(yaʾs, qunūṭ)

Najah Nadi Ahmad

Despair is the loss of hope, in particular, of Divine Mercy. The Qurʾān uses words derived from three roots to delineate various aspects of despair: y-ʾ-s, q-n-ṭ, and b-l-s. Yaʾs  (from the stem y-ʾ-s, verbal forms yaʾisa/yayʾasu) is said to be the only word in the Arabic language that begins with the letter ʾ followed by a hamza (Ibn Fāris, Maqāyīs). According to most lexicographers, yaʾs and qunūṭ (from the stem q-n-ṭ, verbal forms qanaṭ/yaqnuṭu or yaqniṭu) are synonymous, but some specify that qunūṭ is the ceasing of hope, especially of good (al-yaʾs min al-khayr), or that it is a more intensive form of yaʾs, or is its consequence (cf. Jawharī, Ṣiḥāḥ; Ibn Manẓūr, Lisān; Azharī, Tahdhīb; al-Ṣaghānī, ʿUbāb).

Definitions and Usage

The root y-ʾ-s appears in the Qurʾān 13 times: as the exaggerated adjective yaʾūs (Q 11:9; 17:83; 41:49); as the intensive verbal form X, istayʾasa (Q 12:80, 110); in two intransitive verbal forms, tayʾasū (Q 12:87) and yayʾas (Q 12:87; 13:31); and as three past intransitive verbal forms, yaʾisa (Q 5:3; 60:13), yaʾisū (Q 29:23; 60:13), and yaʾisna (Q 65:4). Six occurrences of the words derived from the stem q-n-ṭ are: intransitive verbal form qanaṭa (Q 15:56; 30:36; 39:53; 42:28); once as the plural active participle qāniṭīn (Q 15:55); and once as the intensive active participle qanūṭ (Q 41:49). Many exegetes gloss one term with the other (e.g., Tafsīrs of Ṭabarī and Ṭabarānī, sub Q 12:87; Samʿānī, Tafsīr, sub Q 15:56; Ṭabarī, Tafsīr and Māwardī, Nukat, sub Q 39:53); others make a distinction between the two. Abū Hafṣ Sirāj al-Dīn ʿUmar b. ʿAlī Ibn ʿĀdil ( says, “yaʾs is a characteristic of the heart (ṣifat al-qalb), and qunūṭ is the manifestation of its effects on one’s face, states, and appearance” (Lubāb, sub Q 41:49; cf. Zamakhsharī, Kashshāf). Shihāb al-Dīn Ibn Hajar al-Haytamī (909-973/1503-1565) considers the two to be distinct enormities and he quotes Abū Zurʿa, who states, “[qunūṭ] is more intensive than [yaʾs] because of its intensification after the mention of yaʾūs in the saying of Allah Most High [in Q 41:49], And if evil touches him, then he becomes a despairing (yaʾūs) despondent (qanū).” Al-Haytamī himself explains the difference as: “Yaʾs is when a person loses hope in any type of mercy and qunūṭ is when he becomes certain of it (al-Haytamī, al-Zawājir 1:150).

The third root used in the Qurʾān to denote despair is b-l-s; in addition to “despair”, its original meanings also denote “cutting off” (inqiṭāʿ) and “silence” (sukūt); the adjective mublis means “despondent” and “regretful” (nādim); the noun balas is said about everything which has no good (la khayr fīhā), and “ablasa min raḥmat Allah” means he despaired the Mercy of Allah. Lexicographers say Iblīs (Satan) comes from this root, and he was so named when he despaired the mercy of Allah (cf. Jawharī, Ṣiḥāḥ; Ibn Manẓūr, Lisān; al-Ṣaghānī, ʿUbāb). Of this root, there are five occurrences in Qurʾān in two forms: once in its imperfect verbal form, ablasa/yublis, On the Day the Hour is established, the criminals will be in despair (Q 30:12), and four times as the plural of active participle mublis (meaning, seized with fear and struck with despair): mublisūn (Q 6:44; 23:77; 30:49) and mublisīn (Q 43:75). Iblīs occurs 11 times (Q 2:34; 7:11; 15:31, 32; 17:61; 18:50; 20:116; 26:95; 34:20; 38:74, 75).

The verb yaʾisa can also mean “to know” (ʿalima), as in Q 13:31: Didn’t the people who believe already know (afalam yayʾas al-ladhīna āmanū) that had Allah willed, He would have guided all of mankind? Majd al-Dīn Muḥammad b. Yaʿqūb al-Fayrūzābādī (d. 817/1414) writes, “yaʾisa also means ʿalima (“to know”) in the dialect of Nakhaʿ [tribe], and from it is [the Qurʾānic verse] “afalam yayʾas al-ladhīna āmanū (didn’t the people who believe already know).” Al-Fayrūzābādī also cites a variant reading of this verse, recited by ʿAlī ibn Abī Ṭālib, may Allah be well-pleased with him, Mujāhid, Abū Jaʿfar, al-Jaḥdirī, Ibn Kathīr, and Ibn ʿĀmir: “afalam yatabayyan al-ladhīna āmanū (didn’t the people who believe have already clarified) (Baṣāʾir, sub ʾ). Jār Allāh Abū al-Qāsim Maḥmūd b. ʿUmar Al-Zamakhsharī (467-538/ca.1074-1143) explains the connection between “to despair” and “to know”. He sates, “the meaning of “ʿafalam yayʾas,” is “ʿafalam yaʿlam,” and it has been said that it is the dialect of the people of al-Nakhaʿ. It has also been said that the usage of despair (al-yaʾs) in the meaning of knowledge (al-ʿilm) is because despair includes the meaning of knowledge as the despondent of something knows that it is not happening (lā yakūn), this is similar to using hopefulness in the meaning of fear and forgetfulness (nasayān) in the meaning of leaving or discarding something (al-tark)” (Tafsīr).

In Sūrat Yūsuf, Prophet Yaʿqūb, upon him peace, advises his children: O my sons, go and enquire about Yūsuf and his brother, and do not despair of the Spirit of Allah (rūḥi-Llāh). Surely, no one despairs of the Spirit of Allah Spirit except the disbelievers (Q 12:87). The “Spirit of Allah” (rūḥi Llāh) is glossed as Mercy of Allah, alleviation (faraj) of difficulties by Allah, and the bounties (faḍl) of Allah (cf. Tasfīrs of al-Ṭabarī, al-Qurṭūbī, al-Rāzī, sub Q 12:87). When Prophet Ibrāhīm, may Allah be pleased with him, is given the glad tidings of a son in his old age by the visiting angels, he is surprised to hear this, and wonders, “Have you given me glad tidings while old age is upon me? Then of what [wonder] do you inform?”, the angels say, “We have given you glad tidings with truth, so do not be of the despairing.” He responds: “and who despairs of the Mercy of His Lord except those who are astray (ḍāllūn)?’ (Q 15:54-56).

An Enormity

The loss of hope in Divine mercy is, by scholarly consensus, an enormity. Thus, both, yaʾs and qunū are listed as inner enormities (al-kabāʾir al-bāṭina) in al-Zawājir ʿan iqtirāf al-kabāʾir, the monumental encyclopedia of enormities by Ibn Ḥajar al-Haytamī. Al-Haytamī cites several Qurʾānic verses (Q 12:87; 15: 56; 39:53; 41:49), Hadiths, and scholarly opinions in support of the consensus on the matter. Among the Hadiths on the subject is the one by Anas b. Mālik (d. 93/712), may Allah be well-pleased with him: “The Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, said, ‘Allah Most High says: ‘O son of Ādam! Verily as long as you call upon Me and hope in Me, I forgive you—despite whatever you have committed—and I would not mind. O son of Ādam, were your sins to reach the clouds of the sky, then you sought forgiveness from Me, I would forgive you. O son of Ādam, if you were to come to me with sins nearly as great as the earth, and then you met Me not associating anything with Me, I would come to you with forgiveness equally as great as [your sins]’” (al-Haytamī, al-Zawājir, 1:149-150; al-Tirmidhī, jāmiʿ, kitāb al-daʿwāt, hadith qudsī: ya ibn ādam). Although this hadith does not specifically mention despair, its stress on the immensity of Allah’s Mercy makes despairing after such affirmation an enormity, therefore al-Haytamī notes after citing it that it includes a great warning (waʿīd shadīd) that has left no doubt for scholars to consider despair one of enormities. Furthermore, Ibn Masʿūd considers it “the greatest of all enormities (akbar al-kabāʾir)” (al-Haytamī, al-Zawājir, 1:149).

Many exegetes also classify despair as an enormity tantamount to disbelief. For instance, Masʿūd al-Farrāʾ al-Baghawī (d. 516/1122), Abū ʿAbd Allāh Muḥammad b. Aḥmad al-Qurṭubī (600-671/1204-1273) and ʿAlāʾ al-Dīn ʿAlī b. Muḥammad al-Khāzin (d. 725/1324) all classify it as such (cf. Baghawī, Khāzin, Tafsīr, sub Q 15:56; Qurṭubī, Q 12:87). Abū al-Faḍl Shihāb al-Dīn al-Sayyid Maḥmūd b. ʿAbdallāh al-Ālūsī (1217-1270/1803-1853) quotes al-Kamāl ibn Abī Sharīf as saying, “… if what is meant by despair is denying the breadth of [Divine] mercy over sins, and believing that there is no Divine plot (makr), then, each of these are disbelief (kufr) by scholarly agreement (itifāqan), because they [amount to] rejection of the Qurʾān (that is, because it mentions both explicitly). And if what is meant [by despair] is [mere] exaggeration of sins to an extent that its forgiveness is not perceived as possible (istibʿādan), and so one reaches the limit of despair [and what is meant by feeling secure from the Divine plot] is the predominance of hope to such an extent that it leads to trusting the plots, then it is [only] an enormity” (Tafsīr, sub Q 15:55-56).

Given the enormous nature—and consequences of despair—despairing Divine mercy is not a characteristic of the believers. Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī (543-606/1148-1209) says, “Know that despairing the Mercy of Allah Most High does not happen except when one believes that God is not Powerful of achieving perfection (ghayru Qādirin ʿalā-l- kamāl), or is not Knowledgeable of the state of all things, or that He is not Generous but is miserly. All three tantamount to disbelief (kufr). Despair does not happen except due to one of these three, and each one of them is disbelief, thus it is established that despair does not exist for anyone but for the disbeliever, and Allah knows best” (Tafsīr, sub Q 12:87). The saying of Prophet Ibrāhīm, upon him peace, “And who despairs of the Mercy of his Lord except those who are astray? (Q 15:56) is understood by many exegetes as referring to either the polytheists or the disbelievers. Muqātil b. Sulaymān al-Balkhī (d. 150/767), for instance, takes them to be polytheists (mushrikūn), Abū Jaʿfar Muḥammad b. Jarīr al-Ṭabarī (224-310/839-ca.922) as “those who deny His ability to create what He wants to create” (Tafsīr); Abū al-Ḥasan ʿAlī b. Aḥmad al-Wāḥidī al-Naysābūrī (d. 468/1075) explains that “[Prophet Ibrāhīm] means that the believer hopes in Allah Most High in difficulties, while the disbeliever does not” (al-Wajīz). Al-Qurṭubī says these people are “those who bely [the Prophets] (mukadhibūn) and stray from the right path, while al-Ālūsī calls them “disbelievers who err in the path of knowing Allah Most High, and, consequently, they do not know the breadth of His Mercy, the perfection of His Knowledge and Power. This [saying of Ibrāhīm] is similar to what his [grand] son, Yaʿqūb has said (Q 12:87), no one despairs of Allah’s Spirit except the disbelievers.” (Tafsīrs, sub Q15:56). 

Causes of Despair

Despair is a result of short-sightedness and impatience of human beings who, if given a taste of the mercy of Allah Most High and then if that mercy is withdrawn, become despairing ungrateful (kafūr), and when bounties are granted, they attribute these to their own striving, which results in self-glamor and pride (Q 11:9-10; also Q 17:83; Q 30:33; Q 39:8, 49; Q 41: 49-50; Q 70:20). Al-Rāzī, while explaining the expression, “given a taste (adhaqnā)” in Q 11:9, says, it is with regard to both mercy and adversity, and its meaning is that when the human beings receive even a minimum amount of immediate bounties, they fall in rebellion and tyranny (ṭughyān) and when even a minimum amount of adversity befalls, they despair and become ungrateful. Life in itself is minimal and what each human being acquires from it is minimal, and to taste something out of this minimal amount is yet minimal and transient; it resembles the dreams of sleepers and imagination of paranoia (muwaswisīn) as it is merely a taste of the minimal. Nonetheless, the human being does not have the capacity to bear it, nor the patience to stay on the right path (Tafsīr, sub 11: 9, 10; also see al-Ṭabarsī, Tafsīr, sub 11: 9-11). Abū Ḥafṣ ʿUmar b. ʿAlī Ibn ʿAdil (d. ca. 780/1378) also affirms this meaning and says, “[Allah Most High] clarifies that the human being in all of his conditions remains in transient state; if he feels good and [is given] power, he boasts, and if he is in adversity and sick, he despairs… the Qurʾānic [removed]a despairing (yaʾūs) despondent (qanūṭ) is exaggeration [of despair] in two ways: the first is the philological exaggerative form (fāʿūl), and the second is the repetition [by mentioning qanū after yaʾūs]” (Tafsīr, sub Q 41: 49-50; also see: Tafsīrs of al-Bayḍāwī and Ibn Kathīr, sub Q 41: 49-50). The same expression is used in Q 11:9, he would surely become a despairing ungrateful (kafūr), and its contrasting case of those who ascribe the goodness to themselves in Q 11:10, surely he is exultant and proud (la-fārihun fakhūr). Muḥammad b. ʿAlī b. Muḥammad al-Shawkānī (1173-1250/1759-1834) writes that “the meaning is that if he acquires what he asked for and won what he desired, he forgets his Lord, and if he misses any of that, he is full of sorrow and despair. Both attributes are disliked and repulsive” (al-Shawkānī, Fatḥ al-Qadīr, sub 17: 83).

Despite such behavior, human beings are reminded of the enormous mercy of Allah Most High Who has prescribed for Himself mercy (Q 6:54), and that Those who bear [His] Throne—and those round it—proclaim the praise of their Lord, and believe in Him, and they ask forgiveness for those who believe: ‘Our Lord, You embrace everything in Mercy and Knowledge; therefore forgive those who have repented and follow Your way, and guard themselves against the chastisement of Hell (Q 40:7). The Divine promise is unambiguous: O My servants who have transgressed against themselves [by sinning], do not despair of the mercy of Allah. Indeed, Allah forgives all sins. Indeed, it is He who is the Forgiving, the Merciful (Q 39:53). In support of this meaning the famous hadith narrated by Abū Hurayra (d. 57/681), the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, says “Verily, Allah created Mercy [and on] the day He created it, He made it into one hundred parts (miʾat raḥma “lit. one hundred mercies”). He withheld with Him ninety-nine parts, and sent to all of His creatures one part. Had the ungrateful person (al-kāfir) known of all the Mercy of Allah, he would not despair of entering Paradise, and had the believer known of all the punishment which is present with Allah, he would not consider himself safe from the Hell-Fire.” (Bukhārī, Riqāq, al-rajāʾ maʿa al-khawf; also in: Muslim, Tawba, fī siʿati raḥmat Allāh Taʿālā wa annaha sabaqat ghaḍabahu).

Despair and the Hereafter

Despair leads to disbelief or it is also a consequence of disbelief; in both cases, it is due to human deeds and beliefs. Those who disbelieve in the signs of Allah and the encounter with Him—they despair of My mercy, and there awaits them a painful chastisement (Q29:23).Abū Muḥammad al-Ḥusayn b. Masʿūd al-Farrāʾ al-Baghawī (d. 516/1122) interpreted the mercy these disbelievers despair as the entrance of Paradise (Tafsīr). Others said it is the guidance of Allah or His religion that they despair (Abū Ḥayyān, Tafsīr, sub 29:23). The usage of the past tense (yaʾisū) is either for the purpose of affirmation and exaggeration—that such despair has already happened—or that these disbelievers, by their denial of resurrection and punishment (jazāʾ), have themselves despaired such mercy (Bayḍāwī, Tafsīr, sub 29:23; cf. Abū al-Suʿūd, Irshād, sub 29:23). Abū Ḥayyān al-Andalusī (d. 745/1344) explains that the passage is a case of simile; it compares the state of disbelievers in the absence of the Divine Mercy in their regard with those who despaired the Divine Mercy (Tafsīr, sub 29:23). Believers are warned to not take such people as their close friends: O believers, take not for friends a people against whom Allah is wrathful, and who have despaired of the Hereafter, just as the disbelievers have despaired of [meeting] the inhabitants of the graves (Q 60:13). Exegetes differ to whom the verse is referring, some say they are the Jews of Medina, the hypocrites, or the Jews and Christians generally (Qurṭūbī, Tafsīr). Al-Rāzī, explained the simile between their despair and the despair of inhabitants of the graves, he writes, “when they die in the state of disbelief, the knowledge of their forsake (khudhlān) and lack of reward in the Hereafter is then certain. This is the interpretation of al-Kalbī and some others, meaning that, disbelievers who die despair Paradise and any other good in the Hereafter. Al-Hasan said: it means that the living among disbelievers despair the dead [i.e. their resurrection]” (Tafsīr).  The criminals (see Evildoers and Criminals) in the Hell will wish the fire to subside for them, but it will not be allowed to subside for them, and they would be in it in a state of despair (Q 43:74-75). The Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, said, “If a believer knew what is there [in Hell] from the punishment of Allah, none would have the audacity to aspire for Paradise [but he would earnestly desire to be rescued from Hell], and if a disbeliever knew what is there with Allah of His mercy, none would have despair with regard to Paradise” (Muslim, Tawba, fī siʿati raḥmat Allāh Taʿālā wa annaha sabaqat ghaḍabahu).

Other Forms of Despair mentioned in the Qurʾān

Messengers Despairing the Acceptance of their Message

Prophets (see Prophethood; Infallibility of Prophets) are sent to disbelievers and they call people to the Path of Allah, but they never despair the Mercy of Allah, even when faced with enormous difficulties. In Sūrat Yūsuf, Prophet Yaʿqūb, upon him peace, advises his children: O my sons, go and enquire about Yūsuf and his brother, and do not despair of the Spirit of Allah (rūḥi-Llāh). Surely, no one despairs of the Spirit of Allah Spirit except the disbelievers (Q 12:87). The “Spirit of Allah” (rūḥi Llāh) is glossed as Mercy of Allah, alleviation (faraj) of difficulties by Allah, and the bounties (faḍl) of Allah (cf. Tasfīrs of al-Ṭabarī, al-Qurṭūbī, al-Rāzī, sub Q 12:87). When Prophet Ibrāhīm, may Allah be pleased with him, is given the glad tidings of a son in his old age by the visiting angels, he is surprised to hear this, and wonders, “Have you given me glad tidings while old age is upon me? Then of what [wonder] do you inform?”, the angels say, “We have given you glad tidings with truth, so do not be of the despairing.” He responds: “and who despairs of the Mercy of His Lord except those who are astray (ḍāllūn)?’ (Q 15:54-56).

Q 12:110 however mentions a type of despair attributed to Prophets, not of the Mercy of Allah but of the acceptance of their message: Until, when the messengers despaired and were certain that they had been denied, there came to them Our victory, and whoever We willed was saved. And Our punishment cannot be repelled from the people who are criminals. The despair mentioned here is interpreted by the majority of exegetes to be the despair of the Prophets about their people ever believing them. Al-Ṭabarī states, “Allah Most High says that the Prophets we have sent before you [O Muḥammad] called those to whom they were sent, but [people] belied them and rejected what was revealed to them from Allah until these prophets despaired that their people would ever believe in Allah… these belying nations (al-umam al-mukadhiba) thought that Prophets were lying with regard to what they were telling about Allah and His promised victory over them, [then] Our victory came to [the prophets].” Al-Ṭabarī also mentions a minority interpretation that suggests these prophets despaired about the faith of their people as well as the victory of Allah, and so the pronoun in “kudhibū” refers to prophets and not their nations. This opinion is said to be supported by Ibn ʿAbbās’s interpretation of the verse as he said, “they [that is, the Prophet] were human beings (kānū bashara)” (Tafsīr, sub 12:110). Al-Zamakhsharī, however, doubts the authenticity of this report from Ibn ʿAbbās and says, “if it is a true report from Ibn ʿAbbās, then he could only mean what occurred to the mind (bāl) or passed by the heart from insinuation (ḥadīth nafs) as [part of] what humans experience. That is because doubting [the victory of Allah] is not permissible for Muslims, and it is even not conceivable for Prophets of Allah who are the most knowledgeable of their Lord, Exalted is He from breaking His Promise” (Zamakhsharī, Kashāf, sub 12:110).

Despairing the Hereafter and the Resurrection of the Dead

The last verse of the Makkan Sūrat al-Mumtaḥana (Q 60:3) states: O believers, take not for friends a people against whom Allah is wrathful, and who have despaired of the Hereafter, even as the unbelievers have despaired of the inhabitants of the graves. Al-Qurūbī offers several interpretations about the referents of this verse: they could be the Jews of Madina, the hypocrites, or both the Jews and the Christians (Tafsīr). The simile between their despair of the Hereafter and the despair of the disbelievers about the people of graves is explained by al-Rāzī, who says, it is “because if they die on the status of disbelief, they are surely forsaken (khudhlān) and have no reward in the Hereafter. This is the interpretation of al-Kalbī and others, meaning that, disbelievers who die despair Paradise and any other good in the Hereafter. Al-Hasan said it means that the living among the disbelievers despair the dead [i.e. their resurrection]” (Tafsīr). Another verse, which describes those who disbelieve in His Signs and those who despair His Mercy, is Q 29:23: Those who disbelieve in the signs of Allah and in (their) meeting with Him, they have despaired of My mercy. For them, there will be a painful torment. Mercy in this verse is interpreted as “entrance into Paradise” (al-Baghwī) and the despair itself is interpreted as “having no right to it” (Ibn Kathīr), while the reason of such despair is—according to al-Ṭabarī—what these disbelievers have witnessed of the painful torment awaiting them (Tafsīr, sub 29:23). Nāṣir al-Dīn Abū Saʿīd ʿAbd Allāh b. ʿUmar al-Bayḍāwī (d. 685/1286) suggests that the usage of the past tense (yaʾisū “have despaired”) in this verse is either for the purpose of affirmation (taḥqīq) and exaggeration (that such despair already happened), or that these disbelievers, by their denial of resurrection and punishment (jazāʾ), have despaired such mercy (Tafsīr, sub 29:23).

Women Despairing Menstruation (Reaching Menopause)

In Q 65:4 (Surat al-Ṭalāq, “chapter on divorce”), the female pronoun is added to the verb yaʾisa, (yaʾisna) in the context of prescribing the legal rulings of the waiting period (al-ʿida) for divorced women, And for such of your women who despair of menstruation, if in doubt, their period (of waiting) shall be three months. Al-Baghawī says that the despair of menstruation means there is no hope of them to menstruate again because of their elderly age (Tafsīr, sub 65:4).

Despair in Sufi Literature

Abū Muḥammad Sahl b. ʿAbd Allāh b. Yūnus b. Rafīʿ al-Tustarī (d. 283/896) says on the merits of adhering to the command of not to despair: “The best and the highest form of worship (of Allah) is awaiting for the alleviation (faraj) from Allah Most High, as reported by Ibn ʿUmar, may Allah be pleased with him, that the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, said: ‘awaiting for the alleviation by means of patience is a worship (ʿibāda).’ Awaiting for alleviation has two aspects: one is near, the other far; the former lies in the secret (sirr) between the servant and his Lord (i.e. to be waiting for the alleviation to come only from Him); the latter is among people (al-khalq) [and whoever] concerns himself with the latter shall be veiled (yuḥjab) from the former” (Tafsīr, sub 12:87).

Muḥyī al-Dīn Ibn ʿArabī (560-638/1165-1240) in his interpretation of Q 11: 9-10, writes, “the human being should maintain a status of trust in Allah and reliance on Him in poverty and wealth, prosperity and adversity, sickness and health. One should not obscure oneself (lā yaḥtajib) from Him due to bounties, pursuit of acquisition, power, or because of any other cause so that despair (yaʾs) and ingratitude (kufrān) do not occur” (Tafsīr). Abū-l-ʿAbbād Aḥmad b. Muḥammad b. al-Mahdī Ibn ʿAjība (1160-1224/1747-1809), likewise writes, “the servant (ʿabd) should be thankful for bounties, patient in adversities (niqam), beholding the Giver of bounties, and not the bounties (wāqifan maʿa al-munʿim dona al-niʿam); if a bounty is taken away, one should hope for its return and if an adversity befalls, one should wait for its end. The conclusion is: be a servant of Allah in all of your states.” (Baḥr, sub Q 11: 9,10).

The first aphorism of Ibn ʿAṭāʾ Allāh al-Iskandarī’s (d. 709/1309) famous book, Kitāb al-ḥikam, reads, “One of the signs of relying on one’s own deeds is the loss of hope when a downfall occurs”. This statement is widely interpreted by commentators as an attribute of spiritual immaturity. Ibn ʿAjība comments on this saying: “depending on one’s own self is a sign of misery (shaqāʾ) and wretchedness (buʾs); depending on one’s deeds comes from not realizing one’s absence with the Existence of Allah; and depending on miraculous action (karāma) comes from lacking the company of the good people. Depending on Allah [however,] comes from one’s true affirmation of knowing Allah. The sign of depending on Allah is that hope does not decrees if one falls unto sinning, and does not increase when doing the good” (Ibn ʿAjība, ʾIqāzz al-himam, p. 27). The sixth aphorism, likewise, is relevant: “If in spite of intense supplication, there is a delay in the timing of the Gift (alʿaṭāʾ), let that not be the cause for your despairing, for He has guaranteed you a response in what He chooses for you, not in what you choose for yourself, and the time He desires is not the time you desire.” Abū al-ʿAbbās Shihāb al-Dīn Aḥmad Zarrūq (846/1442-899/1493), the Moroccan Sufī master, explains that people are of three types in their despair of Allah’s response to them: “The one who seeks His Lord through total submission; is filled with satisfaction with Him, and is in a state of continuous attachment (taʿalluq) to Him in existence and non-existence (of the good). This person does not turn away because of a delay in response or any other reason. [The second] is the one who stands by the door of his Lord in absolute trust in His Promise (waʿd) and Wisdom, and [this person] ascribes to himself the cause of delay in that he himself lacks the conditions of fulfillment of his request, which leads to despair at times and hope at other times. [The third type of person] is someone who stands [by the door of his Lord] accompanied by his shortcomings but oblivious, and who is requesting for his desires [to be fulfilled] without any consideration of wisdom or ruling. Such a person may end up doubting the promise, and fall into confusion or despair; and from Allah we seek refuge” (Sharḥ ḥikam Ibn ʿAṭāʾ Allāh, p. 30).


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See also

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