By Dr. Jasser Auda
The tree of humiliation stems from a seed of neediness. Nothing deceives you as your illusion. You are free from what you gave up on, and you are a slave to what you are in need of.
Cleaning up before beautification is still passing through the stage of searching for another flaw which affects one’s belief which is that of feeling humiliated by others. Because trying to discover the flaws within you is better than trying to discover the worlds hidden from you, Ibn `Ata’illah analyses the reason behind this flaw and shows us how to overcome it.
The direct reason for feeling humiliated by people is neediness. Ibn `Ata’illah eloquently expresses this in the following words: “The tree of humiliation stems from a seed of neediness.” The small seed of neediness is watered with words and actions through which one tries to reach his goals, and thus, he feels deeply humiliated.
Then Ibn `Ata’illah says: “Nothing deceives you as your illusion. You are free from what you gave up on, and you are a slave to what you are in need of.”
A Slave to Others
Neediness makes you a slave to others than God. But what is the reason behind neediness? What is the reason behind being a slave to others than God and feeling humiliated by others? Ibn `Ata’illah tells us that the main reason behind all this is illusion, so he says: “Nothing deceives you as your illusion.” The question is: what is the illusion about which Ibn `Ata’illah is talking?
The one who is need of what people have might think that those people will benefit or harm him. For example, he might think that people who have power or wealth will bring benefit or harm to him, so he becomes greedy and thus feels humiliated by others.
In fact, people never bring benefit or cause harm to others. God is the creator of good and the creator of the harmful. Neediness is the source of humiliation, and illusion is the source of neediness.
Ibn `Ata’illah says that nothing deceives you as the illusion that people benefit or harm you. It is true that you have to interact with people, ask them to help you with something or do you a favor. There is nothing wrong with this as long as seeking peoples’ help does not imply any neediness which produces humiliation. This feeling of humiliation is the result of the illusion that people might benefit or harm others.
The Prophet (peace be upon him) says: “Ask for your needs with dignity.” It is normal to ask for your needs, but when you ask people to do you a favor or ask them for money, you have to ask them with dignity, i.e. without feeling humiliated or having a greedy attitude. You should not plant the seed of neediness as it leads to humiliation, which grows like the tree. Eventually, humiliation turns into a state of being a slave to others than God.
If you free yourself from the illusion that people have the ability to benefit or harm you, you will be saved. The Prophet (peace be upon him) told Ibn `Abbas (may God be pleased with him) when he was young that:
“If the whole nation were to unite and try to benefit you in something, they would never benefit you except by that which God has written for you. And if the whole nation were to unite and try to harm you in something, they would never be able to harm you except that God had written it upon you.”
The real freedom is servitude to God. This is the definition of freedom in the Islamic perspective of life. If you are a servant to God, then you are free from others than Him. You are free from human beings. You are free from any social, economic, psychological or financial pressures. You are free from all this because “you are from what you gave up on.”
If you have a sound belief in God and you are trusting God, you feel sure that people cannot benefit or harm you. You will become a real servant to God. No humiliation, no neediness, no illusion.
Ibn `Ata’illah’s saying that the tree of humiliation stems from a seed of neediness is achieved when one asks God only and feels humiliated before Him alone. This feeling of humiliation supports the concept of servitude to God which is the real meaning of freedom, i.e. you become a servant to God alone through asking from Him and giving up the idea that people can benefit or harm.
The more you ask from God alone and the more you rely on Him, the more you feel humiliated before Him. Eventually this feeling of humiliation leads to the feeling of dignity.
Based on this, the word of wisdom that says: “the tree of humiliation stems from a seed of neediness” can be understood from two sides: first, the human side in which one shows a greedy attitude to what people have. This attitude is in itself an illusion because the one who causes benefit and harm is God, the Almighty. We should rid ourselves of this attitude which makes one a slave to others than God.
The other side which helps us understand Ibn `Ata’illah’s words is to ask God alone and seek His provision only with a feeling of humiliation which leads to a state of servitude to God. What a beautiful servitude and what a great freedom which you can enjoy only when you serve God alone. If you become a real servant to God, then you are free from others and you are journeying to Him.
The article is excerpted from “Some of Al-Hikam Al-Ataiyyah” (The Path to God: A Journey with Ibn `Ata’illah’s Words of Wisdom In the Light of the Quran, the Prophetic Tradition, and Universal Laws of God- By Dr. Jasser Auda