Spiritual Grammar and the Danger of Complaining

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Imam Zaid Shakir


Posted Posted on 2016-05-01

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Complaining (Shakawa) to other fallible humans has no part in our religion. Sincere advice (Nasiha) does. What is the difference between the two? Usually, the complaint starts with what we describe as the first person, “I”. For example, “I don’t like…” “I don’t feel…” “I want…” “I think….” etc. Therefore, complaining is rooted in one’s concern for him or herself and is therefore amenable to entering a person onto the slippery slope of egoism or narcissism. Complaining has been described as deadly poison by our scholars for this reason. The more we see ourselves, the less we see Allah. Conversely, the more we see Allah, the less we see ourselves. This is why the very heart of spiritual training is the negation of the ego, to say nothing of the id.

One might reasonable ask at this point, “If I don’t look out for myself then who will?” Our Lord provides the answer with great clarity, “Truly, my Protector is Allah, who has revealed the Scripture, and undertakes the affair of the righteous (7:196).” When we understand our inherent weakness and the awesome strength of our Lord, we gladly transfer our “insurance policy” to Him. Furthermore, when we can look beyond ourselves and look to our Lord, He alone becomes the one we complain to, for we understand that He alone can assist us.

This focusing on Allah is from the prophetic Sunnah, as illustrated by Ya’qub (Jacob). The Qur’an relates, “I complain of my sorrow and grief to Allah alone, and I know from Allah that which you know not (12:86).” This act of turning to Allah alone is a manifestation of Jacob’s “beautiful patience (sabran jamilan).” Each of us should constantly ask ourselves, “How beautiful is my patience?” If we find any ugliness in the answer we should work assiduously to beautify it.

Unlike complaining, Nasiha usually starts with the second person, “you”, and is offered with all due sincerity. “You should consider…” “You might want…” “You might not have realized…” “Your tone could have been better…” By turning from the first to the second person, with sincerity, seeking the addressee’s betterment, we are closing the door on our ego and giving priority to others. Until we can do this, we will never attain one of the most noble stations in our religion, Ithar (giving preference to others).

This station is one of the most important foundations of a prosperous Muslim community. How do we know this? From the description of the first community. When the Muhajirin (Emigrants) arrived in Madina to become part of the first independent Muslim community they did not come into a paradise where everyone had abundant wealth to share. The Ansar (Helpers) were largely poor, however, they placed the little they did have at the disposal of their brothers and sisters who had emigrated to them. The Qur’an describes this relationship in the following moving terms, “Those who were settled in the land before them, and had believed, love those who emigrated to them and find in their hearts no need for what they were given. They give preference (yu’thiruna from Ithar) to others, even though they were impoverished. And whosoever is shielded from the greed of their soul, it is they who will prosper (59:9).”

Like that first Muslim society, our community we will not succeed without faith, love, and the ability to give preference to others. To do this the “I” has to disappear and the “you” has to be brought to the forefront. We could elaborate on this at length, however, let us return to our grammar lesson. If we cannot eliminate the perceived first person, I, and elevate the second person, you, we will never truly get to know the perceived third person, “Huwa (Him).”

Complaining, which accentuates and empowers the perceived first person “I”, is one of the greatest barriers to getting to know the perceived third person, “Him.” If you understand this, then you understand spiritual grammar and all of the sentences you write with the pen of your life will be sound. In conclusion, I mentioned the perceived first and third persons, because in reality, and spiritual grammar is rooted in reality, the third is first, the second is always second and the first is third, or last. May we be blessed with understanding.


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