[9:122] … a party from each group should go forth so that they may become learned in religion
[That is], in order to learn what is necessary concerning their religion. It has been related from Ḥasan al-Baṣrī that he said, ‘The erudite (faqīh) is the one who has renounced this world (zāhid), who is desirous (rāghib) of the Hereafter, and who has insight (baṣīr) into religious affairs. Sahl was asked about the words of the Prophet , ‘Seeking knowledge is an obligation (farīḍa) for every Muslim’.He said, ‘This refers to the knowledge of [one’s] state (ḥāl).’
He was asked, ‘What is the knowledge of [one’s] state?’ He replied:
Inwardly it is sincerity (ikhlāṣ) and outwardly it is emulation (iqtidāʾ). Moreover, unless a person’s outward [self] (ẓāhir) is leading his inner [self] (bāṭin), and his inner self is the perfection (kamāl) of his outward self, he will merely be fatiguing his body.
He was asked, ‘What is the explanation of this?’ He said:
Truly God keeps watch over you, in what you keep secret and what you make known, in your [moments of] movement and stillness, and you are never absent from Him even for the blinking of the eye, just as He has said, Is He who stands over every soul [observing] what it has earned? [13:33], and He has said, There is not a secret consultation between three, but He makes the fourth among them [58:7]. He has also said, We are nearer to him than [his] aorta (ḥabl al-warīd) [50:16]. This is the artery located deep inside the heart, and He has informed us that He is closer to the heart than that artery. If you know this you should feel shame before Him. Furthermore, whenever some craving from the lower self stirs itself in the heart, and [at that moment] the servant remembers that God, Mighty and Majestic is He, is watching over him, and subsequently abandons [that craving], knowledge of his state will enter his heart, such that if what he is granted were to be distributed among the people of Medina, all of them would rejoice at it, and would triumph because of it. Mālik b. Anas alluded to this point when he said, ‘Knowledge is not just about how much you can relate [from memory] (riwāya) but rather knowledge is a light that God places within the heart.’
He [Sahl] was asked, ‘How can a man recognize his state (ḥāl) and act upon it?’He replied:
When you speak, your state is that of speech, and when you observe silence, your state is that of silence. When you stand your state is that of standing, and when you sit your state is that of sitting. [To have] knowledge of your state you should see whether it is for God or for other than Him.19 If it is for God you may settle in it, but if it is for other than Him you should abandon it. This is the act of taking account of oneself (muḥāsaba) which ʿUmar enjoined when he said, ‘Call yourselves to account before you are called to account, and weigh yourselves up before you are weighed up…’20 Indeed, ʿUmar used to beat his chest while calling himself to account.
by Sahl b. ʿAbd Allāh al-Tustarī
Great Commentaries on the Holy Qurʾān
translated by: Annabel Keeler and Ali Keeler