By Dr. Jasser Auda
Trying to discover the flaws within you is better than trying to discover the worlds hidden from you.
One may start his journey to God the right way. But unfortunately, he might feel self-conceit or feel that he is doing God a favor and forget that he has many flaws. After setting the rules of how to perfect the beginning of the journey, Ibn `Ata’illah says: “Trying to discover the flaws within you is better than trying to discover the worlds hidden from you.”
A servant, who does extra rituals, might think that is able to know the Unseen or that he has the piercing sight about which the Prophet said; “Beware of the piercing sight of the believer, for he sees with the light of God.” (At-Tirmidhi) Therefore, Ibn `Ata’illah is warning us saying: “Trying to discover the flaws within you is better than trying to discover the worlds hidden from you.”
If one thinks that he is free from flaws, surely he is mistaken, because this is the nature of human beings. God enjoys the perfect attributes, while humans suffer from flaws.
God is the Generous, but man is miser: “Say: “If you were to own all the treasure-houses of my Sustainer’s bounty, lo! you would still try to hold on (to them) tightly for fear of spending (too much): for man has always been avaricious (whereas God is limitless in His bounty).” (Al-Israa’ 17:100) God is the Mighty, but man is very weak: “God wants to lighten your burdens: for man has been created weak.” (An-Nisaa’ 4:28) God is Merciful, but man is cruel. God is much-forbearing, but man is angry. God is forgiving, but man does not forgive easily. God is patient, but man is prone to be hasty in his judgments. God is the Knower, but man is ignorant. God is the Just, but man does injustice to others.
One should do his best to discover the flaws within himself. This is much better than trying to discover the worlds hidden from him because one can not discover hidden worlds before purifying himself from flaws. Man will never purify himself completely, but he should do as much as he can to purify it. Purifying the inner self eventually helps one realize his nature and attain the quality of humbleness. Self-purification and humbleness make one spiritually elevated and bring about divinely bestowed knowledge and spiritual lofty status.
Scholars have identified several ways through which one discovers his flaws. This includes:
First, being criticized by people: if someone criticizes you, you have to think deeply about this criticism. Is it a constructive criticism that will help you discover your flaws? You have to take into consideration every criticism that comes from everybody even if it comes from those who are not in good terms with you. You have to ask yourself: does this criticism show me my flaws?
Second, a good friend; a good friend helps you discover your flaws when he offers you a sincere advice. `Umar ibn Al-Khattab (may God be pleased with him) said: “May God have mercy on the one who shows me my flaws.”
A sincere friend comes to you directly telling you about your flaws. From your part, you should listen to him and look within yourself for those flaws and try to amend them.
Third, God’s tests; when you are put to a test, this test will reveal your flaws and shortcomings. God says; “Are they, then, not aware that they are being tested year-in, year-out? And yet, they do not repent and do not bethink themselves (of God).” (At-Tawbah 9:126)
The verse here is talking about the hypocrites. God always puts them to tests, but they never repent to Him and they do not bethink themselves of God. If you are under pressure or put to test, you have to discover your flaws so that you will pass this test easily.
We pray to God to conceal our flaws and to help us amend them. We pray to God to grant us forgiveness in this world and the world to come.
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