Attachments: Emptying the Vessel


Before you can fill any vessel, you must first empty it. The heart is a vessel. And like any vessel, the heart too must be emptied—before it can be filled. One can never hope to fill the heart with God, so long as that vessel is full of other than Him subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He).

To empty the heart does not mean to not love. On the contrary, true love, as God intended it, is purest when it is not based on a false attachment. The process of first emptying the heart can be found in the beginning half of the shahada (declaration of faith). Notice that the declaration of faith begins with a critical negation, a crucial emptying. Before we hope to reach true tawheed (true monotheism), before we can assert our belief in the one Lord, we first assert: “la illaha” (there is no illah). An illah is an object of worship. But it is imperative to understand that an illah is not just something we pray to. An illah is what we revolve our life around, what we obey and what is of utmost importance to us—above all else.

It is something that we live for—and cannot live without.

So every person – atheist, agnostic, Muslim, Christian, Jew – has an illah. Everyone worships something. For most people, that object of worship is something from this worldy life, dunya. Some people worship wealth, some worship status. Some worship fame, some worship their own intellect.  Some people worship other people. And many, as the Qur’an describes, worship their own selves, their own desires and whims. Allah (swt) says:

45:23

“Then seest thou such a one as takes as his god his own vain desire? Allah has, knowing (him as such), left him astray, and sealed his hearing and his heart (and understanding), and put a cover on his sight. Who, then, will guide him after Allah (has withdrawn Guidance)? Will ye not then receive admonition?” (Qur’an, 45:23)

These objects of worship are things to which we become attached. But an object of attachment is not just something that we love. It is something that we need, in the deepest sense of the word. It is something that if lost, causes absolute devastation. If there is anything—or anyone—other than God, that we could never give up, then we have a false attachment. Why was Prophet Ibrahim told to sacrifice his son? It was to free him. It was to free him from a false attachment. Once he was free, his object of love (not attachment) was given back to him.

If there is anything—or anyone—that losing would absolutely break us, we have a false attachment. False attachments are things that we fear losing almost to a pathological extent. It is something that if we even sense is drifting away, we will desperately pursue. We chase it because losing an object of attachment causes complete devastation, and the severity of that devastation is proportional to the degree of attachment. These attachments can be to money, our belongings, other people, an idea, physical pleasure, a drug, status symbols, our careers, our image, how others view us, our physical appearance or beauty, the way we dress or appear to others, our degrees, our job titles, our sense of control, or our own intelligence and rationality. But until we can break these false attachments, we cannot empty the vessel of our heart. And if we do not empty that vessel, we cannot truly fill it with Allah.

This struggle to free one’s heart from all false attachments, the struggle to empty the vessel of the heart, is the greatest struggle of earthly life. That struggle is the essence of tawheed (true monotheism). And so you will see that, if examined deeply, all five pillars of Islam are essentially about and enable detachment:

Shahada (Declaration of faith): The declaration of faith is the verbal profession of the very detachment we seek to achieve: that the only object of our worship, ultimate devotion, love, fear, and hope is God. And God alone.  To succeed at freeing oneself from all other attachments, except the attachment to the Creator, is the truest manifestation of tawheed.

Salah (5 Daily Prayers): Five times a day we must pull away from the dunya to focus on our Creator and ultimate purpose. Five times a day, we detach ourselves from whatever we are doing of worldly life, and turn to God. Prayer could have been prescribed only once a day or week or all five prayers could have been done at one time each day. But it is not. The prayers are spread throughout the day. If one keeps to their prayers at their specified times, there is no opportunity to get attached.  As soon as we begin to become engrossed in whatever dunya matter we’re involved in (the job we’re doing, the show we’re watching, the test we’re studying for, the person we can’t get off our mind), we are forced to detach from it and turn our focus to the only true object of attachment.

Siyam (Fasting): Fasting is all about detachment. It is the detachment from food, drink, sexual intimacy, vain speech. By restraining our physical self, we ennoble, purify and exalt our spiritual self. Through fasting we are forced to detach ourselves from our physical needs, desires, and pleasures.

Zakat (Charity): Zakat is about detaching ourselves from our money and giving it for the sake of God. By giving it away, we are forced to break our attachment to wealth.

Hajj (Pilgrimage): Hajj is one of the most comprehensive and profound acts of detachment. A pilgrim leaves behind everything in his life. He gives up his family, his home, his six figure salary, his warm bed, his comfortable shoes and brand name clothes, all in exchange for sleeping on the ground or in a crowded tent and wearing only two simple pieces of cloth. There are no status symbols at hajj. No Tommy Hilfiger ihram, no five star tents.  (Hajj packages that advertise 5 star hotels, are talking about before or after the hajj. During hajj you sleep in a tent in Mena, and on the ground, under only sky, in Muzdalifah).

Realize that God, in His infinite wisdom and mercy, does not just ask us to be detached from the dunya—He tells us exactly how. Beyond the five pillars, even our dress breeds detachment. The Prophet ﷺ tell us to distinguish ourselves, to be different from the crowd, even in how we appear. By wearing your hijab, kufi or beard, you can’t just blend in—even if you wanted to.  The Prophet ﷺ said: “Islam began as something strange, and it shall return to being something strange as it began, so give glad tidings to the strangers.” [Sahih Muslim]

 

By being ‘strange’ to this dunya, we can live in it, without being of it. And it is through that detachment that we can empty the vessel of our heart in preparation for that which nourishes it and gives it life. By emptying our heart, we prepare it for its true nourishment:

God.

Print Friendly

20 Comments

  1. Amina G says:

    “Then seest thou such a one as takes as his god his own vain desire? Allah has, knowing (him as such), left him astray, and sealed his hearing and his heart (and understanding), and put a cover on his sight. Who, then, will guide him after Allah (has withdrawn Guidance)? Will ye not then receive admonition?” (Qur’an, 45:23)

    Universal, Mubayyin and Ad-Dahir?

  2. ZAI says:

    Exceptional article and a lot to reflect upon.

    I only have a slight disagreement with the final paragraph. I simply don’t believe that God wishes us to be visually/physically “different” just for the sake of being different. I think the Ayat and Hadith about beards, hijab, etc. have definite functions and interpretations, none of which are to simply stand out. Atleast that’s my reading of it…I’m no scholar…

    No doubt I could expect to be countered with one of the many variations of the hadith/s which begin “differentiate yourself from the Jews and Christians…” or “…from the unbelievers”…fine..
    So me not being a scholar I have questions FOR the scholars then if simply differentiating oneself from non-Muslims is the intent of those Ayat or Hadith:

    Did not Abu Lahab and the rest of the Meccans have beards?

    Did not many, if not most, Christian clergymen and Jews have Beards?

    If we take into account that our hadith tell us to “trim the mustache” as well, ok then what if tommorow Jews, Christians and other non-Muslims started to let the beard grow and trim the mustache…what do we THEN do to stand out and be different?

    Do all Muslims dress alike and wear Kufis? Aren’t these just the cultural sartorial manifestations, of abiding by covering the awrah, of ethnic groups and races that have mostly become Muslim at some point?

    …just some questions. I simply don’t buy into this notion of standing out in this way, nor do I think it’s a requirement of Islam. It’d be great if the majority of Muslims stood out where it mattred: in their actions. Sorry, but maybe I have a personal bias…I’m all bearded-out after reading about this nonsense in my parents homeland for 15 years…

    • abu majeed says:

      Excellent article sister! Deeply moving.
      The brother ZAI has a point here. A authenticated hadith goes as follows-
      صلوا في نعالكم ولا تشبوا باليهود
      ِAbu Dawood, Albani said authentic
      It means- Pray in your shoes and don’t be like the Jews.
      The general hadith on the subject which is known says-
      Whoever imitates a people is one of them. The scholars who commented on this said the only blameworthy imitation is in that which specifies a religion other than Islam.
      The hadith about being strange is explained in tuhfatul-Ahwathi in explanation of al-Tirmidhi under hadith 2629 as saying, The meaning is that Islam started with a few people whop were very strong in the faith and practice and then it became strong and powerful with as the common practice of Arabia and much of the world and then one day it will return to just a few devout followers who are seen as insignificant. Similarly Ibn taymiyyah in his fatawa vol. 18 pg. 291 says that the strangeness was related to belief, values and worship when Islam started in Arabia and it will be when Muslims are living in the lands of disbeleif. So the issue here when Law dictates i.e. Hijab, beard and trimmed mustache then Islam will seem strange, but the Kufi part was not taught by the Prophet as relating to being Muslim and thus part of Islam because the polyteists wore hats too . We should be reminded about the Yamaka of jews which although about half the size looks like the kufi brothers wear.

      God knows best

    • sis qamar abdallah says:

      As salam wa alaikom wa rahmatullahi wa barakatu.
      Muslims are to distinguish themselves from the general populace so as to be known to one another as muslims, recognizable as such… InshaAllah. This has been my understanding.

  3. Mutumainah says:

    jazak Allah khair sister Yasmin! I love how you broke it down, how we detach in every pillar of Islam. beautiful piece mashaAllah

    may Allah increase you in good

  4. saba says:

    JAZAKILLAH khairan sister.
    dats really very inspirational.

  5. Aicha says:

    Beautifully freeing read. JAK sis.

  6. I believe our chief tasks as Muslims is to recognize and combat the false gods of our times. There are, to my knowledge, and Allahu’Alim, no statues of al-Uzza, Manat, and al-Lat today, but there are gods and goddess aplenty that have taken residence in our hearts and minds–indeed, perhaps in our very souls as well. Eradicating these gods is THE jihad without which our struggle to surrender is rendered fruitless, meaningless, and useless.

    “These attachments can be to money, our belongings, other people, an idea, physical pleasure, a drug, status symbols, our careers, our image, how others view us, our physical appearance or beauty, the way we dress or appear to others, our degrees, our job titles, our sense of control, or our own intelligence and rationality.” Well said sis. May we only seek validation from Allah. May He only be pleased with us.

  7. Imran says:

    Assalamualaikum,

    JazakAllahu Khairan for the beautiful reminder. I particularly enjoyed the part on Salah.

    I wanted to ask about the last part of your article in which I have found two problems personally. “By being ‘strange’ to this dunya, we can live in it, without being of it. And it is through that detachment that we can empty the vessel of our heart in preparation for that which nourishes it and gives it life.”

    In my experiences I have found this to be very problematic when it comes to calling people to Islam. In becoming the religious figure (molvi, shaykh, active brother, etc) in my community I found it harder to relate to people because I didn’t know what was ‘happenin’. And to begin with, many are intimated by me because of their perceived view of my religiosity.

    Also, I have noted that those people who become “strange” to this world are unable to excel in it (this of course is arguable). But for many, being “strange” means to not give 100% in your professional life for fear of getting caught up in dunya. No doubt all Muslims should fear the temptations of the dunya, but it bothers me when the world’s rich are those who are evil and unjust and use their power to corrupt the world while the Muslims are bent on staying “strange” and not actively participating and contributing towards positive change. Perhaps I am making an error in my thought process but this is something I definitely need clarification on.

    I often find this hadith, “Islam began as something strange…” to be misinterpreted and taken to an extreme. Please forgive if I came off as offensive but this hadith and concept of detaching ourselves from this world has bothered me for some time and I’d appreciate some further insight.

    • Yasmin Mogahed says:

      The issue of being ‘strange’ to the dunya is often taken at face value. I wrote about this more in the article “The Ocean of Dunya”. Being strange to the dunya does not mean you don’t know what’s ‘happenin’. It doesn’t mean you don’t own wealth or power. I means that power and wealth don’t own you. It means that you have the dunya in your hands–not your heart.

    • Khidr S says:

      Jazakallah Kairan Sister Yasmin for the article found it really reflective and open my eyes to the emptying of the heart so thank you for that. On Imran’s note, and just to make things clear I’m no scholar or anything just a student trying to gain knowledge inshallah. But on the notion of being strange i would argue that Sister Yasmin spoke volumes when she mentioned that one That being strange will allow own to live in the dunya and not be in it. I interpret her words in a light that the Dunya is “like sunny weather and its good at times but doesn’t last forever” Boonaa Mohammed.

      In that light i feel that all Muslims should stand out and not necessiarly just with a beard or kufi or hijab even though these are powerful things that every muslim should do in actuality. But to stand out in character and conduct as well. It means not to blend with the fools and idiots who walk around this earth without a purpose. The fools who don’t see wrong from right , be strange and different from them because we have been given this divine guidance from Allah (swt), Allhumduillah. Another thing one can question is that say if you are a good citizen yet no one knows your muslim just due to that fact that might not wear the hijab or a kufi an grow a beard, just think of all the good perceptions one could give Islam by wearing one of these symbols of Islam at the same time being a correct Muslim like we all should be. A really wise guy told this once that “when someone speaks ill about you, live in a way that others would never believe him”. People speak bad about Muslims because they haven’t seen the goods one representing it correctly.

      On the second note I truly believe that even if people do feel intimated by one’s religiosity a simple smile or hello throw it all down the drain. I only say this for example purposes but I myself have encountered this, that many times one would look at me in a way as if i am not a human as if i can not speak the language. But Allhumduillah as soon as I bring my Richmond slang into the air all those bodily expressions of worry are gone and people will realize that he or she is one of us in a sense that they to know how to laugh, how to smile, how to cry, and are educated about the news etc.

      Forgive me if disrespected you brother or anyone one else from what i said, Any good is from Allah any bad is from me. And in the end

      Allahu Alim ( Allah knows best)

  8. faten khatib says:

    Jazaki Allah khair for this article. It is was well thought out and written. It provided me with a new perspective on the 5 pillars of Islam and their function (detachment). I look forward to reading more from you!

  9. SubhanAllah. brought tears to my eyes sister. JazakAllah khaira

  10. Ahmed says:

    Gosh, ma’sha’allah, you’ve done it again Sr. Yasmin; just a lovely reminder, wake-up call or good shake that we need to refocus on what really matters in this fast-paced life that many of us live these days. Just awesome and inspiring. Well done, as always. Jazak’Allahu Khairan.

  11. reem says:

    i LOVE LOVE LOVE this article! thanks so much for the insight and inspiration. it gets especially hard during the grind of work and urgent deadlines to pull away for salah and to be sure to not leave it to the very end of the allotted time. Thinking of it in terms of “attachments” really helps inshAllah! ….From Him we came and to Him we will return

  12. sis qamar abdallah says:

    As salam wa alaikom wa rahmatullahi wa barakatu

    Alhamduullilah for this well phrased and beautifully written article of faith. MashaAllah. I look forward to reading your future posts. Jezakum Allah hu Hairon for sharing this essential knowledge.

  13. Reehab says:

    absolutely love :). Barak Allahu Feeki Yasmin!

  14. kada says:

    These attachments can be to money, our belongings, other people, an idea, physical pleasure, a drug, status symbols, our careers, our image, how others view us, our physical appearance or beauty, the way we dress or appear to others, our degrees, our job titles, our sense of control, or our own intelligence and rationality.”
    so true and completely desfcribed me and openend my eyes i had such a false view of “the perfect look” and wanted to become beutyful in others eyes also thought that when i lost my mascara i needed it in the deepest sense of the word and this definetaly helps frees me from material things

  15. Kirana says:

    I finally am satisfied now of why salat is somewhat inconveniently spread through the day, and doing them at once being considered ‘not allowed’ in a fundamental sense (as opposed to just a lesser undesirability). This knowledge should really be part of the ‘standard curriculum’, because this characteristic of the salat becomes completely sensible once its purpose is understood, but very hard to appreciate otherwise.

  16. AbdulLah says:

    Excellent. masha’Allah, jazak Allah khair. May God guide us to the ways of detaching ourselves from dunya.

Leave a Reply

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.

More in Overcoming Hardships, Personal Development, Spiritual Purification (471 of 757 articles)