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'Treatise for the Seekers of Guidance'

: poignant reminders and practical advice for the believers

May 30, 7:23 AM · J. Samia Mair - Baltimore Muslim Examiner

What are the signs of this in a truthful servant? When he studies he contemplates; when he falls silent he reflects; when he speaks he mentions [God]; when something is denied him he is patient; when he is given something he is thankful; when he is tested [with a death] he says, We belong to God and unto Him we are all returning (2:156); if someone behaves ignorantly with him he bears their abuse; when he learns something he humbles himself; when he teaches something he does so with gentleness; and when questioned he responds to the full extent of his knowledge. (pp. 117-18)

Imam Zaid Shakir’s translation, commentary & notes on Imam al-Harith al-Muhasibi’s Risala al-Mustarshidin (Treatise for The Seekers of Guidance) is a page-turner, offering great wisdom, practical advise, and much needed encouragement.

When I read, I make a checkmark in pencil next to passages I want to revisit and write the page numbers of especially poignant remarks on the blank page normally found at the back of the book. In this book, I have checkmarks—sometimes multiple checkmarks—on most pages and the blank page and inside back cover are full of page references. I literally had to slow myself down when reading it. It was one of those books that when I finished, I was sad it was over.

Imam Abu ‘Abdullah al-Harith bin Asad al-Muhasibi was born in Basra between 165/781 and 170/786 and died in Baghdad in 243/857. He was a scholar and narrator of hadith and considered by many to be among the great intellectuals in Islamic history.

According to Imam Zaid, “Imam al-Muhasibi’s major intellectual contribution was in the development of what was to become the science of Sufism, or Islamic spirituality and moral psychology.”(p. viii) In Risala, Imam al-Muhasibi bases his arguments on the Qur’an and the Sunnah of the Prophet, may Allaah bless him and grant him abundant peace, which, according to Imam Zaid, gives the book “a wide reception among common Muslims, even those who do not readily identify with Sufism.”(p. x)

Imam Zaid Shakir is a respected and influential Islamic scholar in his own right. He spent many years studying Arabic, Islamic law, Qur’anic studies, and spirituality in Cairo, Syria, and Morocco and graduated from Syria’s prestigious Abu Noor University. He currently is a scholar-in-residence at Zaytuna Institute and founder of the website New Islamic Directions.

Treatise for The Seekers of Guidance is an easy visual read. The translated text of Imam al-Muhasibi is in black boldface, followed by Imam Zaid’s commentary in normal type. Translated Qur’anic verses are italicized and hadiths are identified as such and sources cited in endnotes.

The book is a surprisingly easy intellectual read as well, considering the potential complexities of the content. Imam Zaid also tries to root his commentary in the Qur’an and Hadith and expounds upon Imam al-Muhasibi’s text in an eloquent, insightful, and clear fashion.

A good example of the format is as follows:

Never consider any sin to be insignificant, never divulge a secret, never reveal what God has concealed, never contemplate committing a sin, and never persistently commit a minor transgression. (p. 163)

Imam Zaid begins his commentary on this text as follows:

"This advice is extremely relevant as many times we place ourselves in spiritual danger by having our hearts stained by numerous sins that we never bother to repent from because we deemed them insignificant. Another dangerous habit that afflicts many people is making it easy for themselves to fall into minor sins. One of the sages mentioned, “There are no minor sins if they are persistently engaged in and there are no major sins if they are eradicated by repentance.” (p. 163)

Iman Zaid continues, explaining the two ways in which minor sins become major sins.

Treatise for The Seekers of Guidance helped me to understand Qur’anic verses in new ways, clarified for me some important aspects of the deen, and provided the sources of statements that I had read before but were never properly cited. Overall, I finished the book feeling intellectually satisfied and spiritually nurtured. I end with a bit of practical advice from the commentary:

"It is said whenever you feel arrogant go and stand next to a mountain."

Note: This article was originally published in Islamic Ink.

For more info: Imam Zaid's Website

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