In The Name of Allaah, The Most Merciful, The Bestower of Mercy.
Jihaad [i.e. striving] against the Nafs is of four levels and all of this can be found in Surah Al-Asr.
Firstly, striving in the path of learning Allaah’s Sharee’ah – learning the religion ordained by Allaah, exercise patience whilst learning and seeking understanding. If you do not strive to acquire Ilm, your soul will remain upon ignorance; and even if you perform acts of worship and preoccupy yourself in worship, you’ll do so based on acts of worship that are unacceptable, because one of the conditions of worship is Al-Mutaaba’ah [i.e. adherence to the authentic Sunnah of the Messenger], and one cannot be acquainted with Al-Mutaaba’ah except through Ilm. And due to this, it has been reported in a hadeeth: ‘’Whoever Allaah wishes good for, He grants him understanding in the religion’’. In another narration: ‘’Whoever follows a path towards acquiring knowledge, Allaah will make easy for him the path to paradise’’. Therefore, one must acquire a portion of knowledge every day, and let not a day elapses except that you gain a portion of knowledge. Everyday the Prophet used to supplicate – after the fajr prayer- saying: ‘’O Allaah! I ask you for beneficial knowledge, good provision and deeds that are accepted’’. This shows that seeking knowledge is a daily pursuit.
Secondly: Striving against the soul to act upon the knowledge you have acquired and adhering to it. This is the purpose of knowledge, because the purpose of knowledge is to act. If one does not act upon the knowledge he has acquired, then even if does not harm him, it will not benefit him. The Prophet sought refuge with Allaah against the knowledge that does not benefit. Therefore, after a person strives to acquire knowledge, he must strive to act upon it. Thirdly: A person should call to knowledge [i.e. convey what he has learnt]. Fourthly: He should exercise patience in this path. [End of Quote. Ref 1]
Narrated Husayn bin Abdir Rahmaan, “I was with Sa’eed bin Jubair when he said, ‘Who amongst you saw a shooting star last night?’ I said, ‘I did’; then I said, ‘I was not in prayer, but was stung by a scorpion’ [i.e. the reason why I was awake and saw the shooting star was because I got stung by a scorpion]. He said, ‘Then what did you do?’ I said, ‘I performed Ruqyah’”… to the end of the hadeeth: [Ref 2]
Faa’idah From This Section of The Hadeeth: Husayn said: ‘I did’ [i.e. I saw the shooting star]; then I said, ‘I was not in prayer, but was stung by a scorpion’ [i.e. that is the reason why I was awake and saw the shooting star].
Question: Why did Husayn Bin Abdir Rahmaan [rahimahullaah] mention – in addition – that he was not in prayer after informing Sa’eed Bin Jubayr that he saw the shooting star last night?! Answer: Imaam Sa’di [rahimahullaah] said: That is because Salaf [i.e. the pious predecessors] were far removed from praising a person for something he does not possess. [Ref 3]
Shaikh Muhammad Ibn Saaleh Al-Uthaymeen [rahimahullaah] said: He [i.e. Husayn] said this lest the people think that he was standing in prayer and thus he is praised for that which he did not do. This is opposite of what some people do, for they rejoice that people assumed that they were standing in prayer. This is tantamount to a deficiency in one’s Tawheed. Husayn’s statement is not viewed from the angle of show off, rather it is a good deed. And it is not like that one who abandons acts of obedience to Allaah out of fear of Riyaa, for indeed shaytaan plays about with a person [in this affair] and beautifies for him to abandon deeds out of fear of Riyaa; rather one should perform acts of obedience to Allaah, but nothing should be in your heart that you want to be seen by people. [Ref 4]
Shaikh Saaleh Aala Ash-Shaykh [hafidhahullaah] said: He [i.e. Husayn] made that statement out of fearing that those who were present would think that he saw the shooting star whilst he was in prayer [i.e. Tahajjud], so he negated that from himself. This shows the virtue of the Salaf [pious predecessors], their eagerness for sincerity, being distant from showing off and adorning oneself with something one does not possess. [Ref 5]
Shaikh Rabee [hafidhahullaah] said: O brothers! I warn you against harbouring intentions of seeking after the Dunyah, its status and authority in the affair of learning and seeking knowledge; for indeed [knowledge of the religion] is worship – amongst the best types of worship; rather the religion, acts of worship, Jihaad and a [successful] life cannot be established except by way of this knowledge. However, it is obligated on us to purify our intentions in this worship. [The Messenger (sallal laahu alayhi wasallam) said]: ‘Whoever seeks knowledge by which the pleasure of Allah is sought, but he only acquires it for worldly gain, he will not smell the fragrance of Paradise.’’
This is a very important point and a great affair which the students of knowledge must be notified, for indeed many of them are heedless of it. And it may be that a person seeks knowledge for the sake of worldly gain or other goals that are not beloved to Allaah -neither legislated nor permitted by Allaah, and thus they fall into destruction. This affair enters into the rebuke directed at the Yahood. [Allaah (The Most High) said]:
مَثَلُ ٱلَّذِينَ حُمِّلُواْ ٱلتَّوۡرَٮٰةَ ثُمَّ لَمۡ يَحۡمِلُوهَا كَمَثَلِ ٱلۡحِمَارِ يَحۡمِلُ أَسۡفَارَۢاۚ بِئۡسَ مَثَلُ ٱلۡقَوۡمِ ٱلَّذِينَ كَذَّبُواْ بِـَٔايَـٰتِ ٱللَّهِۚ وَٱللَّهُ لَا يَہۡدِى ٱلۡقَوۡمَ ٱلظَّـٰلِمِينَ
The likeness of those who were entrusted with the (obligation of the) Taurat (Torah) (i.e. to obey its commandments and to practise its legal laws), but who subsequently failed in those (obligations), is as the likeness of a donkey who carries huge burdens of books (but understands nothing from them). How bad is the example (or the likeness) of people who deny the Ayat (proofs, evidences, verses, signs, revelations, etc.) of Allah. And Allah guides not the people who are Zalimun (polytheists, wrong-doers, disbelievers, etc.).
I seek the protection [of Allaah] for myself and [ask Allaah to protect] you from these blameworthy traits – a person possesses knowledge and does not act upon it, so he is either included [amongst those mentioned in this] Aayah or some of it applies to him. May Allaah protect us and you, for indeed the Messenger [sallal-laahu-alayhi-wasallam] has informed us about the destination of those who perform acts of worship only to be seen, whether it is a student of knowledge, a scholar, a Mujaahid or one who spends his wealth [in charity etc].
O my brothers! Sincerity is a great affair. [Therefore], it is incumbent upon a Muslim to guard it and take himself to account at every moment of his life. One of the Salaf said: I used to hold that the hadeeth requires a Niyyah [i.e. sincere intention for seeking knowledge of hadeeth], but then I realised [or understood] that every hadeeth requires a [sincere] intention.
Therefore, when you narrate or speak, do you desire praise from the people or do you desire the Face of Allaah [The Blessed and Exalted]? Do you desire that it is said, “He is a scholar; he is intelligent; he is a learned person of sound, precise and robust understanding;” or do you desire the Face of Allaah and to fulfil the responsibility you carry [i.e. knowledge of the religion]. [Ref 6]
What to Say When Praised
A man among the companions of the Prophet [sallal-laahu-alayhi-wasallam] used to say when he was praised: O Allaah! Do not take me to account for what they say and forgive me for what they do not know [about me].
Reminder from the above Athar by Shaikh Zaid Bin Haadi [rahimahullaah]
This is from the invocations and supplications [which a person supplicates with], specifically when praised and he hears it; for example, when it is said, ‘’Fulaan [i.e. such and such person] upright and righteous’’, so he hears what was said about him, or such praise reached him [from others], or it is said, ‘’Fulaan [i.e. such and such] is very truthful, such and such is a good doer, a charitable person, a scholar and so on’’. If he hears this, then a believer fears for himself and feels shy that he is the opposite of what the people say about him, and because of this he re-examines himself and becomes active in carrying out deeds to make him righteous- a good doer and worthy of the praise given to him by the people.
If he does this, he will be successful and blessed; but if he becomes deceived by what the people say and becomes oblivious of his mistakes and shortcomings, shaytaan will afflict him with self-importance. Due to this, when a believer hears the people commending and praising him with [attributes] of righteousness, he utters this dhikr: ‘’[O Allaah! Do not take me to account for what they say]’’ – Meaning: ‘’Do not hold me account due to this praise and commendation, and the good characteristics [mentioned about me].’’ That is because he fears for himself.
The soul of a person is weak, so he says, ‘’[And forgive me for what they do not know (about me)]’’- Meaning: ‘’The people commend a person based on what they know about him outwardly, so the person fears that he has Mukhaalafaat [i.e. deeds that are in opposition to the commands and prohibitions in the Sharee’ah] which are unknown to the people, so he asks his Lord [The Blessed and Exalted] not to hold him to account and to forgive those sins of his, shortcomings and mistakes which are unknown to the people. The children of Adam are deficient, but there are those amongst them who fall short and return to [repentance or rectification] and are active again in the performance of good deeds after falling short. And amongst them are those who fall short and persist upon (sin) until punishment comes upon them. [Ref 7]
Allaah [The Most High] said:
لَا تَحۡسَبَنَّ ٱلَّذِينَ يَفۡرَحُونَ بِمَآ أَتَواْ وَّيُحِبُّونَ أَن يُحۡمَدُواْ بِمَا لَمۡ يَفۡعَلُواْ فَلَا تَحۡسَبَنَّہُم بِمَفَازَةٍ۬ مِّنَ ٱلۡعَذَابِۖ
وَلَهُمۡ عَذَابٌ أَلِيمٌ۬
Think not that those who rejoice in what they have done (or brought about), and love to be praised for what they have not done,- think not you that they are rescued from the torment, and for them is a painful torment.” [3:188]
Imaam Ibnul Qayyim [rahimahullaah] said: They rejoice in what they have brought about of bidah and misguidance, and love to be praised for following the Sunnah and sincerity. [i.e. they want to be praised for what they do not deserve with regards to following the sunnah and having sincerity] [Ref 8]
Imaam As-Sadi [rahimahullaah] said: They want to be praised for that which they have not done and [praised for some] truthful [statement] they have not uttered; so they combine evil doing and its statement, and rejoice in that. And they love to be praised for some good they have not done. [Ref 9]
Allaah [The Most High] said:
قُلۡ بِفَضۡلِ ٱللَّهِ وَبِرَحۡمَتِهِۦ فَبِذَٲلِكَ فَلۡيَفۡرَحُواْ هُوَ خَيۡرٌ۬ مِّمَّا يَجۡمَعُونَ
Say: “In the Bounty of Allah, and in His Mercy; -therein let them rejoice.” That is better than what (the wealth) they amass.’’ [Yonus: Ayah 58]
[قُلۡ بِفَضۡلِ ٱللَّهِ -Say: In the Bounty of Allaah]- Meaning: the Qur’aan, which is the greatest blessing and favour, and a conferment by way of which Allaah preferred His [believing] slaves [over others]; [وَبِرَحۡمَتِهِ -And in His Mercy]-Meaning: The Religion [of Islaam], Eemaan, worship of Allaah, love of Him, and knowledge and awareness of Him; [فَلۡيَفۡرَحُواْ- Therein let them rejoice]; [هُوَ خَيۡرٌ۬ مِّمَّا يَجۡمَعُونَ – That is better than what they amass] of the enjoyable things of the worldly life and its pleasures.
The religion- the bounty that will bring about happiness in this life and the next- cannot be compared to all that is in this worldly life, [because these things of the worldly life] will vanish and come to an end very soon. Rather Allaah [The Most High] commanded [us] to rejoice in His Bounty and Mercy because it is that which will make the soul happy, thankful to Allaah, gives it a strong desire for an increase in knowledge and Eemaan. This is a praiseworthy rejoicing as opposed to rejoicing in the desires of this worldly life and its pleasures, or rejoicing in falsehood, for indeed that is blameworthy, as Allaah [The Most High] stated about a group amongst the people of Qaaroon that they said to him:
[لَا تَفۡرَحۡۖ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ لَا يُحِبُّ ٱلۡفَرِحِينَ- Do not be glad (with ungratefulness to Allah’s Favours). Verily! Allah likes not those who are glad (with ungratefulness to Allah’s Favours)] [Soorah Al-Qasas: Ayah 76].
And as Allaah [The Most High] said about those who rejoiced in what they possessed of falsehood in opposition to that which the Messengers came with: [فَلَمَّا جَآءَتۡهُمۡ رُسُلُهُم بِٱلۡبَيِّنَـٰتِ فَرِحُواْ بِمَا عِندَهُم مِّنَ ٱلۡعِلۡمِ -Then when their Messengers came to them with clear proofs, they were glad (and proud) with that which they had of the knowledge (of worldly things)] [Soorah Ghaafir: Ayah 83] [Ref 10]
[Ref 1: Sharh Adabun Nufoos. Lesson 2- By Shaikh Abdur Razzaaq Al-Badr (hafidhahullaah)]
[Ref 2: See the full hadeeth in Saheeh Muslim 220]
[Ref 3: An Excerpt from ‘Al-Qawlus Sadeed Sharh Kitaab At-Tawheed’. page 77. Slightly paraphrased]
[Ref 4: An Excerpt from ‘Al-Qawlul Mufeed Alaa Kitaab At-Tawheed’. Vol 1. Page 97. Slightly paraphrased]
[Ref 5: An Excerpt from ‘Sharh Fat-hul Majeed Li-Sharh Kitaab At-Tawheed. Vol 1. Page 162’. Slightly paraphrased]
[Ref 6: Source: Marhaban Yaa Taalibal Ilm’ pages 53-55. abridged & slightly paraphrased]
[Ref 7: Source: Awnul Ahadis Samad Sharh Al-Adabil Mufrad’ Vol 2, page 389’ by Shaikh Zayd Bin Haadi al-Madkhali (rahimahullaah)]. Paraphrased]
[Ref 8: Madaarij as-Saalikeen 1/84. slightly paraphrased]
[Ref 9: An Excerpt from ‘Tayseer Al-Kareem ar-Rahmaan Fee Tafseer Kalaam al-Mannaan’. slightly paraphrased]
[Ref 10: An Excerpt from ‘Tayseer Al-kareem Ar-Rahmaan Fee Tafseer Kalaam Al-Mannaan). slightly paraphrased]