Avoiding Evil


We say: the word sharr, evil is applied to two things only: pain and that which leads to it. Therefore, sins, disbelief, shirk and all the various types of oppression and injustice are evil even if the person committing them may feel a sense of fulfilment and satisfaction. This is because they lead to the onset of pain and torment just as taking poison, being burnt in fire or hanging lead to death.

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What we have said holds true provided that there is nothing preventing the cause from taking effect such as its opposite cause being stronger and more stringently followed. For example, sins are a cause, but the resulting punishment of sins could be prevented by the existence of firm faith and a large number of good deeds that wipe out bad ones. This holds true for all causes that occur in opposites such as well-being and illness and strength and weakness [in that the stronger of the two takes effect].

The point is that these causes (that lead to pain) are evil even if those doing them may feel some satisfaction and a fleeting sense of joy. They can be compared to delicious, tempting food that is poisonous, when a person eats it he gains a sense of satisfaction and fulfilment but after a short time the poison takes effect. The exact same applies to sins and acts of disobedience so much so that had the Legislator not informed us of this, the state of affairs and experience would have physically demonstrated and proven it.

Indeed, it is the evil of sins that leads to the removal of blessings. When Allah favours His servant, He preserves the blessing and does not remove it until that person himself causes it to be removed. Allah says,

  “Surely Allah does not change the condition of a people until they change what is in their own souls; and when Allah intends evil to a people, there is no averting it, and they have no protector besides Him.” [al-Ra`d (13):11]

  “This is because Allah has never changed a favour which He has conferred upon a people until they change what is in their own souls.” [al-Anfal (8):53]

Whoever considers the circumstances of the past nations that Allah has narrated to us in His Book, and from whom Allah removed His favours will find that the reason behind this was their disobedience to Him and His Messengers. Similarly, whoever considers the circumstances of his contemporaries and the blessings they lost will find that the cause was the evil results of sin. It is said,

Allah’s favours cannot be preserved by anything as they are preserved by being obedient to Him. Allah’s favours are not increased by anything as they are increased by showing gratitude to Him. Allah’s favours are not removed by anything as they are removed by disobeying Him; disobedient acts are like fire consuming blessing in much the same way as actual fire consumes dry wood.

Therefore, these causes are definitely evil. The effects of these causes are also evil because they cause spiritual and physical torment. The servant who has committed them feels both bodily and spiritual anguish: grief, anxiety, concern and a sense of loss. This truth is such that if an intelligent person understood it and gave it the attention it deserves, for sure he would be wary of it and do all he can to run away from it. However, the veil of negligence has stricken his heart, preventing him from arriving at this realisation. Should such a person truly wake up, his soul would berate him for the favours of Allah that he has missed in this world and the Hereafter. The servant will only truly realise this truth when he departs from this world to the next. At this time he will say,

  If you have blessings, preserve them
Sins remove blessings
  “Oh! Would that I had sent before for (this) my life!” [al-Fajr (89):24]

  “O woe to me for what I fell short of my duty to Allah!” [al-Zumar (39): 56]

Now, because evil refers to pain and what leads to it, all of the statements that were said by Messenger of Allah ﷺ with regards to seeking refuge revolved around these two principles – therefore, either he sought refuge from what causes pain or he sought refuge from what leads to it.

At the end of his prayers he would seek refuge from four things, and he commanded the servant to do this as well: the punishment of the grave, the punishment of the Fire, the trials of life and death and the trial of the Dajjal.[1]

The first two are the greatest pains that a person can be afflicted with and the last two are the means that lead to these punishments because trials and tribulations are the causes of punishment. Two specific categories of trials have been mentioned because trials afflict a person either during his lifetime or after his death. As for the trials of life, it is possible that the resultant punishment be alleviated for a time but as for the trials of death, the punishment that follows on from it is not alleviated. Therefore, he sought refuge from pain, punishment and its causes.

It has been strongly encouraged to say this supplication in the prayer to the extent that some of the Salaf and later scholars were of the view that it was obligatory to repeat the prayer if the person did not say it in the final tashahhud.[2] Ibn Hazm was of the view that it was obligatory to say it in every tashahhud, if the person did not do so, his prayer would be rendered invalid.[3]

In a similar vein, he ﷺ supplicated,

 “ “O Allah I take refuge with you from worries and grief, from incapacity and laziness, from miserliness and cowardice, from being heavily in debt and being overpowered by other men.”[4]

Here, the Messenger of Allah ﷺ took refuge from eight things, each pair being intricately linked. Worries and grief are things that pain the soul and torment it. The difference between the two is that worry is the fear of evil that may occur in the future while grief is the pain one feels over experiencing something detestable or missing out on something desirable in the past.

Incapacity and laziness are avenues leading to pain because they cause a person to miss out on attaining a desired goal. Incapacity refers to the person being unable to attain good and laziness refers to the person not caring to attain good. Hence, the soul is pained by both of these.

Miserliness and cowardice are also avenues leading to pain because they lead to a person not taking benefit from his wealth and body. This is because through cowardice the person will miss out on a great number of desirable things that can only be attained through courage and resolve. Similarly, miserliness prevents a person from attaining the desirable.

Being heavily in debt (dayn) and overpowered by others hurts and torments the soul. The first refers to being overcome by something that is rightfully due and the second refers to being unjustly overcome. Furthermore, being heavily in debt is something that, in general, arises because of the person himself whereas being overcome by others is something that occurs without his consent.

In a similar vein, he ﷺ took refuge from all kinds of sin and from being in debt (al-maghram) for both of these lead to pain in this life and the next.[5]

In a similar vein is his ﷺ supplication,

 “ “I take refuge with Your pleasure from Your displeasure and with Your forgiveness from Your punishment.”[6]

Allah’s displeasure is the greatest means which leads to pain and Allah’s punishment is the greatest pain of all,
he sought refuge from both.


[1] Bukhari #1377 and Muslim #588 from Abu Hurayrah (RA) with the words, “O Allah! I take refuge with you from the punishment of Hell, the punishment of the grave, from the trials of living and dying, and from the evil of the False Christ.”

[2] Ibn Hajr, Fath al-Bari, vol. 2, pg. 408 mentions that Tawus was one of those who held this view as is recorded by `Abdu’l-Razzaq with a sahih isnad.

[3] cf. ibn Hazm, al-Muhalla, vol. 3, pg. 271

[4] Bukhari #2893 and Muslim #2706 from Anas.
Some of the Salaf would say, ‘The worry of debt does not enter into the heart of a person except that some of his intelligence leaves him, never to return.’ cf. Ibn Hajr, vol. 11, pg. 208
Kirmani said, “This supplication is an example of the pithy statements (of the Prophet ﷺ). This is because vice is of three types: spiritual, bodily and external. The first type, with respect to the strength of a person, further fall into three categories: vice which arises from the intellect, anger or lustful desires. Hence worry and grief is linked to the intellect. Cowardice is linked to anger and miserliness is linked to lustful desires. Incapacity and laziness is connected to bodily vice. The second is linked to the body being whole and healthy whereas the first is linked to parts of the body being amputated etc. Debt and being overpowered are connected to external matters – debt being linked to ones wealth and property and being overpowered being linked to ones social esteem. Hence this supplication comprises seeking refuge from all of this.” cf. Ibn Hajr, vol. 11, pg. 208

[5] Bukhari #832-833-6368-6375-6377 and Muslim #589 record that `A’ishah (RA) said that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ used to supplicate in the prayer saying, “O Allah! I take refuge with you from all kinds of sins and from being in debt.” A person asked him, ‘Messenger of Allah, why is it that you seek refuge from debt so often?’ He replied, “If a person is in debt, he tells lies when he speaks and breaks his promises when he promises.”
Bukhari #2397 records that `A’ishah (RA) said that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ used to say, “O Allah! I take refuge with You from laziness and geriatric old age; from all kinds of sins and being in debt; from the trial and punishment of the grave; from the trial and punishment of the Fire and from the evil trial of affluence. I take refuge with You from the trial of poverty and I take refuge with You from the trial of the False Christ.”
The meaning of debt (al-maghram) is all that is necessary for a person to repay and includes monetary debt. cf. Ibn Hajr, vol. 11, pg. 211. The meaning of debt (dayn) in the previous ¯adith refers specifically to monetary debt.

[6] Ahmad #751-957-1295, Abu Dawud #1427, Tirmidhi #3566 from `Ali
Tirmidhi said it was hasan, Albani said it was sahih and Arna`ut said it was strong.

(NOTE: If you want to build a strong and powerful relationship with Allah, check out Islamia TV, where you can watch Islamic speakers from across the globe deliver inspiring and motivational courses. Learn more at www.islamia.tv.)


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