven’t died, there’s more blessing than curse, by definition. So in any given situation, if you are still alive one moment to the next, there’s an impossible, incalculable number of things that have gone right without your managing of the affair, in your interest, to have allowed you to have carried on standing. Which means to say that not to look at any situation that’s in front of you with deep gratitude is not seeing the truth of the matter. When you see what’s in front of you with deep gratitude and you say, truly, alhamdulillah, then this is like a human being that you give something to saying thank you. It’s easier to give to that person.

Your good opinion of your Rabb is translated into an ongoing recitation of gratitude towards your Rabb. If you make your habit of responding to what your Rabb gives to you gratitude, thankfulness, then the Face that He will start to show you will be a pleasing face. A bad opinion is one that is rooted in resentment, and resentment says, I haven’t been given enough. A good opinion is based in gratitude. Gratitude says, I’ve been given in excess of my due. Any human being who consistently reminds themselves of how profoundly they’ve been given in excess of their due will solicit the most copious and unrestrained gifts from their Rabb. And those gifts will not just be gifts of material things, those gifts will be the gifts that matter. Those gifts will be the gift of a peaceful heart, of certitude (yaqeen), of deep knowing that your life is not arbitrary and you aren’t being batted around by forces beyond your control, that you’re in the middle of a world that has your best interests at heart, because the world that you’re in is His Face. You don’t have to look after yourself, you’re already looked after in ways that you can’t even begin to fathom.

So of the most useful work that we can do starts off with taking responsibility for what it feels like to be ourselves. When we find in ourselves any traces of resentment or ill feeling – immediately go to work to change the character of that resentment or ill feeling to one that’s rooted in gratitude. Because that is learning the habit of having a good opinion of your Rabb. It is that opinion than produces the world.

The kufar have the opinion that we are material objects being driven by forces beyond our control, things like natural selection and survival of the fittest, all these mechanical programmes that produce our lives. This is just so false. You are not the product of the world, your world is your product because your world is the Face that your Rabb gives you based on your opinion of Him. So, if your world is not satisfying to you, then stop trying to fix the world and abuse it, change your opinion of Him and change your opinion of His world – and your world will change. I can say this on personal authority. I don’t think I’m different from any other human being in this age, I’ve also had my fair share of victimhood in my life. I’ve also had my fair share of being done in, being ill treated and being done injustice to. And I can say with the benefit of hindsight, that all of the suffering I had on the basis of this experience of being done in was my own product. I produced it. It’s a great sadness that you have to bump into this truth later in life. Hopefully if you discover it when you’re younger, you can rescue a little bit more of your life.

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