Excerpts from The Immense Ocean

(Al Bahr Al Madid Fi Tafsir Al Qur’an Al Majid)) by Ibn Ajiba (R.A.)

Shaykh Ahmad ibn ‘Ajiba Rahmat Ullahi Alayhee (1747–1809) was an 18th-century Moroccan Wali ( saint ) in the Darqawa Sufi Sunni Islamic lineage.

He was born of a sharif family in the Anjra tribe that ranges from Tangiers to Tetuan along the Mediterranean coast of Morocco. As a child he developed a love of knowledge, memorizing the “Qur’an” and studying subjects ranging from Classical Arabic grammar, religious ethics, poetry, Qur’anic recitation and tafsir. When he reached the age of eighteen he left home and undertook the study of exoteric knowledge in Qasr al-Kabir under the supervision of Sidi Muhammad al-Susi al-Samlali. It was here that he was introduced to studies in the sciences, art, philosophy, law and Qur’anic exegesis in depth.

He went to Fes to study with Mohammed al-Tawudi ibn Suda, Bennani, and El-Warzazi, and joined the new Darqawiyya in 1208 AH (1793), of which he was the representative in the northern part of the Jbala region. He spent his entire life in and around Tetuan, and died of the plague in 1224 AH (1809). He is the author of around forty works and a Fahrasa which provides interesting information concerning the intellectual center that Tetuan had become by the beginning of the 19th century.

Al-Bahr al-Madid, from which this translation is an excerpt, is the only traditional Qur’anic commentary in existence which gives both exoteric exegesis and mystical “spiritual allusion” for each verse of the Sacred Book. Only one other work by the prolific 13th/18th century Moroccan mystic and scholar, Ahmad ibn ‘Ajiba, has so far been translated into English.

Tafsir of a verse from Surat Al Khaf

“And keep thy soul content with those who call on their Lord morning and evening, seeking His Face; and let not thine eyes pass beyond them, seeking the pomp and glitter of this Life; nor obey any whose heart We have permitted to neglect the remembrance of Us, one who follows his own desires, whose case has gone beyond all bounds.” (Kahf, 18:28)

Exegesis (tafsīr):

Allah, the Real, says that we must keep ourselves content with those who worship their Lord morning and evening. It is said that the remembrance of the morning and evening is a reference to the five daily prayers, the word al-ghadât referring to the morning prayer and the word al-‘ashiyy covering the noon prayer and those after it. Another opinion holds that the two periods (al-ghadât and al-‘ashiyy) are a reference to the morning prayer and the mid-afternoon prayer. However, the most likely is that the two periods are a reference to the prayers which the early Muslims would offer before praying was made an obligation: they would pray two cycles in the morning and two cycles in the evening.

Ibn ‘Atiyya says, “Included in this verse is anyone who supplicates at times outside the prayer or gathers for the purposes of learning. It has been reported from ‘Abdullâh ibn ‘Umar that the Prophet (pbuh) said, ‘The remembrance of Allah in the morning and in the evening are better than smashing swords [fighting] in the path of Allah and better than giving money in huge amounts’

It is said that the words “who call on their Lord” is a reference to the poor from among the believers such as ‘Ammâr, Suhyab, Khabbâb and Bilâl. It has been reported that the leaders of the disbelieving Quraysh said to the Prophet, “If you distance these [poor companions] from yourself then we will be glad to offer you our company.” They would also complain that the smell of the poorer Companions’ clothes was offensive to their noses. It was for such comments that this verse was revealed.

It is reported that when this verse was revealed the Prophet sat amongst the poorer Companions and said, “Praise be to Allah, the One Who has given me companions with whom I must remain patient.” It has also been said that the verse was revealed concerning the People of the Bench (Ahl al-Suffa), a group who totalled around seven hundred men. If true, this would mean that the verse was revealed in Medina.

Thereafter, Allah describes them as being sincere, saying, ‘seeking His face’, meaning by this that they seek knowledge of His essence and do not undertake actions for the purposes of acquiring a place in Heaven or to be saved from the Fire. ‘…And let not thine eyes pass beyond them’ is a command that we do not ignore them by being occupied in observing those who have nice attire or forms, as this is nothing but our seeking after’ the pomp and glitter of this Life’.

Finally, we are commanded not to obey those who are heedless of Allah—such as those who ask that the poor be distanced—for such people do not remember their Lord, in contrast to the believers, who spend their moments in remembrance and supplication. And Allah knows best.

Esoteric exegesis (ishārah):
In this verse we are strongly encouraged to keep the company of the fuqarâ’, those who are spiritual aspirants. In keeping their company there are many secrets to be obtained as well as copious gifts; the spiritual aspirant acquires the manners and etiquettes of the spiritual path by keeping their company. He is able to attain refinement and education in preparation for the realisation of proximity (hadrat al-taqrîb) with the Divine. Keeping their company is the way to maintain spiritual steadfastness and to speedily traverse the milestones on the way to Realisation.

In this regard, Shaykh Abû Madyan has said:
“There’s no joy to life unless in the company of the fakirs
They are the sultans, the masters and the amirs
So keep their company and acquire manners by sitting with them
And leave aside your own whims though they leave you behind them”
Al-Wartijî says: “And keep thy soul content with those spiritual aspirants who yearn for My Beauty and who are keen for my Majesty; they are the ones who at every moment ask when the reunion with Me shall be. They long to fly with wings of love to the world of communion. When they turn to look at you it is that beauty which you behold.”

Allah’s saying ‘seeking His Face’ explains that the supplication and request of the spiritual aspirants is only for the attainment of beholding Him and meeting Him. They yearn for Him and have deep love for Him. They have no connection with anything else or any business with other than Him. Their sole concern is Allah. The following is from the Ihyâ’2:
“Whoever undertakes acts of piety because he is frightened of the Fire or because he is hopeful of attaining a place in Paradise has indeed acted with a sound intention…However, as Ruwaym has said, ‘a sincere act is one whose performer seeks no recompense in either this world or the next’. This is, in fact, the sincerity of the siddîqûn, absolute sincerity. All other types of sincerity are connected with some future benefit.”

1 Translation, Mustapha Sheikh

2 Ihyâ’ ulûm al-dîn of Imâm al-Ghazâlî, may Allah shower mercy upon him

Courtesy: Wisdom Magazine

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