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Adab (Mannerliness)

by Fethullah Gülen on . Posted in Key Concepts in the Practice of Sufism-2

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Adab (Mannerliness)

Its meaning covers being sensible and reasonable, well- behaved, well-mannered, treating people kindly. Adab (mannerliness) is used in the terminology of Sufism to defend against errors and to distinguish the factors leading to errors. It is dealt with under the categories of “mannerliness in Shari'a,” “mannerliness in serving God’s cause,” and “mannerliness before God, the Truth.” Mannerliness in Shari'a is knowing the commandments of the religion and practicing them in daily life. Mannerliness in serving God’s cause is being ahead of everyone in striving and making efforts but preferring others to oneself in obtaining the fruits, receiving the wages and being appreciated and rewarded for effort. It is also doing all the prerequisites for a desired result but attributing all good and comeliness and success to God. As for mannerliness before God, it consists in “refining” and “adorning” nearness to God, in collectedness and self-possession, avoiding excessive claims and reckless or casual speech or behaviour incompatible with the rules of Shari'a..

Another approach to mannerliness is dealing with it under the categories of “mannerliness in Sharia,” “mannerliness in tariqa (the spiritual order),” “mannerliness in knowledge of God,” and “mannerliness in attainment of truth.” The first means practicing the Sunna (the way) of God’s Messenger, upon him he peace and blessings, in all his acts, sayings, and approvals. The second means, together with utter submission to and perfect love of him, serving the spiritual guide, attending his discourses, and refraining from objection to him. The third consists in preserving the balance between nearness to God and self-possession, between fear and hope or expectation, and awareness of self-poverty and impotence in the lace of the Divine favours coming directly from God. As far the fourth, it is perfect attachment to God in complete detachment from ev erything other than Him, without any material or spiritual expectation and anxieties worldly or other-worldly.

In one respect, Sufism consists in “mannerliness;” it consists in expressing the good manners proper to each occasion, each spiritual state, and each rank or station. However, only if believers have been able to realize all of these good manners in their own inner world, they can really be well-mannered in their attitudes and ways of behaviour. Apparent and superficial manners, such as have not been ingrained in their self and become an essential part of their nature, will mean no more than an outward show and cannot become permanent as habits. Nor are they worth anything in the sight of God, Who judges a person by his or her inner world. With his expressive style, Mawlana Jalal al-Din al-Rumi describes mannerliness with its true and artificial aspects as follows:

For the people of the heart, mannerliness originates in a person’s inner world,
For they are aware of secrets.
As for the people of the flesh,
They see mannerliness in the apparent behaviour of people;
For God has hidden the secrets from them.
We always ask God to enable us to be mannerly,
Because one who is unmannerly is deprived of Divine favours.

According to Abu Nasr al-Tusi,[1] mannerliness could he summarized in the following three paragraphs.

  • The mannerliness of literary men who seek beauty and virtue in writing and speech, which is regarded as “gossip” by the Sufis for it does not originate in the heart.
  • The mannerliness of those who represent the religion of Islam at the level of a pure spiritual life, which is regarded as consisting in refining the selfhood through disciplines, and the feelings through love and fear of God, and in meticulously following the religious commandments.
  • The mannerliness of those who through continuous selfcontrol and introspection maintain the purity of heart at the level of neither imagining or conceiving of anything contrary to the awareness of always being in the presence of God and overseen by Him.

Those who have been able to attain to the truth have attached much importance to all kinds of mannerliness and tried their hardest to make it an essential, ingrained part of their human nature. They have many wise sayings uttered in this respect, of which they have themselves striven to be the embodiments in utmost sincerity. To cite a few examples:

Everything has an aspect of beauty and ornament,
The beauty of people lies in mannerliness.
There are those who, albeit of ignoble descent,
Are most noble due to their mannerliness.

The following is a jewel-like saying quoted from Imam ‘Ali, the cousin of the Prophet, upon him he peace and blessings:

Nowadays misfortunes are common, which is not to be wondered at. What is to be wondered at is how one could remain upright and maintain one’s integrity among so many misfortunes. Beauty is not that which the garment one wears adds to him. Rather, it is the beauty of knowledge and mannerliness.

The following is from ‘Awarif al-Ma‘arif by Shihab al-Din al-Suhrawardi:[2]

Belief requires absolute affirmation of Divine Unity, without which a person is not regarded as having a sound belief. This affirmation requires mannerliness without which one cannot be pious. Truly, one without good manners cannot be pious, for the Prophets travelled their ways through mannerliness, and became each an elect in the Court of God.

In addition to what we have already said concerning the practical aspect of mannerliness or being well-mannered in behaviour, the following reflections are worth recalling:

It is mannerliness which a person should always wear:
Without good manners, one is as if naked.
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Mannerliness is to be found in the people of knowledge.
A student without good manners cannot be a learned one.
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The order of the world is through mannerliness;
Again, through mannerliness is human perfection.

Expressive of purity in thought, uprightness in the heart, and a deep relationship with God, mannerliness in speech has been stressed for centuries in all schools which concern themselves with moral and religious education or with spiritual training.

Wahbi says:

Do not open your mouth for idle talk, be well-mannered in your speech.
Take care of what you may say so that afterwards you do not become uneasy.

Another voices his thought about mannerliness as follows:

Mannerliness is a crown from the light of God:
Wear that crown and be safe from every misfortune.

The words of Mawlana Jalal al-Din al-Rumi in praise of mannerliness are beyond compare:

Know that the soul in a person’s body is mannerliness; the light of a person’s heart and eyes is mannerliness. Adam is from an elevated world, not from a low one. This dome (meaning the world) rotates on the axis of mannerliness, which is also its beauty and adornment. If you prepare your food on the head of Satan, know that it is mannerliness which will kill Satan. One who is deprived of good manners is not truly human, for the difference between humans and animals lies in mannerliness. Open your eyes and see that the Qur’an, the Word of God, consists in mannerliness. I asked the intellect what belief was. It whispered to the ear of the heart that it was mannerliness.

Mannerliness with respect to good morals described as words and behaviour approved by Islam, and as expressed in the words, actions, and acts of approval of the Holy Prophet, upon him he peace and blessings, is beyond the scope of the present answer.

O God! Lead us to what You like and approve of.
May God’s blessings be on our master Muhammad and all of his family and his Companions.

[1] Sarraj, Abu Nasr ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Ali al-Tusi, (d. 959/60 or 988), was one of the famous Sufi scholars. His al-Luma’ is a Sufi textbook written to prove the essential conformity of Sufi claims within the framework of the Islamic creed. (Trans.)
[2] Shihab al-Din Abu Hafs ‘Umar ibn ‘Abdullah al-Suhrawardi (1145-1234) was a Sufi theologian. ‘Awarif al-Ma‘arif is about the Sufi way. He also critized the philosophers following the ancient Greek Philosophy. (Trans.).