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We all go through periods of constriction. Our chests feel tight, we may feel angry with people and we find no pleasure in acts of worship. On the other hand, during the good times there is a feeling of great expansion in the heart, a lightness and a joy.
Both of these are from Allah, al-Qaabid al-Baasit, He who contracts and He who expands. The manifestations of qabd and bast are many, and we will explain the other meanings before reflecting on the state of the heart.
Rizq (Provision), Life and Death
The concept of qabd and bast have a lot to do with rizq (provision). It is God who ultimately provides for us—at time He withholds and at other times He gives. The name al-Razzaq explains this further.
Another aspect of qabd and bast shows us the true power of God. Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) seizes the souls and causes them to die, or releases them. Allah tells us:
“Blessed is He in whose hand is dominion, and He is over all things competent -[He] who created death and life to test you [as to] which of you is best in deed – and He is the Exalted in Might, the Forgiving –“ (Qur’an, 67:1-2)
When we sleep, it is described as a small death, in which our souls are returned to God. Allah (swt) returns many of them, and withholds others.
The Constriction and Expansion of the Heart
Most relevant to us is the state of our hearts, which we struggle with daily. We sometimes feel constricted, but the constriction is for a reason. Sometimes it is this constriction that brings us back to God. Sheikh Ratib an-Nabulsi states that these two Names are inseparable, because “if you say that Allah is ‘Al-Qabid’ (the Withholder), it would mean that you describe Allah as being niggardly or miserly; and Allah, All Mighty, is far above such evil qualities. However, when you say that Allah is ‘Qabid, Bassit’ (Withholder, Extender), you describe Him as being Powerful and Wise.” He withholds when it is good and He gives when it is good.
The person who is in a state of constriction can look forward to the expansion and the lightness. The Prophet Yusuf alayhi as-salaam (peace be upon him) had to be thrown in a well before coming into the care of the Minister. He had to be put in prison before he was given power and reunited with his family. But he understood that it was from Allah (swt) and was able to make the best of his situation. He knew that the relief was coming.
We too need to understand the concept of qabd—contraction. The feeling of qabd is sometimes due to our own priorities. We may desire approval, control and security from other than Allah (swt), and when they fail us the natural feeling of contraction occurs1 . It hurts. And some of us decide to keep it there. We let the feeling of qabd push us farther away from Allah (swt), because we do not understand why it is there. But Allah (swt) is al-Qaabid, and just like a headache tells us we have not slept well or a stomachache tells us the food we have eaten is bad, this qabd tells us to reflect on its causes. There is a root cause, and the only way to get rid of the discomfort of the contraction is to deal with its source. And just like Allah (swt) is al-Qaabid, He is al-Baasit who can remove even the traces of any constriction we may have felt.
The key is to know that after every hardship is ease, as promised in the Qur’an. And the state of the believer is that when he is in a state of ease and feeling at rest in his heart, he is grateful. Sheikh Omar AbdelKafy stated that the heart is like a home. At the times when we are able, it is important to build around the house, so that if a thief decides to rob us, he has to get past so much more just to able to get to the front door.
Be a Source of Expansion for Others
As people, we need to be of those who offer relief to other people. Al-Ghazali states that we should expand the hearts of men by reminding them of the blessings of God and His consolation, and if need be remind them also of His majesty so that that form of constriction also brings us back to Allah (swt).
- for more on this, please see Ustadh AbdelRahman Mussa’s iPersonalEnrichment program [↩]